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Author Chat with Sharon Creech

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Transcript of Live Chat
August 14th, 2002

Journeys are important in Sharon Creech's stories. In "Walk Two Moons," Sal and her grandparents travel across the United States in search of her mother. In "The Wanderer," Sophie sails across the Atlantic Ocean on a voyage in which she learns about her family.

Get ready to ask Sharon about these adventures, about how and why she writes, and about her new book, "Ruby Holler."

Sharon Creech: Hello, everyone. I'm very glad to be here today.

Glitter Bug: Did you want to write books when you were growing up?
Sharon Creech:
I wanted to write, but what I wanted to write was newspaper articles. I thought I would be a reporter, but then I discovered a reporter was supposed to tell the truth. I found that I liked to change the facts. And so it wasn't until much later that I discovered I could change the facts in fiction.

Kipling: What's your favorite book that you read as a child?
Sharon Creech:
It's very hard for me to remember what books I read as a child. The only one I remember was called "Kimbertoes," and it was about a family of wooden people who lived in the forest. At the end of the book they build a raft, leave their home and go down the river. That story has stayed with me my whole life, because I always wondered what happened to them when they set off down the river.

Doodle: Are you going to write more books about Sal and her friends?
Sharon Creech:
So many people ask me that question! And it makes me really start to want to write more about Sal and her friends. I think that maybe, someday, there will be a book that ties together a lot of the characters from a lot of the books, like Sal, Zinny, Phoebe, and Dinnie. But I just don't know yet when that book will written.

Sleepy Head: Do you have a favorite character?
Sharon Creech:
It's very hard to choose a favorite character. It would be like asking a mother to choose her favorite child. Usually, I feel a particular fondness for the most recent character, and that would be for the two main characters in "Ruby Holler," Dallas and Florida. They make me laugh so much, but they're also very vulnerable, and I feel as if I almost have to take special care of them.

Ruby: Do you make up your characters based on real people?
Sharon Creech:
Yes, and no. When a character first appears to me, I don't realize that it resembles a real person in any way. It's only later, after a book has been published, that sometimes I can see similarities between the character and someone I know. For example, Salamanca reminds me very much of my daughter and me combined. In "The Wanderer," Sophie also reminds me a lot of me and my daughter combined. Salamanca is both brave, like my daughter, and afraid in the sense that she's afraid to face the truth. I think that fear comes from me in that sometimes I like to turn away from unpleasant things. There's also a funny side to Sal that both my daughter and I share, in that when something is getting very serious or frightening, we will both use humor to lighten the situation.

Lila: Do your characters 'speak to you' after you have finished writing your books?
Sharon Creech:
My characters speak to me all the time--primarily, during the writing of the book. I always feel as if I am just listening to their voices. I don't feel as if I am putting the words on the page; it's them speaking to me. When the book is finished, I still hear them rumbling around in my head. It often takes a long, long time for them to quiet and let new characters emerge. It's a weird sensation in that the characters become as real to you as real people. So just as on a daily basis you might be thinking over something your mother said or your friend said, so I will be thinking over something that Dallas, Phoebe, or Salamanca said. They're living there in my brain somewhere!

Lily: Dear Sharon, I read "Absolutely Normal Chaos." Where did you get the idea for that?
Sharon Creech:
That was my first book about children, and I was writing it when I was living in England. I was missing my family, and so I began to think about what it was like to grow up in my family. The whole book emerged just from that--thinking about my family, and writing about a family whose lives were just like my own, "Absolutely Normal Chaos."

Pat: Were you interested in Greek myths when you were 13?
Sharon Creech:
Yes, I was very interested in myths of all kinds when I was 13. I was interested in Indian legends, Greek myths, and all of that. There's something in these myths that speaks to a lot of people, not just me. But I am always very intrigued by, for instance, a story of why there are trees, or why the sky became high--that sort of thing.

Lily: Did any of your life experiences influence the characters and events in your books?
Sharon Creech:
Yes. I think many of my life experiences have influenced my characters and the events in my books. However, it's very hard to say just what those influences are, especially when I'm writing a book. I think when we write, we naturally draw on everything we've seen and heard, and those things will fuel any story. I can give you a more specific example though. "The Wanderer" was very consciously based on a trip that my daughter took when she graduated from college. She sailed across the ocean on a 45-ft. sailboat with six boys. Along the way they encountered a storm, and they nearly did not survive. So that's one book in which I was very aware, even while writing the book, that something that had happened to my daughter was fueling the story. In "Love That Dog," I don't know how that story came to be, in that it just seemed to come out of nowhere and write itself. But now, after it's been published, I can see that I couldn't have written that book if I had not been a student, a teacher, and a parent.

