Friday, October 30, 2009

Writing Routine Upheaval & New Ideas

My writing routine has been terribly disrupted by a cold this week. Not that I really know how to manage my writing at all right now because I've come up with a new book idea (a series actually) that needs to be tackled in a completely different way than I usually approach things.

You see this is an Urban Fantasyish idea (that's the best label I can put on it at least. It brings some elements from Greek Mythology into present day. And it's all I'm going to say about it. This one is staying under tight wraps for a while at least.) and though I've read a lot of fantasy/sci-fi/genre fiction over the years I've never tried writing it. It means I have to build a whole new world and create a mythology for my characters which maybe isn't that different than figuring out my characters' backstory, but it seems a lot more involved and the whole story sort of hinges on the rules I draw up for myself.

So I've decided that instead of diving straight into scene, I'd need to outline and brainstorm and plot out the world. I meant to do that this week, but I got sick.

However the nice thing about being sick is that I got to do a lot more reading and TV watching than usual. There are three hour marathons of Degrassi in the afternoon! I think I discovered this last time I was sick, but promptly convinced myself to forget about it because it would distract from writing. So I'll have to forget about it again come Monday. But honestly this week I think it's okay to watch it and to read a lot because it recharges me. Between my wedding and getting my book proposal in I've worked my butt off this month, though it doesn't feel like it because I don't have hundreds of pages to show for it.

The pressure I put on myself is immense. I have no doubt that stress is what caused me to get sick. I want to be one of those people that can pound out a first draft in a month, who can write two or more books a year, but I'm just not sure that's me. It takes so long for ideas to crystallize in my mind. The idea behind Ballads percolated for something like 7 years. IWBYJR took 4 years to write because I was percolating as I wrote. The Zoe story has been percolating since 2007. But I can't tell you how much I want this new idea to just click. Right now!

I can feel it coming together slowly though and I can feel what a release it's going to be. I'm going to go dark places again. Ballads dark. And maybe it's sick, but I want to do that. I can't wait for it. I want to purge more pain and grief through these characters. It feels good like loud music and smoky clubs and slamming in a crowd the way I used to. Anyway, even though this is fantasy, it will be very very real the way I always try to write.

But I still need a day or two more of rest. Well a day. Tomorrow is Halloween and the big Beacon Zombie party. (Break through on the costume front happened at the halloween store yesterday when I discovered a grunge wig and looked at my blue eyed, stubbly-faced husband and shoved it into his hands, exclaiming, "You will be zombie Kurt Cobain and I will be zombie Courtney Love!" Surprisingly in all these years I have never been Courtney Love for Halloween.) Then I will try to get back to my regularly scheduled writing routine... Well, I guess I will have to do this outline first before I can get to it. But if you curious about my regular writing routine and what my workspace looks like I blogged about it over at MTV Books today. I think there will be a monthly addition to my routine though. I never really take a break, I'm always busy writing or working at the bar every day (though I have started spending Saturday afternoons with my "niece" aka my friend's 12 year old daughter and that's been a blast), so I think I'm going to add two mental health days a month where I just veg out and watch TV and read. This way maybe I can avoid stressing myself out to the point of sickness.

Anyway, one last link to share before I go and chill on the couch some more. The ladies at We Love YA have done a week of poignant posts about the issues that YA fiction tackles. Yesterday my lovely CP Vanessa posted about self injury and mentioned Ballads. Please check out what she had to say and join the discussion at We Love YA.

Have a happy Halloween! I'll have pictures for you next week!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Women Who Rock Wednesday: The Halloween Edition!

Welcome to Women Who Rock Wednesday! Last week Kathi Baron offered up a copy of her book Shattered and the lucky winner is.... Pam from Blogger! Congrats Pam!

This week's Women Who Rock Wednesday is late because I just got back from my first visit to my old high school. It went well, but it still feels like a scary place to me and speaking of scary... It's almost Halloween!!!! Obviously I love Halloween. Big time. So I decided this week's Women Who Rock Wednesday would be devoted to some the spooky ladies I loved growing up.

Around the age of 17, I became jaded with punk and went more goth. There weren't nearly as many female fronted goth bands that I loved as female fronted punk bands. Basically the most memorable was Switchblade Symphony and then the goth/punk goddess herself, Siouxsie Sioux!

I first discovered Siouxsie when I was getting into the Cure in late junior high. I loved her voice and how she was just herself. I still have a poster of her and Robert Smith on my bedroom door and I still want to dance whenever I hear one of her songs. So for your enjoyment....

Then there was the book I read over and over at that time Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite. Nothing, the son of a vampire and a mortal girl, is being raised by adoptive parents in the suburbs, but one day he gets into a van with a bunch of vampires (one of whom happens to be his dad) and is off to New Orleans where lots of debauchery occurs. So outcast suburban kid who is really vampire offspring and he gets to run off to New Orleans, a city which I totally feel in love with due to her writing. (It even partially inspired a drug-fueled trip there my freshman year of college.) There's sex, drugs, and rock n roll in Lost Souls. Definitely a fucked-up, gory-at-times book. About as far from Twilight as you can get with a vampire story. It was totally my kind of book at 17. And I would write the line "3 am knows all my secrets everywhere." I also adored her novel Drawing Blood, about a boy who tries to figure out why his comic book artist dad spared his life when he murdered the rest of the family, and her short story collection Wormwood. My favorite character was Ghost, the sweet musician boy with psychic abilities. After a really grotesque serial killer book called Exquisite Corpse, she stopped writing horror. But man I loved Poppy as a teen and she really taught me to push boundaries as a writer, so I remain forever grateful.

