Teacher, therapist, free speech advocate: an interview with Chris Crutcher.
JMP: You have dealt with topics teens face every day--like racism and peer pressure-you have also tackled death and pedophilia. Clearly, you do not patronize young readers or avoid any topic. Why do you have that "go-anywhere" attitude when it comes to writing for teens?
Crutcher: I think the most truthful answer is that teens' lives, just like ours, are "go-anywhere" lives. All those things come up. All those things are issues. Kids write to me all the time (as they do other authors who talk about life issues) saying they read one of my books and it seemed I address "real" issues so it must be working.
JMP: Your books have repeatedly been banned. Why do you think this is? What has this meant to you personally and professionally?
Crutcher: Frankly it hasn't meant anything to me personally. This probably sounds condescending to those who want me banned, but I judge myself as much by my enemies as I do my friends. There are certain personalities whom I expect to try to take my stories and the stories of other authors, out of the hands of kids. I know who I write about and I get responses that say they are appreciative, so that's all I need. The people who suffer personally are the teachers and librarians who know that certain kinds of books are "healing" to certain kids and for that reason, stand up for the book. They take the direct hit, and I feel a huge need to support them.
Professionally it's hard to say what it has meant. Of course, every time I get banned somewhere, I get a little more famous than I would have been had they just kept quiet. It's not like I'm Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. I do think there's a backlash in schools sometimes because an administrator or a teacher or a librarian may not want the headache of the challenge and may pick other books because of that. I think if administrations stood by their teachers rather than catered to a small but loud special interest group, teachers and librarians could operate in a theater of safety.
JMP: How has your work as an educator and family therapist affected your writing career? Do any of your eases make their way into your books?
Crutcher: Specific cases do not, unless I have specific permission, but my life as a therapist and an educator has heavily influenced my writing. I write what I know. I write about things I feel intensely. I've found heroes in my work that were unimaginable to me growing up in a town of fewer than a thousand people. I was both those things (educator and therapist) before I was a writer and I got into those fields because I was interested and I wanted to do some good. My writing is reflective of that. You will notice that I said I "wanted" to do some good. Another thing that is also reflected in my writing is that wanting doesn't always equal doing.
JMP: You are a successful writer, yet you continue as a therapy consultant. Why not choose one or the other? How do you have time to do both?
Crutcher: I do not have to do anything. And I do not do much regular therapy any more. I'm still the chairperson of the original Spokane Child Protection Team, and I do some pro-bono consulting, and I see some old clients who keep coming around reminding me I wasn't as good at that job as I thought I was or they'd be cured. But I spend more time writing these days. For a lot of years I stayed with therapy full time because I was interested. I thought my experience in the field was valuable in a setting where it was so hard to keep experienced people in the field. Plus, I was born with survivor's guilt. I've been blessed to be able to make a living doing what I love, so like all humans I give back.
JMP: To date, what do you most hope you have accomplished with your body of work?
Crutcher: This sounds trite, but I hope I've written some good stories.
JMP: What are you currently working on? Is there any new territory you'd like to explore in your future as an author?
Crutcher: I just finished a trilogy (Angry Management, 2009). I've revisited some old characters and broken some new ground. What I want to explore in the future is simply whatever interests me. I'll probably write some more so-called adult stories (all that means is the protagonist is over 20 years of age) but in general will just keep writing what moves me.
JMP: Your ill-advised autobiography, King of the Mild Frontier, suggests you have had some embarrassing outbursts of temper. Can you share an event where it got out of control? What happened after things settled down? What, if anything, would you have done differently?
Crutcher: GAWD! Just one? I remember my youth as one long series of apologies. I will give you one when I was an adult. I was working at the alternative school in Oakland, CA, making almost no money and driving a little shell of a Volkswagen Bug. I was late one day and the electrical system in the car kept going on the fritz; it would die and then I'd have to jump out and push it, jump back in and pop the clutch. I won't go into the specific epithets I spewed forth, but suffice it to say had you been in the car, it would be a day you remembered. At any rate, on my way to school each day I stopped at Winchell's Donuts and bought a cinnamon roll, an apple fritter, and a large coffee to devour on my trip in. On this particular day the car stopped twice before I got to the donut place, so I was majorly pissed. But I was not about to cheat myself out of the sugar high it took to get me through the morning. I parked the car at a slant so I could restart it easily, in my anger forgot to set the brake, and went in to get the pastry. When I came out the car was nowhere to be seen. A bus load of Japanese tourists were standing next to their bus pointing ... at my ear which had rolled the length of the lot, jumped a curb and landed on the lawn of a Bank of America branch.
The gods smiled on me that day. For some reason the car started on its own; and I sheepishly drove back over the curb, out of the parking lot, swearing never to act in anger again. I'm pretty sure that oath lasted at least one day.
JMP: Do you have time to read for pleasure? If so, what types of books do you most enjoy? What other things do you enjoy (Sports? Television shows? Traveling?)?
