Jul 13, 2009

Interview with Author, Stephanie Kuehnert

Stephanie Kuehnert got her start like most authors by writing bad poetry about unrequited love and razor blades back in eighth grade. That was also around the time she discovered punk rock. Along with literature by geniuses such as Shakespeare, Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Steinbeck, Sylvia Plath, Francesca Lia Block, John McNally, Irvine Welsh, and Louise Erdrich, noisy guitars and lyrics by Kurt Cobain, Johnny Cash, Mike Ness, Courtney Love, Robert Smith, Mark Lanegan, and Brody Dalle are Stephanie's primary influences.

Stephanie's short stories have been published in 10,000 Tons of Black Ink, f Magazine, Hair Trigger, Black Oak Presents, and on inkstains.org. "Fairytale," an excerpt from her novel I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE that appeared in Hair Trigger 27 was awarded Third Place in Traditional Fiction by the Columbia University Scholastic Press Association. Stephanie's interviews and essays have appeared in No Touching Magazine, Glimmer Train's Writer's Ask, on Virginia Quarterly Review's website, and on freshyarn.com. *

Her second novel, Ballads of Suburbia, is being released in July 21, 2009.

What do you love about being a writer?

I love hearing from readers. I love being able to move, touch, or help people with my words. That’s what it is all about, providing an enjoyable reading experience. I also hope that my books trigger discussions. Especially my new one, Ballads of Suburbia, which deals with some real touchy issues, the kinds of things people usually don’t talk about, like self injury and addiction. The whole concept behind that book is breaking the silence and the best think about being a writer is having the ability to do that.

What is the writing process like for you?

Total chaos at worst; a tightrope walk at best. Yeah, I wish I could say I have this great, solid writing routine. I hope that someday I will, but I don’t. Ever since I sold I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, I’ve had all these other parts of the writing job to balance with the actual writing and it gets hard. I have always worked best as a binge writer, spending an entire day writing. Now I have to break my day into pieces to write and answer email and go to my bartending job which is still what pays the bills. Every once in awhile I get to go away and write for twelve hours straight. I am looking forward to that. I need that to get my next project off the ground. I used to love first drafts but now I hate them. Revising is the fun part for me.

I really love the description of the River’s Edge. Did you base it on a real place?

Not really. I used to go to shows at the Fireside Bowl in Chicago a lot as a teenager and it fascinated me that all these punk bands played a bowling alley. And I heard about other cities where the punk venue was like a Laundromat. So I kind of took that and thought where would the venue be if it was in the middle of nowhere. And then I took it to the next level and made it kind of a collective. It’s my idea music venue really. Emily is the girl I wish I could be and River’s Edge is the place I wish I could go see shows. That book is all about living out my dreams through fiction.

I love the friendship between Emily and Regan because it’s so authentic. It reminds me of friendships I have. Tell me about the girls in your novel and how they differ from most teenage female characters we see in Y.A. fiction, movies, and television.

The friendship between Emily and Regan is actually kind of based on my real life relationship with my best friend. We were never the girly girls. We didn’t cry over boy problems or anything really. We talked about our emotions in a very veiled way, which certainly causes problems. It does for Em and Regan. It did for me and my BFF, but you work through it and learn how to be the tough chick that is still open with her best friend. Also the thing I loved most about Emily and Regan and my relationship with my own best friend is the incredible sense of loyalty. We see a lot of Mean Girls style backstabbing in YA fiction, movies and TV. We see it because it happens a lot and is very real. I address some of those issues in Ballads of Suburbia. Girls are kind of taught that they can raise themselves up by holding another girl down. It’s so messed up. So I definitely like to show what true friendship is like in my books and with Ballads, you see some of the contrast with the typical backstabbing friendship.

Were you surprised by anything that happened in the story as you were writing it?

I always let the story surprise me. My stories are character-driven, so what the characters do dictates how things unfold. IWBYJR started out as short stories. In one of those short stories, Emily was a college student. Obviously as I got to know her, I learned that Emily was not the college girl type. The surprises are the best part of writing a book. I tend to know how a story begins and ends and then I allow my characters to take the journey.

What kind of books did you read when you were younger?

Quite a wide variety. I started out addicted to Laura Ingalls Wilder books when I was like five. I loved Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume. In late grade school and junior high I was reading a bizarre combination of VC Andrews, Stephen King, and Shakespeare. In high school it was the classics like Nathaniel Hawthorne and John Steinbeck, along with Irvine Welsh and Sylvia Plath and a lot of political, feminist nonfiction. The only YA author I really read in high school because there wasn’t too much that I related to out there at the time was Francesca Lia Block. I adored her.

Who’s your favorite author?

That’s impossible to choose. It depends on my mood. Steinbeck, Irvine Welsh, Francesca Lia Block, Joe Meno, Melissa Marr. Those folks are all up there for me.

Music is a major part of your life and your writing. Who are you listening to right now?

Civet. I freakin’ adore Civet. I have been talking about them for like a year since Melissa Marr did this contest for IWBYJR where people listed their favorite empowering songs by girl bands. Someone listed “Son of a Bitch” by Civet and I’ve been obsessed ever since I heard it. My top four favorite bands are bands I’ve been listening to for 17 years. Civet rounds out the top five, that is how good they are.

Aside from them I’m listening to a lot of Rise Against and The Gaslight Anthem along with the new Green Day and Rancid albums. Oh and Spinnerette.

Tell us a little bit about Ballads of Suburbia.

Really the back copy sums it up better than I ever could:

Kara hasn’t been back to Oak Park since the end of junior year, when a heroin overdose nearly killed her and sirens heralded her exit. Four years later, she returns to face the music. Her life changed forever back in high school: her family disintegrated, she ran around with a whole new crowd of friends, she partied a little too hard, and she fell in love with gorgeous bad boy Adrian, who left her to die that day in Scoville Park. . . .

Amidst the music, the booze, the drugs, and the drama, her friends filled a notebook with heartbreakingly honest confessions of the moments that defined and shattered their young lives. Now, finally, Kara is ready to write her own.

As I mentioned earlier, Kara deals with both self-injury and drug addiction. Her friends deal with family situations that run the gamut. It’s a book that I hope breaks the silences and shatters the myth of the suburbs as a quiet, safe place.

What advice do you have for young writers?

Write as much as possible, read as much as possible. Know that you will have to do many drafts. I used to think if I wrote one, it was done. I also used to think that other people’s input wasn’t useful, but it is ESSENTIAL. I went to school for writing because I wanted an excuse to have time to write, but what I gained was a whole group of peers who gave me incredible insight on my work. That’s why going to college for writing worked for me. If that isn’t in the cards for you, find a local or online critique group to join. It’s amazing the insights that other people will clue you into!

You are invited to the Cyber Release Party for Ballads of Suburbia! Beginning July 13th at stephaniekuehnert.blogspot.com.

Meet me at the Ballads of Suburbia Release Party at Women and Children First, 5233 N Clark St, Chicago, IL on Friday, July 24th, at 7:30pm.

* Bio info from author’s website:

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