October 27, 2011

6-1/2 Ways to Carve a Fantastic Pumpkin with DAVID LAROCHELLE

To celebrate Halloween, we're revisiting David LaRochelle's popular pumpkin-carving post.

David has graciously added a couple new pumpkins for our viewing pleasure.

But first, a belated happy birthday:  "Happy birthday, David!"

And happy birthday to David's wonderful new book, THE HAUNTED HAMBURGER AND OTHER GHOSTLY STORIES, illustrated by Paul Meisel.

Onto the new pumpkins . . .

And now, David's original post . . .

TOMB it may concern: Halloween is my favorite holiday. And it's especially BOOtiful this year because the amazing pumpkin carver, David LaRochelle, is in the (haunted) house.

Before we get to David's astounding pumpkins, here are 6-1/2 things you should know about him.

1. His hilarious novel, ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY NOT, won the Sid Fleischman Humor Award.

2. This year, he is promoting TWO brand new picture books -- this one and this one.

3. Reese Witherspoon read his book, THE BEST PET OF ALL, at the WHITE HOUSE!

4. David and I have something in common. We both create puzzles and have been published in GAMES Magazine.

5. David has won some amazing prizes in a number of contests. (Watch the video link at the end to hear about a doozie!)

6. Once a teacher, David now does MANY school visits each year.

6-1/2. David is one of the nicest people I've ever met.


1. Choose the right pumpkin. Check it all over (including the bottom) for soft spots, especially if you buy your pumpkin a week or more ahead of Halloween. More than once I've lost a lovely pumpkin to rot because a teeny, tiny brown spot blossomed into a huge, mushy, rotten patch. And don't shy away from odd-shaped pumpkins or pumpkins with "warts"; these can be inspiration for a unique design.

2. Choose the right tools. Sure, you can carve your pumpkin with a kitchen knife, but for easier cutting and more intricate designs, buy yourself one of the inexpensive pumpkin carving kits you can get at the grocery store (I use PumpkinMasters, but there are other brands). For some of my designs I use a Speedball linoleum carving tool (you can get these at an art supply store) to scrape away just the outside layer of flesh rather than carving all the way through the pumpkin skin.

3. Clean your pumpkin well. Scrape the insides until the surface that you'll be carving is about an inch thick. You can test it with a pin. If it's thicker than that, it will be hard to carve a recognizable design; if it's much thinner, the design might collapse.

4. Be creative! As you plan your design, don't limit yourself to faces. I've carved pumpkins with dragons, snakes, words, a clock, the cover of one of my books, even a Halloween version of Grant Wood's painting "Amercian Gothic." Let your imagination go wild! And who says you have to limit yourself to Halloween ideas? Why not carve a flower, music notes, or even a happy hamster? And sometimes the simplest designs, such as a single question mark, can be the most striking.

5. Transfer your design to your pumpkin. I draw my designs on tracing paper, then tape the paper to my pumpkin and prick along the lines with a straight pin. When I remove the paper, the pin pricks show my design.

6. Lighting your creation. I usually use multiple (up to six or seven) tea candles inside each pumpkin. It makes them glow like beacons, and in case one candle goes out, the pumpkin will still look good. I've also lit pumpkins with Christmas lights. A single blinking colored light inside a pumpkin gives a very creepy effect.

And finally, 6 1/2. Don't worry about perfection. If your knife slips while carving, it will probably give your pumpkin more character. Some of the favorite pumpkins I've seen in the neighborhood are ones with lopsided mouths or mismatched eyes.

To watch David carve a pumpkin and discuss some of his unique carving experiences and amazing contest wins, click here. To go to David's pumpkin-carving page on his site, click here. To learn more about David LaRochelle, click here.

Here's hoping everyone has a Halloween to DISMEMBER. (Insert evil laughter here.)

October 26, 2011

Best Google Chat Visit Ever!

One of the best parts about being an author is meeting enthusiastic young fans.  And sometimes that happens virtually.

I had the great pleasure of visiting nearly 100 wonderful students from Lyndon Baines Johnson Middle School in Pharr, Texas. 

After talking about some behind-the-scenes tidbits about me and my books, I enjoyed a steady stream of students stepping up to the camera with a bevy of the best questions I've ever gotten.  Questions about characters, plot, motivation, specific details and so much more.  That's because they all read the book. 

Here are a handful of the fabulous students:

Thank you Monica Cantu for working so hard to make this happen and for allowing me the great pleasure of spending time with these fantastic students!

October 24, 2011

Podcasts for Children's Book Nerds

Since I never seem to have enough time to read everything I want to, I started listening to books in my car.  That led to downloading and listening to podcasts.

