It's fairly easy for Sharon Creech to give interviews-she can just tell reporters to read her books. Although a fiction writer by trade, she has no qualms about adding real-life locations, names, addresses, and anecdotes to her stories. Stories seem to be in her nature, and whether they come from her childhood, her grandparents, her life in Europe, or a man she saw on the bus, all that matters is that they lead somewhere interesting.
Creech was born in South Euclid, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. Her "noisy and rowdy family" consisted of her parents, three brothers, and one sister. (Her third book, Absolutely Normal Chaos, is a fictionalized account of a summer with her family.) Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends were frequent visitors to the house; Creech was always used to a warm, large, extended family.
Some of Creech's favorite memories come from the family's annual summer vacations. From Wisconsin to Michigan to her cousin's farm in Kentucky (and once even to Scotland), her parents showed their children life beyond their small suburb. These road trips became more than just summer entertainment for Creech; as a writer, many of her stories involve journeys both physical and psychological. "Journeys have always been important to me," she says, "…the trips my family took every summer allowed me to see a wider world. When my children and I journeyed to England and Switzerland, we learned so much and were changed so much by what we saw."
Though she wrote constantly as a child, Creech had no intention to become an author. "I wanted to be many things when I grew up: a painter, an ice skater, a singer, a teacher, and a reporter." She soon discovered that she couldn't draw or sing in key and didn't like falling on ice. She attempted journalism, but changed her mind when she learned she couldn't make up the news; "…when I didn't like the facts, I changed them," she remembers. It was only later, attending Hiram College in Ohio, that she became truly interested in storytelling. Out of college, she spent fifteen years teaching high school English and writing. Teaching writing to students helped her teach herself; she learned about plot, characterization, and point of view, writing basics that she would use in her books.
Creech attended George Mason University of Virginia and besides teaching, worked as an editorial assistant, indexer, and researcher. In 1979, she moved to England with her husband, Lyle Rigg, where he served as headmaster of the American School. His numerous experiences as headmaster inspired Creech's 2001 picture book, A Fine, Fine School. Her time in Scotland also provided the backdrop for Bloomability, her story about a girl in an international boarding school. But before those stories were written, Creech tried her hand at adult fiction, publishing The Recital and Nickel Malley. Her next book was the story of thirteen-year-old Mary Lou Finney in Absolutely Normal Chaos; ever since then she has been writing fiction for young adults, though she doesn't like to label her books as such. "I have trouble with these categories. Although I know that publishers have to classify books…I just think of them as novels that have young people as their main characters."
After eighteen years in England, Creech and her family moved back to the United States. Her first book to be published in America was Walk Two Moons, which won the 1995 Newbery Medal. Creech was already working on the ending of her next book, Chasing Redbird, when she found out she had won. "I think I kept asking… 'Are you kidding?' …You might think I would be deliriously excited--and I was--but I was also terrified, because I didn't know what to expect next." Though she has won many awards since, Creech says they have not changed her writing. It would be hard to--she does not usually seek out her stories, but rather a character or place will come to her, fully formed, from something she has read or seen.
"…A book contains not one, but hundreds, maybe thousands, of little ideas," she says. Salamanca, the character from Walk Two Moons, came from a fortune cookie she got. Even her characters based on real-life people evolve as she writes them. Unlike many authors, Creech does not use outlines for her novels; she likes to let the characters lead her through their story, traveling down every side road to discover the tale. Many times Creech will revisit places she likes; Bybanks, Kentucky, a favorite fictional setting, is based on Quincy, Kentucky, her cousins' farm from her childhood.
Creech has found a way to carry the "wider worlds" from her family trips into her writing. Just as she travels to Kentucky and England, her characters go to Idaho and Scotland in their stories-sometimes going farther by mind than they do by mile. But that's fine with Creech: "It was inevitable that the characters and I would also have interior journeys on these treks, and for me that is much of the excitement of writing: discovering what the interior journey is, how it changes the traveler."
Sharon Creech photo courtesy of L. Rigg (1998).