Chris Crutcher grew up in Cascade, Idaho, and now lives in Spokane, Washington. He is the critically acclaimed author of six novels and a collection of short stories for teenagers, all chosen as ALA Best Books. In 2000, he was awarded the American Library Association's Margaret A. Edwards Award, honoring his lifetime contribution in writing for teens. Drawing on his experience as an athlete, teacher, family therapist, and child protection specialist, he unflinchingly writes about real and often-ignored issues that face teenagers today.
Selected Works by Chris Crutcher: Running Loose, 1983; Stotan!, 1986; The Crazy Horse Electric Game, 1987; Chinese Handcuffs, 1989; Athletic Shorts: Six Short Stories, 1991; The Deep End, 1991; Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, 1993; Ironman, 1995; Whale Talk, 2001; King of the Mild Frontier, 2003; The Sledding Hill, 2005, Deadline, 2007, Angry Management, 2011, Period 8, 2014.
NOTE FROM THE EDITOR
During the span of these interviews, we do our very best to discover and laud people from all over the globe, down to the local communities and neighbors we have next door. Our team here at The Broke Bohemian hail from Washington State in the City of Spokane. We’ve certainly taken some different twists and turns in our careers which have led us to different states and lifestyles now, but we still reflect on our literary roots to this day. Enter: Chris Crutcher.
As burgeoning children, we still recall the day Mr. Crutcher came to speak at our quaint library at Bowdish Middle School. He shared a few of his past novels such as Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes and Whale Talk, as well as his newest release, King of the Mild Frontier. His inherent interest in writing stories about the hardships that we, as younger folk, were dealing with or would eventually come to deal with one day gave us a sense of inclusion. That we had a voice in these newfound, tumultuous teenage years.
His social work background speaks for itself, particularly as a child protection advocate, and we found it compelling that through it all, he still found time to dedicate toward his writing and graciously uses it to empower others. We were thankful to be able to reconnect with Mr. Crutcher for this interview.
Q: What is your ideal setting when you sit down to write? Where do you write from?
If you’re asking the physical place I write from, there is none in particular. I have an office in my home where I usually write, but I’m on the road a lot and write on planes and in hotel rooms. Once I’m focused on my laptop, that’s pretty much all I see. I don’t need a particular setting.
Q: What have been your one or two biggest learning experiences or surprises throughout your writing career?
Probably the biggest learning experience came when I set out to write my second book, Stotan!. Because I had published one book, I got to thinking I was smarter than I am and loaded the book up with what I thought was really clever, intellectual content. I sent the first eight chapters off to my agent. She wrote me back and said “You have one chapter here. The rest is pretty much garbage. If you want me to represent it, you need to go with what got you here in the first place…just tell the story.” That’s probably not an exact quote, but it’s close.
Q: What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in the pursuit to get published?
I really didn’t have a lot of challenges there. I got lucky and picked the right story, and was good friends with a published writer…another Spokane author: Terry Davis. He already had an agent and when I finished my first book, he contacted her and gave me a gracious introduction. She picked it up, and except for the above mentioned incident, we’ve had a great thirty year relationship.
Q: What is something personal about you people may not know?
I once performed, successfully, the Heimlich maneuver on an Alaskan Malamute.
Q: What’s one poet or writer more people should know about?
Everyone should know about Sherman Alexie, who is both.
Q: In your years as a teacher and director in Oakland, have you noticed any fluctuations or changes in the way young people absorb literature compared with today?
No, because most of the kids I worked with there didn’t read many books. They were all kids who had been unsuccessful in school. The one thing all readers absorb is passion and connection; to story and to character.
Q: Having lived and worked in many areas in the Pacific Northwest and beyond, what do you believe sets your current local literary community apart from others you've been a part of?
I’ve not really been part of a “literary community” mostly because for many years I worked in a all-consuming therapy practice…with people who were often in life-or-death situations. During that time most of my non-writing time was focused there. There is a rich literary community here in Spokane, though I don’t find it a lot different than the greater community I connect with at conferences and at school visits and book festivals.
Q: On your website, you say that your twenty-odd years as a therapist specializing in child abuse and neglect have helped to inform your thirteen novels and two collections of short stories. How do you go about approaching and writing about a sensitive topic that might be associated with difficult memories or be difficult to represent appropriately?
Actually, I don’t find them difficult in that way. Those situations come pretty much as second nature, thanks to the heroism of some of the people I’ve worked with, and thanks to whatever part of me that learned to detach and problem-solve without getting blinded by my emotional response to situations. I’ve found that writing in a straightforward way about them, gives the reader a better chance to connect to them on an emotional level. The history the reader brings to a story he or she connects to, is as important as the history the writer brings.
Q: What’s next for you?
I’ve got a book, Losers Bracket, coming out this next year, and three more projects in the works.
Q: If you could pass along any advice to other writers and poets, what would it be? And to a higher extent, advice for anyone pursuing their passions (creative or otherwise)?
I don’t really have to give advice to anyone pursuing their passions…the passion itself takes care of it. For writers and poets, I say, read like crazy, write like crazy and never let anyone tell you you can’t do it.