Monday, October 26, 2009

Blogtoberfest Day 20 - Stephanie Kuehnert

Today's Blogtoberguest is Stephanie Kuehnert, who (whom?) you know I adore. You can read my thoughts on her first novel, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, and my unworthy blatherings on her latest brilliant work, Ballads of Suburbia, which she'll be giving away today.

Since I've already said so much about how much I love Steph's books, I'm going to hop aside and let her do the talking instead of hogging up the bandwidth like I usually do.

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Halloween, Homecoming, Ballads of Suburbia & Me

My book Ballads of Suburbia could be like a Halloween costume for my own teenage years. It’s not autobiographical, but it is set in the town I grew up in during the time I grew up and in a way I took my own feelings and struggles and blew them up into a story. Jeri asked me a bunch of different questions about Halloween and Homecoming and the experiences that I had and the characters from Ballads of Suburbia had. One of the most poignant ones she asked was “For some, Halloween is an opportunity to safely tame their fears, using imagination to turn the dark side of life into something manageable and maybe even fun. Does writing fiction serve that same purpose for you? What monsters has BALLADS OF SUBURBIA allowed you to tame?”

And the short answer is yes. Fiction is catharsis. Fiction is dressing up and exploring some of the issues I faced and seeing how things would have been different if I’d made different decisions or done different things. I was an angry, lonely, and depressed teenage girl. I went through a lot to try to figure myself out. But I don’t know if I really did until ten years later, when I started to tell Kara’s story. In getting to know Kara, I came to understand myself. So in honor of Jeri’s fabulous Blogtoberfest (and thank you, Jeri, for inviting me to take part and share your blog with all these fabulous writers!), here’s a reflection about Homecoming and Halloween that should tell you a little bit about the teenager I was and my character Kara and her story, BALLADS OF SUBURBIA.

I never went to homecoming. I wasn’t that kind of girl. Freshman year, I thought about it a little bit. There was still a tug of war inside of me between “be the girl that fits” and “be the girl I am.” There was a pep rally during the last period of school the day before homecoming. It was required. I was still being good so I went. And the next day, my best friend at the time convinced me we should walk by the big game just, you know, in case people we knew were there. In case it was, like, a place to be seen. I didn’t like football, never have, so I didn’t want to stay and watch. Most of the girls we knew weren’t there because they were getting ready for the dance. We didn’t have dates. We still had crushes on the guys we liked in junior high. We’d been too shy to ask them to the 8th grade dance and we were still too shy. And the guy I liked, now he was dating a new friend of mine. She was on drill team, which means basically she was a cheerleader. But she was a cheerleader who wore Doc Martens and introduced me to PJ Harvey and she was the girl I smoked pot with for the first time. And I never told her that I’d been totally in love with her boyfriend for like a year. I just let her have him. They went to homecoming together. I stayed home and probably watched MTV. Yeah, Kara does a lot of that her freshman year of high school too.

The only high school dance I went to was a Morp. Yeah, that’s prom spelled backwards. Real creative folks at my alma mater, huh? *rolls eyes* We had morps a couple times per semester. They were supposed to be casual proms. Again my best friend and I went because we thought we were supposed to in order to fit in or something. We went to the first one of the year our freshman year. It got so rowdy that the school cancelled the next one. It seemed like everyone was high or drunk. It was the nineties, grunge had suddenly broken. So instead of like our eighth grade dance where it was all slow jams, Boys II Men and that sort of thing, there was Nirvana and people were moshing. It was kind of cool except that music was ours and there were the jocks and the bitchy girls that made fun of us moshing, stealing our scene. And the whole thing was so crazed and crowded.

But there was a moment which I stole for Ballads of Suburbia where my friend and I were hiding out in a corner, kind of overwhelmed by the insanity and this strange boy came up to us and grabbed my friend’s crystal necklace. He held it up between their faces and shouted, “Penial Augmentation!” Then he ran off and we were left laughing, going what the hell was that?

That was the highlight of my night, but mostly I just felt sick to my stomach, hating the crowd at the Morp, hating the feeling that I didn’t fit anywhere. Much like Kara.

And like Kara, my life changed sophomore year when I finally found my place: Scoville Park and I slowly became more confortable with who I was and I didn’t try to force myself to fit into some sort of high school mold. I ditched the pep assemblies and smoked cigarettes or pot in the park or someone’s garage. I didn’t even think about dances because none of my friends were going so it didn’t matter.

