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Kids' Q&A

Gary D. Schmidt

Describe your latest project.
Sometimes books begin with a deliberate image, or idea, or event; sometimes they begin without anything at all, out of the blue, without the writer doing anything but pay attention.

Trouble began this second way. I was in Concord, Massachusetts, researching a book on the American writer Hannah Adams, and staying in a lovely bed and breakfast in that lovely town. One morning, I met a kid who, over breakfast, was receiving his final coaching from his mother and his grandmother — who had flown in the previous evening from Paris. The event? That morning he was to interview for admittance into a local prep school. He was certainly ready. He had on a suit with the appropriate school colors, and a silk tie with the appropriate school colors, and a handkerchief (I am not making this up) with the appropriate school colors. He carried a briefcase — leather, with gold clasps. (I am not making that up, either.)

This interview, they told me, would make his future. He would eventually go into law, and then into politics. I would hear his name someday, they assured me. They had no doubt he would be accepted. He had no doubt that he would be accepted.

He was ten years old.

I have wondered about this kid over the ten years since that morning. I have wondered what his huge wealth has done to him. I have wondered how his privilege and rank has affected him. I have wondered if he came to believe that his status was an entitlement — or if he had ever imagined another kind of life. I have wondered how he could ever hope in a rich prep school surrounded by others only like himself to develop empathy for anyone unlike him. I have wondered if he was strong enough to become more than what he was destined to become.

Trouble comes out of that wondering. It is set in an old moneyed town on the east coast of Massachusetts, and its protagonist, Henry Smith, believes that his wealth makes him immune to anything that might mar his happiness and ease. He attends a prep school that is Anglo-Saxon to its core. He rows crew and plays rugby. He will be wealthy and successful. Everything in his experience affirms this.

A few miles away is an old industrial town, saved from the demise that affected so many New England industrial towns by the influx of a vital and vigorous Cambodian community that has known more trouble than Henry Smith can even imagine. They are refugees from the Vietnam War, and are seeking a new life, and the hope that had always eluded them in their faraway land. They have come on refugee boats, through church relocation programs, having lost everything except their memory of the stars that shone over Cambodia.

Henry cannot even conceive of their experience. He cannot even imagine trying. He cannot imagine anyone in his family, or even community, trying.

But someone does, and the result jars two hemispheres.

When those two worlds collide, Henry is forced to think about a world where money and power and tradition and prestige do not insure happiness and immunity from Trouble. Trouble comes anyway, and it is powerful, and threatening, and almost overwhelming. In this new world, Henry must discover what those in the Cambodian community have known for a long time: That one lives with Trouble near the door, and no matter how thick the door or how strong the lock, Trouble is still there.

For Henry to understand this new world — or at least to learn that he has to live in it — he leaves home and travels up the coast toward Katahdin. He had intended this to be a lonely pilgrimage, but he is joined by two unlikely others, who are themselves facing Trouble. Together they journey to the mountain, and there they hope to find something, anything, that will show them some sort of clarity in this new world. What they find is, of course, quite different from what they had imagined. Henry heads up toward the Knife Edge on Katahdin, never knowing that Trouble is following, that Trouble carries a shotgun, and that the shotgun is the least of his worries.

  1. Trouble
    $7.95 Used Hardcover add to wishlist


    Gary D. Schmidt
    "A deeply moving and pleasurable read." Kirkus Reviews

    "Contains Schmidt's eloquent language and compelling characters..." School Library Journal (starred review)

  2. The Wednesday Wars
    $9.95 Used Hardcover add to wishlist

    The Wednesday Wars

    Gary Schmidt
    "Schmidt...makes the implausible believable and the everyday momentous." Booklist (starred review)
  3. Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy
    $4.95 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist
    Winner of the Newbery and Printz Honor Awards.
Introduce one other author/illustrator you think people should read, and suggest a good book by him/her.
For a novelist who isn't read much anymore in North America — though he still remains very popular in Europe — I'd recommend Giovanni Guareschi. He wrote a series of novels about Don Camillo, beginning with The Little World of Don Camillo. They focus on a small town in Italy after World War II, in which Don Camillo governs the church, and Peppone, the Communist mayor, governs the town. That first novel stays on my desk whenever I'm writing. It is, for one thing, the funniest book I have ever read; I rarely laugh out loud during a reading, but with this novel, I cannot help it. But it's not only a comic read; the book is laced with powerfully poignant scenes of belief and doubt, faith and despair. Life, the book suggests, is a constant mix, with the unexpected at every turn. That's something I want to explore as well.

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
Here's my favorite line from a novel: "Reader, I married him." It comes from Bronte's Jane Eyre, and is the line opening the final chapter. Finally, finally the two have come together, and Jane has come to Mr. Rochester on her own terms: The sentence says "I married him," an assertion of Jane's own identity and purpose.

What is your favorite literary first line?
Here's my favorite opening line from a novel: "Call me Ishmael." This is the opening of Moby Dick — which is very far from being my favorite novel. Very, very far. But I love the opening. I love the assertion of the person, and the sense of command. (Is his name really Ishmael, or does he just want us to call him this?) I love, too, the rhythm Melville gets: the book opens with three stressed syllables in a row; it demands that we pay attention.

How did the last good book you read end up in your hands?
The two last good books I came upon, Ron Hansen's Mariette in Ecstasy and Edward P. Jones' All Aunt Hagar's Children, both came to me on the recommendation of a colleague. I held the Hansen for a time, since it did not seem to me the kind of book that I was eager to begin. The cover alone put me off. But once started, I was caught by the concreteness of his vision, and of his language. On the Jones, one only need read only the first page top become hooked. That's all. No one can put down work by someone who writes like this.

What was your favorite story as a child?
My favorite stories as a child came from a collection of books edited by Olive Beaupre Miller, named My Bookhouse — the title coming from the fact that the books were marketed literally in a wooden house. There were six dark volumes, and they showed that wonderful Edwardian sense that you could, in an anthology, bring together all of the world's wisdom — which meant, in 1929, mostly British wisdom. The books introduced me to N. C. Wyeth's illustrations, to the Norse myths, to James Fenimore Cooper, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Browning, Longfellow, Whittier, and tales of faerie, of myth, of British fantasy and history, and told of a world where anything was possible. I still remember the smell of the pages, even the texture of them.

Name the best Simpsons episode of all time, and explain why it's the best.
I think I may be the only person in North America to believe this, but here it goes: I don't think The Simpsons is all that terrific. Sorry, but we are who we are.

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Gary D. Schmidt is the author of the Newbery Honor and Printz Honor book Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. He is a professor of English at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


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