Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New Project Angst, Time Management Issues, and Bar Love

I just finished reading through my page proofs of Ballads of Suburbia. Now my fiance Scott reads them. He has only read small sections of the book before and listened to me talk through plot issues, but he is my fresh set of eyes. Editor and I have read this a bunch of times now, as have all my CPs, so it's up to Scott to catch any tiny things we missed. I'm anxious to see what he thinks about the book. I've gone from feeling it will never live up to what I wanted to be to feeling like I love it even more than IWBYJR. Well, I don't know about more... They are such different books, there really is no comparing. But anyway, I am pleased with it and hope he is too. 

Once I come back from vacation (I will blog abt that later this week), I glance through these proofs one last time and then that is it. The bulk of the writing work on Ballads of Suburbia is done.

This is satisfying but also panic-inducing. I have the usual worries about the book being perfect, but also freaking me out: Now it is time to commit to writing something new. That's right. I can no longer tell myself that I am just fiddling around while I wait for the next stage of edits or proofs on Ballads. I have to move forward. IWBYJR and Ballads have taken up most of my writing time since 2002. Ballads was easy to dive into because I'd written a really crappy version of it in 2000, got the idea for the "ballad" concept that improved it while I was still writing IWBYJR, so I knew what I was doing. It was hard, but I knew. Now it's time to enter the great unknown.

There are three story ideas taking my attention. I have my Persephone book, which I talked a bit about here. This will likely be the next book I write. My agent has the first 50 pages of it and synopsis right now and I will revise according to her notes and then send it on to MTV Books as my option book and hopefully they will want it. I've been toying with it for about a year now off and on (really, really off and on because of edits, promo, etc on IWBYJR and Ballads), and have it mostly figured out except for the stuff in the middle, which for some reason is detering me from writing.

So for the past couple of writer's groups (I meet once every week or two with a couple writer friends that I went to grad school with), I've been working on this short story that will likely become a novel eventually, but for now needs to be a short story of 10K words or less that I want to submit to an anthology. It's due Apr 30, so that is a total race against time, but I hope I can win. It's about a guy who just gets out of jail. The anthology "will investigate the sexual experiences and identities of male characters as envisioned by female writers." So it's about a sexual experience. Might not quite be YA, but I don't know, my character is only 18 and I never shy away from that stuff in my books so.... But yeah, anyway. Don't know if my story will get finished on time or accepted by the anthology. But this character is fascinating me right now. And I think it takes place in Wisconsin and I think he hangs out at River's Edge.... I always liked how Poppy Z Brite revisited her fictional town, Missing Mile, in various short stories and books, so... No IWBYJR characters so far, but the place...

Thirdly, I have my bartender book. I've been messing around with this book since summer/fall 2007. I itch more and more to work on this one because I'm bartending again, but I think it is going to have to wait until after the Persephone book. I'm not sure if it's YA... well, technically I'm not sure if any of my books are YA, but I guess what I mean is I don't know if it is something my agent would want to submit to MTV Books or not. It alternates between a 17 year old girl on the run with her mentally ill best friend and her mom, who is the bartender character and possibly the mom's best friend, who is the mom of the mentally ill character....

Anyway, I'm struggling to focus on just one book even though I know I should be focusing on Persephone. (Well, I should be focusing on the anthology story first and then Persephone.) I'm hoping that a week long vacation of no work, just reading, journaling random thoughts as they come, and mostly relaxing with friends will clear my head and then when I come back I can get focused and write!

However my other big issue is time management. I still haven't mastered it since IWBYJR came out and I've had to juggle promo along with writing. I tried to create more writing time by quitting the 8:30 to 5 job for bartending, cutting my outside work time in half, but I still seem to get lost in doing promo, answering email and twitter, facebook, etc. I feel like my computer totally gives me ADD because there are so many different things I can be doing. I start one thing, then move on to something else before finishing, and then before I know it I am wasting time on facebook instead of working. Sigh. Kind of like how it has taken me an hour to write this blog and yet I still haven't gotten around to paying all my bills which was my original point to coming online. Ugh! So once I get home from vacation, I need to carefully carve out online time and writing time. 

I do really well when I'm on deadline, but when I'm not.... I don't know I guess I'm just naturally a binge writer. I learned those habits in grad school because I was working two jobs and I would reserve a day or two a week where I would just binge write all day, but the rest of the week I wouldn't be writing. Now I binge during deadline times and am not nearly as productive other times.  I think structure is key for me, but I will happily take any time management tips (esp from other writers) if you've got them!

I really wish I could write full-time. I think that would help... But then I don't know. I do love working at the Beacon. I think writing full-time for me would mean still having one shift a week at the Beacon just for fun. But now it's not just about fun, it's about paying the bills, which means while most of my brain is devoted to writing, part of it is also devoted to bringing more business to the Beacon. Not like icky frat boy/sorority girl/amateur drinker type business, just more of the same kind of customers we have. I love the Beacon because it's a neighborhood bar. It draws in a wide range of people. I have a ton of intelligent conversation at the Beacon with people I would not normally cross paths with. There is also drunken hilarity. But anyway, so I'm constantly brainstorming about how to make it an even more fun place and draw in new folk who will enjoy it. Like I've been trying to do this trivia night thing on Sundays, which is not really off the ground yet, but I have high hopes for summer. And I've been inventing new drinks and shots. And I created a facebook group for the bar, so we can communicate our events and specials to our patrons. One of the regulars posted this awesome video that BethEllen put together that shows the Beacon. It's been making me smile today and I thought I'd share it for those of you who are curious what this bar I speak of so often looks like. I'm not in the vid. I wasn't bartending during the time it was taken. Maybe we can do another one this summer :)

Monday, March 30, 2009

GCC Presents: April Henry

I'm thrilled to interview April Henry today as part of her Girlfriends Cyber Circuit tour for her amazing new novel, TORCHED. I seriously can't wait to get my hands on this book because it sounds right up my alley. Here's what TORCHED is all about:

When Ellie’s parents are busted for growing marijuana, the FBI gives her a choice: infiltrate the Mother Earth Defenders (MED), a radical environmental group, or her parents will go to jail. At first Ellie is more than willing to entrap the MEDics, but the more time she spends undercover—particularly with Coyote, the green-eyed MEDic that she can’t stop thinking about—the more she starts to believe in their cause. When talk turns to murder, Coyote backs out, but Ellie is willing to risk everything to save her family—even if it means losing Coyote and putting her own life on the line.

And here's the dirt on April:

April Henry knows how to kill you in a two-dozen different ways. She makes up for a peaceful childhood in an intact home by killing off fictional characters. April had one detour on her path to destruction: when she was 12 she sent a short story about a six-foot tall frog who loved peanut butter to noted children's author Roald Dahl. He liked it so much he arranged to have it published in an international children's magazine.

By the time she was in her 30s, April had come to terms with her childhood and started writing about hit men, drug dealers, and serial killers. She has published six mysteries and thrillers, with five more under contract. Her books have gotten starred reviews, been on Booksense (twice!), translated into four languages, short-listed for the Oregon Book Award, and chosen as a Quick Pick by the American Library Association.

April writes for both teens and adults. This month Face of Betrayal will be published. It’s the first in a new series for adult mystery series co-written with FOX legal anaylst Lis Wiehl.

To find out more about April, you can also visit her website or blog, but today I've got an interview with here!

Q: Please list five songs that would be on the soundtrack to your book and explain how they relate to your story or characters.

April: Blitzen Trapper –Furr – the importance of belonging
Recognition - Susie Suh - longing
Combat Rock - Sleater-Kinney - defiance against the state
My doorbell - White Stripes - anticipation
Black Dove - Tori Amos - feeling trapped

Q: Name some of your main character's favorite musicians or bands.

April: Flogging Molly, The Shins, Blitzen Trapper, Sea Wolf, The Dodos, Johnny Flynn, the Decemberists,

Q: Who are some of your favorite musicians or bands?

April: Elvis Costello. Beth Orton. Dirty Martini. Red Hot Chili Peppers. Pink. Bruce Springsteen. Tori Amos.

Q: Even though music plays in so heavily into my storytelling, I rarely can actually listen to it while I'm writing. Can you? How does music fit into your writing process?

April: I often listen to music played very low. So low that I can listen to the same CD three or four times in a row without minding. But I do mind the silence. Sometimes music makes me want to write, especially if the songwriter is a good storyteller. Have you ever heard Robin Holcomb? Her songs are stories.

Q: While music is my muse, I know other writers find their muse in theater, sports, art, the great outdoors, etc. What is your main muse?

April: When I run, I often think about what I’m writing, and sometimes come up with great ideas.

I've got to mention that as soon as she mentioned Combat Rock by Sleater Kinney, I was sold. Well that and the whole premise of the book :) And I'm going to check out Robin Holcomb right now!

To further whet your appetite for TORCHED, here is a video trailer for it:

I'm looking forward to reading this one, how about you?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Page Proofs for Ballad of Suburbia have arrived!

