Monday, August 31, 2009

A tattoo for and with my best friend

Just a quickie photo blog to show off the new tattoo bc everyone wants to see it and um, in deadline chaos so no time to for long blog. Photos=good.

The backstory:

When I was seventeen, I got a tattoo in honor of my best friend Katie. I got a shooting star because she was my shooting star. It was a cheesy, simple design I came up with and drew out prolly in study hall or something. I put the letters spelling her name around the five points of the star. The person who tattooed me wasn't very good, my design was so simple it looked ghetto and no one could ever seem to figure out how to read the letters that went around the star. Sigh. So I love the tattoo for about a year or two and soon after that, I was like really, I should have done better for Katie. Also much as I love her, name tattoos just don't seem wise unless it's your kid. Katie is also a tattoo fiend and we've gone to get tattoos together on many an occasion, but we've been talking about getting matching tattoos for years. I told her that when we got one, I'd like to cover up the other tattoo for her and she was totally fine with it since it just looks crappy and I'd let it fade since I couldn't figure out how to fix it.

We'd been trying to figure out what best represented us as a friends, something that would make reference to the girls we were in high school, the tough times we had that sealed us for life. I believe it was Katie who came up with the idea of the boot print. That she thought of both of us in our combat boots. That's who we were, girls who tried to look tough as hell on the outside to hide our inner vulnerablities (sound familiar from my writing? Yeah, I definitely borrowed some of me and Katie's friendship/attitude for the friendship of Emily and Regan in IWBYJR).

So we had boot print, but we wanted more. We wanted words. Not names. Words. We started to think about songs that were significant to us. "Rebel Girl" by Bikini Kill was our theme song for each other back in school, but we felt it had been outgrown by both of us. The band that really bonded us back in high school, that we both adored most back in high school and still adore to this day was Rancid. Their album ...And Out Come The Wolves was our soundtrack for my junior/her sophomore year and the summers preceding and following it. The song we always related to the most was "Olympia, WA" because it had this sense of longing for some place better, for the getting the fuck out of where you currently were, a place you were both bored and hateful of. That whole album really had that feeling about it. So many songs about getting out: "I'm checking out, I'm never coming back again..." That sort of thing. And that's how we felt. That was the year we talked about running away almost daily. But we didn't. We stuck around. We helped each other survive.

Ultimately the song we both kept coming back to was "Journey to the End of the East Bay" which I know is about Tim Armstrong's experience in Operation Ivy, but to us it was about the way you watch your scene (or group of friends in high school) evolve and change and fall apart and get put back together again and there are certain people that stick it out and stick together through all the hard times. That was me and Katie. The lyric, "To the end, to the end, I'll journey to the end" embodied our friendship. And it was Rancid. It was us. It was big, black boots that walked a long hard way, that stumbled a lot. But we made the journey because we were always there to pick each other back up.

So here's the ink. I think if you click on the pictures they will enlarge, but um, if you do that, pls ignore my stubble. Can't really shave around or over the fresh ink ;)

The old tattoo


Old tat close up (super faded! It's 13 years old!)


New tat, full length and close-ups (you can barely see that it's a cover up unless you look close!)

So the lesson here, kids is choose your art and your artist wisely. I mull designs over for a really long time now (umm mostly, firefly was kinda a snap decision) and I've found an artist I love (Darryl at Meridian Line in Oak Park and the other guy at that shop Bob is awesome too. He does Katie's ink.)

Oh and Katie got hers on her forearm. She has flowers on one arm and boots on the other, which is just so Katie.

Umm and this was supposed to be wedding related blog week.... I will try to get to those posts later this week depending on finishing this book proposal... But this is sorta wedding related because I wanted this done before my wedding, so all my tats would look good in the pictures. And yes, the giant boots will be very visible in my knee-length wedding dress. That's me, deal with it :)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Writer's Mindset

Progress is slow on the new book proposal. I was stuck on one scene that turned out to be a mere three pages long for a week, but after that I plowed through the rest of chapter one.

Frustrating as this, I am at least out of the questioning myself phase. I still indeed can write. Will this be the big breakthrough novel with the huge brilliant concept? Not so sure about that. I have two other concepts that I think are probably more likely to do that, but they aren't fully formed yet. This is. I believe this is the book I need to write right now. But I'm trying not to focus on that too much or I will trip myself up on thoughts of market and what will my agent think.

The important thing is that I'm in the writer's mindset again. I know this because I am seeing story absolutely everywhere. It started last night. I was listening to one of my regulars, a retired woman who I used to chat with quite a bit when I worked during the day, but usually she and her husband are leaving when I start my shift. Last night they stuck around a bit, long enough for her to relate to me this story about a tree that had been standing in front of their condo building. She felt like it was her tree because its branches hung over her balcony. It shielded her living room from the world to the degree that they didn't need drapes. The tree was half dead though. The half that faced her was living, the other half dead. But it had been like that for at least four years and it was fine. Apparently on Tuesday one of her busybody neighbors decided it was not fine. Even though this busybody woman always called to alert my regular whenever something was happening in the neighborhood like, "People put their trash in our dumpster. What should we do?" She did not call to consult about the tree. She saw village cutting down a tree down the street and went over to tell them about the half dead tree. When my regulars arrived home from lunch, their tree, their piece of nature, their shield was gone. "I'm just sick over it," my regular kept repeating.

I was sick over it for her too. But I also felt like, wow this is a story, wow this is a big metaphor for something, wow wow wow there are just so many moments like this in life and I'm glad I am here to observe them.

I also took note later when one of my other regulars invented a new elaborate system of ordering drinks that involved using the number that corresponded with the first letter of the words he was abbreviating. Round of Shots became "We need a 18 14 19 over here." I think it amused him because it sounded like police codes or something. It mystified me completely, but I was amazed that he could figure it all out after several 18-14-19s. It'll go in the bartender book...

Then this evening on my way to writer's group I noticed that someone had left a heart shaped refrigerator photo magnet out in the rain on a ledge near the steps to the parking lot. There was a picture of a woman in her 40s with bad sort of 80s spiky hair in the magnet. I didn't recognize her as one of my neighbors. I wondered who she was and who had left her out in the rain and whether it meant something or if it was an accident.

So yeah, I'm seeing stories everywhere so hopefully over the weekend, I can really nail mine.

And as long as I'm not in total deadline chaos next week (ideally proposal should be to agent on Tuesday, but it must be in by Friday because after that my life gets crazy), I'll stop boring you with all this writerly stuff and do a week of wedding blogging. Because umm it's a month away and I really should be focused on it more...

A few exciting things to check out...

Keeping my head down in order to try to get some writing done today, but there were a few things I wanted to share with you.

You may have heard about Kay Cassidy, Tera Lynn Child, Becca Fitzpatrick, and Alyson Noel's new site, Living Your Five that just launched this week, but if you haven't you should know about it. Here is the mission statement of sorts:

Living Your Five is an online community dedicated to changing our world one person at a time. You don't have to cure the world of cancer or banish world hunger in a single day. It's about working together, each of us taking one more step every day. It's about knowing what you care about--what you're passionate about!--and stepping away from the sidelines of your life to make your mark on the world..

You can find out more about it here. Since it is launch week, they have daily contests going on as well as a big huge MEGA contest. Don't miss out, join in and celebrate this fabulous new community!

Another cool site I wanted to tell you about is The Reading List, a new site that is posting audio clips of authors reading excerpts from their books. If you go to the featured writers page, you'll find me listed along with a recording of me reading the beginning of Ballads of Suburbia. I'm not doing as many readings outside of Chicago this time around, so hopefully this gives those of you who wanted to hear me read a taste.

Lastly, last week I wrote a column for my local newspaper, The Forest Park Review about being inspired by local setttings in my fiction, so check it out if you are interested.

