Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Reaching out to at-risk teens

Today I wrote a very personal blog entry (complete with pic of me at 16) over at the MTV Books Blog that gets to the core of why I wrote a book like Ballads of Suburbia. It's the book I needed and looked for when I was sixteen and not sure how to cope with a truly terrible relationship or help friends with their messed-up home lives or navigate my own home life. I had friends who ran away from homes, literally, and figuaratively by escaping into drugs and alcohol. My personal form of relief was self-injury; a habit that started when I was 13 years old and didn't end until my early twenties.

I grew up with troubled teens and there are still so many, maybe even more troubled teens out there now. I think one of the biggest causes of self-destruction in people/families/groups of friends is the fact that we bury our pain and problems, we don't talk to each other. I wrote Ballads of Suburbia to help break that silence, to give people a starting point of conversation.

I want this book to get to the kids who need it most, so this week I am compiling a list of organizations that help at-risk teens. Organizations that focus on healing from self-injury, addiction to alcohol/drugs. Organizations that counsel kids dealing with those issues and kids who are runaways or homeless. I'm not really going the religious organization route because I'm not a religious person. I'm talking about orgs like SAFE Alternatives and To Write Love On Her Arms. And I'm looking for more, national orgs, local orgs. So if you've heard of a good national organization that helps teens or know of a great one in your community, please post a link. If you have contact information for someone at that organization, even better. If you don't feel comfortable posting that, you can email it to stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot come.

Thanks!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Another ARC contest and an Invitation to the Ballads of Suburbia Cyber Launch Party!

Okay, finally I have what I promised you last week, a very exciting invitation and another contest opportunity for an ARC of Ballads of Suburbia. Sorry I'm late, both me and my creative consultant, The Compulsive Reader, were having technical and other sorts of difficulties. I think The Compulsive Reader was wishing YouTube was a physical thing she could throttle. And last week was one of those nervous breakdown weeks for me. No air conditioning. (that is fixed, though of course now it's nice out). No internet half the time. (I'm still angry at Comcast about that and untrusting and plotting against them.) Bad news rolling in on all fronts: personal, professional, friends, family. No one tipping at the bar. Ugh. But now it's a new week and I'm all about positive energy and thinking and its gonna be a good week dammit!

So I hope I have something here that is going to get you very, very, very excited. It's a big-ass cyber launch party for Ballads of Suburbia. You are all invited and here is your gorgeous video invitation created by The Compulsive Reader!




Didn't she do an amazing job? I think she is awesome!

Here are the details of the invite:

I'm throwing a cyber launch party for Ballads of Suburbia. It's gonna start on July 13th (my 30th birthday) and run for approximately a month. My guests are all fabulous writers and one very kick-ass musician.

Here's the Guest List:

Liza Graves of the band Civet
Polly Jirkovsky

What they'll be doing:

As you may have gathered from the Ballads of Suburbia book description, my characters in the book write their "ballads" in a notebook. The ballads are like confessions of the moments that changed their lives, often very secret, very heartbreaking. My guests won't be so heartbreaking I'm sure. They will be sharing a lot of interesting, personal stories, sometimes hilarious, often music themed. It's gonna be good stuff.

Prizes:
Many of my guests will also be giving away prizes, maybe signed copies of their books, maybe other fun stuff. At the end of the whole party, MTV Books has agreed to give out a grand prize basket of books to one lucky winner. So basically, I have a party, but you guys get all of the presents. That works out pretty nicely, huh?

And of course I'll be sharing some ballads of my own and giving away copies of Ballads of Suburbia. But you can win my very last ARC of Ballads RIGHT NOW.

This Week's Contest:
I will do a drawing for my last and final Ballads ARC next Monday. This contest is going to work the same way many of my other contests have worked. You spread the word about the Ballads of Suburbia Cyber Launch Blog Party. Each blog entry, or tweet or other online place you talk about the party, share the video invitation, etc counts as an entry. You also get entries for linking to this blog or talking about this contest. Get your friends involved. If they post about the blog party and let me know they learned about it from you, you get an entry.

By Monday July 6 at 9 am CST make sure I know about all of your entries. You can do this by sending me a complete list to stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot com or by leaving the list in the comment section here. Friend referrels work the same way. Make sure they email me or comment that they heard from you so it counts as a entry. With twitter remember to include the @writerstephanie tag somewhere in there so I see the tweet.

I'll notify the winner of the Ballads ARC next Monday!

Comment away if you have any questions. And go ahead and express your excitement about the party too ;) I don't know about you, but I'm pretty psyched!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Jennie DeVoe!

Guys, I totally suck because I had a great contest to announce this week for my last ARC of Ballads of Suburbia. However due to technical difficulties (my internet being spotty at best the past two days) and the week from hell (93 degrees and broken A/C is so much fun!), I haven't had a chance to get it up and running, but I'm hoping to do the MAJOR CONTEST ANNOUNCEMENT on Friday.

Thanks to everyone who participated in last week's Twitter contest. I thought it was a lot of fun. Also I'm going to have a nice big surprise for my street team members on Friday, so if you've been considering joining, now is the time :)

Of course, I do have one winner to announce today: eeeeeeee from MySpace is the winner of Jessica Hopper's book The Girls' Guide to Rocking: How to Start a Band, Book Gigs, and Get Rolling to Rock Stardom. Myspace message me to claim your prize!

This week I have a woman with an incredible voice, who definitely knows how to rock, musician Jennie DeVoe, whose amazing new album, Strange Sunshine, shares a release date with my new book, Ballads of Suburbia (pssst: that means it comes out July 21st and you should get on it and order them both :-) ) Jennie was another fabulous MySpace discovery of mine. Let's get to know her!



Q: Your voice is gorgeous and you are unbelievably talented. Clearly you were born with a gift, but I'm sure you trained hard too. Can you tell us about how you got your start singing and playing guitar? When did you discover your talent? Were you self taught or did you take lessons? Who are some of your influences and inspirations? Since it is Women Who Rock Wednesday, we are particularly interested in hearing about the women who influenced you.

