Stephanie Kuehnert is the rather brilliant author of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, a book I absolutely adored! From the comments on my review, it looks like quite a few of you are excited for this book as well, which comes out in July, and, trust me, you should be excited! It really is just such an amazing and wonderful novel. Seriously, just pre-order it now; you will be far from disappointed when you read it.

I’m really thrilled to have Stephanie here today for an interview! A really great interview, too; I loved reading her answers. So, without further ado, here it is.

Is any of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone is based on your own experiences?

I didn’t really draw from my own experiences for the book, but I did draw from my love of music. In fact, the first paragraph of the book is lifted straight from a journal entry I wrote about flipping through my parents’ record collection. I just changed the reference to cold Chicago winters to cold Wisconsin winters.

What was your inspiration for writing this book? What came to you first–plot or characters or something else?

The characters came to me first. I discovered Louisa’s story and then Emily’s and then I realized that if I connected the two I’d have a very powerful basis for a novel. The main inspirations for the book were my love of punk rock and also of the Midwest. I lived in Madison, Wisconsin for a little while and my roommate and I used to go for drives in the countryside late at night. We’d pick a random County Highway and follow it. We’d drive down Main Streets in towns like my fictional Carlisle and imagine what the town and the people were like. IWBYJR is kind of an extended version of those imaginings.

What do you have in common with Emily and/or Louisa?

I certainly share the passion for music, particularly punk rock, with both of them. I also share Emily’s desire to prove herself at her chosen art. I escaped into my writing during my teenage years like she escapes into her music. I’d love to be the literary equivalent of a rock star. Like Louisa, I’ve had my fair share of demons and spent period of my life running from them, though I was never as haunted as she is and I never ran as far or for as long as she does.

Obviously, a big part of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone is music. Are you a musician? Have you ever tried to be, if not?

Oh, I’ve tried. And failed. I took guitar lessons on three different occasions. I talked about having a band called The Morning After all throughout high school with a few of my friends. One friend actually wrote a song for the band and taught me the song, but that was as far as it went. I have a Fender Jagstang, which shows what a huge Nirvana nerd I am because it’s the guitar Kurt Cobain designed and I bought it solely because of that. I go through phases where I try to play it. I teach myself some punk songs, try to write my own songs, but I get frustrated because I can’t sing and play at the same time. It’s probably because I don’t practice enough, but I don’t practice enough because I want to spend my free time writing. Since high school, I’ve been choosing writing over music. Maybe one day when I can write full time, music can become a more serious hobby.

If you could be suddenly amazingly talented at one musical instrument or singing, what would you choose and why?

I’m gonna cheat and say I’d be a singer/guitarist like Emily. After all, I created Emily because she’s the girl I always wanted to be. (Well, minus the missing mom. I like my relationship with my mom as it is.) But the combination of words and guitar is just so powerful, I would love to wield that power.
What are some songs that have a special significance to you?

Music is so significant to me that I don’t just have songs, I have entire albums. Nirvana’s Bleach album reminds me of the period in junior high when I embraced my creative, weird girl self and stopped caring about fitting in with the popular crowd. …And Out Come the Wolves by Rancid reminds me of my best friend and our adventures junior year of high school. Live Through This by Hole will always be the album I turn to for strength. Though there are some individual songs that are extremely meaningful to me for reasons that are hard to explain-they are just my songs-like “Young Crazed Peeling” by the Distillers, “On A Plain” by Nirvana, and “Another Shot of Whiskey” by the Gits. Of course now “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” by Sleater-Kinney will forever remind me of my first book!

What are some songs that you’re into right now?

I’m utterly obsessed with this album Saturnalia by the Gutter Twins right now. They are just soooo amazing, I blogged about them twice last week. I’m also really into the song “Thrash Unreal” by Against Me!, the girl they sing about in that song is totally one of the sad girl characters I would write about. I’d love to write a short story to accompany that song.

What would be some of Emily’s favorite songs?

I’ve always thought of “Don’t Take Me For Granted” by Social Distortion as Emily’s theme song. She would absolutely adore “The Hunger” by the Distillers and wish she’d written it. It combines an almost bluesy sound with raw, angry punk and brutally honest lyrics; that’s exactly Emily’s type of song. But she’d also get a kick out of “40 Boys in 40 Nights” by the Donnas-that’s totally her sense of humor-and she’d love the Sleater-Kinney song her book is named for, too.

Who are your writing influences?

