Thursday, August 06, 2009

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Stephanie Kuehnert

I finally got a good swim with no interruptions or irritations, and it was heavenly. I swam some laps, then splashed and lounged around in the pool, swam some more laps, did a little water jogging, practiced some ballet jumps in the water, swam a little more and then finally got out of the water when my fingers got all wrinkly. Then I spent about five minutes in the hot tub. The really fun thing is that I went to the pool a little earlier than normal because it was empty and I couldn't wait, and it was one of those cloudless, sunny days. Then less than an hour after I went inside, it was so dark that I had to turn on a light. A storm that hadn't been forecast at all, not even as recently as the noon news, had blown in. I feel like I outsmarted Murphy's Law because if I'd waited for my usual swimming time, it would have been too nasty to hit the pool. And now my shoulder is feeling much, much better from the water exercise. Now, if I could just learn good posture, this wouldn't be a problem. It will help when ballet starts again next week.

But enough about my swimming pool dramas. I've got another Girlfriends Cyber Circuit guest author today, Stephanie Kuehnert, author of the new book Ballads of Suburbia.

In high school, Kara McNaughton helped maintain the "Stories of Suburbia" notebook, which contained newspaper articles about bizarre and often tragic events from suburbs all over, as well as personal vignettes written by her friends,which Kara dubbed "ballads." Ballads are the kind of songs that Kara likes best.

Not the clich├ęd ones but the truly genuine, gut-wrenching songs that convey love, loss and an individual’s story. Those "stories of Suburbia" were heartbreakingly honest tales of the moments when life changes and a kid is forced to grow up too soon. But Kara never wrote her own ballad. Before she could figure out what her song was about, she was leaving town after a series of disastrous events at the end of her junior year of high school.

Four years later, Kara returns to face the music, and tells the tale of her first three years of high school with her friends’ "ballads" interspersed throughout.

Now, the interview:
What was the inspiration behind this story?
I grew up in the suburbs and saw firsthand that it was not all white picket fences and happy families. I'd wanted to write a book about it since I was a teenager, but I struggled when it came to the approach to take. I didn't want to write about my life. Inspiration hit when one of my college professors brought a Johnny Cash CD to class and talked to us about ballads as a form of storytelling. I got the idea for this notebook, where the characters in my story would write their ballads, their incredibly honest tales of the moment that changed their lives. When I started writing the ballads, I met such unique, real people that I didn't even have to worry about accidentally borrowing from my real life.

What, if anything, do you have in common with your main character?
Kara and I do still have a lot in common even though I went out of my way to make the book fiction, not autobiography. We both struggled with making friends and were really shy. We both grew up in Oak Park, Illinois. We both love the Chicago White Sox, PJ Harvey, and have a weakness for boys with tattoos. We both lost our way for awhile in high school. We both coped with depression by injuring ourselves.

Are you a fan of ballads, yourself? If so, what are some of your favorites?
I am, though I don't necessarily think of ballads the way most people do. As Kara puts it, I'm not talking about the song where the diva hits her highest note or the rockers tone it down a few notches for the ladies. (Though I do love "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" by Poison, total guilty pleasure.) I think of country crooners and punk rockers telling the real, honest, gritty truth about life, love, and how we always seem to mess it up. By that definition, my favorite ballads include "Story of My Life" by Social Distortion, "The Young Crazed Peeling" by The Distillers, "Coal Miner's Daughter" by Loretta Lynn, and "Cocaine Blues" by Johnny Cash. Hell, basically anything by Johnny Cash. Also I adore the song "Where Did You Sleep Last Night." I love the Leadbelly version, the Nirvana version. I love that there are so many versions!

This book deals with some serious subjects, including drug abuse, violence and cutting. Do you have any suggestions for parents who'd like to discuss this book with their teens?
Read it first, then suggest your teen read it if you feel it is appropriate. Talk about the different character's ballads and ask your teen what their ballad would be. But also share, tell them your ballad, tell them which characters you related to. Be honest. Nothing pissed me off more than for my dad to act like he'd never done a bad thing in his life when I was 14 and then to casually tell me at 21 about his hallucinogenic drug experiences!

What has been your favorite summer vacation ever?
Last summer when my first book, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, came out, I decided that even though my publisher wasn't putting me on tour, I would go. So my fiance and I flew out to LA and hung out there for a couple days, then we drove up the PCH to San Francisco, stopping in Monterey for day to read with another author, Kelly Parra. We hung out with a good friend in San Fran and then flew to Seattle, my absolute favorite city and we stayed with one of my best friends from high school and her partner and their daughter. Good people, beautiful sights. Best two weeks of my life!

What are you working on now?
Um a bunch of different things. I'm in that place right now where I've got a bunch of different stories fighting to see which will get my fullest attention first. There's another contemporary YA, this one about a girl searching for her real home with her bipolar friend. I've been toying with my version of the Persephone myth forever. And I have this post-apocalyptic story that was born from a dream.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
Um this book was really, really hard to write. Like multiple nervous breakdowns hard. But it was that way because I wanted it to be as real as possible and really bring the characters to life. I hope I succeeded.

For more info, visit Stephanie's web site. She's also having a blog launch party with guest bloggers and prizes through August 14 at her blog. You can also order the book from Amazon.

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