Jennie: Secretly I always had hoped that I did have a voice but when you're young I think most kids go through that "I wanna be a singer" phase - maybe not, but I did. The only difference between thinking you can sing and dreaming about it is to actually start 'doing it'. I can't say I had any formal training. My voice was schooled and developed by simply singing to my favorite songs on the radio or my cds. I did sing in the church choir and my Mom and Dad both have musical talents in singing and piano. I had to take piano lessons but it seemed too "lessony" so it just seemed like work, as did choir. Looking back though, I'm grateful I was forced to sing in choir and take lessons. It's funny though, I never write on piano unless I'm writing the music with a collaborator because the song should be piano-based. I usually write on guitar and I have no idea the chords I'm playing most the time. I can't say I'm a great guitar player at all. I learn by writing songs and out of the necessity of wanting to communicate better with my band. But it's funny, I still love just coming up with a beat and melody in my head and singing it to them. I'll even sing guitar licks or piano runs to them but let them put themselves into it. I love my band because they've come so far with me. They show me so much respect and never make me feel inadequate as an artist just because I don't know their exact same musical language. They get my language and we all try to meet in the middle. It's so so important to work with players who "get you" and who strive to even if it's not always easy. That's key for me.

So, that's very long-winded. In short - I taught myself by how to sing and play by making myself learn how to sing to the absolute best there was. Bonnie Raitt, Mavis Staples, Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin. Those are the females who influenced me. Then when I began really writing, I found I loved the lyrics of songs, not just the style or soul vibe. I truly love a twisty clever phrase that only means something in a song. The type of words that you can't just say because they lose their steam. That's the great thing about songs. People ask you to explain them and then you start stuttering and stammering because you are a songwriter who writes because you maybe are a bit backward with directness ---- so you say things with metaphors and say things that evoke feelings and meanings for people, but spelling it out in normal conversation just blows it. Music makes it magic and that's all there is to that. When I started loving words I started listening to how people like Dylan and Tom Waits and Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro and Patty Griffin spun things in songs. Then I fused my love of soul with my own style of word-smithing with my own simple abilities on guitar. Then, add my band and it's hopefully given me my own sound and style. I saw Ani DiFranco for the first time and just about died. I think she is a live experience that every songwriter should see. She inspires me to think outside the box. I have a couple of Ani-influenced songs on my second cd that my fans totally dig. I think she is one of the stand-out women who rock.

Q: Tell us about your new project, Strange Sunshine. How was this record different than stuff you've done in the past? Tell us a bit about your favorite songs on the album, those lyrics and riffs you are just extra proud of. Any tracks on your myspace player that readers should listen to first to get a sense of your sound? You've worked with John Parish twice now. I've always adored the work he's done with PJ Harvey. Can you tell us a bit about how you came to work with him, what you enjoy about it and what the recording process is like?

Jennie: Strange Sunshine makes me happy cuz it's simple and very 'un-showy' of me. I guess if I were aiming to be more famous I might have polished it up a bit more - and maybe I'll do that again in the future, nothing wrong with a bit of polish - but this record is , to me, the sister record to my 2004 release that I still want to release nationally and may just do that. Fireworks & Karate Supplies is the 1st cd I did in England with PJ Harvey producer - John Parish. I approached John's manager with the hopes he might hook us up. I liked John from the work he'd done with Polly. I also really dug his work with Tracy Chapman on her Let It Rain cd. I pictured my songs with some of his magic British production ideas and playing. What we did was build that cd in the studio. Just myself and one of my guitarists went over to record it in Bath, England at Moles. It was a blast. It was a lot of work. It was cool and scary to risk going and walking into a room and meeting John when we'd only spoken on the phone up to that point. I mean, what if we didn't hit it off, what if we weren't able to gel in the studio, all that stuff. The thing I knew going into the project about John though, was that he was kind, calm, patient and seemed a bit tough but in a productive way. You don't want stress in the studio. I knew he liked my songs and my voice. His manager had said John needed me to send him me singing alone with guitar in my living room so that's what I did. Then we were off. John played a ton of instruments on it and we even used the bass player from Portishead. He didn't talk a lot but he was a cool dude and played good stand-up bass on "Shallow Grave."

On my MySpace page, people can hear "Try Harder" and "Redeeming" from my Fireworks record. Lyrically, I'm super proud of the lyrics on that cd. On Strange Sunshine I'm just as proud but for different reasons. I kept it less clever and made it more simple. How the Motown singers used to do it was hit you over the head over and over with the hook line. Well, the songs have simple messages and the messages are in your face so I had to sell the feeling with.....real feeling when I was driving the hook-line home on stuff like "I Break Down" and "No Damn Man". Totally simple lyrics but to me, deep feeling stuff, I hope it affects people like it does the live audiences we've been playing them for. "Butterfly" and "I Break Down" are special tracks for me. They just happened so fast while I wrote them and both started out of my head and mouth with no instrument. I was literally scampering around the house looking for my guitar and recorder to get it down so I didn't lose them. The melodies were complete when they arrived in my head. Weird and wonderful moments. That makes them good memories for me but moreover, the melodies seem sturdy and old-school, like they've always been here, it was just my job to put them to record.

Q: As a female musician, have you ever had to deal with sexism either at your gigs or from people in the industry who were judging you based on your gender? If so, how did you deal with these situations?