I have so many… I love John Steinbeck. I can’t tell you how much I learned about using place to shape character from GRAPES OF WRATH. I definitely used that in IWBYJR. Irvine Welsh has been a huge influence. He showed the world that you don’t have to be all hoity-toity to write literature. You can write about raw, real situations and write the way real people speak. His books just gave me so much permission. John McNally’s work taught me how to weave humor into dramatic situation. Joe Meno…I was lucky enough to take a few classes from him at Columbia and could probably write an entire essay on how much he taught me, but most important, he taught me discipline. He’s so focused, he teaches full-time, plus writes a couple books and a couple plays a year. It’s amazing. And then of course, I also took a lot from his book HAIRSTYLES OF THE DAMNED and the very honest, touching, but humorous way he handles a coming of age story. My other writing influences include the songwriters that I consider to be great lyricists like Johnny Cash, Courtney Love, and Robert Smith.

What are some of your favorite YA books or authors?

My favorite (and someone who was certainly an influence, but I saved her for this question) is Francesca Lia Block. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read the WEETZIE BAT books. WICKED LOVELY by Melissa Marr touched me in that same Francesca Lia Block place. And as I mentioned, I love really real, raw stories, so some other faves are ALMOST HOME by Jessica Blank and then both SUCH A PRETTY GIRL and LEFTOVERS by Laura Wiess.

How has IWBYJR changed since the first draft?

It’s been through eight drafts, so it has evolved quite a bit. It was originally conceived of as a “novel in stories” so the chapters were a lot less linear and they could stand on their own like short stories. Since that point, a lot has been added and a lot has been cut. It was originally written for adults, so there were other points of view I explored including Emily’s dad Michael’s and Louisa’s best friend Molly’s that fleshed out the wider world of the story, gave you more of their history with Louisa and more of a sense of Carlisle. When MTV Books picked it up as YA, my editor asked that I streamline it and only use Emily and Louisa’s points of view. As a result, I wrote two more chapters that heightened Emily’s band’s career and I cut those Michael and Molly sections. But they had some great scenes and I plan to put them in an outtakes section on my website after the book comes out.

What is your writing process like?

I’m best as a binge writer, writing in four to fourteen hour blocks. When I was a student with two part-time jobs, I was able to arrange my schedule to suit this. Now I work a 9 to 5 and I’m still adjusting. When I’m discovering a story, I write the scenes that are taking my attention first until I figure out the whole story, then I outline and put it together linearly. I think I like revising best though. I do a ton of revising!

What are you writing right now?

My agent is shopping my second book. MTV Books gets the first look and I hope they’ll like it because I love working with them. You can see what it is about here. Right now a few ideas are taking my attention, so I’m just playing around till I figure out which is the strongest. But I think Book 3 is going to be a YA about a boy helping to avenge terrible things that have happened to his twin sister and her best friend. It will play with the Persephone myth in a modern, realistic way.

How long have you wanted to be a writer? What was your path to publication like?

I wanted to be a writer since I started reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books at the beginning of grade school. I mentally composed my autobiography and started keeping a diary then. I got more serious about it in high school when I started doing ‘zines along with writing short stories and poetry. But it wasn’t until my early twenties when I went to get my bachelor’s and master’s in fiction writing that I really made writing my main focus in life. I met my agent through an event at my college. It was one of those dream scenarios where she saw one chapter of IWBYJR and knew she had to have it. I worked my butt off to finish it over the next six months, did some revisions for her, and then she started shopping it. It took a year for the book to sell. She tried adult publishers first and we got a lot of polite rejections. Then, she decided to try the YA houses and MTV Books picked it up right away!

Emily criss-crosses the country searching for answers about her mother. Other people (real and fictional) have driven thousands of miles in search of many other things, some physical and some not. It’s a recurring theme in lots of fiction. If you had time to go on a road trip, what would you look for and where would you start?

The road trip I’m dying to take is Route 66 all the way to California. It starts here in Chicago so that works out nicely. And I guess I’d be searching for what I’m searching for every day: a great story. Maybe it’s my whole GRAPES OF WRATH obsession, but I think I could find inspiration for a great, real American story on that road, either in the historic things I’d find along the way or maybe among the locals in a bar in New Mexico or something. Either way, I’m convinced I could collect a lot of stories along Route 66.

Now ask yourself a question (and answer it!).

I don’t know how I can top that last one, which was such a great question. So I think I’ll take this as an opportunity publicly clear something up that I know is going to vex me…

How is your last name pronounced?

Well, it’s not Coon-heart or Kway-nert or Coo-nert like I often get. “Kuehn” is prounouced Keen in German, so I’m Stephanie Key-nert.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I just want to say thank you for having me and for your commitment to getting the word out about books. I have huge respect and admiration for book review bloggers like you. Also I should probably let everyone know that I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE is available for pre-order on Amazon and invite everyone to visit me on my blog and my website and myspace because I love meeting people who are interested in books, road trips, and rock ‘n’ roll.

