Monday, July 6, 2009

Interview with Stephanie Kuehnert

For those that aren't familiar with you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Let's see what are the most important things to know about me.... I've lived in St. Louis, Missouri; Oak Park, Illinois; Madison, Wisconsin; Yellow Springs, Ohio; Madison, Wisconsin again; Oak Park, Illinois again, and Forest Park, Illinois in that order and I also lived in Los Angeles for a semester. I love Forest Park best, but if I could move to Seattle, Washington I would. I turn 30 on July 13th (so I'm a Cancer), which is kinda scary, but my inner teenager is alive and well so I'm perpetually young. I'm getting married this year and I live with my fiance, Scott, and our three cats, Sid (after Sid Vicious), Kaspar, and Lars (after Lars Frederiksen). I'm vegan. I love getting tattooed. I have seven tattoos at the time I am typing this, but will likely have 8 by the time it's posted. My top five favorite bands are Nirvana, Hole, Social Distortion, Rancid, and Civet. I work as a bartender three days a week at a fabulous place called the Beacon Pub in Forest Park. Oh yeah and I write books! I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone and Ballads of Suburbia are my books, both from MTV Books. Writing has been my dream since I was a little girl when I idolized Laura Ingalls Wilder. I went on to idolize Sylvia Plath, Francesca Lia Block, Irvine Welsh, Joe Meno, John Steinbeck.... The list goes on. And I got both a BA and MFA in creative writing from Columbia College Chicago.

What have been some of the best and worst moments so far in your writing career?

The best moments are every time I get an email or I get to meet a fan of my work in person. It's still so amazing to actually have fans. But knowing that my words are reaching people, even if only a few people, means the world to me.
The worst moments are when I get those self doubts. I have two books, but I still have lots of self doubt. I read negative reviews and get self doubt. I worry about sales. Ugh I hate that stuff. The goal is to just ignore it and write from the heart for the people that appreciate it.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? Did anyone help influence the dream?

Yes, as I mentioned briefly above, the dream was brought about by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I loved her books when I was like 5, 6, 7, and I dressed up like her and asked to be called Laura and mentally composed my compelling autobiography in my head: "And I walked to my locker. Oh no, have I forgotten the combination!".... Yeah my autobiography wasn't very interesting, so I turned to fiction instead. The writers I mentioned above influenced my fiction writing (well, Sylvia Plath influenced my really bad poetry phase, but she was still very important because she taught me how be painfully honest in your work), but my biggest influences have probably always been my friends who write. I had three really good girlfriends in high school that I wrote angsty poetry with as well as political essays. And then my friends at Columbia College Chicago were hugely inspiring!

In both of your books, your characters have gone after the more 'bad boy' type. (Which I think a lot of us are guilty of.) What do you think girls are so attracted to guys like that?

Oh god, why do we love the Dylan McKays and Jordan Catalanos (crap, my references are probably dating me... um Liam on the new 90210? Logan on Veronica Mars?) of the world? Just yesterday I introduced my fiance to a guy I dated in high school. I told him, you two are the only good boys I've ever dated. Why did I date bad boys? Because on the surface they seemed mysterious and cool and they were very pretty. Then I got to know them and they were troubled and I wanted to save them. That was just me. I'm a Cancer. I have these mothering tendencies. I wanted to be the one who helped these guys get off drugs or alcohol and reach their potential as a writer or a rock star or whatever. But it was such a waste of energy! Nice boys are actually way more interesting and can teach you more and you won't have this icky symbiotic relationship with them. My nice boy fiance knows tons about cars and I can really really talk to him for hours. The one nice boy I dated in high school is the only one of musician boys I dated who actually has had some success. Nice boys don't finish last. And they are just as pretty and way more interesting. But we all have to learn that lesson. And so did my characters.

In I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, what band(s) do you think She Laughs sounds the most like?

The Gits. That was the sound in my head anyway. If you aren't familiar with the Gits think the White Stripes meet the Distillers meet Nirvana. Or else Civet. I didn't discover Civet until after I wrote the book, but Liza and Suzi from Civet are like real life Emily Blacks.

If either one of your books were to become a movie, who do you picture playing the leading girls?

For Emily, I picture Madeleine Martin, who is the teenage daughter on Californication. There was this episode where she has a band and my fiance and I were like, holy crap, that's Emily! Or maybe Zooey Deschanel, but she might be too old. Or the Civet girls if they happen to have movie aspirations.

For Kara, huh.... I haven't really thought about it yet. I really don't know. I don't seem to watch enough TV or movies to be up on the top stars. Maybe the chick who plays Ellie on the new Degrassi? (Is she still even on? I'm at like season 6 on the DVDs.)

What made you want to write YA books?

For the short answer: because as a punk rock/misfit/outcast/what have you teenager I had a hard time finding characters in YA fiction that I related to, so I wanted to create some of the characters I was looking for then. For the long answer, check out this blog I wrote about it on the MTV Books Blog.

In Ballads, Kara struggles with some serious issues a lot of teens face or have faced. Was there a part of this book that was harder to write because of this?

Yes. This book caused a couple nervous breakdowns. Some of those issues that Kara faced, namely self-injury addiction, are issues I faced so I had to go back to dark emotional places and dredge up stuff to bring to the book. And also because I just wanted it to be as honest and heartfelt and perfect as I could get it. Those issues are serious and they needed to be done justice. I didn't want to write an after school special, I wanted to write something very real. So I put myself under a lot of pressure to do so.

