Welcome Stacy Kramer to this stop on the Summer Blog Blast Tour!
Stacy Kramer's debut teen novel, coauthored with Valerie Thomas, is Karma Bites, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Book Group, August 2010. Karma Bites website.
Liz B: Can you tell us about KARMA BITES?
Stacy Kramer: The idea came out of a lunch Val (my writing partner) and I had, upon her return from a year in Hawaii learning to surf and taking some time off with her family. I was feeling frustrated and burned out from tv and movies and wanted to try my hand at something different (especially after having had a lot of success with comic magazine pieces with ELLE, VILLAGE VOICE, MARIE CLAIRE, etc).
A television idea, a kid’s cooking show, for Nickelodeon, had ultimately not panned out after several months of work. Val and I discussed the show, our mutual interest in cooking and our love of movies like Chocolat and Like Water for Chocolate. The conversation enabled us to hit upon the idea for KARMA BITES. The story of a girl torn between two groups of friends but feeling a part of neither, who finds a magical recipe box in her grandmother’s closet that can change the social dynamics of middle school. We loved the notion of placing real recipes throughout the book. And, after much discussion about our own middle school experiences, came upon the idea of making the girl a border crosser, a role I played in middle school – a person who can move within various cliques with impunity. We also wanted to write a wacky comedy adventure, something in the mold of Freaky Friday, Clueless or Mean Girls. We liked the idea of taking these successful film paradigms and transferring them to a YA book.
Liz B: Two authors, one book! What led you two to work together on KARMA BITES?
Stacy Kramer: After quitting producing Val and I wrote a movie together for Twentieth Century Fox. It was a great working experience. We stopped working together when Val decided to go to Columbia School of Journalism for her Masters. I went on to write movies and tv with other partners but we always hoped to work together again.
Liz B: What is your working style?
Stacy Kramer: Val and I have a great, easy working relationship, which comes out of fifteen years of friendship. We are writing partners, best friends and family friends. Much of our time together, whether it be dinner with our significant others, family vacations or just hanging out the two of us, eventually leads to spitballing new ideas.
In terms of our actual work process, whenever we’re starting a new project, we get together and carefully, intricately plot out the story, beat by beat. Some of our methods are leftover from our years in film, where we learned the art and value of a tightly woven structure. We need to know the beginning, middle and end of a story before getting started. From there, we plot out the beats of the book, as if working on a movie. We are very structurally oriented and often mold our novels into three act. Once we have a secure story in place, with characters we know well, one of us takes the lead and starts writing. The other pulls up the rear. We end up writing as a singular voice as we tend to see the world (and our particular stories) through a very similar lens. We pass the manuscript back and forth and back and forth (and rinse and repeat ad nauseam) until it’s ready to go to WME (our agent Erin Malone at William Morris Endeavor) and a few trusted friends in film, tv and fiction, for notes.
Liz B: Long time readers of TEA COZY know I love all stories – books, film, and television. So when I read that both of you are from the film and television industry and worked on shows and program I love – well. Did you impress me? Oh, yeah. So, why the switch from film and TV to books?
Stacy Kramer: I am still working in film and tv (as well as writing humor pieces for various magazines) all of which helps to feed the YA novel writing. (And Val continues to do some film work with Jonathon Demme). However, after writing our first YA book and recently finishing up our second, the novel is fast becoming our new favorite form.
Ultimately, film and tv are limiting from a plot and character standpoint. Your writing is restricted by the studio’s needs and goals for the moment. The form is also quite confining, artistically. Certain things must happen in both tv and film at very specific intervals in the story. There is a very clear formula in place and deviation is not encouraged. In addition, there are only certain kinds of stories that you can tell based on the targeted demographics of the medium. YA books offer a tremendous amount of freedom for a writer. There is a wealth of inspired, varied storytelling out there. It’s incredibly freeing if you’ve been held back by the tenets of movies and tv.
My re-interest in YA books really began about fourteen years ago, in London. I’ve always been a huge reader, especially for work, where finding books for film is big business but I had really forgotten about my love of YA literature until getting a sneak peak at Harry Potter. My friend (and former boss), David Heyman, who is the producer of all the Harry Potter movies, had just acquired the book for Warner Bros, in manuscript form (this was the late 90’s). I was working in London at the time and he told me about it over dinner. I was intrigued and managed to get an advance copy. From the first sentence I was hooked, and reminded of the power, the clarity and the imaginative genius of YA fiction. I began voraciously reading YA fiction. I was still producing at the time and didn’t take the leap into writing until a few years later.
After my movie, Labor Pains, was produced, I was asked to write a movie for a company called Alloy, the producer of GOSSIP GIRL, among other tv and movies. We met and discussed a few project ideas. I found to my surprise, after learning about their company, that I was far more interested in writing a YA book than working on the movie adaptation for a YA book. It was shortly after that that Val and I met and came up with the idea for KARMA.
Liz B: What is the biggest difference between working in that industry and working in the publishing industry?