Now, back to my manuscript.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Women Who Rock Wednesday: April Mosqus

Welcome to Women Who Rock Wednesday! It's my favorite day of the blogging week because I get to interview amazing female artists of all stripes and give out prizes. Really, how can you beat it?

Let's start with last week's prize... The winner of Megan Kelley Hall's book, The Lost Sister is.... Denise Madness from blogger! I will email you for your address (or if I'm not fast enough feel free to email me at stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot com)

Now I am very excited to introduce filmmaker April Mosqus who is working on a movie project that I am just dying to see!


Q: The film you are working on, Before We Get To Seattle, sparks my interest in so many ways. Everyone knows I love grunge and Seattle, but I also love a good story with cool, teen girl heroines, which it sounds like Chloe is, but I'll let you tell my readers all about this film. So what's it about and what inspired you to make it?

April: “Before We Get To Seattle,” is actually part of a feature-length script I wrote called, “Heartbreaker.” One day about five years ago I downloaded a bunch of old indie rock songs that took me back to when I was in high school back in the early 90’s. I remember one of the songs on the playlist was “Chloe Dancer” a song by Mother Love Bone that inspired the name of the main character. I started to think about writing a piece about growing up during that time, and I wanted the main character to be a teenage girl and base the story around the music and culture of the time period. I sat down and I just started to write a story about who I thought this girl was and eventually it morphed into a screenplay.

“Heartbreaker” takes place in 1991 at the height of the grunge music movement, and tells the story of Chloe, a teenage rocker who plays guitar and has dreams of leaving her grim east coast city and taking off to the west coast to start a band. At the same time, she is coping with the loss of someone very close to her. An unfortunate situation happens to her at home, and she ends up running away and hiding out in the apartment of Slater, an older guy she met at a show one night. He is enamored with Chloe and promises to take her to Seattle, but can’t right away- it gets discovered that he has to finish up parole first. Slater has made a lot of poor decisions in the past and is trying to fix his life. The two of them create a crazy, whimsical world together outside of reality that eventually comes crashing down when a dark secret gets revealed. In the end she emerges with a strong sense of self and maturity that she didn’t have before. The feature is intended to be gritty and realistic, but also darkly humorous at times.

I showed the script to a filmmaker friend of mine, Adam Linn, and he found the story of a young kid’s desire to take off and start a band irresistible since he’s a musician himself. Adam suggested I shoot a short film of the script that could be taken to festivals. He thought that would be the best way to attract attention to get the feature film made. He had already made a short that did well in the festival circuit, so he was very encouraging. We sat down together and threw around ideas about how to turn this into a ten minute film with the same premise and characters without losing the essence of the story. We decided to make it more of a comedy while at the same time maintaining the seriousness of the girl’s problems. In the short film, Chloe is on her way to Seattle with Slater when she insists that they make a pit stop at a deli. She runs in to see her best friend Michelle who works there. Michelle, who is very busy making sandwiches for a long line of customers, is both overjoyed and frustrated at the sudden appearance of her friend who has been missing. It gets discovered that Chloe has a secret and desperately needs a favor. The two hide out in the store bathroom and are constantly interrupted by customers while they try to solve Chloe’s big dilemma.

Q: How long have you been interested in filmmaking? What got you into it? Any particular people or films influence you? (Since it's Women Who Rock Weds, we are particularly interested in hearing about the women who influenced you, but guys are fine too!)

April: Music and writing have always played strong roles in my life. As journalism major, I wrote all the time for the college paper and also for different Boston music publications, because the scene was so hot there in the 90’s. At eighteen, if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have answered a writer for Rolling Stone or Spin without any hesitation. I never lived out my fantasies of rocking out onstage-although I did learn some guitar and drums. I wrote a lot of short stories during that time also, and my writing style was very dialogue-driven, and I think that came from a background in news writing and conducting lots of interviews. One day, as an experiment really, I decided to take a stab at writing a screenplay for fun. It was about a young woman trying to get her life together and find a way to pursue her goals when the cards were not dealt in her favor. So much inspiration and emotion in the script came from envisioning the songs that would accompany it on the soundtrack. I shot and directed a short segment of it and set it to the music of PJ Harvey. The script eventually became part of my senior thesis, which was about women and their representation in film and got me my degree. It was an amateurish start, but that story that began one night in my dorm room with a notebook and a pen ended up changing my life-and my career path. I no longer wanted to be a music journalist, I wanted to be a filmmaker.

Instead of making my own films, I worked in the industry for a number of years producing and assistant directing indie films before focusing on making my own. I remember watching the film, “24 Hour Party People” about the music scene in Manchester England in the 80’s and 90’s and it making me want to do a cool piece about music. I liked the realistic documentary style it was filmed in. I love rock films in general. I think the 1990’s is a great period of time to do a nostalgic rock film about. It was the last generation defined by music, the last generation to appreciate full-length albums (and the ones to still buy albums in their entirety), and the last one to be affected by the death of a rock icon who was relevant to the time he died in. There is something to be said there. We’ve made how many films about Woodstock now? It’s time to let another generation have their voice.

Q: For other aspiring filmmakers out there, can you tell us a little about your background? How you got to where you are now, working on this project?

April: Working as a freelance assistant director and producer in film and television taught me how a film comes together on every level, from the budget to the casting to the editing. If you’re planning on making a movie it’s a good idea to work on some first, even student films, just to get your hands dirty. I learned a lot from assistant directing/producing a Master’s thesis for someone that gave me the skills and confidence to go on and produce an indie feature that is available on Amazon called, “Bedford Springs,” and was picked up by HBO Europe. I even got involved with helping to choose the cast on that one and that was a lot of fun.

When I started writing this script I was working at a TV production company in Los Angeles as a production coordinator. Although I liked my job and the unconventional setting and the fun quirky people I worked with I still wasn’t doing my own thing. I decided it was time to just sit down and just do it. I think that is the best advice I can give anyone. Having an idea or just talking something up isn’t going to get it made. You have to discipline yourself to put in the hours. When I first sat down to write “Heartbreaker,” I was scared. It was the first time in a long time that I had taken my creativity seriously and I was afraid that it might just plain suck. So my second piece of advice is don’t judge yourself in the process, you’ll only trip up and get frustrated. After I wrote my first draft I had it critiqued by friends and by a screenwriters group. The feedback I was received was invaluable and the script was well received. It helped immensely with taking it through the rewrites. It’s so important to get feedback and constructive criticism during the writing process. Don’t let your ego get in the way of listening to someone else’s advice. Not every piece will be valuable and not everyone is good at giving feedback, so say true to your vision and take it with a grain of salt. Make a short film to take to festivals for the fraction of the budget it takes to make a feature and promote your project in every way. See how your friends and family can help out, and do some fundraising if you don’t have all the cash. A film is exciting to people and they like to get involved. Come up with a marketing campaign and take lots of pictures when filming. It’s important to include a graphic designer in your budget to make a professional looking poster. Festivals will need this to promote your film in their brochures and posters, and most require a press packet upon submission. The internet is virtually a free resource for marketing. Promotion is huge and talking about your project with confidence will gain other people’s confidence.


Q: Obviously making a film is a TON of work and it can be really expensive too. Can you talk about some of the challenges you've faced getting this made and how you've tackled them? And tell us a little bit about your website and how anyone who is interested can help you get your dream project out there.

April: Money was a huge challenge. Adam and I scraped together just enough to get it shot and it wasn’t easy. It meant rice and beans for dinner. After it was completed a friend of ours was so impressed he decided to invest in it. We also set up an account on IndieGoGo.com and raised some funds that way. Some generous friends have made contributions. It is STILL NOT ENOUGH to get us through post production, meaning enough to get the film edited, polish the sound, get a title designer, pay for DVD transfers, and pay for music rights. Festival music rights are very expensive. You have to obtain two separate licenses for every song which means two separate costs (one for the master recording and one from the music publisher). We’ve been working with a Music Supervisor out in San Francisco. In a dream world we would like to use four songs, but in reality it will most likely be two. We’re considering songs by L7, Mudhoney, Temple of the Dog, and of course Nirvana! We would like to use “About a Girl,” and it is the most expensive of the four songs we are thinking about. We really need to do our rough cut first in order to check out how the songs synch up before making a final decision.

