May 31, 2012


Thirty years ago, my friend, Paul Grecian, wanted to be a photographer.  He pored over photography magazines, spent hours in the dark room and gave photographs as gifts.

Today, I'm proud to say my friend Paul IS a full-time photographer.  He creates amazing images and sells them at art shows and festivals, galleries and to a variety of publications. 

Paul Grecian, Photographer

 Today, Paul shares 6-1/2 tips about how to stay creative, PLUS 6-1/2 images he created that go with each tip, PLUS the biggest prize I've given away on the blog.  And you, dear reader, get to choose which prize you'd like if you win!  (Scroll to the end for giveaway details.)

You can find Paul Grecian online at his blog and can view and purchase his images at his site


I don’t always have the luxury to be creative when the mood strikes. As a full-time artist, I have to prepare for shows, gallery exhibits, fulfill phone and email orders, attend meetings and a litany of other obligations that keep me away from my camera. So when time permits, I need to be able to facilitate the creative process. Here then are my 6-½ ways to keep the creative process flowing.
1.     Do Something Comfortable: I often find that I am at my most creative when I am comfortable. Oh yes, I do like my comfort! The advantage of being comfortable is that my mind is on my work and not on how hungry I am, how cold it is, how much this sweater itches! For this reason I often create my best work when I am somewhere familiar, working when the weather is not too hot, not too frigid, and with equipment that I know better than the back of my hand (not that I’ve really studied the back of my hand so much).  Being comfortable concentrates my awareness on the elements within a scene that visually are exciting me most.

 2.     Do Something Uncomfortable: Sometimes however, being comfortable doesn’t stir the creativity pot. When this happens, I reach for a rarely used lens, apply a new method to my image making, place myself in a new environment, or try working with a new subject. Exploring new terrain literally or figuratively means experiencing new feelings and allowing responses to them to come through in the work I create. Being too uncomfortable can be inhibiting to creativity, so a balance is needed.  I do find though that being cold when working on a winter scene focuses my mind on how to convey a sense of cold in an image. The uncertainty of exploring a new location often generates in me a sense of wonder that can be missing in locations I know too well. Working with a subject or in a style that feels awkward can generate new ideas even if not resulting in great new work.

 3.     Read…….well, anything really: Other than physically being in the field where my work is actually created, nothing generates more creative fruit for me than a good read (along with a cup of joe). Whether it’s the latest issue of a favorite magazine, a biographical sketch of an artist, a blog entry, or something totally outside my normal reading fare (there’s this girl named Olivia Bean I’m reading about….), the vicarious experiences and pictures that author’s paint for me always make me reach for a notepad (or my ipad these days).  

 4.     Explore something within: When I am at a loss for where to go, creatively speaking, searching within can bring me to a place that generates new ideas. What I especially like about generating new directions this way is that it feels the most authentic to who I am. Recently, I have begun to explore the “collector” side of my personality. For several summers I worked at a museum in Philadelphia where I was exposed to awesome and historically important natural history collections. When I was younger I collected rocks, shells, and other items like acorns, and pine cones. I still have a collection of such items and use them to spur on the making of new images.

 5.     Keep it simple, just create: Putting too much pressure on creativity can act like a lead weight on the process. At such times I feel it helps to just create. I allow myself to explore a subject without thought to purpose or outcome. On a recent rainy day, I found myself fixated on a leaf that had fallen on my car windshield (worry not, I wasn’t driving at the time). From within the car I began to visualize an image of the leaf along with the geometry of the raindrops and a diffused background. I attached an appropriate lens to my camera and allowed myself to just be in the moment and create for no reason other than to create.

 6.     Hang around creative people: I am very fortunate to be involved with groups of people who are actively creating in a variety of ways. These talented, sharing, artists, craftsmen, writers, and musicians find unique ways to express themselves and always ignite my own creative fire. I have found it inspiring to be around people who work with my chosen medium of photography, but even moreso to be around those who work in mediums other than my own. Regardless of medium, there are so many overlapping aspects to the creative process. I can learn and be motivated by those who work with wood, glass, clay, paint, words, musical notes or pixels. 

