A Q&A with Stacy Kramer

From left: Stacy Kramer and Valerie Thomas
From left: Stacy Kramer and Valerie Thomas

I’ll say it loud – I love young adult books and I’m proud! Typically I gravitate toward the dark and spooky stuff, but something about this fun little coming-of-age adventure really caught my eye. Perhaps I was allured by the Mexico shenanigans, which really takes me back to my glory days when I spent my weekends drinking it up in Tijuana and Rosarito. Ahhh Pappas and Beer…how I miss thee. Yes, I was a bit of a bad girl back in the day, but if it wasn’t for Tijuana, I never would’ve met my husband!

But I digress, this is an AMAZING book, and I had a ton of fun reading it all the way through in one Saturday. Not since Flowers In the Attic have I been so enamored by a young adult book. Don’t judge, you know those smutty, incestuous books were crazy addictive back in the day!

So while I was tearing through the pages, I kept wondering how the heck the two authors found the perfect movie quotes for each chapter, which character they like the most, and whether they’ve experienced the gorgeousness of Ensenada for themselves. Luckily I was able to wrangle an interview with Stacy Kramer, one of the two lovely ladies who masterminded this rollercoaster ride of thrills, romance and teenage angst.

What made you decide to get together with Valerie Thomas and co-write a young adult adventure/romance novel?

Valerie and I are good friends. We met years ago while both working as film producers. We then both segued, around the same time, to becoming writers. Just for fun, we decided to work together on a screenplay and ended up selling it to Twentieth Century Fox. It was a great experience and while Valerie eventually decided to go back to school to pursue a graduate journalism degree at Columbia University and I went on to write film and television, we always knew we wanted to work together again. Over lunch one day, a few years later, we were discussing the possibility of writing together again when we landed on an idea that we both loved and realized it would be best suited for a young adult novel, rather than a film. That idea eventually became KARMA BITES, a middle grade novel for Houghton Mifflin.

I’m curious about how you and Valerie seamlessly wrote a page-turning story filled with complex characters and rollicking adventures. What is your secret?

Our secret is simple, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, until eventually, our voices merge and there is no distinguishable difference between what Valerie wrote and what I wrote. Sometimes, it’s hard for us to tell who wrote what since we’ve both rewritten each other so much.

What are the perks and challenges of co-authoring a book?

I feel like it’s all upside, at least right now, after having two published novels (KARMA BITES and FROM WHAT I REMEMBER) and two new novels just recently finished. Talk to us in a few years, maybe we’ll change our mind and be fighting like cats and dogs. But, so far, it’s been great to have someone to bounce ideas off of, someone to break story with, someone to complain to, someone to commiserate with and someone to laugh with. I don’t think I could nor would I want to do it alone after having worked together on four books. It’s too much fun doing it this way. If it ain’t broke and all that…It’s also like having a built in editor, which is great. So by the time our books make it to our editors, they often feel like most of their work has already been done.

All of the characters in your book are endearing in their own ways – even the high school mean girl! If you could go out to lunch with one of them, who would you choose?

Hands down, Will. He’s both of our favorites. He’s funny, smart, charming, snarky and endearing, everything I look for in a lunch date. Personally, I could have lunch with him every day.

I got a big kick out of the foreshadowing movie quotes at the start of each chapter. How did you go about selecting the perfect quotes?

It was a bit of a process. We started by culling our favorite movie quotes from our favorite movies. It was a fun project and a great way to postpone actual writing (which is something every writer looks for in their day). After a week or so, we had lists and lists of fantastic quotes, too many to use. After we wrote each chapter, we’d pore through our lists and choose the quote that best matched the tone of the chapter. Once we finished the book, we changed a lot of the quotes but made sure to keep our favorites in there.

The picturesque backdrop of the Mexican coast really set the mood for romance and adventure. How did you become familiar with Ensenada?

We’ve both road tripped to Ensenada. I lived in L.A. for ten years, during which time I must have made ten or so road trips into Baja (one particularly treacherous one where my front tire blew and since it was a Mexican holiday, I couldn’t get the tire repaired and had to drive forty miles and back over the border with a flat until I could find a service station in San Diego). I always loved Ensenada for it’s quirky scenery, the fun mix of people and the delicious food. Valerie grew up in Berkeley, California and went down to Ensenada for a holiday with friends. It’s a fun town and a perfect setting for a rollicking adventure. Once we decided we wanted to have Kylie and Max taken over the border inadvertently, Ensenada was a natural destination. Toronto seemed slightly less exciting (no offense to Toronto, I actually love it there, it’s just a different scene).

