Friday, January 29, 2010

A Seattle Trip and Tattoo Mapping

I just spent like 20 minutes standing in front of a full length mirror in my underwear. Weird, yes, I know. And could be the first line to many an interesting tale, but I was studying my tattoos and trying to figure out the Tattoo Master Plan.

Last night in the shower I had a brainstorm. (what? is that weird too? because it's one of my best thinking places.) Just this week I booked a trip to Seattle with two of my dearest friends, Eryn and Jenny. The three of us met on a music message board back around 2000. Jenny was living in St. Louis, where I was originally from, going to the same college as my brother. Eryn lived in Oak Park, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit and I lived in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Strange connections, it felt like we were being pulled toward each other. And of course we also had music in common. All three of us loved the early nineties music of our youth (well, they are a little younger than me), like Nirvana, Hole, and Alice in Chains. I traveled to Detroit to see Eryn, as did Jenny. I visited Jenny while visiting my brother in St. Louis. And then we decided we should do a big trip together. It was the tenth anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death, his music had had a huge impact on all of us, and none of us had been to Seattle. So we planned a trip to the place that had been our music mecca when we were younger, all of us at point having fantasized about running away to Seattle. The trip was centered on music geekery (let's find the house where Nirvana played their first show!) and also paying homage to Kurt. It was fun and I definitely have to plan to stalk rock 'n' roll history in other cities. But what I didn't expect was for the trip to transform me.

I was doing it to indulge my inner teenager--the fourteen year old kid whose parents had denied her the opportunity to see her favorite band, Nirvana, live, and who couldn't be at the memorial for Kurt Cobain at the Seattle Center in 1994 even though she'd wanted to so badly. As a teenager, I'd pondered running away to/moving to Seattle or Olympia or Minneapolis, as those were my big musical meccas (Seattle obviously=Nirvana, The Gits & Alice In Chains, Olympia=Bikini Kill & Sleater Kinney, Minneapolis=Babes in Toyland & The Replacements). I'd actually almost moved to Minneapolis but when I finally visited, I wasn't particularly impressed so I ended up moving to Madison instead. Because of that, I didn't expect much from my visit to Seattle. I figured it would be gray, rainy, blah blah blah, and I'd grown up enough to realize that just because bands you like are from a certain city, it doesn't make that a magical place. (I should have known this all along seeing as Chicago is amazing city when it comes to music.)

But as soon as I stepped out of the airport and walked to the bus stop, I realized I was wrong to have had such low expectations about Seattle. The smell of the air got to me immediately: rain, pine needles, and big bodies of water. Riding on the bus downtown, I couldn't stop staring at the greenness of it all. I wondered why people always focused on the gray when they talked about Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. Clouds may be gray, but rain makes everything so green! Oh I guess that's why it's called the emerald city... Then we got off the bus and all the cherry blossoms were in bloom. And I just felt like deep inside me something fresh and bright was blooming out of the gray sad mass that had been sitting inside of me since my teenage years.

I wrote an essay about my first trip to Seattle on Fresh Yarn. It focuses a lot on the music geekery but it also explains how through the music geekery, I started to get a sense of closure with a lot of things that had been haunting me. I'm still not sure exactly how that happened. But there are a few things I know for sure:

1. Seattle is my place. I never thought I'd have a place. Every time I go somewhere new, I tend to notice the ways in which I don't fit first. Sure I've visited and loved other places and I'm mostly comfortable where I live now, but that took *a lot* of work for me to feel at home in the Chicago area. Seriously, as soon as I arrived in Seattle, my heart, soul, and body were screaming at me, "You are home!" It was very bizarre. I don't think I'm explaining it well. It was just a feeling. Unfortunately, I don't have the means to move to Seattle anytime soon. So once a year I visit.

2. I don't think I'd be where I am now without that trip in 2004. At that point, I'd been pretty fucked up for about eleven years or so. Battling with depression, still haunted by mistakes from my past. I kind of was getting a handle on things. I was back in school, I was writing, I was in therapy. But I was still in a bad relationship and drinking pretty heavily. I was not brave enough yet to forge a new path out of the darkness. I kept falling back into old, unhealthy methods of escape. A little over a year after that first trip to Seattle, my life turned around. That trip helped me realize my inner strength.

3. Jenny and Eryn are true life long friends. That trip sealed our bond. And Seattle spoke to them too. I don't know if it is in the same way as it did me, probably not, it was probably very personal. But regardless we have been bound together and we have been bound to the city.

