A Cafe Chat with Award-Winning Author Donna Gephart, by Susan North

Eastern PA SCBWI is gearing up for this year’s Fall Philly event on November 2. We are planning a packed day, including keynotes, breakout sessions, lunch, and optional critique add-ons with our phenomenal faculty members. In preparation for the event, we will be featuring faculty interviews on our blog in the coming weeks. For more information about the event and to register, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/fall-philly-2019/. We hope to see you there!


Today at the EasternPennPoints Café, one of our contributing members, Susan North, had a chance to speak with award-winning middle grade author Donna Gephart who will be joining our faculty at the Fall Philly event on November 2. Let’s hear what they had to say!

Susan: Hi, Donna. I have been given the honor of interviewing you for the EasternPennPoints blog and am so excited to have you join me at our virtual café. Before we get started, may I offer you something to drink?

Donna: Hi, Susan! I’d love a cup of hot tea. Thanks. ☕️

In Your ShoesSusan: You cover a diverse range of topics in the books you’ve written. Where do you get your inspiration?

Donna: I follow my curiosity and choose topics I want to learn more about, such as life in a funeral home in In Your Shoes, what it’s like to appear on Kids’ Week on Jeopardy! in Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen, and how it might feel to have an incarcerated parent in The Paris Project. I explore themes I’m trying to understand, like grief, family relationships, societal pressure, mental health, gender identity, financial insecurity, etc.

Susan: You describe your middle school years as being awkward and uncomfortable and yet you write middle grade novels that are full of humor as well as heart. How do you explain this?

Donna: I want to give young readers a place to go where they feel less alone in their awkwardness, and I do that by writing with emotional honesty about those challenging times in life. Humor makes those hard things easier to digest.

Susan: Your success has no doubt been the result of hard work. What advice do you have for a writer juggling work, home life, and writing?

Olivia BeanDonna: It’s hard. I always wished someone could tell me the secret to managing it all. Surprise. There’s no secret. Creating novels requires intense focus and more time than you think it will. There’s no shortcut; you have to invest the time. Even the novel I wrote most quickly—Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen in 29 days as a NaNoWriMo novel—required months and months of intense revision work.

Susan: What middle grade books were your favorites growing up?

Donna: I loved Mr. Popper’s Penguins and The Hundred Dresses. Later, I fell in love with A Bridge to Terabithia and, later still, A Crooked Kind of Perfect and Granny Torelli Makes Soup. Whenever I go to a bookstore or library, I’m drawn to middle grade novels. They resonate deeply with me.

Susan: Can you give us a hint about an upcoming project?

Paris ProjectDonna: The Paris Project comes out in October. I love this book. It’s about a girl who deals with financial insecurity, an incarcerated parent, strong family bonds, and a friend with an important secret and learns to bloom where she’s planted, even if that’s in the scorching, uncultured town of Sassafras, Florida. I’m working on the book after that and falling in love with Abby Braverman, who will have to drag her introverted self through tough things to learn exactly what she’s made from.

Susan: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me. I look forward to hearing you speak about Tickling Your Reader’s Funny Bone at our upcoming Fall Philly Event. The faculty panel discussion you’ll be participating in is sure to be thought provoking.

Donna: I have a lot of fun talking about writing humor. Can’t wait to meet everyone at the event! Thanks so much.

Susan: See you then!

donna-gephart-author-photo-1_1_orig.jpgDonna Gephart’s award-winning middle grade novels include Lily and Dunkin, In Your Shoes, Death by Toilet PaperHow to Survive Middle School, and her latest, The Paris Project. Her first novel, As If Being 12¾ Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running for President, won the prestigious Sid Fleischman Award for humor. She’s a former creative writing teacher and a popular speaker at schools, book festivals, and conferences. After 21 years in South Florida, Donna has returned to the Philadelphia area with her family and is enjoying soft pretzels, WaWa hoagies, and vegan cheesesteaks. You can visit her website at www.donnagephart.com to find out more.

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