I discovered two great ones I'd love to share:

1.  Wordplaypodcast by Nathan Bransford, James Dashner and Jeff Savage.  This podcast comes out weekly.  There is often a fun, fascinating guest, and once a month they create an episode for young writers. 

2.  Author/illustrator, Katie Davis, has been creating her Brain Burps Podcast for some time, so there are a lot of episodes to choose from.  So far, I've listened to Bruce Coville share his experiences in Egypt during the mass protests, Rebecca Stead and Linda Sue Park talk about winning the Newbery and Nancy Werlin share how much she earns annually. 

These podcasts help me learn more about my field while I'm in the car, working out at the gym or simply taking a walk.

Please share your favorite podcast in the comment section. 

October 21, 2011

Writing Workshop at the Blake Library in Stuart, FL

Thanks, Jennifer Salas, Youth Services Coordinator and uber-wonderful children's librarian! 

By the time my writing workshop ended last night, Jennifer had been at work around the clock.  And was still smiling!

A big thanks to the teens (and almost teens) who came out (ahem, may possibly have been forced by their parents) to my writing workshop, where we imagined ourselves winning a medal for something we accomplished 25 years in the future, did some fun brainstorming and learned a rather disconcerting fact about hamsters sometimes eating their babies.  (Is this true?  Ugh!)

Brilliant young writers hard at work.  Jennifer Salas, back left.  And through those windows were young children reading to therapy dogs.  (One of the dogs barked at the exact moment we said the word "cat."  Hmm.)

My bud, Holly, was awesome enough to spend her evening helping with the workshop.  I paid her in food at a cool restaurant when it was over.  Thanks, Holly! 

My favorite part was not the hour of writing and sharing (although that's always awesome), it was the few minutes when it was all over.  A handful of kids came up to me and shared what was important to them -- their love for writing or reading or something special they'd written.  I stopped cleaning up and paid attention to each child, because those are the moments that stick.

For the first time at a writing workshop, I had more boys attending than girls.  How cool is that?!

Almost as cool as the six children's authors who also teach writing and run this amazing site, loaded with great ideas, inspiration and exercises for teaching writing.  Thank you, Teaching Authors!

Did you know October 20th was National Day on Writing?  Thank you for that NCTE!  And if you think that's cool, check out their National Gallery of Writing and post something you've written.

Speaking of writing, are you prepared to take the NANOWRIMO challenge and write a novel in a month?  It begins soon.  It's a great motivator!  Or if you're a young writer, check you their young writers program.

All this talk about writing makes me want to . . . I don't know . . . hmm . . . take the dogs for a walk. 

And then, of course, write my heart out on the new novel.  Hope YOUR writing flows . . .

October 17, 2011

How Well Do You Know Your Children's Books?

Can you name the children's book that these first lines are from?  

(Thanks to those Facebookians who contributed their favorite first lines.)


1.  "Where's papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.  (submitted by Rebecca Puglisi and Helen Aitken)

2.  "Today I moved to a twelve-acre rock covered with cement, topped with bird turd and surrounded by water."  (submitted by Dawn Malone)

3.  "It was a dark and stormy night."  (submitted by Heidi Estrin) 

4.  "There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."  (Submitted by Herb Levine.)

5.  ” If you happen to go to school just outside London, you might find yourself sitting next to a girl called Bindi."  (submitted by Littlepinkstars Reads)

6.  "I am on my mountain in a tree home that people have passed without ever knowing that I am here."  (submitted by Paul May)

7.  "Zeke's tree wouldn't speak to him."  (submitted by Cheri Williams)

To check your answers, read the first comment.  And feel free to share YOUR favorite first lines in the comment section.

October 14, 2011

Why I'm Happy . . .

This is where I live . . .

This is our son's photo (top) in an exhibit . . . 

This arrived in my e-mail yesterday . . .

"Dear Mrs. Gephart,
      I am a huge fan of your books, even though you only written two of them. My favorite hobbie is to read. My favorite place to go is the libray.And my favorite team is the eagles. But mostly I like to read your books. Icant wait to read your next book. Also my dream is to be a author just like you.
                 Your Biggest Fan
      P.S.  How many fans do you have?"

It's almost Halloween, my favorite holiday . . .


Which reminds me of Kelly DiPucchio's new book that I can't wait to get my bony hands on . . .

Why are YOU happy?

October 10, 2011

6-1/2 Ways to Unravel That Story Problem by Becca Puglisi . . .

It's not Halloween, but I've got a treat for you! 