Anyone interested in helping out can go to www.indiegogo.com/Before-We-Get-To-Seattle where they can make a secure cash donation. They will receive a credit in the film! Donation amounts start at just $10! Depending on how much someone gives copies of the film and festival passes are also available. We also have a Facebook Fan Page we’re encouraging people to join where we will post updates on the project and screenings

Q: Are you working on anything else or what is next for you, April?

April: Right now I am really focusing on getting Before We Get To Seattle completed and into festivals. At the same time I am using this short as a vehicle to get the feature made. We hope to get a company or a person interested and excited enough about the project that they would want to invest in Heartbreaker. I will be doing a rewrite of the script and also working on the logistics of budgeting and scheduling. We also hope to get a website up. I have another idea for another script that I plan to write that takes place in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the city I grew up in. Lawrence is a city rich in history and was one of the biggest industrial, textile cities in the world at one time. During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s immigrant mill workers were employed under heinous work conditions. In 1912 a wage cut of these people prompted the famous “Bread and Roses” strike that was lead by women and eventually resulted in turning the labor laws around and improving work conditions. The story is fascinating and requires some research before the script is written. I want to write something high energy that expresses the anger of these workers who were treated like machines. I don’t want it to be like a documentary at all. The project is rather ambitious. In the meantime, Adam and I have an idea for another short film we can shoot very inexpensively.

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

April: My favorite question! Guns N’ Roses “Appetite for Destruction” is the first album I remember buying. I begged for it at Christmas when I was eleven and it never showed up. I think my mother thought it was a little obscene and wouldn’t buy it for me. I was heartbroken! So I took some of the money I got as a gift and went out and bought it myself on cassette. To this day it is probably overall one of the most played albums in my collection. I think it’s one of the best rock albums ever made. The first real concert I went to was Lollapalooza 1993. The acts that stick out in my head from that show are Alice in Chains, Primus, Tool and Dinosaur Jr. I love the festival atmosphere to see bands in. Before that I had seen a lot of obscure bands around Boston. Back then you could just tell the bouncer you weren’t going to drink and they would let anyone in.

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

April: Getting on your blog and getting to tell people all about this project is truly a moment of that. Thank you so much Stephanie!

Aww, thanks April! You are too sweet!

Today's Contest:
April has also been sweet enough to offer up a fabulous prize. She's put the cool movie poster image you saw above on a tote bag and one lucky winner will get it AND she will hold on to your information and send you a DVD after the movie has been out at the festivals (it can't be distributed until then). So start commenting away to enter! I know April gave you guys tons to talk about like how freakin' cool this movie sounds!

Of course, in addition to your comment you can rack up more entries:
+1 for blogging/tweeting about today's Women Who Rock Wednesday feature
+1 for blogging/tweeting about April and Before We Get To Seattle
+1 for joining the Before We Get To Seattle Facebook fan group

Just note your extra entries in your comment as well as your email address.

I'll announce the winner next Wednesday the 2nd, when our guest will be author Kathy Charles who will tell you about her new book Hollywood Ending.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Return to Civilization

So I have returned to civilization (from blurry middle of nowhere, blackberry is not a good camera). Um, I missed my boy and my cats, but other than that I really wish I was still away. I've never had the experience of going away to write at the beginning of the writing process and um, it didn't go as smoothly. The last time I just remember pounding away for hours upon hours, coming home with a completed draft (it was half written when I left). So this time I thought, sure I can throw together two, rough 50 page proposals. HA! *hums to self "we had the greatest expectations"*

I didn't even finish the one proposal. I hope to finish it this week, but we'll see. I forget that this whole figuring out the shape of the novel thing is the hardest part. Also I'm still filled with all these worries and doubts about if I've chosen the "right" story. I've chosen the one that is the most fleshed out in my mind (but it's still not fleshed out enough... well actually I think it's mainly a structure thing I'm struggling with. I've gotten to know the characters pretty well, but unfolding the story at the beginning is difficult, like incorporating the back story, god that is always so hard for me.) but I'm not sure it is good enough. And is it the right book to follow Ballads? I have all these quirky characters in it and my main character has kind of a sarcastic sense of humor to cope. I don't know I've been watching a lot of Veronica Mars and Weeds and thinking about movies like Juno and Garden State and using humor/quirkiness (not really sure how to describe it because it's not ha-ha funny, it's just interesting types of characters) and I think it's coming through. The book of course deals with darker issues, but in such a completely different way than Ballads. Which feels like what I need (nervous breakdowns triggered by the subject matter of every book is probably not a good idea), but will it still be powerful?

Anyway that book is currently called Anarchists, Soap Stars, and Regulars. It's the road trip and bartender book (you probably got the bartender thing from the regulars bit in the title). That's really all I'm comfortable saying about it for now because I feel like I cursed the Persephone book by talking about it so much in such early phases. Right now that one is on hold til I figure it out, though I have this other idea that may or may not connect...

The second to last day of the retreat we went for a walk. We chose our path using a game I liked to play in my car when I was in high school wherein I would ask my passengers which way to go and we would go that way. So I kept asking Jenny which direction she thought we should go in and we went the way she said and eventually we came upon a little lake. I'd just been saying that morning that I needed water for inspiration. I'm a water sign (Cancer) and seem to have quite the connection to water. I needed water terribly badly that day and then there it was! We couldn't tell if the water was part of someone's property because there was also corn and farm type buildings, but there were no fences, so off we went toward the water. And we followed it to a little waterfall! (Again, excuse blurry phone pic, it was all I had.) From there we found a stream we could dangle toes in and follow further and then it was clearly a park so we were definitely allowed there. But the waterfall, it sparked a memory.

Glen Helen, Antioch College where I went for a year when I was 18. There was a waterfall there. It was hard to find, but I always managed to find it even though I didn't know precisely where it was. (Okay maybe it wasn't really hard to find because I did find several pictures of it online like the one to the right. Maybe it just seemed hard to find because of me being drunk so often.) The Glen was on ley lines basically meaning it was a place that resonated a lot of interesting energy. I used to have these visions at the waterfall... like story visions, not the drugged out kind. I forgot about them until then. I need to write a ravine story. I have ideas, but they are not fully formulated yet.

Same with the story based on the crazy dream I had that I mentioned last week. Not fully formulated. I'm impatient for both ideas as I feel they will be big.

But for now I have what I have and I really hope it will be good enough.

So yeah, more churning of ideas than churning out of pages at my retreat. Also a lot of Veronica Mars was watching in the evenings and then I would read. I finished The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan which I adored, but I really, really don't recommend reading it in an unfamiliar, spooky feeling house out in the middle of nowhere late at night. This resulted in much lost sleep. I followed it up with Just Listen by Sarah Dessen, which I'm still reading and loving. It's my first Sarah Dessen experience. Any recommendations of which of her books to get next? (Not necessarily read next bc there is a huge stack that needs addressing, but I will get it and incorporate into the stack.)

Enjoyed the reading routine and hope I created a good writing routine for myself. I guess we shall see. I'm behind on absolutely everything; reintroduction into civilization is moving slowly for me and right now I just wanna write. Even though it is hard to do, I want to do it and that is definitely a good thing.

I'll close out with this link about first draft blues, that I think others of you who are stuck on first drafts like me might enjoy. It relieved me to see that so many others struggle the way I do at the beginning. Right now I'm so braindead from trying to figure out the first draft, I can't even come up with a fun metaphor for what a first draft is like...

