A bright smile shines through his beard, and as he turns to greet the students his peppered gray hair is more clearly visible. Could it be true that this man, who looks so different from the students around him, has so much insight into the teenage world? Surprisingly, yes.
Renowned author of young adult books, Chris Crutcher, took time out to visit with Calallen English classes last week about the inspiration he draws on for his novels and to touch on some issues teens face.
"I write about a lot of comic personal experiences," Crutcher said. "If I can feel it when I write it, there's a better chance you'll feel it when you read it."
Crutcher's novels feature serious issues faced by teens, including love, death, relationships with friends and family, and racism. His most recent novel, "Deadline," released in October 2007, tells the story of a high school senior diagnosed with a fatal illness who strives to make a mark on the world in his last year of life.
"Deadline was fun to write because it stretched me out," Crutcher said. "It's a game people play, 'What would you do if you had a week or a month to live?' If you were really in that situation, how would you leave your footprint? It was a challenge, but that is part of the fun."
Growing up in Cascade, Idaho, Crutcher believes he may have suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder, and often was misunderstood throughout high school. It is from some of these experiences that led him to seek out a younger audience.
"Mostly people just told me to sit down and shut up," Crutcher said. "I didn't have a lot of guidance, and I wish I would have been better understood as a teenager."
After graduating from Eastern Washington State College with a degree in psychology and sociology, he pursued a teaching degree and got a job with an alternative school in California. It was during his years at the Lakeside School that Crutcher wrote what would be his first published novel, "Running Loose," after helping a friend through the process.
"When I wrote my first book, I didn't have a lot of confidence, so it was in large part an imitation," Crutcher said. "I was being more careful and didn't make it as complex. You gain confidence with each book, then you start thinking you are going to make it."
Crutcher then served as a therapist for the Spokane Community Health Center and Child Protection team, where he was exposed to many cases dealing with child abuse and neglect. One father-son struggle shaped "Ironman," a novel based on a teenager's struggle to make it as a triathlete, defying his father.
"My dad held his ground but would leave a back door," Crutcher said. "I try to use the experiences I had with my dad and imagine what would happen if he'd closed that door."
Many of the author's more racy topics have landed him on the banned book list, which he loves. Commonly challenged aspects of Crutcher's books include language, race issues, and homosexual characters.
"It's kind of a joke to ban books, because there is free access to books. There's Amazon, the Internet," Crutcher said. "Your generation is more tolerant than mine though, and that makes me hopeful."
These days, Crutcher enjoys his visits across the country with students, teachers, librarians, and potential characters. Despite a busy travel schedule, the author says he tries to write everyday, sometimes for several hours. And according to Crutcher, he still has some teen issues left to write about.
"Never let anybody tell you that you can't do something," Crutcher said. "There is an untrue myth that it's impossible to get published, but it's not. It's just regular people who write books."