Saturday, July 5, 2008

Stephanie Kuehnert is in the Building

I'm so happy to host one of the smartest debut authors around--Stephanie Kuehnert. Her MTV Books release, I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE, is finally out and I couldn't be more excited. It's a vivid, compelling story centered around punk goddess Emily. She's tough as a pair of old Doc Martens on the outside, but there's vulnerability just below the surface that even she doesn't want to admit to.

As part of her week-long blog tour, Stephanie takes the mic and shares her thoughts about the writing process. She'll also be on hand to answer your questions and pick a winner for our book giveaway (details below).

Describe IWBYJR in a classic, three-sentence elevator pitch.
Ahh, I suck at this! I always use the back cover copy because they are so much better at this than I am! Okay, deep breaths….

Music is in Emily Black’s blood. According to her father, her mother Louisa abandoned them when Emily was an infant in order to follow the punk rock scene. As a teenager, Emily finds solace in making music herself and forms the band She Laughs. In a way, she is using her music to search for Louisa because if Louisa is really following the music, shouldn’t she follow it back to Emily?

Okay, I think I cribbed some stuff from their summary, but really, they do a better job than me!

Emily Black's first love--the Fender Mustang.

Hey, you don't suck at all! The depth of Emily's raw and realistic emotions is one of many reasons why I couldn't put your book down. I really felt every high and low. When you sat down to write each day, what helped you get into Emily's head space?
I don’t listen to music when I write, but I listen before I write. I also tend to read over what I’d just written a bit if I am not ready to dive into the character’s head space. And I allow myself to suck at first. I look at the first fifteen or thirty minutes of writing time as warm-up. If it comes out good, it stays, but if not, I trust that I will write myself into the place I need to be.

If IWBYJR were being cast for a movie, who would you choose to portray Emily and Louisa, or any other characters?
Hmm, I have a hard time picking an actress for Emily. My agent once said she thought of Zooey Deschanel, but I think she might be too old. I’d actually love to hear what other people think because I’m not as familiar with teen actresses. One I did think of was the girl who plays the daughter in Sweeney Todd, Jayne Wisener, because she can really sing and she’d look cool with black hair.

As for Louisa, I know a lot of people have had mixed feelings about her as an actress and a person in general, but Courtney Love. She was so amazing in People Vs. Larry Flynt and if she brought that power and emotion to the role, wow! Plus she’s got Louisa’s bleached blonde look and she’s a rock star so she’d get the whole rock thing. Um, and I just love her.

Oh, and Johnny Depp play Michael, please????? The wavy brown hair, the soft-spoken thing, it’s perfect.

Zooey and Courtney as Emily and Louisa?

When did the writing bug first hook its fangs into you?
Soon after I learned to read. I started keeping a journal and writing short stories at eight. I even went to Young Author conferences! But I didn’t consider myself a serious writer until high school when I wrote a lot of bad poetry and some good feminist zines.

What's your writing routine like? Do you need total silence or could you write in the middle of a grand parade?
I mostly need silence. Sometimes the occasion calls for music, which I usually listen to on headphones. My biggest distraction is my cats who seem to love to climb everywhere in my office. Eventually I get frustrated and banish them. For some reason I seem to do first draft stuff in my office and revisions at my dining room table. This may be because it allows me more space to spread out paper, but more likely just a weird quirk.

We all love to hear stories about The Call, when an agent or publisher rings to say they want to represent you/publish your book. Tell us about your Call story.
Mine was an email actually. My agent forwarded me the offer and said, “Call me as soon as you can and let’s talk.” I was at work, hence the email, but I immediately dropped everything and went to use an empty office to call her. We’d had an offer almost a few weeks ago, so I thought this was what they would like to offer me if everything was approved by higher-ups or something. But no, my agent told me, I could accept or deny this, it was in my hands now. Of course I accepted. Then she told me, “Call your mom, you’re a published author!” LOL!

Steph, you’re one of my amazing CPs. And that not only stands for "critique partner" but also for "cat person." Here’s a vid of Stephanie and her cat signing the publishing contract:

Are there any publishing myths you've busted or confirmed since selling your first book?
Well, I’m not up on all the publishing myths, so I’m not entirely sure, but when I was in school for writing, one of the myths discussed was that editors nowadays don’t really work with writers the way they used to. They don’t put their heart or much thought into guiding the author. It’s all about mass production now. This is so not true, at least not with my editor, Jen Heddle. Jen is insanely busy and has a ton of various projects, yes, but her revisions letter to me was as thoughtful as the revisions I would get from my thesis advisor in grad school, a man I admired very much. So I was thrilled to work with Jen. She posed great questions about the story, allowed me to bounce ideas off of her. A good editor is still a writer’s best friend and they still exist… At least at MTV Books!

