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Good advice from Gary Paulsen

Author Gary Paulsen passed away yesterday at the age of 82. Paulsen was a young adult author best known for coming of age stories about the wilderness. He was the author of more than 200 books over the course of his storied career, and he also wrote more than 200 magazine articles,  short stories, and several plays, all primarily for teenagers. He was a three time Newbury Honor winner and won the Margaret Edwards Award from the American Library Association in 1997 for his lifetime contribution in writing for teens.

Quite a career.

I didn’t read any of Paulsen’s books as a child, but my students have certainly read their fair share of his books over the years, and  I had the honor of meeting Paulsen at my very first author event back in the fall of 2009. Paulsen, novelist Elinor Lipman, several other authors, and I gathered for lunch one afternoon on the eve of the Brattleboro Literary Festival.

Paulsen was being recognized by his publisher for selling his kazillionth book.

I had just published my first novel, Something Missing, and had sold decidedly fewer books.

I sat with Paulsen and his wife, Ruth, for lunch, and remember that Ruth, an author and illustrator of children’s literature, was the entertainer of the couple. She chatted me up quite a bit while Paulsen sat beside her, quietly listening.

Later that day, when it came time to sign books for attendees, Elenor Lipman taught me how to sign a book, explaining which page should be signed. She was sweet – a seasoned author showing a brand new author how to sign his very first book.

It was quite a day for me, surrounded by such literary royalty.

Before I left, I managed to ask Paulsen what it was like to sell so many books.

He said, “It’s all about the next sentence that you write. Don’t look back. Look ahead.”

It was excellent advice for a brand new author, and I think it’s pretty good advice for all of us.

Rest in peace, Gary Paulsen.