Interview with Alum Sharon Creech, Award-Winning Author

Posted: January 7, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Colleen Kearney Rich

Sharon Creech
Sharon Creech
Photo Courtesy of Sharon Creech

While growing up, Sharon Creech, MA English ’79, wanted to be a lot of things, including a teacher and a reporter. “I soon found that I would make a terrible reporter,” she says. “I didn’t like the facts, so I changed them.”

Creech did become a teacher. After completing her master’s degree at Mason, she taught high school English and writing in Switzerland and England for more than 10 years at schools where her husband, Lyle Rigg, was the headmaster.

After teaching so many good books, she soon had the urge to write one of her own. Her first two novels were published in England and are now out of print.

In 1995, Creech won the Newbery Medal for her novel, “Walk Two Moons,” the first of her books to be published in the United States. The Newbery is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. She later received the Newbery Honor for “The Wanderer.”

Her other works include “Heartbeat,” “Ruby Holler,” “Love That Dog,” “Bloomability,” “Absolutely Normal Chaos” and “The Castle Corona.”

Creech and her husband currently live in upstate New York.

Book cover for
The cover of Creech’s latest book

You began publishing after years of teaching. Were you always writing and finally met with success, or did you switch your energy to writing full time?

The move from teaching to writing was primarily a shift of energy. My children were in high school, I’d taught English for 10 years; I was ready for an energy shift!

How did your first novel come to be published?

I sent my first novel to a British agent (I was living in England at the time), and she placed it in about six months with British publisher PanMacmillan.

With which Mason faculty members did you study in graduate school?

I studied writing with Don Gallehr, and I studied writing-by-way-of-literature (literature courses from which I learned a lot about writing) with Peter Brunette, John O’Connor and Lorraine Brown — all truly excellent teachers, each of whom took my thinking to a deeper level.

Winning the Newbery Medal is quite an achievement. How do you think it has affected your writing and your career?

Winning the Newbery made my career possible. It gave me a huge boost of confidence and a wide-open invitation to write. The Newbery offers a huge immediate audience, and with each book I write, I hope that I am still deserving of that audience.

Do you think teaching and being a parent has shaped your storytelling ability? You wrote “Who’s That Baby?” for your granddaughter. Did you write any of the other books with your children in mind?

Teaching honed my understanding of the elements of a good story and of a vast variety of techniques. Parenting allowed me to see the patterns in life; I know I am a far wiser person and writer for having been a parent. “Granny Torreli Makes Soup” was written when I first contemplated being a grandmother; “Heartbeat” was written in response to seeing my granddaughter born.

Do you have a favorite of all your books?

A lot of people ask this, and they seem disappointed when I say I don’t have a favorite. Each is favored for different reasons. I learned something from writing each one, and each one is a time capsule of a year (or two or three) in my life.

Can you discuss your writing process and how you approach a novel? Do you have a writing schedule or any special things you do to prepare?

A new novel usually sneaks up on me as I am finishing the last one. I try not to think about it too much because it is better if it bursts out on its own when I have only a character, a place and a voice. I begin, and then I go on … and on … and on. I write to discover what the story is, and I write that first draft rapidly, glued to my chair between four and 10 hours a day. If I get stuck, I do other work for an hour or a day, and then I’m able to plunge ahead. That first draft usually contains a lot of dreck, but I can’t see the dreck until I’ve finished the draft, set it aside for a few weeks, and then take it out again. Then I’m ready to cut, add and polish, over and over. When I’ve scribbled so much on the hard copy that I can’t read it anymore, I start draft two. The story goes to the editor usually at draft four or five. After her comments, I usually do one more draft.

Do you have any words of advice for beginning writers?

It’s simple, but valid: read a lot and write a lot. The more you read, the more you are exposed to techniques of characterization, dialogue, plot, etc. The more you write, the stronger your writing “muscles” become and the easier it becomes to hear your own voice.

Write to at