When I heard that Gary D. Schmidt was coming to our local university for a lecture, I was thrilled! I’d just received a copy of his latest book, What Came From the Stars, and have really enjoyed his books in recent years (my reviews of Okay for Now [National Book Finalist 2011], The Wednesday Wars [Newbery Honor], What Came From the Stars, Trouble, and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy [Newbery AND Printz Honor]). As I waited patiently–oh, so patiently–at the end of the long line of autograph seekers, I decided to brazenly ask him for an interview via email.
And, you guessed it, he graciously agreed! Here are his answers to our interview questions. (For a terrific write-up of the lecture, see my friend Brandy’s brilliant summary.) For those who may be unfamiliar with his name (shame on you!), in addition to the books mentioned above, Gary has written a Pilgrim’s Progress rewrite, authored at least one other fantasy book, authored a book of Bible stories, is a professor of English at Calvin College, and, most recently, chaired the 2012 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature Committee.
Getting to Know You (short and sweet)
2. Is there a favorite poem or literary passage you have memorized, perhaps from your childhood?
3. Who are three of your favorite authors? What is your favorite hot beverage?
4. What do you enjoy doing with your children and your family?
5. Do you have other hobbies than reading/writing?
6. If you could recommend a book to our audience that you haven’t written yourself, what would it be? (fiction/nonfiction/poetry; children’s or adult)
Your Writing and Work
7. Can you tell us anything about an early story or poem that you wrote–perhaps one you blush to recall but your mother or your wife kept it anyway?
8. How many times did you have to send off a manuscript before you first published a work? Do you work through an agent? Do you write specifically for a secular audience or have you sought publication through more “Christian” venues as well?
9. What is your favorite of your own books? You mentioned at the UT/CCYAL talk that you identify with both Holling and Doug in certain ways. Would The Wednesday Wars or Okay for Now be your favorite? Another?
A Bit More Philosophical Now
10. How would you define Truth and Story in literature? (see our definitions on our blog if you’d like) How does your understanding of these inform or influence your writing? Does this relate to your interest in the turning point in a young person’s life when he or she turns to face adulthood? (You mentioned that in your discussion at UT and that you seek to portray that in your works–something that really sets your work apart from the general work for children these days for the better!)
A good story is always a true story. And truth is almost always conveyed best through story. It seems to me that they are very, very close. If I want to tell a lie, the story I surround it with may glitter quite a bit, but will be hollow and false at the center. If I want to speak of true things, then it seems to me that story is one way to do that that can get a reader’s attention. This does not mean that all stories are good stories; you can descend into didactic claptrap, or even propaganda–good or bad. But a strong story will always have a center that speaks to us because of a fundamental human truth which is being vividly realized before our eyes–say, a la O’Connor.
For more great questions/answers, check out his publisher’s Gary Schmidt website. Want to see the man himself? Amazon has two video interviews with Gary; a short 3-minute interview shows Gary near his farmhouse (and working on his TYPEWRITER) while discussing Okay for Now; the other is a longer, 20-minute interview with Gary.
Many Thanks to Dr. Gary D. Schmidt!