excited to have as our guest to-day Mitchell Kriegman. Mitchell has
been published in The New Yorker, The National Lampoon, New York
Press, Glamour, and Harper’s Bazaar.
A winner of four Emmy Awards and a Directors Guild Award, he was also a writer for Saturday Night Live. He was the creator of the classic groundbreaking television series Clarissa Explains It All, as well as the executive head writer on Ren and Stimpy, Rugrats, and Doug. He has recently published a YA novel, Being Audrey Hepburn.
Norm: Good day Mitchell and thanks for participating in our interview. How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?
Mitchell: I’ve been writing lists since I was a little kid. I’ve always expressed my thoughts through writing, always wanted to be a writer (also wanted to be a director, songwriter, ceo and a fireman). I can’t write enough in a day.
Norm: Has your environment and/or upbringing influenced your writing? If so, how?
Mitchell: I think I was so starved for creative opportunities and to express myself as a child – like someone who didn’t get enough to eat when they were young. I’m always writing, creating, working on lots of projects.
Norm: What genre are you most comfortable writing?
Mitchell: I’m dying to
do everything – I’d do a detective novel if I had a good idea. I
work by ideas more than genre. I’m always interested in new forms
and new paradigms.
I like to flatter myself and say I’m a paradigm
shifter. That’s wht I aspire to. So genre is important but not the
I tend to write humor/comedy, romance, women and stuff for little kids. But that’s only because that’s what’s been published or produced. I’ve written all kinds on other topics and have all sorts of stories I can’t wait to write – a ghost romance, a green apocalypse, a stoner comedy, a memoir. I hope I have enough time to do them all.
Norm: How was it like writing for Saturday Night Live?
Mitchell: All the cool stuff was cool – live television, working with an amazing production team, being in that historic environment – and I loved working with Michael O’Donoghue on Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video. But the era of the show I was hired for wasn’t a good fit for me.
I had this amazing contract to write, perform, make films but they seemed to have lost sight of why they hired me. I made three films, performed in a couple of sketches, only one I wrote got on. I had great notices in the newspapers while the show was being panned so that didn’t make me popular.
I also wasn’t into the idea of
getting high and writing at 2 in the morning. I’d rather get high
and have fun and then work in the morning.
It was a colorful and
painful experience. I was the producer’s favorite briefly – it
was like being teacher’s pet – and I watched the producer pass on
the some of the best talent at the time. The people she didn’t hire
were amazing – Sandra Bernhardt, Marjorie Gross, Mark King, Paul
Reubens, Mercedes Ruel, Andy Kaufman wanted to do a regular weekly 8
minute segment. She said no to all of them.
I was pretty vocal about what I thought wasn’t working and finally I was fired during Weekend Update. Hilarious really. I was glad to go. It was a badge of honor at the time. I still have lots of friends there and writers who have worked for me or I’ve worked for.
Norm: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Mitchell: Grammar. No joke! Sequence. Vocabulary. Repeated words! I love run on sentences! My punctuation is a joke! I’m sure you think I’m kidding but I’m not. If it were up to me I’d write all lower caps without any punctuation.
Did you know that punctuation is constantly changing? Historically it’s all been different and redone many times. It’s organic. In Spanish and South American literature run on sentences are king. There’s a famous Spanish novel that’s one incredibly long sentence. I love that.
But I’m not so lucky – I’m not Spanish unfortunately. Although I did consider sending my stories to a Spanish translator with the idea of trying to get them published in Spain and then translate back into English to get published here. I still want to do that. I’m good at ideas, humor, out of the box premises, very good, I think, at storyline. I’m not good at being normal. I’m better at being off the wall. I like to say I’d color between the lines if I could see them! But writing is something I do well because I’m incredibly persistent, love rewriting and have OCD.
Norm: What motivated you to write Being Audrey Hepburn and can you tell our audience a little about the book? As a follow up, what purpose do you believe your story serves and what matters to you about the story?
