Monday, July 07, 2008

Interview with Stephanie Kuehnert, author of I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE

Welcome back to our (the royal "our") Mostly Debut Author interview series! Today we have Stephanie Kuehnert, whose new novel, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, officially comes out tomorrow, but is already available everywhere that is anywhere.

If you read my blog post yesterday, you already know how wonderful the book is. Now you can learn more about the fascinating Ms. Kuehnert herself. She's agreed to give away a signed copy of IWBYJR to one lucky commenter.

First, an announcement: I have no idea if this is a coincidence or not, but today, July 7, is the birthday of the main character Emily Black. Happy Birthday, Em!

Q. IWBYJR is told from two perspectives, the mother and daughter. Did you always plan to present the story this way, or did it evolve from fewer (or more) points-of-view?

Stephanie: It actually evolved from more points of view. I told it from Michael, the dad’s and Molly, Louisa’s best friend’s, too, because I thought they gave a wider scope to the story, particularly giving more about who Louisa was, but also giving more about Carlisle. But ultimately it was Louisa and Emily’s story. I miss some of the scenes I cut, though, and plan to post them as outtakes on my website in August.

What was the original spark for the novel's idea? Did it come in an instant, or did it evolve over time?

This one definitely evolved over time. I’d written short stories about Emily and Louisa and hadn’t realized they could connect and bring a whole new layer of depth to their stories until one evening when I was taking the ‘L’ home from school, standing in the subway tunnel and I realized that I wanted to make Emily’s story into a novel because I wanted to write a great rock ‘n’ roll story about a girl, but I need something more to her so she wasn’t just this sarcastic girl with big goals. So I wondered about what vulnerability she could be hiding and then I thought about the most vulnerable and raw character I’d written, Louisa, and was like, what if she was Emily’s mother. Then it became a mad race to scrawl things down before the train came…

Every page of IWBYJR pulses with your love of music. Was music a big part of your life right from the cradle?

When I was really young, I was mostly surrounded by my parents’ music, the Beatles, which I loved, and a lot of folk stuff, which I wasn’t really too into. I liked the oldies station, 50s and 60s songs about California and car accidents and bad boys on motorcycles. Before I started buying my own music, I’d check the Billboard greatest hits albums of the early 60s out of the library. The first music I bought was pop stuff: Madonna and Janet Jackson and Cyndi Lauper and the Bangles. I never much liked the boy bands like New Kids, though. I will admit to owning Vanilla Ice because that amused me. In late grade school, I listened to pop radio, trying to fit in, but when I was about 10, I made friends with a girl who had MTV and I convinced my parents to finally get cable so I could have MTV. This was when MTV *actually* showed videos and exposed you to new bands. I discovered REM and Jane’s Addiction and Depeche Mode and Faith No More. My friend got Nirvana’s Bleach album right before Nevermind came out and we were hooked on them. Then I got into the Sex Pistols and Hole. And from there got into more underground bands.

Who have been your biggest sources/influences for new music discoveries--family, friends, or serendipity/your own curiosity? What are some of your favorite places to find new music these days?

Friends and curiosity mostly. My friends have always played a great role in turning me on to bands. I also read liner notes and interviews and when people like Kurt Cobain would name some band, I’d go check them out and then I’d check out the bands they were affiliated with and so on down the line. There was also this super cool punk record store that existed in my town for all of a year, my junior year of high school, and they really educated me about punk rock. Nowadays, I still get recommendations from my friends and especially my boyfriend. I’d kind of been out of the punk loop for awhile when I met him and he turned me on to a bunch of great bands. I also have discovered a few bands on MySpace and I love it when my readers recommend music to me. One of them recommended this band, Civet, and I am so obsessed with this band. I don’t think I’ve been this obsessed with a band in years.

I still primarily buy music the old-fashioned way, though. I love my local independent record store and even though I put the music on my iPod, I like to have the cover art and booklet with liner notes and all that. My new favorite thing is buying vinyl with a free music download. Every band should put out their music this way. Because I’ll actually listen to the vinyl when I’m at home and I can put it on my iPod!

I'm always fascinated by titles and how they come about. When did you know that Sleater-Kinney's song "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone" would be the title? Has this always been a favorite song?

