Welcome to my blog about books and the classroom.
A teacher's opinions on YA literature and the state of public education in America.

Interview with Chris Crutcher

Hi, Chris. Thank you so much for agreeing to interview with me. AND thank you for such an awesome YA read! The only other book that has ever evoked that kind of emotion from me was Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay (another must-read).

Back before Deadline was banned from my classroom, I used it to strengthen non-college-bound seniors’ understanding of the evolution of heroism, and character motivations, in Beowulf (this method, might I add, helped me achieve National Board Certification). You should know that in that class were four teenage parents, two army recruits, and several students considered at-risk. None of them liked reading. But this group would have left AP students in the dust with their in-depth discussion of themes, symbolism, and vocabulary (thanks for italicizing those words for us, by the way!). They didn’t miss a nuanced idea or skip a page.

I think it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: YOU CAN WRITE!

I hope you’re ready to write some superfantastic answers for this blog. 😉

1.) What is your response to Deadline being read alongside “Beowulf”?

FREAKY! Makes me wish I’d read Beowulf. In fact I’ve said many times that most of the themes embedded in the “Classics” are available in contemporary literature and that those classics can be better understood when coupled with situations readers can read about and understand in current terms.

 

2.) I loved how you used the character of Rudy-the-wayward-priest-turned-town-drunk to complicate Ben’s internal conflict; but, have you gotten any slack over the “Catholic priest” stereotype?

Not yet. And actually Rudy’s a little off the “Catholic priest” stereotype in that his remorse was so quick and complete. Most of the priests involved in the current scandals did something very different than what Rudy did; they accepted relocation and went on. I did know, however that the possibility of that backlash may exist. I was actually kind to Catholic priests.

 

3.) Speaking of complicating the plot, throwing Sooner’s sudden death into the mix adds so much depth to story, as well as fortifies a central theme: Knowledge of the future brings immense responsibility to the present. For which one of these—plot or theme —did you include Sooner’s car accident?

Probably both, but more for theme. Sooner’s death gives Ben new perspective. He marvels at his fortune of being allowed to prepare. And he gets a new perspective on everything when he sees Sooner’s parents.

 

4.) Two-part question: 1.) Why are so many of your stories set in Nowhere, Out West? 2.) Why do so many of your characters pop up in non-related works?

So many of my stories are set in Nowhere, Out West because that’s where I grew up and except for ten years in the Bay Area in CA, where I’ve always lived. Probably some kind of comfort zone for realism for me. So many of my characters pop up in non-related works because I like to play.

 

5.) Which of your books has been the most fun to write?

Probably King of the Mild Frontier. It’s a memoir and I had so much fun mining my childhood and young adulthood for material I almost didn’t want to stop writing. Fiction-wise it would be a toss-up between Whale Talk and Deadline. Sarah Byrnes is also up there. Ironman next.

 

6.) How has your career as a therapist played into your storytelling?

Heroes from my life as a therapist have leaked into my stories as long as I’ve been doing both. Examples of heroism I couldn’t have imagined before I started working as a child and family therapist emerge like popcorn. And the processes are similar. As a therapist my job is to track the trail of a client’s life that brought them to me. They tell me all kinds of things that aren’t part of that “story.” My job is to “edit” and keep them on track, to find out how they got to this place and walk with them, helping to find a way to something better. As a writer I do the same. All kinds of great stuff comes into my head but it isn’t part of this particular story. There is a river that runs through it, if you will (apologies to Norman MacLean) and in each case, following that river is the thing that works.

 

7.) When/why did you become so involved with fighting censorship?

I think I started getting involved back when they started censoring me, which was in the early- to mid-eighties. It started out as kind of an “Oh yeah? My dad’s bigger than your dad,” kind of thing, but then I started listening to my readers and the readers of Cormier and Vonnegut and Blume and Angelo and Lee etc. etc. etc. about the anger censorship provoked for them and I started paying attention to how narcissistic most censors are and how their views bastardized the first amendment. They began to seem more cowardly to me; people unwilling to talk about tough issues, or unwilling to talk about truly heinous things that exist out there. From my life as a therapist I (and my life as a human) I saw more and more clearly that there is nothing that is not better talked about than not talked about. Secrets make us sick. So I suppose as I became a little better known and my work was censored more because of it, I became more and more involved. And truth is, I like a good fight. Especially when I think I’m right, which is close to a hundred percent of the time. (I’m not right a hundred percent of the time, I just think I am.)

 

8.) Have you ever been asked by an agent or publisher to bring down the reality a notch?

Never once. I have been blessed with fearless editors and an even more fearless agent.

 

9.) How do you find your muse?

You know what? I don’t know what that means. I hear that phrase all the time and I’m sure I’ve tried to fake my way through an answer, much like a sophomore book report, but I’ve not been successful.

 

10.) What does your day as a writer look like?

Different every day. I travel a lot so I write on planes and in hotels, and at my desk when I’m home. I’ve never been able to keep a schedule. When I’m hot, I’m hot and write a lot. When I’m not I’m worthless. The only thing I can say is that I try to address my story in some way every day. Keeps it fresh in my mind. I do as much writing when I’m running as I do at the keyboard. I am not to be imitated in my writing “process.”

 

Quick Recall:
What book are you currently reading? Non fiction, How It Ends, by Chris Impey, and Every Last One, by Anna Quindlen.

Favorite music?  A mix (I love iTunes) of current alternative rock (Hoobastank, Green Day, The Killers, Nickleback, etc.) and some old Fleetwood Mac, Moody Blues and The Traveling Wilburys.

If you could eat anything right this very second…? It might be one of those deep fried Oreos I had in Arkansas. Heart attack waiting to happen.

Favorite school subject? The easy answer is lunch, but I did enjoy writing as much as anything academic.

Favorite sport? Basketball. I’m better at running and swimming, but God, I love basketball.

Favorite vacation spot? You know, I don’t have one. I’m not much of a vacater. I always have to be doing something.

Favorite quote? Probably the Twain quote I used in Deadline: Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.

 

Thanks again, Chris, for all you’ve done to support me and for all you do to in the fight for intellectual freedom. It’s been great talking with you.

You are so welcome. Keep up the good fight. See you on the road. CC

Comments

  1. Great interview!

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