Interview with James Crouch

Tell me, Jim, when did you first think about writing fiction?
I can tell you exactly when and where it happened. It was in the mid-1960s, and I was in a Weinstube in the village of Lustnau, a suburb of the university-city of Tübingen in southwestern Germany.

Most of the people in the room were American scholars on sabbatical who had come to Tübingen to meet Ernst Käsemann, a New Testament professor who had written an article on the historical Jesus in which he took issue with his Doktor-vater, the famous Rudolf Bultmann.

It was the visiting scholars who were interested in the historical Jesus; Prof. Käsemann had moved on to other interests. One evening he mentioned in passing that during the war he had walked from Greece back to Germany.

I was dumfounded. Only later did I learn that, because of his anti-Nazi political stance, he had been imprisoned by the Gestapo and then drafted into the Wehrmacht. And it was as a common soldier—a machine-gunner—that he had participated in the movement of the German forces out of Greece.

That night I left the Weinstube thinking: There is a story there that needs to be told. Somebody needs to write a novel about common soldiers, among them pastors and theologians, walking from Greece back to Germany.
And so you set about to write that novel?
I did not. I completed my degree in Tübingen, came back to the United States, and got a job at a university. I had a family to support, and any writing I did over the next few years was non-fictional and, for the most part, academic. But the seed had been planted. And without knowing it, I had the itch to write fiction.
When did you finally scratch that itch?
With the exception of a couple of short stories, I wrote no serious fiction until I was living in retirement on the side of a mountain in southern Appalachia. In May of 2007 I sat down to write a novel about competing Jewish and Christian communities in the second century of the Common Era—a novel that would climax in the Bar Cochba revolt of the years 132-136. But at the end of the day I had written instead the first chapter of a story about an outsider who comes into a community deep in the heart of Appalachia looking for his mother’s killer. It was the beginning of my novel, Family Values.
What made you decide to publish Family Values yourself?
Failure. I spent two years trying to find an agent, and I couldn’t even get somebody to read the manuscript.
But now you have a nice-looking novel, both as a print book and as an ebook.
On the whole I’m satisfied with the way it turned out. There have even been positive responses from some of my early readers. But I do wonder sometimes about the title.
What’s wrong with the title?
Nothing. And everything. When I was writing the book, I thought Family Values was the perfect title for the story of a protagonist’s relationship to his mother and father and of his life in a community that was an extended family. In my mind it was also a double entendre of sorts, since some of the less attractive characters in the story claimed to represent family values. But now I’ve discovered that some people refuse to read a book with that title because they think it is a religious book, or a book promoting a certain social or political agenda.
But leaving all that aside, aren’t you too old to be writing fiction?
You are joking, aren’t you? No? You’re not joking? In my mind a person is never too old to write. The only questions are: Does one write well, and does one have something to say? Are you familiar with Harriet Doerr?
Never heard of her.
She published her first novel when she was 73 and her second when she was 83. For those reasons alone she is one of my heroes.
So is she your favorite writer?
I was afraid you’d ask that. Don’t really have a favorite writer. There’s only one book I’ve read twice in recent years. It’s The Music Room, by Dennis McFarland. I read it once for the story, then a few years later I read it again for the beauty of the language. If I had to make a list, Wendell Berry and Marilynn Robinson would be on it too, just because of who they are. And I would have to include Barbara Kingsolver, who is a neighbor of mine.
What about your future? Are you going to write another novel?
Already have. It’s a sequel to Family Values, and it’s a story about how the people in that isolated Appalachian community cope with the financial crisis of 2008-2009. Right now it’s on the back burner of my life. One of these days I’ll have to take it off and decide what to do with it.
Anything else?
There is. Before I die I would like to read the story of a German theologian walking home from Greece with his comrades.
Published 2013-09-02.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

The Wind Blows Where It Will
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 40,640. Language: English. Published: July 26, 2018. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Amateur sleuth, Fiction » Themes & motifs » Crime
This is the fifth in the author's Appalachian series, where Tim Sloan's sojourn in the rural mountain area continues in unexpected ways.
The Stars Will Fall from Heaven: and other short fiction
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 51,230. Language: English. Published: October 15, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Religious
A collection of short stories and two novelettes by the author of the Tim Sloan Appalachian series. The title story is set in second century Antioch and features the Gospel of Matthew. The second novelette ("Tommy") is a continuation of the Tim Sloan stories.
Foreclosure Time
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 103,060. Language: English. Published: July 23, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Literature » Literary
In his second year as the lay pastor of a small country church Tim Sloan once again is confronted with a mysterious death. This time his own nightmare-driven depression and the chronic poverty of his Appalachian community force him to face the reality that he too may be facing foreclosure time.
Family Values
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 166,560. Language: English. Published: January 28, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Literature » Literary
Tim Sloan’s job as pastor in a small country church in Appalachia is a cover. He is really looking for his mother’s killer. During the search he becomes embedded in the small community and its web of relationships in ways he never anticipated. These relationships challenge both his cynicism and his religious beliefs and lead him to changes that surprise both him and his friends.