It has always been a favorite song, but the story of how it got chosen as a title isn’t so glamorous. I quickly learned that you don’t have all that much control over your title as an author. The Marketing Department has the final say. My original title (well, the one it had when it sold, it had others before that) was “All Roads Lead to Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which suits the book well and is now a chapter title, but Marketing didn’t find it catchy enough. They told me to come up with a list. And they wanted song names and band names and stuff on that list. I was rather attached to calling it “Punk Rock Girl” after the Dead Milkmen song for awhile, but that wasn’t catchy enough either I guess. They suggested something like “Searching for Johnny Rotten” and I was like, “No, no, the book is about female musicians and American punk.” I put my iPod on shuffle searching for inspiration and the first song that played was “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” and I thought, well, this fits their criteria and mine, especially since it has double meaning for Emily because she wants to be the queen of rock ‘n’ roll that Sleater-Kinney sings about and she also wants to be her mom’s Joey Ramone. So I put the song on the top of the list, but I wasn’t holding my breath because I thought they’d say it was too long. Fortunately they loved it as much as I did!

Your novel recreates many universal (and sometimes painful) adolescent experiences like intense friendships, first loves, sky-high hopes, and devastating betrayals, yet it never descends into a 'downer trip' that becomes too hard to read. How did you find a balance to keep this emotional roller coaster from riding off the rails?

Humor. Emily has a great sarcastic sense of humor. The person who really taught me about using humor to keep drama from completely swallowing a story was John McNally. He is the master. His short story collection “Troublemakers” is my go-to guide when I want to bring levity to painful situations. And I met him at a writing festival hosted by the college I attended and he critiqued the first short story that Louisa appeared in and he suggested I look at how to balance out the really dark tone to the story. So yeah, John McNally is my hero.

OK, give us a riff on the state of the music industry today (or feel free to shake your head and tell me, "Jeri Jeri Jeri, don't say industry.") Ready...kick it!

Yeah, I guess I’m gonna cringe at the word "industry." When I think of “music industry” I just think of guys in suits freaking out because they still don’t know how to adapt to music downloading. As for the state of music… Well, part of me is becoming one of those old people who says, “It was better when I was growing up” because I really do think the early to mid-nineties just ruled (along with several eras of rock before my time). But another part of me thinks that, as usual, you just gotta know where to look for the good bands. There are almost too many to search through now. All the requests I get on MySpace… But I have really found some gems when I have the time to listen to them, like Full Contact Kitty. I still don’t really expect to find the next great band on the radio. I expect to find them in a random bar I walk into. Which happened to me in Denver. And the band, Sybris, was from Chicago. Weird I had to go to Denver to find them.

If you could inhabit the life of any of your characters, enter their world and deal with it as that person, which one would you choose?

That’s hard because I love certain aspects of the lives of many of characters, but they all have a lot to deal with. I think I would have to say Regan because it would be pretty damn sweet to be an awesome girl drummer and she has great parents and a cool older sister and I always wanted one of those and she has a pretty cute boyfriend, too.

Conversely, which of your characters would you most like to bring to life in our world (as a friend or a little bit more ;-)?

Definitely Emily. She would be fun to hang out with. I couldn’t deal with all her problems, which is why I didn’t choose her for the last question, but I definitely loved writing about her because it was like creating a cool friend. Plus I just really want the music she makes to be real!

Same two questions, but use examples from another author's work (including television/movies/theatre)?

I want to be Weetzie Bat from Francesca Lia Block’s books. She’s got her problems, but she’s so fun and hopeful and carefree and lives in this really pretty version of Los Angeles. Or I’d want to be Elizabeth Swann from Pirates of the Caribbean. She’s bad ass and I totally want to be a pirate. I mean, if I could be anything in the world, I’d be a pirate. But I’d totally break up with Orlando Bloom for Johnny Depp.

As for somebody to bring to life as a friend, Spike from the original Degrassi High. Since I was ten years old I wanted her to be my friend. She’s even still cool now as a mom on The Next Generation. We could definitely chill and listen to the Pogues and she could do my hair.

Which author, living or dead, would you most love to collaborate with?

Francesca Lia Block. We could write so many beautiful stories about damaged girls.

What's the weirdest tidbit of research you've ever incorporated into a book?