Jennie: The question about sexism eludes my life a bit and I'll explain. I know it's there and I just have found that by not acknowledging it if it's happening, then you give it no power. Just like with race, if you verbally acknowledge that you think this thing is happening, you suddenly have everyone focusing on that and not whatever real problem is at hand. I say 'fuck it', walk around it if it's there, give it no power with words and you've already won. In music, there are battles that have nothing to do with gender. Is the sound system competent, is the sound man caring, are you being clear and kind and forthright and business-like in your demands, enough to garner respect. I do believe if you keep level and know what you clearly need and clearly want as an artist, your battles become much more manageable and much smaller. But with every show or every recording project, there are mountains. If they do have to do with sexism, I'm a bit oblivious hopefully because I'm majorly focused. Not to say that communicating with men is like it is with women. It's completely different. Who is more sensitive? Oddly, sometimes guys can be so I've learned my lessons along the way. I've learned that I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to my music. I've learned too, that 'players' are also artists and have feelings and may not all necessarily have the same thick skin you do. Any relationship worth having, like my husband or with my band, takes time and bumps and endurance and love to get through and apply. No one likes to be taken for granted or talked down to, so man or woman, I try to show respect. I hope by the way I act in my professional settings that I garner that with the way I treat others. There's no time really for tantrums or stomping antics about 'you're only saying that because I'm a woman' - I just don't go there, even if it's in my face - I go around it and try to win whomever it is that needs won over. Life's a big 'ol challenge and that's just one of the many.

Q: I imagine you put on an amazing live performance. Can you tell us a bit about performing live? Do you enjoy it? Fear it? Any favorite concerts you've done?

Jennie: My most recent concerts have been my favorites I think because after 10 years with the same band, oddly we are still growing and have had some major vibey breakthroughs on stage recently. The feeling of being 'at home' with your band on stage is priceless. As a performer, I seem to thrive in a listening environment - even though I can rock it like a Janis Joplin wanna-be. At the end of the day, I find I love telling stories and going off and getting a laugh as much as delivering a song that brings the house down. It's the whole energy that flows from you to a recieving audience that turns you on. It's impressive to yourself when things to say start just popping into your head. I think that's the gift I recognize as coming from God. My voice but also my humor. And honestly, if I try planning it, it's just ridiculous - it really only works if you walk on stage in a vulnerable state of mind, a focused state of mind and a willing to kill state of mind and you have listeners and not cocktail mumbling half-assed listeners. That's almost self-abuse to continue to put yourself in certain bar situations when you know it's not your scene. Although every show and venue is different, you have to sort of build your world the way you know you will perform and thrive best. It's all up to you. It's endless, the possibilities you have if you're a writer/performer. It's exciting. So, I don't fear it. I suppose there is a really healthy nervousness or anxiety before most shows but the best description is 'chomping at the bit'. I hate to arrive so early that you just wait and wait. I like to get on with it and begin getting the high from the audience

Q: I have two standard questions for 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.

Jennie: haha - you won't judge? ok, that's funny. Well, I was too young to go to concerts and I wanted to go see Ted Nugent, AC/DC and The Scorpions. I was told no by my Dad. He didn't like Ted's album cover or the title Stranglehold. I lied and went anyway. I got totally busted with my lie and then I worsened it by wearing the Ted t-shirt I'd bought in front of my parents. I was in 7th grade and now I think how stupid I was. I was definitely a wild child and really pushed it with my parents. Out of that concert I realized what amazing hit songs that AC/DC had. I still love old Bon Scott AC/DC. The first album I bought was REO Speedwagon's You Get What You Play For ----- then shortly after "You Can Tuna Piano but you can't Tuna fish"....something like that. My older sister had albums that I coveted and listened to in secret in her room when she was gone - those were Fleetwood Mac, Rumors and Chaka Kahn with Rags to Rufus. That began my influences.

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.

Jennie: I remember going to concerts and thinking that I wasn't quite enthralled with concerts and that they weren't quite as fulfilling as I'd like. My best friends were in love with the band and I did sort of love them too but I had a very nagging feeling that I wanted to be one of the boys on stage instead. I hated the claustrophobic feeling of being in an audience too. The whole thing made sense eventually and worked for me. My rockstar moment for real was probably at Lilith Fair in '99. I was literally on stage with Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, every Dixie Chick, sharing a mic with Natalie and then Liz Phair and Liz's background singer Janet Rains. Susan Tedeschi was playing guitar on stage, Nelly Furtado and there were more. I remember Sarah walking over to me during the finale song on stage - it was slow motion sort of during "I Shall be Released" the Dylan song. I didn't know the song at all but we all had lyric sheets. She came over and whispered in my ear "Do you want to take a verse?" and I said "hell yeh". I sang the shit out of that verse and got giant crowd cheers from 20,000 people. It was a validating moment and one of my favorite. After the show in the green room I remember Marty from the Dixie Chicks just giving me the warmest smile and saying I had a rocking voice. Not everyone does that but she impressed me with her sweetness and I did rock it and you do appreciate when your peers give you props. Even if they don't know you from shit that you actually are peers, hahha. It was a good bit of fuel and I've had great moments since and I hope my little career just keeps going. I love what I do and I'm grateful grateful grateful for anyone who buys my music or comes to see me.

What a great interview! Loved what Jennie had to say about sexism and what a cool rock star moment! The lucky winner who comments about Jennie's interview this week will get both her Strange Sunshine and her Fireworks and Karate Supplies CDs! She was nice enough to send me copies of them too and I have been completely addicted. So go check out Jennie's music and comment away! Check back next Wednesday for the winner!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Ballads chapter preview and other things of excitement

So Simon & Schuster put the first chapter of Ballads of Suburbia up on their site. It's a little weird since the first chapter isn't *actually* where the book starts. I begin the book with the Epilogue (no, that isn't a typo, I didn't mean Prologue, trust me it will all make sense when you read the book), so yeah, that is odd, but it's a big bonus for you because it means more of a preview of the book is online. I already have the Epilogue/beginning of the book on my website (if you haven't read it yet, you can find that here) and now you can read Chapter 1 (which is really the second chapter in a way) here at S&S.

That's the first 20 pages of the book, available for preview to get you psyched up for the release. And for those of you participating in the Twitter contest, go ahead and tweet about these to tally up more entries!

I'm also thrilled to get the first two reviews for Ballads of Suburbia. One was from the magazine Booklist, which I don't have a link to because it's not out yet, but some of the fabulous things they said include: "....an intensely real and painfully honest novel of high-school anxiety." And "....Kuehnert nails the raw vulnerability of teendom and delivers a hard-hitting and mesmerizing read."