But I'm off to get my feet wet:


Actually those are Jenny's feet and mine is just the one foot with the black toenails in the corner because the water was really cold and I was skittish about putting them in. Now it is time to take the plunge!

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Method to My Madness

I was going to call this blog entry "Grace Under Pressure" because it is the follow up to my blog entry on Tuesday called Under Pressure, but I don't know if I've achieved a state of grace yet or if I ever will.... I do however have a method to my madness.... sort of.

I've said it before and I'll say it again over and over, with every book I write, I learn to write over again. My process for writing I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone was completely different from my process for Ballads of Suburbia. IWBYJR took a lot longer, but I had the time to write it leisurely because it was my grad school thesis. I wrote it completely out of order, tackling the scenes as they took my attention. Then I put them together and filled in the blanks. It wasn't a very efficient process, but it worked. Ballads I wrote linearly for the most part and it went a lot faster. I don't know what will work for my next project(s), but here are a few things that are tried and true.

The Story Workshop Method
This is the method I learned while I was at Columbia College Chicago. You can read all about it here. In a nutshell, it uses word games to trigger seeing a story unfold in your mind's eye. You then tell that story aloud, exploring it further before you write it. I have a writer's group that meets once a week with fellow Columbia alum. We cook dinner, catch up a little bit and then we sit down seriously and go around for about 15 minutes, each saying a word. It sounds silly and you'd probably have to actually see it and participate to get how it works. But the point is that one of my CPs might say a word like "nightmare" and I might get a whole story idea or at least a snippet of image that I nurture as the word game continues. It's worked for me. A lot. Especially as I'm still discovering my story. One of my writing group mates is away on this retreat with me and no doubt we are playing these games a lot to get going.

Binge-writing
Yeah, not so good when it comes to eating, but this is just the method that works for me when it comes to writing. It's a habit that formed in college. I went to school for 6 years (undergrad and grad) and juggled school with at least one, usually two, and sometimes as many as three jobs. Usually I'd end up with one day a week off and that is when I would write. I'd just sit there and do it from 8 to 14 hours. I'd journal and jot stuff down throughout the rest of the week, but that was the majority of when I got my work done. It's just the way my brain works. I need an hour or two to warm up and then it starts to flow. When it's really flowing, I even forget to eat.

Retreats
Retreats were born out of my binge-writing tendencies. Post-college, I've been finding it hard to schedule in a weekly binge day (though I'm definitely trying it when I get back from this retreat!). This started when I was still in college though and I had a deadline to get a draft of IWBYJR into my agent by the end of one summer. So me and a few friends spent a few days here:

It was a cabin in Mineral Point, WI. Perfect for IWBYJR because it's kinda in the area where the book is set.

Two years later, when I was trying to finish a draft of Ballads and the opportunity for me a friend to go to a house in Canada for a week to write. I took it. It was winter on an ocean-front town. I'd wake up in the morning, take a shower, do some pilates, and walk down to look at the water:

Then I'd head back to the little house:

Pure peace. Pure bliss. No internet and limited phone usage. That's what all these places had in common and have in common with the place I'm currently retreating at. I need to be cut off from the outside world to really focus, especially now with all the promo stuff I feel responsible for doing. Hopefully I will be back to report next week how well this worked because it was sooooo good in the past. Especially in Canada, I was writing 10 to 14 hours a day.

Routine & Deadlines
This is the hardest thing for me to achieve, but I was so productive when I did it. I came up with a routine when I was finishing that first draft of IWBYJR for my agent. I had a schedule and little deadlines of when each chapter would be "due." And, before my book sold and I got all involved in the "other work" of writing, I had a pretty good routine of coming home from work, eating dinner and writing for 3 hours a night. I'm also pretty damn good with finding a routine when I'm on deadline. But I have totally *sucked* at this since I turned in Ballads revisions. I'm hoping however that I will come back from my retreat totally motivated and zen and ready to find a routine. I know said routine will consist of starting out my mornings with writing, no checking of email or anything until I've written for an hour and a half (unless its something totally urgent from my agent or editor). I also know I'm going to try to blog late at night and schedule my posts. And I'm hoping to find a binge day (likely Saturdays) at least twice a month if not every week.

I'll keep you posted on how all of this works out for me. And I'll be back early next week (Monday or Tuesday depending on how crazy my weekend is) to tell you all about my trip and any new stuff I learned.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Megan Kelley Hall

Welcome to Women Who Rock Wednesday! My day to shine the spotlight on amazing women in the world in the hopes that if you haven't already discovered them, you will check out what they do. Oh and I give out prizes too :)
This week my Girlfriends Cyber Circuit sister Megan Kelley Hall is making Women Who Rock Wednesday a stop on her GCC Tour for her brand new book, The Lost Sister, the second book in her Sisters of Misery series.

The Lost Sister takes a chilling look at what happens when hazing pushes someone too far...

Sisters are born, not chosen…

Maddie Crane is grappling with the disappearance of Cordelia LeClaire, and trying to escape the grasp of The Sisters of Misery—an insidious clique of the school’s most powerful girls, whose pranks have set off a chain of horrific events, and who have Maddie in their sights…

Beware the sister betrayed…

Now in a prestigious boarding school far away from her mysterious hometown of Hawthorne, Massachusetts , Maddie feels free from danger. But when an unmarked envelope arrives at her dorm containing a single ominous tarot card, Maddie realizes with terror that some secrets won’t stay buried. Knowing she must return to Hawthorne—a town still scarred by the evil of the Salem witch trials—Maddie prepares to face the fears of her past...and the wrath of the sister she wronged.


Megan Kelley Hall, 35, freelance writer and literary publicist living North of Boston, is the author of the SISTERS OF MISERY series. Her first novel, SISTERS OF MISERY, published by Kensington in August 2008 has received rave reviews by reviewers and readers alike. Hall also has an essay about her recent open heart surgery in former CNN anchor Daryn Kagan's anthology, What’s Possible! (Meredith Books, 2008). She is also a contributor to New York Times bestselling novelist Ellen Hopkins’ anthology, Flirtin’ with the Monster.
Hall has written articles for a variety of local and national magazines, including Elle, Glamour, Boston Magazine, Parenting, American Baby, Working Mother, The Boston Globe, Boston Herald, and several other publications.

She studied creative writing at Skidmore College under the Pulitzer-Prize winning author Steven Millhauser. Megan spends most of her time promoting her clients as a partner and founder of Kelley & Hall Book Publicity and Promotion, which she opened with her mother, Gloria Kelley, and sister, Jocelyn Maeve Kelley, over a few years ago. The company has run successful campaigns for authors, including New York Time's best-selling authors Jacquelyn Mitchard (Deep End of the Ocean), Michael Palmer (The First Patient and Extreme Measures), Brunonia Barry (The Lace Reader) and Lisa Genova (Still Alice).


But the best thing about Megan (besides her writing of course) is that we share the same true love... Johnny Depp. And we only fight over him a little bit :)

And now let's get to know Megan Women Who Rock Wednesday style with an interview:

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

Megan: I’m in love with a song that I heard on the mini-series Harper’s Island this summer. It’s called Letters to the Sky by Civil Twilight. Fear and Building a Mystery by Sarah McLachlan, My Skin by Natalie Merchant, The Mummer’s Dance (or anything that has that Irish pipe sound to it.)

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

Megan: Cordelia would be into Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Fleetwood Mac, Natalie Merchant. Maddie would most likely be a fan of teen angst music – basically all the music on Grey’s Anatomy (The Fray, John Mayor, Coldplay) Finn would love Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin.

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

Megan: I still am a huge fan of the Lemonheads, even though they broke up years ago. I’m still holding a candle for Evan Dando. I also am anxiously awaiting the album from Adam Lambert. I’m not typically a fan of American Idol, but I was so impressed by Adam’s musical talents. I’m convinced he’s going to be a music pioneer.

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?

Megan: I listen to it when I’m revising. I also listen to it when I’m stuck with writer’s block. Listening to music (not on my iPod or my own playlists) on the radio is great because it brings up different emotions and memories and mindsets.

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?

Megan: My daughter, Piper. She was born 12 weeks early and weighed only 2.5 pounds at birth. Today she’s the most active and healthy six and half year old I’ve ever known. She is unstoppable. She’s already been in a movie (she had a small cameo in Paul Blart: Mall Cop), she excels in every sport, she’s an amazing artist and storyteller, and she wants to be a rock star (which I have no doubt that she will be one day). She defied all odds and I am constantly amazed by her.

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

Megan: My first record that I bought was a Shawn Cassidy 45. My first cassette purchases (I bought three at the same time and I still remember purchasing them at Caldor) were Squeeze, U2 and Depeche Mode. And my first actual CD was Madonna. I was never a big concert go-er, but my first concert was INXS. Another memorable concert was Stone Temple Pilots in London. I got thrown into the mosh pit by accident. I saw my life flash before my eyes as I was almost trampled by a swarm of Doc Martens. Luckily, I had a very large male friend who pulled me to safety--literally reached down and picked me up over his head and carried me from the pit (thanks, Josh!). Other bands I've seen live include Nirvana, Blind Melon and Steve Miller Band. The fact that three of the lead singers of concerts I've seen have killed themselves or OD'd is not lost on me. All I have to say is please be careful, Scott Weiland and Steve Miller.

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

Megan: First of all, I will never be as much of a rock star as my daughter, who really is destined to be a rock star. She's so musically inclined, it's scary. She hears a song once and can sing it in perfect pitch, without missing a note or a word. I took piano lessons for almost 15 years and I'm still not as musically motivated as Piper. She was into kids songs for all of about two years and then as soon as she could talk, she wanted to BE Avril Lavigne. She's been obsessed with Avril since she was three and she is currently getting into Pink and Kelly Clarkson. She can't stand Hannah Montana, The Jonas Brothers, or anything geared toward kids (God forbid you ever put on The Wiggles when she's around). She's six, and yet she is already a rock star in her own mind. Since she was in the movie Paul Blart:Mall Cop as a featured extra, she is confused when people ask for my signature at book signings because she is technically "the movie star" and therefore should be giving autographs. (Duh!) When we went to see the movie at the theater, she wore a tiara (one of her many) and sunglasses and brought a pen just in case anyone wanted her autograph. Almost every t-shirt she owns has some form of a glittery guitar or a "Girls Rock" slogan on it. So, I personally have not had a "rock star" moment. I've had to live vicariously through Piper, which is fine with me, since I prefer to be behind the scenes...writing.

As for Wayne's World, I'm still waiting for that super cool meeting with your boyfriend and mine, Johnny Depp. That will be my ultimate "I'm not worthy" moment. No other celebrity could ever live up to that.

Thanks for touring me, Stephanie!

Well, thanks for coming, Megan! You rock and so does Piper! I love her sense of style!

Today's Contest:

Cool chick that she is, Megan is offering up a copy of her latest book, The Lost Sister to one lucky winner. All you need to do to enter is leave a comment about Megan's interview (or how cool her kid is!). But of course you can get extra entries too....

+1 for blogging and/or tweeting about this entry
+1 for blogging and/or tweeting about Megan's new book

Just note your extra entries in your comment as well as your email address.

I'll announce the winner nextWednesday the 26th, when our guest will be filmmaker April Mosqus who will tell you about her very cool project Before We Get To Seattle.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Under Pressure: A Writer's Reality

Sometimes I wish I didn't have these stories clawing at my brain, begging to be written or that I wouldn't feel incomplete and just plain crappy if I wasn't writing. Sometimes I wish I could just be happy working a nine to five job. Or really any kind of regular job. A job with a regular paycheck that would cover my mortgage and all my bills, with maybe a little bit more to go on vacation once a year or splurge on shoes or new clothes occasionally. A job that I could come home from, forget about, cook dinner, watch TV or read a book and hang out with my man. A job that allowed for carefree weekends. A job with benefits and a retirement fund.

But I had that job. And it made me miserable. I quit it a year ago and here I am. I struggle to make ends meet three nights at week at the bar. My books don't pay the bills. The little money I make from them goes right back into promoting them. If I'm lucky I have enough leftover to pay my property taxes. I have crappy insurance I pay for myself and no retirement. No paid vacation, no extra money for vacation or splurges (though I do those things sometimes and put them on a credit card and just feel bad about it). I'm never "off." I'm either writing or doing writing related work or I'm working at the bar. If I'm lucky I spend an hour or two a night with my man on the nights I'm off.

Does this make me happy? Not really. But it's worth it when I get the emails or messages or comments telling me about the impact one or both of my books made. And I'm working toward a dream. A dream that one day I can write full-time and not stress so much about bills. It seems simple, but it's not. I'm not gonna lie, some of those few hours I have with Scott are spent with me crying, wondering if I have strength for this path. He always convinces me that I do and I always press on because this is my dream. It's not easy, but the good so so so much outweighs the bad. Those letters, meeting readers, knowing that I've achieved goals I've been dreaming of since I was a little girl. But with each goal achieved there is a new goal to meet and new pressures that go along with it.

So the first goal was to get published. I was lucky and met my agent while I was still in grad school. That was the one big lucky break. Then it took over a year for her to sell the book. During this time I wrote a second book. Towards the end of this time I started exploring other career path options. Because I hated the 9 to 5, couldn't do it forever and if writing wasn't going to pan out.... But wait, then the call!

So the dream begins. I start to learn about how the industry works. I learn that as an author you have to be heavily involved in promotion, unless you get really lucky and get a big marketing budget, which didn't happen for me. So suddenly there is a new thing to balance. Before I worked and I wrote. Now I had to work and write and promote. I still haven't figured out how to balance it. The only reason Ballads of Suburbia came out so quickly after I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone is because I'd spent the time writing it while I was waiting for IWBYJR to sell.

Timeline of my writing has gone like this:
2002 to 2005- Write IWBYJR
2006 to 2007- Write Ballads, wait for IWBYJR to sell
2007 to 2008-Revise Ballads for submission to Editor and revise IWBYJR for publication
2008 to present-Revise Ballads for publication and... a bunch of random starts and stops

Why all the stops and starts? This is where the pressure comes in. First of all, writing Ballads took a ton out of me. I wanted it as perfect as possible. This is for two reasons:
1. For the sake of the story.
2. Because the first book got some bad reviews.

IWBYJR got a lot, a lot of good reviews, but it did get some bad ones. And each one that I saw broke my heart and my spirit a little bit. I'm a freakin' perfectionist. It's just in me. Seriously, I totally fucked-off in high school, I was a stoner, I ditched a lot of classes BUT I still made sure I did enough work and went to school enough to get A's. It's just something that is engrained in me.

The bad reviews did make me a stronger writer. I'm not sure if they made me a stronger person because I haven't come across a bad review for Ballads yet, but I'm sure it will happen and I can only hope I freak out a little less than I did last time around. I don't think IWBYJR was a flawed book. I don't have any regrets about it, but I learned a lot. And I'm more satisfied with Ballads than I was with IWBYJR (which I never, ever thought would happen).

However Ballads came out during a really, really, really shitty time. I know we are all sick of hearing about how bad the economy is, but yeah, the book that was my heart and soul came out at the worst possible time. The publisher doesn't want to spend money on promoting it. The bookstores don't want to spend money to get it out there. Places for books to get coverage are disappearing. Not a good time. I don't know how the book will do. I *still* don't know how IWBYJR really did. (My most dreaded question is how are your books doing.)

But that's reality. It's a reality that has been upsetting me terribly for the last month. But I did all I could do. I spent countless hours on the cyber launch party and on every other promo effort I could think of. And now here comes the hardest part of my job. I have to let go and hope for the best. It's gotta be like sending your kid off into the world or something.

