Taking in the Limelight
Cheri Steinkellner has won four Emmys, two Golden Globes, the People’s Choice, BAFTA, Writers Guild Award and a TV-Land Legend Award for writing and producing television’s “Cheers” and the Disney animated series and feature film, “Teacher’s Pet,” a 2011 Tony-nominee for Best Book of a Musical for “Sister Act,” and 2012 Ovation-nominee and Indy winner for Best Book of a Musical for “Hello! My Baby.” Cheri has also written the book and lyrics for the off-Broadway musical “Mosaic” and “Princesses.” She teaches writing at UCSB and is partnered with Bill Steinkellner in writing, marriage, and parenting their three favorite children – Kit, Teddy and Emma Steinkellner.
Q. Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
A. I grew up in Orange County, land of freeway billboards. We’d drive up the 5 and I’d read every single slogan out loud, wishing that someday little girls would read my words off freeway signs. I didn’t know I wanted to write, but I did know I wanted to be read.
Q. What inspires you?
A. Found humor, striking metaphors, stuff I wish I’d written. Also: Babies, toddlers, kids and playful adults.
Q. Can you tell us a little bit about your latest project?
A. My heart belongs to my new musical, “HELLO! MY BABYHello! My Baby.” I can’t stop playing with it. And I won’t stop until it’s playing at a theater near you.
Q. I’ve heard that writers often bond to their characters. What does it feel like to finish a story and let go of that bond a little?
A. I don’t know. I’m attached to the concept of detachment, but detached from the reality of it.
Q. Do you have any advice/cure/ for the infamous “writer’s block”?
A. I force my students to write daily Morning Pages – and in solidarity I do them, too. They don’t have to be good – don’t even have to be legible. They just have to be.
Q. How did you get started in the writing industry and what is your best piece of advice to people interested in pursuing writing as a career?
A. Thirty-five years ago I fell in love with a writer and his job, so I married both. Best advice: Write fast first, slow second.
Q. What is one interesting thing about you that most people don’t know?
A. I can sing every track of “Tapestry,” “Liza With A Z,” “My Name is Barbra,” “Meet the Monkees,” “Fiddler on The Roof,” “Man of La Mancha” and “A Chorus Line.” It’s like Pandora, only a little pitchy.
Q. What is the best food you’ve eaten in the past week?
A. I’m trying this Sansum meal-replacement thing – so I’d have to say it was when I put two tablespoons of powdered peanut butter into the vanilla shake and didn’t use as much ice.
Q. Is there anything new on your plate? What can we expect from you in the future?
A. My first novel! At long last! The one I wanted to read when I was 12 years old, but nobody had written it then. Me Now is writing it for Me Then.
Q. What is one thing you are really looking forward to with the Summer Writing Institute?
A. I’m excited to surprise students with stuff they never imagined they could do!
Q: How important is networking and social media in the field of writing?
A. According to Contagious by Jonah Berger – it accounts for a paltry 7 percent of word-of-mouth. I’ll go with that if it means I don’t have to tweet.
Q: Do you have any practices regarding the above question that you have found successful? Any websites you swear by, any online communities that have been helpful, etc.?
A. Writers Dreamtools is my go-to treasure trove for idioms, cliches, quotes, slang, decades and all that jazz.
Q: What was the best piece of advice about writing or becoming a writer that someone has ever given you?
A. You have to collect a lot of pink-slips before they let you be a real writer.
Q: Can you give us a rough breakdown of the process of writing a novel from the point of conception to having the book published and sitting on bookshelves?
A. I’m just starting down that path. But my son can tell you! Trash Can Days by Teddy Steinkellner hits bookshelves August 20. It’s a hilarious and hard-hitting, uber-realistic story of a year in the life of four middle-schoolers and I thank you for giving me this unintended opportunity to shamelessly promote it.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you that we haven’t covered yet?
A. Oh, I’m saving the best secrets for class!