Senior year, instead of prom or morp or homecoming or king of hearts, we decided to have our own dance right in Scoville Park. My guy friends got all dressed up in thrift store tuxs or leather jackets with tuxedo tees and the girls wore their favorite dresses. We brought a boombox and blasted ska and punk songs, we slamdanced and skanked. We laughed and smoked cigarettes and swigged booze out of paper bags and hidden flasks. Eventually the cops came and kicked us out of the park, so we went to Jedi’s Garden, one of our favorite diners. We almost blended in with our post-homecoming peers except we had much better outfits.

That’s the only kind of homecoming I could see Kara attending, one right there in Scoville Park wearing a vintage dress, fishnets, and combat boots like I did. I kind of wish I’d thought of this memory earlier because I would have stolen it for the book.

But there is a Halloween scene in Ballads of Suburbia. There are Halloween scenes in both of my books because Halloween is definitely my thing, big time. I think I dress up my teenage characters because I neglected Halloween myself as a teen. As much as I loved it, I only remember dressing up for it my junior year because a couple of my friend had French foreign exchange students staying with them and they’d never been trick or treating. So we all came up with last minute costumes and took them. (And we found out that the people of Oak Park were not very keen on teenagers trick or treating.) I went as Sid Vicious’s infamous girlfriend Nancy Spungen, partially because all I needed was a blond wig, I already had plenty of clothes like Nancy’s and partially because everyone had me pegged as her. I was the crazy, self-destructive punk girl. There were rumors that my ex boyfriend and I were junkies. So that night I played the part I’d been assigned. It’s hard to explain it, but it was a release in a way, being this extreme version of me.

In Ballads, Kara dresses up as a punk rock Cinderella and I think that reflected who she wanted to be in a lot of ways. She wanted to be herself with her blue hair and crazy thrift store dresses, but she also wanted to find her Prince Charming. And who would it be, Christian or Adrian? Both of whom were too cool to dress up of course. But like a lot of teenagers both of them are hiding their true selves behind a tough facade. It’s like every day is Halloween in high school. Playing dress up, playing cool, trying to figure out what’s real, what’s fake, and who the hell you really are. That is basically what Ballads is about.

Wanna find out more? Enter to win the book!

* * * *

To enter to win a signed copy of Ballads of Suburbia, leave a comment below. And remember, each comment automatically enters you in the drawing for the grand prize package: all 25 books!

For complete rules, read the introductory post.

Deadline for entry: Monday, November 2, 11:59pm Eastern. NOTE: THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED. The winner is tetewa!

Melissa Walker and Lovestruck Summer
Sydney Salter and My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters
Christine Marciniak and When Mike Kissed Emma
Tricia Mills and Heartbreak River
Simone Elkeles and Perfect Chemistry
Maggie Stiefvater and Ballad

Thanks so much to Stephanie for sharing her always insightful and inspiring thoughts!

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I also remember that feeling of trying to decide where to belong. In one of my high school classes, the teacher had us choose descriptive "names" for ourselves and to explain our choices in an essay. I chose Illusionist, and explained that to some people, I was a drama kid, an actor. To other classmates, I was the studious kid who didn't say much in class. To some people I knew outside of school, I was... I don't know... a computer geek, or the 1980's version of one anyway. Maybe I'd just seen the Breakfast Club and expected that I should just be One Thing. But I was flirting with all these identities, and I was frustrated because none of them won out and defined me. I lived in all these dimensions, but fit in none of them all the way. To this day, I don't know if that is a good or bad thing, but it did broaden my world and now I can write about what would have happened if any one of those facets had taken over completely.

Posted by: Blogger Ken at 10/26/2009 12:27 AM

That is so funny how you all had your own dance in that park. That reminds me a lot of myself in highschool and my best friends at the time, too. We all were labeled the "outcasted punks" and none of us went to any dances. We all would just hang out and play videogames, or go try to scare people around my friend's sister's trailer park. I really could identify with you, as a teenager, and I am definately extremely interested in reading your book! Count me in!

Posted by: Blogger Unknown at 10/26/2009 9:02 AM

I have been wanting to read this book for awhile now. This book sounds awesome.

throuthehaze at gmail dot com

Posted by: Blogger throuthehaze at 10/26/2009 9:46 AM

I remember my first year of high school. I just moved to New York and new to the school. I tried to fit in by dressing up, talking adn acting like everybody else. It wasn't until late sophomore year that I found my own group of friends and everything sort a feel into place. I did not need to impress anyone.


Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 10/26/2009 10:02 AM

I can't wait to read this book. I like the cover with the rubber ducky.

Posted by: Blogger cait045 at 10/26/2009 10:22 AM

Great posting! I always think the coolest people were the ones who didn't fit in at high school, or who at least tried, as Stephanie did, unconventional means to do so. Because I never did fit in in high school, although I tried. I went to the Role Playing Game club, but I was the only female and never came back. I tried to join the SCA, but my father, unusually for him, got out the butthead card and said I couldn't. So I really didn't find a place to fit in until I went to college, the wonderfully non-conformist UCSC, and met cool people including the first poster here, Ken! Whom I've known for, I think, 20 years now, and with whom I keep in touch and run into online (like here!). So I guess my story has a good ending after all.

Posted by: Blogger Kimberly B. at 10/26/2009 11:42 AM

A morp? Wow. I've certainly never heard of that. That's so awesome that you had your own prom. It sounds like so much fun!

Posted by: Blogger Melanie at 10/26/2009 12:02 PM

I love love loved Ballads of Suburbia. Stephanie is amazing.
P.S. Morp... oh boy...

Posted by: Blogger Brittany at 10/26/2009 12:08 PM

What a great post! The books sounds so cool!

Posted by: Blogger Poppy at 10/26/2009 12:15 PM

This would be a new author for me, I've heard alot about this book!

Posted by: Blogger tetewa at 10/26/2009 1:02 PM

Great post. This book sounds amazing.

jpetroroy at gmail dot com

Posted by: Blogger jpetroroy at 10/26/2009 1:39 PM

Looks Great!!!1

Posted by: Anonymous Brittany at 10/26/2009 1:56 PM

HAHA. I love the sound of MORP. So far, I haven't went to any of my school's dances. I know I'm a sophomore and I still have, like, 8-9 chances to go to them, I don't think I will. I'll be the girl standing in the corner; I'm such a wallflower.

infinitemusic19 at gmail dot com

Posted by: Blogger Bianca at 10/26/2009 2:02 PM

This book sounds so awesome, in high school the kids that fit in were just boring!


Posted by: Blogger pepsivanilla at 10/26/2009 2:04 PM

Definitely entering, and eager to learn more.

Posted by: Blogger Sheila Deeth at 10/26/2009 2:53 PM

Ballads sounds AWESOME I remember Jeri blogging about it in the past and thinking I need to remember to check that out... now I know I have to as well..
Thanks for sharing!!
Debbie in NY

Posted by: Blogger WriterWannaB_NY at 10/26/2009 2:58 PM

It sounds interesting. I didn't really fit in either in high school. I was very shy and not comfortable around those I didn't know.

My husband did take me to a homecoming game and dance. He was also five years older than I was.

Posted by: Blogger Andrea I at 10/26/2009 6:00 PM

I read this book when Jeri recommended it awhile back.I could really relate to Kara's story.

I went home to RI for a visit 2 wks after I read it and took it's lessons to heart. I had a best friend in high school & we had our problems and drifted apart since then (83'). I didn't even visit with her the last time I was there & had never met her children. So this time we emailed and talked before I went and once we got together we talked things out and had such a great time. I think 26 years is enough time to let old baggage go :-)
This book really did push me into that direction.
Even if you didn't do the same things as Kara, adolescence Is universal and we've all felt left out at one time or another. This is a GREAT read!! Go get it if you don't win it!!


Posted by: Blogger Karen at 10/26/2009 6:19 PM

I've heard wonderful things about Ballads--would love to win and read it! Thanks!

Posted by: Blogger holdenj at 10/26/2009 9:48 PM

I could totally live with every day being Halloween. So many people in high school just desperately want to fit in, while others are cool being themselves, whatever that might be. I was kind of in between the two.


Posted by: Blogger Asylumgirl at 10/26/2009 9:55 PM

Great post. Thanks for sharing! I have to admit I felt and had a lot of similar things happen in HS.

Posted by: Blogger donnas at 10/26/2009 11:07 PM

What a great post! I can remember this feeling too. I never really fit into any one clique. I love your Scoville Park dance memory...that is so cool. Nothing quite this cool ever happened to me.

Ballads of Suburbia was excellent and so was I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone! I absolutely love your writing and I get so engrossed in your stories and your characters!

