The Sharon Creech Interview
Sharon Creech's Chasing Redbird is one of the books shortlisted for the Whitbread Award.
1. The ending of Walk Two Moons comes as a shock, and yet, looking back at the start of the book, it is very visibly sign-posted. Was this difficult to achieve?
No, it was not difficult, but it is hard to explain why not! As I was writing this book, I felt as if I was listening to Salamanca, letting her tell me her story. As the listener, I kept trying to pick up clues as to what was really on her mind.
I didn't have the vaguest idea what her story was when I began. I just liked her voice, and I followed her along. Each day, when I'd re-read the story from the beginning, I'd pick up a new 'clue,' and then I'd follow that thread. Midway through the story, I realized that she was trying to explain something that was very difficult for her, something that would become apparent once we reached Idaho.
In a way, every book I write works like this. I have a character and I explore that character, and every character, like every person, will have layers and layers, and if you have the patience to uncover those layers, you find gold mines!
2. In her Newbery acceptance speech for The Giver, Lois Lowry was able to pick out several autobiographical memories to help explain where the idea for the novel came from. Can you explain why journeys of discovery are such a feature in Walk Two Moons and Chasing Redbird?
I think the journey image is instinctive. Journeys have always been important to me. When I was young, the trips my family took every summer allowed me to see a wider world. When my children and I journeyed to England and Switzerland, we learned so much and were changed so much by what we saw. And when I studied literature, I saw how frequently that image of the journey is used to convey interior journeys as well.
When I was writing Walk Two Moons, I was very much missing the States, and taking Salamanca on a trip across the U.S. was a way for me to 'go home' every day. Sal follows the same route my family took across the States when I was her age. When I was writing Chasing Redbird, my life was very busy and chaotic, and I longed for the quiet of the woods, and so I followed Zinny into the woods each day. It was inevitable that the characters and I would also have interior journeys on these treks, and for me that is much of the excitement of writing: discovering what the interior journey is, how it changes the traveler.
3. Do you envisage writing a long sequence of novels with Bybanks as a location?
Yes, the notion is very appealing. There is something in Bybanks--in that place, those people--that excites me, that makes me want to keep exploring it.
4. Did you have to work at the voice of Salamanca, or did it just come?
It just came, floating in the air one day when I awoke from a nap. I heard her voice and these words, "Gramps says that I'm a country girl at heart and that is true." And that's the opening line of Walk Two Moons. There was so much right there in her first sentence--a gentle tone and rhythm--and right away she gave me 'clues' to her story: her grandparents would be important; the land/country was important; and the 'heart' and what is 'true' would be important.
5. You seem to like balancing your young characters with extremely moving portraits of old people. Were grandparents important in your own growing-up?
Yes, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. We had a large, affectionate, extended family that gathered often.
6. I haven't yet read Absolutely Normal Chaos. Why do you think that book didn't gain the same degree of notice as the following two novels?
Oh. It hasn't? Hm. I thought it was doing rather well! If it seems not to have gained 'the same degree of notice' as the later novels, perhaps it is because it was my first children's book. I was very much an unknown then. Also, it is a lighter, funnier story, and critical attention does not come so often to that sort of book (perhaps?). Interestingly, many teachers write to say how surprised they were to find that it has serious overtones and parallels with The Odyssey and thus makes a great classroom read.
7. Do you consider these three books teenage novels, 'Young Adult' novels, or what?
I have trouble with these categories. Although I know that publishers have to classify books, say, as Children's or Young Adult or Adult, in order to better market them, I just think of them as novels that have young people as their main characters.
8. You have begun writing for younger readers. How do you get on with the short chapter-book format?
In some respects, it's a challenge because my instinct is to wander down all the side roads, but the shorter length of these books prohibits that. In other respects, it seems quite similar to the techniques needed for longer novels.
9. Having spent a lot of time in England, can you envisage writing a full-length novel set in Britain with British characters?
When I leave Britain and gain some perspective, I'll be eager, I think, to set a novel in Britain. Although there will be British characters in it, I suspect that the main character will be American, because that is my natural narrative voice.
10. What are the Good, the Bad and the Ugly aspects of being a prize-winning author?
Ho boy! The Good first: I've met loads of amazing young readers, teachers, librarians, and authors--so many, many people who are enthusiastic about books. That is so beautiful! I am also fortunate to be invited to places all over the world to speak, and thus have the chance to meet all sorts of interesting people. I receive hundreds of letters--it's like receiving birthday cards every day. Another 'Good' thing, more practical, is that I now earn enough money to support my full-time writing.