Stacy Kramer: As a book writer you have much more control over your material. No one is going to rewrite you, as happens repeatedly in film and tv. Editors, publishers, book agents seem to treat writers with tremendous respect as the book industry is all about the writer. How can it not be? Movies, on the other hand, are about the director. The writer is merely a conduit. So you often end up feeling very removed from your writing, and the process in general. In the end, you can end up with very little to no say over what becomes of your work. Books, by their very definition, are not like that.
Once you sell your book to a publisher, most likely, your book will find it’s way into the hands (and, hopefully, hearts) of readers. When you sell film or tv idea or script to a studio, it may never make it past your executive’s desk. After years of draining rewrites it can go into turn around, never to see the light of day. While I don’t want to minimize the experience of writing for film and tv. It can be incredibly satisfying, exciting and inspiring, it can also be very frustrating to never have your work seen by an audience.
The YA world is a unique place for writers, unlike anywhere else I’ve ever spent time. You can connect with your audience in a visceral and immediate way through blogs, twitter, FB, etc. It’s extremely hard to do that in film or tv, where you’re quite removed from your audience. The YA world is a welcoming, positive, supportive place. Sadly, Hollywood isn’t quite like that. It can be a closed and cliquey community, where you’re only as good as you’re opening weekend.
Liz B: What were some of your favorite YA books back when you were teens? And what are some of your favorites now?
Stacy Kramer: Some writers that particularly influenced us (and who we still reference) in our pre-teen and teen years include, in no particular order: S. E. Hinton, Judy Blume, Scott O’Dell, Mary Rogers, E. L. Konigsberg, William Penn Dubois and, of course, J.D. Salinger.
Louise Rennison and J.K. Rowling were two of our first loves in the middle grade arena. They made us realize that no story is too small (Louise Rennison) or too big (J.K. Rowling) to make you laugh, cry and think. We also love Kate DiCamillo, Rebecca Stead, Susan Patrone, Ellen Potter, Sarah Mylonowski, Trenton Lee Stewart and Meg Cabot. We devoured all of these authors (and many others) before even daring to launch into our first book.
Our next book is an older YA book. It’s HANGOVER set in high school. In order to better prepare for that book, we’ve spent innumerable hours combing the shelves at Barnes and Noble , our favorite indie bookstores and libraries and have fallen in love with the works of David Levithan and Rachel Cohn, Natalie Standiford, Ally Carter, Suzanne Collins, Libba Bray, Simone Elkeles, Elizabeth Scott, E. Lockhart, Lauren Strasnick and Laurie Halse Anderson to name only a few of the fabulous YA talents out there who’ve influenced us. Of particular interest to us was Peter Cameron’s book, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You. It was an immensely powerful read that impacted both of us in too many ways to name. We only hope that one day we can produce a work of fiction that is half as good.
Liz B: Stacy, you and I met via Twitter. Twitter! I mean, how does one even explain and understand Twitter, right? How important do you think social media is in today’s entertainment industry?
Stacy Kramer: I am amazed by the reach and power of Twitter. And continually impressed by the wit, intelligence and the insight provided by YA Bloggers. I have gotten to readers, fans, authors and bloggers who have opened their hearts and brains to me, providing tips, feedback, commentary and much needed support. Social media is critical to the YA world and, to its credit, the YA world has mastered social media (film and television people take notes). There’s no better way to reach your audience. Film and television worlds still have a lot to learn about social media. They’re just dipping their toe into it. For years, entertainment execs have just thrown money at publicity and advertising (and continue to do so with mixed results). But, I think, the entertainment world is realizing that in order to reach teens, you need to talk to them, not barrage them with sales pitches.
YA fans/readers are among the most enthusiastic, passionate, interactive readers out there. They make it wildly fun to be a writer. Social media helps you connect with your audience in a real and visceral way. Marketing is limited for teens and tweens (as it can be hard to reach them through more traditional means) but social media has stepped in to fill the void, allowing authors to reach out directly to their audience. We can hear our reader’s comments, thoughts, ideas, directly, without the filter of a producer, a studio or a marketing executive. It impacts how we think about our stories, our characters, our new ideas. It’s been eye opening and enormously helpful. In film and tv it’s all so removed. You go through marketing firms, test screenings, publicity departments, producers. Reactions are always filtered through someone else’s prism so you’re never sure whose agenda you’re getting. The YA world has been refreshing, in the best possible way.
With all this in mind, we’ve teamed up with Jacob Lewis (formerly at THE NEW YORKER), who started Figment Fiction, a YA social media site, in the hopes of taking the next step into this world. We’re planning on serializing our next YA book on Figment. And allowing readers to take part in shaping the book and watching the process as a YA novel goes from idea to publication.
Liz B: Thanks so much!
The rest of today's Summer Blog Blast Tour:
Julia Hoban at Chasing Ray
Nancy Bo Flood at Finding Wonderland
Tara Kelly at Shaken & Stirred
Sarah Kuhn at Little Willow
See the whole roundup, with quotes and direct links, at Chasing Ray.
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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy