Q&A With Olivia Bean Trivia Queen Author Donna Gephart
Today we welcome author Donna Gephart who joins us to talk about her latest book, Olivia Bean Trivia Queen, which published on March 13th!
-How do you feel you’d do on Jeopardy? Did you watch it growing up?
I would embarrass myself if I were ever on Jeopardy! Even on Kids’ Week. I can’t even get the questions right when I play Trivial Pursuit. (But I’m a whiz at Chutes and Ladders.) I never watched Jeopardy! growing up, but I discovered that my dad, age 84, is a huge fan and shouts answers at the TV.
-Are you a Trivia queen yourself? And if, so, what’s your strong suit?
I love reading trivia books, just like my main characters, Olivia and her “bother” Charlie. But I’m not great with recall, so you wouldn’t want me on your team at a trivia contest at a pub. I do love wordplay games, though, like Boggle, Scrabble, Words with Friends, etc. You might want me on your team for those games. There is one trivia subject I might have success with — children’s literature.
-What book made the strongest impression on you as a child?
I loved Mr. Popper’s Penguins. In fact, the mother in How to Survive Middle School, my second book, has an unhealthy obsession with all things penguin . . . because of my childhood love for Mr. Popper’s Penguins. I also loved The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, because we grew up with very little money, so I related to the main character and her feelings of not fitting in.
-What is one thing about you that would surprise your readers?
I wrote Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen in 29 days as part of National Novel Writing Month challenge in November 2009. I can’t believe I was able to write a salable book in less than a month. But my agent begs me to tell people how long it took me to revise — many, many months.
-You also wrote, How to Survive Middle School, among other books, and it features the spiraling world of YouTube. As an author, how do you feel about the role social media plays in your writing life?
Social media is a great way to connect with readers, other authors, librarians and educators. I look at it as a means of connecting and joining the conversation. I try not to look at it as a sales tool. I’ve been blogging since 2007 because I enjoy it. I’m also on FB and am amazed at the connections I’ve made there. When I was young, there was a great distance between readers and authors they admired. Now, young readers can feel quite connected to their favorite authors. It’s also great to feel part of a larger community since writing is such a solitary pursuit.
-What was your favorite genre to read as a teenager?
I’ve always enjoyed realistic fiction, but I was very open-minded in my reading tastes when I was a teenager. I read everything from Stephen King to J.R.R. Tolkien to Madeleine L’Engle to Dalton Trumbo to Isaac Asimov.
-What inspired you to write for middle grade readers?
I’ve tried every kind of writing. I started out writing greeting cards and moved to articles and essays for national magazines, then poetry and short stories for children. It took a long time to discover where I was most comfortable writing — middle grade fiction. I guess I’m 46 on the outside, but 12 on the inside. I enjoy writing for this age group because it’s a time of dramatic change, both physically and emotionally — perfect material for a fiction writer.
-What was your favorite part of Olivia Bean Trivia Queen to write and why?
It was so much fun researching this book. I read oodles of trivia books and books about people who have appeared on Jeopardy! So I loved writing the Jeopardy! sequences, where I got to use a lot of the fun trivia I discovered. There are over 100 bits of trivia (some gross) woven into the narrative.
-Which character speaks the loudest, to you? Do any of them clamor to be heard over the others?
Usually, I write a novel then let the characters go so I can begin something new. But with Olivia Bean Trivia Queen, the characters continue to inhabit in my head. I love Olivia’s little “bother” Charlie and how he’s young enough to still think it’s cool to be smart. The tension-filled interactions between Olivia and her frenemy, Tucker, are some of my favorite scenes in the book, especially when Olivia desperately needs to use Tucker’s computer to take the online Jeopardy test and Tucker slams the door in Olivia’s face. And I love Olivia’s tenacity. She does not give up, despite ever-increasing obstacles. I hope I’d be as resourceful and tenacious in challenging situations.
-Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Thank you for reading my books and allowing me to keep doing the thing I love most — writing new books and connecting with young people.
-What is one piece of advice you would like to give to aspiring authors?
Sensitive soul; thick skin. It’s a great career, but you must be in it because you love it. And if you’re not in it to write the next best-seller, you will write the right book from the right place inside of you. And that book will connect to young readers in ways you could never imagine.