On a perfect day, Sharon Creech will write for ten hours (with an occasional snack break), but unfortunately ‘real life’ interruptions occur. “Those ideal days are rare, and more often I only get two to three hours a day to write.” Truthfully, Creech is always writing and like most creative people, she can’t help finding ideas in the every day things that surround her. She might see a person at a museum and “begin spinning” her own story about that person’s background. She might overhear a snippet of conversation and use it in one of her stories. She might be vacationing and a particular sight will pique her interest. The title for her 1995 Newbery Medal winner, Walk Two Moons, came from a fortune cookie message: “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.”
“Sometimes I can trace some of the ideas in a book back to a possible place of origin, but not always. A book is comprised of so many, many ideas that it would be hard to unravel where they all came from.”
Creech thought about being a journalist when she was young, but realized she’d rather change the facts than report them. In college she learned to love fiction, studying the keys to good storytelling. While teaching high school literature and writing in England and Switzerland, Creech’s first novel was published in 1990. Titled Absolutely Normal Chaos, Creech describes it as “a fictional account of growing up in my family.” Many might call Chaos her first big break, but Creech says it’s not as simple as that. “Maybe a first big break was having teachers who made literature exciting, or who responded positively to what I wrote. Maybe it was having a mother who loved words. Maybe it was the first publication of a poem (1979). Maybe it was [Absolutely Normal Chaos]. Maybe it was receiving the Newbery (1995). . .”
Each of the characters Creech has created is her favorite for different reasons. She loves Phoebe Winterbottom for her wild imagination, and Zinny Taylor and Domenica Dunne for their stubbornness. “When I’m working on a book, I am living in the head of that character and I am also standing to one side watching that character. I cannot breathe someone else’s breath for months and months without them seeming ‘real’ at some point. Sometimes that’s unsettling, in that they can seem more real than real people.”
Creech is always conscious that she’s writing fiction. “I’m not so interested in how it is, as how it might be.” After she develops the main characters and setting of a book, she “grazes on relevant background material.” In Walk Two Moons, Salamanca Tree Hiddle takes a cross-country trip that Creech had taken more than 30 years earlier, so Creech refreshed her memory with maps and travel guides. Hiking maps and outdoor guides provided facts for Chasing Redbird, and Swiss maps, train schedules and avalanche information supplied background for Bloomability.
“I don’t like to do too much research—that can squash the story. It’s tempting to squeeze in all your important knowledge. To me, that can so easily ruin a story that might have been zinging along on imagination.”
Until recently, Creech divided her time between England and the United States. She and her husband now live in Pennington, New Jersey. Her first picture book, Fishing in the Air, is due out this month. Creech is not an illustrator, but finds herself “enthralled by what the artist is doing.” She’s currently at work on another novel, Ruby Holler, which takes place in a small Kentucky town reminiscent of the one she visited as a girl. “We often visited. . .Quincy, Kentucky where my cousins lived (and still live) on a beautiful farm, with hills and trees and swimming hole and barn and hayloft. . .I loved Quincy so much that it has found its way into many of my books.”
Perhaps a ten year old fan best expresses the impact Creech has had on children’s literature. “When I saw you have more than two books for children, I got MAD! I want them BAD! I want them NOW!” But more importantly, Creech’s readers have had an equally strong impact on her. “I read every letter I receive,” she confides.