The amazing Becca Puglisi (part of the dynamic duo that includes Angela Ackerman) creates a fantastic resource for writers -- The Bookshelf Muse.  If you ever get stuck for new ways to show character traits, emotion, setting, etc., get thee to The Bookshelf Muse!  Among other goodies, you'll find an extensive thesaurus (including weather, setting, symbolism, etc.) that is one of the best tools I've found to have beside me while writing.

Becca is also the master of mood in her writing.  Her fiction grips you by the throat and doesn't let go.  How do I know this?  Well, dear reader, I'm fortunate to have Becca in the SCBWI critique group I run with Linda Marlow.

Today, Becca shares 6-1/2 savvy tips for unraveling a story problem. 

And because it's so much fun to share:  You'll find my 6-1/2 tips about promoting like a pro without driving yourself crazy over at their blog today! 


Becca Puglisi is an SCBWI member and co-host of The Bookshelf Muse, an on-line resource for writers. She also has a number of magazine publications under her belt. Her biggest writing problem so far is landing an agent. If any agents are interested in helping out with that, she’s open to discussion.


Whether we’re published or unpublished, newbie or veteran writers--all our stories have issues. Sometimes it’s hard to even know what the problem is, much less how to fix it. Here are some methods that have helped me get to the root of my story’s issue:

1. Skip it. Don’t obsess over that opening, scene, or sub plot. Just keep writing. Finish the draft, work on what you do know, and by that point, you’ll most likely have a better idea of what to do.

2. Read about the craft of writing. If you know what the problem is, consult some of the excellent non-fiction resources out there. Fine-tuning the voice, writing emotion effectively, tying together plots and sub-plots--every tricky trick of the trade has been covered at some point. So if you’re out of ideas, borrow a few from people who share them.

3. Phone a friend. I don’t know how many times I’ve written Angela (my critique partner, Bookshelf Muse co-host, and writing hero) an epistle-ish email asking her opinion about something I’m struggling with. She’s a gifted writer and her advice is spot-on, but a lot of the time, I end up sending her another message before she gets back to me--a much shorter message, something along the lines of “Nevermind”. There’s something about talking (or writing) a problem out that rearranges things in our brains and brings the solution into focus.

4. Write something else. Work on a new project for awhile, or better yet, write something completely different--poetry, writing exercises, a picture book, something outside of your preferred genre or audience. Like switching up your exercise routine when you hit a plateau, switching up your writing may give you new insight into that problem area.

5. Do something else completely. Take a walk, go to the gym, watch a movie, play Diablo III--oh wait, you can’t play Diablo III because the release date has been pushed back YET AGAIN. Ahem. The point is, sometimes a short break from writing is all that’s needed to gain some perspective in order to see things clearly.

6. Consult the experts. If you know your struggle is in a certain area, think of books you’ve read that handle the issue well. Re-read them with an analyzing eye. Make notes of phrasings that work, what techniques are used, etc. Even if it takes you awhile to figure out how to apply what you see, it’s encouraging to know that what you’re trying to do is do-able, that others have achieved the seemingly impossible.

6-1/2. Sleep on it. Seriously. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone to bed thinking about a problem in my book only to be surprised with the answer the next day while I’m showering, cooking dinner, or vacuuming Cheerios from under the dining room table. If your conscious brain can’t figure it out, let your subconscious have a go at it. That way, you’re free to do other things, anyway.

Thank you, Becca, for sharing your tips!

October 6, 2011


Thank you for innovating and inspiring, but mostly for showing people what's possibly when you do what you love with your whole heart.

"Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle." - Steve Jobs
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma--which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary." - Steve Jobs

October 4, 2011

What Writers Do All Day . . .

We write, of course.  All day.  Every day.

Okay, is my agent done reading now?

When I need my 10,785,294th break during writing, I do any of the following:  Make a cup of tea, check my book's ranking on Amazon, look out the window at palm trees and wonder why I'm stuck inside with a computer on my lap, Google my name, go into the kitchen to get an apple, but come back with a Pop-tart and slice of pumpkin cheesecake, check e-mail, pet the dog/cat/goldfish, look up funny baby videos on YouTube, check to see if Amazon ranking has improved since last time I checked, read about someone's breakfast choice on FB, ignore the dust bunnies multiplying under the bed, read blogs.  (Really, it's a wonder I have ever completed a single book in my entire life!) 

On Meg Cabot's super fun blog, she shared an old YouTube video of what a day in her writing life is like.  

And just in case my agent is reading this far, I'm getting back to work write, er, right this minute.  Really . . . just as soon as I check those Amazon rankings one more time.