I apologize for this being a couple of days late. You might not be surprised to know that this guest blog, like many others, comes with a contest for a signed book! Comment to win. This contest will run for a week, and I’ll announce the winner on Friday, because I’m posting this on a Friday. Last week’s winner is Carmen T, so email me with your address! Anyway, in case you couldn’t guess from the title, this week’s guest blogger is Stephanie Kuehnert! Stephanie is the author of the ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC book I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, which is in a bookstore near you right now! And here is her marvelously wonderful guest blog. Enjoy:
I’m really thrilled to guest blog here because Jocelyn was the first non-friend/family person who ever wrote me sounding excited about my book. She was also the first person to review I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE and to interview me. She also asked what remains one of my all-time favorite interview questions about what my ideal road trip would be, so I’ve decided to talk a little bit more about road trips and running away.
When I was telling my boyfriend about my latest book idea, he pointed out that someone is always running away in my stories. It’s true, IWBYJR follows Louisa around the country and Emily, too, at one point. My second book, BALLADS OF SUBURBIA, has a big run-away moment, and the book I’m working on now is about teens that go on a road trip that turns into them running away. So why do I focus on these things? For one, I had a lot of running away fantasies when I was a teenager. And two, I think people learn a lot about themselves on the road or when they visit other places.
We’ll tackle the first thing first. My last couple years of high school were pretty rough. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship my sophomore year and when you added that to the depression problems I already had, it wasn’t very fun. My best friend Katie had her fair share of problems to deal with as well. And she decided at one point that the way to deal would be to escape by asking her parents to send her to boarding school. Yeah, I know, who asks for that? But you see Katie had glamorous ideas of being sent to boarding school in Scotland or at least the East Coast where she’d find culture and a unique educational experience. Where did she get sent? Iowa… Once that was the destination she immediately tried to get out of it, but by this point her parents were convinced it was good for her.
It wasn’t. She was really depressed there and we were on the phone six hours a night. The kids there were wayyyy more screwed up than our friends. Like smoking crystal meth in cornfields screwed up. I know this because when I went to visit her I was offered it. Fortunately, as messed up as we were, Katie and I were smart enough to turn that down. Instead we walked to town to find a secret place where we could smoke cigarettes without her getting in trouble. It got dark by the time we were heading back and it gets *really* dark in Iowa. We weren’t so sure we’d find the school. And that’s when we decided that if we missed it, we’d walk away. Not run. Walk. We figured we’d walk by night and hide in the cornfields by day so as not to get caught. We’d walk all the way up to Canada and be free. We had 60 bucks, a bottle of Mountain Dew, two packs of smokes, and some breath mints. We’d be fine, right? It sounded like the best plan ever.
Well, then we saw this building that looked like a mental institution and realized it was her school and that we better go back. I talked to her mom that night though and told her about the Crystal Meth situation and she agreed that Katie could come home.
Thought we were happy to be back together at home, neither of our problems had been solved and this romantic idea of walking away seemed like the solution. We tried to talk other people into joining us. We obsessed about it for weeks. Finally, our sage friend Marcel talked us out of it. Probably a good thing because it definitely would have ruined my life, but I can’t help wondering about it, which is why I keep revisiting the theme in my fiction. I don’t write autobiographical stuff, but I do write “What ifs.” What if I was more like this or had done this, what would life be like. That provides a springboard into a lot of story ideas for me.
Then there is the whole finding yourself on the road thing. I sincerely think that you have to get away from where you spend the majority of your time to get perspective. This is why a lot of people go away to college and it is so good for them. I spent a couple years in Madison doing this. Then I moved back home. However, I got the best perspective on life when I traveled to Seattle a few years later and now I go back there once a year to have time for reflection. It’s a bit too far for a road trip, but I like those even more. And tomorrow (well it will actually be three days ago when you read this!), I am going on a much needed one.
My friend Marcel, the one who talked Katie and me out of running away all those years ago, died in a motorcycle accident on June 25th. It’s been one of the most raw and painful things I’ve ever dealt with in my life and it is for Katie, too. After the wake, she was telling me how she was scraping her plans for 4th of July weekend because many of our friends had come to town to say their farewells to Marcel and she wanted to be in town to visit. She’d planned to do a random road trip to check out some diners and truck stops in the Midwest that she wanted to visit. She was particularly sorry that she wouldn’t be able to go to a certain huge truck stop in Iowa. The kids in my new runaway novel need to stop at a truck stop in Iowa. I wanted to go to this truck stop in Iowa. So I asked Katie, “Do you think we can get there and back in a day?” And she said, “Totally.” I said, “What are you doing Sunday?”
So we’re going to Iowa together. Of all places since that is where our runaway fantasies began. But we’re not running. We’re going and coming back. We’re older now, a bit wiser, and we know you can’t physically outrun your problems as much as you would like to. But I know what I need right now more than anything to find some solace and pay tribute to my dear friend Marcel-who died while on his own road trip around the country-is to be out on the open road with good tunes blaring and my best friend by my side. I can’t really explain it to you, but I think it’s going to be one of those transformative moments. The kind I write books about.