Monday, July 20, 2009

Cyber Launch Party Day 7: The Ballad of a Book

It's officially BALLADS OF SUBURBIA release day! Excitement and nervousness are in the air. This book really is my heart and soul and I have such high hopes for it. But we'll get to that in a minute.

I meant to post this blog much earlier, but I've been out enjoying my day with a mani/pedi... though I already fucked up one toe because I stumbled. *sigh* such a klutz.

I also went to spot Ballads in the wild, but sadly my local Borders only had 2 copies (compared to last years 20 of IWBYJR) and another local bookstore had none. :( Hopefully it's showing up in other people's towns though and I'd love to see pics so I will add that to today's contest. Also, if you want a *signed* copy of Ballads, you should order it from Women & Children First ASAP as I will be in there signing on Friday and they will ship the book out to wherever you are located. All the details on that are here. And remember, wherever you buy Ballads from before July 31 you can enter to win Write For A Reader's Ballads Blitz Contest!

Speaking of Contests....

Today's Winner:
Each day I am announcing the winner of the contest that was posted one week earlier. Today's winner gets Beige from Cecil Castellucci! And that winner is... The Sword and the Faith from MySpace! I will email you for your address shortly! Remember to enter last week's contests! Each contests lasts one week!

Today, I'm going to blog about the story behind Ballads of Suburbia, the how's and why's that went into my writing it.

I also did a guest blog for Reading Keeps You Sane's On the Outside feature that I think really compliments the blog I'm writing today because it tells the story of the title and the cover. So check it out! Also if you want to know which songs inspired me most while writing the book, go here to West of Mars.

The Ballad of a Book: Stephanie Kuehnert

"If you made a book of what really happened, it would be a really upsetting book."- Angela Chase, My So-Called Life

I keep telling people that this is the book I became a writer to write. The emotions, the general themes of the book have been present in my work since I started writing seriously. There were traces of Ballads of Suburbia in the Sylvia Plath rip-off poetry I wrote about sharp objects in eighth grade-- the poetry that got me sent to the guidance counselor. (Where I didn't get any useful guidance.)

And I poured the feelings I would later channel to write Ballads into my zines as a teenager. Some parts blood, bile, and anger, but mostly a fight for survival, my words my only weapon.

I first started trying to tell this story in my late teens/early twenties when I wrote short stories about jaded kids hanging out in diners or clubs. Those stories were vague, heavy on the symbolism and description, light on the lot. The emotional sense they evoked was novacaine numbness where you know something terrible is going on, but you can't feel it. That's how I lived back then.

Ages 14 through 21, I spent numbing myself in one way or another: cutting, alcohol, drugs. The only healthy outlet, the only real tool I had to work my way through the pain was writing. With words I didn't wake up bleeding or scarred or with a pounding headache and aching limbs. With words I forced myself to remember and figure things out instead of trying unsuccessfully to forget.

Words were my lifeline and eventually I followed them out of the darkness. I went back to school to get my bachelors (and later my masters) in fiction writing at Columbia College Chicago. I came back home to Oak Park, the town I'd fled at seventeen like I was on fire. The town of bad memories. Younger years of loneliness and being bullied and every good friend I had moving away. The older years of damaged boys who damaged me and of drugs and self-destruction. I didn't know how I felt about Oak Park upon my return (I still don't know how I feel about it), but I loved Chicago. I loved my classes. I loved spending time between them in Grant Park or by the lake. Writing, writing, writing.

I wrote a whole novel in six months. It was called The Morning After. Like Ballads of Suburbia it was the stor of a girl trying to survive her teenage years in the suburbs. But when I finished, I put it in a drawer and swore it would never see the light of day. Because that version of Kara was thinly veiled teenage me. It was what I needed to purge, the leftover teen angst and ugly memories. Then I was ready to write for real.

I knew that I wanted to write a story about suburbia, but since I didn't want it to be about my life at all, I decided to distance myself by writing something completely different. So I wrote I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone. I focused on the landscape of my adopted hom in Wisconsin and wrote a story driven by my love of punk rock. There was a bit more purging in there. Louisa, your dark side, I know it all too well.

While I was writing that book, my suburbia story stewed. One day I was watching My So-Called Life and I found myself scrawling down something the character Angela Chase said: "If you made a book of what really happened, it would be a really upsetting book."

I knew that when I wrote about the suburbs that was the kind of book I'd have to write. It would have to be honest and raw. It would have to shatter the myth of kinder, safer suburbia because I knew that was a lie. It would have to drag out all of the darkness people keep locked up and shine an unflinching spotlight on it. Loneliness, bullying, parental abandonment, the freedom that led to disaster, the drugs, the cutting, the damaged love, the depression. I'd have to put it all on display. And though I'd experienced many of those things, I didn't want to write about my actual experiences. So I needed a framework.

