Today, Bookpleasures.com is honored to have as our guest, Richard Kramer.
Richard Kramer is the Emmy and multiple Peabody award-winning writer, director and producer of several top TV series, including Thirtysomething, My So-called Life, Tales of the City, and Once and Again.
His first novel, These Things Happen received rave reviews and has been picked up by HBO and Oprah's HARPO films for adaptation into a half hour TV comedy series.
Good day Richard and thanks for participating in our interview.
How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?
I can’t remember anymore, if I ever could, when I didn’t write; I guess I got started as soon as I could do it at all. My parents had a house full of books, revered books and writers, and had a very good sense of what to give me when.
My mother gave me THE GREAT GATSBY
and LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL
when I was twelve, maybe even a little younger. She loved those books (and others), and so did I. I still have the editions she had as a young woman, beautiful crumbling old Modern Library editions that you could t hold in the palm of your hand.
As for getting started professionally the very first time I ever made a dollar from writing was when I won a contest that Harcourt, Brace (are they still around?) sponsored to get college kids to review a novel they were about to publish called THE PRINCESS BRIDE
, by William Goldman.
Everyone knows that book and the subsequent film that was made from it, but then it was a fresh experience, and whatever I wrote won me twenty-five dollars, I think. Goldman also became my mentor, which was worth a lot more than twenty-five dollars. He was the first “real” writer who let me see what being a real writer was about. From his example, it seemed that you always had a bad back, were always lying on the floor, and always listened to classical LP’s on a record player, which is all there was back then.
The first professional moment that meant something was when I sold a short story to the New Yorker when I was twenty-one and a senior in college. William Shawn called me in my dorm room. Roger Angell was my editor. He was the stepson of EB White, and had the magazine in his blood. He is now 93, and had the most extraordinary piece in the magazine a few weeks ago that everyone I know emailed to each other. It was called This Old Man, and it reminds me that I should send him my book.
Now, that was forty years ago. I’m still at it. One of the great things about being a writer is you never have to retire, and one of the terrible things about being a writer is you never can retire. Writing isn’t a job; it’s a way of being. I can’t imagine ever shrugging it off, even though there are times when I’d love to do that. What keeps me going is writing, itself; writing is more interested in me than I am in me. Writing, for me, after these many years, is like an ideal, interesting ear. I never bore it. I know I can never let it down, not if I just show up. So - I show up.Norm:
How did you find writing These Things Happen different from writing for TV?
These Things etc. has a long history. It began as a script for a short film I was going to make, but never did. From that it somehow became a full-length play that was done at a number of places around the country. Then, some years after that, I sat down and just started writing — a book.
I had always wanted to, and there I was, doing it. That I knew the story and characters didn’t make writing the book any easier (and I’m finding now in the tv adaptation having written the book doesn’t make writing the script any easier.)
The big difference between TV writing and novel-writing is that a script is about its action, for the most part, and a book is about its consciousness. Or at least the books I like are about that.
The funny thing is the television writing that I enjoyed doing, and the writing on which I built that aspect of my career — Thirtysomething, My So-Called Life, Once and Again
— was very internal, very much about voice, and consciousness. I was lucky to have been encouraged to explore that as a television writer; when I came to write the book I already had permission to work like that.Norm:
Could you briefly tell our readers about These Things Happen and what would you say is the best reason to recommend someone to read the book?
Richard:These Things Happen
is about what happens when a teenage boy in Manhattan moves in with his father and his father’s partner in hopes of better getting to know his somewhat distant dad. The father remains distant, for reasons that are revealed as the story goes on, but the partner, who has no experience with kids, turns out to be the one with whom the boy most powerfully connects.
As the story takes place in a very liberal, hey-no-problem-here circle of over-achievers, all are “fine” with this until something happens (that verb again) that causes true, hidden feelings to emerge in all the characters, that makes them see what they have been hiding from themselves, and that changes forever the structure and nature of the intersecting families who are working so hard to be ahead of their time.
And it’s funny.
People should read the book because they will love it. That’s bald, I know, but I’ve learned in the year and a half that this book has been out in the world that modesty does not become authors; an author’s one goal is to be read. That’s more important than being bought. You want people to read the book, to use it in their lives, to take from it entertainment, of course, but also permission to accept the messiness of life, the challenges of loving, the confusion of the world, the endlessly shifting meaning of the idea that we call family.
And it’s funny. Norm
What served as the primary inspiration for the book?