Thank you so much, Stephanie!

Advertisements

I personally find it more difficult to get into books written in third-person. It’s a perfectly valid choice of writing style, of course, and many of my favorite books are written from a third-person POV, like, oh, I don’t know, the Harry Potter series! Tamora Pierce usually writes in the third-person, too, and so does Melissa Marr. So, obviously, it can turn out awesome. But for me, it’s harder to get grabbed from the first page, harder to get completely into the story to the point where I don’t want to answer the phone or eat or anything! It has to be done very well to capture my attention immediately. Also because it’s a little more difficult to get to know the characters, because you’re not inside the main character’s head all the time. I guess it’s just less personal or something. And while I realize that is entirely a personal bias and that neither first nor third person point of view is intrinsically better than the other, it sometimes affects my opinions on books that I read.

And with that in mind, The Juliet Club, written in the third-person (with lots of head-hopping, which was handled with minimal confusion, thankfully–with six main characters, that had to be a little difficult!) did not fully grab my attention. I enjoyed it all the way through, but I wasn’t racing to the next page. I didn’t feel close to the characters. I kept reading, hoping I’d get drawn into the story more, but sadly, no.

The Juliet Club is about six teenagers spending a month in Verona, Italy, the city where Shakespeare’s famous Romeo and Juliet takes place. The three Americans are winners of an essay contest whose prize is to study at the Shakespeare Seminar, and the Italians are there for various reasons.

Kate, Tom, and Lucy have flown halfway around the world (not together, as they are from different parts of the country) and are excited for a summer in Italy! Kate’s father is a noted Shakespeare scholar teaching at the seminar, and they’re all staying in a villa owned by his chief rival, Francesca Marchese. Kate is suffering from a broken heart after a bitter breakup, and, as she is a very practical and sensible person, thinks that means love is not worthwhile. Her two best friends, however, think her heart will be thawed with the promise of a summer romance in Italy! Tom is not much of a scholar–his main interest is soccer (er, football, now that they are in Italy!). Lucy is a charming, bubbly Southern beauty who is absolutely swept away by the fact that she is in Italy!

Benno, Giacomo, and Silvia all live in Verona. The three teens come from different backgrounds, and are studying at the seminar for different reasons, and with entirely different attitudes about it. Benno is short, cheerful, and a hard worker who is always having to dash off to run an errand for whoever pays him. His best friend, Giacomo, is the handsome type all the girls fall for, but he never really cares about any of the girls always flocking to him. He flirts, has fun, breaks their hearts, and moves on. He is less than thrilled about having to study Shakespeare all summer, but his mother insists. Silvia is an angry beauty, lashing out at the world for various reasons that will later be revealed.

The six of them are thrown together for a summer of studying Shakespeare by acting it out and answering letters for the Juliet Club. Apparently, people all over the world write the fictional character for advice in romantic matters, and they are supposed to answer these letters. The study of romance is not limited to text and letters, however; there are some romantic sparks flying around in reality, too! And, of course, with that comes romantic mishaps and misunderstandings and all sorts of things that don’t go exactly as they’re meant to.

While this sounds like a lot of fun, and it is, I do think that perhaps Suzanne Harper has taken on too much with this novel. There are six main characters, but I don’t really think we get to know any of them. Kate is in the spotlight more than the rest, but still not very much. Because Harper has to divide the story between all six of them, their motivations and personalities, everything that makes a character seem real, is just explained rather than really shown–she takes the easy way out. As a reader, I didn’t feel close to any of the characters, and didn’t feel like I knew them well. They were not well-developed.

There’s some potential in this story, certainly. I do love books with fun settings, so a summer in Italy is perfect! However, this would have been a much better book if the author had focused on one of the couples, rather than all six characters, and let the reader really get to know them, switching viewpoints. This is making me wish for what might have been! With some changes, this could have been a great book rather than a mediocre one. Especially if the ending had been less tidy. Real life is rarely tidy.

The Juliet Club is enjoyable, but it could have been so much better. You might be better off checking this one out from the library rather than spending money on the hardcover, if you are so inclined to read it. It will be released in June.

Anyone who reads Melissa Marr’s debut, Wicked Lovely (not necessary to reading this book, but certainly highly recommended, as it’s quite brilliant, and will give readers a fuller grasp of what is going on in Ink Exchange), will have very high expectations for Ink Exchange. I know I did, and I was far from disappointed.