I've been struggling for the past 6 months to come up with a third book that I think will surpass Ballads and take my writing career to the next level... maybe to that place I aspire to where writing is my full-time job and the bills aren't so damn intimidating and I get just a wee, wee bit of free time. But at least a book that I can sell. Because I don't have a contract for a new book yet and that is a scary place to be.

Of course, like the perfectionist girl I am, I proceeded to put so much pressure on myself that I couldn't even write. None of my ideas seem good enough. I have one that I have been toying with since sometime in 2007, another contemporary fiction. I have one that I've been toying with all this year, the Persephone story you might have heard me talk about before, which I was trying to do as a contemporary, but I think needs to be an Urban Fantasy. And then I have the one I've been turning over for a month. The one that came to me in a dream that I had on my 30th birthday and as a girl who has long believed in signs I feel like this is one that will truly break through... But it needs lots of world building. It's like books I've read for years, since I was a kid, but have never attempted to write. Part of me is terrified I'm not good enough, but I really want to try....

So this is why I've gone to a place without internet or TV or phone for four days. I've gone to a place where I hope I can forget about sales and Amazon rankings, about reviews, about the fear of never being able to pay my bills. I've gone to a place where I hope I can remember why I loved writing in the first place. How that buzz of completing a story arc feels, that feeling of satisfaction when it all comes into place.

So no, I don't really know what I'm going to write. I'll probably start with the realistic fiction, but I hope to try my hand at something new too (and I hope my readers are open to reading something new and otherworldly from me). I don't know when my next book will come out, but goddammit I'm going to figure it out and write it!

I really hope this blog doesn't come across as me feeling sorry for myself or looking for sympathy. Cause that isn't the case at all. I can deal with this pressure. I can create something beautiful out of it. This is the path I've chosen because it leads to my dreams. Some of those dreams have already been met. As long as I keep putting one foot in front of the other, I'll get the rest of the way.

And if you want to find out some of the methods I use to stay sane and keep writing, come back on Friday, but be sure to come back tomorrow for Women Who Rock Wednesday!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Cyber Launch Party Winners!!!!!

I just want to thank everyone again for coming to my cyber launch party over the last month and of course a huge, huge thank you to the writers and musicians who participated! I had a blast.

And now the best part... choosing the rest of the winners!

The winner of last Monday's contest, the Shrinking Violet Indulgence Pack from Danielle Joseph is: Ashley from blogger

The three winners of last Tuesday's contest, the Bay-Bridged comp CDs are: little miss gnomide, Diana Dang, and Ashley, all from blogger (and go Ashely on two wins!)

The winner of last Wednesday's contest, a copy of Cast the First Stone from Gwendolyn Glover is: What A Girl Reads from blogger!

The winner of last Thursday's contest, a copy of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone from me is: Runningforfiction from blogger!

The winner of last Friday's contest, a copy of The Girl's Guide to Rocking from Jessica Hopper is: Alexandra from blogger!

And finally.... the grand prize winner and recipient of a basket of MTV/Pocket books is: Tower Of Books from Blogger!!! (Hopefully you are a US resident cause due to shipping that is required to win this prize.)

If all the winners could please send their mailing address to stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot com (without the at's and dot's spelled out of course), I will pass your info on to the person who is mailing it out. And if you won a prize earlier in the cyber launch and I never emailed your for your address, please email me. (And I'm sorry about that! Things got hectic!) Any prizes that are coming from me won't be shipped out til next week because.... I'm going away to write!!!!!

Yay!!!! The cyber party was fun, but it and all of my other promo of Ballads of Suburbia have left me completely drained and overwhelmed, so I have to escape. One of my professors has a house about 2.5 hrs away in the middle of small town Illinois. There is no TV, no internet, and no phone (well, I have my BlackBerry, but I only plan to use it for emergencies and the occasional tweet). I need this. I can't tell you how much I need distraction free writing even if it is only for four days. It's just me, one of my Critique Partners, a bunch of books (I packed way, way too many books), and our words. (Okay, so we brought some Veronica Mars to watch at night on our laptops to wind down.)

I'm not totally abandoning you though. I mean how could I leave you high and dry after giving you all these great blogs to read for the past month. I'm scheduling some blog posts on blogger. (I have no idea how to do this on LiveJournal or MySpace, so those of you who usually follow me there will need to visit stephaniekuehnert.blogspot.com this week.) I hope you will come back to read them because I've got some good stuff going up including insights into my writing process that will post on Tuesday and Friday (think of them as my angsty writer ballads) and a Women Who Rock Wednesday interview with Megan Kelley Hall (complete with a contest of course!) on Wednesday. I'll be twittering to remind you when these go up and I'm sure I'll tweet some random writing progress reports as well, so follow me if you aren't already :)

Well, I'll see ya in a week and I hope you enjoyed the party and continue to visit my blog. Wish me luck on this writing retreat. I really need it.... More on that tomorrow!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Cyber Launch Party Day 25: The Ballad of a (former) Party Girl

Welcome to Day 25, the last and final day of the Ballads of Suburbia Cyber Launch Party! For all of the details on the party including guests, the daily contests and the grand prize drawing be sure to read the information at the beginning of Day 1's blog. However since this is the last week, there is one slight change to the rules... WINNER FOR ALL PRIZES THIS WEEK AND THE GRAND PRIZE WILL BE DRAWN ON MONDAY AUGUST 17!

Before we get started, I just wanted to let you know about a blog I just posted on the MTV Books blog (I post there around the 14th and 30th every month). I wrote about how obsessed I was with figuring out the meaning of my dreams as a kid and how I recently had a dream that I'm trying to turn into a book idea. So check out the blog here if you are interested.

Today's Winner:
Each day I am announcing the winner of the contest that was posted one week earlier. Today there are two winners, each one of them getting a gorgeous bookmark from Kay Cassidy! The winner of the Glass Slipper bookmark is Brain Lair from Blogger and the winner of the butterfly is lovelessangel93 from livejournal. I will email you for your addresses shortly (actually I have lovelessangel93 from a previous contest)! Remember to enter this week's contests!

All winners will be drawn on Monday as well as the Grand Prize Winner!!!! The more you comment on the blogs throughout the whole cyber launch party, the more entries for the grand prize you have racked up!

This week's guest blogs/contests are:

Day 21: Danielle Joseph blogged and up for grabs is the Shrinking Violet Purple Indulgence pack, which includes the book,an SV bookmark and Victoria's Secret bubble bath and shower gel!

Day 22: Daniel Kraus blogged and up for grabs are 3 copies of the Bay-Bridged comp CD

Day 23: Gwendolyn Glover did a Women Who Rock Weds interview and up for grabs is her book Cast the First Stone

Day 24: Liza Graves of Civet blogged and up for grabs is a signed copy of my book I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone

And now it's time for me to close out this party....

The Ballad of a (former) Party Girl: Stephanie Kuehnert

The party's over
A CD skipping
It's the same hook repeating
Grows more grating with each passing second...

And the walls contain a resonation, laughter, and conversation.
It was fun while it lasted, but now we should be going.
I hope everybody had a real, real good time
The hospitality's partaken, my head is flying my heart's racing to keep up.
And I hope I haven't overdone it nooo...
-T.S.R. by Against Me!

The above song will be the last song I play on my wedding night. It's a good end of a party song, but it has emotional significance to me because my fiance and I met (via MySpace) because of our mutual love for Against Me! and my fiance has one of those CD alarm clocks and I think for like the first 6 months, hell maybe the first year we were dating As The Eternal Cowboy by Against Me! was the CD he had in there and T.S.R. was the first song, so every morning I would wake up beside him to that song and it was like awww... the party is over and now I have to leave him and go to work.

