Meet the Outdoorsman Who Wrote Hatchet
by Alana Pedalino
Meet Gary Paulsen, the award-winning author of Hatchet, in this Scholastic Book Clubs–exclusive interview and let your students discover how his experiences inspired this exciting novel of survival.
It turns out that Gary Paulsen has survived some pretty terrifying situations not unlike Brian, his character from Hatchet. In fact, some of Brian’s adventures in Hatchet were inspired by Gary’s own experiences in the wilderness. We were curious to learn more, so we connected with Gary and asked him some questions!
We know that you experienced two forced landings as an adult. Do you think you would have been able to survive a crash if you were 13 years old like Brian in the book?
I’d like to think so. At that point in my life, I was pretty much living on my own in the woods, trapping and fishing. I didn’t have a lot of what might be called “parental supervision,” so I kept to myself and I stayed mostly in the outdoors because it was safer for me than what might be called “home.” I learned a great deal about surviving outdoors in all kinds of weather when I was a kid in Northern Minnesota. I probably slept outside more than inside when I was a kid.
What draws you to the outdoors? Why were you compelled to write about it in Hatchet?
It’s where I’ve always felt the safest, where things make the most sense to me. I can’t find my way through a city without getting lost, but I can always make myself at home in the woods or on the ocean or in the desert mountains. I’ve written about the outdoors and survival in more than a few of my books; they’re not new themes for me because the outdoors is the best part of my life, always has been. Somehow, though, Brian and his stories touched a nerve in young readers; they got him and his stories in ways I’ll never understand but am eternally grateful for. The readers of Brian, unlike any of my other outdoor adventure books, kept demanding that I answer more questions, keep his story going. It’s been a wonderful dance all these years, sharing Brian with the readers and hearing their thoughts about him.
What was your scariest outdoor experience?
Well, the forced plane landings were moderately to excruciatingly terrifying; I can’t recommend the experience. I nearly bled out after getting caught on a fence during a dog race—you never really know how much blood you have, or how RED it is, until you see it spilling out across fresh white snow, alone in the middle of nowhere. There were a few times, late at night, in the middle of the Pacific, when my tiny sailboat was nearly demolished by enormous cargo ships. I went through the ice once on a pond and watched the air bubbles rise to the surface, thinking, “There goes my life.” (Cookie, my lead dog, saved me that time; she grabbed the rope that was tied to my wrist and still on top of the ice and hauled me to the surface.)
Do you have any advice that you would give to students who want to become writers?
Read every day. Write every day. I mean it: EVERY DAY. To this day, I study the writing of others every single night, and I always have a notebook or a laptop with me if I’m not working at my desk. I wrote books on airplanes and in hotel rooms, and next to campfires at night on long runs with my dog teams, and in the kennels when I used to sleep near my sled dogs, and in sailboats in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and in tents as I drove my Harley from New Mexico to Alaska and back again. Don’t give up. I wrote many books for many years before Hatchet happened.
And finally, before we sign off on this post, Gary asked us to share this note to all his fans!
Dear Scholastic readers,
Thank you. Thank you a million times over for reading Hatchet, and all the Brian books, and all my books all these years.
Most writers can only dream of the kind of readers you have been. I’d write if no one ever read any of my books, but it’s been so much sweeter knowing you were on the other side of the page. I’ve said it before, but writing for you is just about the greatest thing I’ve ever known, along with dogs and the wilderness. Let’s keep it going: I’ll keep writing for as long as I breathe, if you keep reading like a wolf eats.
Many creative minds transform their life experiences into incredible stories that inspire others. Did this interview or Hatchet give your students a new perspective on survival stories and nature? We’d love to hear from you! Share with us on social media using the hashtag #ScholasticBookClubs.
Gary Paulsen is one of the most honored writers of contemporary literature for young readers and the author of three Newbery Honor titles: Dogsong, Hatchet, and The Winter Room. He has written more than 100 books for adults and young readers. He divides his time among Alaska, New Mexico, Minnesota, and the Pacific.
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