It was a banner day for UPS deliveries here. I got three packages: my new shoes (I'm addicted to these shoes from Rocket Dog, they are so comfy, the only shoes I can stay in my feet in all night while bartending and great for all the walking I do too, but I wear 'em out fast!), a birthday present for my friend Polly's daughter (it's late but I'm delivering it in person and she's two so I don't think it will bother her. I got books of course, my fave gift for kids or anyone really), and best of all, a package from my editor at MTV Books!!!!! It included an ARC of Shrinking Violet by Danielle Joseph, which I'm looking forward to reading when I'm on vacation in a little over a week and my page proofs for BALLADS!!!!!!!

I still get giddy over each stage of publishing. Obviously I think the best parts are getting the offer and holding the finished book in your hand, but I even enjoy revisions and copyedits and page proofs are a really exciting point too because it is the first time you get to see the way your manuscript is going to look laid out on the page. And I have to say BALLADS looks gorgeous:

(Click to enlarge)

There are two slightly different fonts in the book because there is the regular straight narrative and then certain characters tell their "ballad," which is like a little vignette about the most life-altering moment in their lives. I love how they have Ballads of Suburbia in the background of the first page of the "ballads" as you can see with the page to the far right.

Yeah, it just looks awesome. I can't wait for it to be in real book form, which I will get to see the the ARCs next. Those should be coming pretty soon and don't forget that I have a contest to win one going on through March 31. Read about it and enter here!

But for now I have to carefully go through this pages proofs. This is my last chance to make any changes (though I can only make really small ones) and catch any errors. I want this book to be perfect so I'm going to be completely absorbed in it all weekend. What about you? Any fun weekend plans?

ETA: Since I was asked, the book is 344 pages long, (4 pages longer than IWBYJR, though the font must be smaller because it's actually like 8 to 10K words longer than IWBYJR.) There is also a special authors note at the back and a reading group guide that includes discussion points for book clubs and also an interview with me about the book :)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Help a charity & win a signed ARC of Ballads!

My cousin Greg Lowe formed an organization called Tipping Points in Philadelphia. It's an organization that provides high-quality, low-cost tutoring and test preparation services to at-risk, underprivileged youth to help them access college and higher education opportunities. Compared to for-profit models like Kaplan, Greg’s approach will only charge $50 per student for a 12-week tutoring course, but still attract high-quality tutors by paying them at the same rate as Tipping Points’ for-profit competitors. By helping erase part of the resource gap between low-income youth and their more affluent peers, Tipping Points hopes to play a role in closing the achievement gap.

Good education is very close to my heart and since many of you are avid readers, I imagine it is close to yours as well. I hate seeing the inequality in education. I lived in St. Louis until I was 8 years old and went to an inner city school. Then I moved to Oak Park, Illinois, a relatively well-to-do suburb of Chicago and even as a kid I was astounded by the differences. I still to this day think about my very intelligent peers that I left behind in St. Louis and wonder how their lives turned out and if their lives would have been different if they had the opportunities I did. Race, class, and where you are from should not determine the quality of your education. Programs like Tipping Points are essential to giving EVERYONE a shot at achieving their dreams.

Tipping Points is competing for a grant from Match Rugby and Teach for America. To help them get this grant all you have to do is vote for them at this website (be sure to actually check the box and vote, not just leave a comment).

Since this matter so much to me, if you vote for Tipping Points and leave a comment here saying that you did so, you will be entered to win a signed ARC of my new book BALLADS OF SUBURBIA. (Be honest. It's not hard to vote and it's for charity after all.) If you post a blog entry about Tipping Points including the link of where to vote and leave a link to your blog in my comments, you will get 2 extra contest entries. And lastly, don't forget to include in your blog that I am running this contest and that people should come here and comment that they voted and that they heard about Tipping Points from you, because, you guessed it, each person that comments saying that they heard from you gets you an extra contest entry. 

You are looking and an unlimited amount of contest entries here, guys! That means a very strong chance of winning an ARC of BALLADS. I don't have the ARCs in my grubby paws just yet, but as soon as I do I will ship one off to the winner. Of course the winner also has the option to ask for a signed copy of I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE instead and I can ship that pretty immediately. So yeah, START ENTERING!!!! Deadline is 3/31 which is when the voting closes.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Catching Up and Women Who Rock Weds: TV Characters

Sorry I've been M.I.A. lately. The sick kitty thing last week really threw me off. I spent Thursday and Friday crying and begging Sid to eat and take his medicine. It was pretty upsetting. He's like my child. I've had him since I was 16. When something is wrong with him it causes nervous breakdowns. But now he is back to eating and all three cats are taking medicine (which is total hell I must say. Scott and I have to double-team them and it still ends badly sometimes like last night when Sid's medicine ended up in his eye instead of his mouth...) because I don't want them to end up catching the parasite Sid has and then giving it back to him. Ugh hopefully this whole nasty affair will be over by Sunday and things will go back to normal in the Kuehnert/Lewis household.

I did show off the cover for BALLADS OF SUBURBIA at the MTV Books blog last Friday. In case you missed it, here it is and read my thoughts on it here.

In my craziness I wasn't able to line up a Women Who Rocks for today, though next week I am hoping to have Jocelyn Pearce, you some of you may know from her essay in Red: Teenage Girls in America Write On What Fires Up Their Lives Today and others no doubt know her from her blog Teen Book Review. So this week, I thought we'd do something a little different for WWRW, let's talk about female characters on TV shows that we think totally kick ass and are empowering. I bring this up because I just got hooked on Veronica Mars and I think Veronica is one of the coolest girls on TV ever. She's smart, she's confident in who she is and isn't a follower, and she's a bad ass girl detective. I would also add Scully from the X Files to that list along with Spike from the original Degrassi Jr High and High School series. Her daughter Emma on Degrassi the Next Generation is pretty kick ass too. She reminds me a little of Lisa Simpson, who I think is a great cartoon Woman Who Rocks. So comment and let me know which women and girls on TV shows past and present you think rock and why. The ladies I chose are all smart and not afraid to be themselves which I think are two of the most important characteristics of a woman who rocks. Since I don't have a guest, as a prize I will be offering up my 2-disc Women Who Rock mix CD. So comment away.

Of course, I do have a prize to give away from last week. The winner of GOING TOO FAR by the fabulous Jennifer Echols is Nora from blogger! Nora, please send your mailing address to stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot com so Jenn can send your prize!

Last but not least in this somewhat random, babbling blog, I wrote a column about the Forest Park Community Garden here. I am all about gardening and community efforts to create green space so please check it out if you are too.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Jennifer Echols

Welcome to Women Who Rock Wednesday! The winner of last week's contest is lovelessangel93 from LJ! Ritsuka send me an email at stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot com with your address and whether you want to receive Zombie Queen of Newbury High, You Had Me At Halo, or a zombie survival kit from Amanada Ashby!

Today I am interviewing the lovely Jennifer Echols, my fellow MTV Books author, whose kick-ass book GOING TOO FAR came out yesterday. I posted the description of the book on my blog yesterday, but here it is again in case you missed it.


All Meg has ever wanted is to get away. Away from high school. Away from her backwater town. Away from her parents who seem determined to keep her imprisoned in their dead-end lives. But one crazy evening involving a dare and forbidden railroad tracks, she goes way too far… and almost doesn’t make it back.

John made a choice to stay. To enforce the rules. To serve and protect. He has nothing but contempt for what he sees as childish rebellion, and he wants to teach Meg a lesson she won’t soon forget. But Meg pushes him to the limit by questioning everything he learned at the police academy. And when he pushes back, demanding to know why she won’t be tied down, they will drive each other to the edge—and over…

Now let's hear from Jenn!

Q: Please list five songs that would be on the soundtrack to your book and explain how they relate to your story or characters.

Jenn: You can see the whole soundtrack (along with the first chapter) at http://jennifer-echols.com/goingtoofarchapter.html. A few selections:

“Sweet Home Remix” by B.A.M.A.: This is a remake of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” but with a rap beat and lyrics about smoking pot. It’s appropriate because the book is set in Alabama, yet inappropriate because it comes on the radio in the cop car. Irony.

“Touch My Body” by Mariah Carey: Another song that keeps coming on the radio at inappropriate times.

“Look Through My Eyes” by Phil Collins: This is a sickly-sweet song from the Brother Bear Disney movie. Wait, is every song in this soundtrack ironic? I didn’t realize I was that bitter.

“Running to Stand Still” by U2: This was my editor’s title for the book, before we changed it yet again. If you listen to this beautiful song, it sums up Meg’s situation perfectly--except that the song is really about a heroin addict, and that is not Meg’s problem.

“Dig” by Incubus: The love theme, and the best song ever.

Q: Name some of your main character's favorite musicians or bands.

Jenn: This is kind of weird but I’m not sure Meg has favorites. A lot of music is mentioned in the book, but for the most part it’s background noise and definitely not what she would choose. She doesn’t make plans or entrench herself in the culture--even enough to have a favorite band--because she views herself as staying here only temporarily.

Q: Who are some of your favorite musicians or bands?

Jenn: Incubus!!!, Foo Fighters, Fall Out Boy, The Fray, Alison Krauss, Kelly Clarkson. Seriously.

Q: Even though music plays in so heavily into my storytelling, I rarely can actually listen to it while I'm writing. Can you? How does music fit into your writing process?

