Dan Gemeinhart is the author of The Honest Truth (Scholastic Press), a Winter/Spring 2015 Indies Introduce New Voices selection and a Winter 2014-2015 Kids’ Indie Next List pick.
Gemeinhart attended Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, where he studied history and education. After graduating, he taught in Cairo, Egypt, before returning to the States. He currently lives in Wenatchee, Washington, with his wife and three daughters and works as an elementary school librarian.
“The Honest Truth is a touching read about a boy who loves his dog, his best friend Jessie, taking pictures with his grandfather’s old-fashioned camera, and writing haiku. But when Mark learns some devastating news, he heads out on a reckless attempt to climb Mt. Rainier on his own. For Mark to survive, he will need a miracle (or maybe two),” said Jill Hendrix of Fiction Addiction in Greenville, South Carolina.
What (or who) inspired The Honest Truth?
Dan Gemeinhart: The Honest Truth is written in honor of a friend of mine. He was my sister’s fiancé and longtime family friend, and like the main character, his name was Mark and he had a passion for mountain climbing. He was an incredibly warm, positive, and caring person. Like the Mark in this story, the real Mark also battled cancer. He fought it hard, right until the end. I took those pieces — the name, the mountain, the cancer — and used them to tell a story that I thought Mark would like. Really, it’s not at all a book about cancer, but a book about bravery and loyalty and friendship — three things I’ll always associate with Mark. So it’s a very personal, important story to me.
What about Mt. Rainier helped you tell Mark’s story?
DG: Mt. Rainier is a beautiful mountain: rugged, fierce, majestic, deadly. It’s a remote and wild place, but on a clear day you can see it vividly from downtown Seattle. It was really the perfect backdrop for this story. Mark’s goal (and obstacle) had to be big, intimidating — almost overwhelming — but at the same time it had to be at least on the outer fringes of possibility. Having him run away to climb Mt. Everest would have been ludicrous. I’d been to Rainier before, but I revisited it while I was writing this book, and I fell in love with it all over again. It is such a short drive but such a long journey to get there. There is climbing, there is distance, there is cold and darkness — but the mountain always looms, white and perfect and gorgeous, like you could reach out and touch it. It’s like our mortality: so distant and so near, so remote and so certain. Mt. Rainier was the perfect stand-in for all that Mark was afraid of, and all he was striving for.
You must have a million wonderful, inspiring (and potentially hilarious) stories that have to do with children and reading. What is your favorite story to tell?
DG: You’re right — sharing stories with kids every day is an awesome, awesome job. One story does come to mind. Every year, right before Christmas break, I read Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl to my fifth-grade classes. It’s one of the very rare times the older kids get to just sit and enjoy a picture book. I turn the lights off and really build atmosphere, and when I get to the end — when that poor, miserable little girl freezes to death on the streets — there is always just this stunned, heartbroken silence. Even the big, tough boys are speechless, and there are always some kids wiping their eyes. One year, in that silence after I finished, a normally quiet girl said in a devastated and shaking voice, “Why did you read that to us, Mr. G?” Her open anguish was so funny, so honest, so sincere. And that’s the thing, kids love to really feel things from their literature: true terror, belly-laughing out loud, pure wonder, and deep sadness. Who doesn’t remember sobbing through Where the Red Fern Grows and loving every minute of it? And every year, after I read that totally beautiful downer of a story, all the fifth graders clamor for all my other Hans Christian Andersen books. When kids connect with a story, they connect deeply.
As a librarian and teacher, how do you feel censorship influences the relationship children have with books?
DG: Content is tricky when dealing with young readers. I’ve dealt with it as a librarian, as a dad, and as a writer. How much are kids ready for? Just because something is realistic — and maybe even important — does that mean it’s appropriate? Luckily, I’ve never had to deal with a book challenge as a librarian. But I won’t be afraid to deal with one if it arises. I think it’s so important that kids have access to a wide, diverse variety of literature so they can expand their horizons and start developing their own understanding of the world. And the middle-grade market is just so great right now — there are so many exceptional books every year, so many wonderful voices and stories. Families will always be free to choose what content they think is best for their own children, but I believe it’s essential that challenging stories be available to all kids so they can make up their own minds.
Are you working on anything now?
DG: Oh, of course! Right now I’m working on another middle-grade novel that’s a complete departure from my other stuff: it’s horror — kind of a literary horror, perhaps, but definitely horror. It’s a lot of fun to jump into a totally new genre like that and try it on for size. And we’re also just about to begin the editing process for my second middle-grade novel, an historical fiction adventure that will be published by Scholastic in 2016.
Thank you for putting the IndieBound buy button first on your website! When you travel, do you shop at bookstores? Any particular indies make a lasting impression?
DG: Do I shop at bookstores when I travel?! You should have seen my wife’s epic eye roll at that question. Anytime I’m traveling, the first thing I do is check online to see where the local bookstores are. And there are a ton of great ones in the Pacific Northwest. Elliott Bay in Seattle, Powell’s in Portland (of course), A Book for All Seasons in Leavenworth, Auntie’s in Spokane, Trail’s End in Winthrop. All those places have gotten a good chunk of my time (and money) any time I’ve been anywhere near them. And I hope with this book coming out I’ll get the chance to discover lots more great bookstores and booksellers in all sorts of new places, too.
We loved librarian John Schu’s vine of three things you need in order to read The Honest Truth. What is your favorite book and what three things do you need to read it?
DG: Favorite book? Oh, man. There’s no way I can play that game. How about I pick two of my recent favorites? First, A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd is a fresh, beautiful, moving read that absolutely gets into your heart and stays there. The three things you’d need: a carton of ice cream, a banjo, and a pencil to underline all your (numerous) favorite parts. And then, The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud. It’s this tremendously rich, alternative-reality ghost-hunting adventure. You’d need: a blanket (for when you inevitably get the chills), some iron chain or silver to ward off malevolent spirits, and a cup of strong coffee for the next morning, because you’ll certainly be up way too late reading it.
The Honest Truth, by Dan Gemeinhart (Scholastic Press, Hardcover, 9780545665735) Publication Date: January 27, 2015
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