Gary Schmidt has long been one of my favorite authors. In fact, I’ve kind of made him my very own personal back-pocket author. Years ago, when I was freshly out of college and toying with a writing hobby, I discovered his book, Anson’s Way. I finished the last page, closed the cover and just looked at it there in my hand. “I want to write like that,” I told myself. Shortly thereafter, I began my first novel, The Color of Freedom.
Sometime later, I discovered that Mr. Schmidt taught at a college very close to my house. Not the school I had attended, but one I often visited to make use of its library. Gary Schmidt was practically my neighbor! How do you think it felt when I found out my very own personal back-pocket author lived almost in my backyard? You got it. I started my second novel, The Quill Pen.
When Schmidt’s book Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy took Newbery honors, I read it twice, and I attended a writing conference where I heard Mr. Schmidt speak. I started my third novel, The Candle Star.
Schmidt’s next book, The Wednesday Wars, also took Newbery honors, and I lamented the tragedy that it didn’t win the medal outright. (This is my favorite Schmidt book, one I highly recommend you all read.) I wrote Mr. Schmidt a very nice letter letting him know how much I appreciated his work over the years and shared how it influenced me to pursue my own writing career. He wrote a very nice reply, including some encouragement and a few tips. You know how it feels when your very own personal back-pocket author sends you a letter of encouragement? Kind of like when you finish writing the last page of your very own story and you look down at it there in your hand and you know it’s exactly right. I started my fourth novel, Broken Ladders.
This spring, after a million revisions of each, I self-published three of my four (so far) novels. I bet you can guess how that felt! And Mr. Schmidt released another book–this one, Okay for Now. Again I say, amazing!
Within, eighth-grader Doug Swieteck (one of the minor characters in Wednesday Wars) moves to a stupid town in upstate New York with his horrible family. And I’m not lying, I mean horrible. His father is a world-class jerk and his brother is a chump. But Lil Spicer isn’t so bad, and neither is Mr. Powell, down at the library, who teaches Doug to draw from a collection of bird prints by artist John James Audubon. Doug’s other brother comes home from Vietnam much different than when he left. And Principal Peattie never does stop talking in the third person, even when he turns out not so bad as Doug thought.
This isn’t a high-action thriller. Honestly, nothing too exciting happens in stupid upstate Marysville. Except the residents turn out to be the real good kind of neighbors. Except a whole family undergoes some much needed changes. Except Doug finds out that he, like Audubon’s birds, has very strong wings. This one’s a powerful feel lousy/feel good kind of book that keeps you reading simply because you can’t disentangle yourself from the people inside its covers. Look for this one to be in the running for some big awards.
In the meantime, Gary Schmidt has inspired me to go big as well. I’m not going to settle for self-publishing the last of my four (so far) novels. No, I want more for The Quill Pen. I want to know what it feels like for an agent say, “I love it!” and for a publisher to say, “This is just the sort of story we’re looking for!” and for a reader to write to me and say, “Your work inspires me!” Gary D. Schmidt knows how that feels, but I don’t. Not yet. But I bet it feels like, well, like when Joe Pepitone belted one right out of Yankee Stadium during the World Series. And I’m not lying. I bet it feels just like that.