Then blogger Steph Su put up a review calling it "a book you should all read" and apparently it left her pretty speechless, which is a really really good thing. It's the kind of impact I hoped the book would have, so yeah, I'm pretty thrilled about this.

Then here are some other things that I'm excited about:

Liza Graves the badass frontwoman of Civet has started a blog documenting her life and adventures in rock n roll. It is an awesome peek into the thoughts and life of a truly amazing woman and musician. And what I love about her is she totally tells it like it is, uncensored, no bullshit posturing. She's completely honest and not at all afraid to admit her guilty pleasures. That's my kind of woman. So yeah, if you love Civet or even if you are just interested in the real rock n roll life, check out lizagraves.blogspot.com

Speaking of badass women in rock.... NME announced this week that Courtney Love's new record will come out under the name Hole! I have to say I'm excited but a little wary just because it feels like this record, Nobody's Daughter is never ever gonna come out. But then again there was a good four years between Live Through This and Celebrity Skin. Courtney just likes to take her time. Also, Eric Erlandson won't be involved and to me Hole was always Courtney and Eric, so that's a little sad. But since the fabulous and incredibly talented Melissa Auf der Maur is on board, I'm thrilled and have faith in the project. I love both Courtney and Melissa so together = bliss. Being a fan of Courtney Love is a bit of a roller coaster ride because it seems like it's way more about the crazy drama than the music or the acting a lot of the time. But I still think she is supremely talented, so I look forward to new music from her. And she was one of my biggest inspirations in my early teen years. Hearing Pretty on the Inside at age 13 just blew me the fuck away.

So that's my excitement for the week. Also I pretty much blew off doing anything and spent time with friends I hadn't seen in too long this week and that is a good thing to do. I'm hoping this weekend will be peaceful and productive and it will stop raining long enough for me to go outside and reign in my garden which has just gone wild with all the rain. Seriously, the rain this month has been like living in Seattle without the actual happiness that would come along with actually living in Seattle. Though maybe I'm crazy, but I'd rather have rain and lower temperatures than the blistering summer I know is about to come....

Anyway, enough of my babbling. What are you excited about lately?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Jessica Hopper!

Welcome to Women Who Rock Wednesday! As usual there is a fabulous prize to give away from last week's guest, my lovely editor, Jen Heddle. The winner of A Rush of Wings by Adrian Phoenix is... Joanne Levy from Blogger. Joanne please send your mailing address to stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot com to claim your prize!

Today's woman who rocks, Jessica Hopper completely changed my life as a teenage girl. I learned about the Riot Grrrl movement through an interview with her, but more importantly, she captured the spirit of what Riot Grrrl was about (at least to me, since it certainly meant different things to different people) and the kind of release you could find through zine writing in her zine Hit It or Quit It. That zine inspired me to start my own zines and if I hadn't started my own zines, I never ever would have become the writer I am today.

If Jessica had written The Girls' Guide to Rocking: How to Start a Band, Book Gigs, and Get Rolling to Rock Stardom fifteen years ago, she might have changed my life in a different way. Instead of writing about rock n roll characters likes Emily Black, I might actually BE Emily Black. So if you have any musical ambitions, this book and interview is a must read for you. Jessica Hopper is about to change your life. Let's meet her.


Q: You get a pretty good idea of what your book The Girls' Guide to Rocking is about from the title, but can you give us a little more detail about what people will find inside and some the parts that you are particularly proud of or think are big highlights?

Jessica: I have this joke with my friend that “The Girls Guide to Rocking will take you from fandom to band-om!” (you have to say it in a cheesy voice, like you are on a mop commercial)—but it’s true. I think it meets girls where ever they are in the process and takes them step by step through everything that comes up—whether it’s big stuff like how to book shows or mix your home recordings or small but important stuff like choosing drum sticks, or a brief history of electric guitars, or the list of all the must-see girls-in-a-band movies.

When I first started playing, when I was 15, I was so passionate and so excited to be playing, but I would get really discouraged because I had no idea what I was doing; I didn’t know how to keep a band together, I didn’t know how my equipment worked or how to make it sound the way I wanted it to. I just wanted to make book that explains it all (including the stuff that no one ever tells you) and encourages girls to pursue their musical dreams.

Q: I was on a panel with you a little while ago and you'd said you'd wanted to write this kind of book for a long time. Can you tell us a little bit about your own experience as a musician (when you started, what you played, band names, etc) and the path that led you to writing this book?

Jessica: I started playing guitar and bass when I was 15, with my best friend in her basement--she played drums. We just sort of banged around loudly and took turns screaming words out of Seventeen magazine into a mic we hung from the rafters. Once we knew four songs (three were covers, all were terrible), we played a show in her house and two people came—her boyfriend and Craig Finn, who is now in the Hold Steady.

I briefly tried switching to drums and had a band with my sister, who was then nine years old. That lasted about a week and was probably my favorite band I was ever in. I’ve probably started 20+ short-lived bands the most recent being A Billion Dollars, which was a blatant Yeah Yeah Yeahs rip off, purposefully so. I played drums and some guitar in that one. I prefer playing in party bands that break up after three shows.

In 2004, I convinced my roommate to let me be the touring bassist in his band, Challenger. I had to learn all the songs in 3 weeks—I actually had to take lessons to learn them, it was hard. We toured the US, Canada and Japan for about 3 months and it was the best time ever. I had never felt so free in my life. Every girl should go on tour. It’ll like a secret world opens up to you.

I think I first had the idea to write this book when I was about 16. I wanted to write the book because I needed it. I also was really inspired by Riot Girl and the feminist movement within the music scene I was part of, and really wanted every girl I knew to be in a band; I would meet girls at shows and talk about playing music and they would say “oh, I could never do that” and I would want to just grab them and shake them and say “YES YOU CAN! WE CAN! LETS PRACTICE TOMORROW!” Years later, when I was touring, I would meet girls at shows and they would tell me I was the first woman they had ever seen play in a band, and they would tell me they were trying to start a band, or tell me about how they couldn’t find anyone to play with because boys didn’t want to play with a girl. These girls, and how totally brave and cool and determined they were—it totally inspired me. I kept thinking I had to make the book for these girls, to encourage and support them. It took a long time until it all came together, but alas.