Rita: Do you write at home, or do you write in an office?
Sharon Creech:
Both! I have an office on the third floor of our house, and I spend almost all day, every day, up there when I'm not traveling. When I began writing, I was living in England, and I wrote in a little tiny room that was more like a closet. I wrote on a tiny table on an electric typewriter, and every night I had to put it all away, so I'm very glad now that I have a whole room where I can spread out my papers and my books. You can see a picture of this room on my website, www.sharoncreech.com.

Sandals: When did you start writing?
Sharon Creech:
I've always written, but I didn't start writing professionally until about 1986. I wrote stories and poetry for my own children, (some of that poetry was published, so I guess that's professional writing) but I didn't think of myself as a poet. I also wrote long letters to my family and my friends back in the States. I think that was good practice, because I was always describing people I had met, or places I had been. That's a wonderful way to practice your writing skills.

Tennie: Is writing books what you thought it would be like, or would you like to have a different job now?
Sharon Creech:
Writing books is much, much, much more exciting than I ever thought it would be. I think the more you write, the more exciting it becomes, because with each new book you learn something new, and yet you're able to build on what you've learned. I love writing books, and I wouldn't want to do any other job. I feel very fortunate to be able to do this for a living.

Linz: Do you write on a computer?
Sharon Creech:
Yes. I write directly on the computer. I type very fast, and I'm better able to keep up with my brain if I type, rather than if I write longhand. I print out each chapter, so that I can see how the words look on the page. I edit and revise on the hard copy, and then I transfer those changes to the computer. I wrote my first two novels on an electric typewriter, and I had to retype each page over, and over, and OVER, each time I made changes. It sounds like such a primitive process now!

Thirteen Twenty-Two: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Sharon Creech:
When I was young, I knew that it was one of the things I wanted to do, but I think it wasn't until I was in college and took a writing course that I began to think seriously that this was something I could do. And it wasn't until I taught literature for many years that I felt as though I knew what I was doing, and I had something to say.

Tiendas: Do you visit schools? How do we go about arranging a visit?
Sharon Creech:
I used to visit quite a lot of schools, but it's become increasingly difficult for me to continue to do that. If you travel a lot, there's not a lot of time left to write books. I felt I had to make a choice, so I do a lot less traveling now. Anyone who is interested in having me come to their school can contact Catherine Balkin at HarperCollins Publishers. However, I should say that they would probably let you know that I'm not taking any new bookings for the coming year. I wish I could do more, but I can't. Sorry!

Mefox: In your book, "Pleasing the Ghost," was this an autobiographical work of fiction?
Sharon Creech:
I don't think I can say it was autobiographical; however, it was loosely based on something that happened to my father, in that my father had a stroke like the uncle in the book. My father's name was Arvel, and the character's name was Arvie. My father, like Arvie, wasn't able to speak correctly, and sometimes this was a source of amusement, because he would come out with funny things. And sometimes it was a source of sadness, because he couldn't say what he wanted to say.

Catherine NYC: What is your favorite book for children?
Sharon Creech:
Too hard to choose! I can, however, tell you some of my recent favorites. "True Believer," by Virginia Euwer Wolff. "Skellig," by David Almond. "Loser," by Jerry Spinelli. "Witness," by Karen Hesse. "Catherine, Called Birdy," by Karen Cushman. "The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963" by Christopher Paul Curtis. I have a lot more favorites; they're just too many to list here.

DC Librarian: When is your next book for teens, and when do you expect it to be published?
Sharon Creech:
My next book for the normal age group I write for, which includes teens, will be published in Fall 2003, and is titled "Granny Torelli Makes Soup." It's about an Italian grandmother, her granddaughter, and the boy next door. All of the action takes place in a kitchen, which may not sound too exciting, but I think it works!

Pat: Were you outgoing as a child?
Sharon Creech:
That's an interesting question, because my siblings describe me as being very outgoing, perhaps even loud, and my friends describe me as being rather shy and quiet. So I suppose I was both. Maybe I was louder at home because I had to compete with all my siblings. I had three younger brothers and an older sister.

Tiendas: "The Wanderer" is great! Loved learning radio code! Did you already know it, or was it part of your research?
Sharon Creech:
Thank you. Learning the radio code was part of my research, and it was one of the most fun parts of my research. Another fun by-product of including it in my book was that often readers would write to me in radio code.

Anne: In the book, "Walk Two Moons," I noticed that you used a lot of quotes to describe or say something without actually coming out and saying it. My question is where do you get your quotes?
Sharon Creech:
I'm not sure exactly what you mean about the quotes. Perhaps you're referring to the folk sayings, such as "Don't judge a man until you've walked two moons in his moccasins." There are five of those. Some I already knew, and the rest I found in a book of proverbs.