Mitchell: Being Audrey Hepburn is about a girl named Lisbeth who gets through her crummy life by watching Audrey Hepburn movies. She comes from a lousy home and her mom wants her to be a nurse practioner. There’s nothing wrong with that, but she doesn’t know what she wants to be. She doesn’t know who she is. Then she gets to secretly try on Audrey’s Givenchy from Breakfast at Tiffany’s and it fits like a glove…and then the zipper gets stuck….story ensues.
It’s about pretending to be someone else in order to become who you are. It’s about the creative transformation of self. How to become someone you want to be. Or the Pygmalion Effect.
There’s also like an Audrey Treasure Hunt in the book – lines of dialog from Breakfast at Tiffany’s or Roman Holiday slipped into character’s dialog, names of Audrey’s friends as names of character’s in Lisbeth’s life. Every number relates to Audrey and there are lots of slightly hidden parallel’s between Lisbeth an Audrey. All of which gives the book an interesting meta level of information and story.
Ok what I love so far about the readers of this book is that younger readers read it all as a fantasy. Older readers – and I’ve heard from a lot of them – read the book as reality. They know you can fool everybody with a dress, a vibrant personality and just by showing up. Older readers also know that everything in the book is “real” i.e. literally the places where magic (or the lack thereof) happens in New York and the Hamptons. I wish younger readers realized that. Maybe they will eventually.
Norm: I believe Being Audrey Hepburn is your first YA writing project. Did you enjoy the process? How was it different from your other typical formats?
Mitchell: First of all I
don’t consider YA just YA I’m happy to be YA or NA or just plain
popular fiction. I think YA is popular fiction with a young
protagonist and regular popular fiction is a story with an older
protagonist. It’s all good storytelling. That said I love YA read
it all the time.
The issue here was to conquer my demons and write a
novel, which is what I had wanted to do since I was 10. I had written
short stories and lots of other stuff but not a novel. I’m like
Audrey in the sense I’m always unprepared and inexperienced on
everything I do before I tackle it. I learn on the job. So did
There’s an amazing sink or swim energy to that. I guess it works for me. At this point I’ll say that television and film seem much easier to write – although I wince when I say that because writing anything well is a lot of work. The bigger issue is what is it like to read! Who cares how I feel about it! I hope the readers feel like it’s easy, wonderful and flies off the page!
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and Being Audrey Hepburn?
Mitchell: Ok blatant self promotion starts here!
There’s a ton of stuff
there! Please, please, please you have to try the Dear Audrey Magic
Quote Generator by Clicking Here
and send it to a friend – it’s kind of like a Magic 8 ball it will solve your problems using the magic wisdom of Audrey Hepburn.
And there’s a tumblr there “Shades of Limelight” based on Lisbeth’s tumbler in the book. And then starting this week I have a blog that will be up called “My .02 Cents” That you can find HERE
And check out the
infographics that we came up with there. Oh and there’s a VIDEO HERE
And sign up for our NEWSLETTER which will include more about the Clarissa book as it
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?
Mitchell: Well I’m all about persistence. Persistence is rewarded I like to say. It’s way more important than inspiration. Sometimes miraculously through persistence you reach a level of inspiration. But it’s all in the rewriting, rethinking and rewriting again. I also believe that you need have confidence in your ideas and if they don’t work the first time or the first way you try another way. It’s like having a bunch keys and finding the door that it opens. You have to keep trying all the doors until it clicks.
I could go on. I have tons of advice for writers and creative people. I’ve had to carve out my own existence so I’ve learned through hard fought experience. Here’s what I think is interesting – these days writers are some of the bravest people best equipped to deal with the world because it’s so damn hard to get anything done and they keep trying. So many people are afraid of being rejected. I think writers are more afraid of not having tried or had the opportunity. They aren’t afraid of being rejected and I think that’s the way it should be.
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Mitchell: You didn’t ask me about my new kayak paddle! It’s carbon-fiber reinforced polymer and I just went on a long ocean paddle up the Goleta Coast. It was great.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors
Mitchell: It was a privilege to be here…virtually speaking that is.