Enter Joe Meno, who is not only an amazing author, but one of the best teachers in the world. Strangely enough in the class of his that I took to figure out the structure of IWBYJR, I figured out the structure of Ballads instead. As I mention in the On the Outside blog, Joe brought a boombox and some Johnny Cash cds one day and got us thinking about ballads as a form of storytelling. I thought about Johnny's songs and various punk songs and how brutally honest the singers were about life. My characters would need to be that honest. The would need a place to be that honest. A notebook, I scrawled down. They will tell their stories in a notebook. I also noted, "Think of each chapter, each scene as a song, a ballad, an ode to being a teenager in suburbia."

So I had the structure and I had the title, but I didn't start the actual writing until over a year later when I'd finished IWBYJR. The story simmered and I pondered. I wondered if I would dare to set it in the real Oak Park. My thinly veiled autobiography was in a fake Oak Park that I called Lincoln Prairie. I wanted to avoid the "what is real" questions. But now that I knew it would be entirely fiction, I was comfortable with writing about the real place. Beside I love Chicago books and I know my corner of Chicago so well, I just wanted to capture it. When the first chapter of Ballads, the epilogue, spilled out, it was filled with references to landmarks and streets I knew so well. I had to keep it. It was authentic and that was what I needed this book to be.

I have to say the authenticity of it caused more than one nervous breakdown. Once I realized what this book would be about, especially the struggle that Kara has with self-injury-- which was something I struggled with as a teen and I'd searched for answers in books and never found them--I started holding it to this incredibly high level of perfection. I wanted it to be real. I wanted it to be right. No plot holes. I wanted to capture the reader and not let go until it was over and leave them thinking for days.

I remember the end of December 2007, I'd been sick for all of Christmas break and was struggling to get the book just write for my agent to submit it. I laid in bed and cried over it for an entire day, convinced that I couldn't do the story or the characters justice. My fiance, Scott, sat patiently beside me and asked, "Where do you think the flaws are? Talk them through." And I did and the book was submitted in February and under contract shortly thereafter.

Then came revisions. My editor is amazing and she pushes hard, hard, hard. So do my critique partners. They all wanted me to go even deeper into Kara's head. The cutting. They especially wanted to understand the cutting. This meant going into a very black place in my past. Remembering what I did, how it felt, why I did it. I pushed so hard sometimes it made me want to cut again even though I hadn't in 7 years. Revisions happened over the holidays and it was brutal. I had to get an extension, only a day or two, but I felt terrible about it. Still I pushed and I pushed. Scott talked me off ledges. My best friend came over and bummed me a cigarette or two. That was my only vice. And I made it through.

There were times when I hated this book. I never thought I would be as happy with it as I was with IWBYJR. But now I'm happier. Now I hope it will reach a lot of people and really help them. I hope. I hope.

It was a story that had to be told and now it is here. I hope you enjoy it.

Today's Contest:
Up for grabs today is a signed copy of Ballads, as well as a signed cover flat, a copy of the soundtrack and some other goodies I will throw together in celebration of the release day.

To enter just leave a comment. You'll earn additional entries by blogging/tweeting/etc about this blog or the cyber launch party. And you'll earn even more entries by taking pictures of Ballads in the wild or of you with your new copy of it! Just note your additional entries in your comment.

Winner will be chosen at random on Tuesday July 28!

Tomorrow's Guest:

Tomorrow, Kelly Parra, author of Invisible Touch and Graffiti Girl will be guest-blogging. So please come back to see what she has to say!


Annika said...

I am so proud of you for getting through the writing of this book, and so happy for you that it is out! I can't wait to read it.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

You and I are scary similar. Yin and Yang in ways, too.

I've posted about this at Win a Book. Please do enter me for the prize today!

Melanie said...

The book itself sounds amazing, and the story behind the book is even more so.

little miss gnomide said...

"I have to say the authenticity of it caused more than one nervous breakdown."

I know how that feels. Writing is about communication and vulnerability. So friggin' proud of you. Can't wait to start reading.

MoziEsmé said...

What an amazing story behind the book...

janemaritz at yahoo dot com

Indigo said...

Writing is the tool you used to begin piecing your life together. I can so relate. I did the same thing in more ways than one. Unfortunately there was a lot of pain and damage before I found out how to use my words. These days? It works well for me. I've since become deaf. Now my writing is not only my therapy, my work, it's my voice. As eloquent or raw as I choose to be heard.

I've had the memoir on a back burner, it's far easier to give the empathy to fictional characters at the moment. Someday...

Thanks for the opportunity to hear your story. (Hugs)Indigo

Vinyl&mono said...