I haven’t really had any super weird research yet. Mostly I just researched music history for IWBYJR and distances. I needed to figure out how long it would take Louisa to drive from New York to New Orleans for example.

What's your earliest memory?

I was about 5 or 6 and I was insanely jealous of my best friend’s (the boy next door) little sister’s Rainbow Brite doll, so I buried it in my sandbox. It was easily discovered and I tried and failed to blame it on my little brother. Then, filled with shame, I “ran away.” This meant I hid on the top bunk of my bunk bed for a few hours…

Do you have any phobias?

I am insanely superstitious about the weirdest things, my bracelets being one of them. For years I wore exactly 27 bracelets, mostly those rubber jelly bracelets, but some cool beaded ones that my friend made for me too. Whenever a bracelet broke, it was a huge deal; I kept waiting for something horrible to happy. Now I am down to one bracelet. It’s really cool, I found it in Seattle. It has all these old images of Seattle like postcards. I bought back-ups of this bracelet for when it inevitably breaks (I’ve broken one already). When I’m really going through a rough time I sleep with the bracelet on. Otherwise I only take it off at night or when I work out or take a shower. When I forget to put it on, I worry. I forgot it about a week ago and seemed to have a good day in spite of it, but then I found out the next day that something really horrible had happened the night before. I know it’s silly but I can’t help but think that if I had only worn the bracelet…

Let's say there's a TV show, movie, or recording artist that has a cult of you. Which is it? (i.e., what do you like that no one else you know likes)?

One Life to Live. The soap opera. I’ve been totally addicted to it since the summer before freshman year of high school. I tape it every day and watch it while I eat dinner. I’m particularly obsessed with this character Todd Manning who is so evil. Like normally I would completely despise him because he raped a woman in college. I started watching it during that plot line and I did hate him. But he’s had a redemptive arc. He’s still evil, but not in that way and he’s really funny. I liked the old actor that played him best though. Roger Howarth was his name. I am totally in the cult of Todd Manning. I even have a t-shirt though I don’t actually wear it. I got them for me and my best friend who is also in the cult of Todd Manning.

If you had a free day with no responsibilities and your only mission was to enjoy yourself, what would you do?

Well, preferably I’d fly to Seattle and hang out there. But if I had to stay here: Take a long walk while listening to my iPod. Read one of the many books on my to-be-read pile. Watch some episodes of either Grey’s Anatomy, Degrassi or My So-Called Life. Eat Chipolte for lunch and vegan sushi for dinner. And I’d write. Even though it’s my job, I love to do it.

If you could ask your favorite author one question and they had to answer honestly, what would it be?

Hmm, my favorite author tends to fluctuate. One day I’ll say it’s John Steinbeck, one day Francesca Lia Block, one day Joe Meno, one day Irvine Welsh. The nice thing is I know both Joe and Irvine and they will answer any question I have honestly, so that’s lucky. John, I’d probably have boring writerly questions about structure. Francesca, though, I would ask how she deals with straddling all kinds of genre lines because she writes YA books that appeal to adults, she wrote erotica, she does everything. I have that YA/adult thing going on with this book and it would be interesting to gain some perspective on it.

If you could write in a totally different genre than your current one, which would you choose?

Not to be a kiss ass, Jeri, but I would be you. I want to write a kick ass vampire story or other urban fantasy. But you already wrote the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll vampire story, so I’m leaving it to you.

What are you working on now, and what new releases can we expect to see from you down the road?

My second novel BALLADS OF SUBURBIA comes out next summer. It’s about a teenage girl who finally finds a place to fit in, but then her life starts to spiral out of control. Yeah, that is really generic summary. You can read more about it here. Right now I am toying with two ideas. One is another multi-point-of-view story that focuses on a mother/daughter relationship again and a best friend relationship. It’s about two best friends whose kids run away together and how they deal with it. Another is my first attempt to write from the male POV, about a teenage boy dealing with the suicide of his twin sister. It’s also kinda my modern, realistic version of the Persephone myth.

If you could tell a stranger just one thing about I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE (other than what it's about--no cheating by quoting synopses or back cover blurbs), what would it be?