If you could go back in time and have your own pre-graduation adventure with your high school crush, where would you go?

We’d both love to have Kylie’s adventure, which is, in part, why we wrote it. Sort of living vicariously and all that. I grew up in Pittsburgh so the closest border I could get to was Canada, which wasn’t very inviting. And Val, in Northern California, was quite far from any actual borders for a day trip. Ideally, I think, if I could live anywhere and go anywhere on my own hypothetical high-school adventure in the way back machine, I’d choose to live in London and then get lost in Paris with the boy of my dreams.

Could you give me a sneak peek into what you’re working on now?

We’ve just finished two new novels and can’t wait for people to see them. We’ll let you know when they’re coming out, just as soon as we know. One is called FAKER and it’s set in the world of Hollywood but that’s all we can tell you as there’s a big secret at the center of the book and if we tell you the secret, we’d have to kill you (not really, but it would be a HUGE spoiler). It’s a romantic comedy, although less of an adventure than FROM WHAT I REMEMBER and slightly more poignant. The second book is called SURFACE BURN and it’s a bit of a departure for us as it’s a thriller, set in Berlin and involving uranium smuggling. It’s about a teenager who’s forced to rescue her father when he’s kidnapped. It’s a bit of a reverse TAKEN.

Want to know more about these two talented authors/screenwriters? Go here to check out their website! Go here to read my full review of the book.

From What I Remember by Stacy Kramer & Valerie Thomas

sundaysIn honor of Sunday – a day I reserve for reading and lollygagging – I bring you a short and sweet book review! 

11263180From the publisher
In the span of forty-eight hours, socially awkward valedictorian, Kylie Flores and conceited jock, Max Langston, who’ve never spoken in four years of high school, will find themselves kidnapped, taken over the Mexican border, married and falling in love. Kylie’s best friend, Will, Max’s girlfriend, Lily and Max’s wingman, Charlie are the unlikely cavalry charged with rescuing them. Against all odds, this crew must find their way back over the border in time for graduation and for Kylie to give her long awaited valedictorian speech, without killing each other en route.

What I liked loved: It’s hard to pinpoint the book’s biggest strength. The multiple strings of narratives, the swept-away romance, the rollicking misadventures – everything just meshes together like peanut butter, chocolate and bananas! If I had to choose, I’d say the book’s biggest selling point is the fast-moving plot. I love how the authors structured the story with each chapter jumping from one major character to the next. I credit their Hollywood screenwriting skills for weaving the multiple narratives without jerking the reader around or muddling up the plot. You get to know the characters bit by bit and want to keep tearing through the pages to find out how they overcome their problems. Oh and did I mention there are a couple of high-speed car chases involved? Vroom, vroom!  

The romance: Max and Kylie’s unlikely romance rekindled my silly high school fantasies of being marooned on a desert island with the Luke Perry lookalike from my fifth period English lit class. They had the whole Jude Law/Ally Sheedy love chemistry thing going on (Breakfast Club fans, you know what I’m talking about) and it worked! Come to think of it, this book flows much like a John Hughes 80s romance. Think Some Kind of Wonderful meets Pretty in Pink meets The Breakfast Club. And just when I didn’t think it could get any better – the love drama sweeps into a motion all-too-reminiscent of my most favorite romance movie of all time, Before Sunrise. If you haven’t seen it, put it on you Netflix queue stat! Oh Ethan Hawke…how I wish we could have a spontaneous romantic interlude on a train to Paris…sigh.

Thoughts on the cover art: If the first couple pages don’t grab you, the cover certainly will! The image, depicting a foursome of stranded rich teenagers amidst the backdrop of a Mexican sunset, looks like a “coming soon” poster in a movie theater. The little bitty Chihuahua is a nice touch, and I wonder why he couldn’t have played a larger role in the story. If I had to get nitpicky, that would be my only gripe about the book.

Overall: There’s a reason why this book made my shortlist of Best Books of 2012. It’s a fast, furious rollercoaster ride of misadventures, romance and drunken teenage debauchery! But it’s not all teenage hijinks; the characters are dealing with some heavy duty stuff, such as mental illness, cancer and financial meltdowns. Each character may seem to be neatly compartmentalized as a “jock,” “class clown” “brain” and “princess,” but they each have their own unique backstory, which the authors slowly reveal in every chapter. I love a good coming-of-age story of self-discovery – and this book totally delivers. Don’t be overwhelmed by the 400+ pages. It’s a super-fast read that can easily be devoured in one weekend. Get it. Read it. Share it!