Q: There is a fold-out timeline in the middle of the book, highlighting some of the most amazing females in music from the 20s to today, who are some of the women who have influenced you most-- musicians, writers, women in your life--both when you were young and today?

Jessica: The band that made me want to start a band was Babes in Toyland—they were a really tough all-woman trio from Minneapolis when I was growing up and I NEVER missed a show after the first time I saw them. Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth was the reason I started playing bass; I copied her outfits and her playing style. My friend Kristin Pfaff was the first really seriously technical player I ever saw in a band, she was so good, that I remember hearing dudes come out of a show once and they were insulting her shoes—you couldn’t say anything about her playing, she was just awesome and aggressive. She died when I was still in high school, but the book is dedicated in part to her. She made a huge impression on me. The women who’ve inspired me most—musicians: Nina Simone, Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders, PJ Harvey are all big ones—Patti Smith, of course. My big writing heroes are Joan Didion, Nikki Giovanni and the critic/essayist Ellen Willis, who was the first big-deal female rock critic in the late 60’s. I have framed pictures of Jane Fonda, Sister Corita, Georgia O’Keefe and my grandma, Zola, up around where I work—they are all big inspirations to me. Lately, every band I see has some total powerhouse girl in the band—last week I saw Gay Beast, and their drummer, she could flatten the earth with her pounding. Every week, every show I have a new heroine.

Q: Admittedly, I had a big fangirl moment when I met you because your zine Hit It or Quit It was a huge huge huge inspiration to me when I was about 14 years old. It helped me both personally and professionally in that I decided to start my own zine and for me, that was the beginning of my journey as a writer. Can you talk a little bit about how doing zines shaped you as a writer? And tell us about the other freelance writing you do and your fabulous blog?

Jessica: Oh gosh. It’s funny, some times I look back at those old zines and I can only just flip through, because if I read them I get so embarrassed. I was such a dork, but I guess such is the nature of 10th grade confessionals/record reviews.

Starting to publish my own writing at such a young age, and coming out of fanzine culture, it really made me feel like expressing myself was important—not just for it’s own sake, but the idea was also that everyone in the scene should be a participant—not just a consumer. I published my zine for geez, like 15 years?—and then I switched to blogging. Everyone switched to blogging. I think maybe 11 people make fanzines anymore. Putting my free, unbridled, unedited opinion into the world for years made me the writer and critic I am now, it is what made people hire me to write for magazines. I wasn’t interested in being a great writer so much as I wanted to just be honest, to get down to whatever my truth was.

I have been freelance writing for different magazines and papers since I was 16, and then for most of my 20’s, I worked as a publicist for bands, but eventually all I wanted to do was write, so I quit, and now I have been a full time writer/critic for the last five years. I mostly write for the Chicago Reader, the Chicago Tribune and I help pick music for the public radio show This American Life.

Q: I feel like I was really lucky to grow up in the early-mid nineties where there were a ton of amazing female bands out there. No doubt your book is going to create another female band renaissance, and in the research for the book you probably made some great musical discoveries. Who are some of the current female bands to watch? I believe you will be doing a mini tour with one of them, can you talk a bit about that?

Jessica: Oh man. So many rad things, rad bands and players happening right now—Marissa Paternoster from Screaming Females, a punk band from New Jersey, she is just a shredder. She is oblivious to her own rock stardom, she just radiates. Emily Lacy is a solo artist making these intergalactic, sad, sad cowgirl albums all by her lonesome, she’s fairly prolific. Her new one, Armor, just came to me this week and my mind is melting—I love her voice. I am touring with Katie Stelmanis, and her all-girl band—she’s got this huge voice and her backing band is just cool charm incarnate, the twin sisters of Ghost Bees sing back up—and so it’s actually two bands in one touring with me. They are coming down from Toronto and doing their first proper tour, wherein we do some rocking and some reading in places like Cleveland and Nashville. I figure if I am talking about girls rocking, a working example is a must. Plus, I’ll come up with any excuse to tour in the summer. I am totally a fan geek for Katie’s music, I couldn’t be more stoked to see them play every night.

Q: Now for my standard Women Who Rock Wednesday questions. The first is a two-parter. What was the first album you purchased and the first concert you attended?

Jessica: Technically, the first album I purchased with my own money was a very bad mid-80’s Elton John album, as a gift for my mothers 32nd birthday. I was at Target, I was nine and tried to hide it behind my back, despite that I was shopping with her. The first album I purchased for my own home use that created a total obsession was The Bangles, Different Light on cassette, I was 10 or 11. “Walk Like An Egyptian” was a hit, but I liked all the non-hits on the B-side best.

First concert is tough. I went to house shows of high school bands, saw hardcore bands that boys I knew were super into, but they never made an impression on me. First concert I bought a ticket to with my own money, where I had records by the bands and was excited to see them was 9th grade: Dinosaur Jr / My Bloody Valentine/ Babes in Toyland—which begat a life long love of wretchedly loud squealing guitars and feedback.

Q: Please dish about your biggest rock star moment. It could be a big moment of success in your career, a time where you met someone famous and had the Wayne's World "I'm not worthy" experience, or where you got the total rock star treatment?

Jessica: Gosh. The moments of success have all been things happening that made me realize I was some sort of for real writer. After an essay I wrote--“Emo: Where The Girls Aren’t”—was published in Punk Planet, I got mail about it every day for a solid three years. It was half hate mail and half thank you letters from girls telling me their own stories; I feel like if I got one thing right in this life, it was that. The first story I wrote after I quit doing PR and jumped full time into writing was nominated for awards and got in the DaCapo Best of Music Writing book for 2005 and I realized I probably could have been writing full time for the previous few years, I just lacked the self-confidence. I’ve gotten in the Best of Music Writing series three times since then, and cried every time I’ve gotten the letter telling me so. Having a book come out is pretty much the topper though. Having adult women, musicians I grew up being inspired by, write to me and say they wished it had come out 15-20 years earlier—it makes me feel like I really accomplished what I set out for.

The book is amazing. I'm still in the process of reading my copy and absorbing all the fabulous information. I plan to give it to my younger cousin and my friends' daughters as they grow up. It is just that important and inspiring. And Jessica is just one of my heroes. Sorry to get all gushy but she totally is. And her publisher gave me a copy of The Girls' Guide to Rocking: How to Start a Band, Book Gigs, and Get Rolling to Rock Stardom to give out so you know what that means! Comment away on this fabulous interview and you'll be entered to win.

I will announce the winner next week when I interview my favorite record store co-owner, Jodi Gianakopoulos of The Old School Records!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Mini-honeymoon and other blog posts

Yay! I just booked our mini-honeymoon at this fabulous B&B, the Magruder House, in Kankakee, IL! I really want to go to Hawaii or some place equally fabulous and tropical for our real honeymoon, but that is going to have to be in January due to both money and me potentially teaching in the fall. However when I talked to my friend Elise who just got married, she relayed some important advice given to her: go somewhere right after the wedding, those are very important days in your marriage and you never get them back.

So I started musing about places to go, considering New Buffalo, MI again, the place we went right after our engagement. Or maybe Wisconsin somewhere. But then I met two guys at the Beacon last Monday and they were telling me about the B&Bs they own in Kankakee. One of the things I love most about my job is talking to the many different people who come into the bar, many of whom later become resources in some way or another. The Magruder House B&B in a Victorian gothic house sounded perfect and they have a romance package and we can rent the whole house! It's also only an hour drive from home so that's nice. And the truly crazy thing.... it's only going to cost us about 60$ more for TWO nights there than one night in a local hotel right after our wedding is going to cost. Oh Chicago area, you are such a rip off!

Anyway, I'm very excited about this mini-honeymoon and I needed some cheering up after my illness and slow business at the bar making me quite broke, etc etc.

If you have any Hawaii or other tropical suggestions for the real honeymoon (tho I am pretty obsessed with Hawaii, so it would have to be truly amazing to lure me away from that), pls comment away.

Also, I know I have been a blog draught the past couple weeks, but am making up for it with fun posts at the other places I blog this week, so pls go read and comment on my posts at MTV Books and Teen Fiction Cafe!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Ballads of Suburbia Contest of the Week: Twitter Contest!

So I've decided that since we are a little over a month out from the Ballads of Suburbia release (*gulp*), it's time to start running weekly contests to celebrate!

I've got some fun prizes stockpiled including a couple leftover ARCs. Soooooo you want a Ballads of Suburbia ARC???? One lucky winner is going to get one!

This week's contest which starts now and will end next Monday at 11 am CST is the twitter contest. I love twitter. I have lots of random thoughts and twitter is the perfect place to share them. I'd feel like too much of a whore twittering about my book release left and right though. But hopefully you are excited about the release of Ballads of Suburbia and are thinking about it and want to twitter about it.... hence the contest.

Following me on twitter (twitter.com/writerstephanie) gets you one entry. Then every time you tweet about my writing or Ballads of Suburbia, you get an entry. You can tweet about why you are excited about Ballads or tweet the link to the book trailer or you can pre-order it and tweet about that or encourage other people to pre-order. You can tweet about this contest or about my website or my blog or for people to follow me on twitter. Whatever, each tweet equals one entry. Then by Monday the 22nd at 11 am CST, I'll count up all the tweets (though if you don't use @writerstephanie somewhere in your tweet, I may not see it, so you will need to email me at stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot com with a list of those tweets.) The person who tweeted the most, gets the ARC. I'll probably have a fun runner's up prize too.

It will be nice to make someone's day on a Monday because Mondays suck so making them more pleasant is always important.

Simple enough? Good. Questions, leave them here or on twitter.

Not a fan of twitter? No worries. I'll have more contests up until the book release.

Happy twittering!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Jennifer Heddle!

First off, I want to apologize for the infrequent blogging. First I was meeting a deadline, then I was doing spring cleaning and now I have the worst cold ever. It's so bad that I had to cancel my trip to visit my friend Chris in Kansas, which I was really looking forward too. But the good news is that I got back from the doctor and I don't have strep or the flu. After the illness clears I will be back to blogging on a regular basis. And I have an awesome, awesome, awesome interview and contest today to make up for my absence. But before we get to that, there are prizes to announce.

I still haven't heard from the winner of Jeri Smith Ready's book Bad to the Bone, so WriterWannaB_NY from blogger contact me this week or I'll have to draw a new winner. Sweetmelissa818 from blogger is the winner of Linda Gerber's Death By Denim. Email me at stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot com with your address to claim your prize!

Okay, I am very excited about today's guest, a woman who rocks very very hard... my editor, Jennifer Heddle! I mostly bring you a lot of author features, but behind every rockin' author, there is a kick-ass editor. Working with Jen on my books, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone and Ballads of Suburbia has been like a special, one-on-one post-graduate education in creative writing (can Simon & Schuster give me an honorary doctorate if I pass?). She is incredibly talented and insightful. And I'm sure that if you are an avid reader like me, you are curious about how things work at publishing houses. Jen was kind enough to take time out of her very, very busy schedule to tell us a little about it. So without further adieu, meet today's woman who rocks, Jennifer Heddle, Senior Editor at Pocket Books!


Q: The book lovers who read this blog probably know that without editors they wouldn't have good books to read. You do a very, very important job. You're a senior editor for Pocket Books, working on imprints such as MTV Books and Downtown Books. What was your career path and how did you decide to become an editor? I'm assuming there was a lifelong love of books involved and a natural inclination toward good grammar ;) But some of the book loving teens who read this might be going, "Hey, that sounds like my kind of job!" and wondering where to start. What did you go to college for? Did you do internships along the way?