Jenn: Absolutely. My critique partner and I actually have a ritual of making a soundtrack, burning the CD, and sending it to each other. That means we’ve officially started a new book. I listen to my soundtrack over and over while writing.

Q: While music is my muse, I know other writers find their muse in theater, sports, art, the great outdoors, etc. What is your main muse?

Jenn: Running. I run between 2 and 5 miles most days, and that’s when I figure out most of my plot problems and come up with some great dialogue. I’ve just started training for a 15K in April, so I should be coming up with a lot!

Q: What was the first album you bought and concert you attended?

Jenn: Steph, you are a rockin’ chick, and my heroine Meg is a rockin’ chick, so you can’t make fun of me, because you asked.

For my first album, my brother and I joined the Columbia Record Club and got 12 albums for 1 penny (before the fine print). They included E.L.O, Hall & Oates, and the Little River Band. Guess the year!

My first concert was Chicago, for their Chicago 17 album. Now, let me back up and explain. I played alto sax in the marching band, and marching band members love fusion bands like Earth Wind & Fire and Blood Sweat & Tears. By the time I went to this concert, producer David Foster had gotten his hands on Chicago and they were producing Super Hit Love Ballads. But back in the day, Chicago was a funky hot mess. The album Chicago 5 will blow your mind. I loved all their albums so much that I was willing to forgive the David Foster transgressions because hey--pop music with actual horns in it? I was there.

However, I do not remember much about the concert itself. What I remember is that it was my birthday, and the first boy I ever fell in love with invited me to the concert as my birthday present. He played trombone in the marching band and he was adorable. We were only 15 and the concert was an hour away in Montgomery, so we double-dated with a clarinet and a baritone who drove us in his mother’s Mary Kay pink Cadillac. I am not even making this up. He had a lead foot, and the only way to Montgomery from our small town was over back roads. Like it was yesterday I can picture that warm September afternoon, blowing down curvy two-lane highways between cow pastures and through thick forests in that pink car.

Q: Please dish about the moment where you felt most like a rock star. Maybe it was a moment of big success in your career, an "I'm Not Worthy!" Wayne's World type moment where you met someone cool, or a time where you just got the rock star treatment.

Jenn: Smartbitchestrashybooks.com is my favorite book review site. I don’t always agree with them (for instance, I heart Jennifer Crusie’s Tell Me Lies and they gave it a D), but I do always see where they’re coming from. They think about their reviews very carefully and have a real love for the romance genre. When Major Crush, my first book, came out, I was afraid it wouldn’t sell and I’d never get another publishing contract. So when the publisher sent me exactly two advance copies, I kept one and mailed one to the Smart Bitches. I thought if they didn’t enjoy the book, well, okay, but if they did, no matter what happened with book sales, I would know for sure I’d done something right. They gave it an A-.

As a writer, I totally love Jenn's rock star moment and can relate. I also dig her passion for soundtracks since that is exactly how I operate when writing too. 

Okay, you know the drill, leave a comment about Jenn's interview and you will be entered to win a copy of GOING TOO FAR. I'll announce the winner next Wednesday!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

WWRW announcement, Twitter overdosing and more

WWRW Announcement

I'm happy to announce that I managed to find a very fabulous guest for this week's Women Who Rock Wednesday after all. Tomorrow I hope you'll stop by my blog to meet Jennifer Echols, author of GOING TOO FAR, which is came out TODAY from MTV Books. You all should be rushing out to buy it like I am! I mean look at the gorgeous cover and read the description and tell me you don't want to pick this book up immediately:


All Meg has ever wanted is to get away. Away from high school. Away from her backwater town. Away from her parents who seem determined to keep her imprisoned in their dead-end lives. But one crazy evening involving a dare and forbidden railroad tracks, she goes way too far… and almost doesn’t make it back.

John made a choice to stay. To enforce the rules. To serve and protect. He has nothing but contempt for what he sees as childish rebellion, and he wants to teach Meg a lesson she won’t soon forget. But Meg pushes him to the limit by questioning everything he learned at the police academy. And when he pushes back, demanding to know why she won’t be tied down, they will drive each other to the edge—and over…

Yeah, go pick up your copy now and come back tomorrow to meet Jenn!

Twitter, TFC, and TMI

As you all probably know I also blog over at the Teen Fiction Cafe. We finally got a twitter account for TFC, so please start following us at twitter.com/Teenfictioncafe.

I'm pretty hooked on Twitter as are many people, but I know it has it's critics too, who think it is reducing our culture to mindless snippets as opposed to real communication and subjecting us to a deluge of pointless remarks. Do we all really want to know what so-and-so had for breakfast today? Are we all so attention-starved that we must share these things?  I can definitely understand these criticisms. I've witnessed over-tweeting and have probably overindulged in tweeting some days myself. But I'm a person who likes random thoughts, likes sharing them, and likes hearing other's random thoughts. I think Twitter is fun for that and it's also great for finding out little snippets of news when your busy.... Of course you can easily OD on Twitter, other social networks, blogs, and the internet in general. I feel like I'm getting too little work done myself lately... But it's all about finding a happy medium.

Another issue with Twitter and all the social networking stuff is it kind of turns us all into exhibitionists. I was reading an interview with Stevie Nicks in Rolling Stone (I think it was the first issue of Rolling Stone I actually read some off in months even though I have a subscription. I just don't seem to have the time for magazines besides Venus which comes out quarterly and my industry mags anymore) and she says, "Little girls think it's necessary to put all their business on MySpace and Facebook and I think it's a shame."

That gave me something to ponder. I'm not hugely knowledgeable about Ms. Nicks (though I should be, my mom's a big fan and part of the reason I'm named is Stephanie is because of Stevie), so I don't really know if in her day she was and is still considered a mysterious rock star. I wonder if both social networking and the media are killing rock star/celeb mystique and if so I guess that is kinda bad. Though I don't know, I've always been a fan of people like Courtney Love who very boldly puts her thoughts out there. And maybe that's why I'm so open about my life and my history and thoughts and feelings and so forth on this blog. But should I be? I feel like Stevie Nicks has shamed me a little bit.

I don't know it's just my nature to talk about the stuff that matters to me or that I'm thinking about at the moment so I don't think I'll stop, but I'm interested to hear reader opinions on twitter and overexposure and all of this.

And maybe this is totally TMI, but I tweeted yesterday about my kitty Sid being sick again. He has these bouts of vomitting and diarrhea like twice a year and was basically diagnosed with a kitty version of Crohn's disease. This time I took in a stool sample and they found this parasite which he could just be a carrier for, but maybe this is the thing causing his episodes. Of course they can't really kill the parasite just treat it with antibiotics when it shows up, but at least it gives me a solid idea of what is going on with him. I hate giving him pills though because he gets sooooooooo mad. I can't give him the pills until he keeps food down (fingers crossed that he will today!), but then begins about a weeks worth of torture. I've tried everything with meds with him, tried putting it in food, but as a result of that he won't eat certain kinds of food (like the wet food that is good for his stomach...). I've tried those pill pockets. There is no option but shove pill down kitty's throat and beg him not to be mad. Poor guy. Also the downside of this parasite business is I have to keep a close eye on the other cats and make sure they don't catch it. *Sigh.* I'm totally stressed with this cat stuff and not being productive at all... But I have to try to be. After all I have an event to get to soon.

Reading Tonight  

I just wanted to give one last reminder that I'm reading tonight at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago at 6 pm tonight as part of the Nelson Algren tribute event. So if you're in the Chicago area and you aren't drunk on green beer (or even if you are but want to take a short break to sober up) please stop by.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Upcoming Events in Gurnee and Chicago

Just a quick note to let you all know that I'm doing two events that I'm really excited about in the next couple days.

This Saturday (3/14) at 2 pm, I will be reading/discussing/signing IWBYJR at Warren Newport Public Library, 224 N. O'Plaine Rd in Gurnee, IL. It's a looooong drive for me so I hope anyone in the area will come out and visit.

Then on Tuesday (St. Paddy's Day 3/17) at 6 pm, I am honored to be reading at the Harold Washington Library (400 S. State) in Chicago as a part of Story Week's Nelson Algren tribute. It's hosted by Nelson Algren-award winner Joe Meno (a former professor of mine who is totally my hero). There will be readings by J. Adams Oaks, Why I Fight; Bayo Ojikutu, Free Burning; and Billy Lombardo, The Logic of a Rose. There will also be a conversation with Nelson Algren photographer, Art Shay, and filmmaker Michael Caplan will show a clip from Algren, his upcoming documentary. Book signing to follow.

Um my book doesn't really have anything to do with Algren, but it's a celebration of Chicago writing and I'm hugely excited to be a part of it and reading at the Harold Washington Library which is kinda a rock star moment for me, not to mention being part of Story Week is huge for me. It feels kinda poetic because I met my agent at Story Week in 2005 and as you know she was a huge champion of IWBYJR and now she is back for Story Week this year and I'm part of it and she'll get to see me read and I just imagine it's going to be a nice moment for both of us, so I hope you'll come and be a part of it if you can.

