Check out Gary's newest book, MUDSHARK!
Gary Paulsen on Mudshark
Q: Mudshark is such a unique and memorable character. How did the idea behind a cool, problem-solving and observant middle-school student come to mind? Is Mudshark based on anyone that you have met?
A: Mudshark is who I probably wish I had been in school. He is, in fact, the exact opposite of what I was and, in many respects, probably still am. I wish I was that cool and I wonder what it would be like to glide through life the way he does. I’ve never met anyone like him, no, but I have watched people who had a smooth way about them and I’ve imagined their lives and how their minds worked and what it must feel like to be so self-confident and assured and able to connect the dots the way he does.
Q: How did you decide upon the nickname Mudshark, and based upon all the animal references in the book (crayfish, armadillos, parrots, etc.), do you tend to watch/read a lot about animals?
A: I actually did see a documentary about mudsharks, and their speed dazzled me. Because of all the time I have spent with dogs in my life, dating back to childhood and certainly running sled dogs, I’ve come to realize that animals are wonderful;better, sometimes, than people. They have . . . an honor, I guess you’d say, they aren’t manipulative or demanding; they just go about their business, surviving, eating, and making new little animals. It’s . . . elegant in a way. There is both humor and nobility in the way they are focused on the act of surviving. I admire those traits. More so, for instance, than making a lot of money in the stock market or playing on a winning team.
Q: Deathball is a big part of Mudshark’s school and town. How did you come up with the game, and is it based upon anything that you have witnessed? Would you have played deathball as a kid?
A: I never played organized sports as a kid and so deathball is probably a conglomeration of my vision of all the sports wrapped up in one and then made even more extreme. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have played deathball as a kid. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I might like to see what one quarter of a game is like.
Q: Mudshark is filled with a number of lovable and memorable characters. Do you have a favorite?
A: Well, of course, I think Mudshark is pretty sharp. And I like Bill a great deal, there are parts of me in him, only I think he may be better than I am in many ways, and devoted librarians like Ms. Underdorf, who I have met over the years, are wonderful people.
Q: The custodian, Bill Wilson, has gone through some traumatic experiences in his life, yet lives to see the beauty in all of his surroundings. Why was it important to you to have such a character in your book, and what do you think his story teaches young readers?
A: Bill is self-taught; he found what was important to him and then learned about it on his own. I admire that in anyone. I think, too, that a person can heal him- or herself through art; I’ve certainly done that myself. There have been times when I have been hurting and I escaped to the woods or on the sea to lick my wounds—I always took music and books with me.
Q: There are references and comments throughout the novel about the state of libraries, with Ms. Underdorf discussing the five-year plan for a new library: “after, of course, the athletic center is updated three more times and the soccer field has been Astroturfed.” Do you feel like school libraries are being neglected?
A: Plain and simple, budgets for books in libraries and classrooms should always, ALWAYS, come before anything, everything, else. I don’t think there can ever be enough, much less too many, books for young people. We need to throw as many books as we can at young people for as long as we can.
Q: Would you have been friends with Mudshark if you were a fellow student in his class, or would you have been Mudshark?
A: I was pretty shy as a kid so I don’t think I would have been friends with Mudshark if I’d known him in school, but I probably would have watched him. I was pretty observant as a kid, but nowhere near the way Mudshark was.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from Mudshark after reading it?
A: The only thing I ever hope a reader takes away from one of my books [is] a good few hours reading. If I can tell a story that grabs someone’s attention for a little while, then I’ve done my job. I never try to “teach” anyone anything with my books; I try to share what I’ve learned and noticed and observed and what I think is interesting. Some of the happiest times in my life have been spent between the covers of a book, and if I can share that experience with anyone else, then I’m happy.
of Gary Paulsen © 2002 by C.E. Mitchell
© 2009, Random House, Inc.