 6 ½. Mow the lawn:  Okay, so this is a bit of a metaphor for “whatever works for you.” There is however something about the droning, white-noise, monotonous sound of my lawnmower that is conducive to my thought process. Maybe it’s also the repetitive almost meditative back and forth walking behind the machine that allows me to contemplate new projects, the solution to  a problem with a newly printed piece or deciding on my next marketing move. Whatever it is, it works for me and makes the chore of mowing the lawn (sneezing and all) more bearable.

THE BIG GIVEAWAY: One person will win a 7"x10" print (11"x14" final size after matting) of any of the images that appears on this blog post.  (Value of giveaway:  $47, plus shipping.)

To enter the giveaway . . .

1.  Click the "follow" button at the right.
2.  Leave a comment about how you stay creative.

A winner will be chosen at random and announced Tuesday, June 5th.  (I want to win this one!)

Thanks so much, Paul!

May 27, 2012

Favorite Philly Review . . . and Young Author Celebration

Philadelphia is in the house!!!

For years, my Aunt Iris clipped the young adult book reviews from the Philadelphia Inquirer and mailed them to me in South Florida.

I loved getting those reviews!  

In fact, I e-mailed the reviewer, Katie Haegele, to tell her how much I enjoyed her reviews.

You can imagine my delight to find that my book, OLIVIA BEAN, TRIVIA QUEEN, appeared in today's young adult book reviews, among the likes of books by Walter Dean Myers, Pete Hautman, Cecil Castellucci, etc. 

My favorite part of the review was this:  "Local kids will smile when they see that Olivia lives in Philadelphia, goes to Phillies games, and mentions her favorite place to go out to eat: the Country Club Diner."  (That's right; I proudly set this novel in Philadelphia, which is why I'm so blasted happy it's reviewed in the Philadelphia Inquirer.)

Thank you, Katie Haegele!  (And thanks for your awesome advice about cutting soy out of my diet.  It's reduced my migraines to nearly zero!)


And in related reading/writing news, I was the speaker at my favorite event of the year yesterday -- The Young Author Celebration at Manatee Academy for St. Lucie County.

Uber-media specialist and President of the St. Lucie Reading Council, Debbie Remington and her trusty sidekick, Vince, organized and ran the event.  They gave the students certificates and food (including giant cookies) and books and more books!

Debbie Remington and Donna

And my trusty sidekick and fantabulous hubby helped out.

Hubby missed his weekly basketball game to help out at this event.

 What a delight to meet these young, talented writers and readers and their very proud parents and grandparents.

May 24, 2012

Donna + Texas = FUN!

Just returned from an awesome trip to Allen, TX.  (North of Dallas.)

I ate these for the first time in my life . . .

Can you guess what they are?  Scroll down to find out.
An innovative middle school librarian, Kay Hawkins, invited me some time ago.  She promised me a couple great school visits, good food and . . . bowling!  (How could I say no?)

Here's Kay Hawkins in front of her Read it Forward bulletin board.  Read about the innovative, fun program she used to get kids reading in her school.

Kay and her friend/fellow librarian, Jane Jergensen took me to Splitsville, a bowling/eating adventure.  

I had so much fun talking with Kay, Kim (middle school teacher), Jane, her husband, Scott, her daughter Courtney and her boyfriend Fred that I often forgot to take my turn bowling.  When I finally bowled a strike, I got so excited I threw my arms in the air.  My bracelet went flying, and I nearly impaled my host!  (I later found out that Jane has bowled a 289.  Yup.  She was that good.)

Here are my two favorite Texas school librarians . . .

Jane Jergensen and Kay Hawkins.
Stepping into Kerr Elementary, I felt very welcomed because this was on the TV screen over the front desk. . .