Music is at the heart of
IWBYJR, so I have to ask--who is your rock'n'roll hero/ine and did you ever want to be a rock goddess yourself?
I have lots of heroes and heroines. My top two heroes are Kurt Cobain and Mike Ness. My heroines are Courtney Love, Mia Zapata, and Brody Dalle. And I totally wanted to be a rock goddess, but I wasn’t instantly good at it and was too undisciplined to practice. The only thing I’ve ever been disciplined with is writing.

Congratulations, Stephanie!
IWBYJR is really gonna strike a chord (geddit?). Thanks so much for being here.

Now, for your chance to win your very own copy of
I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE, all you have to do is post a comment. Tell us who your rock'n'roll hero is, ask Stephanie a question, or maybe suggest actors who could do the character of Emily Black justice. And being the hostess, I'll throw in some iconic Australian chocolates as a rider. We'll announce the winner on July 8.

Sleater-Kinney play I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, the song that inspired the title of Steph's novel.


Cheryl said...

Stephanie, your book sounds really interesting! And Vanessa, you did a great job of introducing it; I love the "tough as a pair of old Doc Martens on the outside, but vulnerability just below the surface."

Stephanie, if you write what you think is crap in the first 15-20 minutes, do you throw it out then and rewrite the scene? Or later?

And I'm curious--who is your first reader? Do you have a good writing friend, or did you try your agent or editor?

I totally identify with needing to write in silence; I do, too. Luckily my cat and little dog don't usually disturb me when I write. :)

It sounds like you've got a great editor and agent and critique peers. Good luck with your novel!

Cheryl said...

One more question, out of curiosity--did you have to research the rock and roll details, or did you already know them because it's an interest of yours?

Anna Campbell said...

Vanessa and Stephanie, great interview.

Stephanie, huge congratulations on the release of your first book! It sounds amazing. There's some fantastic stuff coming out in YA at the moment, really daring and different and interesting.

I wondered if you can tell us some of your favorite YA writers and also what attracts you to writing in this genre. Also do you have a yen to work in any other genres? Also, what's coming up next for you? Hmm, don't want to know much, do I?

LOVED the cat video, by the way. No wonder you and Vanessa get along like a house on fire. Of course, you know about the evil Pinkie!

Annie West said...

Stephanie, congratulations on the sale of your first book! Isn't it a wonderful feeling? From the short description you've given it sounds terrific, and hearing that you're Vanessa's CP I think it must be a terrific book (having read V's work). Will the book be released in Australia?

What trends do you think are appearing in YA fiction these days? As Anna says, there are some interesting and daring books coming out now. I wonder if it's possible to put a finger on what's happening there or whether it's just that so many YA have great story premises,


Christine Wells said...

Hi Stephanie, congratulations on your debut! I love the theme of your heroine trying to find her mother through music. That can work on so many levels.

I am not cool enough to write YA and I really admire those who can tap into that generation. When you write YA, do you channel your inner teenager or do you have teenagers around you to keep you in the swing of things?

Great interview, Vanessa. Stephanie, best of luck with your new release!

rebel said...

Great interview!

One of the greatest things about my kids growing up is that I have now been re-introduced to YA fiction. It's a huge world, much better than when I read any YA fiction as a kid (at which time it was probably not called YA fiction!)

Looking forward to reading it.

Authorness said...

Cheryl, thanks so much for your comments and questions. Great to see you here.

Anna, wasn't that a cute video? Cats always need to be the centre of attention. Despite his flaws, evil Pinkie can be angelic Pinkie--when he wants to be fed.

Hi, Annie! Thanks for stopping by. Kinokuniya in Sydney stocks a few titles from MTV Books. So I'm hoping we'll see Stephanie's books there soon--not that they'll last on the shelves for long! IWBYJR will get a release soon in the UK.

Christine, I bet you were the coolest girl in school, 'cause you're pretty darn cool now.

Great to have you here, Rebel! I'm glad you're enjoying the genre. There's so much scope in YA fiction these days. It sounds corny, but there's something for everyone. I love realistic fiction from authors like Stephanie, Sarah Zarr and Laurie Halse Anderson.

Kiki said...

I've been looking forward to this book since I first saw its title floating around. I'm a huge Ramones fan, so you literally had me at Joey. ^_-

And what a fantastic idea to have a video of you (and the cat, as your legal overlord) signing the contract!

For what it's worth, I see MTV books at Borders all across Melbourne, so I'm quite sure we'll see this one, too.

