26TH STREET — They sat side by side for three hours every morning, meeting in the same kitchen nook where the two writers from different genres would search their brains and combine their creative powers, tackling a project that neither had ever successfully ventured before.
In the end those at times challenging five-days-a-week meetings in which writers Sonya Sones and Bennett Tramer collaborated for the first time in their 25-year-marriage paid off, completing a now published children’s book based on the couple’s real-life experiences.
“Violet and Winston,” which hit the shelves earlier this month, follows a pair of best friends — a “bumbling and sweet” duck named Winston and a “brash and big-hearted” swan named Violet — as they face several comical situations, including a search for lost glasses and a garage sale gone bad.
The process of developing the story was a unique first-time experience for the authors, who have both been successful in their very different fields — Tramer a head writer for hit TV show “Saved by the Bell” and Sones, the creator of a series of award-winning young adult novels in verse.
The idea for the book came at a time when Tramer was between projects and Sones was burnt out from finishing her most recent novel, hoping to take on something that wouldn’t consume 12 hours a day as her previous works had. The book was illustrated by Caldecott Medal winner Chris Raschka, a close friend who lives in New York.
Inspired by the “George and Martha” children’s books by James Marshall, a series the couple previously read to their now college-aged kids, the writers spent hours every morning for two months, taking ideas from their own relationship, which is how they came up with the idea for one of the stories when Winston and Violet have to retrace their steps after the duck loses his glasses.
“(Tramer) always thinks he’s losing things,” Sones said.
“(We looked) at the little everyday annoyances,” Tramer added. “It’s surprising how much you can get out of them and people relate to them.”
But the underlying theme of the book is about friendship, a topic to which the couple believes the young audience can easily relate.
“For this age group, friends are the most important thing in their life outside of the parents,” Tramer said.
Sones, who was used to having complete creative control in previous pieces, said she experienced some angst when first embarking on the children’s book with her husband, who was used to give and take with a group of writers with “Saved by the Bell.”
"I got passed it plus he was very accommodating,” she said.
A native of Newton, Mass., Sones actually began her career in the entertainment field, making and teaching animated films before serving as a film editor, co-writing the 1986 film “River’s Edge. Sones retired when she became pregnant and ended up starting a baby clothes company, selling her line to stores like Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom.
Looking for something different in life, Sones decided to end her successful business and looked into books, writing her first piece — “Smitty the Hollywood Kitty,” which was never published.
“I realized my favorite part of the day was when I read with my son on one side and my daughter on the other side of me,” Sones said. “It was just so cozy and wonderful and that was the part of day I looked forward to most.”
She decided to take several writing classes, eventually enrolling in a course with a venerated yet feared instructor at UCLA, Myra Cohn Livingston, who had a reputation for making her students cry. Apprehensive about facing the course by herself, Sones convinced a friend to also enroll.
“We walked into class that first day and by the end of the first day I knew I had found the teacher of my dreams,” she said. “She did give tons of homework and was critical and did make people cry.
“She never made me cry because I was grateful.”
It was Livingston who convinced her to pursue a career in writing novels in verse after reading an assignment that Sones had written about the experience visiting her sister in a mental hospital when the author was only 13.
She began forcing herself to write a similar homework assignment every week, which eventually turned into Sones’ first book, “Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy.”
The book eventually received the Christopher Award and Myra Cohn Livingston Award, named in honor of the late poet.
“Stop Pretending” was followed by a series of similar books, including “One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies,” “What My Mother Doesn’t Know,” and “What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know.”
“They’re all written in verse as poems and together they tell a story,” she said. “I get a lot of e-mails from kids who are not readers and said ‘I have never read a book until I read yours.”
Tramer called his wife a “very dedicated writer.”
The “Saved by the Bell” writer, who grew up in Cleveland, had just written a made-for-TV-movie called “Poison Ivy,” which starred Michael J. Fox, when he was approached by NBC producer Peter Engel about developing a spinoff taking three characters from TV show, “Good Morning, Miss Bliss.”
"I said I would do seven shows and see what it was like and before you knew it, it was 250 episodes,” Tramer said. “A four month, seven show deal had turned into 10 years.”
Tramer said he had a good feeling about the success of the show, which he believes was the first on television to just focus on teenagers in school.
He even managed to get his children involved with the show, bringing them in during tapings to help entertain the audience.
Tramer is working on getting a musical based on the hit television show picked up.
For now the couple is continuing their collaboration by promoting the new children’s book, making appearances in the area and giving talks. They have a book signing scheduled next month at the L.A. Times Festival of Books at UCLA.
Their experiences working together is also a lesson taught in the book.
“What our book is ultimately about is compromise and respecting other person’s feelings,” Sones said. “It’s a life-long practice.”