Jane Jergensen, who was voted top teacher in the district last year – the only time a librarian ever won this honor -- went above and beyond.  She created bookmarks for me to sign that she would copy and give to each sixth grade students.  And she created these clever posters . . .

"I'll take children's authors for $500.  Who is Donna Gephart?"

 Here’s the wonderful group of sixth graders I spoke with.

 And here they are, getting their silly on . . .

Next time I totally have to give them giant sunglasses or something to help them get their silly on!

Jane Jergensen gave me really fun parting gifts, one of which was a stuffed Zhu Zhu pet hamster, which just happened to have a bowling pin insignia on its back.  What are the chances?!  Kay Hawkins gave me a T-shirt that the incoming middle schoolers will receive and a cool bag made from recycled plastic.  

Here's a photo of the swag . . .

 Then it was off to Curtis Middle School, where I spoke to eight bazillion eighth graders in the cafeteria.

Actually, it was 500 of the most courteous 8th graders I've ever spoken to!
After my talk, a few kids came up to chat.  One of them told me he wants to be a writer, too.  He asked great questions about layering and showing how a character changes over the course of a novel.  And he told me he's working on writing projects with his dad.  He said, "My dad is awesome.  I love him so much." 

James, I happen to think you're pretty awesome!

I got to spend time with some book club members, eat the most delicious beer cheese soup ever and meet wonderful teachers and staff. 

Then it was off to speak to more than 500 7th graders in the gym at the end of the day.  Did I mention there were more than 500 7th graders?  In the gym?  At the end of the day?  I was too busy moving from one end of the gym to the other to take a photo, but take my word for it -- it was fun!

That evening found me at A Real Bookstore -- a tremendous independent bookstore in Fairview, TX -- giving a talk and signing books.  The staff (Hi, Melinda!) were so incredibly gracious and helpful.  I visited the bookstore several times during my stay and bought a book each time.  How could I resist?

I had the best time in Texas.  Everyone was so friendly.  The food was great.  I couldn’t have been treated better during my school visits and bookstore visit.

A big Texas-sized thank you not only to Kay Hawkins and Jane Jergensen, but to their families as well and the fantabulous staff at A Real Bookstore!

So, what was the interesting fried food I ate for the first time in my life?  

Fried pickles!  Yum.

May 19, 2012

Heads May Explode!

So much fun stuff to share with you today that heads may explode!

1.  Have you heard Neil Gaiman's graduation speech for the University of the Arts about creating art?  It's a good one.

2.   Got stuck behind a police roadblock on my way home from a screening of Library of the Early Mind at The Loft at Congress.  It took about 4.2 seconds to find out Mitt Romney was coming through. There were so many people stuck waiting for his motorcade to pass that we got out of our cars and HAD A TAILGATE PARTY!    The uber-cool writers who were at the film's screening shared FOOD leftover from the event.  So we ate cookies, chatted and watched about a bazillion police cars and motorcycles zoom past.

Finally, a dozen cars (one of which was armored) whizzed by.  They were going too fast to see which car Romney was in.  And it was over.

A little boy threw his arms up and shouted in disgust, "Well, that was BORING!"

Indeed, it was, Little Man.  But the cookies were delicious!

3.  Hilarious post by Tosca Lee about what it's like to write with Ted Dekker. 

4.  I noticed something strange when I checked my BookScan numbers on Amazon.  In Louisiana, for the past three weeks, I sold a grand total of 2 books.  Last week, 88 books sold.  Hmm.

After a little investigating -- thank you Google search engine -- I discovered that HOW TO SURVIVE MIDDLE SCHOOL is one of twelve books on the Louisiana Young Reader's Choice list for 2013.  (That makes the fourth state list -- TX, NY and IL.)  THANK YOU, LOUISIANA!!!  (Hammy is honored!)

