Do you remember when you could fly?

Maybe it was just in your back yard. Perhaps it was in your neighborhood. Or, maybe you were brave enough to venture into worlds where there were no limits, where you were free to fly as far as your imagination could take you.

Tony Crunk has visited those places. The 50-year-old UAB professor of English doesn’t hide his affinity for exploring the imagination — even today.

Visiting otherworldly places has encouraged Crunk to write three children’s books, including his latest, Railroad John and the Red Rock Run, just released this spring.

“I wanted to write a Tall Tale with capital Ts,” Crunk says, describing his latest work. “Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed — they were great stories and I wanted to write something in that vein.

“I wanted to write something big and outlandish.”  

Crunk has succeeded with his story of Railroad John and his train, The Sagebrush Flyer. Railroad John has never been late in his 40 years of driving the train, and nothing — not criminals, not bad weather, not even running out of coals to keep the train running — is going to keep him from making sure Lonesome Bob makes it to his wedding on time.

Or so we hope.

Outrageous. Larger than life. That’s what Crunk was aiming to write this time.

“Kids love to enter into that world where impossible things can happen,” Crunk says. “They enjoy going there – and they enjoy being brought back.”

Crunk enjoys it, too. Otherwise he wouldn’t have written children’s book No. 3 to join his other works, Grandpa’s Overalls and Big Mama.  “I’m fortunate that in my own life my childish, goofy, outlandish response to the world is still alive,” he says. “I very much value that.”

Crunk has a more serious side, as well; he has published two books of poetry aimed at adults. His first, Living in the Resurrection, deals with family, religion and nature. His second poetry collection, Parables and Revelations, continues his examination of religion and nature, but in the context of folklore, myth and sacred texts.

The children’s books give Crunk a good “balance,” as he calls it. Plus, he adds, there is not that great a difference in writing books for children or adults.

“Children respond to the same things in their literature that adults respond to in theirs — interesting characters, interesting challenges,” Crunk says. “I think it’s the same structure, the same idea, just different levels of maturity.”

When Crunk finished Railroad John and submitted it to publisher Peachtree Publishers in Atlanta, the next big task was creation of the artwork for the story. The author found that he would have no say in the selection of the artist, or in the direction of the art. It was an uncomfortable position: After all, how could anyone else “see” what he had envisioned for the characters?

Pretty clearly, as a matter of fact.

Michael Austin, the Atlanta-based artist chosen by the publisher, just so happened to have an imagination at least as big as Crunk’s.

“It was not what I expected, it was better,” Crunk says. “I just think the artwork is magnificent.”

Crunk, who has no children, says writing books doesn’t always come easy.
In fact, he says it’s the hardest thing for him to do. But don’t count on him slowing down anytime soon – his imagination just won’t let him.

“From my perspective, it’s very much an impossible challenge,” he says. “I see these things I want to do, but I feel I always fall short. I guess that’s going to keep me doing it forever. I want to write the perfect children’s book or poetry book.

“I know it’s never going to happen, but, hey, at least it keeps me up at night.”

Railroad John and the Red Rock Run is available at most bookstores across the state. You can also order online .