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Okay for Now Hardcover – April 5, 2011
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Q: Did you always want to become a writer?
A: Nope. In high school, I wanted to go to the Naval Academy at Annapolis and become a career naval officer. Then, late in high school, I wanted to be a vet—mostly because of the James Herriot books and the PBS show, I suppose. Then, in college, I decided to become a lawyer—until my senior year, when I switched to an English major to become a teacher, which I did become. Somehow becoming a writer happened along the way.
Q: What did you read when you were a kid?
A: In my school, we were tracked—meaning that we were put into classes depending on how well we had done in testing. This happened in first grade. I had tested poorly and ended up in the pumpkin group—no kidding. We were the poorest readers, and so since I was told I wasn’t any good at this, I didn’t read much. Then I got taken up by Miss Kabakoff, who just liked me, and who brought me into her class and taught me how to read.
Once that happened, I read everything I could. The Freddy the Pig books, the Doctor Dolittle books, any Greek mythology I could get my hands on, and the Norse mythology that I liked better, the biographies in the Childhood of Famous Americans series, the tales of the Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Andersen, the Herbert series and the Henry Reed series, Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson, Howard Pyle’s The Adventures of Robin Hood and His Merry Men, Bambi (which is a lot better than most people think it is), anything by Jack London or Jules Verne or H. G. Wells, the Horatio Hornblower books, Treasure Island, and of course the Hardy Boys series and the Tom Swift series, which I collected whenever I could.
Q: How often do you write?
A: Every day I am not teaching—so two or three days a week, and sometimes at night—unless it’s really cold out and the woodstove needs a lot of tending.
Q: How much do you write each day?
A: I work on three projects at a time, and they are all at different stages. One may be a first draft, one may be almost finished, and one might be in proofs—or perhaps just being conceived. I try to write about five hundred words a day on each project. Most American writers—Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Jack London—all wrote about five hundred words a day. It seems the right pace for me. It keeps me from going too fast at a project.
There are some children’s book writers—like Enid Blyton—who supposedly wrote ten thousand words a day. This seems impossible to me, but even if it is true, one should not judge oneself by the absurd outlier.
Q:Where do you write?
A: I have a study in a small outbuilding away from the house. It has a desk, a lamp, more books than should be in any one room, and a woodstove. I work at a typewriter, and keep lots of scrap paper around me. This means, by the way, that if anything comes out pretty awful, I can just open the woodstove and burn it all. The feeling of relief is remarkable.
On my desk are a dictionary and a thesaurus, books by Emerson and Whittier and Longfellow and Darwin, Henry David Thoreau’s journals, a collection of Churchill’s war speeches, two volumes of Shaker hymns, some Tolkien, some Avi, some Katherine Paterson, some Elie Wiesel, The Giver, and a statue of a greyhound that has been in my family for four generations.
Q:You work at a typewriter?
A: You can’t believe how hard it is to find typewriter ribbons for a 1953 Royal.
Q: Your books often are very serious. Shouldn’t you lighten up?
A: You think life in middle school isn’t serious? Are you kidding?
Living is a serious business. Funny is good, of course. We all like to laugh. But I want more than that. Much more. Nathaniel Hawthorne, in his first great book, called life "a veil of gloom and brightness." We all wish it could be brightness all the time. And maybe for some people it is. I doubt it, but maybe. But there is gloom for us all, too. And maybe books even for kids shouldn’t ignore that. Geez, read Where the Wild Things Are, or Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, or just about any Grimm folktale, or Crow Boy, or Bridge to Terabithia, or Nothing but the Truth, or No, David, or Octavian Nothing, or The Tale of Despereaux, or Stitches, or The Storm in the Barn, and then try to tell me that writers for kids should try not to be too serious.
Q: What is your favorite book that you have written?
A: Hmmm... If I give one title, then all the other books get sort of cranky and jealous, and they start to rearrange themselves loudly at night to push each other off the shelves. Then I have to pick them all up in the morning instead of walking the dogs and then the dogs get irritated and they take their sweet time on the walk so I get back home late and miss most of breakfast and the kids get to school after the bell has rung and the day just goes downhill from there.
Let’s just say they’re all my favorites.
Q:What is your favorite book that you have not written?
A: An easy question. It is The Little World of Don Camillo. There is no other book like it, so sweet, so funny, so moving, sometimes suspenseful. I wish I had written it.
Q:What book are you working on now?
A: Sorry. Writers should never talk about what they’re working on next. It will be done when it’s done, and then I’ll be glad to talk about it. But not now.