So, ummm back to the brainstorm in the shower and the standing in my underwear in front of my mirror...

Eryn and I have gone to Seattle almost every year since 2004 together. We said at one point that we wanted to get a tattoo together while we were there, but we'd never come up with an idea of *what* we wanted to get. We wanted to represent the city somehow, but it's not like I was going to get the Space Needle tattooed on me or something.

Jenny is finally able to come back to Seattle with us this year. We're going just the three of us (we had two other girls with us in 2004) and it's very special to go to my favorite city with two of my dearest friends who I only get to see probably once a year because they live in other states. Maybe I was thinking of Jenny's tattoo, a gorgeous rendition of Ophelia similar to this painting. But suddenly it popped into my head: cherry blossoms. Cherry blossoms will always remind me of Seattle, particularly that first trip there. Eryn and I should get cherry blossoms and maybe Jenny would want to get them too so the three of us would be linked together by our ink.

I started fantasizing then about where I would put the blossoms, but first I had to see if I was just being crazy or if Eryn and Jenny would be on board. So I rushed out of the shower to email them. They immediately responded that they like the idea.

So I'll be getting a new tattoo in April in Seattle... I've only gone outside of my usual shop for a tattoo once and it wasn't the best experience (fortunately the design was very simple and hard to fuck up), so if anyone has experience with getting tattooed in Seattle and can recommend an artist and/or shop, please do.

Now the issue is positioning.... Stupidly, when I started getting tattoos, I only thought I'd be getting a couple. Well, I'd planned on seven to be precise. This was mainly because I was dating a guy who didn't like tattoos (I know, stupid. One of the many reasons I should not have wasted 8 years with him) and when I would get one he'd be like, "You aren't getting *more* are you?" So I told him that I thought I would probably get a total of 7 because 7 is my number, but don't worry, they'll be small. So now I have some various small tattoos in places that would have been good to do a larger piece (ie my back) and it is going to be hard to pull them all together and have them look cool. Sigh.

I have two larger pieces that I ultimately want done. One is this bad ass mermaid that has a ship staked on her trident. I think that will likely go on the back of my right calf. It will wrap around my leg nicely and I think it will go well thematically with this tattoo that I got with my best friend:

Okay, you probably don't see how a mermaid goes thematically with boot prints, but the bad ass mermaid does and that tattoo reminds me of pirates which also remind me of the BFF so just trust me it works. The only issue is that on my right ankle, I have my cat's pawprint:

That doesn't really go with the theme, but it's small, so it may not be an issue. The only question is do I want to get my other kitty's pawprints tattooed as well because obviously I love them too or do I just stick with Sid since he was my firstborn so to speak. But if I do get the other paws where would they go?

The plan B for my mermaid would be my back. The design would be similar to classic tattoo style like I have on my left shoulder:

The ship on the mermaid's trident could stretch my right shoulder and the main image be centered on my back. However the issue with this is my Nirvana orchid which is on the right side of my lower back:

Though I suppose I could just add more orchids and have basically a border of orchids along the bottom of my back. It wouldn't all go together perfectly, but it would still look fine as three separate tattoos sharing space...

But then there is one other image I've been toying with... my muse. Originally she was just going to be a fairy with a book on her lap, wearing headphones. It was going to go on my right forearm and maybe music notes from her headphones would connect into my IWBYJR/girl power tattoo on my upper right arm:

But then I sort of fell out of love with that idea. Yes, books and music are my muse, but I don't think my muse is really that pretty and simple of an image. My muse is rooted in dark places. My muse is like the drowning of Ophelia or the fall of Persephone into the Underworld except they don't really drown or fall, they catch themselves at the last minute and try to claw their way out. So now I want to come up with a new design that will capture that image, of a girl lifting herself out of the darkness. And I don't think I want it on my right forearm because I think I am putting a design that I'm getting with my husband there.

I have some imagery on my left forearm that goes with this, a tattoo that I got in memory of a friend who helped me through some hard times in high school, and my firefly that symbolizes my own escape from dark times. You can see these and hear me explain the firefly in this video:

I'd like my girl to go on this arm, but I'm not sure how it will work. I really need to sell another book so I have money to consult with my usual tattoo artist on if this is possible. If not, I guess I will have to ponder my back for that one, though I really don't know if it would fit with those other tattoos. Sigh.

