April 27, 2009

Ft. Lauderdale ROCKS!!!

I have renewed appreciation for librarians, media specialists and educators. Last week, I enjoyed a two-day visit to a library, middle school and conference in Ft. Lauderdale.

First, I had the great pleasure of speaking to some students from Walter C. Young Middle School in Pembroke Pines. The school has no library on site so students go next door to the Pembroke Pines branch of the public library.

The room where I spoke had been transformed into a political rally. Red, white and blue streamers decorated the walls, skimmer hats sat on tables, the podium where I spoke was decked out in patriotic colors, and there was a huge banner with my name spelled out the way my character spells obsessively in my book.

Ms. Robinson and Ms. Zelinsky are the masterminds behind the great decorations and creative planning.

I was greeted by 40 enthusiastic sixth grade girls with a few fourth grade girls thrown in for good measure.

Here's a photo of the left side of the room.

And the right side.

I signed books for some of the young ladies and was happily surprised when my first "Vanessa" came up to have her book autographed. "That's the name of the main character in my book," I said. She told me sometimes people call her "Nessa" just like the girl in my book.

Thank you students from Walter C. Young and Ms. Zelinsky and Ms. Robinson!

The next morning, I had the good fortune to speak to sixth, seventh and eighth grade students at New River Middle School.

The school's media Specialist, Ms. Miller, woke at 5 am to make a special treat for the students -- Ms. Perez' Lemon Squares, from the recipe at the back of my book. Now that's dedication!

The students and staff made sure I felt welcome.

A couple of the students made dioramas based on my book. Here's one of them:

The students created book-related signs that they waved.

This was an interesting school visit because while I was speaking in front of these students . . .

. . . my talk was being broadcast live to students at several other middle schools.

Here's the TV where I could see the students at the other schools. There is a small camera on top. It was awkward to speak to a TV screen when I had actual students on either side of me, but the visit went extremely well. (Thanks to Joy for keeping the technology running smoothly; this included lending me her belt so I'd have something to hook my microphone to.)

(This was a test with a technician and image of my book before the students came onboard.)

My favorite part was the questions at the end. Many of the questions/comments came from boys. One boy said, "I just wanted you to know you inspired me. You're my role model." And another boy said, "I read your book. And it's my all-time favorite." Another boy told me how he loved the book, A Wrinkle in Time. I told him it was one of my favorites, too.

One of the questions was so thoughtful and mature. A girl at one of the other schools asked, "Did the fact that your father was absent from your home while you were growing up influence your book?"

Indeed it did. The father is absent in my book and the main character wishes for more time and attention from her very busy mother, which mirrors my childhood.

While students enjoyed lemon squares, I signed books . . . slips of paper, agendas ("Why didn't you fill in your homework assignments?!"), etc.

After that delightful visit, Karen Williams, awesome librarian and my host for the day, drove me to the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center. What a fabulous place! It's a great melding of art and literature.

There is a small round room with the words to the African-American National Anthem printed on the walls along with artwork. The acoustics are designed for people to sing in that room. I was given a special tour from Larry Holland, Library Specialist. He took me into the room with the special collections, including memorabilia from Esther Rolle.

When we were leaving, I noticed a girl, maybe in 8th grade, carrying more books to the check-out desk than she could manage. The books were sliding off the top of her precarious piles. I smiled because it reminded me of me at that age.

After a lovely introduction by Nadine Robinson, I got on stage and spoke to an auditorium full of awesome librarians, media specialists, educators, etc. for the 22nd Annual Conference on Children's Literature.

(There were actual people in the seats during my talk. Really.)

It was so much fun. What a great group of people. I have Gina Moon, Youth Service Coordinator, to thank for inviting me to participate in this wonderful program.

A huge shout out to the fine folks in Ft. Lauderdale, who made this children's book author feel a teeny bit like a rock star.

April 13, 2009


When the Sid Fleischman Humor Award was announced in 2003 by the SCBWI, I turned to my husband and said, "I want to win this award someday." Hubby smiled and said, "You will. Someday."

I hadn't published a book yet, but I'd written several that had made the rounds and resided quietly in a filing cabinet. I had sold humorous greeting cards, essays for a variety of magazines and short stories, puzzles and poems. At that point, "someday" seemed a long way off.

The first year, 2003, the award was presented to Sid Fleischman to honor his body of work.

Each year, I watched fabulous authors win this prestigious award.

2004 -- Lisa Yee for Millicent Min, Girl Genius
2005 -- Gennifer Choldenko for Al Capone Does My Shirts
2006 -- David LaRochelle for Absolutely Positively Not
2007 -- Sara Pennypacker for Clementine
2008 -- No award given

Last Tuesday, I returned home from attending a play at our son's high school and listened to a message on our answering machine. "Hi, Donna. This is Lin Oliver and Steve Mooser from SCBWI. We're calling with some very happy news. Your novel has been awarded the Sid Fleischman Humor Award . . ." They said some other things about flying me to California this summer to accept the award, but I heard none of it.

I grabbed my husband and screamed, "I won the Sid Fleischman Humor Award!" He pulled back and said, "I knew you'd do it." I grabbed my sister, who was visiting from Philadelphia, and squeezed the stuffing out of her. And our boys. Then I screamed and screamed and screamed so loud and so long that I scared our dog half to death and managed to lose my voice for the next three days.