There were many. I’m not sure I can extract one thread from the tangle that led to the writing of the book. But I’ll go with this one … Years ago, when I was wring on thirtysomething, I would go to the same restaurant almost every night for five years. I did this because it was good, and easy, and I was too fried at the end of the day to make any more choices about anything. I knew if I went to this place I wouldn’t even have to order, that within minutes something would come to the table that I would like, as if by magic, I guess, and that I could work on scenes for the next day without having to talk to anyone, which I’d just spent the whole day doing.
The restaurant’s manager was there for all the years I was a regular; he was a crisp, kind, forty-ish gay man, adept at looking after someone (like me, at that time) who wanted to be private, and the dozens of others who went there to be seen, and envied, and pampered. He loved his work, you could just tell that; he was content exactly where he was, which was that much more striking in Los Angeles, where no one feels that. No one.
I took advantage of his care for all that time until one night, years in, I realized: I didn’t know this man’s name. Why would I bother? His function was to make my life easier, so that was all the identity he needed. I was shocked when I realized this, at how easy it was to deny others the right of specificity. I sent him a note (this was long before email) and he responded. We agreed to meet for lunch, and when we did he told me about his life, about how he lived, what he wanted, what the tricks were for doing his job well.
And he became George, in my book, years later. I see now that I must have wanted to write about someone you’d never think to write about. When the book started to be more than a few pages he was there again, even though the restaurant had closed a decade before. He isn’t George, but he is, because without him, without his kindness to me, and without my seeing how I’d taken that for granted — I don’t think These Things Happen would exist.Norm:
Are the characters in the book based on people you know?
Yes and no. Mostly yes. Mostly no. (see the above, in which I contradict this!) They started out to be, if not based on, at least suggested by some people I knew. And they’re all me, of course, even though the book isn’t autobiographical. But characters have a funny way of shaking off the shadow of the real person who inspired them. They want to be their own person, and you have to let them have the chance to be that. Norm:
What helps you focus when you write?
I was afraid you’d ask that. The internet, obviously, doesn’t help. It is, in fact, lethal for focus because it is — let’s just say it — easy fun. Writing is hard fun. Who doesn’t prefer easy? Doing it makes me focus. Thinking about doing it — well, that kills me. That’s when I need apps that block the net. But when I’m doing it — when I get myself there — focus is mine. Norm:
Do you find it easy reading back your own work?
Sometimes. Certain sections. I spent three days recording the book for Audible, and most of the time, hearing myself say my words, I felt good about it. It’s hard to say — Well, this is what it is, this is what’s out there, and there’s nothing more I could or should do about it. If I could, I would rewrite the book for the rest of my life. But that would be unfair to the books that are waiting to get written, I think. Norm:
Is your work improvisational or do you have a set plan?
It’s both. You can’t do one without the other. And when a book is ready to be written both happen, in tandem. I’ve never quite understood which part of the brain does what, but there’s probably some left-right stuff going on.Norm:
What's the most difficult thing for you about being a writer?
Well, at this point, after all this time — none of it’s difficult. Which doesn’t mean writing isn’t hard. It is. But who said it was supposed to be easy? I knew a famous author who had taped to his typewriter these words: No one ever said you had to be a writer. Being alone is hard, but for a writer being too much with other people is harder. Getting published is difficult, but people do it. And getting read is difficult, but it’s thrilling to force someone to read it and then have them thank you for that. Norm:
What would you like to say to writers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share?
Don’t stop. Don’t think about agents. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Read no publicity. Good writing and clean writing will always matter. And know this (I have seen it a thousand times): if you’re good, you’ll be found. Norm:
Where can our readers find out more about you and These Things Happen?
I have a WEBSITE
that I never use (I know, I know). The two best interviews I’ve done (in that I enjoyed doing them the most, and felt inspired to dig deeper for answers) can be found at these links …Los Angeles Review of Books
What is next for Richard Kramer?
Well, I’m finishing the adaptation for HBO this week (fingers crossed). Then I will start messing around in the sandbox of the next book,
I think. It’s the opposite of These Things Happen,
even though it’s probably close to it but I’m the last one who can see that. It’s about an actor, in his 60’s, whose past starts to flood his present despite all he’s done to contain it. Or at least that’s what it’s about today, before I write it. Books are aggressive, or at least These Things etc. was; it wanted to decide what it was about, and was politely dismissive of my ideas for it. Which also made it exciting to write. I hope it’s the same for this next one.Norm:
As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
What is your dream for These Things Happen?
That people will read it, and tell someone, who will tell someone, who will tell someone. That it keeps living and moving forward in affectionate recommendation.Norm:
Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.
Follow Here To Purchase THESE THINGS HAPPEN