Of course if you listen to the rest of the song (and you can view a live performance on YouTube here or read the rest of the lyrics here), I get this image of someone who has been partying so hard for such a long time with all the wrong substances and people they love but are maybe the wrong people and then boom... they start to OD.

This, of course, is another theme of Ballads of Suburbia. You know from the first pages of the book (so it's not a spoiler!) that Kara goes down a path that ends with a near-fatal heroin overdose. And you'll see at the beginning of the book that she started out shy, quiet girl who doesn't really like crowds or parties.

This is another thing that Kara and I had in common. I wasn't really a party girl in high school (though I did my fair share of drugs and other craziness, it just happened in smaller groups), but post-high school something happened to me. I'd been through a lot of emotional shit and I needed an escape. At first that escape was innocent. One of my best friends and I moved out on our own to Madison, Wisconsin. We lived, we worked, we listened to music, we went for drives. For about three or four months, it was just the two of us. I'd sworn of drugs, alcohol, and smoking the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. Then we met people. One of those people was a guy who was five years older than me. He was over 21 and quite the partier. Because he was part of the goth club scene and he liked me and his friend liked my friend, suddenly we were allowed into the scene and this included entrance into a club we were four years to young to legally go to. It sounded like fun. It sounded like a release for all that emotional shit.

I remember my first night at that club. My friend and I weren't drinkers (I'd been more of a pothead in high school), but we felt we should drink something so we shared a vodka and cranberry juice. We glanced around nervously, worried we'd be thrown out at any second.

That was in April. By August, I was a fixture at that club. I'd started smoking again. I'd learned to drink gin and tonics. When I wasn't at the club I was drinking wine in a graveyard or the bedroom of that boy, who I was totally in love with.... And unbeknownst to me he had another girlfriend.

At the end of August, he departed for Boston to live with that other girl and I departed to college in Ohio. On my first night at college, I went to hang out with some upperclassmen. They asked me if I wanted to smoke pot or do shots. I wasn't doing drugs again (yet), so I gladly swilled down a shot of Jim Beam. Over the next hour, I did nine more. I was a hundred pounds and 18 years old. As you can imagine, it did not end well... It ended with me puking on the fire escape outside of my dorm. Did it teach me a lesson? Hell no! I was hurting and confused. There was all the baggage I hadn't dealt with from high school and then this heartbreaker of a new boy on top of it all. Plus, I'd come to this college which had been the college for me at the end of my junior year of high school when I'd visited it and applied early admission, but now, a year later, it was so not my thing. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.... so I partied.

I spent my entire freshman year of college drunk. Like every day. I'm not kidding. Even on those days I'd wake up so hungover that I thought I was going to die, by night time I'd feel well enough to numb my pain with more booze. When I wasn't hungover, sometimes I'd start drinking as soon as I woke up in the morning. I'd pour tequila in my orange juice and bring it to creative writing class. Or I'd skip class and go off with a friend searching for rural Ohio bars that wouldn't card us. I got so drunk, I'd go home with complete strangers. I got so drunk, I'd call my mom and tell her that I wanted to drop out of school and be a stripper. I got so drunk, one of my hallmates called 911 on me because she thought I was going to kill myself. I got so drunk, I forgot why I didn't do drugs (it ruined the lives of a few friends in high school) and started experimenting with speed, coke, opium, whatever I could get my hands on. I have some funny as shit stories from those days, but at the core, they are all really sad.

I dropped out of college at 18 to "be a writer." But being a writer actually entailed moving back to Wisconsin, getting back together with (if you could call it together or really if we ever broke up) the alcoholic boy and partying until I turned 21. There was hardly any writing involved. There are more fucked-up and not really as funny stories of bad acid trips and arguments over cocaine and me coming home from the club so wasted that I puked a sea of booze that covered my bathroom floor and fights, lots of fights with the boy, not physical, but ugly, ugly, ugly. Oh and I was spending every dime that didn't go to rent on booze, which meant using the "emergency" credit card my mom gave me on groceries.

My mom was the one who snapped me out of it, who urged me to come home, go to Columbia and pursue my creative dreams. And once I was in school, writing, really writing, the desire to party evaporated. I can't really explain it because I still had the alcoholic boyfriend and I'd come home to find my childhood best friend was also a total alcoholic and they'd be tempting me constantly to party, party, party and sometimes I sucumbed, but mostly I would just look at them... I would look at they way they were screwing up their lives and they were completely refusing to face their demons, just trying to drown them in a bottle instead. But I faced my demons head on. I purged them through writing, I went to therapy, and I saw dreams emerging. The dream of being a published author was worth more than a million parties with the best booze and best drugs.

I was able to find moderation. I drink occasionally. I work at a bar. My ability to balance these things is definitely strange considering my very destructive past and I can't really explain it. I just saw something I wanted more than anything and I worked through my shit so I could achieve my goals. The childhood best friend and the boyfriend weren't able to do this. Alcohol mattered more to them than their dreams, their friends, their family... than me. It was honestly harder for me to give up the two of them than it was for me to give up partying. But they couldn't get healthy, they didn't want to get healthy, and I couldn't keep being hurt by them.

So here I am. For the most part, I'm back to the girl I used to be. I'd much rather spend a quiet night with my man, maybe having a drink, but it's totally not necessary cuz he's a good guy through and through and just being with him makes me giddy. I really don't like parties, unless they are book related. This kind of party, this gathering of a bunch of really cool people online, this kind of party is my speed!

And I'll walk away from it exhausted, but not hungover or near dead. Actually, I'm pretty inspired. I hope you enjoyed listening to these ballads as much as I did. Did you have some favorites? I'm not really sure I could choose favorites because I love them all. But let's reminisce about this incredible party as part of....

Today's Contest:

We had one guest who just wasn't able to make it to the party because she was out there touring her fabulous book, The Girl's Guide to Rocking. I'm talking about Jessica Hopper, who you may remember from her Women Who Rock Wednesday interview. Even though she couldn't come, she's offering up her book as a prize. And please note, it's not just useful for girls but for anyone with rock star ambitions.

As usual there are ways to rack up a bunch of entries:
+1 for commenting, perhaps about your favorite parts of this month-long party
+1 for blogging/tweeting/etc about this blog
+1 for leaving comments on the MTV Books blog I told you about above
+1 for blogging/tweeting about that
Just note your additional entries in your comment. Winner will be chosen at random on Monday August 17 with all the other winners and the GRAND PRIZE WINNER!

Please come back on Monday to see who won!!! And I promise, my blog will continue to be loads of fun even if it isn't party central :)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cyber Launch Party Day 24: The Ballad of Liza Graves

Welcome to Day 24 of the Ballads of Suburbia Cyber Launch Party! For all of the details on the party including guests, the daily contests and the grand prize drawing be sure to read the information at the beginning of Day 1's blog. However since this is the last week, there is one slight change to the rules... WINNER FOR ALL PRIZES THIS WEEK AND THE GRAND PRIZE WILL BE DRAWN ON MONDAY AUGUST 17!

Today's Winner:
Each day I am announcing the winner of the contest that was posted one week earlier. Today's winner gets a copy of Ballads of Suburbia and some Ballads taffy from me! And that winner is... Auds07 from LiveJournal! I will email you for your address shortly! Remember to enter the rest of the contests from last Friday on!

Today's Guest:

Now, I'm super psyched to bring you today's guest blogger who went to extra effort to get me her really amazing ballad while she and her kick-ass band were on tour with Social Distortion.... I'm talkin' bout the one and only LIZA GRAVES OF CIVET!

If you've been following my blog for awhile, you know how much I adore Liza and Civet. I haven't been this into a band since I discovered the likes of Social D, Rancid, Hole, and Nirvana back when I was like 13.

