April 30, 2011


Helen Zientek and Sue Sloan are the masterminds behind the awesome event APRIL IS FOR AUTHORS.

These two hard-working women and a host of volunteers brought over twenty authors and illustrators together for a fantastic event for the community.

There were panel discussions, author talks, technology talks, book signings, fun activities for the kids and shows by Page Turner Adventures.

I was fortunate to hear Edward Bloor's talk. I loved his novel, Tangerine.

Chris Crutcher was there and Alex Flinn and Doug Wilhelm and so many others.

I enjoyed meeting media specialists, librarians, teachers, administrators and kids.

Such enthusiastic kids!

This is Abigail with Hammy. She told me she LOVES reading.

Haley told me she loves books. Actual books. Not e-book readers.

Abigail and Haley and the other kids and their families who came up to my table reminded me exactly why I do what I do.

Thank you Helen and Sue and all the wonderful people who made the very first April is for Authors a successful event that connected readers to authors and authors to their readers!

April 29, 2011

And the Winner Is . . .

Thanks again to the awesome, pawsome Lee Wardlaw for her inspiring guest blog post -- 6-1/2 Things I Learned from My Cat About Writing Haiku.

Author, Lee Wardlaw

Lee generously offered to give away an autographed copy of her new book, WON TON: A CAT TALE TOLD IN HAIKU. It's received multiple starred reviews! (Lee's also giving away a catnip mousie.)

Random Number Generator has chosen our lucky winner from those who commented on Lee's post. Congratulations to KRISTINE!!! (Kristine, contact me at dgep(at)hotmail(dot)com by Sunday or an alternate winner will be chosen.)

Thanks to Lee for her great post and to those who entered the contest!

(Addendum: Because Kristine did not contact me by Sunday, an alternate winner was selected. PFMJUP will receive an autographed copy of Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku, as well as a catnip mouse. Congratulations, PFMJUP!)

April 27, 2011

The Good, the Bad and the HUGE FREE AUTHOR EVENT . . .

The best part of my day yesterday was a Skype visit with Mr. Frantz's 6th grade class in Pennsylvania. What an enthusiastic, book-loving teacher. And those kids -- amazing!

Here they are, making their best silly faces.

The worst part of my day occurred while I was trying to write at a local library, surrounded by fabulous children's books.

While wrangling with stubborn characters, youngest son called from home, informing me that one of the following culprits peed on the couch. Again!

I know, they are entirely too cute to get angry with.

Once I cleaned up the mess and the other assorted messes that cropped up, I was finally ready to sit with my laptop, my imagination and a hot cup of tea on the back patio.


Sheesh! Some daze, er, days are like that, aren't they?

Today was better.

It began at our local middle school. I had the great pleasure of listening to fantastic YA author, Chris Crutcher, speak to a few hundred eighth graders. That man can tell a story!

(Objects in photo are larger than they appear.)

Chris Crutcher is one of 24 authors and illustrators who will be speaking and signing at a huge FREE event, APRIL IS FOR AUTHORS. If you live in Palm Beach County, grab a kid or twelve and come to Palm Beach Gardens High School, Saturday, April 30th from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. to enjoy the festivities. I'll be there, speaking on a panel moderated by funny man, Frank Cerabino. Please stop by and say, "Hi!"

April 25, 2011

Being an Author . . .

is all about connecting.

This author found a highly creative way to connect with readers. He opened a bookstore in NY with only ONE book in stock -- his!

Why didn't I think of that? Doh!

One of my favorite ways to connect is through meeting young readers in schools or during Skype visits.

Hammy and I did a whole bunch of Skype visits recently to celebrate World Read Aloud Day.

So, you can imagine how excited Hammy and I were to open our mailbox and find this . . .

It's full of creative cards, letters, drawings, etc. from young readers that Hammy and I had the pleasure to visit with during a FUNtastic Skype visit to Brook Forest Elementary.

Here are a few of the wonderful "Thank You"s the students created . . .

"Dear Donna Gephart, Thank you for skypeing with my class. You are great author. It was funny when you showed us your rubber chicken, and when you showed us your big glasses. You were very funny. It was cool that you memorized the summery the book you talked about. You are one of my favorite authors. Once again, thank you for coming to my school. From, Kabir."

A big THANK YOU to Mr. John Schu for arranging the Skype visit, encouraging the students to create those wonderful cards and for being the best librarian in the world. At least, that's what Jon Scieszka says.

April 20, 2011

Poetry, Prizes and a PURRfect 6-1/2 List from Author Lee Wardlaw

Acclaimed author, Lee Wardlaw, has not only created a PURRfect post to celebrate National Poetry Month, she's also offered the most unusual item I've ever given away on my blog. (Scroll down to enter contest.)