Now off to do less pleasant things... The thing I've been dreading for months.... Taxes.... I have a feeling I really should have hired someone for this but seeing as I'm broke... Sigh. I guess I'll just slog through.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Wedding stuff and dismemberment

That's an eyecatching title, huh? May have to remember that for a book... I've explain the dismemberment thing shortly. First, I've been neglecting blogging about the wedding. This is mostly because I've been neglecting the wedding period. Deadlines take priority and get me behind on everything.

Fortunately other people have been on top of doing stuff for my wedding, namely Leslie Hamer of Unless Someone Like You who you may remember from my Women Who Rock Weds feature. I love Leslie's art and we went to high school together. Since she's a talented female artist and I've known her a long time obviously I wanted to support her by having her do my wedding invitations. With the economy the way it is, I feel like it is more important now than ever to support artists like Leslie and locally owned businesses so they can survive this mess. That's why I'm doing everything for the wedding locally from flowers to cake to undergarments to party locations.

I wasn't even planning on doing Save the Dates until I saw a fabulous design that Leslie sells here. Scratch off cards with a record player design? I was all over it. I blogged about those, but never got a chance to show off how they looked personalized for me and Scott. So here there since most of them have gone out by now except for a few stragglers whose addys we are still gathering:

Total adorableness. I didn't think I could be happier. But of course, Leslie continued to amaze us.
We met with her for about half an hour to talk about the wedding invitation. All we knew was that we were thinking something involving classic tattoo art since Scott and are both inked and we bonded over tattoos and Sailor Jerry rum (Sailor Jerry is a classic tattoo artist). Next thing we know, we're all comparing tattoos. Leslie notes my roses, Scott's nautical stars. We discuss a heart with a banner and swallows. Then a couple weeks later, an email from Leslie arrives saying she had a brainstorm. She assures us that she's happy to redesign it if we don't like it, but it is basically perfect. We just change up a couple colors and try to figure out what to put below Scott and Stephanie on the banner. It had said Forest Park, IL, but Scott thinks we should have something catchier, more like a real tattoo. We go back and forth between "True Love" and "Forever" and this is what we settled on:  

I couldn't love it more. Now we just have to decide on the type of card to put it on and figure out all the details to go inside. This involves a couple major decisions on our part. 

1. Do we want a wedding website? I don't know, do we???? And if we do, is there a service to go through for this. Is it worth it? Is that sort of thing mostly for informing out of town guests? Because we don't have a lot of those. I mean we aren't even reserving a block of rooms at a hotel because most people are local or can stay with other locals.  So yeah, is there a purpose for this or will it be a waste of money and my (already quite overcommitted) time?

2. Where are we going to register? Ugh. I'd thought registering was going to be the fun part, but honestly it is taking so much time that I don't have that it is starting to be unpleasant. I got some advice from all my married friends (namely register at Bed, Bath and Beyond because they give cash back on returns and they always send out coupons so guests like to shop there) and we are following that. But we'd also wanted to register at Target, mainly because my dishes are already from Target so I wanted more. Then one of my regulars/friends from the Beacon who is also getting married told me how hard it is to return stuff to Target. I thought store credit from Target would be no big deal, we grocery shop there sometimes, but no. Apparently if you return without a receipt (which I doubt people are going to be giving gift receipts since they think, hey you want this, you registered for it), you get store credit for that particular department only. So yeah, possibly worthless. Plus apparently Target doesn't keep your registry updated well so you get lots of duplicates. Ugh. So right now we are looking at Sears for our second place to register. Scott works at Sears so it makes sense to help keep his place of employment afloat. Plus they give you gift cards when you return and that works since he can get tools there. I don't know. hopefully we'll have an hour or so today to look at websites. Any other suggestions? I know people say Crate and Barrel, but I figured only one of those type of stores (and we chose Bed Bath and Beyond) and one department store (no Macy's. It's too pricy for one and for two, we in Chicago still have some bitterness about Macy's taking over Marshall Fields).

So yeah, that is where we're at with the wedding. We also have to find time to go taste cakes. But I've got my dress, we've got a place, we've got photographers and invites. Oh and for favors we are doing mix CDs and Leslie is designing the cases. I swear that woman is amazing and anyone planning a wedding should take advantage of her artistic skills.

Now what is the dismemberment business you speak of, Stephanie?

Yesterday they found a dismembered body in 4 garbage bags a block a way from the house I grew up in. In fact, my mom says from the news footage, it looks like it was the alley behind our house! Creepy dude! Here is an article about it. It's kinda spooky. I mean I used to walk my dog down that alley all the time and I just imagine her sniffing out that bag... gross. But mostly it's a big WTF seriously??? moment for me. I honestly wish it had happened earlier so I could have put a little mention in BALLADS because the characters collect articles about bizarre happenings around the suburbs and "dismembered body parts found in garbage bags in suburban alley"... I couldn't make that shit up! I'll definitely keep my eye on this story because I don't think the Oak Park cops are making the brightest initial deductions about it. Like "we think it was dumped here from Berwyn or Cicero" ummm why? Because the victim was Hispanic? Also "we think it was gang or drug related"... ummm unless the Mexican drug cartel has taking up residence recently, I kinda doubt that. Last I checked, street gangs around here just shoot people and drive off, they don't go to the effort of chopping bodies into little pieces. And if they did, they would probably deliver said pieces to the victim's family or friends to prove a point. Sorry, but this is clearly a psychopath. Maybe a psychopath in a domestic dispute as opposed to a serial killer type psychopath, but still we need Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks on the case. Can someone phone him?

I'll keep you all updated on this. It's almost better than my soap opera where they have the third serial killer in 10 years (seriously, who knew little towns in PA saw so much violent crime!) and they are totally ripping off Twin Peaks with the whole letters under the fingernails bit. OLTL, as usual I'm on the verge of breaking up with you, but I'm sure I won't.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Amanda Ashby

It's Women Who Rock Wednesday, yay! Which means I have a winner to announce and another rockin' lady to interview. But first, I totally forgot to mention this yesterday.... You have the opportunity to win a signed copy of my book I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE by visiting the lovely birthday girl Liviania's blog and reading my "Ode to my 20's" and following Liv's rules about entering the contest.

Now onto announcing last week's winner of Liz Funk's SUPERGIRLS SPEAK OUT.... that person is Jocelyn from blogger! Jocelyn, please email me with your address to claim your prize.

Okay, today's guest is Amanda Ashby, author of ZOMBIE QUEEN OF NEWBURY HIGH. Zombies definitely rock and so does Amanda, so let's hear all about her and her book!

Welcome to Women Who Rock Wednesday, Amanda! Please give us the lowdown on your fab new book ZOMBIE QUEEN OF NEWBURY HIGH?
So where did you get the idea for the book? I did a fun blog for you about my thoughts about zombies, can you share your thoughts and feelings about zombies and any fave zombie books or movies?

This is really embarrassing to admit but I’ve never particularly been a zombie fan. In fact when I think of zombies I think of B-grade movies and so I use to joke about writing a zombie book in the same way that I’d joke about writing something called Godzilla Goes to Hollywood. Anyway, after all a while I suddenly thought perhaps it would actually be a good idea and so I turned to my husband – who has been a zombie fan from way back and we had a few drinks and brainstormed up an idea.

Of course the most embarrassing thing about having a zombie book out is meeting the other zombie writers – all of whom are hardcore addicts - and I have to admit to my own short comings. But despite my poor heritage there is a lot of zombie movies that I love. Shaun of the Dead, Fido, 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, Serenity (which after consultation with a few friends, we’ve all agreed that it counts. Firstly because the Ravers are like zombies and secondly because Nathan Fillion is just so gorgeous that it gives him automatic entry into whatever genre he wants!!). And speaking of Nathan, Slither is great – though it’s sort of Alien meets zombie meets gross-me-out-dude.

As for books, well I have to turn to my fellow zombie writers! Mark Henry’s Happy Hour of the Damned and Road Trip of the Living Dead are hilariously snarky! SG Browne’s Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament is the great American novel – with zombies and is a must for everyone! Stacey Jay’s You Are So Undead to Me is so far up my street that it might as well just move next door and while I’ve yet to read Carrie Ryan’s Forest of Hands and Teeth, I plan on grabbing it the minute it comes out.

Now that we've heard about your zombie influences, let's hear about your writing influences. How did you get your start as a writer? Have you been into it since a young age? Who are some of the writers or other artists that inspire your writing. Since it's WWRW, we especially like to hear about the women, but feel free to name guys too!

I wish I could say that I’ve always written but that would be lying! At school I was always very good at English (not so good on the spelling and grammar though!) and at University I studied English and Journalism but I never felt the least interest in writing a book. I was however an avid reader and one day I had the terrible thought ‘what if Jane Austen never sat down and wrote Pride and Prejudice’? That was really the first time I ever thought that perhaps writers were just normal people.

Of course, being lazy, this thought didn’t lead me to write but it must’ve planted a seed and I quite specifically remember just waking up one morning when I was 27 and decided I was going to write a book. And so I did. It took about three weeks to do a 50,000 word romance novel and it was truly awful. However, despite the badness, for the first time I really felt like I had a purpose. I still had a few false starts and I wrote about thirteen full manuscripts without having any success at all.