Lastly, I must honor the Lydia Deetz from Beetlejuice. She was played by Winona Ryder and this was the role that made me fall in love Winona. She became my favorite actress growing up and oddly enough, I get people telling me that I both look and sound like her, which is a huge compliment. In fact once a middle-aged man ran up to me in the Whole Foods parking lot just to tell me how much I looked like Winona. Little did he know that back when I was 10, I used to take hair gel to make my bangs look like Lydia's in Beetlejuice and she was probably one of the reasons I started wearing all black. And her quote here, who doesn't feel like this in high school? I felt like this from about 6th grade on, but I guess I was a melodramatic one...

Oh and here is a good one:

Yes, Lydia and Winona both, totally my idols. And Beetlejuice remains on of my favorite movies of all time.

What about you? What spooky female writers, musicians and characters do you admire?

Next week we'll be back to our regularly scheduled interviews and prize giveaways with Pam Bachorz author of Candor, which is a very scary book in it's own way, so please come back and meet Pam!

Monday, October 26, 2009

You're in High School again.... No Recess!

Tomorrow I am going back to my high school for a visit with the journalism class and the creative writing class. I am mildly terrified about this. First of all the journalism class will be interviewing me press conference style, but the scariest part.... I'm going back to high school. This is the stuff nightmares are made of. But of course, the teacher sounded really nice and I want to meet the teens in the classes, and ooooh, I get to go in the staff cafe between the two classes. I hope the staff cafe serves the gooey half cooked chocolate chip cookies I enjoyed daily when I was in high school... One of the only things I enjoyed about high school.

I think that's one of my biggest fears, that in this "press conference" I will be asked what I think of my alma mater. And the only thing I can really think to say is, "Well, I survived..." Because when it comes to talking about high school, my two general rules about speaking, especially publicly, clash. There's "if you don't have something nice to say, don't say it" (though this mostly for me just applies to talking about other's artistic work. I hate bad reviews, so I'm not going to bash another artist.) and then there's "Always be honest."

So honestly, I hated high school. A lot. So much that I've blocked a lot of memories of it out. Since I tend bar at a place that is right next door to my hometown, I get a lot of grads from my high school and they always ask me if I remember so and so or this teacher or that class and I often just blink at them and make excuses that center around my lack of sobriety during high school. But honestly, I didn't spend that much of high school wasted. Maybe a year altogether. I don't remember high school because I was suffering from severe depression through it. Do I want to be that brutally honest in this "press conference" though?

I'm not so sure, so I figured I'd make a list of things I do remember about my alma mater and we'll see how many I can talk about....

-Summer school. I went the summer before high school started and took health class, hoping to get a feel for the place. All I remember was the smell of the school, which is hard to describe and I'd venture most high schools smell the same, and how the air conditioning made our classroom too cold. I also remember my friends Jenny and Laura getting me addicted to All My Children and One Life to Live that summer because we'd go home after class and eat lunch and watch them. One Life to Live is my one addiction leftover from high school. Fortunately it was the most harmless addiction I had.

-Blue detention slips for detentions I never served, except the one time I went to a Saturday detention, which I found amusing because two of the people I knew there were tripping. (erm, nope, can't really talk abt that one).

-Swimming. In those horrendous 60s style mauve suits they forced us to wear. And how the woman handing them out each day *always* guessed your size wrong so you were either literally swimming in your suit or exploding out of it. I enjoyed including some of these details in Ballads, but had to trim some of them out. Oh, and a little factoid I found out via bartending. The boys had it way worse. And not *just* for the reason my guy friends told me about back in high school. They would tell me how gross the pool was because the boys weren't required to wear swim caps like the girls, so it was all hairballs and disgusting gel floating on top. What my guy friends never told me, probably because they were too freaked out/ashamed and it was not until many years later when they were past it and drunk at a bar that they could reveal this... The guys were forced to take off their swim suits BEFORE they went back into the locker room. And unless you were a teeny guy, the little towel did nothing to hide you, so they were in essence, strutting around the pool naked. Fucked up. (and probably something I shouldn't discuss...)

-I still remember my locker combination. 38-16-30. Seriously, with all I've blocked out, how did I manage to remember that?

-Smoker's corner. When I started smoking freshman year, you could still smoke on school property, right next to the football field. Sophomore year you were forced to stand across the street and smoke. (And I recall getting in trouble once during a fire drill because my friend and I lit up. We were like, "um, we're across the street....") Junior year, you had to be walking while you smoked, you couldn't congregate. And by Senior year, they'd gotten vans for the security guards to enforce this. And I think you had to be a block away from the school to light up or something. It was crazy.

-The Hemingway room. I had English class in it Junior Year. I used to imagine there would be a drive by shooting behind the school that would shatter the big stained glass windows. Seriously I fantasized about that daily. That was how much I hated that class (bad teacher), that room, and my life at the time. I also hate Hemingway, which apparently is like a sin if you are from Oak Park, even though Hemingway hated Oak Park. People from my high school joke to me and say maybe I'll get an English classroom designed in my honor. I'm guessing if they read this blog and my school files and my books for that matter, probably not. And I wouldn't want one. Unless it had Nirvana and Rancid posters on the wall and truly represented my teenage years.

-Spanish class. I used to cheat on my tests by writing the verbs I was supposed to memorize on my shoe. I used to have loud sing alongs of punk and metal songs with Dan and Matt. I think I was in class with Dan one year and Matt the other. I'm not sure. I remember both of them as partners in crime, but I think it was during separate times. I know Dan made a substitute teacher cry.

-Tennis in gym class. My friend Devlin was my partner. We both sucked. We'd intentionally hit the balls off the court so we could go and retrieve them and smoke a quick cigarette.... (something tells me not to tell the cigarette stories. cigarettes are bad and addictive, kids. I have since quit. A few times.)

