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An Interview with Dawn C. Crouch, Author of Dead Children’s Playground


I’m a proud New Orleans native and former dancer with Houston Ballet. Beyond my dance career, I’ve ventured into storytelling as a screenwriter and novelist. I’ve self-published three fiction novels, and my contributions extend to education with the Garage Ballet™ series, a collection of nonfiction instructional books where I share insights from my experiences as a dancer and teacher.

You can buy Dead Children’s Playground here.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

Since I’m from New Orleans, where ghosts and devils are part of everyday life, I grew up immersed in stories from the city and the South. Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory and the works of Faulkner and Frank Yerby were a particular influence because, often based on true stories, they captured the region’s complex family ties, rich history, and poverty. Everyone from the South speaks in subtext.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I have always wanted to be a writer, but many girls dream of growing up to be a ballet dancer. I received my early ballet training from Lelia Haller, one of the first Americans to dance in the Paris Opera, before continuing with Houston Ballet under James Clouser and Nicholas Polejenko. I am grateful to have studied with Danilova, Balanchine, Martha Graham, Eric Hawkins, David Howard, and other legendary teachers. I’ve taught at ballet schools throughout the southeast for over forty years.

The goal of my Garage Ballet™ series is to mentor students, teachers, and parents through easy-to-understand explanations of ballet technique and training. I passionately believe the study of ballet yields life skills of proven value for every student, from PreBallet to Preprofessional to Adult. Ballet really does help everything—writing included!

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

My book started with an established title because the Dead Children’s Playground existed long before I ever wrote the novel. It is the name of an actual park!

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I relocated to Huntsville, AL. Here, I first encountered the Dead Children’s Playground, a site entrenched in an eerie urban legend about a child abductor who abandoned his victims at this real-life playground, nestled between three towering cliff walls of an abandoned rock quarry and located next to Alabama’s largest cemetery. Since then, orbs of light and voices of children playing haunt the playground and stir my imagination. I knew I had to write the story!

Driven by curiosity, I embarked on a literary endeavor that weaves urban legend with historically accurate threads. In the early 60s, rural Appalachia collided with Nazi Germany to push the Space Race to full throttle. Dead Children’s Playground explores the possible connection between these historical events and the urban legend. What I discovered during the process is that reality often surpasses fiction’s boundaries.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

I felt so proud that the book cover managed to capture the solitary quiet of the playground yet also illuminate one of the fantastical themes of the novel, that time is simultaneous and fluid. Travel between time periods may be possible.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

The soundtrack of Dead Children’s Playground would have to be a combination of German classical music, such as Handel’s Sarabande, and mournful mountain bluegrass, like “Hard Times Come No More,” which is native to the North Alabama Appalachian region. I would love a composer to pair the two like fine wines with an incredible meal.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

I was fascinated by the coincidental timing of the coming of the German scientists to Rocket City after WWII and the arrival of a child abductor in the early sixties who brought his victims to the playground. I envision my perfect reader to be curious, inquisitive, and brave, willing to journey with me to places that may be uncomfortable and challenging. I trust my readers to notice connections between seemingly disparate, discordant details that become increasingly important as the novel progresses.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

For quite a few years, I told my ballet students I was writing a novel about the playground. They all knew about it and had visited at one time or another. When I published the finished product, I was happy to be an example of “doing what I said I was going to do.” Dreams are fragile, and I want my students to believe they can accomplish what they set out to do, too!

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

I am writing the trilogy of Dead Children’s Playground. One book where the MC goes back to the time of the Civil War and one where he travels to the future of Rocket City. I love the based-on-a-true story take on the urban legend genre that dives deeper into real-life history than you might expect but rest assured, I’ll keep the story grounded in what’s thought-provoking and attention-grabbing.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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