Then in 2005 my dad died and on the day of the funeral I was helping to clean the house when I had a crazy conversation with him and it was like he was looking down from heaven trying to oversea everything (he had control freak issues at times!!!). Anyway, that was the basis for my debut book YOU HAD ME AT HALO and that’s when I finally cracked through the seemingly impenetrable wall between published and unpublished!!!

As for writers that inspire me – don’t worry they are nearly all women. Some of my favorite authors are Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, Ursula LeGuin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne MaCaffrey, and Janet Evanovich. There are more of course – lots more but I know that these woman have really influenced the way I see the world and what sort of stories I want to tell! (And boy, sorry this was such a long answer. What can I say? I’m a talker!).

You live in New Zealand, which I just think sounds fabulous. Can you share what you love most about living there and maybe a fun fact about NZ that those of us who don't live there wouldn't know?

New Zealand truly is the most gorgeous country in the world (and considering I’m from Australia and have lived in England for quite a long time, I like to think I’m not too biased!!). As for interesting facts, well not only did New Zealand invent bungee jumping and give birth to Peter Jackson but we’ve also had two female Prime Ministers as well as being the first country in the world to give women the vote – though my husband assures me it was because the government wanted to ban alcohol and they figured the best way to do was to let the woman vote since they all wanted the men to stop getting so drunk in the pubs and come home!!!!!

I know ZOMBIE QUEEN just came out, but can you tell us what you are working on now?

I’ve finished my next book for Puffin, which is about a teenage girl who goes to an elite slaying academy where she suddenly starts to see invisible killer fairies. Only problem is that due to a small misunderstanding (think girl who cried wolf and then triple it) no one believes her and she is forced to fight the invisible killer fairies all on her. Fun times. I’m also working on a mid grade book which is lots of fun.

I always ask two standard questions of 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.

Okay this is really going back in time! The first album I was ever given was Abba Arrival when I was about 8 but the first album (cassette actually) that I ever spent my own cold hard cash on was Bad for Good by Jim Steinmen. Is it wrong that I probably still know all the words as well (actually it is wrong especially when I don’t even know my own cell phone number!!!).

As for concerts. Hmmm, probably the first arena concert I ever saw was David Bowie in his Serious Moonlight Tour (I love him soooo much) and I remember we snuck out of school early to get there in the afternoon so we could get a good spot. It was amazing and I’d love to go see him in concert again. However, before that I use to go and see loads of great Australian/NZ bands at really small venues and while I couldn’t remember what the first one was, some of my favorites were Australian Crawl, INXS and Split Enz

Please dish about the moment where you felt most like a rock star. Maybe it was a moment of big success in your career, an "I'm Not Worthy!" Wayne's World type moment where you met someone cool, or a time where you just got the rock star treatment.

Because I live in NZ and my books come out in the US I’ve never really done much physical promotion for them (or none even!). However, when I went to the RWA conference last year, NAL who published my debut book had a big author signing and all the books were free, which meant there were people lining up waiting for me to sign them. Anyway, yes I know the books were all free, but it was the coolest feeling in the WORLD to look up and see all these people wanting to get a signed copy of your book. I went straight back to my room and smashed a TV just so the feeling wouldn’t end. Hahaha, not really, I think I had a cup of tea and there ended my rock star moment!!!!!

Thanks Amanda! I was quite excited to learn more about New Zealand, I'm jealous of your David Bowie concert experience since I still haven't seen him live, and I think having a cup of tea is totally rock star since I'm having one right now ;) Also since we are confessing embarrasing things (though I don't think your confession about your lack of zombie knowledge is that embarrassing), I'm going say that I still think of Nathan Fillion as Joey from One Life to Live. Yep, I'm a soap addict and I've been watching OLTL for 15 years now so.... He's just forever typecast in my mind.

Okay, time for reader comments on Amanda's interview. Amanda has given you guys a choice of your prize, so in your comment also let me know if you would rather win A. ZOMBIE QUEEN OF NEWBURY HIGH, B. YOU HAD ME AT HALO, or C. A zombie survival kit... I'd probably be opting for C since I'm surrounded by cemeteries, but I'm guessing if you don't have Amanda's books yet you may want one of those.

So comment away, and I'll draw a winner in two weeks. WWRW will be on hiatus next week due to me not having a guest and my agent being in town so I'll be hanging with her.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Contest winners, new hairstyles, and other random things

So today is the day I announce the Inspired By contest winners. I hope everyone had a chance to vote or at least viewed all the entries and if you didn't please go here to check them out. It was a really tight race, everyone was literally within a vote or two from each other.

My Fan Art grand prize winner is Ritsuka. Second Place is Paul with Liviania and Jonathon as runners up.

The Soundtrack grand prize winner is Justine with Kay and Lucile as runners up.

Yay, congrats to everyone since they all did an amazing job and I thank them for entering!

Now I have a bunch of random thoughts and stuff to share. I've been all about Twitter lately (and you should follow me there to experience my random thoughts on a daily basis), but occasionally I have thoughts that don't quite fit into Twitter's 140 characters and yet aren't quite worthy of their own blog. So I'm compiling them into a list today. Most of them are things I'm wondering about and could use input on, so please leave a comment and let me know your opinion!

  • So I'm about to run out of my prescription acne face wash, Brevoxyl. Yeah I'm nearly 30 and I still have acne. I blame my dad. I remember him getting zits as an adult too. My mom has perfect skin. Why, why couldn't I have inherited it! Anyway, so this Brevoxyl face wash and Differin cream are the only things keeping my skin semi-clear. But now I have crappy insurance so I can't get any more Brevoxyl :( I grabbed a coupon for that proactiv system at the grocery store the other day. Is anyone using this stuff? Does it work? Or do you have other recommendations?
  • I've become a total tea snob. I realized this yesterday when I was at the hair salon and had to drink plain old Lipton green tea. I became addicted to tea while I was doing revisions on BALLADS, now I drink it every morning. My friend Kevin is my fancy tea supplier. He runs Dimensions Gallery Frame Shop in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. What does that have to do with tea? Well, in case you haven't noticed, the economy kinda sucks, so for small business like Kevin's to stay afloat, they have to do unique things, so now Kevin sells frames for your art and tea for your frame of mind :) When I was up in Madison in October, he gave us some samples of his tea and we immediately became addicted, particularly to Starry Night (a black tea with vanilla bits) and Hojicha de la Creme (a green tea with vanilla bits-- that's my every morning tea now). We literally ordered like 50$ worth of tea a few weeks ago. We ordered it by the ounce so it felt funny, like we were ordering drugs. One of the teas we ordered was Immortal Nectar, this ten-year cave-aged Pu-erh that is like the espresso of teas. Kevin described it as like a fine whiskey or expensive cheese. It kinda tastes like cave which I think is awesome. But yeah, total tea snob now. My mom is also a big tea drinker. Like her I also got into gardening a couple years ago. So I'm turning into my mom, which since she is cool, is not a bad thing. I just wish I had her skin :(
  • Another frustrating body thing (and I don't have many body issues, I am finally out of that hating myself thing that I was in from like 10 to 25) is that I'm trying to lose 10 pounds, preferably by summer but definitely by my wedding. I'm not overweight, it's about being toned. Summer of 2007, I had my ideal body. Me and my friend Kathy were going to these awesome free classes at our gym at work. I had abs and buns of steel (well, maybe not quite, but as close as I get to that) and I felt good. Its not so much about looks but feeling for me. Last summer it all fell apart. My friend died and my book came out and I went on book tour and I think I was out of the gym for almost 2 months. Soon after that I quit my job so now I don't have access to those cool free classes anymore. I just have my workout DVDs and my elliptical which is just not as good as the gym (I can't go as fast! Scott says more resistance is good, but I want to go fast and get my heart rate way up). I'm working out 5 to 6 days a week, getting some tone back but not losing weight. It is terribly frustrating. And I'm guessing my eating habits are to blame. I suck at portion control. I make a delicious vegan dish and want to eat a ton of it. Also I have big sweet tooth and dude, I love the carbs. Rice, bread, potatoes, mmmm. I don't think the access to popcorn at the Beacon is helping. Argh! 
  • Okay enough complaining. I'm randomly curious about how other people listen to music. Not like on what device or what bands, but do you listen to a wide variety of stuff all the time or do you get obsessed. Because I get obsessed. I can't stop listening to certain things or certain bands over and over and over. And I feel kinda guilty about it because I have literally 355 artists on my iPod. When I get a new album, I listen to it repeatedly for a couple weeks. I did this with Tom Gabel's solo EP and the Gaslight Anthem. I'm still doing it with Civet. And then I have my Ballads of Suburbia mix which is like my go-to right now. Or else I'm listening to Rise Against, Nirvana or the Replacements. I feel like I'm neglecting all the other bands. Sometimes I wish I could listen to five different things at once. Do you or am I a total freak?
  • Speaking of music, in case you missed my tweet here are two bands you must absolutely check out. They are also on my obsessive listening list: Old Fake and The Brass Beans.
  • I don't just develop music obsessions, I also have TV obsessions. I just watched all the seasons of both Weeds and Californication and even though I can't afford it I will be signing up for Showtime as soon as both of those come back. And then, last week I hung out with my friend Jenny and we watched the first three episodes of Veronica Mars. OMG why did I not discover this show earlier??? I don't think I've loved a high school show this much since My So-Called Life. I mean I love me some 90210 and Degrassi for the melodrama, but watching Veronica Mars is like reading a really good book. So much depth. And a TV show that actually addresses class issues. Awesome. I can't wait til Jenny and I can have a marathon.
My last random thing to share with you is my hair. Yesterday I tweeted about getting my bangs bleached out. (And I briefly pondered going platinum again. I have days where I want to be blonde again, but they don't last long enough to justify the extreme torture I'd have to put my hair through. Maybe I just need a good blond wig?) I did this so I could put both blue and pink in my bangs. Y'know, I did pink, then purple, then blue and I couldn't decide what I liked best, so I thought why not have it all? If I do pink and blue, some little purple streaks will result. I think it looks awesome. My stylist's hairdye supplier was out of magenta so we had to do regular pink, which will fade a little lighter than I'd like, but we'll fix that next time. The blue is more visible after it fades a bit, but here it is. What do you think?

