36 Books Blog: Pat Schmatz

Each day leading up to the 2019 Minnesota Book Awards Ceremony, we’ll be featuring an exclusive interview with one of our 36 finalists. Learn more about these incredible local writers and gear up to see the winners announced live in person April 6.

Interview with Pat Schmatz, author of The Key to Every Thing

Category: Middle Grade Literature, sponsored by Education Minnesota

Photo credit Andrew Karre

How does if feel to be a Minnesota Book Award finalist?

It is a very pleasant surprise. The competition is fierce in Minneapolis, with beautiful books coming out every year. I’m honored to be in excellent company.

Tell us something about your finalist book that you want readers to know.

Years ago, my friend Nora gave me an old bent skeleton key. She said, “I think this key has a story, and you’re the one to tell it.” I carried the key in my pocket for several years, and one day on a long walk, it started talking to me. I transcribed to the best of my ability.   I took care of my mother – who has some things in common with Cap’n Jackie – as she was dying. Somewhere in those weeks when she was in hospice, I misplaced the key.  I thought sure I’d find it again, but I never did. I’m thinking somehow, my mom took it with her. I had to write the last draft of the book without the key in my pocket, but by then I knew the story well enough to finish.

Let us know a little bit about your writing life. What brought you to a writing career and how did you become a published author?

I first read “The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton when I was eleven, and decided right then that I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to make people feel the way her book made me feel. I have tried to stay true to that goal with my writing. I’ve had a whole lot of help along the way from the Minnesota kidlit community, Transatlantic Literary Agency, and Candlewick Press. Stories are everything. I’m grateful for having the chance to share some of mine.

Minnesota is often ranked highly as a state that values literature and reading. In your experience, what is it about our state that makes it such a welcoming place for writers and book creators?

I appreciate how easy it is to get the story you want here – between the libraries and the independent bookstores, I can always get my hands on the right book. Also, particularly as a writer for kids, I’ve found a great deal of support along the way. I’m aware of how many of those doors have opened easily for me as a white, middle-class Midwesterner. We’re starting to see those doors open wider for some of the other stories, too. I’d love to see that happen faster (because – as I said – stories are everything!).

What is something you are good at that few people know about?

I’m a good learner. When I make up my mind that I want to learn something, I get in there and work at it. Currently, my focus is on language. I’m studying American Sign Language, upping my Spanish skills, and learning to read Hebrew.

What do you love about libraries?

I can hear about a book, go to my computer, request it, and it comes right to my neighborhood library branch! And they let me take it – free! – and keep it for weeks. Sometimes months, if nobody else is waiting. All absolutely free. Not only that, but they keep thousands of books right there, and I can wander around and look at them – and take a stack of those home with me, too! Really, it’s one of the best things ever. Still.

About Pat Schmatz
Pat Schmatz is the author of six books, including Bluefish (Josette Frank, Crystal Kite and Elizabeth Burr/Worzalla Awards) and Lizard Radio (James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award).  Pat grew up in rural Wisconsin, and after college in Michigan and graduate school in California, she now divides her time between Wisconsin and Minneapolis. She is a lifelong learner, traveler, and lover of books, trees, and water.