Thursday, August 21, 2008

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Stephanie Kuehnert

I wrote my first scene yesterday, and contrary to my worry that extensive outlining would remove the sense of surprise, I had a brainstorm while writing that added that special extra layer to the scene and really kicked off the plot, and I didn't even see it coming. I did, however, realize that I still don't have the self-discipline to write while my computer is connected to the Internet. It's too easy to stop and check e-mail the moment I'm the least bit stuck.

While I'm in a fog of Book Brain, I've got another Girlfriends Cyber Circuit blog tour guest, Stephanie Kuehnert, author of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, a novel about punk rock and family. Punk rock is in Emily Black's blood. Her mother, Louisa, hit the road to follow the incendiary music scene when Emily was four months old and never came back.

Now Emily's all grown up with a punk band of her own, determined to find the tune that will bring her mother home. Because if Louisa really is following the music, shouldn't it lead her right back to Emily?

Now, the interview:
What inspired you to write this book?
My love of music, specifically punk rock inspired I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE. Punk got me through my teenage years, and I was always particularly drawn to female musicians. I was raised by a feminist mother and always looked at things through that viewpoint. Even in the 90s, I saw that female musicians were still be marginalized and that even when some progress was made, mainstream rock 'n' roll always seems to revert back to being this macho thing. For example, the whole "grunge" scene was very female friendly and then five years later we had Limp Bizkit and a whole frat boy rock mentality again. I wanted a woman to destroy all of that, so I created my rock goddess character, Emily Black.

Describe your creative process.
I write by the seat of my pants at first and then plot. I tend to start with some basic ideas about my story and jot down a bunch of notes in my journal, but I don't worry about figuring out the whole story at that point. I just need enough to go on to envision that first scene. The first scene may or may not be the first chapter of the book. In the case of IWBYJR it was. Then I continue on writing the scenes that take may attention, which may or may not be in order. In IWBYJR's case they were not. Eventually, usually by about halfway into the book, I have an idea of the full arc and I outline, though of course I don't always stick to the outline because I follow where my characters take me. I try to write a draft straight through, but I always end up doing some minor revisions. When I get stuck, I revise because it keeps me in the story and makes me feel like I'm accomplishing something. Also I do have to say as I start my third book, that it seems like my process is a little different for each book.

Do you have any writing habits or rituals?
I work best as a binge writer. I wrote IWBYJR in grad school so I had a more flexible work schedule where I had entire mornings to write (I'm best in the morning, but morning to me starts at 10 am, not 7) and entire days of where I didn't need to do anything but write. For my second book, I went to a writer's retreat for 10 days and wrote 8 to 10 hours each day. That's my ideal scenario. Unfortunately for the past two years, working full time has not allowed that. I'm quitting my office job and going back to bartending though, so I hope I'll be able to get a better groove.

Strangely, since my writing is so music-based, I cannot listen to music while I'm writing usually. There have been some occasions, like that writer's retreat where I was just so in the groove, but usually I listen to music while I'm brainstorming and to get pumped before I write, and then I write in silence.

No caffeine for me. I have serious insomnia problems so I can't consume it. I know, I'm probably gonna get kicked out of the writing club for that one.

How much, if anything, do you have in common with your heroine?
The only thing Emily and I have in common is our love of music. The first paragraph of the book about flipping through records came straight from my journal, I just changed the setting from Chicago to Wisconsin. But that is about where the similarities end. I have no musical talent and I'm not nearly as outgoing and witty as Emily. I wish I was more like her (minus the probs with her mom and her penchant for bad boyfriends) and I created her partially so I could live vicariously through her.

Was there a particular musical movement/genre/whatever they call it that you really identified with as a teen? And why do you think it spoke to you that way?
I fell in love with music in 1991, the year that punk broke according to Sonic Youth. It was the year that Nirvana got big and they were my favorite band. So I guess I would say "grunge" though that's not quite accurate because while I love Nirvana and Alice in Chains, I'm not a Pearl Jam fan and I only like Soundgarden's early stuff. I do love Mudhoney and the Screaming Trees, the lesser known grunge bands. But mostly my discovery of Nirvana led me to discover other "indie" bands like Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr and my discovery of Hole (which I didn't discover in tandem with Nirvana. I had no idea about Kurt and Courtney until I got my Sassy magazine with them on the cover) led me to find the female bands like Babes in Toyland, L7, The Gits, and Heavens to Betsy (which included Corin Tucker who would go on to form Sleater-Kinney, whose song IWBYJR is named after). And at the same time I was discovering punk, Social Distortion, the Clash, the Ramones, and more modern bands like Rancid and Green Day.

Anyway, so it wasn't really one movement/genre, I guess. But it spoke to me because I'd felt like an outcast since third grade. In third grade, I moved from a very working class neighborhood and school in St. Louis to the middle class/ upper-middle class town of Oak Park, IL. The kids at my new school (the "popular girls" at least) were really snotty and put me down because of my clothes and because I was bookish. By junior high when I discovered Nirvana, I was kind of an angry and sad kid who thought she'd never have a place. I thought my voice would never be heard because who wanted to listen to a weirdo nerd like me. Nirvana gave us weirdo nerds a voice. I started to express my creative side, writing poetry, then 'zines, then short stories. That music I listened to back then inspired me and gave me confidence that nothing else could. That's why it matters so much to me to this day.

If you started a band, what would you call it?
I kept trying to start a band in high school and all I really had was a name, "The Morning After." I wrote some great lyrics, but never learned to play guitar well. I still would want to name a band that, though, as a little tribute to my 15 year old self.

Chocolate: dark or milk?
Dark because I'm vegan so I don't eat milk products, but I've always loved dark chocolate the best anyway.

What are you working on now?
Right now I am anxiously awaiting the revision notes on my second book, BALLADS OF SUBURBIA, which is a novel about a teenage girl who finally finds a group of friends at this park where all the misfits hang out , but she and her friends are all dealing with some serious issues and without adults to turn to, life begins to spiral out of control. I know that's vague. I'm horrible at elevator pitches, but you can read more (including the first chapter) at

While I await those notes, I'm toying with third book ideas. I have one proposal finished, but now another idea is taking my attention, about a teenage girl who runs away with one of her best friends only to learn that he is dealing with schizophrenia.

For more info, visit Stephanie's web site. Or, order the book from Amazon.

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