“Suburban teenage shoplifters” might not seem like the most lovable of characters, but Kirsten ‘Kiwi’ Smith, author of Trinkets, is a master at creating characters you can’t help but root for.
Trinkets is a novel about three completely different girls who meet in Shoplifters Anonymous; there is something in Moe that is reminiscent of Kat Stratford, a part of Tabitha that could be the beginnings of a future Elle Woods, an aspect of Elodie that calls forth an image of Emma Stone’s every-girl charm in The House Bunny. But Trinkets is not a Kirsten Smith movie; while it is funny, sharp, honest, relatable, angsty, young, and undeniably entertaining all at once, it also does what a movie cannot. It forces its readers into the story, so that we are there, slipping past the mall security guards while hoarding our stash of trinkets under our sweaters, we are there, having an impromptu Katy Perry dance party when a cute boy walks by. Smith is able to flawlessly stitch together the most identifiable parts of being a teenager (automatic knowledge of the high school clique system, loving pop music, bonding with new friends over pizza) with characters who are in an extremely unfamiliar situation — being forced to complete a Shoplifters Anonymous class and bonding with new friends over a shared love of stealing.
I got the chance to pick Kiwi’s brain about movies, awesome women (both real and not-so-much), and, of course, writing Trinkets. Without further ado —
inconnu: Though you’re best known for writing films, you’ve really done it all, from writing poetry to TV shows to your upcoming novel, Trinkets. What was your favorite thing about writing prose, instead of scripts or poetry? Was there an aspect of the latter two that you missed while writing Trinkets?
Kirsten Smith: I missed the leanness of screenwriting and verse. In those forms, you want to use less description instead of more – both are economical forms of writing. With novels, you’re encouraged to add more description. Trinkets is a pretty short book – so, yeah, you can see I’m clearly uncomfortable writing Franzen-length paragraphs.
inconnu: You often collaborate with Karen McCullah Lutz on screenplays. What is your creative process with her like in terms of coming up with a story and then sitting down to write it together? How did you have to adapt when writing Trinkets?
KS: We sit in a room together and talk everything through – first doing a plot outline, which usually takes weeks and sometimes months of multiple drafts. Then we write the script in the same room by hand and take turns transcribing that day’s writing. It sounds laborious but when we’re in a groove, we can easily write 12 pages a day. Sadly, I wasn’t that fast with Trinkets. I would have friends come over and motivate me. My friend Hope Leon, who is a super talented young writer, would come over and talk through plot stuff with me. That’s why the book’s dedicated to her, since she really helped kick my butt when I was stuck.
inconnu: You’ve written a lot of movies (and now books) about girls who are still in school, many of them teenagers. What is it that interests you most about adolescence that keeps you going back?
KS: I have a very juvenile inner life. Which is a fancy way of saying maybe I’m immature.
inconnu: Writers always say that they are most inspired by the work of others. What are your favorite YA novels and romantic comedies that have inspired you to continue creating? As someone who writes so many strong, independent female characters, who are some of your favorite fictional ladies?
KS: Favorite YA novels: Forever… by Judy Blume. Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block. Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice? By Norma Danzinger, Starring Sally J Friedman as Herself by Judy Blume, Sooner or Later and Waiting Games by Bruce and Carol Hart, The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Brave New Girl by Louisa Luna, Tribes of Palos Verdes by Joy Nicholson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky, Girl by Blake Nelson, A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, Thumbsucker by Walter Kirn, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by David Levithan & Rachel Cohn, Random Acts of Senseless Violence by Jack Womack…
Favorite romantic comedies: The Philadelphia Story. Moonrise Kingdom. Amelie. Just One of the Guys. When Harry Met Sally. Jerry Maguire. Notting Hill. Roxanne. Two Weeks Notice. Going the Distance. Bringing Up Baby.
