~ Interview by Melina Kantor
It’s our pleasure to welcome USA Today bestselling author Kieran Kramer to the blog! She’s here to tell us about her experiences as a gameshow contestant, her writing process, and lots more! She also has some wonderful advice to share.
(Be sure to leave a comment! There’s a giveaway!)
Welcome Kieran, and thank you so much for joining us!
Q: First thing’s first. You have been on Family Feud AND Wheel of Fortune? And succeeded at both? My goodness. Mind giving us a few details? What sparked your game show interest? Got any tips for potential contestants?
A: Yes, I’ve been on Family Feud and Wheel of Fortune, and I blame my mother, LOL!! She’d been a big winner on the original Jeopardy and Concentration when they were New York City-based game shows back in the late ‘50’s, early ‘60’s. So when Family Feud came to Charleston, SC, looking for families, Mom made my dad and three of their seven kids–the nearest ones she could round up–go audition with her. The show wound up sending us out to California all-expenses-paid, and it was a lot of fun. It was at its heyday, when Richard Dawson was host. I was a freshman in college at the time.
So years later, when I heard that Wheel of Fortune was coming to Virginia Beach, where I lived as a young Navy wife, I auditioned then and the same thing happened, except this time I had to pay for my airfare out to California. That was also a lot of fun, and I won, and it was awesome.
My game show tips: follow directions when you audition. For example, on Wheel, they begged us not to say “please” when we asked for a letter. They said it took up too much air time. They also asked us to show enthusiasm and to enunciate clearly. So if you pass the written test and get to the phase of the audition where you actually get to play the game–don’t ignore their directions, or you will be cut!
On Wheel, the last thing they told us before we went on the air was that thirty million people were watching. They also reminded us that hundreds of thousands of people wanted to get on the show and wouldn’t make it, so we’d better appreciate that. You have to stay on your toes, in other words. The producers are keeping an eye on you!
Ultimately, on all these shows, they’re looking for colorful personalities who can handle pressure, so if you’re a serious introvert and/or if you get bothered by TV cameras, it’s hard to land a slot. On Jeopardy, you can be the quiet type, but you still have to navigate all the stress of being put on the spot.
Q: What impact have your experiences as a journalist and English teacher had on your writing career?
A: I like this question. Being an English teacher, I’m all about celebrating great writing and amazing books. I definitely don’t want to write a crappy novel! And as a journalist, I learned how to get to the heart of a story fast. I think the constant immersion in reading and writing in both those occupations also really gave me a jumpstart when it came to leaping into the publishing game…I was in the “neighborhood,” already around words all the time, so I had had a lot of practice working with them!
Q: You grew up on a rural sea island near Charleston, SC, and your books have a “Southern flavor.” What role does setting play in your stories? How do you go about creating realistic yet fictional Southern worlds?
A: I have two settings: interior and exterior. I’m just making the terms up as I go along <g>, but the truth is, I do have these two “landscapes.” My interior setting almost never changes…it’s the dynamic between the characters: how, why, and when they move across the spaces between them. A big part of that interior setting, for me, is humor. It’s a great bridge. I also have a lot of positive and negative forces at play–including sexual attraction, fear, doubt, curiosity, affection, jealousy–and they tend to be pretty active, although I’ll have moments of Zen calm. These moments of peace are very infrequent but important because the characters learn there, or they get the feeling that they’re “home,” or that they’ve had a revelation about what life’s about.
This interior setting is totally connected to the exterior one. They’re really symbiotic, feeding off each other. I love a Southern setting in particular because it contains everything I love in my interior setting to the Nth degree. People live large here in the South! We have the humor, the energy, the tension, the moments of utter rightness—the “I’m where I’m supposed to be” moments.
I have no problem making my Southern settings realistic because I’m so familiar with it, having grown up in South Carolina (and a few years in Alabama). And if at an interior level, everything works organically, then the exterior setting sort of creates itself. I know what to glom on, in other words. For example, I know that a certain conversation would be better suited to take place on a dock under the full moon versus at a crowded Starbucks at high noon.
As for Southern characters, I can’t stand stereotypes, of course. And so many abound in fiction about Southerners. Yet any region has certain recognizable qualities, and I don’t hesitate to use those. I do it, however, through the filter of that character’s point of view, which I strive to make fresh and authentic. I usually do that by pinpointing conflict within that character. I learned that the hard way, by the way. We all hate flat characters, right? But in one of my early books, I had a villain—my first truly evil character–who was entirely bad.
