Donna Gephart’s newest middle grade novel — Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen — is about a girl who will do anything to get on the TV quiz show, Jeopardy! and to visit her father, who left the family two years earlier. Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen has received a starred Kirkus review and a blurb from Jeopardy! champ, Ken Jennings. Her other novels for children have appeared on several state lists and garnered awards, including the prestigious Sid Fleischman Humor Award. Donna lives in South Florida with her family, two shelter dogs and a very vocal, twenty-year-old cat named Jasmine. To learn more, visit her website.
Let the conversation begin!
Do you begin with character or plot?
Plot comes from a character’s needs/wants/passions, so I must know my character before I know what happens to him/her. It takes a lot of tries until I get the distinct voice of my character. Once I get that, I can move forward.
What is your favorite quote?
“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” — Groucho Marx (It’s funny and I wish I’d thought of it first.)
Where do you get your ideas?
I used to get my ideas at the Publix supermarket, near the vegetable sushi rolls and inflatable pool toys, but they stopped selling them, so now I have to get my ideas where all writers do: From fact, memory and imagination or a magical combination of those three things.
What advice would you give to new writers?
Find a rich benefactor. Barring that, read often, make writing a priority (over watching TV, cleaning and surfing the Internet) and don’t forget to get outside and enjoy life.
What was the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?
Anything our oldest son concocted. He once served us smushed garlic sandwiches for dinner. Don’t ask! Let’s just say he’s not on kitchen duty anymore, so his evil plan obviously worked.
The work is done. How do you recharge?
The work is never done, so it’s a good thing I love my work. But these are some things I like to do while my subconscious mulls over story ideas: yoga, meditation, long walks (especially on the beach or in a forest), library visits, bookstore visits, bike rides, swimming and anything with my family and friends (but most especially those things that involve eating delicious vegetarian food).
What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?
Every book is challenging in different ways. Writing a book and revising it is like solving puzzles: Never easy, but often deeply satisfying.
What element would you add to your writing space if money wasn’t an issue?
A personal assistant. Preferably Paul Rudd. He could make me laugh while he fixed lunch and sorted my mail.
How long do you take to write a book?
I wrote Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen in 29 days as part of NaNoWriMo. Please don’t ask me how long it took me to revise it!
In grade school, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was ten and wrote my first short story, I knew I wanted to be a writer. While I did a lot of other jobs to pay the bills, I’ve never really wanted to be anything other than a writer. (Except maybe a librarian. Librarians are incredibly cool in a nerdy sort of way.)
Earliest childhood memory?
Getting stuck under a table in kindergarten when I was squeezing through metal crossbars to help pick up Play-doh. It took the teacher a while to notice I was down there. I was too embarrassed to yell for help.
What is your secret talent?
I’m seriously good at the hula hoop, so much so that “the unfortunate hoola hoop incident” plays a big part in my new book, Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen. What is “the unfortunate hoola hoop incident,” you might ask? Well, I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. Seriously, I’d definitely tell you, but I don’t want to spoil the story for you.
What’s one rule you’re dying to break?
That annoying writing rule: Write what you know. I want to write what I don’t know, so I can learn something new. Each of my books has required research because I always write what I don’t know. Maybe we could amend the rule: Write what interests you.
What initially drew you to writing?
The public library. I was a lonely kid growing up in Philadelphia, and the public library near my home was a haven. Still is, here in South Florida. How could I read so many books over my lifetime and not become a writer?