You are fortunate to have the ability to write as a means of self-expression and getting past the pain. Those of us who can't express ourselves through any kind of art depend on writers and musicians to express our feelings for us.

pepsivanilla said...

I'm glad that you are brave enough to put such a deep and honest story into our hands. It's great to read books that give you a sense that someone else has been through the exact same thing and knows where you're coming from.


marina said...

i bought the book today!
because i'm a mega nerd and couldn't wait.
and, as i assumed, it's amazing. i love it.


marina said...

also, this is my blanket, copy of ballads, laptop (josie), and part of my bed. but mainly, my copy of ballads.
you can tell i was on this website, totally awesome of me.

picture's here:

Alexa Young said...

Happy release day, my darling friend! My copy arrived today and I can't wait to dive in. I also love hearing that line from MSCL was a partial inspiration because those words hit me so hard when I first heard Claire Danes utter them, too. :) Your raw, brutal and honest writing inspires me in so many ways. Thank you for that, and so much more. Here's to a HUGE Ballads HIT! xoxo

Breanna said...

Congratulations on yet another release! Yay! That's so incredibly awesome.

I still think it's crazy that your release party is lasting for like a month. You are one crazy lady. Lol


Llehn said...

Thanks for sharing. I'm glad that something beautiful has emerged from the darkness.

Himeko said...

i remember this time last year searching everywhere for IWBYJR and I finally found it, then I went to the Rock & Read. I can't wait to read Ballads.

donnas said...

Congrats on release day!!

So Many Books, So Little Time said...

Hearing the story behind Ballads makes me even more excited to read it.

Strangelove said...

I would really like to enter.

carlos_durao [at] hotmail [dot] com

runningforfiction said...

i cannot wait to buy this book and read it.
i'm sure i'll love it.

runningforamsterdam @ hotmail . com

Lori T said...

Hi Stephanie~

What a great post and I am so glad that you were able to get through those tough times and were able to get this written and published. I am so looking forward to reading this...I checked all my local bookstores and sadly I could not locate a copy. I am calling favorite local bookstore and having them order me a copy today!

Happy release day!!

Authorness said...

Steph, how amazing you are to have gone through all that. You've done your own story justice with BALLADS. This book really comes from the heart.

x Vanessa

Sarah said...

Thanks so much for sharing your story.

I'd love to be entered for the contest. Email is in my profile!

Hope. said...

This book was SO GOOD. I'd love to be entered for a signed copy.=) I'm posting the whole cyber launch party on my contests page:


Lauren said...

Thanks for sharing your story with us, it was really interesting. Also, please enter me to win a copy of this, because I just know Ballads of Suburbia is going to be amazing.

Natalie Hatch said...

Congrats on another book launch Steph, hope everything goes great guns.

Kristen said...

How inspiring you are! Seriously! I can't wait to read your book. :)

I tweeted about today's contest:

Sab H. said...

Your book sounds amazing! I cant wait to read it!

Sab H. said...

Oh, I twittered (@SabriHorande) and link is on my side bar!

Anonymous said...

Happy launch day, Stephanie. Your book sounds amazing and real and powerful -- can't wait to read it!

Katrina said...

sounds like a good read...count me in for the giveaway...

ykatrina at hotmail dot com

Diana Dang said...

I'm glad you were able to use writing as an outlet and that had changed you. =)

E(D)U said...

Looks great!
Count me in, please!

Jafa said...

I am fascinated!
I would appreciate the chance to be entered!

o_rei_de_havana@(no spam)

MariaD said...

I would like to read it, so thank you for the opportunity!

dr.strangelove.vs.citizen.kane [at] gmail [dot] com

What a Girl Reads said...

This was really interesting to read! And very honest. Thank you! I'm sure Ballads is an honest, raw and great book! I'll definitely want to read it!


Catarina said...

I would like to try my luck!


Susana said...

Do count me in.

39.5susy AT gmail DOT com

Anonymous said...

Sounds amazing!
I would like to try my luck.[at]gmail[dot]com

Catherine said...

I love knowing the stories behind books, so thanks for sharing. I looked, but they didn't have it un the two stores I went to. I was disapointed. So hopefully I can win your contest!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your release! I linked this on my sidebar.


WordVore Prod said...

Congras on the release, Steph!:D
Don't vount thisfor the grand pize--it's int'l.


Bianca said...

I've read some great reviews of this book! I can't wait to get the chance to read it!!!

Paradox said...

I'm now determined to read Ballads of Suburbia after reading this!

paradoxrevealed (at) aim (dot) com

Book said...

I posted my review of Ballads so I thought I'd leave a link :)

I'm certainly glad you wrote the book (even when you were sick) and made it through the revisions because it's really amazing.