Um, yeah obviously I took this in the bathroom (and first thing after I woke up and I'm not leaving the house except for pilates today hence no makeup) so ignore Scott's mess on the sink, but don't you love my pirate themed shower curtain? I had to take it in the bathroom since it is the brightest place in the house and it's dreary out again. But I'm not complaining. I'll take rain over snow any day and it's the perfect day to curl up and read my critique partners work which I am off to do now.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Topic of the Week: Insomnia-- Acupuncture

Two nights in a row of good sleep! I think my acupuncturist's new herbal treatment might really be working! So it's the perfect time to talk about acupuncture, the treatment I finally found for my insomnia that has worked and is truly non-habit-forming.

My new doctor was the first one to mention acupuncture to me. She wrote me a prescription for Ambien since I told her it was all that worked, but I also mentioned that I wanted to get off of it and asked her for any ideas. I rattled off the list of things I tried and she told me quite honestly that Western Medicine doesn't know shit about insomnia. She suggested acupuncture and Chinese medicine. I was impressed and when I told my mother about it, so was she. We both agreed I'd found a pretty cool doctor.

I didn't pursue acupuncture until later that year though. I kept up my attempts at meditation. It wasn't until I was at a charity benefit for the Keep On Keeping On Organization (an amazing foundation based in Chicago that does so much for people with physical disabilities), going through their silent auction prizes when I saw one of the prizes was an acupuncture treatment that I decided the moment had come. Hey, I could try acupuncture and the money would go to a good charity. It seemed like a win win.

So I won the charity auction and set up my appointment for early January 2008, determined that 2008 would be the year I kicked Ambien and conquered insomnia. I filled out a fairly extensive form (immediately I was impressed at the holistic approach that acupuncturists take over Western medicine). We went over the form and the acupuncturist also looked at my tongue which is the big key in Chinese medicine. She ultimately diagnosed me with Heart Blood deficiency, Spleen Qi deficiency, some Liver Qi stagnation, and Kidney Yin deficiency. She put tiny needles in my legs, stomach and forehead and left me in a room with music softly playing.

It's hard to describe the sensations of acupuncture. The needles don't hurt. It's just like a little pinch. Of course I have a high pain tolerance and no real fear of needles. But I've had only two occasions in the year I've been doing it where inserting a needle hurt, and it was some strangely sensitive area near my right wrist. My acupuncturist avoids that area. Sometimes the needles itch a little bit, but for the most part I can forget them as I lay there. Acupuncture relaxes me; I've actually fallen asleep on a few occasions. Sometimes I get this strange sensation that is hard to describe. It's kind of like dizziness but not really. I almost feel like my whole body is rotating head over heels. Sometimes slowly, sometimes faster. The first time I did acupuncture it got really fast and I had to open my eyes because it was almost too dizzying. But I really felt things in my body shifting. Something was happening, I knew this right away. Of course, since I was still addicted to Ambien at that time when I tried to sleep without it, I slept horribly, but I left knowing I wanted to pursue further treatmetnat.

The girl I saw for that first acupuncture treatment was located in a neighborhood in the city pretty far from where I live, so I knew that unless I liked her tons, even if I liked acupuncture, I'd need to find a new practioner. Also as it turned out, she was pretty pricey and moving to the Bay Area in a month. She admitted to me that she thought my problem would take more than a month's worth of treatment and that it would probably be best treated with herbs as well and she didn't have as much expertise there. She seemed relatively new to acupuncture in general (though she was right about the heart blood issue, my current acupuncturist discusses that a lot), so I wanted someone more experienced. Fortunately I mentioned acupuncture to my pilates teacher and she'd told me she knew a woman who had been practicing in Oak Park, the town next to mine, for years and she was so experienced she even taught classes on acupuncture at DePaul (I think its DePaul... it might be Loyola, but anyway, very reputable universities). So I called Jackie at Turtle Creek Healing Arts. Sessions with her cost half as much as the girl in the city and she was a licensed herbalist as well, so it seemed perfect.

I was comfortable with Jackie immediately for a few different reasons. 1. Her office was filled with turtle memorablia. Turtles remind me of my friends Eryn and Jenny S. and also of my childhood pet turtle. 2. She had a stuffed ET poking his head out of an open ceiling tile. ET is also a fond childhood thing for me. 3. She noticed the scars on my arms and asked me about them. I told her honestly, when I was a teenager I cut myself. She said, "That must have been a very hard time for you. I'm really sorry you had to go through that." I almost cried. No doctor had ever, ever acknowledged my scars. They are pretty damn obvious when I'm sitting there shivering in a hospital gown, but no one mentioned them and certainly no one ever said, "I'm sorry." This woman is a keeper and I could be comfortable talking to her which is key because for acupuncture to work you have to be willing to talk about every aspect of your body from your sore throat to your shit to your period. They don't look at insomnia the way Western medicine does. It's not about having restless legs or apnea or else mental health-- something in your head. The whole body is interconnected in Chinese medicine and acupuncture. Your inability to sleep can be linked to your stomach upset, your sore shoulder, etc.

Jackie immediately made the connection between my insomnia and my period. You'd think it would have been a connection doctors would've made, but Jackie was the first one to say, "When did you start menustruating?" 13. "When did the insomnia begin." Oh... 13.  We also quickly realized that my sleep is always the most horrid the week before my period and the best immediately following. Jackie regulates the herbs she prescribes me accordingly 

Jackie varies the patterns of the needles according to my symptoms, what she sees on my tongue and my pulse which she takes on both wrists. I haven't studied acupuncture so I can't tell you how this all works, just that it does. She also sometimes heats the needles up (which I really like the warmth, I must say) and sometimes does cranial massage while I'm relaxing with the needles in. Cranial massage is basically very small movements that massage my head and neck. The types of herbs she prescribes have also varied depending on my symptoms.

As I mentioned back in June of 2008, I was being weaned off the herbs and regular acupuncture treatments and I was sleeping normally until my friend died. Everything got sort of screwed up since then, but in my last visit, Jackie and I discussed my grief, depression, and stomach issues and she came up with a new course of treatment that is really working. So, cross your fingers! I might be sleeping normally again quite soon.

I hope so since acupuncture is expensive and not covered by my insurance. My mom has been helping me pay for it since she sees how much it has helped me. At least I am no longer drug dependent. Also a nice side effect of the acupuncture is it has strengthened my immune system, which may by why I haven't gotten my fiance's cold... knock on wood!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Topic of the Week: Insomnia-- Hypnosis and Meditation

I'm happy to report that I actually got a decent night's sleep last night. Perhaps my acupuncturist's new course of treatment is working. In my blog on Tuesday I think I made it pretty clear how I feel about drug treatments for insomnia (evil), so I'd like to spend today and tomorrow talking about some alternatives I've tried.

One of the things I used most to get to sleep at the beginning of high school before coping with the abusive relationship just made things way too hard was a meditation tape. There was a cool new agey shop in my town that I visited obsessively in junior high when I was super in to tarot (which I was pretty good at) and love spells (total failure) and that sort of thing. I was also really interested in dreaming so I had dreaming dictionaries and also my friend got a tape that was supposed to help you control what you were supposed to dream about. It was a strange tape where two voices talked at the same time. Sometimes the white noise it created really helped me sleep, but more often than not I needed something to focus on. I bought a tape called Rainflowers by a woman named Amber Wolfe. It was this feminist meditation tape, kinda weird, but empowering. You visualized yourself walking down a path, crawling into this rock cave, which was representative of the womb and then there was something about becoming flowers floating in a stream, which represented releasing your worries. If I focused hard enough, this tape could put me to sleep. At least for a little while. Like I said, eventually the insomnia got worse.

But the reason I tell you about walking the path and the cave and the floating and all that was because that became engrained as really comforting imagery for me and it's immediately what I went to when I did hypnosis.