Catherine NYC: Do you have any pets?
Sharon Creech:
I don't have any pets because we travel so much, but we used to have a shaggy yellow dog, and that dog is the basis for the dog in "Love That Dog." There's a photo of our dog on my website, www.sharoncreech.com.

Anne: Why do you write literature for teens?
Sharon Creech:
I don't think of myself as writing literature for teens or for children, I think of myself as writing about young people. My first two novels were about adults, and published as adult books in England, where I was living at the time. But my next novel had a 13-year-old narrator, and it was my agent who suggested that this was a children's book. I so enjoyed writing about this younger age group that I have continued to write stories about them. I think, also, that if a story is good, both children and adults will read it.

Tee: Which book was the hardest to finish?
Sharon Creech:
I think "Walk Two Moons" was the hardest book to complete, because I kept starting over. It took me three years and probably 50 drafts to write that book. But I learned a lot in writing that book, also. I think because I learned so much, no book has been harder since.

Lily: How do you get the ideas for your books? Do you have a special writing place, or do you just think of something because of a sudden inspiration?
Sharon Creech:
Ideas come from all over the place. Usually, a book is started by just an image of a person and the voice of that person that comes from nowhere. But once I hear this person talk, and can see the person in my mind, I write very rapidly, and feel as if I'm just listening to the person. And if I listen carefully enough, they will tell me the story.

Catherine NYC: What kind of music do you like to listen to?
Sharon Creech:
I'm all over the map! I like some classical, some country, and some rock--from Pavarotti, to The Mavericks, to Rod Stewart. However, I don't listen to music all that much, because most of the time I'm writing, and I can't write when I'm listening to music. My brain wants to stop and listen to the music.

Tee: Which book was your favorite to write?
Sharon Creech:
Again, that's a little hard to say, but I think the two most recent ones have been my favorites, and I'm not sure I'm saying that because they were the most recent. "Love That Dog" was just such a pleasure to write. As I said, it just seemed to come from some place and bubble up. "Ruby Holler" was fun because the characters, Dallas and Florida, made me laugh so hard I couldn't wait to join them again every day at my desk, and see what they were going to do.

Mace and Tex: When did you first get interested in writing?
Sharon Creech:
I was interested in writing when I was young, became very interested in it when I was in college, and even more interested when I was a teacher.

Catherine NYC: Where do you keep your Newbery medal?
Sharon Creech:
<laughing> I think it's safely in its little wooden box in my office, on a bookshelf.

Tee: Do you write a book in order, or do you skip around?
Sharon Creech:
I tend to start at the beginning and write straight through to the end. However, when I revise, I jump all over the place, and sometimes I will add a chapter at the beginning, completely change the middle, or jump to the end and rewrite the ending.

Anne: If you hadn't become a writer, what would you be doing at this point in your life?
Sharon Creech:
I think I would probably still be teaching, because I really love to teach. It gave me the chance to read and talk about books, and to hear what my students thought about stories, and also to hear what they had to say. If I couldn't be a writer now, that's what I would most likely be--a teacher. I taught from grades 9 through 12, although, primarily, I taught 11th and 12th grade. I also taught students whose native language was not English. Those were some of my students. And that was quite enlightening. I think that experience fed into a couple of my books. One was "Pleasing the Ghost," where you can't always determine what a word means, and in "Bloomability," where the girl is suddenly in an environment where people speak another language, and she has to learn to survive.

Pat: Did you draw the map in Bloomability?
Sharon Creech:
No, I did not draw the map. There's an artist who did that. I provided a very primitive map of my own, but I have no drawing skills whatsoever. Unfortunately.

Hidden Muse: Was there any one person or event in your life that influenced you most as you developed into an author?
Sharon Creech:
This is a hard question to answer. I was influenced in many ways by my mother, who had a playful love of words and language, by my father's family stories, by reading the words of other authors, by my students, who always surprised me with their individual voices, and by my husband, who encouraged me to take time off in order to write.

Tee: Do you decide what the book cover will look like?
Sharon Creech:
Sometimes I am able to make suggestions. My editor actively solicits those suggestions, but then she finds the artist, and it's really up to the artist and the editor and the art director what the final cover will look like.

Tiendas: Have you had any offers to make one of your books into a movie?
Sharon Creech:
Yes, there has been some interest in "Walk Two Moons," "Pleasing the Ghost," and "The Wanderer;" however, nothing is firmed up yet.

Marimac: Did you have a special teacher who encouraged you to read/write as a child?
Sharon Creech:
One of my favorite teachers when I was young was my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Zolar. I'm not sure what it was she did, except that she made me feel that I was good with words, and that I had a good brain.

