Image of Gary from Guts Gary Paulsen - Image of tree cover hills


What were your favorite books to read as a kid?

I was a terrible reader as a kid, terrible student—I failed the ninth grade. I didn’t read much because it was so hard for me. It wasn’t until a librarian gave me a book that I became a reader. I only wish she’d shown up earlier and that every kid who doesn’t like books finds someone like her. She turned my life around, she really did.

Who are your favorite authors/books to read now?

Patrick O’Brien’s series about the British Navy; I've read them all countless times and I learn something about sailing, and writing, each time.

Did you have other jobs before becoming a writer?

I was an electronics engineer, a magazine editor, a contractor, a sailor, a musher, a carney worker, a farmhand. I did a little bit of everything before I found writing.

Why do you enjoy writing?

Because, when the dance with words works, the hair on the back of my neck lifts up. It’s a feeling like nothing else.

If you could be another profession, what would it be?

Sailor or dog musher.

What are your hobbies?

Sailing on the Pacific, riding my horse in the mountains near my ranch, reading.

What is your favorite book you have written?

Always the next one.

When is your birthday?

May 17

Where were you born?

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Do you have kids?

Yes. I have three—two boys and a girl.

What authors do you like besides yourself?

Patrick O’Brien, Charles Dickens, Stephen Jay Gould, Carl Sagan.

What’s the best advice you have for kids?

Read like a wolf eats.

What's the best advice you have for someone who wants to write books?

Read like a wolf eats. And write something every single day. Commit to writing every day for at least 5 minutes, no excuses, no skipping, gradually add more time at the desk. Keep writing, don't just sit there. Even if you wind up deleting everything you've written, at least keep your hand moving and the words flowing. The best way to get over or through writer's block is to keep writing. Eventually, you'll get to the good stuff.

What would you tell a kid who's got a really bad home life?

First of all: It won't always be like this; it only feels like forever. This is not who you are and it won't define you as a person, you'll get past it—this is not about you and it's not your fault. Secondly, tell someone—a counselor or teacher at school, your principal. There are probably ways you can be helped if you can let the right people know. You'll be ok, you'll get through this. I did; you will, too.

Are the people in your books based on real life characters?

Some are, like Bass Reeves and Charley Goddard from Soldier’s Heart. But Brian from the Brian books and Sam from Woods Runner and Sarny from Nightjohn and all the rest from Masters of Disaster, Mudshark, Liar Liar and Flat Broke, Canyons, Notes from the Dog, The Monument, The Schernoff Discoveries, White Fox Chronicles, The Transall Saga, The Time Hackers, Haymeadow, The Amazing Life of Birds, The Glass Cafe, The Tucket Series, The Two Lawnboy books, Molly McGinty Had A Really Good Day, are characters I made up. I may have taken bits and pieces from people I know personally or researched, but I created them. A lot of the books—My Life In Dog Years, How Angel Peterson Got His Name, The Beet Fields, Caught By The Sea, Father Water Mother Woods, A Christmas Sonata, Guts, Alida's Song and The Quilt—are about me and my life so I guess I'm a real life character.

What inspired you to write your books?

Ideas always come to me when I least expect it. At any given time, I have a notebook with about 20-30 different ideas that I'm kicking around. I can't pinpoint the exact time or reason I started most of my books. I read and research and write all the time and sometimes, when I'm working on one book, another idea will come to mind and I'll abandon the first to start the second and then go back and forth between them. The more you write and the harder you work, the more ideas come to you. At least that's what's happened to me.

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Photo of Gary Paulsen 2002 by C.E. Mitchell
Hillscape photo 2002 by The Longhouse Company

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