Literary Road Trip: YA Author Chris Crutcher

literaryroadtripMichelle at GalleySmith is hosting the Literary Road Trip:

The Literary Road Trip is a project in which bloggers are volunteering to showcase local authors. This showcase can be anything you want to make of it – book reviews, author interviews, giveaways – as long as you’re working with an author local to you.

I’ve lived in Washington State all my life: first in the northwest corner, in Sedro Woolley, a small logging community; then close to the southeastern corner, in Pullman while I attended WSU; then in the southwestern corner, in Vancouver; and currently in the northeastern corner, in Colville, north of Spokane. I signed up to cover Washington State, aside from the Seattle metro area, which is being covered by Bibliofreak.

chriscrutcherChris Crutcher is an author of YA fiction, as well as a teacher and family therapist. He has taught at-risk kids and worked as a child protection advocate. His realistic and fast-paced fiction reflects the issues he encounters in his work. As an author who has experienced his books being banned and challenged, he is an outspoken advocate for free speech. He graduated from Eastern Washington University, and currently makes his home in Spokane.


Whale Talk: There’s bad news and good news about the Cutter High School swim team. The bad news is that they don’t have a pool. The good news is that only one of them can swim anyway.

A group of misfits brought together by T. J. Jones (the J is redundant) to find their places in a school that has no place for them, the Cutter All Night Mermen struggle to carve out their own turf. T. J. is convinced that a varsity letter jacket–unattainable for most, exclusive, revered, the symbol (as far as T. J. is concerned) of all that is screwed up at Cutter High–will be an effective carving tool. He’s right. He’s also wrong.

Still, it’s always the quest that counts. And the bus on which the Mermen travel to swim meets–piloted by Icko, the permanent resident of All, Night Fitness–soon becomes the cocoon inside which they gradually allow themselves to talk, to fit, to bloom.

Chris Crutcher is in top form with a cast of characters–adults, children, and teenagers–fighting for dignity in a world where tragedy and comedy dance side by side, where a moment’s inattention can bring lifelong heartache, and where true acceptance is the only prescription for what ails us.


Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes: Sarah Byrnes and Eric have been friends for years. When they were children, his fat and her terrible scars made them both outcasts. Later, although swimming slimmed Eric, she stayed his closest friend.

Now Sarah Byrnes — the smartest, toughest person Eric has ever known — sits silent in a hospital. Eric must uncover the terrible secret she’s hiding, before its dark currents pull them both under.

Other works by Chris Crutcher:
The Sledding Hill
King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography
Angry Management

For a complete list of his works and a more in-depth bio, visit Chris Crutcher‘s web site.

I was fortunate to be able to interview Mr. Crutcher via e-mail:

Can you talk a bit about how your work as a therapist has informed your writing?

Chris: “It’s given me the information I need for the subtleties of human behavior… showed me how there is a reason for everything (whether a good or bad reason) and that if I learn that reason I will understand the person better. That translates well into creating characters.”

As I read through your bio, I found that some of your books have been banned or challenged in school libraries. What was that experience like?

Chris: “Happens all the time. These days it’s mostly just irritating. Same complaints, same unwillingness to look at the fact that when we talk with kids and are willing to hear them, we know them better. The business of censorship is the business of shutting up ideas and issues. It promotes ignorance as “help” to kids. Ignorance is not a help to kids.”

As a parent of an almost-13-year-old daughter, I’ve found that the books she reads spark amazing discussions on topics that might not have come up otherwise. Why do you think parents are so afraid of their teens reading books that talk about real life issues?

Chris: “I think a lot of the time it’s because they’re afraid to be “wrong” about those issues, or that they’ll have to fight with their kids about them. Actually reading about those kinds of things makes the discussion easier, because if the issues are too personal you can talk about the character’s issues and that leads into being able to talk about your own, or it allows both sides to talk about the issues without getting too personal. Most of the time, though, it’s about philosophy. I think parents are too willing to let religious beliefs get in the way of true connection with their kids. My thought about that is this: philosophies are fine but we should never let philosophies trump our humanity.”

For those of us who haven’t read any of your work before, what’s the best book to start with – the “essential Crutcher,” so to speak?

Chris: “I don’t know that there is one. Probably if you read Whale Talk or Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes or Deadline, you’d get most of it. My memoir, King of the Mild Frontier tells you where a lot of my work comes from.”

I’ve just recently “discovered” YA lit in my own reading, especially since I skipped that genre growing up and went right from children’s novels to adult literature. What YA books by other authors do you recommend?