-The small caf. Freshman year, I ate in the main cafeteria, trying to blend with the herd. The small caf was where the freaks and geeks hung out. By sophomore year I realized it was where I belonged and where all the excitement happened. Like there was the time a bunch of my friends decided it would be freakin' hilarious if they stole a lunch table. So they did. Imagine the confusion on the security guards' faces when about 8 to 10 people lifted up a table and started running like hell with it. They got it a couple blocks away and stashed it in one girl's backyard. Oh and there was the week that my friend Tom made it his goal to get the whole caf to clap. He would just stand up and start clapping at random. The rest of us would rise too and look around at everyone else urging them to join. The security guards kept squashing Tom's impromptu efforts perhaps thinking it would lead to table stealing, but by the end of the week, everyone caught on and the whole cafeteria applauded Tom. Yes, I loved the small caf. I used to enjoy spending all three lunch periods there.... well when I wasn't sneaking off to smoke things that were not regular cigarettes. By my senior year they staggered the lunch periods so you could not ditch as easily. It didn't matter, I had early dismissal and left after 6th period to go to work. (again, maybe these tales of rebellion, not so good for relating).

-General Business. It was a required class otherwise I never would have taken it. I have no recollection about what I learned about the stock market. I just remember that our teacher Mr. B would start our second period class each day by blaring "You Give Love A Bad Name" by Bon Jovi to wake us up. It woke us up, but we all thought he was crazy. The 80s were so over. It was all about Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails then. I remember getting in line at 6 am for Nine Inch Nails tickets with a girl from my General Business class.

-I loved those days after a concert when you'd wear the shirt you got at the concert to school and see who else was wearing shirts with that band's logo. You'd have this moment. You'd be a little tribe.

-I hated how the summer after Jerry Garcia died, all the jock kids became fake deadheads and then tried to buy drugs off the kids they'd used to fuck with (ie me & my friends). I loved that my friends sold them fake drugs.

-Junior Year I really enjoyed the drive to high school. I finally had a car. There was no parking lot, so I would have to quickly run outside between classes to move my car, but it was worth it. I got to drive all my friends to school. The ones I didn't drive would all meet in the school lobby, on this specific spot on the stairs outside of the auditorium. Those 5 to 10 minutes of all of us together at once (umm, well the ones who got to school on time) were bright spots in otherwise shitty days. There is actually a yearbook photo of us. Marcel is in the photo, so it makes me miss him when I look at it though.

-Speaking of yearbooks, every year, by the time it came out I would look completely different than I did in the picture. Brown hair went blond. Blond went black. Long went short. My life would fall apart and be put together again several times each school year. My hair was like a symbol for it all.

-I wrote my junior theme (which you really wrote sophomore year for some reason) on a comparison of the tragic lives and poetry/lyrics of Sylvia Plath and Courtney Love. It was a bad-ass paper. I wish I could find it. Maybe my mom has it.

-Senior Year, I had a couple really cool teachers. Mr. Blackburn, my humanities teacher let me write a comparison paper between Trainspotting and Fahrenheit 451. He yelled at me once for eating Wheat Thins in class though, which I think is the most ridiculous thing ever. Especially since I was still battling anorexic urges back then and felt that I should eat when I could convince myself to eat. (See even the good memories are tainted by bad.)

-The other cool teacher was my philosophy teacher. In that class I gave a full presentation about the ethics of veganism. Everyone ended up agreeing with me by the end that veganism was the ethically correct choice except for the hardcore Christian kid who insisted god put the animals here for us to eat and the crazy hippie girl who couldn't get past the idea that plants could have feelings too. We also watched Blade Runner and Wings of Desire, two of my all time favorite movies.

-I petitioned for a Women's History course and the school actually instituted it... the year after I graduated.

-The school literary magazine was called Crest. My friends and I thought it was lame that you had to be friends with the right people to get your work in, so we created Crust, our own literary zine.

-Rushing to try to get into the computer lab during study hall. Not to check email because no one really had email back then (well, I did get it junior year), but to relive innocent grade school days by playing Oregon Trail. If you didn't get into the computer lab, you had to go to the library or back to your study hall room or you could just leave and find some place to smoke, which is usually what I did.

-I remember all the boys I had crushes on, but won't relive those painful moments. Nor will I relive all the bad abusive boyfriend moments of sophomore year. I did ditch class with him more than once and end up hanging out in the bathroom when we couldn't get into the computer lab. But I will go for a fonder bathroom memory: the time my friend Jill got her nose pierced in the bathroom. It was so bad-ass. Jill was so bad-ass. I started smoking with her at lunch. And she was the one who told me about how easy it was to graduate early. Thank you, Jill. Getting out of there early was the best thing I could have done for myself.

Yeah, I don't know about sharing these memories. I think if asked about my memories, I'll just say, "I survived. And I liked the half-baked cookies."

Oh and the quote in the blog title is from a Nirvana song off Bleach. How come no one told me they were releasing a remastered Bleach? And it's coming out on white vinyl. Now I must own this even though my pink vinyl Bleach that I got for 10$ at a used record store and is actually worth 200$ is still my prize possession. Well that and my Bleach CD that is signed by Krist Novoselic. Yeah, Bleach, that record changed my life. I need this remaster.... off to email my local record store.