I replayed that message at least half a dozen times before calling Lin and Steve at SCBWI to confirm. It was true. I will be flown to the national conference in L.A. this August to accept the award and to give a workshop about writing humor for children.

Dreams really do come true . . .

2009 -- Donna Gephart for As If Being 12 3/4 Isn't Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running for President!

In January 2008, I had the great pleasure of meeting Sid Fleischman when we were both speaking at the FL SCBWI conference in Miami. During the faculty dinner, Sid leaned over, touched my arm and said, "Your speech was fantastic." When I was able to breathe again, I replied, "It's my greatest ambition to win the award named after you." Sid nodded sadly. "I'm sorry to hear that. You really should have higher ambitions."

Thank you, Sid Fleischman!

April 10, 2009

Week of Happiness -- Day 5: LOVE, BABY!

A quote: "Love one another and you will be happy. It's as simple and as difficult as that." ~Michael Leunig

A poem:

Sonnet 43 - How do I love thee? Let me count the ways by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

A miracle:

Welcome to the world, Charlie Gephart!

April 9, 2009

Week of Happiness -- Day 4: Dancing!

More than 20 million people have viewed this video. Have you?

In the video, Matt dances with different people in countries spanning all seven continents. Such a simple act as dancing inspires unbridled joy.

Matt has also written an essay for NPR's "This I Believe" series. My favorite part of his essay is when he explains how easy it is for us to spot a stranger's differences, but how important it is to first notice the things we have in common. Read Matt's short essay here.

Here's my favorite song about dancing.

And I'll leave you with my favorite quote about dancing:

"Dance as though no one is watching you. Love as though you have never been hurt before. Sing as though no one can hear you. Live as though heaven is on earth."

April 8, 2009

Week of Happiness -- Day 3: Surprises

Last night, I received two surprise phone calls delivering extraordinarily happy news. One was personal, the other professional.

Personal: Our nephew, Steve, and niece, Susan, welcomed their brand new baby into the world -- CHARLIE GEPHART. We can't wait to meet him. (I'll post photos as soon as I get them.)

Professional: Can't reveal the news just yet, but I'll say that I'm absolutely, positively over the moon with happiness.

Here's hoping happy surprises come your way today!

April 7, 2009

Week of Happiness -- Day 2: LOL, ROFL

It is said that children laugh about 300 times per day, adults only 15. What's with that?

Today's happiness post is all about laughter.

Here's funny guy John Cleese taking us to a laughing club in India . . .

Ah, murderers laughing. What could possibly be funnier?

Um, this lady falling down on the job . . .

No grapes were hurt in the making of this video.

April 6, 2009

Week of Happiness -- Day 1: Flower Power

Happy Monday!

Revisions are done . . . for now. My sister, Ellen, and nephew, Kyle, are visiting from Philly. The weather's fine. The family's even finer. And I've been enjoying time with funtastic friends.

So, I've dubbed this -- Week of Happiness.

Each day, I'll post something I hope will inspire a smile.

This morning, I was greeted with the first magnolia of the season! I was so excited, I nearly fell off my bike.

I wish you could press your nose to the screen and smell the fresh scent. I wish I could have pressed my nose to this flower and enjoyed the scent, but apparently, a bee was even more excited than I was to visit the first magnolia of the season.

And here is a lovely hibiscus. The bright, happy colors of hibiscus always make me smile.

What makes you happy this marvelous Monday?

April 3, 2009

Talented Teens, Flowers on a Friday and Basketball, Basketball, BASKETBALL!


Determined beyond all reason to finish my novel revisions (almost) on time, I worked 13 hours the other day, finishing after 3 a.m. But WOOHOO it felt great to e-mail the finished book to my editor and agent.

Later that day, I had the great pleasure of speaking to the talented teen writers at the Wellington Branch Library. There's a post about it here.

Yowza, are these kids good writers! Brooke showed me a poem, "Symphony of Rain," that was beautiful and Sarah showed me a whole collection of different poems she'd written for her school's unit on poetry. Ellen bravely read a poem that had fabulous imagery. And here's Alexis summoning the courage to read a very moving piece she'd written.

Next to her is Tiffany, who milked a cow earlier in the day and kissed a llama. That must be why she's smiling.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Lance and Dawn and Maddie. Did I get everyone? Nope!

A big, hairy thank you to Amanda Bosky, uber-talented writer, editor and librarian, for inviting me.

Earlier, my dear friend, Deborah, gave me these gorgeous flowers to celebrate my winning a silver medal in the Florida Book Awards Children's Literature category.

Thanks, Deb! The awards banquet is May 7th in Orlando, and I'm already excited about it!

Finally, I don't know about your house, but at ours it's basketball, basketball, BASKETBALL. My guys are either playing it, watching it or talking about playing or watching it.

Here are a couple happy snaps of them doing what they love best . . .

Here's hoping you spend your weekend doing what you love best.

Have a happy one,

April 1, 2009

Do NOT Try This At Home!

With my novel revisions overdue, I sent my editor an e-mail this morning about how I changed the main character from a boy to a girl and reconstructed the entire theme of the book. I also let her know that revisions would now take at least two months longer than expected, and I hoped that wouldn't be a problem.

I concluded the e-mail with two words: April Fools!

My editor wrote back about how she's canceling my contract, keeping half my advance and blackballing me throughout the industry.

She forgot to write "April Fools" at the end of her e-mail to me, but I'm sure she's joking.