Ahhh, I suck at this stuff!!! I couldn’t sum my book up easily until they wrote the back cover synopsis for me! I guess, I would just say, “You really can judge my book by its cover: it’s that a lot of that tough, combat-booted outer layer, but that little swatch of lace reveals the vulnerable insides.”


Leave a comment or question for Stephanie, or tell us how music inspires you, down there in the comments. One name will be drawn at random at 9pm eastern time on Thursday, July 10 and announced here. International entries welcome!

***I recommend against putting your e-mail in the comments, since that brings on spam (not from me, from the Bad Guys). HOWEVER, if you don't leave a way for me to find you, you must stay subscribed to the comments or come back to the blog to see if you won.***

Good luck!

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I totally enjoyed the spill on One Life to Live. I occasionally dabble with soap operas and dramas, All My Children being a fav. My favorite character was essentially a "bad guy," but again, he was too funny. I wanted to hate him, but couldn't wait to see what he'd do next. I was a fan of the actor and even watched a movie he had been in (although it was not a very big role). If only I had more time to watch. ^^ Your description of the cult of you made me smile.
Can't wait to read your book!

Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 7/07/2008 4:50 PM

Your novel sounds fantastic. I love music...I really love new wave and punk music. The mother/daughter theme resonants with me as I have three daughters.

Posted by: Blogger flip at 7/07/2008 5:57 PM

Wow, after reading Jeri's take on this book, I can't wait to read it. I love that fact that the story is told from more than one point of view. I think it makes the whole story richer and the characters multi-dimensional.
Kudos to Stephanie for doing it that way. Did you get any flak from your editor for using that approach?

Debi Murray

Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 7/07/2008 6:00 PM

Great interview! I can't wait to read this book.

I love music...probably from the moment I could hear sound. :) My dad was (and still is) in a band, and I used to sit in the studio with them when they would record. My main influences from them growing up were David Bowie, The Doors, Zeppelin, The Who, Van Halen...etc.

It's always great growing up in a home filled with music.

Posted by: Blogger B at 7/07/2008 6:04 PM

Great interview with Stephanie! She's such an awesome person and I hope to meet her when she visits Seattle on her book tour this month.

I've been wanting I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone for months now. I'm so excited that the release day is tomorrow!


Posted by: Blogger Breanna at 7/07/2008 6:20 PM

Absolutely fabulous interview, ladies!! This is definitely on my TO GET NOW list, along with your book, Jeri. (Nope, no ass-kissing, just the plain truth)

Posted by: Blogger Susan Helene Gottfried at 7/07/2008 8:47 PM

Great interview. This book keeps popping up with wonderful reviews. I'd love to read it!

Posted by: Blogger Julie P. at 7/07/2008 9:02 PM

Great interview and I can relate to the difficulty writing reviews but you did a great job for this book. It has me wanting to read it! Music plays such a strong part in my life because it reflects my mood. I can get really low or really happy just by what I chose to listen to. Isn't it wierd how a lot of the time you can bend the meaning of the lyrics to make them represent whatever you want them to? Thanks for having this giveaway!

Posted by: Blogger Icedream at 7/07/2008 10:04 PM

Great interview Stephanie! I have heard so many great things about your book and I can hardly wait to read it.

I think that music is very important in life...whenever I think of a favorite memory...I can remember exactly what music I was listening to at the time.

Hi Jeri!

Posted by: Blogger Lori T at 7/07/2008 10:09 PM

Great interview, Stephanie!
I've always loved music. I grew up in a house full of music, and always found that very inspiring. I usually link important moments of my life to the music I was listening back then.

Posted by: Blogger Alessandra at 7/07/2008 10:22 PM

This book sounds terrific! And I love that Stephanie brought up Francesca Lia Block, who is one of my favorite authors as well.
I'm constantly taking the bus or walking everywhere, so I'm always listening to music. I like to decide for myself what a song's lyrics means, and even if I later find out I'm wrong, my interpretation might be the springboard to a poem or story. Or if I'm already working on a story, I come up with songs that fit the character---but I'll bet a lot of writers do that.
Great interview!

Posted by: Blogger Kimberly B. at 7/07/2008 11:56 PM

I've heard alot about this one and enjoyed the interview today! Looking forward to getting a copy to check it out!