BUT getting back to my cherry blossoms. I pondered a few different places for those. One being just below my rib cage, though that would pretty much rule out having kids since pregnancy would screw that up. One was on the back of my neck, though I felt that might be too near my roses on my left shoulder. And the other is on my chest.

Since the cherry blossoms symbolize Seattle in a way, as well as two of my dearest friends it makes sense to have them near my heart and I also thought that perhaps if I do my muse girl design on my left arm, they can branch out onto my shoulder and become part of what she is reaching for...or if I don't do the muse girl, I can still have cherry blossoms branch out onto that shoulder and some other imagery about emerging from the darkness to continue with the theme of that arm. I've thought of a phrase to potentially go among the cherry blossoms: "The pen is mightier than the pain." It just popped into my head while I was staring at my tattoos in the mirror. That spin on the cliche pretty much sums up what writing means to me and that also seems like it should be close to my heart. So right now I am thinking about something like this, except no bunny and maybe putting in that phrase instead...

So yeah that's the idea for now, but I'll be thinking on it for awhile. From now on, everything I get must fit into the master tattoo map. Sigh, I really need money for ink!

What about you, any exciting trips or tattoos planned?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Women Who Rock Wednesday: The Maybenauts!

As I mentioned last week, tomorrow (Thursday Janaury 28th), I'm going to this incredibly rad concert called Girls Out of the Garage at Lincoln Hall in Chicago. It starts at 8, is only 10$, and if you are over 18 and near Chicago, you should definitely come and rock out with me.

I was lucky enough to snag a Women Who Rock Weds interview with one of the bands, The Maybenauts. I love their sound and think you will love them too. So read on and learn all about them!

The Maybenauts are:
Leilani Frey - vocals, keys
Ellie Maybe - bass, vocals
Emily Agustin - drums
Vee Sonnets - guitar, vocals

Q: When did you start playing music? What inspired you? A certain musician, family member, teacher or friend? Who are some of your biggest musical influences (especially the women since it's Women Who Rock Wednesday, but men too!)?

Leilani: I use guitar as a song writing tool, but I definitely consider “my instrument” to be my voice. I started singing before I could talk. My Dad always included songs and singing into daily activities. He would videotape me and my brothers acting like a band, lip syncing and dancing to songs. They were always a hit to watch at family parties and stuff, and I guess I just grew up performing for fun. Singing just always made me feel good. Now it’s something that I must to do to feel right with myself. Females that I look to for inspiration, particularly with The Maybenauts include Ann and Nancy Wilson (Heart), Cyndi Lauper, Fiona Apple, Louise Post and Nina Gordon (Veruca Salt), Karen O (Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs), and Siouxsie Sioux (Siouxsie & The Banshees).

Ellie: I started playing woodwinds at about age 10 and bass around 13. My dad was the horn player in Heavy Manners, so I grew up surrounded by ska and reggae. Some of my earliest memories are of being in the Wild Hare listening to Gizzae. My inspirations and influences have changed over the years, but the mainstays have a strong emphasis on songwriting and arranging: Tom Waits, Foreigner, Bad Company, The Eagles, pat mAcdonald [sic], Bob Marley & The Wailers, Marvin Gaye, The Kinks. Surprisingly, I haven't been influenced by a lot of female musicians, even though I went to every year of Lilith Fair. Maybe that's why. Ha!

Emily: I took piano lessons as a kid, and am classically trained as a percussionist, but I didn't really start playing drum set until the end of high school. I'd spent some formative years listening to metal, and I was totally intimidated by the stuff those guys were playing. It wasn't until I'd spent a few years listening to noise punk and some really lo-fi indie bands that I realized I was just being silly, and that I didn't need 20 toms and a double kick to be a good drummer.

My family has always been really musical; my mom is a pianist, and she and my dad sing in the church choir. My older brother did the school band thing as well, and currently plays bass and guitar. He and I have been in a number of bands together, and he was the first person to kick me in the butt and make me get over my insecurities about playing, because he needed a drummer.

As far as influences, I still cite the video for "Pretend We're Dead" by L7 as my first feminist awakening. I grew up listening to the Monkees, Fats Domino, and the Beach Boys, so there's a basic backbeat in my bones; I don't really go for the flashier, more fill-heavy stuff. I've studied Japanese taiko drumming in recent years, and performed in theatrical percussion ensembles (Jellyeye, Redmoon Theater), so I'm trying to expand my rock drumming to incorporate that as well. My two biggest influences as a drummer are probably David Lovering (Pixies) and Todd Trainer (Shellac). Simple, but interesting and effective.