Crutcher: I do have time to read. For a while I read every George W. Bush-bashing book I could lay my hands on just to help me vent the anger I had toward the fact that we elected him President twice. (That should give you a little idea about my politics, as if you couldn't guess from reading my books.) But I also read fiction; Wally Lamb's The Hour I First Believed, Anita Shreve's Testimony, Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, to name the most recent. I also read David Cullen's Columbine, which is a fascinating report on the school shooting there; the result of a ten-year study.
I still run and swim and bike and get into the occasional basketball game, though most young people wouldn't recognize it as that. My TV tastes lean toward the irreverent. "Two-and-a-half Men", "Entourage", HBO's "In Treatment", "John From Cincinnati" (it should never have been cancelled), and "Deadwood" are great. I loved "Friday Night Lights".
I do a lot of traveling but that's mostly for book/writing related things. For the past five or six years I've averaged more than a hundred twenty five thousand air miles a year, so I don't travel much for pleasure (though I have a good time on the road).
JMP: You have been writing for a long time, reading even longer. What changes have you seen in young adult literature since you were a young adult reader? What changes would you like to see in the future? What has always stayed the same?
Crutcher: I was never much of a young adult reader. I avoided almost anything assigned. When I started writing I knew almost nothing about the genre; in fact I didn't even know it was a genre. I caught up reading Catcher in the Rye and A Separate Peace, which weren't considered YA, I don't believe. Then I read The Outsiders because that was the book that was supposed to have kicked it all off. Liked it a lot. Read Cormier, Terry Davis' Vision Quest, a lot of Walter Dean Myers. I've always contended that the only difference between "adult" literature and "young adult" literature should be the age of the protagonist. It makes no sense to me to dumb down stories because they are going to be marketed to teenagers. So I guess I would say I'm not well-read enough to know what changes have happened, though in general I think YA books have become more mainstream. What I would like to see in the future is a continuation of that.
JMP: You seem to truly enjoy meeting and talking with your fans. What wisdom, insight, or story has a fan given you that sticks with you as you live and write?
Crutcher: There have been a lot. I'm truly blessed in that regard. Probably the incident that sticks with me most happened in Napierville, IL. A young man named Zach Clifton had cut a piece from Whale Talk to use at the state forensics competition. He was killed in a senseless car wreck not long before the competition, and the members of his team came to a reading to present his piece to me. They told me Zach had been buried with a copy of the book. We spent an hour in the basement of Anderson's Bookstore in Napierville, talking about who he was to each of them. It was one of those times when my job as a therapist dovetailed with my job as a writer; plus I was moved beyond words. We decided that we keep our loved ones alive by the acts we commit in their names, so they promised to go out and spread good Zach Clifton deeds and I dedicated my next book to him.
JMP: You are a big library supporter. Tell us how libraries have changed you or your career.
Crutcher: Librarians are the keepers and disseminators of information-of stories. Along with educators, they are the conduits for my work. Without them, there is no me. They have stood up for my work in the face of angry censors have placed the right stories in the right hands again and again. They haven't changed my career, they've made my career.
Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. Little, Brown, 2009. 978-0-316-01369-7.
Cullen, David. Columbine. Twelve, 2009. 978-0-446-54693-5.
Davis, Terry. Vision Quest. Delacorte, 2005. 978-0-385-73274-1.
Hinton, S. E., The Outsiders. Puffin, 2006. 978-0-14-240733-2.
Knowles, John. A Separate Peace. Bantam, 1984. 978-0-553-28041-8.
Lamb, Wally. The Hour I First Believed: A Novel (P.S.). Harper Perennial, 2009. 978-0-06-098843-2.
Salinger, J.D. Catcher in the Rye. Back Bay, 2001. 978-0-316-76917-4.
Shreve, Anita. Testimony: A Novel. Little, Brown, 2008. 978-0-316-05986-2.
OTHER RESOURCES MENTIONED
International Reading Association's Special Interest Group on Literature for the Adolescent Reader. Signal. http://www.kennesaw. edu/english/education/signal/Home.htm.
iParenting: http ://www.iparenting.com.
National Council of Teachers of English. Voices from the Middle. http://www.ncte. org/journals/vm.
BOOKS BY CHRIS CRUTCHER
Angry Management. Greenwillow, 2009. 978-0-06-050247-8.
Deadline. Greenwillow, 2009. 978-0-06-085091-3.
Whale Talk. Greenwillow, 2009. 978-0-06-177131-6.
The Sledding Hill. Greenwillow, 2006. 978-0-06-050245-4.
Chinese Handcuffs. Greenwillow, 2004. 978-0-06-059839-6.
Ironman. Greenwillow, 2004. 978-0-06-059840-2.
King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography. Greenwillow, 2004. 978-0-06-050251-5.
The Crazy Horse Electric Game. Greenwillow, 2003. 978-0-06-009490-4.
Running Loose. Greenwillow, 2003. 978-0-06-009491-1.
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes. Greenwillow, 2003. 978-0-06-009489-8.
Stotan! Greenwillow, 2003. 978-0-06-009492-8.
Athletic Shorts: Six Short Stories. Greenwillow, 2002. 978-0-06-050783-1.
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|Date:||Dec 1, 2009|
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