So as I mentioned, I decided to do hypnosis when the stupid sleep study turned out to be useless and I desperately needed to get off the Ambien because I couldn't afford it. Of course insurance didn't cover hypnosis and I could go on a whole huge rant about how insurance is happy to cover these expensive drugs that I'll be on forever, costing them (and me) thousands upon thousands of dollars, but god forbid they cover something like hypnosis or acupuncture which could actually provide a permanent solution for the problem.... Anyway I saw the hypnotist five times and he WAS NOT like the creepy Vegas hypnotist whose billboard I am pictured with above. He was a liscensed psychologist who my psychologist knew. I drove out to Naperville (this was before my driving fear) to be hypnotized in his home office and I paid out of pocket about 80 bucks a visit.

The first couple visits were spent with him hypnotizing me to find out what the cause of my sleeplessness was. Well, of course, at first he had to see if I was susceptible to hypnosis because some people aren't. I was. Now it's been a while since I've been hypnotized, but I'll try to remember how it goes as best I can.

It starts with breathing, deep breaths in and out. Then you visualize/feel all the tension leaving from each part of your body, starting with your toes, working up to your head. Once you are totally relaxed, the counting begins. You sink deeper and deeper into yourself until the hypnotist reaches 10. Now I can't recall if I was encouraged to visualize or if I just naturally did because of my experience with meditation. But I would picture myself walking further and further into this forest. When the hypnotist reached 10, I would be at this house in a pool overlooking the ocean. (I'm a Cancer, I'm water obsessed). A lot of times my childhood cat Snuggle who died when I was 19 would be there, sitting by the pool hanging out with me. This was the safe place where my conscious mind would go while I was under hypnosis. I could hear my psychologist talking to me and feel myself responding to him, but mostly I was just chilling with my dead cat by the pool. I know. I'm a freak. Whatever.

Anyway, I remember that he would ask me to lift one arm and then the other and how weird it felt. And then he would ask me about memories of nights I couldn't sleep. I was not at all surprised when the first memories he uncovered as causes of my insomnia had to do with my abusive relationship. Then the next memory was of that night before 8th grade when my best friend moved away. Again, not so surprising. The shock came when I remembered the night before I started 3rd grade, right when we moved to Oak Park. Apparently I was unable to sleep a lot back then too largely because I feared I was going to be alone and friendless. Apparently the root of my sleep problems go all the way back then! It was weird because I barely remembered what my bedroom looked like at our first house in Oak Park, but I saw it crystal clear under hypnosis.

So once we got to the root of the problem, my psychologist taught me how to do self-hypnosis, in the hopes that I could teach myself to fall asleep in a hypnotized state. Self-hypnosis was basically the same as the hypnosis he did: the breathing, the relaxing of the body, the counting and walking through the forest to the pool...

And it worked quite well. Using self-hypnosis I was able to cut down my Ambien usage from an insane 30 mg/night to 5 mg/night. And honestly, if I hadn't been in a stressful life situation at that time (I was dating an alcoholic, it was not good), I bet could have cut the Ambien out completely.

But yeah, I couldn't. The Ambien usage eventually crept up again, but when I decided to try to quit, I asked my pilates teacher to record some meditations for me (because, sadly, my Rainflowers tape was lost-- I think it might have ended up going with the alcoholic boyfriend in his boombox when he moved out. If anyone can find Rainflowers for download anywhere I will reward you kindly because I have tried and failed). At that point, I just couldn't get off the Ambien without some sort of treatment, though, which brings us to acupuncture. I'll tell ya all about that tomorrow.

But I will say that once the acupuncture does its job and I'm sleeping mostly regularly, I will be going back to using meditation and self-hypnosis as tools for my rough nights. So I will suggest to those of you with insomnia problems to check into meditation CDs. Go to your local library and see if they have some you can check out for free to see if they work for you because I think with meditation, you definitely have to find stuff that suits your mindset. I recommend hypnosis too, if you can afford it and if you can find someone reputable, meaning make sure they are a licensed psychologist or social worker or something, or recommended by licensed psychologist or social work or other doctor. Hypnosis gets a bad rep because there are scam artists out there, but it can be really helpful if you find someone who knows how to do it correctly.

More tomorrow! Feel free to comment about how weird you think my visualizations are :)  

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Liz Funk!

Before we get to WWRW, I want to remind everyone to please please vote for the winner of the Inspired By contest. You can check out the entries and vote here. These entries are just too cool not to be seen and voted on by tons of people!

Okay, welcome to Women Who Rock Wednesday! First things first, last weeks winner of Angel Potions products that our lovely guest Lynn Turkington was nice enough to give away is... DebDesk from blogger! Please email stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot com with your address, Deb, so your prize can be mailed out!

As usual, you have a chance to win another amazing prize today. Author Liz Funk is visiting us today to talk about her book, Supergirls Speak Out: Inside the Secret Crisis of Overachieving Girls, which I think is an incredibly important book that my parents and I could have really used since I definitely pushed myself way too hard trying to be a supergirl. But I'll turn the floor over to Liz to tell you all about it!

Liz, I'm very excited to have you on here because I think your book, Supergirls Speak Out: Inside the Secret Crisis of Overachieving Girls, is going to be very very important to girls and probably their parents as well. Can you tell us a bit about it and what led you to write it?

Liz: Thank you! Supergirls Speak Out is a non-fiction look at the lives of “Supergirls”—young women who attempt to be a perfect 10 at everything they attempt, whether it’s school, work, leadership activities, musical instruments and other artistic pursuits, and sports. These girls are so busy all the time and they look really accomplished and well-rounded, but in their private lives, these girls are often struggling with self-esteem issues and are using their accomplishments to show why they matter.

Can you tell us how you got your start writing? Did you love writing from a young age? Who were some of your influences? (We especially like to hear about the women since it is Women Who Rock Wednesday!)

Liz: I always loved writing. I wrote my first story in the 2nd grade; I wrote a ten-page sequel in my composition notebook to the Lord of the Rings. Haha… I wrote novels and screenplays for fun when I got older, and realized that I wanted to make my debut in non-fiction. In high school, I liked all sorts of novelists: Angela Johnson, Meg Cabot, and J. D. Salinger, plus some feminist non-fiction, too, by Betty Friedan and Alexandra Robbins and Ariel Levy. In college, I loved (and still love!) fiction by Nick McDonell, Jonathan Franzen, F. Scott Fitzergerald, Arundati Roy, and Curtis Sittenfeld. I love to read a variety of kinds of books. As such, my favorite books of all time are the Eloise books; I think Eloise is such a mischievous, spirited protagonist.

This week, I'm discussing the topic of insomnia on the blog. It's something I've suffered with since I was in my early teens and part of it definitely had to do with me trying too hard to be a super girl. Did you learn anything about sleep issues and super girls in writing your book or have you had any personal struggles with insomnia?

Liz: This is such a great topic to be discussing—teen girls and sleep—and it has so many intersections with the lives of Supergirls! Teenaged girls are so busy that they frequently don’t get the sleep they need during the week; they do what they can to catch up on sleep during the weekends, but frequently, they’re going on autopilot. I was shocked when I was talking to some high school students who told me that most students don’t get enough sleep, but some kids will drink consecutive Red Bulls during the school day to stay awake. Eek! Also, because most girls never master regular sleep habits, it really affects them in college, where almost no one has a normal sleep schedule, and then I think it carries on into their twenties and so on. I personally don’t have a problem with insomnia. I’m someone who needs a lot of sleep to function (we’re talking ten hours a night). So actually, if I have trouble getting to sleep, it’s usually the canary in the coalmine of my brain telling me that I am super-stressed out and that I need to resolve whatever I’m worried about that is keeping me up.

I know SUPERGIRLS literally just came out yesterday, but what is next for Liz Funk?

Liz: I wish I knew! I’m going to graduate in May, and then we’ll see what happens! The only thing on the agenda right now is: “figure out what you’re writing next” and “move somewhere warmer.” I’ll be going on a lecture tour to promote Supergirls—speaking at schools like Duke, Rice, the University of New England, and NYU, among others—that I’m really looking forward to!

I'm betting a lot of my blog readers out there are "Supergirls," what is your best advice for them about how to get through life, especially high school and college, and actually enjoy it?

Liz: Be yourself! It sounds simple, but in the context of today’s high school and college experience, where it seems like every other girl wears Ugg boots and looks perfect and listens to Taylor Swift, it’s never been such a social statement to be who you really are! If you can work to have a sense of self and a sense of individuality, I guarantee you that you’ll be better off when you’re facing adversity and other challenges as you grow up. You’ll have healthy defenses, because you know who you are. Also, a life coach who I interviewed for my book, named Cathy Wasserman, gave me the best advice I’ve ever heard in my life: “Girls need to be open to exploring the mystery of their lives.”

I always ask two standard questions of my Women Who Rock. What was the first album you bought and the first concert you attended? Be honest, we don't judge.

Liz: The first album—well, cassette tape—I bought was the Spice Girls’ first self-titled album, Spice Girls. The first concert I attended was for Hanson. Needless to say, I’m extremely glad you don’t judge—I’ve always had eclectic taste in music. Now I like Michael Buble, Dave Matthews Band, and Chrisette Michele, plus big band music and classic French music. And Lily Allen! I was on the TODAY Show to talk about Supergirls three weeks ago, and I got my makeup done about five feet away from where she was having her makeup done. I love her song “The Fear”—I think it’s one of the best songs any young female songwriter has yet written in this generation.

