Interview with Stacy Kramer and Valerie Thomas

Stacy Kramer

Stacy Kramer and Valerie Thomas are co-authors of the YA book KARMA BITES, released in July 2010.  They met while working in the film industry and bonded immediately at the food table.  It wasn’t until years later that they decided to work together on a screenplay and then their book, KARMA BITES.  They are currently co-authoring a new book to be released in summer 2012.

Why must you write?

STACY: Honestly, I’m not really trained or talented at much else. Clearly I’m not in it for the money. So I suppose it’s the joy of self-expression, except for those days (and there are many) when it’s positively painful to try and spit out a sentence. And, on those days, if I could run a hedge fund, I’d seriously give it a go (strictly for financial reasons) but since I can’t even help my kids with their math homework (and my youngest is in kindergarten) I don’t think any kind of banking is in the cards.
VAL: The truth is that I don’t have to write the way I suppose some writers do.

Valerie Thomas

I wouldn’t die without it. I would just feel frustrated and unfulfilled. I choose to write because I like the process – I enjoy the near panicky feeling of being challenged by a new story, of finding my way through it, of crafting and recrafting a single sentence until it sings. I love knowing that something I’ve created enters the wide world and becomes a part of a reader’s imagination. It’s a great job if you can do it.

What would you do if you weren’t a writer? (Or, what was the best job you had before becoming an author?)

STACY: Hmm. Those are two different questions. If I weren’t writing I would do myriad things. Unfortunately, I’m not qualified to do any of them (see question one). But the most fun I had before writing was producing movies and tv. There was a tremendous amount of story development involved so somedays, it felt like writing even though I was also wearing about four thousand other hats. I like focusing solely on writing most of the time but there are days when I miss the hustle, bustle, moving and shaking of producing. If I ever stopped writing, I’d produce television because film sucks these days (and I can say that because I still write screenplays).

VAL: I did a lot of things before becoming a writer (film producer, sous chef, hot air balloon chaser) but I enjoy writing the most. Having said that, if I didn’t write, I would definitely choose a profession that put me in touch with people on a daily business, which is something that I miss as a writer. But if I could choose to be great at anything, and thereby be able to make a living doing it, I would probably be a musician. I love the idea of being able to play music, make music, with other people, and be able to do that for the rest of my life. All you need is your instrument, and maybe a chair, and you can create joy for yourself and others.

What two books do you find indispensable?

STACY: Currently HOW TO RAISE A PUPPY has become my bible (yes, we just got a dog because we didn’t think three kids and two full-time jobs were enough work). But when I’m not thinking about how to train that darn dog, I like rereading Ruth Forman’s poetry book, WE ARE THE YOUNG MAGICIANS. It’s incredibly inspirational in its simplicity and beauty. And then there’s my attachment to FRANNY AND ZOOEY. I know it’s a cliché but I can’t read that book enough.

VAL: The dictionary and whatever book I’m writing at the time.

Who has given you the greatest experience of the essence of creativity, its depths and eternity?

STACY: I worked for a despot named Scott Rudin while an executive in Hollywood. He was and is one of the most talented and prolific producers in Hollywood. His movies defy the current climate of lowest common denominator entertainment. And though he ruled with an iron fist and the job was anything but pleasant, I watched him work with some of the most amazingly talented screenwriters on the planet (Paul Rudnick, Bruce Robinson, J.J. Abrams to name only a few) and I learned a whole lot about
writing and story telling. I discovered that writing is all about rewriting.  Creativity is not all inspiration, rainbows and lollipops. It’s about working and reworking an idea until it pops. It can be brutal and punishing work.  You must kill your babies (I know, Tennessee Williams said this, I’m just borrowing it for the moment) over and over again to eventually find something worthwhile in the end. And, if you’re very, very lucky, it’ll be art, or at the very least, entertaining, after all is said and done. And if you’re not so lucky, you’ll have to trash the whole damn thing and start over. But that’s the creative process. It’s not so pretty, quite frankly.

