Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Leavitt Loves Paper Rats!

As anyone who follows me on Facebook and Twitter knows, I've fallen in love with Paper Rats videos. They're hilarious, smart, very knowing videos about the writing experience, so of course I had to track down the people responsible and hurl questions at them. And who are these brilliant folk?

R.J. Keller (she's the black and white photo!) is a writer from Central Maine, where she lives happily with her husband, two kids, and the family cat. She is the author of the independently published novel, Waiting For Spring and a member of Backword Books.

In addition to writing angsty novels, she enjoys rooting for the Boston Red Sox, watching other people cook, and making writerly-fun videos with fellow Backword author, Kristen Tsetsi.

Kristen Tsetsi (she's the color photo!) is a former reporter, former cab driver, award-winning fiction writer, and a former adjunct English professor and writing instructor. She is also a founding member of Backword Books and one of the two creators (with R.J. Keller) of the YouTube series "Inside the Writers' Studio." She is married to the man she wooed in high school by slipping secret admirer notes into his locker.

So tell me what the title paper rats means?

KRISTEN: When we started talking seriously about making these videos, we wanted to have both a series title and a production company, of sorts. Because we're writers, "Paper Rats" - which is a user name I created to log into a different website years ago - just seemed like a natural and fitting choice. It's easy to picture a couple of writers (or, alternatively and more fun, rats) working their way through crumpled up balls of paper.

KEL: Also, we both like cheese.

Where did the ideas for making these brilliantly hilarious videos come about?

KEL: Some of the ideas come from personal experience. Some are just riffs on writer stereotypes.

KRISTEN: For our latest episode, "Writing, Time Management, and You," we asked facebook fans of "Paper Rats" to tell us what they'd like to see turned into an episode. One of the page's fans wanted to know how to balance life and writing. I don't think our video answered her question, but it ended up being a fun topic to turn into an episode.

How do you two know each other, and do you trade pages, offer advice, etc. to each other when you're working? (Or not working)

KRISTEN: We met as members of the indie-author collective Backword Books. And we've traded a few pages here and there. I recently sent Kel a passage from the novel I'm working on with the question, "Does this make any sense at all?"

KEL: And I recently sent a passage to Kristen with the question, "Why does this suck so much????" Thankfully, she's very honest and told me.

Who shoots the videos? What's the writing process like--and is it an excuse for not writing or does it sort of shame you into writing?

KRISTEN: We both shoot our own portions of the videos. Sometimes my husband will help me, but because I'm still looking for a job, I'm often home alone and will use this great little Joby tripod he got me for Christmas from thinkgeek.com.

KEL: I enlist my kids' help in filming. My daughter is an excellent tripod - I mean camera operator - and my son frequently acts as director...the little tyrant.

KRISTEN: About the writing process, we go back and forth with ideas. It's a lot of, "What if we say this?" and "Ooh, how about if after this scene, one of us does something like that?" But the editing is mostly Kel. She just knows how to put together scenes.

KEL: But Kristen has an excellent eye for small details. There are times when I'll send her a section and say, "This just isn't working." And she'll write back with about seven ways to improve it within a few minutes.

KRISTEN: For me, it's an excuse. It doesn't shame me at all. As long as I'm producing something creative that people are enjoying, I feel okay. When I really need to write, I believe (hope?) I will.

KEL: Making the videos doesn't interfere with my writing. Rather, it's an excellent excuse to not do housework. "But...I need to keep those dirty dishes on the counter just one more day. It's for the video!" Then later it's, "I'll fold that laundry tomorrow. I'm busy writing tonight."

What writing projects are each of you working on now?

KRISTEN: I'm working on a second novel that's currently between titles. It's about a man who decides he must make changes in his life, but the changes he wants to make involve other people and their lives, and what he wants causes some pretty powerful upheavals in the lives of those other people.

KEL: The novel I'm currently working on - called "The Wendy House" - follows an alcoholic, deadbeat dad during the course of one day as he prepares to kill the man who murdered his daughter, all while having hallucinatory conversations with his long-dead wife.

What question should I be mortified that I didn't ask you?

Caroline - if it's all right, may we answer a question about the books we currently have out? If so...

Called "affecting" by Huffington Post writer Carol Hoenig and praised by Emmy award-winning former news correspondent James C. Moore, Kristen Tsetsi's semi-biographical novel,Homefront, allows readers an uncommonly honest and intimate look inside the surreal, sometimes humorous, and often frustrating experience of waiting through a deployment. A vivid cast of characters, including a cab-driving former professor and a charming but acerbic Vietnam veteran, brings this experience to life for the reader with - at times, very uncomfortable - rawness.

R. J. Keller's "Waiting For Spring": Angst, sex, love, and redemption in the boonies of Maine. Waiting For Spring takes readers beyond the Maine tourists know, beyond lighthouses and lobster and rocky beaches, and drops them instead into a rural town whose citizens struggle with poverty and loss, yet push onward with stubbornness and humor.

Thank you so much for the interview, R. J. and Kristen. And guess what? I myself might actually be in one of the videos? ;)

1 comment:

Glynis Peters said...

I was honoured when the girls found my blog. I followed the linkback to theirs and that was it...wham I fell in love with the humour of their videos. They have found a new stalker now.

I found you via their website, so will probably stalk you as well, Caroline. :)

Great interview, love the dirty dishes excuse.