Please dish about the moment where you felt most like a rock star. Maybe it was a moment of big success in your career, an "I'm Not Worthy!" Wayne's World type moment where you met someone cool, or a time where you just got the rock star treatment.

Liz: Actually, the day before I went on the TODAY Show last month was a pretty cool moment. I went into New York City in the morning and walked around the New York Public Library, sort of reminiscing about the fact that I wrote a bulk of “Supergirls Speak Out” at the 42nd Street NYPL (the one with the stone lions outside!) and that night my mom and I took an ironic tour of the NBC Studios. The next morning I woke up and was interviewed by Meredith Viera (and met Matt Lauer, who I’ve had a crush on forever). It was definitely a rockstar moment. I hadn’t felt that victorious since I aced my road test!

Thanks for coming, Liz!

I've gotta say Liz's rock star moment is really damn cool and I'm envious. Liz is also being kind enough to give out a signed copy of her book. As usual to enter all you have to do is leave a comment and next week when our guest is the super cool author Amanda Ashby, I'll choose a winner via randomnumber generator. So get to commenting. How about you? Are you a supergirl or superguy?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Topic of the Week: Insomnia-- Ambien Be the Death of Me

I almost gave up on sleep around six am to write this. Last night was one of those rare nights (which are getting more common thanks to the acupuncture and Chinese medicine) where I fell asleep like a normal human being. But then I woke up at 5 am to pee and my mind started going. I wasn't even worrying about things, just having random thoughts. That's usually how it goes. I didn't fall back to sleep until Scott's alarm was going off at 7. Slept a couple hours and now here I am, tired as usual.

But despite this, I will not go back to using Ambien or any sleep medication on a regular basis. If I absolutely have to get a full night's sleep and be totally functional early in the morning (ie, if I have an event to attend or a deadline to meet), then I will take a pill. Otherwise, no more. I think after you read this, you'll understand why.

As I mentioned the first time I took Ambien, I was 18, on winter break from college. My friend Tai had been prescribed some. She spent the night and asked me if I wanted to try it. She told me she got a good night's sleep and also had some funny hallucinations if she resisted the urge to go to sleep for a little while. I'm not gonna lie, I was 18, I was all about experimenting substances, so I thought it sounded like an adventure.

When Tai and I woke up the morning after a very restful Ambien-induced sleep we both remembered vaguely something about an obsession with a Devo CD and making nests for little people. We sat up, glanced around the room and saw that indeed, we'd raided my laundry hamper and made nest-like shapes out of t-shirts and pants. And the Devo CD was sitting out. (The one time I did acid, I also became obsessed with the Devo CD, I really don't know what the deal is.. something about the cover, pictured above?) We laughed, totally amused that we'd sleep-nest-built. I'm sure the people on Ambien who sleep-eat and sleep-drive aren't nearly as amused by those sorts of side effects, but when you are 18 and just doing goofy shit, it's funny.

More importantly, I hadn't slept so soundly since I was a little kid. I immediately called my doctor and asked for an Ambien prescription, which she eagerly gave to me. Yesterday, I documented the way every doctor I dealt with until my current physician, felt that I could take Ambien forever without any problems. Maybe those commercials with the cute little puppies waking up on them say only take for a couple weeks at the time, but apparently that is not what the drug company is telling the physicians. Ambien was always made out to me to be completely safe, non-habit-forming, no side effects.

The only side effects I had were the occasional hallucination when I resisted the urge to go to sleep. Unlike so many people have reported, I always remembered what I did while on Ambien. My ex boyfriend and I watched dogs row boats across our ceiling and had the oddest of conversations. Like I said I was young and thought that kind of thing was fun, so I was sad when my tolerance for Ambien went up and I no longer had hallucinations/nonsensical conversations before bed.

I was also a heavy drinker at the time and I've gotta say that I'm lucky that Ambien was not the old sleeping meds of yore because no doubt I'd be dead from getting drunk and taking Ambien. Sometimes I do wonder how I lived through it. But it was my solution for when the Ambien stopped working as well-- it still worked great if I was plastered. There was only one time that I had a serious problem with drug/alcohol/drug interactions.

If you read IWBYJR, you may remember a scene where Emily does coke, drinks wine and takes some pills to come down, then she has a wild hallucination about tiny people in space helmets stacking furniture on her chest and she feels like she is going to suffocate? Yeah, that was actually one of my real life Ambien hallucinations. I didn't do coke, I did a form of speed that they use to treat ADD. Some college friends had told me if you took it, you could get really drunk without puking. I thought that was a great idea (god, I was so stupid), so I did it, but then realized it prevented me from passing out at the end of the night, which was one of the things I liked best about drinking (booze was all about self-medicating for me back then). So I took a couple Ambien.... Like I said, I'm surprised I'm still here. Those space people almost suffocated me to death.

Another part in IWBYJR that came from real life a little bit, is there is a character toward the end of the book, Finn Leahy, who was in a terrible accident and is addicted to pain meds as a result. He tries to resist taking the pain meds every night, but eventually is heard, rolling over, pouring pills from the plastic bottle into his hand.

That came straight from my experience as well, except it wasn't pain meds, it was Ambien. I spent the first three years I was on Ambien, thinking it was this miracle drug. Then there was a year where I was mixed about taking it. Then I spent the last six years trying to quit taking it. I cribbed a line from the Velvet Underground's song Heroin ("Heroin be the death of me...") on purpose because kicking Ambien was like kicking heroin for me.

I have an addictive personality, no doubt. Nowadays my internet addiction is really the worst of it, but between 14 and 21, I went through phases with different drugs and alcohol, though oddly, I would do them a lot and then just stop. I also quit smoking with relative ease (though when I picked it up again for a couple weeks after my friend died last summer that was probably tougher than when I quit after smoking for six years). Cutting on the other hand.... cutting was damn hard to quit and Ambien was the worst of all.

The thing that was most frustrating about Ambien was that virtually every doctor I saw swore to me that it was non-habit-forming and that I could just stop whenever I wanted. The sleep study told me, "There will be a little kickback."

I said, "You mean, withdrawal."

He said, "No a little kickback. Your sleep might be rough for a couple days while your body adjusts."

No, asshole, trust me, you mean W-I-T-H-D-R-A-W-A-L.

For years I would try something that would really get my sleep better and I'd lower the dose of the Ambien. I did this with hypnosis, with another kind of medication, with meditation. But ultimately on those nights I tried to go without Ambien completely, I'd have a Finn Leahy moment. Around 3 or 4 in the morning, I'd roll onto my side with a sigh, try to quietly shake pills out of bottle, and try not to hate myself as I swallowed them.

As I mentioned yesterday, when I decided to try acupuncture, I knew I'd have to go off of Ambien cold turkey.

Scott and I had been watching Celebrity Rehab around the time we did it, which I shouldn't have done because as I lay in bed awake all I could think about was the D-List celebs sweating through heroin and alcohol detox, not sleeping much like me. I'd turn and look at my clock and whimper louder each time an hour passed. 3 am, 4 am, 5 am, 6 am. I'd wake Scott up, sobbing, "I have to get up for work in an hour, how am I gonna do this? I feel like a junkie. I feel like a fucking junkie!"

The week that I kicked Ambien, I literally slept about 2 to 3 hours TOTAL. Not each night. Total, that whole week. Fuck you, doctor douche who called this "a little kickback." I always thought it was some cover story when Eminem went to rehab "for Ambien addiction" but I see now that it was totally plausible.

After my week of no sleep, my body finally crashed. Then the acupuncture started to work.

Until June 26th, 2008, I got the worst news I've ever received in my life. My friend Marcel was killed in a motorcycle accident. A lot of people sleep when they are depressed. Not me. I lay there, feeling completely empty, like life is so devoid of meaning. I drift off for an hour or two then I would wake up, feeling like my heart had been ripped out of my chest. Sobbing, sobbing, sobbing. Ambien was the only way I could rest. I knew this. And I had my first book coming out and I had to somehow be functional and pretend to be happy in spite of the grief. So yeah, Ambien, cigarettes. I was in a bad bad place.

I stayed on Ambien for about a month and a half. When I came home from tour, I knew it was time to kick again. It only took a couple days this time. Maybe because I'd used Ambien the way it was intended, for a short period of time. But still there was withdrawal. To say it is non-habit-forming if you only use it for a few weeks is a lie. And I still haven't gotten back to the place where I was thanks to acupuncture before Marcel's death. Hopefully it's coming though. And even if it's not. No more Ambien. No more drugs.

I'm not gonna tell people what to do when it comes to insomnia but I am going to advise you VERY STRONGLY not to rely on medication of any kind, particularly Ambien. But seriously, the other are just as bad. They are hell on your body (especially any kind of painkiller PM, taking unneccessary painkiller is so so so bad for you) and they are habit-forming, physically and especially psychologically. I suggest trying herbal and homeopathic stuff if you don't have money for the alternative treatments I'm going to be detailing Thursday and Friday of this week. Also a glass of red wine (like one glass, not like half a box of Franzia like I did in college) doesn't seem bad to me.... But yeah, I don't know. I wish had more solutions.