Contest Winners & Blogtoberfest

This is just going to be a short but sweet blog entry today for a couple of reasons. One, I'm feeling a cold coming on which cannot happen because I have a lot going on this week. Two, I wrote a blog I'm really proud of (it was just one of those fun personal essay things that came out of nowhere and was a blast to write and remember) for Jeri Smith-Ready's Blogtoberfest, which has been going on all month. She's got a TON of YA authors blogging and offering up prizes and there is a big grand prize of 25 books too! So go read my little guest blog essay here and you can enter to win Ballads of Suburbia, or if you already have that, enter some of her other contests!

Now to announce the winners of my three contests:

The winner of the Save Shrinking Violet contest is Kaye from Blogger and she will win a copy of Ballads of Suburbia.

The winner of my Teen Read Week contest is Sara from Blogger and she will also win a copy of Ballads of Suburbia.

The winner of my Halloween contest is Steph Su from Blogger and she will win Ballads of Suburbia taffy! Steph, I need you to email me your address at stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot com.

As for my Halloween costume, my favorite suggestions were Catholic School Girl zombie and Zombie bride/corpse bride. I'm also considering some sort of rocker zombie (punk or 80s). It will all depend what I find at Salvation Army. I'll keep ya posted!

Now go read my guest blog, it's all about my teenage experiences with Halloween and Homecoming and also about Ballads of Suburbia.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Trick or Treat, Costumes & Contests

Fall is my favorite season, October is my favorite month (though Fall and October have *not* been cooperating this year. We seem to have skipped straight into early winter in Chicago and I am *pissed* because I hate all things winter), and Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. What can I say? I've always been a spooky goth girl at heart. I started dressing in a lot of black, listening to The Cure, and reading Stephen King when I was about 11 (though I honestly can't stomach horror as much anymore. Ever since I saw The Ring and had nightmares and daymares about it for weeks. I just don't like being scared witless anymore. Though I do still love vampires, zombies, and the macabre.)

I've had a bunch of crazy costumes through the years and I thought I'd share some with you, to help me get into Halloween spirit.

This was my first Halloween costume. Electrical tape on yellow pajamas and some cardboard wings and pipe cleaner antennas--a bee! Cheap and easy!

My mom was the queen of making costumes out of cardboard. One year I was a playing card, using posterboard. This year my brother was a ketchup bottle using posterboard. One year I was a dye (like part of a pair of dice) using a cardboard box. This year, another cardboard box is used, add in some tinfoil antennas and I'm a TV:

In college my friend Annika and I got creative and I dressed up as her and she was me. She's on the left, portraying me in all my goth glory:

Yeah gotta love the goth years. Here I am celebrating Halloween when I was 19. Nope I'm not dressed up as Morticia Adams. That's just the way I dressed back then. When every day was Halloween:

I had a couple years where I decided to be literary characters. Here I was the ice queen from a Russian fairytale I loved as a kid:

And here I am as Alice from Alice In Wonderland. Of course wearing the blond wig caused me to dye my hair blond again shortly there after because I liked it so much:

And of course last year, I was a zombie. So was Scott, here we are trying to eat my friend Kathy's brains:

I was an office zombie. I got to tear up my old 9 to 5 job clothes and it was very cathartic. So cathartic I decided I wanted to be a zombie again this year. In fact I wanted a zombie party.

I throw a Halloween party approximately every ten years. I'd do it more often, but I never seem to have time to organize parties and I get nervous about throwing them, mainly worrying that no one will come or it will be a totally lame failure. I hosted my first Halloween party when I was ten. It was the one year in grade school where I was kind of in with the cool popular kids and I was terrified my party wouldn't impress. But we had a pretty spooky basement so it all turned out well. My second Halloween party happened when I was nineteen... or maybe twenty. It was during the lost years, my goth club girl days when I was drinking heavily and err abusing other substances too. So my memories are blurry. But I remember making vegan Halloween cupcakes and everyone adored them and they were quite surprised to find out they were vegan (I love doing that!).

This year since I'm working on Halloween, I've decided to throw a party at the Beacon, the bar where I still earn the majority of my living. It's been rather slow there lately (prolly bc of the crappy not really fall weather), so I'm hoping to boost business. I was also hoping my friends would come because it is still my party even though it's happening at the bar, but alas I'm having a hard time getting them out of the city (which is seriously annoying because the bar is right on a train line and Forest Park is just outside the the city). So anyway I'm having those no one will show up fears again. If you are over 21 and in the Chicago area for Halloween, please consider yourself invited. (Here's the official facebook invite). There is a 4$ drink special, a costume contest (with wacky prizes that you could only get at the Beacon), and NO COVER CHARGE! The whole party is zombie-themed because A. Zombies are cool. B. I like making the drink called Zombie and C. I wanted to be a zombie again. This brings me to my dilemma.....

So Halloween is a week away and I'm *still* undecided about a costume. I was hoping that you my dear blog readers could help me. What kind of zombie should I be???? I kinda wanted to do some sort of celebrity zombie (one of my friends and her boyfriend are thinking of coming as Jon and Kate Plus Eight and zombifying a bunch of babydolls. If so, I bet they'll be at the top of the costume contest!), but haven't thought of anyone yet. I need to be a zombie that's still sort of cute/sexy because umm hideous zombie bartender is not going to get good tips and I really need good tips right about now. I was thinking of being a 50s style waitress zombie. Or maybe cheerleader or prom queen zombie? Do you have any other ideas? A zombie celebrity? A zombified literature or movie character?

In the spirit of Halloween, I've decided to give out candy. Anyone who comments on the blog today with a zombie suggestion for me will be entered to win Ballads of Suburbia taffy! And please tell me about your own costume and Halloween plans too because I'm sure they will be inspiring.

I'll draw the winner on Monday. It will be a *big* day of winners because I'm also drawing two winners of signed copies of Ballads of Suburbia, one from my Save Shrinking Violet contest and one from my Teen Read Week contest, so please enter those this weekend as well!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Kathi Baron!