I wrote my MA thesis on female musicians, so women in rock is a topic near and dear to my heart. Furthermore, I'm currently a DJ at CHIRP Radio, and a huge record collector nerd, so there are a lot of bands that have influenced me as a musician in general (as opposed to influencing me as a drummer). As for the Maybenauts, let's say the Breeders, the's, old girl groups, and Sonic Youth.

Vee: I have been playing since I was about 3. I picked up instruments rather easily and playing music was never really hard for me. It was more about the desire to do it rather than be intimidated by an instrument. I just have no fear playing things because they just felt natural. Umm biggest influences? I'd have to say too many to list. I can tell you that I was brought up in a very diverse musical home (my dad played trumpet and was church choir director. My mother sang in church choir), and that there was all kinds of music. Rock, latin, soul, blues, r&b, classical, gospel, choirs, music from all over the world basically.

Q: Tell us about the Maybenauts. When did you form, who plays what in the band, and how'd you come up with the name?

Leilani: I think The Maybenauts are four friends who really just enjoy making music together. Our motivation is simply that little “must make music” monster that lives inside all four of us- and we all like to have fun. When we play together, everyone contributes a piece of their creativity, and each piece is different. I think because we all have such a wide variety of musical tastes, it creates an interesting sound that is unique to us. There is no other band that sounds like us that I’ve heard, and I like that.

We formed in January of 09’ after working together before in various forms. Ellie and I used to get together occasionally for years to harmonize and write for fun, and we always talked about playing together hypothetically. Then another opportunity arose, and she, Emily, and myself played together for the first “Covers for Cover” benefit show as the band Bikini Kill. It was super fantastic.

Then when Ellie recorded her solo record, “Meet Ellie”, Vee played guitar and I sang backup vocals on it. We started playing those songs live for people under the name “The Ellie Maybe Experence.” Then we realized that we wanted to grow away from those songs and actually write new material together. Our drummer Eric Yoder was busy producing records for his business Horse Drawn Productions, and couldn’t really keep up with the amount of shows we wanted to play. Also, he was just too busy with other things, like raising two kids and relocating his entire studio to Berwyn. Needless to say, when we needed a drummer, the obvious choice was Emily. After she joined, and since we were a new lineup, sound, and band, we decided to go by a new name. I wanted to keep the word “maybe” from “Ellie Maybe” because the band evolved from that project. We all liked a the idea of a play on words. I liked “The Maybe-Nots” but then I thought it would be cool to change the spelling of nots to nauts, and everyone loved it. It was cool because there are so many awesome costumes and stage props that work with a space theme. The other awesome bonus is that Emily wears metallic hot-pants all of the time. YEEOOWW!

Ellie: We played our first official show as The Maybenauts in January '09. January 30th is our one year anniversary! We evolved from a project called The Ellie Maybe Experence when Emily came in on drums and Leilani took over lead vocals. We were stuck trying to come up with a name for weeks when Leilani blurted out "Maybenauts - like ASTRONAUTS!" at a rehearsal. After a considerable period of giggles, it was our new name.

Emily: I'm sure Ellie or Leilani will answer that one in-depth, so I'm going to skip this question. :) I will say though, that Ellie had been bugging me to play drums with her pretty much since the day we became friends. I got sidetracked by some health issues for a couple years, but joined the Ellie Maybe Experence in November of '08, which then became the Maybenauts.

Vee: I joined when Ellie Maybe Experence was looking for bandmates. Ellie Maybe and I have played together doing live band karaoke with the Karaoke Dokies, and in The Sonnets, so playing with her was rather comfy. I play guitars. The name was just thought up in a brainstorm (uk equivalent of an 'idea shower').