Ink Exchange is not a sequel to Wicked Lovely, but the main characters here were minor characters there, and the main characters in Melissa Marr’s first novel do have parts to play in her second. Leslie is a friend of Aislinn’s from school–a good friend of hers, one of the friends that Aislinn wants to protect from her new life as a faerie queen.

Leslie has a tough life, no question about it. A father who hasn’t been much of a father since her mother left and a brother who’s addicted to drugs are Leslie’s family, and, add that to the dangerous people her brother brings home, you can see why Leslie doesn’t like to go home more than she has to. Aislinn has guards protecting Leslie, but they can’t keep her safe from her own family very well.

Leslie wants to take control of her own body after an awful experience, and the way she sees to do it is to get a tattoo. None of the typical images, however, appeal to her, so Rabbit, the tattoo artist, shows her a book of designs that most customers don’t get to see. When she finds one that she likes, however, she has no idea of what the consequences will be, that she will soon be involved in a world that has, up until now, been invisible to her. I don’t want to give too much away, but, trust me, it’s awesome. I’ve talked about Leslie, but she’s not the only main character–Irial is the king of the Dark Court, and he certainly plays a major part in this story, but I feel like talking about him might be giving a little too much away, more than I’d like. The same goes for telling Niall’s part of the story, beyond the fact that he is one of Keenan’s top people, and one of Leslie’s guards, and that she has feelings for him, but neither of them can act on it.

Ink Exchange is a captivating, well-told story. It’s haunting and dark and lovely and amazing–just as good as, and maybe even better than Wicked Lovely (though I couldn’t decide for sure). It’s a darker story than its predecessor. Melissa Marr creates a wonderful story, dealing with serious topics such as addiction and rape (yes, it is a faery story, but these are certainly not of the Walt Disney variety!). There is also the same fascinating mythology from Wicked Lovely, and Melissa Marr again shows her talents at creating wonderful characters. This is yet another brilliant book from a brilliant author! I can’t wait for her third book, which will be a more direct sequel to Wicked Lovely.

I’ve got an exciting treat for you all today: Melissa Marr, author of the fabulous books Wicked Lovely and the forthcoming Ink Exchange (review coming soon)! Melissa was nice enough to answer a few questions for me, and she’s got some great answers. For those of you that haven’t read Wicked Lovely, do so–you still have time before the release of Ink Exchange (which is a companion book, not a sequel, but your reading experience will be richer if you read Wicked Lovely). Also, just so you know, I’ve got some more great author interviews for you all in the coming weeks, so stay tuned! Anyway, thanks so much, Melissa, for doing this!

Can you tell me a little about your third novel and when it will be released (if you know yet)?

Right now, I’m calling it “Enthralled,” but I don’t know if that title will make it past the gatekeepers. We’ll see. While Ink Exchange is a companion novel to Wicked Lovely, the third text is more of a sequel to WL. It features Ash & Seth & Sorcha (head of the High Court) as narrative pov characters. Keenan, Donia, Niall, Irial & others are all in it. I’m not what else I can say just now because I do try not to get all spoiler-y. It’s a lot like WL, imo: more romance, less darkness. I believe the hardcover will be out Summer 09 in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, & New Zealand.

Could you share a bit about how you write–do you outline your books (or at least know where you’re going with them), where do you write, how many drafts do you usually do, etc.?

I’ll try. I typically write in my office. I sometimes write longhand when I’m on travels or outside somewhere. I always have music when I’m writing at the desk or on planes, but never do when I’m outside.

I don’t know how many drafts I do. I revise as I go, but then revise afterwards too. And, of course, with two primary editors to give me revision letters, I do a few editioral-directed revisions. Hmm. I revise as much as I possible. I enjoy revision a great deal.

The visual in my head for my process is like marking a map for a roadtrip. I have a few general landmarks/plot events highlighted. The stuff between them comes as I write. I write the events as I know them, and then I re-order & fill in the stuff from the middle out, or the end back, or the beginning forward depending on my mood that day. I’m not linear. . . which means I also write bits of other novels as I write this one. My agent calls it “organic”–which is probably nicer than calling it “disorderly & random.” The benefit of the way I work is that I have several projects in process regularly, which amuses me. The downside is that some of them aren’t going to be due to anyone for years, so I really should be working on the ones due now.

Was there any particular inspiration you can cite for Wicked Lovely and/or Ink Exchange, and, if so, what?

I don’t know that there’s a single inspiration for anything I write. In retrospect, we can often assign significance to an event/moment/cause. At the time though, do we think of it that way? I don’t. I can say now that WL started as a short story (which started with a name/word “Aislinn” which means “dream or vision). The story was rejected in both younger & adult markets. It lingered, so 8 months after I had set it aside, I started turning it into a novel.