I know we writers have all heard that villains are the heroes of their own stories. But being a little on the inexperienced side, I didn’t work hard enough to know him that way, probably because I was so prejudiced against him (he beat his wife). So I was sharply criticized by one national review publication for creating such a predictable bad guy. Since then, I go out of my way to make sure that my people are “real,” especially the ones I don’t like.
Q: When you begin a book, how do you “help your muse(s)” discover your story? Do you listen to music, make collages, light a special candle. . .?
A: I wish it were so peaceful and/or fun throughout the whole process of writing a book! Actually, I’ve done all those things. I’ve even scrapbooked, which is a lot like collage, but I like it better. I like having both discovery and structuring happen simultaneously. I make a page for each character and for the big beats. When I’m done, I enjoy turning the pages of my own picture book and getting re-inspired every day! As for music and candles, they really do help me focus and let go, all at once.
But—and this is a big but–I labor through crappy ideas for a long, long time. I start the first chapter many times because I literally don’t know what the story is about except for one or two ideas that came to me—usually a scene or a character. I’ve got a huge whiteboard on my wall that’s divided into 40 boxes…it’s a beat chart. I’ve even taught Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat plotting method (and I do love it for helping me get a sense of structure and find missing beats). But the truth is, whenever I outline or chart out a book, I throw a lot of it away. The book changes. I simply have to slog through the dark valley of not knowing. I spend a lot of time thinking. I often eat sunflower seeds while I do this–frantically, like a squirrel. If I were a smoker, I’d be chain smoking during this period.
As soon as I know what the story is about, I fly through the writing. I can write a book of 115K words in six weeks. When I think of NANOWRIMO and those 50K words, I get very quiet because I can do way more than that in a month—but believe me, I’m not feeling smug. I’m quiet because I’m actually embarrassed by my process. It appears so undisciplined and sloppy, and honestly, it is! It can be a living hell, too <g>. Those six weeks don’t include the several months I spend in despair staring at the beat chart, or attempting to write the first scenes. The truth is, I spend about 75% of my writing time getting down the first 25% of the book, then 25% writing the last 75%.
I’m really trying to make that a more balanced process. I say that every time, but after ten books I’m still not enlightened yet as to how to do that. So in the meanwhile, I try to focus on the exhilarating moments I experience when I have breakthroughs and the fun I’ll have after the book is written. It makes the angst and the exhaustion that happens during the creation process totally worth it.
Q: In your opinion, what is the appeal of contemporary romance?
A: Happy endings and real connections in modern times are always so welcome, considering how stressful the world is! I think that’s the genre’s main appeal. Plus, it’s fun to read about other settings and hear about other people’s occupations. And I love seeing modern bullies get their comeuppance. We have a lot of crazymakers in today’s world. I like to see good characters push back against them and win.
Q: What is one piece of advice you give writers just starting out or not yet published?
A: The one piece of advice I’d give? Hmmm, I have so much advice to offer, haha!! But if I had to choose one thing, I’d say, write about something that you believe with your whole heart. Notice I didn’t say believe IN with your whole heart—I mean, write about something that you know to be true.
We don’t “believe in” pain, lack, or despair, but they are facts of life. And for me the truth about them is this: they exist, but we get to choose how we approach them.
So every day, check in with yourself and ask, “Why am I writing this? What is true here? What do I want to reveal about this truth in this particular story?” And then do it! If you stick with wanting to tell the truth in your story, you will stay on course, no matter what plotting method you use (or don’t use).
And don’t let anyone or anything stop you, especially self-doubt. You’re going to get older whether you try your butt off at this writing gig or not. Might as well go for it! Have fun, play, get dirty, mess up, and get back in the arena and write that book!
* Question for you: Tell me a truth about life that you seem to be attracted to writing about. I’ll send two commenters a little treat bag with my pink Kieran koozie, bookmark, and some chocolate! (Kieran’s en route to the Big Apple to visit her agent and editor today, but she’ll check in as often as she can.) *
USA Today bestselling author Kieran Kramer is a former CIA employee, journalist, and English teacher who lives in the Lowcountry of South Carolina with her family. She just finished her tenth book for St. Martin’s Press—Trouble When You Walked In, and her most recent release, You’re So Fine, was an Amazon Best Book of the Month in romance. Reviewers for national publications–Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus–say that readers who like authors as wide-ranging as Luanne Rice, Nora Roberts, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips will enjoy Kieran’s books.