Emily: How did your family feel about your becoming an author? Did you find it difficult to have your books published?
Sharon Creech:
My family was, and still is, so excited about each book. They seem to take such joy in the fact that I'm a writer, and they take such joy in telling people about the books. It's a wonderful thing. I did not have much difficulty having my books published. I was very fortunate. My first book was for adults, and I merely sent it to an agent in England, and six months later she found a publisher. Since then, each book was taken as it was sent to the publisher. So I've been very fortunate.

Tiendas: Is it easier to write a story in diary/journal format?
Sharon Creech:
I think it is easier to write a story in a diary or journal format. I'm not quite sure why that is. Perhaps the writer feels freer to talk in a more natural voice.

Catherine NYC: Do you like sad stories or happy stories, because "Love that Dog" made me cry?
Sharon Creech:
And yet I think of "Love That Dog" as a happy story! I think of most of my stories as a combination of the happy and the sad. They're the stories I prefer to read, and that I like to write. I think that comes out of who I am, in that I take things very seriously, and yet I have to lighten serious things with humor.

Chad: Do you have children, and do you read to them?
Sharon Creech:
I have two grown children. I read to them a lot when they were young, but they are now in their 30s. I have a son, Rob, who lives in Vermont, and a daughter, Karin, who lives in Washington D.C. They both love to read, and they both claim not to have an interest in writing, but my daughter is a great writer, and I wish she would write books someday. Maybe she will.

Animach: Have you gone sailing in a sailboat in real life?
Sharon Creech:
Yes. When my daughter took that trip across the ocean, I took a sailing course so I would be able to share the experience with her and know some of what she was undergoing. However, I am a very timid sailor. I have only sailed on a lake in a very small boat. I have never sailed on ocean, nor would I want sail on the ocean! I think my daughter was very courageous in what she did.

Angie: Do you teach your English class the way Mr. Birkway teaches his?
Sharon Creech:
<laughing> I no longer teach, but when I did teach, I think I was probably a combination of the exuberant Mr. Birkway, and the very quite Miss Stretchberry in "Love That Dog." I'd say I was somewhere between the two.

Lily: Do you come up with something, then let go of it and really develop it in your mind, and then finish it? Or do you write little by little?
Sharon Creech:
I start with very little, and I race through to the end. I don't stop and worry about the book, outline the book, or plan the book, because I know that if I did, my brain would ruin the story. I find it a much better way for me to write to just let the story go as it will, wherever it will.

Megan: I love your books, because they are mostly about country girls who love the outdoors, which reminds me of myself. Do you live in the country?
Sharon Creech:
I grew up in the suburbs of a big city--Cleveland--but my cousins lived in the country, in Kentucky. Every summer we would visit them, and I loved those visits. They lived in a place very much like Bybanks, and I felt so free there. I love the outdoors--trees, animals, and anything to do with nature. And I think that's why many of my books are set outdoors.

Lily: Do you have any special tips for children who would like to become a professional writer?
Sharon Creech:
The tips I often give are to read a lot, write a lot, and to have fun with both. I think you shouldn't worry too much about knowing the whole story before you begin, or about finishing the whole story before you start. Just play around and have fun, and you will automatically learn something from everything you read and write.

Tee: Do you get stuck when you are writing a book?
Sharon Creech:
I occasionally find myself 'winding down'. In other words, I wouldn't say I feel stuck; so much as the writing doesn't seem to be flowing as smoothly as it should. When that happens I usually stop and do something else such as take a walk, put in the laundry, or clean the bathroom. I find that when I come back to the writing, my brain has refreshed itself, and I'm able to return to whatever point I've stopped at.

Lily: Was it difficult for you to get your books published? How did you feel when you got your first novel published?
Sharon Creech:
It was very exciting to hear that my first novel was going to be published. It was next to the birth of my children and the marriage to my husband--one of the most exciting moments of my life. Oh, and next to winning the Newbery! Also, seeing the book in my hands was a very moving moment. I couldn't quite believe that I had written all those words, and that it was actually a real book. The first time I saw this book in a bookstore was in London, in Piccadilly Circus, and I remember wanting to take a photo of the book on the bookshelf, just to prove that it was my book!

NYPL: Thanks for a great chat! We are almost out of time. Do you have any parting words for us?
Sharon Creech:
Thanks for the great questions. I hope that you will enjoy reading as much as I do, and that you will find authors and books that speak especially to you--books that will widen your life and the journeys you take in it. And if you want to write, I hope that you will have fun with it. Thanks again!

NYPL: Sharon, we love your novels and picture books. We can't wait for your next book! Thank you so much for joining us this week.

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