Favorite fictional ladies: Susan in Desperately Seeking Susan, Jean in The Lady Eve, Juno MacDuff, Erin Brokovich, Corinne in Ladies and Gentleman, the Fabulous Stains. Lulu in Something Wild. Tess in Working Girl. Tracy in The Philadelphia Story. Billie in Born Yesterday, Cher in Clueless, Samantha Baker in Sixteen Candles, Sugar in Some Like It Hot, Susan Vance in Bringing Up Baby, Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction, Marquese de Mequil in Dangerous Liaisons, Darius in Safety Not Guaranteed, Karen Silkwood, Suzanne Vale in Postcards from the Edge, Fran Kubelik in The Apartment, Aileen Wuronos in Monster, Alabama Whitman in True Romance, Ginger in Chicken Run, Sally Albright in When Harry Met Sally, Edwina in Raising Arizona, Holly Hunter in Broadcast News, Nikita in La Femme Nikita, Girl in Moonrise Kingdom, Hit Girl in Kick-Ass, Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive, Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer and Anne Hathaway versions), Natalie Portman in The Professional, Bridget Gregory in The Last Seduction, Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Mona Lisa in My Cousin Vinny, Josie Geller in Never Been Kissed, Judy in Private Benjamin, Irene Bullock in My Man Godfrey, Nora Charles in The Thin Man, Bree Daniels in Klute, Hanna in Hanna, Leelo in The Fifth Element, Teresa Russell in Black Widow, Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility
inconnu: You’ve adapted quite a few Shakespearean classics into modern day settings. How do you decide what stories would benefit from modernization? Do you have any stories, Shakespearean or otherwise, that you’d like to adapt in the future?
KS: I’m always looking for novels with a great hook and a fun plot. If you have any great ideas, let me know! That’s how we got the idea for 10 Things – Karen and I asked everybody we knew which classic they thought we should turn into a teen movie. Finally my college buddy Rich Jones said one night in a bar – “have you thought about Taming of the Shrew?” So Rich Jones gave us the most brilliant idea ever, bless his heart.
inconnu: You have a tendency to write characters who are extremely confident in themselves, even though they don’t fulfill society’s expectations. (Kat even references this in 10 Things.) While it’s awesome to see such strong female presence on screen, many of the girls (and guys!) who might be watching your movies are perhaps not so sure of themselves. Is it important to you that these characters already know who they are? Would you be interested in writing a character who was struggling with her self-image?
KS: I always admire a strong woman and love to see them on screen, because I feel like those feisty ladies really inspired me as a younger person. And my writing partner, Karen, is a badass so she’s innately adept at creating badass ladies. With Trinkets, I feel like the characters are a bit more vulnerable and struggling with self-esteem – maybe that’s because writing novels is a little more interior than screenplays, so you can dig into the insecurity and uncertainty of character’s psychology a bit more.
inconnu: Some people denounce romantic comedies and “chick flicks” in the name of feminism. As a feminist yourself, how do you respond to those people?
KS: Women can like whatever they like, and their taste doesn’t make them feminist or not. To censor a woman is to oppress her.
inconnu: What are your ideal Galentine’s Day plans, and who would you invite?
KS: I’ve never done a Galentine’s Day! Where have you been all my life?
inconnu: A few months ago, inconnu featured Crush Week and we had a conversation about the term ‘girl crush’ and what it means for feminism and ladies everywhere. How do you feel about the phrase and who are some of your crushes, female or otherwise?
KS: I am the consummate Girl Crusher. I am in love with so many girls. Last night, a friend and I went out and all night we were saying to each other, “You smell good.” “You look pretty.” “I missed you so much.” It was ridiculous. I love women and am fascinated by them so I’m not ashamed to girl-crush. I’m easily smitten with brilliant, talented, funny women with style and personality.
inconnu: Tell us something “inconnu” (unknown) about yourself.
KS: My daily breakfast is green tea and cookies. I love the Carly Rae Jepsen song “Call Me Maybe.” I do a lot of nighttime dancing in front of the bathroom mirror.
inconnu: Are there any writers/directors/actors who you’re really excited about right now? Is there anyone you’re desperate to work with?
KS: I’d love to work with Aubrey Plaza, Tavi Gevinson, Kristin Wiig, Jennifer Lawrence, of course I’d love to work with Reese and Anna Faris and Emma Stone again, and Chris Pratt, and oh my gosh there are so many amazing actresses and actors right now, the list would be a million miles long…I’d like to be Wes Anderson’s intern and Pawel Pawlikowski’s intern, who did My Summer of Love. I’d love to work with Cameron Crowe and Madonna and Courtney Love because who wouldn’t want to work with their heroes?
inconnu: Would you like to see Trinkets adapted for a feature film?
KS: Yes, totally. Trinkets actually started as an idea I had for a heist movie but then I got intimidated by heist plotting, so I turned it into a YA novel. What do you guys think? Would it make a good movie?
Trinkets is in stores now. Leave a comment below if you’re already as excited about the prospect of a teen girl power heist movie as we are!