Pam Withers is an award-winning young-adult/middle-grade author of 19 adventure books especially popular with teenage boys, including reluctant readers. She’s also a boys’ literacy advocate, speaker (parenting groups, library and school visits), and a blogger on parenting boys and more. She co-authored Jump-Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Learner Find Success in School and Life.
Why do you write about extreme adventure sports?
I think writers write best about what they know best, and having spent so many years involved with outdoor adventure sports, I find that the ideas for stories come spilling out faster than I can write them.
Aren’t those sports dangerous?
If you advance too quickly or let friends talk you into feats you don’t really feel capable of tackling, yes. What’s great about these sports is that they teach you to judge your own skills and listen to yourself carefully. They also help you push your boundaries for challenge. You’re either attracted by the challenge and danger, or you’re not. It’s that simple. And if you’re not, you can still enjoy adventure books from the safety of your armchair.
Do you do all the sports you write about?
Not all, but even where I’m very familiar with a sport, I still interview experts to make sure the material is realistic and up to date. Not all writers do this, but as a former journalist, I’m more comfortable doing research and interviewing experts than I am making things up.
I’ve had doctors help me come up with medical emergencies and ways to handle them, because if readers ever find themselves in a wilderness emergency medical crisis, and remember something they’ve read, I’d like to make sure it’s accurate and helpful.
Did you always like outdoor sports?
Absolutely not. I was a wimp as a kid — mostly I just liked reading — and I hated mosquitoes so much that I couldn’t stand camping. Then I went on a high school trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota, and the team spirit of that group, and all outdoor clubs I joined after that, drew me back again and again, until outdoor sports became the largest passion in my life. I learned to love pushing myself to be braver and stronger and more capable in demanding circumstances. But I still hate mosquitoes.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the Midwest of the United States, took my first job as editor of a kayak magazine in California, then worked as a magazine editor in Seattle and New York City before settling down in Vancouver, Canada. I’ve also lived in England, Ireland, Spain and New Zealand and enjoyed wilderness camping and kayaking in Northern Russia (despite the mosquitoes).
Do you have kids?
Yes, I have a son. He is also into outdoor sports, and used to read my books before they were published.
Who are your favorite authors?
Farley Mowat, Gary Paulsen, Willard Price, Robin Hanbury Tenison and Will Hobbs.
How long does it take you to write a book?
Four to six months.
What do you like about being a writer?
Pretty much everything. It’s a dream job.
Is there anything you don’t like about writing?
Well, yes, the isolation. I talk to my cat too much. That’s probably why I enjoy touring and talking to classrooms of youths.
Do you always know how a story is going to go before you write it?
I have a rough idea, and I work from an outline, but when the mood strikes me, I let things happen that aren’t in my little blueprint. It’s amazing how some incidents and characters pop out of your head with no preplanning. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad; it often makes for a lot more work.
What was it like being a river raft guide?
Hard physical work, but the teamwork among the guides and the chance to be outdoors in challenging situations made it an absolute blast, especially on long trips.
What are you going to write about next?
I’m always working on another young-adult adventure book! Stay tuned!