Last week on the blog was "Wedding Week" wherein I talked about all aspects of my wedding, but this week my local newspaper ran my column about all the very important local elements of the wedding and how much I enjoyed the venue where the wedding took place, Molly Malone's. Here's the column online. It's really short. Hope you can check it out and enjoy it. Anyway...

Welcome to Women Who Rock Wednesday! Last week I interviewed the amazing Kathy Charles about her book Hollywood Ending, which I just adored and I've chosen a random lucky winner to receive that book.... SammyJones57 from LiveJournal, you are my lucky winner!!!!

Today I have another awesome lady author to introduce you to... Kathi Baron, whose book Shattered just came out last month and is at the top of my TBR pile. Let's meet Kathi!

Q: Tell us all about Shattered. What inspired you to write it? And like me, you set your book in Oak Park, Illinois. Can you tell us why you chose that setting?

Kathi: Shattered is the story of Cassie, who is a teen violinist in the Chicago Youth Symphony, who experiences trauma. I was inspired to write this story because of the teens I'd worked with in Boston on a psychiatric ward back in the mid-eighties. They were admitted because they were suffering from depression and PTSD, as a result of being abused. What amazed me about them was they not only dealt with the trauma, but began to transform their lives. I didn't start out writing this story though. I began writing about a teen violinist because I thought that kind of character would be intriguing. As I got into it, I realized I wanted to find the courage to write about abuse; and eventually I realized I wanted to write about resilience. And though this is a story that is all made up, I wanted to give voice to the teens I had worked with a long time ago through this novel.

I chose Oak Park for the setting of the novel because I moved here 20 years ago and have loved living here since the very first day. When I'm out and about and see teens around, I often try to imagine a life here as a teen. Setting a novel here was actually a way to experience it as a teen through my imagination. Plus, the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra is so cool, that if Cassie lived here, she could be a member of it.

Q: I know you have a playlist for Shattered. Can you tell us about five of the songs on it and how they relate to the book or the characters?

Kathi: One song is "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," which I used in a flashback, showing Cassie getting her first violin and how she taught herself to play it immediately without music. It was a way to show she is intuitively gifted. Another is Mendelssohn's Concerto No. 9 that she plays for her solo debut with the CYSO, because this is what a violin teacher I consulted said might be a typical piece a violinist would play in that situation. A third is "Amazing Grace." One way Cassie copes with the trauma is to imagine there is a violin goddess watching out for her. When she is home after running away, the first thing she plays is this hymn. It was my way of trying to weave in this divine thread. When she auditions for a million dollar violin, she plays Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto #11, because as before, this was recommended by the violin teacher. She closes playing "Here Comes the Sun" by the Beatles because it's one of my favorite songs; and because there is this gorgeous recording of it by violinist Tracy Silverman and I loved it so much, that I wrote it in, her playing that song.

Q: Since you are not a violinist yourself, how did you go about researching this book? Any interesting factoids that you learned that you can share with us?

Kathi: I knew very quickly that to write this novel, I would have to consult a violinist. I got very lucky when Jenny Cappelli of The Cappelli Institute in Oak Park agreed to help me. She's a violinist and teacher of players in the Chicago Youth Symphony and allowed me to email any and all questions. I asked her at least a million! She invited me to observe a lesson with one of her students and I took a lot of notes. Also, I knew at the end Cassie would need a new violin. I asked Joseph Cali at Kagan and Gaines Music Store if he could suggest one that she might get. He chose the Carlo Bergonzi violin which at the time was worth $125,000. By the time I sold the novel, that violin became worth a million dollars.

Q: Who were some of your inspirations to become a writer or the inspirations that keep you writing? Since it is Women Who Rock Wednesday, we love learning about the women especially, but feel free to tell us about the men too.

Kathi: The young adult author, Louise Hawes, comes to mind. She was my first teacher when I went to study writing for children and young adults at Vermont College. She taught me about "freewriting," a technique I have used a lot ever since. I will often ask my characters to speak to me about something I'm struggling with and then write whatever comes to mind. Often, one idea or a good phrase will come out of it and I'll use it in the novel. She also was the one who talked to me about how writing is often an act of courage and encouraged me to go for it--to take on a tough topic, focusing on how someday the novel might inspire one person in need, that this would be worth doing it for.

And in terms of who keeps me writing, I would have to say Julia Cameron. Her book, The Artist's Way, and especially her notion that writing connects us to Spirit, has kept me going for a long time.

Q: How did you get your start writing? Was it something you've always done?

Kathi: I started writing poems in high school after I received a calender for Christmas with a short poem by Lois Wyse for each month. To me, it was the most amazing thing to express myself in this way! When I get stuck in a plot, I will often go back to writing poems to figure out what characters are feeling or needing to do next.

Q: I have two questions that I always ask my Women Who Rock, the first is a two-parter. What was the first album you bought and the first concert you attended? Be honest, we don't judge, we like to see the roots of our women who rock!

Kathi: Honestly, that was all such a long time ago! I had to go down the basement and look at my old box of vinyl albums. I'm pretty sure my first album was Sly and the Family Stone's Greatest Hits. I still get happy when any of those songs are played on the oldies station!

The first concert I ever went to was to hear Seals and Crofts. I loved that song, "Diamond Girl." That was also a very long time ago!

Q: Tell us about your biggest rock star moment, perhaps it's a moment of real success in your career, a time when you met someone super cool and had that Wayne's World "I'm not worthy" moment, or just a time where you felt like you got the rock star treatment. I get a huge variety of answers for the questions, so it's pretty much whatever "rock star moment" means to you!

