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Side by Side: Survival

Side by Side

Side by Side: Survival

Whether you went camping under the stars, learned how to tie knots in Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts or even just navigated the wilderness that is high school, you've had to deal with survival skills at some point in your life.

But the characters in Melinda Braun's and Paul Griffin's new books take survival to a whole new level. In Braun's STRANDED, Emily and a group of campers are forced to face the world's most violent enemy: Mother Nature. In Griffin's ADRIFT, new friends decide to take a stolen boat out on the Atlantic, but not all of them return to shore.

We decided to ask Melinda and Paul some questions about their books and the unique set of skills it takes to survive in the wild --- check out their answers below! What inspired you to write your book?

Melinda Braun: A few separate things. First, I had just read in the paper a story about a Boy Scout troop who got lost out on a big lake in the Boundary Waters (they were quickly rescued, though!). A derecho (flat line winds) also occurred in that area, causing a huge amount of destruction and leading to a large forest fire about a decade ago. I had also just reread the novel HATCHET. Basically, I combined all those things together into a camping trip with teenagers and ran with it.

Paul Griffin: I had been writing lost at sea stories since I was a kid.  My uncle had a leaky old boat that we used to take out into the Long Island Sound.  One day the engine flooded, and we were stuck out there --- not for long, maybe an hour, but that was one long hour!  The boat had no radio, and this was pre-mobile phones. I started wondering what my uncle and I would do when night came, or if the boat took on water, and we had to swim.  I was pretty sure I wouldn’t make it all the way to shore, which was miles of choppy water away.  Worse, what if my uncle couldn’t make it?  I was no lifeguard.  Would I go down with him?  Would I take him down with me? 

Anyway, my lost-at-sea stories generally started from incidents like that --- being out on a boat, in the openness of the sea, where one’s imagination has a tendency to run wild.  I never sold a single one of those stories.  Then, a couple of years ago, my friends at Scholastic were looking for somebody to write a book about --- yes --- teens lost at sea.  I felt I would ruin the editor’s project (not knowing the Pacific and wanting to do a more action-driven story), so after meeting some editors over cupcakes and telling them my own ideas, they said, “Okay, then do that.” And that was it!

TRC: What was the most interesting thing you learned while researching your book?

MB: I would say two very interesting things I learned were 1) How to make a wrist watch into a compass (what Oscar does to help lead them in the right direction) and 2) a little known WWII fact I learned from my agent, Hannah Bowman: medics used tampons to treat bullet wounds on the battle field. That also comes into play in the book.

PG: I went very much with what I knew about boating --- which was very little!  I thought that while being lost at sea is scary enough when you’re a good sailor, it’s even scarier when you don’t know what the heck you’re doing.  I figured I’d give the characters my personal skill set and see what they could do with that to try to save themselves.  I’ve been an EMT for 12 years, so I gave one of the kids some rudimentary medical training.  I did some orienteering and camping as a kid, so I gave that to another character.  I like taking things apart and putting them back together --- I’m no mechanic, but machines fascinate me.  I gave one of the other kids that interest.  I like to think I try to keep my sense of humor when things get a little rough, so I gave that to yet another character.  Basically, here’s what I learned: With my skill set, I probably would not survive long at sea!  But it was fun to think about how I might try.

TRC: If you were trapped in the wilderness, what would be your biggest fear?

MB: Knowing what I know, my greatest fear would be the weather. My second would be having enough clean water to drink. My first impulse would be to stay put and wait for help, but if I didn't have access to water I would definitely search for some.

PG: Dehydration.  I’ve seen people suffer from that, and it really messes you up—your internal organs, especially your brain.  Very painful.  Really though, the thing that I’d be most afraid of is running into a psychopath who’s hiding out in the wilderness!

TRC: You’re stranded on an island with just one other person for a month. Who would you choose and why?

MB: I would definitely pick MacGyver! Or, if it had to be a real person, I would pick a Navy Seal!

PG: My wife.  Three reasons: First, she’s my best friend.  Second, she’s smokin’ hot.  Third, if I said anybody else I would not live long enough to finish this questionnaire.

TRC: Be honest: how long do you think you could survive in the wilderness by yourself?

MB: Depending on the circumstances and supplies, I think I could last a long time by myself. As long as I could keep moving and not get injured (big ifs), I would go as long as I could. At a certain point, I think survival comes down to luck. I don't know if that's a good thing or not. Depends if you're lucky, I guess.

PG: Does this wilderness have a pool, or at least a nice deli?  Not long.  I’d say without water I’d last five days max.  I will tell you though, that if I had decent supplies and a good dog or two, I’d last a long time.  I do the alone thing very well!

TRC: Your protagonist is a contestant on “Survivor.” What challenge would they be sure to win?

MB: If Emma was a contestant on “Survivor”, I think any challenge that has to do with swimming would be her forte.  Her second strong suit is reading people and figuring out how to get along, which from what I've seen of the show is probably the most important skill to possess! It's not the strong who survive in the end --- it's the psychologically quick ones.

PG: I have never watched “Survivor”.  My wife works in reality television.  Would you be surprised if I told you that some of the stuff you see is, ahem, less than reality?  I will Google “Survivor” challenges though --- give me a minute.  Okay, I’m back.  Here’s the one I would NOT put my protagonist through: the Schmergen Brawl.  If I want to see a bunch of out of shape idiot guys beat each other up, I can get that any Saturday down at the basketball courts.  Besides, I don’t like fighting.  I like peace.  Om, and happy sailing to you, Teenreads peeps!