6-1/2 Things I Learned from My Cat

About Writing Haiku

by Lee Wardlaw

1. There is no yesterday; there is no tomorrow.

There is only you, scratching under my chin,


The best haiku poems emerge from a right-this-minute experience. Use present tense to heighten immediacy – especially if writing from memory. Avoid creating haiku out of your imagination; they will lack authenticity.

2. When poised at a hole, remain still – and use your ears, eyes, nose, whiskers and mouth to detect a lurking gopher.

Observation is crucial to good haiku. Quiet your mind and use all five (or more!) senses to absorb the moment.

3. Be patient – then pounce!

Your haiku should capture a moment in time, revealing a surprise or evoking an ‘a-ha!’ or ‘ahh’. This pounce helps the reader awaken; to experience the ordinary in an extraordinary way.

4. Most felines have18 toes – unless we’re polydactyl; then we might have 20…or 22…or even 28!

Traditional Japanese haiku features a total of seventeen beats: five in the first line, seven in the second, five again in the third. The 5-7-5 rule does not apply to American haiku because 17 English phonetic syllables conveys way more information than needed – and can sound awkward or forced. So don’t worry if your haiku turns out 2-3-2 or 5-6-4. What’s more important is the essence of your chosen moment.

5. When I’m out, I want in; when I’m in, I want out. Mostly, I want out. That’s where the rats, gophers, lizards, snakes, bugs and birds are.

Traditional haiku features themes of nature. Try to use a kigo (season) word to hint at the weather or time of year.

6. What part of ‘meow’ don’t you understand?

If you tease a cat, it won’t bother to meow – it will bite or scratch. It shows its annoyance

rather than tells. Your haiku should not

explain; instead, it will illustrate a meaning

or feeling through a vivid image.

6 1/2. When in doubt, nap. Take time to revise and hone your haiku. If you grow weary, well, there’s always that comfy looking couch…


Lee Wardlaw claims her first spoken word was ‘kitty’. Since then, she's shared her life with more than two-dozen cats and published more than two-dozen, award-winning books for young readers, including 101 Ways to Bug Your Parents (Sidenote: Our oldest son loved this novel so much that he read it at least a dozen times!), 101 Ways to Bug Your Teacher, Punia and the King of Sharks, Saturday Night Jamboree and Seventh-Grade Weirdo.

Her newest book, Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku (Holt), illustrated by Eugene Yelchin, tells the story of a wary shelter cat and the boy who adopts him. Won Ton has received starred reviews from Booklist, School Library Journal and Kirkus, and was praised by the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, and the Washington Post. Publisher’s Weekly called it “…a surprisingly powerful story in verse.” (To win an autographed copy of Won Ton and a special kitty surprise, scroll down.)

Lee received her B.A. in Education from Cal Poly, SLO, and taught for five years before choosing to write full-time. She recently graduated from the Montessori Institute of San Diego with an AMI Primary diploma, and will earn her M.Ed. from Loyola University, Maryland, in 2012. Lee has 30+ years experience working with children of all ages; her schools visits, presentations and workshops are lively, interactive and popular with students, teachers, librarians, parents and writers.

Lee lives in Santa Barbara, CA, with her husband, Craig Jaffurs; their teenage son, Patterson; and three former shelter cats: Papaya, Koloa and Mai Tai (whose story inspired Won Ton). Look for 101 Ways to Bug Your Friends and Enemies (Dial/Penguin), coming in September 2011.

To learn more about Lee and her books, visit: http://www.leewardlaw.com

Enter to win an autographed copy of Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku and a catnip mousie by clicking the "follow" link to the right and leaving a comment below. A winner will be chosen at random Friday, April 29th. Good luck!

Thanks, Lee, for helping us celebrate National Poetry Month with your words of wisdom about writing haiku and for your fun prize offerings!

April 18, 2011

St. Lucie County's Family Raining, er, Reading Festival

As Hubby and I drove to St. Lucie County Saturday morning, I knew the second annual St. Lucie County Family Reading Festival would be as much fun as the first.

What I hadn't counted on was the rain. The minute Hubby and I arrived with our boxes of books, the skies over the Digital Domain Baseball Stadium opened up.

Everyone ran for cover. "Save the books!" was the battlecry.

We huddled in a dry area while the field was covered by tarps.

Young "Book-aneers" were not deterred from reading . . .

As is typical of South Florida weather, the shower passed and the sun shone brightly for the rest of the festival.

I was one of several authors who spoke and signed books. There was a "Read to the Principal" area. (Participants got a free book.) The mascot met young readers. Families browsed bins of free books from a book exchange. There were games and entertainment. But mostly, there was reading . . .

It's always a delight to see the community come out in force -- teachers, librarians, media specialists and families -- to celebrate reading.

A huge thanks to uber-amazing Debbie Remington for inviting me again this year . . .

Donna and Debbie Remington

My next event is April 30th. If you live in the area, I hope you'll come enjoy April is for Authors. (It's a free event, and the author line-up is amazing.)