5.  Did you hear about the hilarious mix-up between FIFTY SHADES OF GREY and Ruta Sepetys's incredible novel, BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY, which won the Golden Kite Award this year?  NPR did a story about it called "One Sexy Mix-up."

6.  Places to go and people to annoy:
  • Texas, here I come!  Thanks to my hard-working host, uber-librarian, Kay Hawkins, I'll be visiting schools in Allen, TX.  I'll also be yapping and signing books at A REAL BOOKSTORE in Fairview, TX on May 22nd at 7 p.m.  (Stop by and say, "Howdy!"  You may win a giant pen.  And how could you possibly go on without winning a giant pen?)
  •  May 26th will find me at the Young Authors Celebration in St. Lucie County.  I love this event!  I was the guest speaker last year, too.  The proud parents and eager young writers melted my heart.  (There will be giant pens given away there, too.  Big ideas require big pens!)
  • Delighted to be co-teaching a workshop about writing middle grade fiction with agent Tracey Adams from Adams Literary on June 16th.  If Orlando is on your radar, there's still time to sign up for the mid-year conference.  Looks like a GREAT line-up for writers and illustrators!
  • June 20th at 2 p.m., I'll be speaking and signing at the North Miami Beach Public Library.  It's FREE and open to the public and I'd LOVE to see you there!  (I'm not above bribing you . . . with giant pens.)
  • Finally, you'll find me living at James Thurber's boyhood home the end of June and most of July, doing a number of events, teaching writing to young people and working on my next top secret novel during the Children's Writer in Residency Program.  So excited!
7.  Soon, on the blog, I'll be featuring an award-winning photographer.  He'll share 6-1/2 tips on cultivating creativity.  And he's offering a very generous giveaway that will probably make your head explode.

Stay tuned . . .

May 17, 2012

And the Winner is . . .

Thanks to everyone who left a comment on my post celebrating the release of the excellent resource for writers The Emotion Thesaurus by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman of the rockin' site The Bookshelf Muse.

The winner of a SIGNED paperback copy is . . . RUTH DARRINGTON.  Congratulations, Ruth!

Check back soon for more giveaways and other fun posts.

May 14, 2012

Brand New Book Giveaway for Writers . . .

Just when you thought every reference book for writers had already been written, along comes a truly innovative, invaluable resource:

THE EMOTION THESAURUS by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman of The Bookshelf Muse.

Do your characters tend to smile too much?  Bite their fingernails?  Sigh ad nauseum?

Mine do!

But no longer!  THE EMOTION THESAURUS offers extensive options for body language and physical responses for 75 emotions.  Your character's heart will never stampede with fear again!

Even though Angela and Becca sent me a complimentary electronic copy of THE EMOTION THESAURUS for being one of their writing heroes, I'm buying a brand spankin' new paperback copy so I can have it beside me while I write.  I know it will keep my character's reactions fresh and interesting.

And I'm buying a brand spankin' new copy for YOU loyal blog reader!  (Giveaway details below.)

Please stop by THE BOOKSHELF MUSE to give Angela and Becca some "Book Launch Day" love!

And, if you'd like to purchase their book RIGHT NOW, here's where you can get it:   Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Smashwords. The PDF can be also downloaded directly from their blog. 
To enter to win a FREE copy of THE EMOTION THESAURUS, leave a comment below.  

Stop back Thursday, May 17th, when a winner will be selected.

May 8, 2012


I'm delighted with today's guest!

Victoria Hanley is the author of several books, one of which caught my attention and hasn't let go -- Seize the Story -- A Handbook for Teens Who Like to Write. 

This is one of the best book for young writers I've ever read.  Some of the tantalizing chapters are:  "Freeing Your Imagination," "The Heart of a Writer" and "Plotting and Scheming."  The book also includes informative, inspiring interviews with authors of young adult fiction, such as David Lubar, Nancy Garden, Joan Bauer, etc.

Isn't the cover fabulous?

After reading this book, I knew I had to invite Victoria Hanley to visit the blog. 

