Monday, August 4, 2008

Michigander Monday: Shutta Crum

Our guest this week for Michigander Monday is... Shutta Crum. Welcome, Shutta!

Debbie: Tell us a little about yourself.
Shutta: I come from a long line of “big-talkers.” My favorite memories are of listening to my grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins tell tall tales. I would hide behind the grown-ups and listen, amazed, at these wild tales from my southern kin. Soon I started making up stories that I told to my siblings and friends.

When I learned to read, I loved it so much that I would hide books I read for fun inside my school textbooks.

In the sixth grade I discovered poetry—and I adored writing it! When I grew up, my poems were published in literary journals. I taught creative writing as a high school English teacher, as a community college instructor, and as a poetry instructor at elementary schools through an arts grant.

But I also love other forms of writing, especially children’s books. So I was happy when I became a children’s librarian, because I could work with children’s books, and with kids. Best of all, I could tell stories at storytime!

One day I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if I could write books that children would want to read? Maybe my books could be in libraries, or used at storytimes? And so I wrote a book that retold a tale I used in storytimes—but I told it my way, with characters I made up. That was my first book: WHO TOOK MY HAIRY TOE? Since then I’ve written several books for kids of all ages.

Little did I know how important it was for me to stand barefoot and big-eyed and hear the people I love laughing, talking, and telling stories. That passion for a good story told is a treasure I share with others when I write.

Debbie: We'd love to hear about your latest book!

Shutta: My latest book is A FAMILY FOR OLD MILL FARM, Clarion, 2007. Some books are more autobiographical than others. This book is based upon the three years my husband and I spent looking for our place in the country. Our friendly real estate agent, Steve Eusades, was VERY patient. Every few weeks he would telephone to tell us about yet another house or farm that was available. At the time, we were living in downtown Ann Arbor and wanted more property. Finally, we found it!

In A FAMILY FOR OLD MILL FARM a young couple is shown a series of homes that are a bit outlandish. (We were never shown a lighthouse!). There is also a parallel story of a raccoon Realtor ® who finds just the perfect home for a variety of animals—all at Old Mill Farm, a rundown heap of a place. Of course, this is also the perfect home for the young couple, as our home as proved to be.

Our farm was a run-down place that needed a great deal of repair! The barn doors were all broken or off their runners, drainage pipes were broken, the lawn had not been mowed in at least three years, there were dead trees that needed to be felled, and the house—a rental property—needed a lot of maintenance and renovation. However, at almost 13 acres and just minutes from downtown where we both worked . . . it was perfect! As the Realtor in the story says: “It just needs some paint . . . a roof . . . a board or two.” And did it!
Debbie: We'd also love to hear about your other books and projects!

Shutta: I have eight other books that are out, seven are picture books and one is a novel. Of these six are currently available, and two are out of print. (That hurts!) Each, in some way, has reflected my home, my career, my upbringing, or my family and friends. And I can truly say each has been a work of love. There are specifics on each title on my webpage at: www.shutta.com .

As far as new projects go . . . I currently have four more books under contract including a new fantasy chapter book with Knopf. That was really fun to write, and very different for me! We are just starting the editing process, and I am so looking forward to it.

In addition I will have a new picture book out with Clarion next year. It’s titled, THUNDER-BOOMER. That was a lot of fun, also. I love mid-western thunderstorms and enjoyed working with all the sounds in the text. It’s about a thunderstorm, a girl, a kitten, a dog, a chicken, a farm family and a pair of dad’s underwear. (Hah! The favorite word of four year olds!)

In the meantime, I write in spurts—feast or famine. Right now, my agent has four new picture book manuscripts she is submitting for me. And I’m working on a follow-up fantasy to the first one for Knopf.

Debbie: Any upcoming appearances?
Shutta: I am looking forward to doing a storytime for the Bay Yacht Club on the beach in August. This will be complete with s’mores! The rest of my schedule can be found on my website.

Basically, I try to keep school appearances down to about a dozen a year. I love them . . . and what comes out of the mouths of babes . . . but I would have no time for my family, or to write, if I did much more than that.

I usually do bookstores only when a new book appears. And I am doing more conferences around the country. I enjoy speaking to teachers and librarians.

Debbie: What are your favorite Michigan places?

Shutta: The Keweenaw Peninsula, Hartwick Pines, and my backyard.

Debbie: And your favorite Michigan event?

Shutta: I LOVE the Art Fairs in Ann Arbor every summer. I get so rejuvenated when I see all the wonderful art. When I think about creating something that never existed until an artist “sees” it in his/her mind and then creates it . . . Wow! It’s powerful.

Debbie: Some fun Michigan people we should all know?
Shutta: The Michigan Chapter of SCBWI! I don’t think I’d be where I am today without them. And talk about fun . . .

Debbie: Something you’d like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?
Shutta: We got the U.P. in a “war” with Ohio over Toledo. That’s why there’s a funny notch in the southern border. Ohio got the port city of Toledo. We got the U.P., the better prize. The funny thing is that there was only one injury in the so-called border “war.” A Ohio sheriff named Stickney had two sons. He’d named them One Stickney and Two Stickney. One of the two was slightly injured. But the interesting story is, of course, about a man who would name his sons One and Two. Interesting, the tidbits you find out as a librarian. Now . . . ask me how much a leopard eats.

Debbie: So, which do you prefer as the label for Michigan residents: Michigander or Michiganian?

Shutta: I usually use Michigander. However, since I was born in Kentucky I usually refer to myself as a Kentuckian. (I’ve lived here 55+ years. But, no matter how long you are away from Kentucky, Kentucky is still “home.”)
Debbie: Thanks, Shutta, for being this week's Michigander Monday guest -- and yes, don't keep us hanging, we do want to know how much a leopard eats!

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