Q: Please share the link to your MySpace page (or the best place to hear your music) and tell us about your favorite song on there/the one you are most proud of or think best represents the Maybenauts. Feel free to talk about a few if it is too hard to choose ;)

Leilani: It’s really hard to choose between “Head Is A Bomb” and “Blue Line” for me. I think I will always have a soft spot for “HIAB” because it is such a personal song about a really messed up time in my life when I was dealing with bulimia. It’s also really rockin’ and emotional, and the whole band just goes nuts on it. So that one for sure is up there. I gotta say though that “Blue Line” really feels more creative to me, and much more complex. Ellie and I got drunk on Tequila one night and wrote it really organically, or drunkenly. We had a blast coming up with harmonies. There's actually a video on YouTube of us harmonizing that night to Riskay's "Smell Yo Dick" that we just thought was hilarious at the time. Anyway, now when I hear that song and I see how much it has changed due to everyone pouring their creative ideas into it, it's really magical. Vee’s guitars are just so amazing, and the drums are so fucking sexy! I was riding the train today with my iPod on shuffle, it came on, and it totally feels like a train song. I love that one from start to finish and think it is a great accomplishment for our band.

Ellie: My favourite is Blue Line, though I never thought it would be until I heard it back right after we tracked it in the studio. It just sounded so sad, like the song needed a hug. It's a topic that isn't touched upon often in pop music, but one that probably speaks to a lot of city-dwellers. It's a song about Chicago, about politics and poverty and being disillusioned with the home you love - and I feel like it efficiently conveys the desperation of wanting to escape but being unable, because the city is as much a part of you as you are of it.

Emily: My current favorite Maybenauts song is either "My Head is a Bomb" or "Girlfight," mostly because they're really fun to play. I'm really pleased with "Blue Line" as well though, since it's a different style for us. I think the recording of it came out sounding great.

Vee: I like them all because they all have a part of us but i think Blue Line has magic due to the dual leads and words by Leilani and Ellie. I also think the whole folk rock flavor of that song is a perfect compliment to the lyrics and is almost visual. The blend of bluesy guitar riffs, jazzy bass, the quiet pounding of drums, the dual vocals...its a trip on its own.

A Note from Ellie: Blue Line isn't up yet, but keep checking back for it. You can listen to the Maybenauts on MySpace here or Facebook here. You can also visit their website or follow them on Twitter.

Q: What was it like working with Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Gos on your new single along with her boyfriend Travis Kasperbauer who engineered/co-produced?

Leilani: Jane gave me vocal tips I could use, and thought of the smallest changes during parts that wound up making all the difference in the end. She’d be like, “try it this way,” in her "Jane" voice, and she’d change one note, or go up or down slightly, and BAM, THAT WAS IT! It was crazy. No one I’ve ever worked with could do that for my vocals. When you think about all of the great songs she’s been a part of creating, and that she was a part of our songs, it's awesome. There is something about that chick though, you know? Like, she’s got it. She oozes talent. You can feel it just sitting next to her. It’s not a idolizing thing or a celebrity thing. It’s just Jane.

Ellie: I had the chance to work with Jane the year before at Steel Bridge Song Fest (, where we wrote and played on a handful of songs together, so I think she and I had a pretty strong rapport going into it. She's an extremely intelligent and talented woman who hears things that you might never think of - working with her is sort of like working with someone from another planet. Or maybe she's from Earth and I'm from another planet. Or maybe we're both aliens from different planets trying to fit in here. Yeah, I think that one's it.

Emily: I love Jane! I was kind of nervous and fan-girly before I met her, but she's so down-to-earth and sweet that she instantly puts you at ease. As a producer, she really knows her shit, and I was grateful that we had the opportunity to work with her. She also makes a great cup of coffee.

Vee: It was a good time! Jane and Travis are pros and they are comfortable behind the scenes as well as in front. More than that, they both opened their home to us and we had a blast! Jane is a doll who gives her whole self uncensored and is the biggest sweetheart. I love her dogs too, they're like her little army!

Q: What do you enjoy most about playing live? And when/where can we see you live?

Leilani: When the crowd reacts positively, that’s definitely something I feed off of. I love to see people rocking out having a good time. I really want to write a few dance songs so people can get really weird with me. When you can see people getting into your music, you feel like you are all sharing an experience, and that’s the point. Also, I can always count on my bandmates to have a good time with me.

Ellie: Our next show is January 28th at Lincoln Hall... but you know that already!

Emily: I think that live is the best way to experience the Maybenauts. A recording just doesn't compare to the energy of a live show. Also, if you come to our shows, we will share our Pixy Stix with you.