Kathi: A huge moment for me was doing my graduate reading at Vermont College. Faculty in the audience had won some of the biggest writing awards, so it was intimidating. I was so nervous right beforehand, I thought I might jump out of my skin. But I did it. I read for 20 minutes and about 5 minutes into it, I settled down. I had written and rewritten those words over so many times and these in this reading were strong and right and while reading, I felt like I could lean on those words. And afterward, I got so many compliments from other students and faculty and I felt right then that I had moved to a new space in my life.

Thank you so much, Stephanie, for having me. This was just so much fun!

Thank you, Kathi, for visiting us today! I can tell already that Shattered is going to be a very powerful book. I love stories about the healing power of music and about girls like Cassie, who are strong and searching to understand themselves and their families. That brings us to...

Today's Contest:

Kathi was kind enough to offer up a signed copy of Shattered to one lucky winner. To enter all you have to do is leave a comment about Kathi's interview or her book. You can also get extra entries:

+1 for tweeting/blogging about today's interview/contest
+1 for tweeting/blogging about Kathi and Shattered

Note your extra entries in your comment along with an email address to contact you at. Then tune in a week from today to find out if you won!

Monday, October 19, 2009

My Top Ten Teen Reads & 2 to look forward to.

I've decided I'm still excited about Teen Read Week (who isn't, right?) & have a bit more to say about my favorite YA reads. Here is a top ten list of YA Books that have had a big impact on me both as a reader and a writer. No particular order as I can't play favorites when it comes to books. Some I read during high school myself, but mostly in high school good YA was hard to find and I was reading non-fiction feminist books like Susan Faludi's Backlash and Hillary Carlip's Girl Power or books like Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar and Susanna Kaysen's Girl, Interrupted. Yeah, that shows my mental state during high school...

Anyway, YA LIT I LOVE:

1. The Hanged Man by Francesca Lia Block-- I talked about Weetzie Bat in the vlog yesterday, and that was my gateway to Francesca Lia Block's books, but The Hanged Man has been my favorite. It deals with some really complicated and dark issues (incest, eating disorders), but with this lush imagery and language because that is what Francesca Lia Block does best. I read it in my late teens and it really helped push me to go to the darker and more dangerous places with my writing--to actually talk about the stuff that hurts.

2. Smack by Melvin Burgess-- Read this when I was 16 or 17 and coping with heroin addicted friends who I wanted to understand. It stood up with Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, which was my favorite book at the time. Really powerful novel, definitely a Ballads of Suburbia influence.

3. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson-- I wish this novel had been around when I was 14. Seriously.

4. Beige by Cecil Castellucci-- I've raved about this book all over this blog. Captures the feeling of discovering punk and discovering who you are. That's what I love most about it-- strong girl characters figuring themselves out, not being acted on by the boys.

5. Melissa Marr's whole Wicked Lovely series-- What I said above about strong girl characters figuring out their own destinies, that is what I love about this book too. And it conjures those Francesca Lia Block feelings too. The lush world. Faeries, folklore. It just makes me very happy.

6. Almost Home by Jessica Blank-- A book about homeless kids in LA, their intertwined stories. All so heartbreaking and powerful. This book hurt to read but in that good way that opens eyes. The way I strive to write. This really pushed me while I was doing Ballads revisions. And this is one of those books I bought for the cover, I gotta admit it...

7. Leftovers by Laura Wiess-- I love Such a Pretty Girl too, but something about this book, the concept of these girls as the leftovers of society, it just cut to the core. This was a book I needed in high school. I felt like these girls. And the POV choice was daring, I liked that. Haven't read Laura's new book, and must remedy that soon.

8. Just Listen by Sarah Dessen-- After I read this in August, I did a write up here on what I loved about it and how it influenced my writing. Pure awesomeness. I must read more Sarah Dessen.

9. Shrinking Violet by Danielle Joseph-- Another one of those girl finds voice empowering books I needed as a teen. Are you sensing a theme? Those are really my kind of books. Strong heroines who I can learn from. I love it so much, I'm running a contest to help spread the word about it.

10. Girl by Blake Nelson-- I'm not really sure if this was published as a YA book, but it came out when I was in high school and was about a girl discovering herself and falling in love with a grungey lead singer. Definitely my kind of book as a teenager though I wanted it to be a little bit different. I wanted Andrea to be more like her friend Cybil and start a band.... That's okay, it probably got me thinking even back then about the story I'd write that would become I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone.

Then I have to mention the two YA books I am looking most forward to in 2010: Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly and Shade by Jeri Smith Ready. Tara's book is a music driven contemporary and Jeri's is an Urban Fantasy. Both sound perfect.

What about you? What are some of your faves (though you should really be telling me about those on yesterday's blog comment page and you'll be entered to win a signed copy of Ballads of Suburbia!) and what are you looking forward to in 2010?

Happy Teen Read Week!

I'm really excited to celebrate teen read week this week because my teen readers are the best! I did a vlog on Friday night (see the exciting life of the author, home doing vlogs on Friday nights, woo!) to thank my teen readers and talk about some of the YA books I really dig. I talked a bit about the theme "Read Beyond Reality," which immediately conjures up Urban Fantasy and Magical Realism reading ideas for me, but I also think reading contemporary fiction (like Sarah Dessen, Laurie Halse Anderson, and my books) helps us expand our horizons and "read beyond reality."

I make it my goal to write about characters whose worlds are "real," but everyone may not relate or understand them. I'm especially thinking of the characters in my book Ballads of Suburbia. Many of the reviewers have said, "I'm not at all like Kara or the kids in this book, but...." and then they go on to talk about the empathy they gained for kids like my characters or what they learned. And to me, that is one of the most important things about reading. It makes you think and then hopefully it makes you talk and examine how you relate to others. I feel like YA books open minds and open dialogue better than any other books in some ways, hence THE CELEBRATION!!!!