Chick Lit Café’s Best Books of 2012

Happy New Year! To be honest, this is my least favorite holiday. Aside from the day off from work, what do we have to look forward to other than the grim task of taking down the tree and strategizing weight loss plans? So rather than taking inventory of all my short-comings and weaknesses – especially for all things chocolaty and ice creamy – I decided to cherry-pick my 2012 reading list.

Without further ado, here are the winners!

6617928All-Round Best Book of the Year: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

Not since The Secret Life of Bees has a book touched that sweet spot in my heart that yearns for a good ol’ tear-jerking Southern drama.  I instantly fell in love with little CeeCee, a 12-year-old girl who lost her mentally ill mother and found solace in a new tribe of strong Southern women. Like Opal in Because of Win Dixie, CeeCee listens to other people’s lives and provides her own bits of wisdom through hopeful wonder and dead-on honesty. This is an inspiring coming-of-age journey filled with hope, redemption and the divine power of women. Oh how I wish I could spend an afternoon sipping iced tea with this sweet girl and her sisterhood of surrogate mothers in Aunt Tootie’s antebellum mansion…sigh. Go here for my review.

15758840Best Indie Book: I Kill Me by Tracy H. Tucker

This book is the reason why we should never overlook indie authors. Considering the grim subject matter (a middle aged woman facing life after divorce), I was expecting to go through boxes of tissues and buffer my bouts of sadness with Scooby Doo cartoons. But little did I know, most of the tears were from fits of laughter. Somehow, the author found a way to infuse hearty doses of comic relief without undermining the serious issues at hand. The quality writing, the fast-moving plot, the hopelessly neurotic leading lady – everything about this book had me tearing through the pages until I was sure that Christine would get her happily ever after. Read my review here.

11263180Best Young Adult Book: From What I Remember by Stacy Kramer and Valerie Thomas

This book has got to be one of the most addictive reads I’ve encountered since The Hunger Games. The authors took advantage of their Hollywood screen-writing skills by weaving together a roller-coaster ride of a coming-of-age adventure/romance. The genius of the fast-moving plot is the multiple narratives. Foreshadowed with movie quotes, each chapter is told through the eyes of the major characters – from  the super-flamboyant cross-dressing BFF, to the resident mean girl, to the high school heart throb. All of their stories are compelling, and each of the seemingly clichéd characters slowly chip away at the reader’s heart by exposing their vulnerabilities. This book is like a new-wave John Hughes story mixed with some of my favorite elements from The Breakfast Club, Before Sunrise, and Tom Wolf’s I am Charlotte Simmons. Stay tuned for the review!

223462Best Audiobook: Gods of Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

Authors like Joshilyn Jackson are the reason why I love, love, love Southern fiction. Her books (typically involving crazy-ass mothers and emotionally scarred women) are gritty, powerful and downright gut-wrenching. After reading Backseat Saints, I needed to know more about Rose Mae Lolley’s backstory – and boy did this book deliver! Although Rose Mae is only a side character in this novel, I get to learn more about her psychotic high school sweetheart, and how he met his end. The story revolves around Arlene, a highly complex woman who promised God that she would never  lie, have sex or return to her hometown in Alabama. But when her aunt pressures her to attend her uncle’s retirement party, she gives in and reluctantly brings her boyfriend, Burr, along for the ride. As Arlene reneges on her promises, her big, bad secret starts to creep out from under the kudzu. Woo doggie – this is one whirlwind of a ride! I’m so glad I listened to this on audio because the production is fan-freaking-tastic! The narrator fully embraced Arlene’s emotional turmoil – and the subtle music during the suspense scenes really added a nice touch. I’m not from the South, but I’m willing to bet my biscuits that the narrator’s Southern drawl is authentic. Shameless self-prmotion – I know all about twangs and drawls because I wrote this magazne story about the slowly eroding Texas twang.

13493573Best Beach Read: Barefoot Girls by Tara McTiernan

I know it sounds like a million years from now, but when summer rolls around, be sure to stash this book in your beach bag. Set in a quaint little New England touristy beach town, Barefoot Girls is all about friendship, motherhood and deep, dark family secrets. At 400+ pages it’s a little on the long side, but once you get into it you won’t want to leave the idyllic little summer getaway. Through the author’s prose, you can practically smell the salty air and feel the sand beneath your toes. Go here for my review.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to finish off that box of chocolate truffles before I embark on my strict fitness regimen…yeah, I’ll get right on that.