I really liked how you gave Kara her own voice, but also her friends by writing out their own ballads. Was it difficult making a unique voice for each of them?

I always like to get to know the backstory of even my minor characters so this actually allowed me to do an exercise and get into their heads and actually use it in the book whereas with IWBYJR I had to cut all the backstory for the smaller characters. The ballads were how I discovered their voices and personalities, so it wasn't too difficult. Some were easier than others, like Stacey and Adrian, who both have very strong personalities and voices.

I saw an interview where you said you wanted Ballads of Suburbia to help break the silence. Do you plan on writing more stories that have characters dealing with serious struggles?

Absolutely. There is a lot more silence to break. I want my books to serve as outlets and as places to start dialogue. Those are the kind of stories that have always appealed to me as a reader and so they come naturally as a writer.

Both of your books cover the characters lives over a few years. Do you find it easier to get their stories out that way?

Well, with both of those characters, they took a few years to discover where they were going in life, so it was necessary for the story. I have another story idea that will likely take place over two weeks, and another over about a year. It just depends on the characters and the story. But our larger life stories always influence how we act in the moment, so even if I had a story that took place in one night or one week or one summer, it would likely have some backstory or flashbacks to show how the character came to be where they are. That's just the part of storytelling that interests me. I'm very much a character driven writer. I want to explore how a person comes to be who they are in life. I love coming of age stories and people don't often come of age instantly, it's a process.

In IWBYJR, who was one of your favorite characters to write? Who was it in Ballads?

I actually love all my characters for different reasons. I loved writing Emily and Regan the best in IWBYJR probably. In Ballads, Kara, Adrian, and Maya, though also Stacey. Even though she isn't a huge character, she was just fun. She brought some humor to her scenes and that was fun to write.

For the fun of it, if Emily and Kara would meet one day, what would their reactions be to one another?

Hmmm, well Emily would be one of the rock star types that Kara idolized for sure. I don't know how Emily would react to Kara, not very well to be honest. Emily and Kara are really opposite when it comes to being emotional. Emily runs from her emotions whereas Kara is incredibly emotional and can even wallow at times. I don't know how comfortable Emily would be around her. She likes her tough girls like Regan or like Cass from Ballads.

In your writing, do you ever base characters or situations from your own life?

Not intentionally. I set Ballads in my hometown just because I wanted to write about that place and it seemed like the perfect setting for the book. I didn't draw any characters from my real life though. Sometimes I draw from my emotions and use that. If that makes any sense.

Can you tell us what you're working on next?

I'm playing around with a story involving the Persephone myth, but that will probably be a project that takes quite a while to figure out. More immediately I working on a story about a girl who runs away to find the place where she really belongs. And her mom's a bartender. I need a bartender book.

Five Random Things To Know About Stephanie:
001. I garden and I wish I had a house with a backyard so I could garden more.
002. My favorite beverage is tea, which I'm super snooty about now and I mostly only drink loose teas.
003. My favorite currently on TV show is Weeds.
004. My all time favorite show is either My So-Called Life or Twin Peaks depending on my mood.
005. Not including my gym grades (which were wretched but didn't count toward your GPA), I got all straight A's in high school except for my first semester of biology freshman year.

--Big thanks to Stephanie for taking the time to answer my questions. Don't forget to check out the sidebar for your chance to win a copy of her newest book, Ballads of Suburbia, coming out July 21st!



suzie townsend said...

I LOVE Jordan Catalano!

Great interview - I definitely am putting I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone on my list.

Anonymous said...

Really great, in depth interview. I've been wanting to read IWBYJR ever sinch I heard of the title because IWBYJR is my favorite Sleater Kinney song.

Amy said...

Fantastic interview! I recognize Joey Catalano, so no, you are not old:-D That was a great show..

Amy said...

(temporary brain mess up)

tashiana said...

i want to read these books!

Eleni said...

Great interview! I can't wait to read her books

pepsivanilla said...

I am so glad that Stephenie has the guts to talk about the hard stuff in her books! Tons of YA readers go through things like that and I'm glad it's showing up in books in an honest and open way.

Nelsby said...

I am really excited to read one of Stephanie's books. At 33, I have the same frame of reference as Stephanie...and I feel like she and I share a lot of the same tastes. After reading this interview and some info about her two books, I was surprised that her books are considered YA. The whole YA genre has changed immensely from the time when I was a!

sierranelsby (at) gmail (dot) com

Book Sp(l)ot said...

So it was BoS that was talking about gym grades, then (you know, that or Never Been Kissed that was on TV the next day)?! I was trying to remember the other day!! I really needed to go to a school that didn't count gym towards my GPA...instead I went to the school like half an hour from Oak Park that couldn't even call it gym and definitely counted it (I did fine but would have loved to not)....

and I'm sure that wasn't the comment you wanted but I swear I actually read the interview, too :D

a flight of minds said...

What a great long interview! :) I've always kind of wondered why so many girls are attracted to bad boys... And the answer makes sense. I love the interview questions and answers.

- Alex

Faye( Ramblings of a Teenage Bookworm) said...

Stephenie is awesome!
her books sound sooo interesting.
i get her the whole high school thing.

Hailey said...

Stephenie is so kool. Her books sound AWESOME! I ALWAYS AND EVER WILL HATE GYM!! LOL!!!!

Paradox said...

Ehh... Biology and gym. *hate*

I hope to get a chance to read IWBYJR and Ballads of Suburbia soon!

Samantha LeAnne said...

OMG, Jordan Catalanos *swoon*