"This is Schmidt's best novel yet—darker than The Wednesday Wars and written with more restraint, but with the same expert attention to voice, character and big ideas."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Reproductions of Audubon plates introduce each chapter in this stealthily powerful, unexpectedly affirming story of discovering and rescuing one’s best self, despite family pressure to do otherwise."—Booklist, starred review
"Readers will miss Doug and his world when they’re done, and will feel richer for having experienced his engaging, tough, and endearing story."—School Library Journal, starred review
"The book is exceptionally well written. Schmidt creates characters that will remain with the reader long after the book is done. Doug’s voice is unforgettable as he tries to help and protect his mom. . . .While there is much stacked against him, he is a character filled with hope that the reader cannot help but root for. Push this one on readers; they will not be sorry. . . .Schmidt writes a journal-type story with a sharp attention to detail, patterns in the story line, and an unexpected twist at the end."–VOYA
A National Book Award Nominee
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Top Customer Reviews
OKAY FOR NOW is stellar.
I mean it. If I could give Gary Schmidt's companion to THE WEDNESDAY WARS six stars instead of five, I would.
Seriously, this is the kind of book that makes you stop and pause, just so you can read a passage to your spouse, your kid, your friend. The voice is so wonderfully pitch-perfect, the plot points so perfectly interlocked, the characters so uniquely drawn, you can't help yourself. You get downright evangelistic about the book. If you're like me, you give your copy to your kid and then buy a copy for your dad and one for your Grandma, too. (I'm not even kidding about this.)
Doug, 8th grade protagonist, is the younger brother, the bullied son, the undercover artist, the misunderstood student you can't help but root for. As he negotiates a place in his family and in his new hometown during the Vietnam War era, he becomes someone real, someone you know, someone whose story you have to keep on your top shelf, the one reserved for your most favorite novels.
Because OKAY FOR NOW is the realization of something great. It's exactly what a book is supposed to be.
In the safety of the town's open-one-day-a-week library, Doug discovers a new talent, love, friendship, and selflessness. Outside of the library, his life is not an easy one. His familiy has multiple issues. He is unfairly judged by both students and teachers at school. And townsfolk are wary.
Doug's optimism, given all of his issues, is catching and he manages to bounce back from the many not-so-great things that happen throughout the book. He manages to keep a good attitude (most of the time, anyway) because he has a mission... To replace the missing plates in the town library's original John James Audubon book. Not only fascinated with learning to draw the birds, Doug learns that various plates have been sold to raise money for the town and he firmly believes all things belong in their proper place. The plates belong in the book as originally intended, not hanging on somebody's wall.
Each chapter of the novel opens with the images of one of Audubon's bird paintings, and the bird is effortlessly tied into the content of the chapter. Dough's insights regarding each plate are not only useful as he learns to draw the birds, they help him to better understand the dynamics of the world around him -- particular those of his immediate family. A passive yet loving mother. An abusive and angry father. A brother who is frightened at how he may turn out.Read more ›
"You're not always going to get everything you want, you know. That's not what life is like." It's not like the librarian Mrs. Merriam needs to tell Doug that. If any kid is aware that life is not a bed of roses, it's Doug. Stuck in a family with a dad that prefers talking with his fists to his mouth, a sweet but put upon mom, a brother in Vietnam, and another one at home making his little brother's life a misery, it's not like Doug's ever had all that much that's good in his life. When he and his family move to Marysville, New York (herein usually referred to as "stupid Marysville") things start to change a little.Read more ›
At first, Doug thinks everything is stupid and likes to sarcastically throw around the word terrific, which makes him kind of hard to stomach. Then Doug sees those Audubon plates, six of which have been sold from the library's otherwise pristine copy of Birds of America to folks with the money to afford them, and his world slowly begins to change. Until Doug saw those plates, wearing a baseball cap or jacket signed by Joe Pepitone would have best fit his style. Even braving tough Mrs. Windermere, who acts like someone out of Twilight Zone, would be more on his level. Doug bikes out to her place every Saturday to bring her ice-cream every Saturday, as part of his weekly delivery job for the boss of a girl named Lil whom Doug ends up thinking is terrific for real. Throughout the course of Okay for Now, Doug changes his mind about lots of stuff such as books are stupid, drawing is for chumps, and his life is no one else's business. Once Doug shows this other side, you'll find him more palatable. Your heart might even break, the way mine did, at how Doug reacts whenever his family gets accused of theft.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I loved the book, especialy the device of using the Audubon paintings as lessons in life.Published 1 month ago by Grandma Donna
My 14-year-old granddaughter recommended this book to me, and I have thanked her. It is well written and held my interest throughout. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Cheryl A. Le Platt
I am a 4th grade teacher and avid reader. I've read many, many great books written for children and I've also read quite a few that were not so great, and some that I couldn't even... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Carolinagirl
Mostly the kind of book I like to read has a fantasy or mystery element to it because I was scarred in school by being forced to read Deeply Realistic Novels Where Everything is... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Rose Green
I listened to this as a book on CD and now I'm going to buy two copies of the book to share with others. I absolutely loved this book. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Carol Judd
Terrific writing as seen through the eyes of a bitter 8th grader who eventually transform his outlook on life during 1968-69. Great use of Audubon's bird paintings. Read morePublished 4 months ago by A&P