An Interview with Tammar Stein (by Kristin Levine)
My dear friend, Tammar Stein, and I met at a Children's Book Guild meeting in Washington, DC, last fall. Her forth book, Spoils, came out in paperback this June.
First, would you mind giving our readers a quick synopsis of Spoils?
Spoils is about a family in Florida who wins the lottery, an 80 million dollar jackpot. Seven years later, there’s nothing left. When they won they gave each of their kids a million dollars. The youngest daughter, Leni, was eleven when they won so they put her million in a trust fund. That fund matures when she turns eighteen which a week from when the book begins. What Leni does with her money turns into an epic struggle between good and evil, because money can work miracles, but only when it’s spent right.
One of my favorite aspects of Spoils is the quick glimpses of other people’s points of view that Leni interacts with and how they see her or her family. What inspired you to add these into the story?
I’m always intrigued by what’s the story behind people I meet in passing. What’s the story behind the tired but always smiling cashier at the store? What’s the story with the sad-looking man at the traffic intersection holding a cardboard sign? What’s going on with driver of that sleek car who looks like he hasn’t laughed in a year? In real life I never find out the answers. In Spoils, I loved being able to answer those questions. People are complicated and interesting and no matter what our background is, we all have this feeling that lots of money will make our lives better. But of course, you have the Kohn’s who are living proof that it’s not true.
Did you get to live your childhood millionaire dreams through Leni?
Yes, sort of. I threw in everything I could think of that would be fun to buy. Private helicopter, anyone? William Sonoma store: one of each thing please! But it shocked me how quickly that got old. (Another trip around the world? Again?) I’m not saying having millions wouldn’t be fun. But having a ton of new things is only fun for so long before they start piling up and choking everything.
Which one of the characters in Spoils is your favorite and why?
I really like Natasha. She’s complicated and intense and she threatened to take over every scene she was in. Part of the reason I wrote Debts, an e-novella, was to give Natasha some space to take over. It’s basically a prequel to Spoils and it tells what happened to Natasha right before the book begins.
What's your favorite book and why?
Not fair! What kind of question is that? I love all books, if not equally, then with much passion. I self-medicate with books, so it really depends on what mood I’m in. Do I need a quiet, thoughtful book? Do I need something fast-paced and exciting? Do I crave something challenging and intriguing? Sorry, I can’t pick one. But a few of my favorites are (in no particular order): The Handmaid’s Tale, Ender’s Game, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Lions of Al Rassan, The Little Prince, King Rat.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
First of all, hurray! I’m so glad you’re interested in writing. We cannot have too many good books in this world and the only way to get them is to have people like you write them. So, thank you!
The two biggest traits you have to have to make it as a writer are stubbornness and a thick skin. Frustration with your own work and rejection by agents/publishers are part of the process. It’s just a fact of life. It smarts and it stings and you have to be able to deal with that and keep writing. Writing is three parts craft and one part art. Art is something you may or may not be naturally talented in, but craft is all about hard work. You might not have a brilliant story when you first write it down (no one does) but you will have a story that keeps getting better as you revise it and work on it. You have to be willing to put in the time and the effort with no promise of reward. If you’re willing and able to do that, then I look forward to reading your novel one day!
To find out more, please visit Tammar's website at: http://www.tammarstein.com