VAL: My broad answer to this is any artist who creates something that touches me. I recently saw THE SOCIAL NETWORK, which I thought was fantastic, and I left the theater with that buzz in my brain that a great piece of art produces. I wanted to go home and write. I was flush with ideas. I was inspired by the ways in which the writer and the director of the film pulled things off that are so very hard to do. I feel this exact same way when I read a great book (last two great books I read were ONE DAY and THE WHITE TIGER, the last great YA book I read was SOMEDAY THIS PAIN WILL BE USEFUL TO YOU), see a painting that I love (last great art experience I had was revisiting the permanent collection at MOMA) or listening to a great piece of music (last great piece of live music I experienced was Aaron Parks at the Jazz Gallery).

If you could not send a reader all of your books, which one would you recommend first?

STACY AND VAL: This is a no brainer as we’ve only published one book: KARMA BITES. But our newest YA book will be out summer 2012 from Simon & Schuster (shameless self-promotion).

Which question did you once have, that you love most in retrospect (and have since answered or not answered)?

STACY: Is this your way of finding new interview questions? I think my favorite question was from a recent interview I did for the fabulous new blog http://sheepishfashionista.com. Which is a blog about fashion and writing and where the two intersect. The question was: Who is the best dressed character you’ve created?

VAL: I was once asked what my favorite word is. I could not answer it, but I love the question. I love words, I love thinking about them, playing with them, learning new ones. But to choose one…impossible.

Where is the place in which you most love to write?

STACY: I love writing in my bed. But my back doctor claims I’m going to need surgery on my shoulder if I don’t get back into my ergonomic chair.

VAL: I don’t actually love writing in any particular place, by which I mean it’s always kind of hard. I write at my desk in my office most of the time, and it’s hard. Occasionally I bring my laptop to bed and I write there, and it’s hard. It doesn’t really matter where I am. It’s not hard when I’m mid-stream in a chapter, and I know where I’m going, and I like what I’ve done.

What is the value of solitude to a writer?

STACY: It’s like oxygen to me. If I don’t get enough time alone I have trouble both breathing AND writing. I am a better mother and a better writer for the time I take to myself every day. I have three kids and the aforementioned puppy and I often feel like my head is going to explode if I don’t get away from all four of them. I start my day with a five or six mile run as a way of clearing my mind of all the clutter. And then I attempt to lock myself in my office for the next six or seven hours (but sadly there are many interruptions, especially once school lets out).

VAL: For me, it’s actually very important. I can’t imagine writing in a place full of people, like Starbucks, for example. It’s a lot like being naked, at least with your thoughts, and I’d prefer not to expose them to strangers.  Sitting and thinking is best done alone, in my opinion.

What advice would you give to a young person, or your younger self, about love?

STACY: Fall in love with someone who makes you laugh because if you’re in it for the long term, you’re going to need to laugh at all the shit life throws at you.

VAL: Figure out what version of yourself you are happiest being and then fall in love with someone who fosters that version of you most effortlessly.

What is the value of sadness to a writer?

STACY: I tend to be a highly neurotic and melancholy person. I like to think it helps me write characters who are sympathetic and complex (at least that’s how I justify my nature).

VAL: Any authentic, heartfelt experience is of great importance to a writer, whether it be sadness, happiness, shame, guilt….Without a personal understanding of these feelings I think it would be very hard to write them well. I’m not sure sadness is any different, though it may make writing more difficult if you’re too sad to will yourself to the computer…

What book, story or poem brought you greatest comfort as a teen?

STACY: I briefly wore a back brace for scoliosos as a teen (Though, truth be told, I actually just wore it to my friend’s house, threw it in her closet, went to school and then put it on after school. Please don’t tell my mother.).  I found DEENIE, by Judy Blume, extremely comforting and reread it about a million times. She was the only other person I knew who had to wear this medieval looking brace.

VAL: The book that gave me great comfort, and truly captured my imagination, was THE ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS. It’s a spare, often sad and scary book but it’s based on a true story, and the main character is so extraordinary. I still love it.

In closing, what single best piece of advice would you give to a hopeful young writer, in a sentence?

STACY: WRITE. REWRITE. WRITE. REWRITE. Rinse and repeat until you get it somewhat close to right. And then rewrite the whole thing again.

VAL: Start writing, keep writing, rewrite, write again, keep going, and you will become a writer.

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