If you haven't been following my blog, well here is the lowdown on Liza:

Liza Graves sings (and plays guitar!) for the femme fatale band Civet (check them out here!) And when she's not out touring/recording and generally trying to change the way women are perceived in music she does a bit of blogging/ modeling/ musical collaborating/ creating/ running her indie label (callgirl records)! She also is a VJ on Altitude TV which you can check out at www.rockonaltitude.com.

Lastly, I cannot recommend Liza's blog enough. If you ever wanted to know what life is like for a real rock 'n' roller, you must start reading http://lizagraves.blogspot.com/. She's not a name-dropper or a kiss-ass, she just tells it like it is.... As she is about to do in this ballad.

The Ballad of Big Sister: Liza Graves

I am many things in my life… a rock n’ roller, a writer, a lover, a vj, an occasional dealer of weed (in the great state of CA where it’s legal), but most important, I am a big sister. In the grand scheme of things I have an even greater job and that’s shaping the lives of two growing human beings! I like to a think I had a hand in who they have become and I will be there to always take them through the tough times. If I’m lucky my little brother will be there to walk me down the aisle…..er, someday…not soon!

My little brother Joe is 15 and smarter than me (or so he thinks!)…he’s one of those kids that just was given what he wanted all his life…he’s gunna get older and land some girlfriend/wife/significant other to take care of him all the way, I can feel it…my job is to teach him to love and respect women. I like to think he respects his sisters….He’s had a bit of a bad upbringing, bit it’s not unfixable. For a 15 yr old he’s got his head on pretty straight! He totally doesn’t think I’m cool at all…There’s plenty of kids who would love to be able to say their big sisters play in a rock band, oh but not my brother….he’s into other things, like that Screamo/Hardcore stuff…Our convos go something like this “Joe! I just landed a Social Distortion tour, do you wanna come see us?” Joe, “Naw, that’s cool man….when are you gunna play with Saosin?” I swear he likes bands I’ve never even heard of which makes me feel either a) really old or b) really uncool….ha ha….

On warped tour recently I was able to introduce him to the toothless singer of that band “The Devil Wears Prada” who I didn’t even really know at all….I had my ALL ACCESS pass and this desire to impress my brother, so I made it work….I think he thought I was pretty cool after that (for like a day!) Someday, I tell myself, someday I will do something that bridges the little generation gap we’ve got going on. I’d love to get him on the road to tech for us, but I don’t think that would ever really work out. I mean, would you really want to tech for your two older sisters?

Did I tell you my brother is cool? He is, he’s one of those eternally cool kids, not the socially awkward ones, I look at him and just think, “how come YOU get to go through high school that cool and we were totally suffering as awkward ugly ducklings?” Someone definitely hogged the “suave” gene in our family!!! I wanted to include my brother in my tale because he doesn’t get enough attention from us, we are always on the road…I recently got to hang out with him in Seattle at my grandmas and he flew through Stephanie’s new book…which also focuses on a sister/brother relationship. Joe, am I cool yet?

My partner in crime aka my sister aka Suzi Homewrecker, on the other hand, I like to think I was actually responsible for turning out…She was doing great in school and was in a mock “sorority” as well as an active member of the cheerleading team….typical wannabe all american girl (in high school you’re never who you want to be)…I put a stop to that real fast!!! As early as 14 I would have her sit in for a song or two at civet shows….she still was blond, but I had all intentions of handing her a bottle of black hair dye, a guitar and an official spot in my band as soon as she was old enough. “Old enough” came sooner rather than later, she was officially drafted at 15.….just 15! I meet kids now in bands as young as 17 and I just can’t even wrap my head around someone that age being able to tour….It’s mind blowing and I have no idea how she did it…The period she entered the band in was crazy too….We weren’t just playing backyards anymore, we were starting to actually get somewhere….Suz and I had just schmoozed our way onto a coveted spot at DISASTER RECORDS (Duane Peters’ label) and had started feverishly writing. My sister and I pretty much single handedly penned the Massacre album…granted she was still a little young and inexperienced to be writing great epic rock songs, she definitely was my sounding board. I can remember sitting in my room being the bossy older sis, “Suz, play this!” so that I could write my solo over it. I’ve always written better with someone around, and my sister seems to have that magic something to get the good stuff really flowing. I’ve always felt like that though, not soley in music. Suzi has always brought out the best in me, the crazy fearless side….I like that when I’m around her I feel like I’m 20, not 25...she keeps me young….ha ha….

Suz and I have been though the ringer together and I’m proud to call her my best friend….There was even a time when my bad rock n’ roll influence actually started to sent her down the “road to ruin“. It was about 3 yrs ago, we were on the road with my sisters boyfriends band the Breakdowns (now the Strangers). She’s gunna kill me for telling this one, but I think it illustrates a really big point….that no matter who you are, or where you are, family comes first. We were all feeling a little cocky, it was our first tour in a while, we were getting in a little bit of late night “boy trouble” at a Motel 6 in Sacto….We had played a great show and split off into our separate groups at the hotel. I started feeling like something was seriously, seriously wrong…Like, I just knew…I jumped out of bed (one I probably shouldn’t have been in anyway) and ran to find my sister at the party room in the Motel 6.….Sure enough, there she was, my little 17 yr old partner in crime doing lines of coke with some serious bad influences. I was livid….more than livid I guess I was just scared. Being scared makes you do some seriously fucked shit….I grabbed her out of the room and pretty much pummeled her…I couldn’t stop screaming….Everyone said it wasn’t a big deal, but you know what? I knew better. I knew deep down that if I didn’t make sure she knew that this wasn’t ok NOW, it would happen again. I was fully responsible. I brought her into music. I put her in this life so early….and granted I set a really different rock standard of no drugs and no sleeze, it was still my fault that she was around those people at the Motel 6 at age 17… That night I had to make the choice of my sister, or my music….and all I could think was, “I don’t want to do this without her” …So after I gained control of myself enough to stop throwing punches at her and her bf (sorry Dave Stucken!) I told everyone we were leaving and threw her “good time” having ass in the van. We drove straight home without stopping…I knew that that in itself was a statement. That I would NOT put something like the band in front of her, that nothing was more important in my life than family and a cancelled tour was just one of the sacrifices I was willing to make to make sure she turned out alright in life. It worked. She doesn’t do drugs and although she pretty much grew up with the opportunity to be a big bad rock n’ roll kid, she’s totally got a good head on her shoulders. She’s respectful, she’s driven and she is one of the most amazing people I know…Granted we still argue about things like who the best Beatle was or whether a Fender or Marshall head gets better sound, for the most part it’s smooth sailing…and the best part of all of this is, I get to tour with my sister/ best friend…


Balance is the ultimate struggle in my life….I have to balance my relationships with my career….my rock career with my day to day job, my ego with my down home personality, my “Ms. Liza Graves” with “Just Liza“, my family life with my road life. In the end its definitely my family that keep me grounded. I like to give my sister and brother credit for keeping me grounded, reminding me that at the end of the day there’s nothing like family, that’s for life yo!

Today's Contest:
Really, there could only be one prize I could offer to go with that blog entry and that would be a copy of my book, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone. I wrote that book because I dreamed of the day a ballsy woman would rule the world of rock. Liza and the ladies of Civet are exactly those kind of women. Not to mention the book is about family loyalty, whether it be the family that you are born into or the family you form from your friends.

So leave a comment to enter. Tell us about your sibilings or if you're an only child, friends or cousins who are like siblings, and the influence they have on you.

As usual there are ways to rack up a bunch of entries:
+1 for commenting
+1 for blogging/tweeting/etc about this blog
+1 for becoming a follower of Liza's blog, http://lizagraves.blogspot.com/ because it is bad ass
+1 for spreading the word about Shooting Stars Mag's HUGE Ballads of Suburbia contest
Just note your additional entries in your comment. Winner will be chosen at random on Monday August 17

Tomorrow is the last day of the party!!!

Prove what a hardcore partier you are by sticking it out to the end. I'll have some final words and prizes for you guys, so please come back to check it out!