It is such a pleasure to host Dan Gemeinhart today; after all, we are practically neighbors, with only a tiny mountain range separating us in Washington state. Dan and I are both published by Scholastic AND we each had books nominated for the Washington State Book Award (his Some Kind of Courage took home the prize). Dan has a huge, kind heart and a passion for writing for kids. His latest is Good Dog (Scholastic Press); read on for his story behind the story.
“Where do you get your ideas?”
It’s probably the most common answer authors get from readers, especially younger readers, and it’s one of the most difficult to answer. In some ways it’s easy: ideas come from conversations, from books, from songs, from daydreams, from memories. Inspirations are everywhere and are, often, easy to point out. The hard part is getting to the truth of the deeper question just beyond that seemingly simple one: Where do stories come from?
I mean, we all have conversations and daydreams and memories. Everyday. Too many to count. But why do some seeds sprout into stories? And, when those ideas do turn into stories, why do they turn into the stories they turn into?
It’s a question I’ve asked myself a lot, about all of my books, but especially my newest one: GOOD DOG (Scholastic Press). GOOD DOG is a story about a dead dog. It’s maybe not quite as sad as it sounds, though: the dog, Brodie, is already dead when the story starts. He’s in a pretty great version of the afterlife. But he knows that the boy that he loves more than anything is in danger, back in the mortal world. So Brodie risks his soul to return to earth to try to save what matters most to him.
There is sadness in the story for sure, but there is also courage and life and love and the quest for right or wrong and the seeking of a deeper meaning, a bigger truth. And where, out of my muddled life, did that story come from?
I could say, and sometimes do, that the story just came from my love of dogs. Okay. But there are any number of dog stories I could have written…stories that didn’t explore existential questions, or grapple with life and death and meaning, or ask some profound and sometimes uncomfortable questions. Where did this story come from?
There is no easy or clear answer to that. This story, and the seeking soul at its center, just came from somewhere in my heart. The questions that Brodie asks are questions I ask myself; the truths he seeks are truths I’m still looking for myself. They are, I think, questions that everyone has in their heart. I want young readers to know that it’s okay to wonder about those questions, to look around at the world and try to find your own truth, your own path. I want them to know that life is confusing sometimes, that right and wrong are not always easy to tell apart, and that it’s okay and normal to sometimes feel like you’re lost in the dark. What matters is that you keep looking, keep asking, keep seeking…and keep believing that the light is there somewhere.
Really, the most important word in the book’s two-word title is the first one. This is not a story about being a dog; it’s a story about being good, and about how much of a struggle that can be. We all want to be good parents, good sons or daughters, good teachers, good neighbors, good brothers or sisters. We’re all doing the best we can to be the best we can…it can be hard, it can be confusing, but in the end it’s always worth it. It’s not our goodness that defines us or gives us meaning: it’s our quest for that goodness.
So, no matter where exactly it came from, my only real hope for this story is simple: I hope that it’s a good one.
Good Dog (Scholastic Press)
Dan Gemeinhart is a former librarian and author of THE HONEST TRUTH (Scholastic), SOME KIND OUR COURAGE (Scholastic), SCAR ISLAND (Scholastic Press), and GOOD DOG (Scholastic Press). He lives in Washington state with his wife and three daughters. He’s on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.