The 'Bad': Ah. Although I love to read the fan mail, trying to keep up with answering it is very, very difficult. Writing speeches is another thing that takes up so much time, and although I enjoy giving speeches, I find it very hard to write them. I also find in-person interviews hard-going. I hate to talk about myself; I'd much prefer to find out how that interviewer got his or her job, where he or she grew up, etc. An email interview like this is easier, because I have time to think about the answer, and I am not distracted wondering how you got your job, where you came from, etc.!
11. The UK government is advocating a Literacy Hour, during which children will look closely at selected text extracts. Would you be comfortable to have your own work used in this way?
I'm not sure; I'd have to have a better understanding of what this is, and where/how it takes place.
12. What is your perception of the current children's books scene and the reading habits of the average child?
I am not sure I am knowledgeable enough about these topics to answer this. My view is probably a narrow one, because most of the time I am alone in my room writing my books; the mail I receive is naturally from people who have loved my books (as opposed to people who love, say, horror novels); and my public audiences are also book-lovers. So, from the 'narrow' view that I have, I get a wonderful picture: all the readers I see are enthusiastic ones; the children are extremely astute and sophisticated in their reading; they are also kind, warm-hearted people. They seem grateful to have found books which are about 'real' kids but are not full of blood and gore and and wicked people.
13. Your books appeal especially to girls, but have you had any revealing responses from male readers?
Hundreds! Most of the boys who read my books have been introduced to them by their teachers or librarians or parents, and they confess that the covers did not especially appeal to them--they looked like 'girl books'! But once they get into the stories and find that there are boys in them and that the stories are intriguing, they are happily surprised. I think that boys also especially like the humor in these books, and one thing that surprised me: they especially love the grandparents in Walk Two Moons.
14. Do you write in hand, or onto a computer. How heavily do you revise?
I write directly at the keyboard (computer), and every day I revise all that has come before. The revisions might just be the change of a word or phrase, or the addition or deletion of a scene, but by the time I finish the 'first draft', I have probably revised each page dozens of times. I let that manuscript sit for a few weeks, and then do another draft and another, until I feel the book is ready for the editor to see. After I receive the editor's comments, I usually do one or two more full drafts, until I feel I can't change another word.
15. You are currently short-listed for the Whitbread Children's Book Award (to be announced during your Special Guest slot on ACHUKA). Is it difficult to concentrate on current work with such an Award pending.?
It is not difficult at all. I don't think about the awards. Honestly! It is an honor to be on a shortlist, and it is lovely to win, but I still write the book I want to write whether or not there's an award pending. My love is writing, not winning awards. I am grateful that the books have received honors, and I am grateful that such awards call attention to many books, but there are also so many deserving writers and books out there, that it is also nice to see any good book 'win.'
16. If you could give three public figures copies of one of your books (an receive an assurance that they would read them), who would they be?
Hmmm. I'd give Prince William and Prince Harry each a copy of Walk Two Moons, not now, but maybe in a year, because I think that is a book that has some comforting things to say about serious loss. And I think I'd also give a copy of it to the Queen!
17. The boogie-woogie is an important element in Chasing Redbird. What's your own taste in music. Do you listen while you write, or does it influence you in other ways?
Oh dear. I love all sorts of music, but I am terrible at remembering the names of groups or songs. I like country music, classical, rock. I am not very up-to-date on current groups, so I tend to listen to old favorites--Rod Stewart, Buddy Holly (!), Ann Murray. I can't listen to music as I write, because it distracts me--I want to stop writing and just listen to the music. In the summer, I mow the lawn on a tractor, and I like having my Walkman on when I do that. I probably look a bit strange, bobbing around on that tractor, but . . .
18. Finally, can you give ACHUKA visitors any indication of what the next full-length novel will be about?
It's about a girl from Bybanks (!) who is sent to boarding school in Switzerland for a year. It doesn't yet have a title, but it should be out next autumn ('98). I set myself a challenge in this book early on: in this book, *no one would die*!! That's been very hard, you know? It takes a lot of energy to keep everyone alive. I guess you'll have to read it to see if I met the challenge. huzza, huzza, Sharon Creech