Friday, February 6, 2015

Q&A: Author, Lisa A. Kramer

Q&A: Author of P.O.W.ER, Lisa A. Kramer

Displaying Boji Headshot.jpgLisa A. Kramer has spent her life learning, creating, and exploring the world through theatre, writing, traveling and collaborating as an educator. She has lived in nine states and two countries (including Japan). She holds a PhD in Theatre for Youth, an MFA in Theatre Directing, and a BA in English Language & Literature and Theatre. She has published non-fiction articles in journals specializing on Theatre for Young Audiences, as well articles aimed at young people for Listen Magazine.

In addition to young adult novels, she has ventured into the world of short stories, and has stories for adults in several of the Theme-Thology series published by and available on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo.

When not writing, Lisa shares her love of the arts and the power of story as co-founder of heArtful Theatre Company and as adjunct faculty at various colleges and universities. She also spends time enjoying New England with her husband, daughter, and two dogs from her home base in central Massachusetts.

Her latest book is the YA speculative feminist fiction, P.O.W.ER.


Displaying P.O.W.ER 2.jpgQ: From her close relationship with her father to her friendship with Brian and strong dislike with the society, what made you give Andra that type of persona in P.O.W.ER?

A: My daughter would tell you that Andra is a lot like me, and I guess in some ways she is. She definitely looks like me (short with wild, curly, reddish brown hair). I also was pretty clueless when it came to relationships with guys at her age. I wouldn’t know if someone had feelings for me even if he put a sign in my face.  I also value spending time alone, reading, and being my own person, all things I am trying to teach my daughter. So, I guess in a way Andra came about because I wanted to create a character that represents the type of woman I want my daughter to become. Often in YA literature, it seems, romantic relationships take priority over everything else. While that certainly is an important part of growing up, should it be the main focus? I learned that I wouldn’t find that perfect someone until I was happy with myself, and so I wanted Andra to be about something other than romance. At the same time, Andra became the person she is as I wrote her. I did not dictate her doubts and fears, so much as discover them. I did not create the relationships between her, her father, and Brian, but watched as they grew. The dislike of specific aspects of society was crucial, however, because she needed to have a reason to fight that went beyond selfishness. She needed to believe that she could make the world a better place.

Q: What gave you the idea to use such a setting in your book? Did it take long to come up with New North? Was there something else you had in mind to use for the story to take place?

AI debated with myself whether or not to make New North identifiable. I could have used very specific details to hint at the “real” location, but I decided against it. I wanted it to seem like this could be any place at any time—not a specific location in the United States. Realistically, perhaps, I should have placed it in the south or the Midwest, because that is where more of the restrictive laws against women’s rights seem to be cropping up. However, I am a New England girl at heart, so in my mind this was somewhere in New England. By adding the somewhat fantasy element (of the increased mind powers) it enabled me to not worry about whether or not this was a real place, even though I do make references to some real world things such as the Great Wall of China.

QWhat made you add the 'writing reality' power along with the main character and not a side character?

AThe idea that someone could write anything into reality seemed like a truly spectacular power. Think about it, write a sentence and the world changes. That is not a power to put in the hands of someone you don’t know very well. Many of my side characters are not as fleshed out, so could I trust them with that power? What if the power fell into the hands of someone like Emily or Alice? I know, I make it sound like these characters are real, but I believe that as a writer you want to create characters that could be real. Some people you trust, some you don’t. Writing reality had to go to a person I trusted.

QWhat did you have to have when writing/typing? In general as a writer?

A: In general I don’t have specific things I have to do as a writer, other than sit down and do it.  There are days when I prefer to be in a quiet room with the door closed and nothing but me and my computer screen. There are other days when I need to move to a coffee shop, so I feel like I am not alone. Sometimes I need music, sometimes it is a distraction. I usually need either a warm cup of tea by my side, or ice cold water. I usually work on the computer, but sometimes when I am struggling I go to pen and paper and just let my mind flow.

QWhat did you do if/when you had writer's block? Was it difficult to write about Brian's father's situation?

