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)
1. What is an early book you remember reading in your childhood?
My favorite book–or rather, set of books–from childhood is My Bookhouse, a collection of six volumes that came out in the 1920s edited by Olive Beaupre Miller. It was a collection of great poems and stories–many legends and myths–that I loved.
2. Is there a favorite poem or literary passage you have memorized, perhaps from your childhood?
I think my first memorized poem was an Ogden Nash one about a caterpillar–then “Ozymandias” by Shelly in sixth grade, a bit of a leap.
3. Who are three of your favorite authors? What is your favorite hot beverage?
Favorite authors: Charles Dickens, Patrick O’Brian, Katherine Paterson, M.T. Anderson, Lois Lowry. Favorite hot beverage: Hot tea–Earl Grey.
4. What do you enjoy doing with your children and your family?
We enjoy traveling to New England, gardening, playing golf when we can….
5. Do you have other hobbies than reading/writing?
No real hobbies–maybe book collecting. I collect first editions of the great Concord writers of the nineteenth century.
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)
The Little World of Don Camillo
by Giovanni Guareschi.
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?
I didn’t really write at all as a kiddo. I did have a first novel that is awful–the only writing I’ve ever had that was rejected outright by Jean Karl. I still have that, hidden in a folder deep in the bowels of the desk. I’ll burn it before I die, I suppose.
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?
I sent the second book to Virginia Buckley, then at Lodestar, and she accepted it. I have been with her ever since, so I never have had to do the multiple submission thing. I do realize that this is very unusual. I do not use an agent. I tend to think more about editors than I do about sacred/ secular categories. I write to work with the people I want to work with, given the project–and these are almost always friends.
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?
My own favorite book: Okay for Now.
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!