So Happy Teen Read Week. Excuse my babbling, excuse the lisp my camera gives me, and enjoy the video. Oh and there is a contest of course.... details below.

If you want to be really amused, check out this outtake of my attempt to do the vlog with my cat Lars present. He gets up to some antics and actually ends up shutting off the lights. At that point my hubby Scott (my wonderful cameraman) and I both totally lose it and decide to do another take.

Okay, the contest I speak of... In honor of Teen Read Week and my teen readers, I'm giving out one signed copy of Ballads of Suburbia. To enter just leave comment about a YA book that expanded your reality as well as an email address here and I will choose the winner on Monday. As always I'm offering additional chances to win, so here they are, include your additional entries in your comment.

+1 for blogging/tweeting about Teen Read Week
+1 for blogging/tweeting about this vlog and contest
+5 for posting my vlog on your blog

And since I'm in a celebratory mood, I'm going to extend my contest to spread the word and save Danielle Joseph's book Shrinking Violet until next Monday as well. So that's another chance to win a signed copy of Ballads of Suburbia! Get the details on how to enter here!

Both Danielle and I as well as ton of other wonderful YA authors had our books nominated for the Cybils. So check that list out and thank you to the nominators!!!

Last, but certainly not least, the Readergirlz are really celebrating Teen Read Week including doing a big tribute on Friday October 23, so be sure to check that out at!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Wedding Week: The Honeymoon!

When I was eleven, I was in my aunt Amy's wedding (she's my mom's youngest sister and Mom had one of those big Catholic families, so Amy was only 12 years older than me). She had a very traditional, big wedding. I was a junior bridesmaid. She also had the classic tropical honeymoon. They went to Hawaii and brought me back some parrot earrings. I loved crazy earrings at the time and I also loved hearing about the beauty of Hawaii. I decided then that when I got married I'd go to Hawaii. Of course I think I also thought I'd wear the traditional white dress at my wedding and that even though I wasn't raised religiously whatsoever that I would have to get married in a church because that was how it worked. Of course, I ended up getting married in a bar to guy with a mohawk while wearing this dress:

So yeah.... But I still am dreaming of Hawaii. Really, really badly. Especially since we appear to have skipped fall and gone to my most hated season of all here in Chicago, winter. Of course the reality is I'm a broke-ass bartender/novelist and he's a broke-ass mechanic so we're going to have to really scrimp and save to go any place tropical. Paying for our pretty-damn-cheap wedding really dipped into our savings. And plus, it's not like you get paid vacation as a bartender. But everyone told us, go somewhere, at least for a couple days to enjoy the beginning of married life alone and forget the stress of the wedding and daily life.

I wasn't so sure holing up in a hotel room for a couple days would really be all the great, but being a bartender has it's perks... you meet all kinds of people, including people who own B&Bs.

Two guys came into my bar on a slow night (if you follow my twitter, you know I have a lot of those. *sigh.*) and I got to talking with them and found out they owned two B&Bs in Kankakee, a river town about an hour away from Chicago. One of them was a beautiful old Victorian House called the Magruder House. They told me, I think that would be your kind of place, and they offered me a two-day "romance package" for 250$. For 50$ more, we could have the whole house to ourselves for both days. This, mind you, was only 100$ more than I was paying to spend *one* night at the Carleton Hotel in Oak Park on our wedding night. And the Carleton was a huge disappointment. When I tried to ask for an earlier check-in time, letting them know it was needed because it was our wedding day, they turned me down. And the bed was rock hard and terrible to sleep on. We left feeling ripped off.

The Magruder House was the exact opposite. We had a wonderful experience and left feel like we'd gotten a magnificent deal!

We arrived on Monday around 4 pm and were greeted by one of the owners, Scott. He had a little welcome bag waiting for us, that read "Welcome Newlyweds!" and included some pears, tea cookies, and rice krispie treats. There was also a bouquet of roses in our room:

It was a beautiful day so we went for a short walk and hung out in a park with a great view of the Kankakee River for awhile. We swung on swings and just talked. It was nice to just be able to chill out with Scott and not worry about anything. That night we went out to dinner at this great brewery called Brickstone Brewery nearby that brewed their own beer. Scott liked it so much he bought a growler of the porter and we may end up making the drive back so he can get more at some point. Our waitress was a total sweetheart too. She complimented my ring and I couldn't resist telling her that we just got married. That night we slept in the most awesome, comfortable king-sized posterbed ever. Seriously I want that bed. And we took note of the sheets and hope we can order them at some point :) Here's Scott all cuddled up:

Tuesday was rainy unfortunately because we'd planned to take a romantic boat ride on the river. Instead we went to see Zombieland, which was totally awesome so all was good. Also that day, the B&B served us complimentary champagne and chocolate fondue! Deliciousness. And this after they made us a great breakfast too. They also gave us a 75$ gift card to a local Italian restaurant where we had dinner. Then we returned to find Scott the B&B proprietor leaving us a plate of homemade animal cookies and soymilk!

We also had a hearty breakfast the next day before we left. Seriously, for 300$ it was an incredible deal and I hope we can do it for our anniversaries.

We are still dreaming of a proper tropical honeymoon this December or January. I'd still love to go to Hawaii though I'm uncertain if we can afford it. So I'm still taking other suggestions and if you hear of a good deal please let me know! We don't have passports, but can get them if necessary (it was a lot easier to change my name than I thought. It's already legally changed, so I can get a passport with it now.) to go to an island or something. I've heard good things about Jamaica and Costa Rica so those are under consideration. Not so much Mexico though.