Chris: “Anything by Walter Dean Myers, Christopher Paul Curtis, Laurie Halse Anderson, Terry Davis. Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian is stunning. Lois Lowry’s The Giver will keep you asking all kinds of important questions. Joan Bauer’s stuff is always smart and funny and insightful. Those are just a few – if you asked me at a different time, others would pop up.”

Which writers have had the biggest impact on your life and your writing?

Chris: “Kurt Vonnegut, Harper Lee, Alice Walker, Joseph Heller, Tim O’Brien, John Irving, Pat Conroy. Again, ask me at a different time and different authors would come up, but you can not miss with those.”

What is the best book you’ve read this year so far?

Chris: “Probably a non fiction book: Columbine by David Cullen. It will challenge many of the things you think about that shooting – a real lesson to the culture.”

If you could recommend one book that everyone should read, what would it be?

Chris:The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.”

Thank you so much to Chris Crutcher for the interview. To visit other blogs participating in the Literary Road Trip, click on over to GalleySmith. Stay tuned: next Thursday I will be highlighting author Meghan Nuttall Sayres.

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25 Responses to Literary Road Trip: YA Author Chris Crutcher

  1. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread

    Wow! An author not only in your same state, but the same neck of the woods. What an interesting guy! I just did buy Columbine on my Kindle, as I have heard it is an incredible book. It is always reaffirming to see an accomplished author recommend it as well!
    .-= Sandy´s last blog ..A Guest Post with Wendy at Musings of a Bookish Kitty =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Sandy – I’ve definitely added Columbine to my to-read list as well.

  2. Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit)
    Twitter: SavvyVerseWit

    Wow, great stop on the LRT! Thanks for sharing his work with us and his interview.
    .-= Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit)´s last blog ..Come on Down. . . =-.

  3. Kathy says:

    This is a great interview! The fact that his books have been banned makes me angry, but also makes me want to read them more. Go figure!
    .-= Kathy´s last blog ..Review: A Teenager in Hitler’s Death Camps =-.

  4. I love your questions! And his answers are full of great info – I’m coping it to a word file so I can come back and reference it! :–)
    .-= rhapsodyinbooks´s last blog ..Review of “Sacred Hearts” by Sarah Dunant =-.

  5. Great feature on Chris Crutcher. I just added a link to it from his website! Nice job!

    Kelly Milner Halls
    Another Washington author and CC’s Assistant

  6. stacybuckeye says:

    Great feature. He is a very likeable guy. One of these days I’d love to make it out to the great state of Washington!
    .-= stacybuckeye´s last blog ..700 Sundays, by Billy Crystal =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Stacy – well, if you make it to eastern Washington, be sure to let me know so we can meet for coffee!

  7. Belle
    Twitter: msbookish

    Great interview! Such wonderful questions, and equally wonderful answers. Whale Talk sounds like a great book, and I think I’ll add King of the Mild Frontier to my memoirs list.
    .-= Belle´s last blog ..Fantasy Road Trip: Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle Trilogy =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Belle – I’m hoping to read one of Mr. Crutcher’s books very soon.

  8. Margot says:

    Wonderful interview – questions and answers. I’m going to have to check with my daughter but, I think Chris Crutcher gave the commencement address when my daughter graduated from Lewis and Clark graduate teaching program a year ago. The speech was so inspiring plus he was personable and funny.

    I also liked hearing about you living in all four corners of your state. I look forward to more from Washington.
    .-= Margot´s last blog ..The Chili Queen by Sandra Dallas =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Margot – I’m hoping to make this a regular Thursday feature for a while- until I run out of authors, anyway!

  9. Dave Cullen
    Twitter: davecullen

    I really enjoyed that interview. And how nice of Chris to name my book as his favorite of the year.

    I heartily recommend “The Things They Carried” as well. It opened up whole world for me of what I could do as a writer.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Mr. Cullen – thanks for stoping by! I agree – The Things They Carried is an amazing book. I read it in high school to better understand my own father, who did two tours in Vietnam. I re-read it last year, and it was just as powerful.

  10. Les in NE says:

    Excellent interview! I agree that The Things They Carried is a remarkable book. It was in my Top Ten a couple of years ago. I also plan to read Columbine sometime in the near future. I’d like to suggest it to my book club the next time we choose a nonfiction title. I think it will provide a lot of material for discussion.

    BTW, I lived in Pullman back in 1972! We loved walking over to Ferdinand’s at the U for ice cream. And, one summer we stayed a friend’s cabin somewhere on Lake Roosevelt, which is up in your neck of the woods. Small world.
    .-= Les in NE´s last blog ..The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Les – I loved Ferdinand’s when I was at WSU! And Lake Roosevelt is truly beautiful. Small world, indeed. 🙂

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  14. dede says:

    Glenda Burgess, and Michael Harmon, all Spokane authors whom I have had the privilege o

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