The new novel From What I Remember—about a group of teens dealing with the aftermath of one very strange night in Mexico—is narrated from five alternating perspectives. Which kind of makes sense, because there were TWO authors trading the manuscript back and forth.
Stacy Kramer (left) and Valerie Thomas (right) are Hollywood veterans-turned-YA novelists, and their experience in the film world taught them a lot about voice, plot, and pacing. Read our exclusive interview with them to learn all their secrets!
Describe From What I Remember in 5 words.
STACY: Wow. Five words. That’s tough. I do better with 10,000 words than I do with five, but let’s see: “Hangover in high school meets John Hughes.” I’m not counting in and I’m going with John Hughes as one word. That’s my answer and I’m sticking with it.
VALERIE: All right, I’m going to stick to five words, and I’m going to alliterate, just to make it harder . . . FUNNY. FAST. FRACTURED. FILMIC. FETCHING.
You both spent years working in the film industry. How do you think that has impacted or shaped your writing?
VALERIE: We honor plot, very much. We have a good grasp of how to create one and how to keep one moving. We know how important rewriting and editing are, having helped screenwriters go through draft upon draft to get their stories right. We also approach our writing from a very visual place: a lot of the scenes in our books play out like movie scenes, with lots of visual elements and fast-moving parts. And From What I Remember, at least, is filled with lines from movies—one of our main characters wants to be a screenwriter, and there’s a best friend who’s obsessed with movies. We love movies, and probably every book we write will involve that love in some way.
From What I Remember jumps through time and switches perspectives, so as a reader it really feels like you’re piecing together the whole story. How did you keep things organized while writing?
STACY: Both television and movie writing helped a lot with this, as you’re often forced to write from different perspectives and jump around in time. Things don’t always happen sequentially in a movie, and the point of view can switch on a dime. I liked the idea of playing with structure and POV in a book, just as you would in a movie.
Kylie and Max are the main characters in the book; they wake up in Mexico on the day they’re supposed to be graduating from high school. In order to keep their storyline moving forward, we made sure that when we ended a scene being told from Kylie’s perspective, we picked the narrative right up, at the next beat, from Max’s point of view, with no rehashing of plot points in between. As for the other characters, we made sure to keep track of time so that their storyline in San Diego stayed parallel to the events in Mexico. This enabled us to move through a few days at a pretty rapid pace without ever losing momentum. We wanted to keep things going at a high-octane level, so we had to be sure not to linger in any one place too long. That would be certain death for this type of story.
Each chapter of From What I Remember begins with a movie quote. Do you have a favorite movie quote OF ALL TIME?
STACY: OF ALL TIME?! Oh my God, no way could I narrow it down. I’ve seen so many movies (from studying film in college to the years spent in constant film-festival screenings) that it would be impossible to choose. However, I can tell you one of my favorite quotes that we use in the book. It’s from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around, you could miss it.” It’s always been a line I loved—a line I wished I’d written—and it encapsulates the movie so well.
What is it like to write with another person? What are your best tips for potential collaborators?
VALERIE: It sucks!! Just joking!!! I love working with another person, for so many reasons. It’s fun to collaborate, and to know that I’m not alone in the battle. And I think the work benefits from two points of view. We’ve been working together for a long time and have managed to forge a very successful partnership, but it definitely takes work and compromise, just like any relationship. I think we both respect each other a lot, which allows us to be honest and candid without getting petty or letting our egos get in the way.
My advice for anyone who is considering working with someone else is to be very open to the other person’s ideas, but also to be forthright with your own. And be persistent. It’s easy to back away from an idea that isn’t working at first, but as with any artistic endeavor, you’ve got to plow through until you make it work. We spend a lot of time brainstorming together about storylines and characters, but when it comes time to actually write, we go off to our own corners and work alone. One of us will write a few chapters, then pass that chunk back to the other for rewriting. And then we switch, over and over and over again. What’s great about this method is that it allows us both to write alone, but whenever we run into a problem or issue we can pick up the phone and hash it out together. It’s a different beast, collaboration, and it takes getting used to, but it can be worth it.
Even though From What I Remember is a really fun book, it deals with some serious issues, like cancer and homosexuality. Was it hard to introduce these topics without changing the tone of the story?
STACY: While we used comedies like the The Hangover, Clueless and old John Hughes films as our inspiration, we always wanted to tell a deeper story. A story about real people with real problems, because ultimately, it’s pretty hard to relate to characters who don’t have any issues. At the time, Asperger’s and cancer were issues circulating in my life, so they were things that I was thinking about, and it made sense to include them in the story. We all deal with issues, big and small, as we go about our daily business, going on adventures and having fun. These things still lurk in the background. It didn’t seem like such a strange fit.
Do any of the characters in From What I Remember come from your own high school experience? Were you a brainiac like Kylie? A sports star like Max?
VALERIE: I was definitely not a sports star like Max or an outcast brainiac like Kylie, but I think I had elements of both in me. Even though I had a lot of friends and did well in school, like Kylie I was insecure and probably a little bitter—mostly as a way of hiding that insecurity. I think all of the characters in the book share one thing in common, which is that they all feel alone sometimes, and misunderstood by those around them. I felt this way a lot in high school: detached from my family, unsure of who my friends were, unsure of who I was. I think that’s the process of growing up, and it’s hard, and it happens to everyone.
What is it that makes Max a good YA heartthrob?
VALERIE: That’s a good question, because in the case of Max, we wanted to make him both a jerk, at first, and also a good guy deep down. It’s a hard line to walk! Max is kind of a jerk by rote, as if he’s been handed the role. He’s good-looking and wealthy, and he’s kind of skated along in life, never thinking too much about the fact that he’s entitled or that he often treats others with disdain. But in his heart, he’s capable of so much more, and I’m hoping we did a good job of showing how Kylie brings out those more positive elements in him.
In general, I think a good love interest is someone who captures your attention because they are courageous and true in their heart. It helps if they’re cute and funny, but really, the qualities that matter—especially in love—are things like integrity and guts. Those are the things that move me, at least. So, we tried to give Max some of that, over the course of the book.
I also think a good love interest is someone who recognizes the uniqueness of the person they’re falling in love with and treasures it, protects it. Max sees Kylie for who she is, even when Kylie doesn’t see it, and he encourages her to embody that. I think that’s incredibly romantic and sexy.