Authorness said...

Hiya, Kiki, fellow cat person!

It's a great title and the book's pretty fab too.

WannabeWriter said...

This book sounds so awesome. It's on my to-read list.

Would Amy Lee count as a rock & roll hero? She's one of the only female rockers I really admire.


Authorness said...

Hey, WannabeWriter! Thanks for coming along. I reckon Amy Lee would count. She's from Evanescence, right? What a vocal powerhouse! I hear she's a classically trained pianist. Wonder if she plays guitar too.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Hello all! Thanks V, for having me, and thanks to everyone else for reading and all the great questions!

Cheryl, With my first 15 to 20 minutes, it depends. A lot of times it is better than I think it is, so it just gets polished. Though sometimes it does get cut. My first readers seem to vary too. I wrote IWBYJR while in grad school so it was primarily my teachers and peers who saw it first and then I had one CP who read probably every version. With my second book, I had peers who saw parts of it, but then it went straight to my agent. As for the rock 'n' roll, some stuff I knew, but some I researched and I'm obsessive about getting things right so I fact-checked quite a bit, too.

Anna- Some of my fave YA authors include: Francesca Lia Block (who I've loved since my teen years), Laura Wiess, Melissa Marr, and Jessica Blank. I lean toward the older, edgier stuff. And I'm not entirely sure IWBYJR is straight YA. I'm calling it a crossover book. I write for teens and adults. I write about teen characters because that time period in life where so much transition and conflict happens, so it seems to lend itself very naturally to storytelling. And my inner teen is still so present within me that I write for her :) My next couple projects will fall into that same teen/adult crossover place as IWBYJR. My next book, BALLADS OF SUBURBIA, will be out from MTV Books next summer and you can get a sneak peek on my site.

Annie, I'm not so sure what the trends are in YA. I'm not so good at figuring that out. But I do think (and hope) that realistic, strong female characters are the wave of the future. I think teens in general want characters that feel very real to them emotionally even if they are in say an Urban Fantasy. The kind of stuff Melissa Marr writes for example.

Christine, I write from and for my inner teenager. That is mostly why my stuff is set in the 90s because that was my teenage time. But I also just remember the universal teen angst really well!

And to all of you who asked, I really hope you can find it in Australia!!! I don't know the answer for anything other than the US release (7/8) and the UK release (9/15)

Thanks to you all for the great questions and comments, keep em coming!

And wannabe writer, Amy Lee has an amazing voice!

Lenore said...

I think the daughter is Sweeney Todd is great! Good choice.

Breanna said...

haha I loved the video with Stephanie and her cat. Adorable.

Here's a question for you Stephanie, when you're writing do you like to listen to music or do you like to write in quiet?


Annie West said...

Stephanie, here's hoping you're right about teens wanting strong, realistic female characters. I think you are and I think that's one of the ways romance has changed over the past several decades, by having strong women. And I love the fact that there are all sorts of strength. Sometimes it's brash, sometimes stoic, sometimes just getting on with life.

Will be looking out for your books.
Thanks, V for the tip on where to look.


keri mikulski :) said...

Fantastic interview, Stephanie and Vanessa. I enjoyed hearing about the call(s), the editing process, and your writing/revising quirk. Great video, too. CONGRATULATIONS AND ENJOY!!

Authorness said...

Hi, Lenore and Breanna! Thanks for visiting. Breanna, I hope we'll see a review of IWBYJR on your blog soon.

Glad you enjoyed the interview, Keri. Lovely to see you here.

Annie, the countdown clock at the bottom of the page has stopped. IWBYJR is out *today*! Hooray! Keep your eyes peeled at the bookstores.

softindierocker said...

Awesome interview Stephanie and Vanessa! Omg, those koalas are so cute! I actually live in NZ so hello neighbour! =D

I was wondering if you had to get permission from Sleater-Kinney (or her agent/manager, etc) to use I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone as your title? (Coz it rocks!)
Thanks a ton!
~Lucy D =)

Carol said...

Awesome interview! I totally agree that Zooey should play Emily if they make the movie!

macbeaner said...

Stevie Nicks is an awesome woman. I wanted to name a future daugther Rhiannon

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Sorry to be slow on responses, it's a crazy week!!! But thank you all for stopping by and I will be sending V a winner.

Breanna, I usually have to write in quiet, just to stay focused, but I have my moments where i need certain music and I prep with music.

Lucy, We didn't have to get permission for the title because titles are not copyrighted. Yeah, I didn't know that either, but it explains why lots of stuff has the same title!

Macbeaner, I want to name a future daughter Rhiannon too and oddly I was named for Stevie Nicks :)