She generously agreed. 

The very talented Victoria Hanley

The new edition of her book, Wild Ink:  Success Secrets to Writing and Publishing in the Young Adult Market, was released May 1, 2012. 

Victoria is sharing a sample chapter, along with  interviews with MT Anderson, Chris Crutcher, Lauren Myracle, and Amy Kathleen Ryan.  Wild About Words blog readers can enjoy this fascinating pdf file by clicking here

In addition, Victoria also shares ten tips for writers:

       Top Ten Tips for Young Adult Novelists
                                      By Victoria Hanley

1.  Write what calls to you. Open up to what’s most original about you. In the YA genre, a fresh voice is high on the list of what agents and editors are seeking.

2.  Add passion. The teen years are a time of exploration and honesty, of new independence, rebellion, and heartache. Tap your own inner teen to help you create authentic characters who have real feelings.

3.  Bring on the conflict. Without tension, your book will be like a balloon with no air. Put pressure on your characters—and don’t let the adults resolve things.

4.  Get into growth. In YA, whether you’re writing realistic contemporary or dystopian fiction, romance, sci-fi, fantasy,  horror, or some other subgenre, make coming-of-age a part of your plot.

5.  Pick a powerful point of view. First person? Third person? Second? Get close to your characters to discover which point of view will showcase your story best.

6.  Get through that sucky first draft.  Allow your first draft to be messy and jumbled. You can always tighten and polish later. Just write it out!

7.  Read. Seriously, read, read, read everything you can in the YA genre.

8.  Polish your pages. YA is highly competitive. For your final draft, don’t settle for “good enough.” Aim for outstanding!

9.  Study up. Pay attention to industry standards, including submission guidelines and correct manuscript format. Learn how to write a synopsis and a query letter.

10.  Get 'er done. Write at least an hour a day. Join a critique group. Take a class. Don’t be surprised if you hit the wall at some point, because writing YA can get emotional. But keep going, find the doorway, and finish your book!

Thank you, Victoria Hanley, for sharing your wisdom and the sample chapter and interviews from your new release!  We wish you continued success with your excellent books!

May 1, 2012


I'm still recovering from the amazing author/book festival this past Saturday in Palm Beach Gardens. 

Sue Sloan and Helen Zientek, along with a hundred volunteers, knocked it out of the park with their 2nd annual APRIL IS FOR AUTHORS event!

Two dozen authors, from all over the country, came in for the event.  For a full list of authors, click here.

Group Photo of the Authors at the 2012 April is for Authors Event

In my first session, a mother told me her son enjoyed How to Survive Middle School and her daughter loved my new book, Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen, and they drove all the way from Ocala (3-1/2 hours away) for the event. 

Kaycee from Ocala

Tom Angleberger, Mary Monroe and I shared a panel discussion that was moderated by the Palm Beach Gardens mayor, David Levy.  We had a lot of fun with the crowd.

The next panel was comprised of Sharon Draper, Lisa Graff, Claudia Mills and me.  The standing room only crowd had great questions, and it felt like we spent the entire time laughing.  What a blast!  Emily Minor, from the Palm Beach Post, did an excellent job moderating the panel.

My favorite part, as always, was meeting the teachers, librarians, parents and wonderful kids.

Elizabeth and her dad, Chris
I had time to sneak in a delicious lunch in the author room.  (Yes, there were brownies.)  And I got to chat with some of MY favorite authors.  Also, snuck into Alex Flinn's talk, which I really enjoyed.

Alex Flinn, reading from one of her books
A big thank you to my author escort, Lisa Petroccia, whom I believe I owe a lunch.  (Lisa is such a wonderful media specialist and an ardent supporter that I made her a character in How to Survive Middle School.)  Hint:  Be nice to authors; you never know when we may put you in one of our novels.

I'm already looking forward to April 27, 2013, when the 3rd annual APRIL IS FOR AUTHORS will take place!