Jen: I was a voracious reader my entire life (and yes, I did very well in English and grammar), but a career in publishing didn't even occur to me until about halfway through college. I was majoring in journalism because I kind of thought I wanted to be a reporter, and also figured it was a way to major in writing but to do so in a "marketable" way. I discovered fairly quickly that a vocation which required you to approach strangers in public and ask them questions was not for me. But I enjoyed the program and feel that I was picking up important writing skills, so I stuck with it while valuing the artistic outlet of my creative writing classes and beginning to consider a career in publishing. I never had an internship, per se, but did have two part-time jobs in publishing while I was in school. I spent a few months helping out in the art department at Penguin thanks to a connection through a mutual friend, and then in my senior year I got a part-time assistant job at Macmillan Library Reference. When graduation approached Macmillan offered me the job full-time, and although I knew library reference was not where I wanted to spend my life, it was a job in publishing with a great boss and I figured I would be a complete idiot to turn down a concrete job offer, so that was my starting off point.

So in conclusion I didn't exactly take the traditional route! I was lucky to find a couple of unusual opportunities and parlay that into other publishing jobs along the way. But as someone who now occasionally supervises interns, I do think internships are valuable and would certainly recommend them to anyone interested in the field. I know I learned a lot just from that part-time job in the Penguin art department.

Q: Now this may change their minds about wanting to be editors....what is your average day like? I know you have long hours, are reading on weekends, and have to wear many hats to bring a book from manuscript to published and successful.

Jen: I think the biggest misconception about editors is that we sit around all day (in an expansive, beautifully decorated office with skyline views, of course!) picking our way leisurely through a manuscript with a red pen. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact it's rare that we editors get a chance to actually read or edit in the office. I spend most of my day answering emails from authors and agents and co-workers; answering questions for co-workers in other departments; going over everything an editor needs to look at and approve: cover copy, cover art work, catalog copy, press releases, contracts, etc.; attending meetings; working on sales information sheets and other info for internal use; dealing with any negotiations I might be having; keeping my boss apprised about different projects; answering phone calls; and the list goes on. Often you can walk into your office in the morning and think, "I am going to get Manuscript X finished today" and then you open your email and there are a bunch of fires you have to put out and before you know it it's after lunch and where did the day go? Now THAT is a typical day for an editor!

One thing to keep in mind about being an editor is that the editor is essentially the hub that all the other departments go through at one time or another. So you have to work with the art department; the marketing department; publicity; production; sales; subrights; copywriting; contracts; legal; managing editorial, etc. Everything goes through you at some point, so while you are of course doing your best to focus on your editing, you also need to know (or pick up) enough about what all the other departments do to help them be able to do their jobs in the best service of your books.

Q: What do you love most about this very demanding job? What keeps you motivated to keep doing it? And are there any parts you absolutely hate? Aside from authors using caps lock, too many exclamation points, and Jeri Smith-Ready tells me you're not a fan of the word "shudder."  

Jen: I guess what I love most is, well, editing: getting to work with authors to help them make their books even better than they were before. There's nothing more satisfying than getting a revised manuscript back from an author and discovering that they've gone above and beyond your expectations and really pushed themselves to take the book to the next level. And getting that finished book in your hands is pretty satisfying, too, although probably not as satisfying as it is for the author! It’s often said that you have to love publishing in order to make a career out of it, and I really think that’s true.

As for parts that I hate, I guess the getting up in the morning part is the toughest for me. ;) And any job at a large company involves paperwork and such that can be tedious but has to be done. I guess I do have a thing about exclamation points, possibly generated by that Seinfeld episode where someone gets on Elaine's case for using too many, and any of my authors can tell you that I don't hesitate to point out when I think they’re being too melodramatic or using “purple prose.” As for shudder....I don't remember the context in which I gave Jeri a hard time about it, ha ha. But I do think shuddering is one of those things that gets overused in prose when people don't actually do it all that often in real life. That and crying from laughter. Most people have to laugh really hard to actually cry from laughing, but in books it seems that any minor chuckle brings forth tears of mirth. That's one of those clich├ęs that make me a little nutty.

Q: Since it's Women Who Rock Wednesday, we like to give props to the women who've inspired us. So can you tell us about some of the female authors or characters that you've really adored and been inspired by over the years? Any other women who have influenced or inspired you?

Jen: Oh wow, this is a tough one. As far as authors, I would have to say Margaret Atwood, Susan Isaacs, Lois Duncan, Barbara Hambly, Anne McCaffrey, and Anne Rice were all influences on me in terms of my realizing what authors are capable of doing with language and story. Those ladies all at one time or another inspired me to want to write, and to read. Fictional characters from page and screen who have been my heroines include Princess Leia (hey, I'm a child of the 80s), Lessa from McCaffrey's Pern series, Dianora from Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana, Nancy Drew, Wonder Woman, Dana Scully, and Miranda from Sex and the City, not so much because I admire her but because at times I feel like I am her. Non-fictional inspirations include Nellie Bly, Kateri Tekakwitha, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Carrie Fisher and Emma Thompson. More recently I’ve admired Rachel Maddow, Pink, Kelly Clarkson, and journalist Lisa Ling.

Q: Now for my standard Women Who Rock Wednesday questions. The first is a two-parter. What was the first album you purchased and the first concert you attended?

Jen: Well. When you first told me about this interview, I told you I might have to lie about this one, but I guess I will just tell the truth: the answer to both of these questions is Jack Wagner. You know, Frisco from "General Hospital." I was in sixth grade, DON'T JUDGE ME. But the first album I remember being "mine," in that I specifically requested it as a gift in first grade, was the Grease soundtrack.

The first concert I went to without any adult chaperone was, I think, The B-52's. Is that better?

Q: And I'm looking forward to your answer to this because I know you have some stories to tell... Please dish about your biggest rock star moment. It could be a big moment of success in your career, a time where you met someone famous and had the Wayne's World "I'm not worthy" experience, or where you got the total rock star treatment?

