Thursday, January 15, 2015

Interview with Dan Gemeinhart

You guys, the end of January is going to be full of AMAZING.

Why, you ask?

Well. My fellow Fearless Fifteener, Dan Gemeinhart, has an incredible book releasing January 27th called THE HONEST TRUTH, and you must. read. it

Seriously. This story is absolutely stunning. Check it out: 

In all the ways that matter, Mark is a normal kid. He's got a dog named Beau and a best friend, Jessie. He likes to take photos and write haiku poems in his notebook. He dreams of climbing a mountain one day. But in one important way, Mark is not like other kids at all. Mark is sick. The kind of sick that means hospitals. And treatments. The kind of sick some people never get better from. So Mark runs away. He leaves home with his camera, his notebook, his dog, and a plan to reach the top of Mount Rainier--even if it's the last thing he ever does. The Honest Truth is a rare and extraordinary novel about big questions, small moments, and the incredible journey of the human spirit.

Preorder on Indiebound * Amazon * Powells * iTunes
Add THE HONEST TRUTH to Goodreads 

Recently I caught up with Dan and asked him a handful of questions about THE HONEST TRUTH and All Things Dan, and here's what he had to say:

What drew you into the middle-grade genre?

I'm super lucky, in that I've got an awesome job that I really love. I'm a teacher-librarian in a K-5 school, working with books and kids every day. When I started that job about 10 years ago, I was mostly writing grown-up stuff (clumsy, heavy-handed, unpublishable grown-up stuff). But then I started reading all these amazing books for younger readers, and I was blown away. They are so varied, so fun, so well-wrought, so perfectly paced - I couldn't get enough of them. Of course I remembered loving all those books as a kid - who doesn't remember reading Hatchet, Where the Red Fern Grows, A Wrinkle in Time? - but I fell in love with the genre as a grown-up all over again. I saw all these fantastic books, saw kids loving them and reading them and cherishing them, and I just wanted to be a part of that. It is just such a fun market, and such an amazing audience.

What inspired you to write THE HONEST TRUTH? 

THE HONEST TRUTH was written in honor of a friend of mine, named Mark. He was my sister's fiancee and he was just a great guy - warm, generous, fun. He was an avid reader, an outdoor adventurer, a mountain climber. And then he got cancer. A really bad cancer. And then we lost him. I wrote this book in his memory. I really did not want it to be a gloomy "cancer book," though; I wanted it to be an adventure story, a story about friendship and loyalty. So I took Mark's name, and the cancer, and the mountain climbing, and used those pieces to write a story that I thought the real Mark would have liked. It's about a kid with cancer, yes, but he's a brave kid with a loyal friend and he runs away with his dog to fulfill his dream of climbing Mt. Rainier before he dies. It's not a book about dying - it's about living.

What was the hardest part about writing this particular book?

Oh, man, writing this book was just such a tough process! I'd written a couple of other books before this one (mostly garbage), but this is the first one I really worked at. At first I just could not figure out the voice, the perspective, the pacing. I started three times from scratch (significant starts, too...chapters and chapters!) before the story finally broke through. The story's really important to me, though, so it was worth the work and frustration. How a story is told is just as important as what the story is, and I wanted to tell it in the best way I could. I think all that sweat and headache and heartache was really great for me as a writer; I'd never gotten that deep into craft, never worked that hard on really getting a story right, and I think it was really a breakthrough for me. It took me from a "guy who kinda likes to write" to a "writer."

Was there ever a time that you considered giving up on your aspiration to write?

Good question. My road to publication was a long one, and that journey can really be demoralizing and soul-crushing. THE HONEST TRUTH sold quick, both to an agent and then to a publisher, but before that I'd been trying to get publication and/or representation for a couple other books and some picture books. All in all it took me eight years and exactly 99 rejections before I got my agent for THE HONEST TRUTH and then a publishing deal. That's a lot of rejections! And, yeah, there were some low times. I wouldn't say I ever wanted to give up writing (which I love), but there were times I definitely questioned whether I was ever going to get published. At some point I just kind of emotionally let go and said, "All right, to a certain extent the publishing part is out of my control. I just need to focus on storytelling, on craft, on enjoying the satisfaction of writing for writing's sake. If the publishing thing never happens, so be it; writing will still have made my life richer and fuller." That really helped me relax and focus on story. It made me a happier person and a better writer. 

What advice would you give your younger self?

If I could go back to my high school and college self, there'd be plenty I'd say. From very early I always said I wanted to be a writer; if I could go back, I'd say: "Stop saying you want to be a writer, and just be a damn writer!" Seriously. You've got to write lots, and constantly, and thoughtfully, and work diligently. And you have to read lots, and constantly, and thoughtfully. I wrote so sporadically and lackadaisically for so long before I really got serious about it. Writing is an awesome life - so do it! Join the school newspaper. Write your first book. Then throw it out (because, trust me, it sucks) and write your second book. Write a poem a day for a year. Write a short story about a weird guy you see on the bus. Read books about writing. Get feedback on your writing and listen to it and work hard and humbly to make yourself better all the time. Put pen to paper, young Daniel, and write. Writing is hard work, but it's beautiful work - and it's definitely worth it.


Dan Gemeinhart is an author and teacher-librarian who lives smack dab in the middle of Washington State with his wife and three daughters. His website can be found at, and he can more frequently be found on Twitter and Facebook.  His contemporary adventure MG novel, THE HONEST TRUTH, will be out from Scholastic Press on January 27, 2015.

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