- Limitations on Young Adult Fiction:An Interview with Chris Crutcher
Chris Crutcher's latest book, The Deep End (January 1992), deals with a child murder and a therapist who works with the victim's four-year-old brother. Strong stuff suited to the beginning of a decade where at least one in every four children lives in poverty. His first book, Running Loose, appeared in 1983 and broke the boundaries of the sport novel for teenagers by stressing fairness and team play over winning. Stotan (1986) drew on Crutcher's knowledge of competitive swimming, and The Crazy Horse Electric Game (1987) his experience teaching in an alternative school in Oakland. Each novel moves the protagonist and reader closer to the absurdity of an adult world which fails to protect young people from family abuse (Chinese Handcuffs 1988) and ridicule (Athletic Shorts 1990), and accidents which kill (Running Loose) or maim (Crazy Horse Electric Game). Crutcher's prose moves like a skilled swimmer—direct, strong, and even. It's hard to put down. The reader is drawn along because there are no breaks.
Chris Crutcher grew up in Cascade, Idaho, and attended Eastern Washington State College, where he majored in swimming but received degrees in sociology and psychology. Between jobs in Spokane, he wrote Running Loose, which he sent to his friend, Terry Davis (Vision Quest), who passed it on to his agent. Crutcher now works as a family and child therapist in a mental health center specializing in families involved in child abuse.
I interviewed Crutcher at a Children's Literature Association Conference, where he gave a presentation that included a discussion of the ending of Chinese Handcuffs, which originally concluded with the murder of the abuser, but was changed to eliminate the murder. I thought his experiences might illuminate some of the limitations of writing young adult literature. The following interview took place on January 21, 1992.
LS: Do you have an audience in mind when you write?
CC: No. When I put an audience in my mind, I start writing very badly, get real self-conscious. And I start worrying more about how it's going to be heard as opposed to just how it's coming out of me. I think too much, lose most of my spontaneity. What I do is choose the age of the protagonist and that tells me whether it's children's or young adult. And [End Page 66] then I tell the story; and if we have to edit it later, then we do. If I worry about it then I'm really bad news.
LS: Do your editors have a particular audience in mind when they read it or do they look at the age of the protagonist?
CC: No, well, I know my editor at Greenwillow—William Morrow is kind of the parent company for everyone, but Greenwillow is an independent entity—and when I write a book that has a protagonist under twenty, I know it's going to go to Greenwillow and I know that it's Hirschman, the senior editor there, who will deal with it. The first time we talk about audience or that kind of thing is if there's some things in there that she has concerns about in terms of audience. But I let her do the worrying about audience and then I decide if I can afford to edit whatever she thinks about. She's very liberal. I mean, there are very, very few times where we've ever clashed and never seriously.
LS: Is there ever any editing down of your prose?
CC: Almost never. Once in a while I hear (which is really good advice to me) "put it one more time through the wringer just to tighten it down." And they won't say, "You don't need to be so specific here," or "This is too much instruction." They won't say "losing the attention" (and maybe that's because I get bored real quickly, so if I'm bored, I figure the audience has got to be bored). A good piece of advice is kind of shaking out all the extra words and extra...