Question and Answer with Ralph Fletcher


This shows me doing a school author visit.                 These kids are reading Fig Pudding!                                      Me with my grandson, Solomon. Happy guy!

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to play centerfield for the Boston Red Sox. I still do!

Were you a reader or a non-reader growing up?
I read a great deal….lots of sports fiction, but also other stuff such as the Tom Swift series, and the books of Jack London.

When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
I don’t think it occurred to me that you could “be a writer” until high school.

What’s your most embarrassing childhood memory?
When I was in 8th grade I was in a school where they had dances every Friday night. I didn’t have a clue what to do, so my neighbor, a girl named Faith, came over to our house. She brought my brother and I down to our basement and gave us dancing lessons every Friday night. This was embarrassing enough, but one day my young siblings came downstairs and spied on us. I don’t think I ever felt so mortified.

What’s your favorite childhood memory?
I loved playing in the woods behind our house in Marshfield, Mass. (I write about this in my memoir, Marshfield Dreams: When I Was a Kid.) My friend and siblings and I had acres to explore and, in the summer, unlimited time to explore it.

As a young person, who did you look up to most?
I was in the Boy Scouts so I had some wonderful Scoutmasters. But my father was the person I most looked up to.

What was your favorite thing about school?
I liked most things about everything about school—even school lunches.

What was your least favorite thing about school?
My handwriting was horrendous. All my teachers pointed this out to me.

What were your hobbies as a kid?
Playing sports, collecting baseball cards and marbles.

What are your hobbies now?
Photography. I grow orchids, too. I take great pride in being able to re-bloom them. A few years ago I grew giant pumpkins. That was a blast! It was gi-normous! Well, it was kind of big. But it was fun growing it.

What was your first job, and what was your “worst” job?
I’ve had lots of different jobs and learned a lot from each one. I was a clam digger (this experience would form the basis of my book The One O’Clock Chop). I didn’t have any worst job—I found something to like, and something to learn, in each one.

What book is on your nightstand now?
I’m just finishing The Confession by John Grisham (about capital punishment). He’s such a good, clean writer. Grisham really knows how to write an uncluttered sentence.

How did you celebrate publishing your first book?
Book party! Woot woot! One of my friends came with her husband. The two of them came in; each grabbed a book, and started reading the book right in the middle of the party!

Where do you write your books?
I have a lovely office with some nice windows looking out into the woods.

Why did you decide to write Marshfield Dreams?
I wanted to capture the magic of my childhood.  I lived in Marshfield, Mass.; from the time I was three until the time I was thirteen. Those two dates created “bookends” (a natural beginning, and a natural ending) for the memoir.

What was your favorite and least favorite thing about growing up in a large family?
I explored some of that in my first novel, Fig Pudding. Worst thing: it was hard to have any privacy. When I was little, my parents often put of us three kids in the bathtub at the same time! But one the other hand, it was fun having so many kids. There was rarely a dull moment. We weren’t rich (not even close to it) but on Christmas morning Santa Claus brought each kid one really nice present. There were nine children, so the living room looked like a toy store.

What challenges do you face in the writing process, and how do you overcome them?
Writing a book is a long, lonely journey. It’s hard to go “underwater” for the year it takes to write a book. I find it hard to stay interested for that long without getting much feedback from anybody else.

What makes you laugh out loud?
The zany things babies do (like suck on their toes). Also: Will Ferrell and Melissa McCarthy.

Favorite musician?
Jackson Browne. I got to meet him about a year ago, and he was every bit as wonderful in person as he is in his songs.

What do you do on a rainy day?
Read, watch sports on TV, maybe go to the gym.

What’s your idea of fun?
Travel to an exotic island, spend a few hours snorkeling, then have a delicious dinner at a great restaurant, sitting outside while the sunsets. But I’m also a pretty simple guy. I’m very happy sitting with friends and family in front of a crackling fire.

What’s your favorite song?
Hooked On A Feeling by B. J. Thomas.

Who is your favorite fictional character?
Randall McMurphy in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid? Do you have a favorite book now?
Not really—I have many, many books I adore for many different reasons.

What’s your favorite TV show or movie?
I love Mad Men. And I’ve watched so many Law And Order episodes I swear I could write one myself. My kids have gotten me into Walking Dead—very good (and very gruesome).

If you were stranded on a desert island, who would you want for company?
Hmmm I have to be careful here…. J  I guess I’d want an intelligent person with whom I could talk about many different kinds of things. Someone I could be myself with. My wife JoAnn would fit the bill nicely.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and what would you do?
I want to go back to Tonga in the South Pacific. I spent three months there while I was in college. I lived with a family. I’d love to look up and reconnect with some of those people.

If you could travel in time, where would you go and what would you do?
I’d love to go back to the 1945 and see what it was like when the Allis defeated Japan and World War Two was finally over. If I did, I could meet my parents when they were sixteen years old! I’d also love to be in Greenwich Village in the late 50s and meet some of the Beat poets and writers like Jack Kerouac.

What’s the best advice you have ever received about writing?
“The bigger the issue, the smaller you write.” Novelist Richard Price told me that, and I’ll always be grateful. Look for little details that reveal big issues.

What advice do you wish someone had given you when you were younger?
I think I used to believe that you’re a born skier, a born artist, a born athlete. I wish someone had told me the truth: You can do ANYTHING you want, so long as you stick to it.

Do you ever get writer’s block? What do you do to get back on track?
Not really. If I do get stuck I go outside and do something completely different. Physical activity has a way of getting the creative juices flowing again.

What do you want readers to remember about your books?
Intense emotion and a sense of realism: this is (or could be) really happening. Plus, a love of language. I strive to write sentences that are both beautiful and powerful.

What would you do if you ever stopped writing?
I can’t imagine. My wife has asked me: “When will you retire from writing?” I tell her: “I love to write. I plan to keep writing until I’m too feeble to drag myself to my writing desk.”

What should people know about you?
I really like kids. It’s a privilege to write for them. I’m interested in how people act—not what they should do but what they really do. I have always had a happy disposition.

What do you like best about yourself?
My sense of humor. Also, I am a kind person.

Do you have any strange or funny habits? Did you when you were a kid?
I don’t use deodorant. Never have. I don’t seem to perspire very much. (I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that nobody stands close to me on the subway, hee hee…)

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
Being father of four terrific boys.

What do you wish you could do better?
Ski. Also, I love to sing so I wish I could play piano or guitar (I haven’t entirely given up that dream).

What would your readers be most surprised to learn about you?
Although I have published close to 50 books, I really am a humble person. I realize that there are other writers who are more important than I am, and I’m okay with that. I try not to have illusions about myself. But I’m happy about who I am and what I have accomplished.