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First, I’d like to blow my own horn for a moment. I mean if I don’t, who the heck will? I have two pieces of news. I had a very good week. I sold an article to Highlights Magazine and I had a little memoir accepted for an anthology that will be published by Harlequin next year. As my sweet Baboo said, this year for me as been about getting the first olive out of the bottle. Once I sold my first piece, I’ve sold quite a few. Now if I could just get an agent or editor to read my new novel! I just need to keep on keepin’ on.
Secondly, as promised, I have a wonderful interview to share with you. My writing god Chris Crutcher agreed to an email interview and today is the day! In case you are new to my blog, you can read a bit more about Chris by going HERE. I also have posted reviews of a couple of his books. You can read reviews of Angry Management HERE and King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography HERE. (I am still having trouble with links to Amazon, so please click on the titles of books rather than pictures to be linked to them on Amazon. Thanks. I’m working on it.) I’ve been blogging less than a year, but you can see I’ve spent a fair amount of time writing about Chris Crutcher. If you haven’t read any of his books yet, get some and read them. Then you will know why I keep writing about him. Now I happily turn this blog over to Chris and his words.
Your experiences of small-town life as relayed in your autobiography certainly shaped your stories and who you are as a writer. How do you think growing up in a city rather than a small town might have affected the stories you write?
I think I would have been more likely to write stories from my history. Setting is important. You likely would have seen more urban settings.
Looking back on our lives, our perspectives change as time goes on. You wrote your autobiography, King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography, about ten years ago. If you were to write it today, how do you think it would change?
I don’t think it would change a lot. I plan to write a second act to that which will include more events that shaped me from different times in my life, and there will be perspectives from the last ten years, but I’d pretty much leave King alone.
After reading your autobiography, I know you base some of your characters and incidents on real people and happenings, but surely some or most of the stories and characters are fiction, aren’t they? How do you blend these and know how much of the reality to leave in place and still avoid, well, law suits and such?
I don’t worry much about lawsuits. When authors talk about stories coming from real life, most of the time we mean the idea came from real life, then the story is run through our imaginations. The world of fiction is the world of “what if” and that’s how my stories are created. I’ll experience or see a real event, a real person, etc. then start making stuff up.
Your brother certainly did some pretty cruel things to you growing up, as was his place in life. That relationship gave you great material for your books. What’s your relationship like with him now? Are you friends with him?
Yeah, we’re pretty good friends. We have very different perspectives because of our life works, but we get along very well and do a lot of kidding about King. Some of the things in it he doesn’t remember, or remembers very differently than I. So I tell him to write his own damn book.
I loved Angry Management and Athletic Shorts, both of which revisited some of the characters from earlier books. It was nice for me to get back to some characters I had enjoyed so much. Do you have trouble letting go of your characters when you’ve finished a book? Which of your books and characters are your favorites? Do you think we might hear from some of those characters again?
I don’t have trouble letting go of characters. By the time a book goes to print I’ve been over it five or six time with a microscope. I’m plenty ready to let it go. Much of the time if I revisit a character it’s because of something fans of my books want. Sometimes I revisit them because it’s easier to get a story up and running when you know the main character already. I don’t really have favorite characters. I like all my main characters; I’ve spent years with them, and I spent the good part of a year creating each.
Your writing has such a great, natural flow to it. Do you spend a lot of time planning your writing – outlining and such – or is it a much more organic process for you?
Totally organic. That’s because of the way my brain works. I don’t have the capacity to outline a story.
Writing can be a lonely business. Do you work with critique groups or critique partners? Maybe you could talk a little about your writing process.
I just sit down and write. I have a lot else going on most of the time, so I don’t do critique groups. I have a couple of other writers I share stuff with over the Internet sometimes; people whose stuff I read also, but that is sporadic and informal. For me the process is just writing when I get the feeling.
Do you have an agent who represents your books or do you sell them on your own? If you have an agent, What value does the agent bring to the table? Does your agent help you with any editing and shaping before the book is sold?
She doesn’t do any shaping or editing. She makes the deals, and she connects my work with other media, like movies, TV, etc. In the early days she read my stuff first to see if she wanted to represent it, but we’ve been together for thirty years, so we don’t go through a lot of formalities. She really does good work for me.
As writers, we hear so much about the editing process. Did you have to do a lot of re-writing once your books are acquired? What’s it like working with your editor?
I have a great editor and a couple that work with her. Their first impressions mean a lot to me; they tell me what works and what doesn’t and I trust them enough to give it a look. They don’t tell me what to do, they just tell me what works and what doesn’t and give suggestions. None of my books would be as complete as they are without good editing.
Do you feel your job is easier or harder now that you have so many books published? Is there more or less pressure? Does the pressure come more from yourself or others?
The pressure comes from me, but I do pay attention to how people respond to my stories. I think people expect a certain kind of literature from me, and that’s usually what they get because so much of my work comes from my observations. Most of the time I don’t know whether what I’ve written is good or not or how people will respond to it, so the pressure of not screwing up can be fairly intense.
What has been the biggest thrill for you as a published writer?
Probably the opportunities to meet all the educators and all the kids I’ve been fortunate enough to meet. I’ve gotten to travel places I’d never have gone without my writing career: every state in the country plus Canada, Russia, Poland, China, Hong Kong (I know, that’s technically China) Singapore, India, Italy, Germany off the top of my head. That’s been cool.
What do you hear from your young readers? Do they ever give you material or inspire stories for you?
Once in a while I might get something from a reader that inspires a story; I’m always on the lookout for that. Mostly what I hear from them is about the emotional response they had to one or another story. That’s also one of the biggest “thrills” as you put it; thinking a story has changed a reader’s perspective. I love hearing that.
What advice would you pass along to those of us who haven’t gotten that first book published?
Keep at it. Study the business so you learn to get your stories into the right hands. Get a thick skin. Write like crazy and read like crazy. Listen to people’s responses to your work and take it to heart. And don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t do it.
Thank you for so generously sharing your time and thoughts.
And thank you, readers, for stopping by today. Please leave a comment and please check back next week. I promise it will be worth your while.