Interview with Dan Gemeinhart


About the Interviewee: “Dan Gemeinhart lives in a small town smack dab in the middle of Washington state with his wife and three young daughters. He was lucky and grateful to be a teacher-librarian in an elementary school for thirteen years, where he got to share awesome books with awesome kids. He loves camping, cooking, and traveling. He also plays guitar (badly) and reads (constantly). His house is always a mess. He is really pretty darn happy” (Bio from the author’s website).

Find Dan Gemeinhart on the following platforms:

A huge thank you to Dan Gemeinhart for taking the time to interview with us at Pine Reads Review! His novel, Coyote Lost and Found, is out now and can be found at IndieBound and Bookshop
Be sure to check out our review of Coyote Lost and Found here!

Jenica Delaney: When did your interest in writing begin, and how did this interest manifest into your current career? 

Dan Gemeinhart: My interest in writing goes way back to my childhood. I was (and still am!) a voracious reader. Books were my thing, and libraries were my favorite place. My family moved a lot when I was a kid, so books and libraries were my refuge and reliable constant when everything else — houses, schools, friends — were always changing and being left behind. Out of that love of stories grew my dream to someday write my own. I feel so lucky and grateful that my dream actually came true!

JD: According to your bio, you taught for thirteen years before transitioning to a full time author. Do you think your years teaching helped make you a better writer and if so, how?

DG: 100%! For most of my teaching career I was an elementary teacher-librarian, so I worked everyday with awesome kids, trying to get them excited about books. I saw what they liked, what they didn’t like, what hooked them, what didn’t, and what kept them coming back for more. I think that experience — besides being the best job in the world — was invaluable in shaping me as a writer. 

JD: Have the children you taught ever provided inspiration for your work? Have you ever based character traits or picked up phrases for your novels from them? 

DG: Not necessarily directly (like explicitly basing a character on a student), but indirectly for sure. I think being around kids everyday really helped me know them and, hopefully, write them well and believably. Working with kids and kids books day in and day out was incredible training for writing my own kids books someday!

JD: The writing style you use throughout the Coyote series is incredibly witty and humorous. How do you get in the headspace to write in this style and how do you find inspiration for the comedic aspects of your novel?

DG: Thank you! You know, voice is so important in a novel, and it is often something you struggle with and work really hard on. But, for some reason, I never struggled with Coyote’s distinctive voice. From day one, page one she just started talking in my head, and I typed in what she said. That girl was alive somewhere in my heart, and she was always ready to talk! Honestly, writing these Coyote books was a joy, and it’s been wonderful to see other folks enjoy Coyote’s company as much as I do! 🙂

JD: How do you manage to balance the heartfelt and heavy moments with the frequent comedic moments throughout Coyote Lost and Found

DG: Partly it happens kind of by chance, just with the rhythm of the story and how things unfold, but it’s also pretty intentional. No matter the story, you want to mix things up as you go. You don’t want three sad scenes in a row, or three funny scenes, or three scary scenes, etc. That gets boring and repetitive, and the scenes/emotions will get less effective each time. It’d be like having a dish that has only spicy elements, or only salty elements, or only sour elements. You want a tasty mix! So I think about what just happened in the story, what could/should happen next, and try to give the story a good balance and give the reader a good mix of feelings and scenes. 

JD: I’ve seen a lot of discourse on the inclusion of Covid-19 in novels and other written stories, but you managed to write about it in a really practical and genuine way. I remember coming to the realization while reading the book that Covid was beginning, allowing Coyote to go on the road trip, and my jaw literally dropped. What was your reason for its inclusion, and how did you so effortlessly incorporate it into your Coyote Lost and Found without sounding too topical? 

DG: Wow, thanks! That was a tricky needle to thread, and one I worked hard to try and get right. Really, I included COVID in the background of this story (it is not a significant plot element, and this is not a “Covid book”), because I was (and continue to be) surprised by how little that crazy time period is reflected in our stories. That was a dramatic, traumatic time for the world, and one that absolutely looms very large in the lives and memories of young readers…the whole world turned upside down when they were in elementary school! Schools were closed! Parents were out of work! Masks were everywhere! Restaurants were closed! And yet, in our movies and books and TV shows, it’s rarely even mentioned. It’s kind of like we’re all pretending it never happened. Understandable, but also weird…and I don’t think it honors our young readers, who are still processing that experience. I wanted to, in some small way, say “Yeah, remember that? Wasn’t that weird and kind of scary? That really happened!” So I wove it into the background of this story, just to acknowledge and mirror the lived reality of those times. 

JD: You mention on your website that you wrote for ten years before getting published. As someone interested in a writing career, how do you remain resilient? 

DG: Good question! The path to publication can be grueling, long, and soul-crushing. As far as staying resilient, I guess it comes down to focusing on the important part, and the part you can control: the storytelling. You can’t control whether you get a book deal, you can’t control whether an agent or editor says yes or no to your book; all you can control is how hard you work and telling the very best story you can. So think about story, work on story, and learn about story (I’m a big proponent of writing workshops and writing conferences); put your focus and energy there, not on the book deal. Still work on getting published, sure, but don’t put your heart there. 

JD: Out of the motley group of characters you crafted for Coyote Lost and Found, who stands out as your personal favorite? And with this, who was the most fun to write for? 

DG: Well, I’ll always love the main trio: Coyote, her dad Rodeo, and her best friend Salvador. That squad is very dear to my heart. However, I also love Coyote’s new friend Audrey (aka Ostrich), who is not a super important character, but is fun nonetheless; and Wally, a character who does play an important role in the story. Audrey adds some humor to the story (and an important ah-ha for Coyote at the end), and Wally adds some important wisdom and perspective that Coyote really needs. They were both really fun to write.

JD: I found myself relating a lot to Coyote and saw aspects of my grandparents in Rodeo, which I think is a real testament to your ability to write original, yet realistic characters. How often, if at all, do you take inspiration from your own life when crafting your stories and characters? 

DG: I’m glad the characters rang true for you! You know, I don’t really draw direct inspiration from real life for my characters. I kind of tell my stories and let the characters kind of rise up out of the world and journey. Who would be in a situation like this? Who would be a distinct departure from the other characters? Who could Coyote learn something different from? It doesn’t feel natural to my own process to take a person I already know and try to shoehorn them into a story, so I try to let my characters emerge kind of organically from the story itself. 

JD: Final question, which you do not have to answer, but can we expect another Coyote story in the future? 

DG: Expect? Probably not. But I would love to write another Coyote story! I love her: her voice, her personality, her perspective. If I get a great idea for another Coyote story, I would 100% drop whatever I’m working on and jump into it (which is basically what I did with Coyote Lost and Found). So, maybe hopefully someday, but nothing yet! We’ll see! 🙂

JD: Thank you for taking the time to respond and answer these questions! 

Jenica Delaney, Pine Reads Review Writer