Monday, September 15, 2008

Interview: Stephanie Kuehnert

Can you tell us some about your earlier days with writing?

Well, I've been writing seriously since high school. In high school, I focused more writing 'zines. I wrote a series of feminist zines and then three per-zines (or personal zines), which contained personal essays, mostly about the things I was going through at the time, getting through the pain from an abusive relationship and trying to help drug-addicted friends. Those were some pretty painful years. After high school I wrote a bunch of short stories... if you can call them that. They were really more prose poems. I desperately needed feedback to help me find my voice and the direction of my work and I finally got that when I was 21 and started attended the Fiction Writing program at Columbia College Chicago. Being around other writers really inspired me and I started writing furiously and getting feedback that helped me shape my stories into something. That early work would lead to my first and second novels.

What sparked your inspiration for I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE?

I've loved punk rock since junior high and have been particularly inspired by female punk musicians. I wanted to be one, but I don't have that kind of talent, so I created Emily because I wanted to live vicariously through her. I also would love to live in a world where a female-fronted band is the biggest thing out there, so I created that world in a novel. It's a tribute to all the female musicians I've loved.

Has your life changed considerably now that you're a published author?

Nah, not really except for that now I get fanmail which is awesome and makes me happier than I can tell you. I did quit my full-time job, but that's not because writing is paying the bills. I'm back to the part-time job I had in grad school, bartending. It gives me more time to write and I'm taking a gamble, hoping it will pay off and I don't regret giving up benefits and retirement and all of that!

What is one of the most unusual events that has occurred since IWBYJR debuted? Any bizzare signings?

I did have a kind of bizarre event recently. A reading where my audience was two librarians and a teenage girl (those are the people I'd expect) and then a younger boy and two older men. Like the boy was probably in 6th or 7th grade which is too young for my book and one of the older men was probably in his 70s or 80s. He asked me to define punk rock. He also asked why my hair didn't match my shoes (my bangs and converse sneakers are both pink, but different shades). I still had fun though. I had to choose a new section to read at the last minute because of the age of the boy, but both of the older men bought the book. I don't think the one who asked me about punk rock will read it, but I think the other might! On the other hand, this Sunday I am reading a major rock club in Chicago with Irvine Welsh, the legendary author of Trainspotting. It's going to be a much different audience and *gulp* way bigger... It takes all kinds. That is the fun of it!

What has been the best experience on your journey to becoming an author so far?

Oh there are so many! I've meet some amazing authors. I've done some great events. I've gotten to talk to musicians I admire. Working with MTV Books has been totally amazing. But probably the best thing of all is hearing from and especially meeting people who enjoyed the book. Especially meeting teen girls who remind me of me at that age. I am so happy that my book provided them with an outlet because I know how much I needed that.

"Women Who Rock Wednesday" is a brilliant idea! Why did you decide to honor women of the arts in your blog?

Well, I started by featuring 5 women who rocked during the week that IWBYJR came out. It seemed right since IWBYJR was a tribute to the women who rocked my world in many ways. And then I realized that there were so many more women that I wanted to feature and that unfortunately in many artistic fields (music certainly comes to mind), women still aren't given as much attention as men. I wanted to do something about that, so I decided to start featuring women that rock my world. I'm trying to mix it up and feature all kinds of artists and people at different places in their careers. This month I already interviewed a young fashion designer and I will be interviewing a pretty well-established author and a band that I think is going to be the next big thing. At least they deserve to be. Since I understood what feminism was, I've been trying to empower women, so this is just another part of that. And Wednesdays definitely get more hits on my blog than any other day so I'm glad people are enjoying it!

Who is your favorite rockstar?

My all-time favorite rock star is Kurt Cobain. It sounds cheesy but Nirvana truly changed my life. I admire Kurt as a musician and a human being. He used the fame he had to get the word out about causes that meant a lot to him and about bands that deserved attention. He was very supportive of women and I quoted him at the beginning of IWBYJR about women being the future of rock n roll. I wish he'd stuck around, the world needs him.

My favorite living rock star is Courtney Love. I know she's controversial, but she's total rock 'n' roll, baby and her lyrics, particularly on her first two albums, I wish I could write the novel equivalent to that. She's so honest and raw.

Finally, do you have any upcoming projects? Can you tell us a little about them?

Yep, my second book, BALLADS OF SUBURBIA, is due out from MTV Books in Summer 2009. Probably in July. It's about a teenage girl who has always felt like a misfit in her suburban town. She finally finds her place among the other punks, skaters, freaks, and geeks that hang out in a park at the center of town, but her life and the lives of her friends are pretty troubled and things start to spiral out of control. It's basically a classic coming of age story. And since I'm pretty terrible at these summary things, you can just read the first chapter on my website at

Thanks for dropping by, Stephanie!

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