You do not have to enter me as I already have this and did I mention that I loved it?

Posted by: Blogger Lori T at 10/26/2009 11:46 PM

That was such a great post! Morp? Weird.

Ballads of Suburbia sounds incredible!

Posted by: Blogger YA Book Queen at 10/27/2009 5:21 PM

I never belonged in high school, so I remember that feeling pretty well.

Posted by: Blogger BrigidsBlest at 10/27/2009 7:36 PM

I was always the misfit in school - painfully quiet & shy, chubby, overly sensitive and no self-confidence. And no matter how hard I tried to change, I was always stuck in the pigeon hole I'd been in since Kindergarten (small town).

Luckily I had a great group of friends who stuck by me & let me be me. Otherwise, I'm not sure how I would have made it through. I was so glad to get out of high school.

College, on the other hand, was a blast! :grin:

librarygrinch at gmail dot com

Posted by: Blogger Dawn M. at 10/28/2009 4:50 AM

I have two granddaughters that will be in high school soon. I would love to read this book.

seriousreader at live dot com

Posted by: Blogger Linda Henderson at 10/28/2009 4:28 PM

I adored Stephanie's first novel. So, please do enter me for this. :)

Posted by: Blogger Unknown at 10/30/2009 6:21 PM

This book looks really interesting and I'd love to read it! Like you, I was never one for school spirit but also had a good friend who was a cheerleader and somehow ended up at one homecoming game during high school. The game was against my school's rival school from the next town over. I had a horrible time and vowed to not do that again and never went to any games in college. I've seen a t-shirt that reminds me of my time in high school "Your laughing at me because I'm different, I'm laughing at you because you're all the same." Thanks for the contest!

Rose S.

Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 10/31/2009 12:20 AM

This book looks like a really good read!Mariahpenguinqueen(at)hotmail(dot)com

Posted by: Anonymous Mariah at 10/31/2009 12:02 PM

This looks like something I would definitely read and I am so in!

Posted by: Blogger Lilixtreme at 10/31/2009 12:48 PM

Happy Halloween! Please enter me .....Stacy

Posted by: Blogger Jamie at 10/31/2009 2:09 PM

Book sounds very interesting, would love to read it! Please enter me in for the contest :)



Posted by: Blogger Van Pham at 10/31/2009 6:28 PM

ive heard from my most trusted reading buddies that this is an awesome book. cant wait to read it & would love to win

Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 10/31/2009 9:10 PM

Wow, what a post!

Your book sounds very interesting and I can see how Halloween would be your thing and why you'd have it in both your books. :)

Halloween is a great time to really express yourself. :)

Posted by: Blogger Jess (The Cozy Reader) at 10/31/2009 9:11 PM

I always love books that incorporate holidays into them that aren't just Christmas or that don't have something directly to do with a holiday.

Posted by: Blogger Kari Olson at 10/31/2009 10:07 PM

That's one awesome cover. Count me in!

Posted by: Blogger Lale at 11/01/2009 1:38 AM

would love a chance to win.

Posted by: Blogger Tanya at 11/01/2009 9:54 AM

i would love to read this book, sign me up thank you.

Posted by: Blogger victoriasdreams at 11/01/2009 1:38 PM

This book looks so dang good to me - count me in.

mmillet at gmail dot com

Posted by: Blogger Michelle at 11/01/2009 10:21 PM

Awesome, I've been planning to get this book. Good luck to everyone! =D


Posted by: Blogger Melanie Golden at 11/02/2009 12:06 PM

This sounds like a great book! I'll have to add it to my TBR pile!


Posted by: Blogger Katie at 11/02/2009 6:48 PM

High School is so hard, finding your place, fitting in, I had one teacher who changed my last name because he didn't want to yell it across the room (my last name was Fagg). High School should come with an instruction manual, lol!

Dottie :)

Posted by: Blogger Unknown at 11/02/2009 7:40 PM

The lucky winner of a signed copy of Stephanie Kuehnert's BALLADS OF SUBURBIA is...tetewa! tetewa, please send your mailing address to me at jeri AT jerismithready DOT com. As always, only I and the author sending the prize will see the address.

Thanks to everyone who commented--now go read this fabulous book! :-)

Posted by: Blogger Jeri at 11/03/2009 9:13 AM


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Jeri Smith-Ready is a Maryland author of books for teens and adults.

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