Jen: Oh wow, this is a tough one (and embarrassing, too). I did enjoy the one and only time I was an editor guest of honor at a convention, at OryCon a few years ago. I had a "handler" assigned to me and didn't quite know what to do with that. The poor kid would keep coming up and asking me if I needed anything, and I kept saying no. I'm not sure what kind of high maintenance drama he was expecting, but really, as long as I had a bottle of water on me I was fine. The treatment was nice, though. Approaching this answer from the other side, I've met a fair share of celebrities and have had varying degrees of "I'm not worthy!"-ness, or not, as the case may be. If I'm being completely honest the experience that had me acting most like I was channeling Dana Carvey's Garth was the first time I met Bradley Whitford, who I was completely infatuated with when he was Josh Lyman on "The West Wing." I saw him at a movie premiere in Manhattan and somehow managed to get up the nerve to ask to take a picture with him. When the moment was over, I literally had to find a chair and sit down because I was afraid my legs could no longer hold me up. I'd never turned to jelly in quite that embarrassing a fashion before. (If I ever meet Ewan McGregor, it's all over.) I was similarly starstruck when I met Carrie Fisher, but still managed to tell her that I hoped she kept writing. “I’m trying,” she said. That’s all any of us can do.

As a prize today, I asked Jen if she would like to give out one of the books she's worked on. Of course she has actually edited a few of the books we've had giveaways of lately including Shrinking Violet, Bad to the Bone, and Going Too Far. This is the book she chose and her reason behind it:

"I wanted to come up with a giveaway that felt appropriate for the 'Women Who Rock' theme, and I think A RUSH OF WINGS fits the bill. Heather Wallace is a strong, determined FBI agent whose world is turned upside down when she meets the next potential victim in a serial killer case: a vampire named Dante who fronts a goth band and owns an underground club called Club Hell. What's so great about this book aside from the fantastic writing is that it's up to Heather to save Dante, and not the other way around. Dante may be the rock star, but Heather rocks all on her own."

Umm, yeah that book sounds so cool! Fortunately Jen said she'd send me a copy too! To enter to win all you have to do is leave a comment and I'm sure you have a ton to comment on because Jen's insight to what an editor *actually does* is amazing. And I also love her for the General Hospital confession, as a hardcore One Life to Live fan, I don't think it's anything to be ashamed of at all!

So comment away and check back next week when our featured rockin' lady will be Jessica Hopper, author of The Girl's Guide to Rocking.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

New Tattoo

People keep asking for photos of the new tattoo that I got on Monday and I was holding off bc it takes some explaining. My tattoos always seem to. I don't have one that is just like "I like X so I got it inked on my skin." There is always a story. Usually an emotional one, as is the case with this one.

It's been almost a year since a dear friend of mine was killed in a motorcycle/car accident. This coming Saturday would have been his 30th birthday. I wanted to get the tattoo around that time to memorialize his life as opposed to his death, so my best friend and I went on Monday to get tattoos that reminded us of him. 

Marcel was many things including an artist. he would make random sketches on random things. Once we were in a diner and he drew this little design on a placemat. I'd seen him do it before, but usually he'd just leave the drawing behind. This time he carefully ripped it out, brought it with us and taped it up in my car. We had all kinds of things taped up inside of my car. There was a random sticker that said "We've got the cream filling," a certificate of sanitation we'd stolen from a Denny's bathroom, a "ticket" to either heaven or hell that some Jesus Freak had given me (we put the side for hell facing out), and sketchbook pages filled with our inside jokes (Pants!). Marcel taped his little sketch between the two doors on the driver's side. It was an abstract little drawing, but it did resemble an eye and it felt like it was there to watch over us. I needed watching over. Marcel knew this. He lived closest to me, which meant that I often dropped him off last. We had daily five minute conversations that were sort of coded, but at the same time incredibly personal and raw. He gave good advice and he gave me the eye drawing to watch over me. I'm sure of it. It was a very Marcel gesture.

When the pages of inside jokes fell down from the ceiling of the car, I brought them inside and put them in my scrapbook. I didn't really want to explain "Shake in a bowl" or "Mike, stop dropping your pants!" to every person who rode in my car. But when Marcel's drawing start to fall, I applied more tape. I needed that there. I didn't take it down until I got a new car in 2002. Then I peeled it off carefully, sun-faded and covered with tape and added it to my scrapbook.

After he died last year, I had conversations with two friends about getting tattoos in his memory. We all wanted different things, but we all planned to get them on our forearms so we could see them easily all the time and feel close to him. I've been hesitant to get ink on my forearms for a couple reasons. One, I have lots of scars, and two, it causes trouble when applying for office jobs. However losing Marcel was one of the main reasons I quit my office job. A month before he died, I'd gone to St. Louis, where he lived, because my brother was graduating law school. I wanted to take an extra day off work so I could see my brother, Marcel, and my friend Jenny who lives in St. Louis. My boss was being a total bitch about my vacation and sick time, even though I had it accumulated, so I didn't get to take that extra day, and I didn't get to see Marcel. I always admired Marcel because he lived his life on his own terms. So I decided to follow his example. Even though my financial situation is shakier, I now work a job that gives me flexibility to travel and see friends and get tattoos wherever the hell I want.  As for the scars, I'm tattooing around them. I could tattoo over them; the Marcel tattoo did cover one, but those scars are about a journey I had to take so they need to be there. However, Marcel helped me heal so it makes sense that his tattoo would sit above them. 

His sketch doesn't look like something anyone would normally get tattooed, but I didn't care. I flanked it with rosemary on each side so it looks like a crest-- rosemary is for remembrance, which I'm sure anyone who was as obsessed with Ophelia in Hamlet as I was in high school knows. It's my strangest tattoo and I'm sure I'll get a lot of questions and sometimes I'll be in the mood to answer at length and other times I'll simply say that I got it in memory of a friend. But today you got the long answer. That is if you bothered reading it and didn't just scroll down to this picture: