Today we’re thrilled to welcome Donna Gephart, author of several popular and critically acclaimed books, including her latest In Your Shoes (Delacorte Press/Penguin Random House). The novel, which hit bookstores yesterday, received a star from School Library Journal, which called it, “A unique and compelling novel from a master storyteller.”
Donna is known for writing middle-grade novels with loads of heart and humor. Her award-winners include Lily and Dunkin, Death by Toilet Paper, and As If Being 12-3/4 Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running for President!
She’s a popular speaker at schools, book festivals, and conferences. Visit her at www.donnagephart.com for reading guides, writing tips, fun videos, and more.
Before we get to the interview, here’s a bit about the novel:
Miles is an anxious boy who loves his family’s bowling center even though he could be killed by a bolt of lightning or a wild animal that escaped from the Philadelphia Zoo on the way there.
Amy is the new girl at school who wishes she didn’t have to live above her uncle’s funeral home and tries to write her way to her own happily-ever-after.
Then Miles and Amy meet in the most unexpected way . . . and that’s when it all begins . . .
First, congratulations on the publication of your sixth book, In Your Shoes! What was the inspiration behind this novel?
Thank you! In the book’s author’s note, I share a personal story about how my mom almost died when I was ten. The worry that she might die terrified me back then. This novel explores how one might navigate the worst kind of grief with the help of friends, family, and a highly creative imagination.
Being a bit of a, let’s say, cautious person myself, I can definitely relate to Miles’s anxiety and fears. Do you or anyone you know share his characteristics?
Yes, some members of my family have mild anxiety/worry issues that crop up in the form of repeating behaviors, superstitions, etc. I drew from those fears and behaviors to craft the lovably neurotic character of Miles Spagoski, bowling nerd extraordinaire. To relax, Miles looks up weird ways people have died. Those fascinating facts pepper the book.
This is a question readers, including me, always want to know: Where do you get your ideas?’’
The seemingly disparate ideas for In Your Shoes came from so many places, like strange seeds all planted in the same soil. I wanted to write a book about the bowling culture of young people, after hearing about a friend’s son’s passion for his school’s bowling team. I also wanted to write about navigating grief after learning a friend of the family had lost her mom when she was only eleven. I’ve always wanted to write a fairy tale because my mom read so many to me when I was young, so the main character creates a story within the story — a fairy tale — that mirrors what’s happening in the novel. It was a very difficult novel to create structurally, but I’m happy with how it all came together. I also love how the book’s designer set up each section to look like a bowling frame.
In this novel, and in the fabulous Lily and Dunkin, you write from two points of view. Can you tell us a bit about the challenge of getting inside the heads of two distinct characters? Any tricks to making them sound different from each other?
I need to know my characters well, including their entire family history — what their parents did, their grandparents, etc. — before I tackle writing from two distinct characters’ voices. I think it’s fun to see how these two come from such different backgrounds, yet stumble their way into a deep and meaningful friendship that changes both of them for the better.
What is one of your favorite passages in the novel?
I love the bits where the snarky, science-loving narrator intrudes. Here’s a snippet from the opening:
Some stories start with “Once upon a time . . .”
Some start with a dramatic moment, like the appearance of a meteor hurtling toward Earth . . .
At the start of this story, there’s a nervous boy who braves freezing temperatures to get to his favorite place in the universe.
And there’s a grieving girl who wakes in a new bedroom somewhere she hadn’t meant to be.
So this story absolutely does not begin with “Once upon a time . . .” or with a meteor hurtling toward Earth.
It starts (and ends) with a bowling shoe.
As these things sometimes do.
And lastly, what’s your highest bowling score ever?
Oh, please. I’m lucky to get above 100 . . . and that’s with bumpers on the lanes!
Ha! Thanks so much for taking the time to give us a glimpse of In Your Shoes and of your writing process as well. Readers definitely have a treat in store for them!