Posts Tagged In Your Shoes

Donna Gephart Interview + ABBY, TRIED AND TRUE Giveaway

I’m so pleased to shine the MUF spotlight on Donna Gephart’s new novel Abby, Tried and True, which releases next week from Simon and Schuster. Kirkus Reviews calls it, “A touching story about finding inner strength during a challenging time” and educator, Colby Sharp, calls it “phenomenal!”

(Donna has generously offered to send a signed copy of Abby, Tried and True to one lucky winner–US only. See details at bottom.)

All About the Author

Award-winning author Donna Gephart’s previous middle grade novels include: The Paris Project, In Your Shoes, Lily and Dunkin, Death by Toilet Paper and others. Her first picture book, Go Be Wonderful, comes out March 30th from Holiday House. She’s a popular speaker at schools, conferences, and book festivals. Donna lives in the Philadelphia area with her family and her canine office assistant, Benji, a sweet retriever mix. Visit her online at Autographed copies of her books are available from Inkwood Books.

All About the Book

Please tell us a bit about Abby, Tried and True.

Abby is an introverted 12-year-old whose best friend moves to Israel and she’s sure it’s the worst thing that could happen to her. She’s wrong. Her beloved, hilarious older brother is diagnosed with testicular cancer and everything changes. Abby and her two awesome moms have to help Paul get through surgery and treatments. It’s hard on everyone. Meanwhile, Abby tries to navigate seventh grade without her best (and only) friend by her side in a world that feels too loud and too busy. One of the things that brings Abby joy during this difficult time is the mysterious new boy who moved in next door. Abby explores her feelings for this boy while she also tries to figure out who she is and how she’ll manage the challenges in her life. Colby Sharp did a terrific video review of the book here.

What was the inspiration behind this book? You’ve mentioned it took you seventeen years to figure this book out. Why was it so difficult to write?

About 18 years ago, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Getting through surgeries and week-long treatments in the hospital were some of the most challenging experiences of my life. I wanted to find a way to translate those experiences and emotions into a powerful story for young readers. It took many, many attempts to find my way into telling a deeply meaningful story that would resonate with young readers without it being too overwhelming. I think I managed to do that by telling the story from the sister’s point of view. I also included humor and the hopeful budding new romance between Abby and the boy who moved in next door.


All About Being an Introvert

I think a lot of people have wrong ideas about what being an introvert means. Did you do research on introverts, and if so, were you surprised at anything you learned?

The biggest aha moment I had from my research was recognizing that I am an introvert. I always love traveling and meeting new people, so I thought I was an extrovert. But it’s more about the environments in which one thrives. I thrive in a quiet environment where I’m able to be very interior. I can’t stand shallow conversations. I want to talk about things I find meaningful. Some people think being an introvert is the same thing as being shy. It’s not. Being shy means you have a fear of social judgement. Being an introvert means you thrive in a quieter environment, you don’t need a jumble of people around all the time. Solo projects are more appealing than group work. Much of what I learned came from Susan Cain’s research, which she shares in this illuminating TED Talk.


What would you like readers to come away with after reading the book?

I never write books in hopes of imparting a lesson or moral. I want readers to feel less alone in the world and more emotionally connected with each other. I hope my books cultivate empathy and remind us to be a bit kinder, a bit more understanding because really, we never know what someone else might be going through.


A Tip for Writers

What is your best tip for aspiring middle-grade writers?

I write middle grade because that’s the period in my young life I remember most clearly. I write middle grade because it was a challenging time for me and I felt alone; I don’t want my young readers to feel so alone as they go through their own challenges. I write middle grade because at bookstores and at the library, those are the books I’m most drawn to. If you’re an aspiring middle-grade writer, ask yourself WHY you want to write middle grade? Why does it matter to you on a deeply personal level? Your answers will be the foundation of your journey.

For more writing tips from Donna, click HERE for this archived MUF post.


Good advice! What are you working on now?

I’m trying my hand at writing funny chapter books and, of course, I’m writing my next middle-grade novel. After writing about a girl whose brother is diagnosed with cancer, my new book is funny. I think we can all use a little more funny these days.


I totally agree, Donna. Thanks so much for sharing!

Please click the giveaway link below BEFORE SATURDAY MIDNIGHT and comment, retweet, follow MUF, etc. for a chance to win a signed copy of Abby, Tried and True. The winner will be announced on Sunday, March 7.

a Rafflecopter giveaway



Interview with Donna Gephart, Author of IN YOUR SHOES

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 DunkinDeath 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 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!