AAs I mentioned, sometimes when I struggle I switch from computer to pen and ink. There is something about holding a pen that will help me break through. I also take breaks and go for walks, or work on some other project. Luckily I have a very busy creative life, so when I am stuck on one thing I can always work on something else. I find that sometimes you just have to put something aside and let things sit for a while, trying not to think too much about it, because answers come in surprising ways.

There were definitely certain parts of the book that were more difficult to write about than others. Lauren’s experiences in the Women’s Training Center was one of the most challenging scenes for me. Any of the moments with violence were difficult, including the cruelty against Brian’s father. When working on those things, I tend to write in short stints and then walk away for a bit. The deep emotional scenes can be draining.

QHow did the cover of P.O.W.ER come about?

AI love the cover. I was privileged to work with a talented artist friend of mine, Jacqueline Haltom, to create what I consider a piece of art. We have worked together before, on various projects, and I trust her ideas and vision completely. All along I thought I wanted something that could be one of the messages drawn in the secret women’s language, and when Jackie read a draft she agreed. She suggested the kind of pen and ink style, and then we bounced around ideas. We decided we should have a couple of very specific images, including the golden eye. Originally we hoped to have some interior art as well, but time constraints got in the way. It was a truly lovely collaboration, however, and I look forward to working with her again.

QWas there anything mentioned in the book you've experienced before, or wish to? If you could have any type of power, what would it be?

A: I would love the power to write things into reality, or perhaps telekinesis. I don’t know if I would want to read minds, but I feel like I am extremely empathetic and half the time know what people are thinking anyway. I haven’t experienced any special abilities, if that is your question, but I do believe some of them can exist. I don’t think anyone truly knows the limits of the powers of the mind.

Q:Was there anyone or anything that inspired you to write?

AMy inspiration to write comes from many sources. The inspiration for this story, though, comes from a disturbing trend around the world to undervalue over half the population (the female half). There are so many examples around the world of governments and religions trying to restrict women’s abilities to learn or make choices that affect their own lives. I cannot remain silent in the face of that injustice, but I wanted to explore a creative way of looking at the issue.

QWhat got you to write a story in this particular genre? Would you consider any other genre?

AI hate the word genre. Okay, maybe hate is a strong word, but I struggle with it. What genre is my book really? Is it fantasy or magical realism? Is it young adult or feminist? Is it adventure or a coming-of-age story? Some of the greatest books in history were great because they weren’t pigeon-holed into one specific genre—they defined genre. I’m not saying P.O.W.ER is their equal, but I really struggle with where this belongs on the book store shelf. I think there is appeal for many different types of readers in this story. So, when I write I can’t really think in terms of genre. Rather, I think in terms of story. I write the story that needs to be told in the way it wants to be told—whether or not it fits the “rules” of a specific genre.

QWould you say that writing a book is basically knowing how to make decisions?

A: I would say that writing a book is knowing that there a many possibilities, and then exploring those possibilities until you find the one that works, so in that sense it is about making decisions. But it is also about being flexible enough to change when you discover something isn’t working.

QWhat gave you the idea to include both male and female antagonists in this story?

AOne thing that I often run into in this world is women who are so concerned with holding onto their own power and position that they will do anything to do it, even if it means hurting other women. I believe that women should help each other, because that is the only way we will ever succeed in the face of oppression. I also did not want this to be a book where all the men were bad, and all the women were good. People are complex characters and their motives are never fully understood.  I tried to create characters who have both negative and positives possibilities, and struggle with their own choices.

QWould you consider a spin-off or perhaps a companion novel?

ANever say never. As of right now, I don’t have specific plans, but I could possibly explore the stories of some of the other women. Some readers want to know if Andra will ever get together with Brian. Some people have asked about a prequel, but I don’t have any interest in that. Jackie and I are talking about possibly creating a book that is told through the secret women’s language (she would create pictures and I would create messages). Only time will tell. At the moment I am working on two completely different novels.

QIf you had the chance to write P.O.W.ER over again, would there be anything you'd like to add, change, or take out?

AI don’t know if I can answer this question. I am very proud of the book as it is. Of course, when I look it over, I sometimes find things that I would tweak, or things that make me say “I really wrote that?” But there is a point where you have to say you are done, otherwise a book will never come to print. The only change I would make at this point would be too add some interior art which would include some of Andra’s drawings and the messages she created.