SANDPOINT — To discover your inner storyteller, all you have to do is examine your own life.
Author Chris Crutcher shared that message with Lake Pend Oreille High School students at an assembly Tuesday morning before coaching the kids on writing techniques in their English classes. During his morning presentation, Crutcher told the students that the best stories come from personal experience.
“Every person here has enough stories in them for at least two or three novels if you just know how to tell them,” he said.
The author of books like “Whale Talk” and “Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes,” Crutcher’s stories often feature young adult protagonists, often involved in high school sports, that must overcome serious personal obstacles.
In his morning presentation, Crutcher detailed the experiences he tapped to develop his stories.
Crutcher draws his frequent athletic motif from his own participation in sports as a youth growing up in Cascade. However, he said it was a desire to fit in, rather than an overwhelming athletic prowess, that fueled his sports career.
“Whenever the coach put me in, he knew there was already no way we could possibly lose,” he said of his basketball experiences.
Nevertheless, his basketball and baseball exploits proved key to his books’ humorous elements.
Given the prevailing tone of Crutcher’s books, good comic material is a handy resource. His books deal frankly with difficult subjects like broken homes, abuse, racial and religious prejudice and poverty.
Once again, life experiences influenced fiction. Before becoming a writer, Crutcher worked as a counselor and a therapist. During that time, he encountered victims of truly wretched circumstances, including one mixed-race girl under the authority of a racist and aggressive stepfather. Crutcher formed a relationship with the girl that provided the basis for a key character in his 2001 novel “Whale Talk”.
The darker points of Crutcher’s stories and his insistence on portraying them bluntly have made his books a favorite target for censors. Some individuals, offended by the coarse language and adult themes, have sought to remove them from school and libraries. On the other side of the spectrum, however, literary organizations have honored Crutcher’s work for its maturity and realism.
LPOHS students also responded positively, remaining attentive and responding to some Crutcher’s humorous stories with big laughs.
“The effectiveness of a speaker can often be judged by the noise level in the room,” teacher Lori Stone said. “And you could hear a pin drop in here.”
Thanks to help from a Title I grant, Stone said they were very excited Crutcher could visit Sandpoint.
As for Crutcher, he is simply happy to share a passion for storytelling with the next generation.
“If the students here take away anything from my visit, I hope it’s a sense that if they’re interested in being a storyteller, it’s something they can do,” he said. “It’s not an unreachable goal.”