Anyway, that was my wedding and my daydream for a honeymoon. I'm sure there will be a photo blog at some point when we get the professional photographs, but that is it for now, so I hope you enjoyed wedding week!

Oh and I've decided to extend my contest to save Shrinking Violet Danielle Joseph to Monday morning, so keep getting your entries in! I will announce a winner here on Monday afternoon! Go enter!

Lastly, my third book finally went on submission today. The title for now is Hurricane Zoe, but if it sells, I might try to pitch my original title (Anarchists, Soap Stars and Regulars) for it. Anyway cross your fingers for me!

What are your weekend plans? Mine are to read at Borders in Oak Park, IL tomorrow at 2 pm. So I hope to see you there!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wedding Week: The Celebration!

In case you missed it, yesterday's wedding blog was over at the MTV Books Blog. It was all about the music, which as you know is one of the most important things to me, so it was a pretty fun blog and there are crazy dancing pictures.

Today I just want to pay tribute to all of our loved ones who came out to the wedding. Seeing all of my out of town friends and family was a huge highlight of the wedding for me. The only thing that sucked was not having enough to time to spend with each person.

So this little photo montage of memories might be more for me and my friends than anyone else, but hey I hope everyone enjoys the pictures.

First up, the bachelorette party, which took place at a wine shop in my town called House Red. My lovely maid of honor Katie knows the owner and hooked us up with a private party there. I intentionally had this two days before the wedding so some of my out of town girlies could make it.

Like Jenny and Eryn:

I meet these two online back in 2001 or 2002 on a music messageboard, though since they both have great senses of humor, they kept telling everyone that they'd responded to an ad I put on Craigslist for friends. Jenny lives in St. Louis and Eryn lives in Denver. So we only see each other once a year or so. Eryn and I travel to Seattle together a lot and Jenny came on our original trip out there in 2004. As you can see we have a lot of fun together:

Yes, that is a penis straw. Katie knew I didn't want the typical, tacky bachelorette party, but she did get everyone penis straws in their otherwise classy favor bags. She also insisted I wear the tiara and sash, though I made Eryn wear the shot glass as you see above. Here's a better pic of my outfit and the Betsey Johnson dress that was too short to wear for my wedding:

Also in town early was my dear friend and former roommate Tai, the woman who married us. She's on my left and my maid of honor and bff Katie is on my right:

I also had fun with my in town friends who I don't see nearly enough. Like Jme, who also used to work at the Beacon. You can tell she was a bartender cause she's good at putting up with drunk people while being sober. She's pregnant so she couldn't really join in the wine drinking:

Amber and Katie live in Chicago, but I don't see them nearly enough. We lived together in LA for a semester and I wish we could hang out as often as we did then. Here's a nice picture of us:

And this is more like we normally are:

Then there is my friend Jenny. I guess I actually do see her often because we have a weekly writing group together and she lives a couple blocks away from me. But still she is always fun to hang with:

Eryn took this really cool picture of the group through a wine glass:

And here's a nice group photo. Yay for fun bachelorette party!

The night before the wedding we got our out of town family and friends together for dinner in order to spend more time with them. I got to catch up a little bit with my cousin (a couple times removed or something) Amanda, who I haven't seen since she was two years old:

I also saw my cousin Nathan, pictured here with my mom. Hadn't seen him in way too long either:

And here my uncle Stevie tries to get my aunt Pam to drink Sake. Again it's been way too long since I've seen them:

Here are my brothers. My half-brother Evan was falling asleep, so my brother Dan was chilling with him:

Jenny, Eryn and I have a tradition of drinking Midori Sours whenever we are together. It took the bartender so long to make these we thought they were making the Midori from scratch. Eryn looks a little displeased by this:

At the wedding I got to see more out of town folks like my cousin Becca:

Like my darling friend Anna and her boyfriend Adam arrived from LA and then the LA crew of me, Anna, Amber, and Katie was complete:

Here's another good shot of me and Amanda:

Jenny's husband Jim got to town and the made a smashing couple:

And here's a good bride and her mama shot:

One of my high school bffs Thea and her husband Justin came and Thea and Katie got to catch up:

The Columbia Crew Amber, Anna, Katie, Jenny and Aaron. Jenny and Aaron are my writing group:

Katie, Aaron and I used to work in the Fiction Dept at Columbia together. Good times.

And here is Kathy, I used to work with her at UIC. Now Katie has my job there. Look out College of Nursing. This is your support staff!

Here is Kathy's boyfriend Joe. Nice hair! He runs a barbershop you know.

My Girls. I'm sad I don't have a solo shot with my new sis-in-law Kelly. Hopefully the professional photographer got one:

Scott's boys:

And here were are with our best friends, my maid of honor Katie and Scott's best man, Chris:

They both made toasts to us and so did my dad:

Chris threatened that his toast would be 13 pages long, but he kept it short and sweet. He also actually got nervous and spilled his champagne:

Katie's speech was awesome. She made reference to the first time we hung out at my house when my dad referred to her as "that weird girl" probably because she was 14 and I was 15 and we were all hyped up on sugar and coffee, getting ready to go hang out with boys we liked we were screaming the words "BUTT!" and "FIRE!" ala Beavis and Butthead:

But I think the coolest part was seeing my friends who didn't know each other until that weekend become friends. Like here is Eryn bonding with Katie and Tai, but don't ask me what the hell they are doing:

And here is Eryn with Mario and Jose:

I could post a million more pictures but I'll stop for now and conclude wedding week tomorrow!