Ink . . . That one’s harder to articulate. I know a number of people who’ve been addicts. One of the few people I’ve ever been in love with was an addict. And then there’s the tattoo element . . . I’m a devoted tattoo fan. And then there’s the logic thing–at the end of WL, it seems only logical to deal with the Dark Court. Stuff mixes, & suddenly there’s a novel.

How has being a published author different from what you had anticipated (if it is different)?

It’s so completely different that I’m often overwhelmed. I wrote the first book hoping for a quiet little deal to offset my teaching salary. Before that I’d written only one novel, some short stories, & poetry. I had no expectations of the things that’ve happened. I’m not sure I would’ve done it if I did know what it would be like. I’ve had two tours in 10 months, three book festivals, assorted industry events, book signings, and all sorts of things I had no clue of how to handle. My agent and the folks at Harper US & UK (& at several of my foreign houses) have guided me through the confusion, but I still feel rather babe-in-the-woods sometimes. I’m happy, but it’s been a steep learning curve with not enough sleep.

Do you plan to or would you like to write novels in other genres besides YA urban fantasy? If so, what?

I’m under contract for a manga series (set in the same world), an adult UF anthology, and a new YA contract (for books 4, 5, & 6). The contract for those next 3 books is very open-ended. I could do 3 more novels in this world, or another world, or not-fantasy . . . I like that. Somewhere along the way I’m hoping to write not-fantasy too. It’s really about whichever story feels right at the time though. I write what my muse allows, no more, no less.

Why do you write for young adults? What do you think is different about writing for teens than for other audiences?

I don’t know that I set out to be a “YA author.” For over a decade, I taught university –first as a grad student and then as my FT job. I did guest lectures in high school. I have a teen daughter–with whom I read piles of books. It makes a certain amount of sense that when I started to write it would be influenced by the people I spent the most time with–my students & my kids.

How is it different? I guess I don’t think it is. I try to tell a good story with real characters. The big difference is that the teens I know will tell me if I suck, so I’m trying to make sure I don’t disrespect them by trying to sound all Let Me Teach You My Truths. I know my own values filter in–I am an egalitarian, think volition is critical, think body art is fun, et etc–but I don’t want to write anything that’s didactic or tedious. I try to be responsible– in WL I mention the importance of STD testing & precautions–but I’d do that in adult books too. My goal is just to tell a good story in a real way. Some of those stories are YA; some aren’t.

What are some of your favorite YA books or authors?

Off the top of my head I’d say Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak is brilliant), Clare Dunkle, Annette Curtis Klause, A.M. Jenkins, Holly Black’s YA books, Rachel Cohn & David Levithan’s Nick & Norah (one of the best YA books I’ve read), . . . of course, I’m sure I’m forgetting far more than I’m remembering.

Oooh, and recently I fell madly in love with a two unreleased YA books– Graceling by Kristin Cashore (out in Oct) and The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong (out in August). One of the fun perks of this job is getting to read books early. Even though I read these pre-release, I’ll be buying them on release.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts about being a published author?

I’d love to sound all authorly, but my fav part is the same as with any job–it’s fun. I’m horribly lacking in discipline in that I only do jobs that are fun. Of course, I believe most anything can be fun for a while–I’ve been a bartender, cocktail waitress, secretarial assistant, archeology dig general worker, lit teacher, daycare worker . . . It’s all fun for a while. The least appealing part? I’ll let you know when I get to it :)

You talk sometimes about your tattoos on your blog, and tattoos play a big part in your upcoming novel Ink Exchange. How many tattoos do you have, and which ones have the most meaning to you?

Technically I only have 3, but two are largish. I don’t know that any are “more” meaningful; it’s like picking the “best” book or the fav character or most loved child. They are all valued for different reasons. My muse is tattooed on my spine, dancing on an earthen mound with bones & flowers poking thru the soil. An ivy vine with lilies entwined throughout it wraps my torso & is going to start growing down my right arm sooner or later. Both of the those are in progress still. Ms Muse still needs a background, & my vines aren’t quite done growing. The third one is at the top of my spine. It’s a faith symbol. All of my art is carefully planned, and none of it is out where it’s casually visible (unless I’m at the beach or have my hair up in a knot).

Is there any question you wish I’d asked, or anything else you’d like to share?

No other questions, but I always like the chance to just say thanks to the people who have shared their reading hours with my characters. It’s surreal sometimes to realize that the world & people in my head are out there in people’s hands. Thank you for that.

Thanks for doing this!

It was my pleasure. Thanks for having me.