Last month, we reviewed the new middle grade novel Karma Bites by Stacy Kramer & Valerie Thomas — and today, we’re delighted to present an exclusive new interview with Stacy & Valerie. And if you keep reading, you’ll also find your chance to win a copy of Karma Bites!
How did the idea for Karma Bites come around?
The idea for KARMA BITES came out of a very, very long lunch Valerie and I had shortly after Valerie returned from a year in Hawaii. I was feeling burned out from tv and movies and wanted to try writing something different. A television idea, a kid’s cooking show, for Nickelodeon, had ultimately not panned out after several months of work. We discussed the show, our mutual interest in cooking and our love of magical food 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. We loved the notion of placing real recipes throughout the book. And, after much discussion about our own middle school experiences, decided to make Franny a border crosser – a person who can move within various cliques with impunity – something we had both experienced in middle school. We also wanted to write a wacky comedy adventure, 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.
I’m always curious about writing partners. What was the process like for the two of you writing a book together?
People assume, correctly, that it must be very, very tricky creating something with another person. And it is. But we have built a relationship and a system over the years (we used to write screenplays together) that is surprisingly cooperative, effective, collaborative and fun. A lot of fun.
So, how do we do it? Well, for starters, we are friends, really good, old friends. And that actually carries us a long way. Not only do we care for one another a great deal, but we have a ton in common. When it comes to writing, what that all means is that we have a huge reserve of respect for one another which allows us to be candid – to tell each other when something is just no good – without hurting one another. We never feel the other is trying to press an advantage or gain the upper hand. All criticism is simply for the good of the book, period. Okay, I know that sounds too good to be true. Our feelings do get hurt, but they’re just glancing blows and they heal quickly.
In terms of process, we start a project by talking, and talking, and talking. This is actually horribly painful for both of us. We like having something to dig into and would prefer to start writing immediately. But when you’re developing a story, you’re rootless, swimming around looking for the right thing to hang onto. Once we’ve figured out a basic story structure, we start to fill in the blanks for the characters.
When we first started out, we did all of this too much, not realizing that a ton happens organically in the writing itself. We take a lot of notes. We get excited, and then tear down the very ideas we’ve gotten excited about when we realize they don’t pan out, or they’re cliché, or just plain stupid. This can take weeks, months. Often we have to start all over again after ditching a book idea that we were both in love with a mere moments before.
Do we argue? Sure. But we both kind of like to argue, and it has never actually gotten ugly. We both compromise, but not as often as one would think. The compromising part is hard. When you are in love with an idea, it’s hard to let it go, but we’ve both witnessed the other’s wisdom so many times that we don’t fight too hard for things. Except for the times when we do.
Once we are ready to write, one of us dives in and writes the first chapter. The other one waits. Waiting isn’t actually very fun. We try not to labor too much over the writing at this point, though that is very difficult to do. It’s our tendency to make it right, right away, but we’ve learned that it’s all in the rewriting and rewriting and rewriting where things take on their true shape. Once a draft of that first chapter is done, we pass it back, and the other one takes a crack at rewriting it, while the first continues on with chapter two.
This goes on and on, for a long time. We swap places a few times, until we decide it’s time to take a step back, and we read the whole thing, take notes, and begin the process of figuring out what needs to be reworked and how. Then, we do it all over again. By the time we have a first draft of a book, we’ve both rewritten all of the chapters, in turn, at least a dozen times, if not more. And in that constant passing back and forth, our collective voice emerges. And so does a book.
What sorts of real-life lessons do you think young readers can learn from Karma Bites?
There are several lessons that we hope readers of the book will take away. Most importantly, you can’t change things with a quick fix, and if you try to, things will likely get worse. We like the idea that Franny learns that she has to do the hard work of actually talking to her friends in order to solve their conflicts rather than force a fix with magic. We also think there’s a lesson to be learned in the idea that even when things don’t work out as you hoped they would, it can be okay. For example, Franny’s parents do not get back together, as she hopes they will, but in the end, she sees that perhaps they are happier this way, that they still lover her very much, and that she will survive. We think Granny’s role in Franny’s life also provides a lesson about listening to the people in your life who love you, even if they seem wacky, or are much much older. Granny has a lot of wisdom to impart to Franny and when Franny begins to really listen to her, things begin to get better.
There are a lot of very clearly defined cliques at work in Karma Bites. Are there really schools like this?
The cliques in the book are meant to be wildly exaggerated for story purposes. While cliques exist in almost every middle school (probably in the world), we’re pretty sure the cliques in KARMA BITES are a bit over the top. We were trying to create a heightened sense of reality to lay the framework for our magical story by taking a page from movies like CLUELESS, MEAN GIRLS or HEATHERS, where the hyperbole helps to propel both the plot and the comedy. We also know that real cliques do exist and they can be awful and mean and we were trying to make a point about the ridiculousness of middle school social hierarchy.
Tell us your most unforgettable middle school memory!
Valerie here – I remember my first kiss, in a tent with a boy I had a huge crush on. I wanted to keep kissing, and he rebuked me. I think I told him he should put his tongue in my mouth and move it around like a washing machine. I don’t have any idea where I got that from. I also remember being bullied and eventually punched in the stomach by a mean girl who I hope is suffering now.
Stacy here – I recall (and this is not a particularly pretty middle school memory, but a vivid one, nonethelss) getting an entire class to stop speaking to my art teacher in eighth grade. Towards the end of middle school I had garnered quite a bit of power and was no longer a border crosser but, rather, the leader of the pack. I had a lot of social power. Too much, in fact. I really didn’t like my art teacher. Art was one of my favorite subjects and the art teacher had sort of checked out. She had stopped teaching, either as a result of boredom or exhaustion or whatever. We weren’t doing much besides drawing the same things over and over again. My complaints to her fell on deaf ears. So I decided to take matters into my own hand. I had the entire art class stop speaking to the teacher for one day. No one was allowed to ask her anything or respond to her. And, crazily enough, almost every single student agreed to it. After about an hour of this, the art teacher was furious. It somehow came to her attention that I was responsible. The principle was called in. My parents were called in and I was called out on my evil deed. In the end, I explained my reasons, as dipolomatically as an eighth grader can. I was given some kind of small punishment at school and a large talking to at home. But, at the end of the day, my protests were heard. The art teacher stepped up. Art assignments became a little more lively for the rest of the year. I didn’t have the best approach but I did accomplish something.
An extra special thanks once again to Stacy & Valerie! And now, on to the contest …
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Contest: Win Karma Bites:
All you have to do is tell us YOUR most unforgettable middle school memory in the comments below!
One winner will receive a copy of Karma Bites by Stacy Kramer & Valerie Thomas
UPDATE: Stacy & Valerie have also offered bookmarks, bracelets & a dog-tag necklace featuring Karma Bites to a second-place winner!
If we get lots of good entries, we may choose some runners-up to receive Novel Novice bookmarks
- Use the comment form on this post
- Use proper spelling & grammar
- Be sure to include your email address in the form area when adding your comment (if entered in the “email” form area, your email address will NOT be made public — but we need to be able to contact you if you win)
- Prize can only be mailed to the U.S.
All entries must be submitted by midnight (PT) on Saturday, October 2nd
UPDATE: Since Stacy & Valerie have offered an additional prize, we’re giving you a few more days to enter. The contest entries are now due by midnight (PT) on Wednesday, October 6th!
Questions? Leave ’em in the comments & we’ll reply!