Gary Paulsen at Mercer Island High School

"Nothing tastes better than Beaver meat", says Gary Paulsen. "I’d take it over filet mignon any day". He should know: much of his life has been spent in the wild, from his boyhood in northern Minnesota to years living off trap lines and dog sleds. Speaking to a surprisingly large (300+ person) crowd tonight at the Mercer Island High School, he dresses and talks more like a man of the woods than the best-selling author of more than 200 books.

Gary Paulsen (4)

Now aged 70, he hasn’t been a famous author for all that long. Until his mid-40s he was flat broke, after a string of dead-end jobs and marriages, each failure punctuated only by time spent healing in the woods. In fact, that’s where he spent much of his boyhood, a lousy student with no friends, living off the land while running away from his alcoholic parents. Befriended by a librarian, he began reading books only through much struggle, but kept at it when he joined the army. He hated it, and ended up working for a defense contractor, which he quit when he decided he wanted to become a writer. He found himself at a small publisher in Hollywood when he met his first "real" writer, who gave him the advice that has stuck to him till today: always, always write something every day: a chapter every weekday, and three each weekend.

That discipline brought him a taste of success, if that’s what you call $750/book. But he cranked them out by the dozen, until his first hit Dogsong won him a Newbury award and $30,000. By then he was working a lot with dogs, eventually running the Alaska Iditerod race, and writing the smash best-selling book Hatchet (which he says is number 87 on a list of all-time best-sellers including that Bible).

It’s one of my favorite books too, recommended to me originally by my 8-year-old boy, who hadn’t been particularly interested in reading until discovering it and who found it a real treat to be able to meet the author himself, right here on Mercer Island.

Gary Paulsen’s appearance tonight was sponsored by the Big Read program of the King County Library System, which a great way to get kids more interested in books and writing.  Now if only I can get myself some of that beaver meat…

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1 comment so far

  1. adam on

    Gary is a great writer


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