Posted by: Blogger tetewa at 7/08/2008 1:10 AM

Can't wait to read your book!! :) Sounds like fun! Who is your fave rock band/singer?

Posted by: Blogger Bunny B at 7/08/2008 3:45 AM

Wow this is a pretty cool interview. I love my music, always have. I've been the type who would rather listen to music than watch TV.

It helps relax me sometimes.

Count me in for this one!

Posted by: Blogger Ruth Schaller at 7/08/2008 8:09 AM

Really great interview! I'd love to win this book.

Thanks for doing the interview and contest.

Posted by: Blogger Unknown at 7/08/2008 6:02 PM

I used to watch OLTL with my grandmother during the summer. I also thought Todd Manning was a great character!

Posted by: Blogger Lenore Appelhans at 7/08/2008 6:57 PM

Awesome interview.Please enter me in the contest!

Posted by: Blogger Carolina at 7/08/2008 8:38 PM

I have to say, I really love the title -- I'm glad it went through so many changes! The name 'Joey Ramone' is what caught my attention in the first place, made me want to know more. So yes, good decisions there!

I'm an OLtL fan, too...mostly, though, John-Paul Lavoisier is just mad pretty and fun to watch. :-)

Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 7/08/2008 9:26 PM

Music. Oh my gosh. I wouldn';t know what to do without a radio on in the house. I sew to music, I read to music, and I have a radio going at work!

The book sounds interesting!

Posted by: Blogger macbeaner at 7/08/2008 11:19 PM

I love both Francesca Lia Block and the Dead Milkmen - and I first bought both of them due to the covers. (Block's covers are always gorgeous; the Milkmen's was funny and the CD was called Beezlebubba . . . I had no power to resist either.)

I also like books with a strong music flavor, although I tend to judge the author's/character's taste. (I can be such an elitist.) I know everybody has their guilty aural pleasures. I like Eminem. I can explain it, but in the end it is rather inexplicable.

My parents made sure my sister and I always listened to music. I remember my sister got a standing ovation at a skating competition once . . . before she began skating. The parents were so bored of Disney songs they started cheering because my sister's music was the sax solo to Us and Them. (I skated to Tomita's Viennese Cuckoo.)

I'm inspired by music when I hear a lyric that really makes me think. When it's something really obtuse that I have to sit there in pull it apart to learn the meaning of the song, or if it's just a clever turn of phrase that sparks an image in my mind. Usually though, music aids an idea I already had. I hear a piece that fits a character or a relationship and it helps me to better understand the voice, the feeling of something.

I also like to play music to call myself. Unfortunately, this tends to annoy other people. I'm a percussionist so my best anywhere solution is tapping. It drives some people crazy.

Posted by: Blogger Liviania at 7/08/2008 11:35 PM

I love music, I actually never got into punk and rock until I met my husband and now we listen to it together. I've had this book on my radar and would love to win a copy. Great review Jeri, it definitely pulls people in.

Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 7/09/2008 8:25 AM

Thank you all for the amazing comments and I am glad to find so many fellow OLTL lovers. I'm sad because things have been so busy this week, I haven't had time to watch :(

Oh and Bunny, my favorite band is Nirvana :)

And I love all the music stories!

Posted by: Blogger Stephanie Kuehnert at 7/09/2008 10:06 AM

I love most kinds of music and I* think it does inspire me in some ways. Anyway i would love to read this book!

Posted by: Blogger Unknown at 7/09/2008 10:07 AM

Great interview! The books sounds really great. I'm so going to need to read it :)

Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 7/09/2008 10:22 AM

What a great interview! Thanks so much! This books sounds fabulous!
What music inspires me changes daily:)

Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 7/09/2008 10:45 AM

Great interview! Thanks! aimeecirucci at hotmail dot com

Posted by: Blogger Aimee at 7/09/2008 6:33 PM

I enjoyed reading the interview!

I had a question for Stephanie -- What is the best advice someone has ever given you?

..wait, make that two questions :) If "i wanna be your joey ramone" was turned into a movie, what actors would you like chosen for the lead roles?

Keep up the great work and I look fowarding to reading your answers to the questions :)

Posted by: Blogger Re at 7/10/2008 1:46 AM

i've read this book a dozen times and i absolutely love it!

Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 2/15/2009 2:39 AM

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