In the meantime, I plan to write, write, WRITE, do a few Skype visits with schools and look at cute videos on YouTube, like this one.

April 15, 2011

SCBWI-EPA Pocono Mountain Retreat

Here's the Shawnee Inn, scene of the recent SCBWI-EPA Pocono Mountain Retreat . . .

What an interesting place. Right on the bank of the Delaware River . . .

I sat on one of these rocking chairs to enjoy the view . . .

And this little guy, "Sonny," kept me company in my room . . .

Every evening I returned to my room to find a poem and a freshly baked oatmeal raisin cookie waiting for me. And in the morning, I was awakened by a man playing bagpipes -- Yes, bagpipes! -- outside my window.

But the Inn wasn't the best part.

The people were!

Here are some of the fine, funny folks who endured, um, were enlightened by my humor writing workshop . . .

Here they are again, getting their funny on . . .

I enjoyed listening to amazing keynote speeches, but when it came time to give my keynote, "Six Reasons to Quit Writing (And One Important Reason Not To)," I was so nervous I slept only three measly hours the night before.

Here is a shot of some of the folks who suffered through, um, sat through my keynote . . .

I survived. In fact, the speech went really well. As did the entire conference from start to finish.

So many wonderful people. A silent auction and raffle to benefit the SCBWI chapter in Japan. Inspiring speakers and attendees.

I definitely felt like I gained more than I gave.

Thank you to Marilyn Hershey for inviting me and for all the dedicated volunteers, speakers and attendees who created such a magical experience!

April 5, 2011

Happy Birthday, Book!

Birthdays are fun.

Especially book birthdays. Especially this book's birthday because How to Survive Middle School has had a year I couldn't have imagined.

Let's begin at the beginning.

After As If Being 12-3/4 Isn't Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running for President came out, I wrote another book. It took a year of research and writing, involved multiple viewpoints and was 400 pages looooooooong.

My agent, Tina Wexler, was savvy enough to tell me those 400 pages were terrible. Actually, she was kind enough to say, "I think you should put this one away and write another book."

She was right, of course.

But there was no way I could write another book just then. My heart was in a chokehold. Our youngest son had just started middle school. One of 1,200 kids, he suffered mightily. He hated himself and got into all manner of trouble. I remembered that our older son had similar heart-breaking episodes at that age. In fact, I remembered when I suffered the humiliations of acne, unrequited love and discomfort in one's own skin during those awkward years.

I could write about those feelings, I thought. Maybe a character could write a book about how to survive middle school. Or better yet, create funny videos that end up on YouTube.

I infused those intense feelings into a book I titled: How to Survive Middle School Without Getting Your Head Flushed, Deal with an Ex-best Friend, um, Girls and a Heart-breaking Hamster. Thank goodness my publisher shortened the title!

My editor told me this territory has been covered before, so I'd better work hard to make my book different. I worked hard. She sent me several rounds of revisions until I got it right.

Still, when starred reviews came in, I was stunned. I'd never gotten a starred review.

Similarly, when I got the e-mail telling me that my book landed on the Texas Lone Star Reading List, I was shocked. I'd never appeared on a state reading list. Last week, I found out How to Survive Middle School will be on the New York state reading list, too. Then came inclusion on the Bank Street Children's Books best books of the year list.

Yowza! Checking my e-mail had become thrilling.

I'd been invited to speak at schools and literary events all over the country, like the BK Book Festival, coordinated by the awesome Arthur Levine. (Check out his new picture book, Monday is One Day.)

I learned that Scholastic bought the right to include my book in its fall book fairs and book club. And How to Survive Middle School will be featured in their author video that students across the country view before attending their school's book fair.

I received e-mails from children and adults that have made my day, week, month! Lily sent me a photo of the Jewish apple cake she and her mother made from the recipe in the back of my book.

When one sends a book into the world, one never knows what will happen. Usually what happens is a big pile of nothing.

So I'm delighted about all the wonderful that's happened in the first year of How to Survive Middle School. I'm glad most of all that it's made a difference to some young readers, that they learned they weren't alone in their feelings and struggles to survive those turbulent middle school years. I'm happy some young people learned that things get better.

Things certainly got better for our son. And the cool thing about all this is that some of the money I earn from this book will go to paying tuition for him to attend a phenomenal private high school in our area next year.

And I'm thrilled to announce that on my book's birthday -- April 13th -- How to Survive Middle School will go into its 6th printing.

So, happy birthday book. Thank you for bringing so much joy into my life. And don't forget that next year you'll have a sibling -- Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen will come into the world early in 2012. I hope she receives a reception half as lovely as you've had.

I'd have posted this on my book's actual birthday, but next week I'll be in PA, speaking at this conference then visiting family and friends.

When I return, I'll share photos from my adventures.

And to celebrate National Poetry Month, talented author, Lee Wardlaw, will offer an inspiring guest post about writing poetry.

April 1, 2011