Vee: Live is where the challenge is. I hate seeing lip-synching or playing to track. Nothing in this world is so much of a let-down then watching a band one pays good money to see fail at recreating the songs live. I want us to sound like us. The music is there, the mistakes are there too but that is what makes us human right? Playing live is living on the edge as far as a musician goes. You don't know when you might break a string, burn out a tube, have a cable short, get lost in the song, screw up a solo...its all there and you are showing it off to everyone; the good the bad and the uncertainty. It is different every time. That is live entertainment! I hate safety nets.

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.

Leilani: The first album I bought with my own money was by an R & B girl group from the early 90's called "Jade." They had a single called "Don't Walk Away Boy" that just kicked so much dance. Yeah, I just said that. I've always been a fan of girl groups. That time in my life I was listening to a lot of "En Vogue" and "TLC." I was 10 years old and wanted to be a little bad-ass diva.

When I was old enough to drive and buy tickets to a show, I went to Warped Tour and saw bands like Rancid, Anti-Flag, and AFI. I just remember smoking a lot of cigarettes and smashing into big meat-heads in the mosh pit and feeling super angsty all of the time.

Ellie: It's either "Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?" by The Cranberries, "Music Box" by Mariah Carey, or "The Sign" by Ace of Base. All three came out in '93 so I can't make an educated guess based on release dates... but really, none of them are any less embarrassing than the others, so... oh well.

My first concert was probably Poi Dog Pondering, but my childhood was littered with street fairs and being snuck into bars to see my dad play, so a lot of it is a colourful blur of local bands, many of whom no longer exist. Around age 10 I went to see Sheryl Crow and Collective Soul out in Tinley Park; my dad was friends with Sheryl's drummer and if I remember correctly, I wanted to ask her to speak at our career day event but was too shy.

Emily: First cassette I ever bought with my own money was "Kick" by INXS. First LP was the first Fugazi album. First 7" was the Nirvana/Jesus Lizard split on Touch & Go. First CD was "Trompe le Monde" by the Pixies, in a long box! Told you I was a record nerd. ;)

First concert I ever saw was Weird Al at Six Flags. Ha!

Vee: 1. first album my sister and i bought together was the Beatles at Hollywood Bowl. We were trying to collect every Beatles album we could and that one was one our parents did not have. We must have worn out "Things We Said Today".
2. First concert i went to see by myself and my own free will was Cheap Trick at Chicago Fest 1981. What a show and everything around it seemed like a movie playing out.

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.

Leilani: I don't really buy into the whole "rock star" thing. I never want people to kiss my ass, because that's weird, and it creeps me out. However, I have met a ton of amazing people like Miss Mia from Chic-A-Go-Go who is just so down to Earth and cool, Pat MacDonald from Timbuk3 (who sang one of my favorite songs as a kid "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades), and of course Jane Wiedlin who was so hospitable and totally let us all crash at her place for a weekend. Meeting people who you've really enjoyed in some way before meeting them and finding out that they are wonderful human beings is so rad.

Ellie: There's no question about it - it was at a show we played last year in Sturgeon Bay, WI (for the aforementioned Steel Bridge Song Fest). We played for over 100 people in a bar that probably shouldn't have held even 50. There wasn't a stage or lighting; we played on the floor in front of the women's bathroom - I had to dodge out of the way every time a girl needed to pee because the bassist from the band prior set up the bass rig right in front of the door! When we finished our last song, there was this veritable wall of sound, applause, screaming - these folks were so excited they actually moved air with their cheering; it felt like someone had physically shoved us. That is the kind of feeling that makes you want to keep doing this, knowing people are having that much fun just listening and dancing to your music.

Emily: It was when we played the Steel Bridge Song Fest up in Sturgeon Bay, WI. I was bending over to pull something out of one of my cases, and someone started smacking me on the ass. I frequently wear gold leather hot pants to shows, and Ellie and Leilani smack me on the ass all the time, so I thought nothing of it. It wasn't til I finished what I was doing and turned around that I realized it was Jane Wiedlin. She later came up on stage and sang backing vocals with us, in this tiny little bar with no stage, packed to capacity. People had to walk through our set up to get to the bathroom! The whole thing was ridiculous and surreal, but amazing.

Vee: I dont think i ever had that. Sounds surreal. I did get lots of applause in a concert when i was in Conway, Arkansas for live band karaoke but i think those poor kids were starved for attention. They did invite us to their kegger afterwards and i naturally obliged. :)

A last word from Ellie:
The EP's title is Big Bang and will feature 5 original tracks (including the MHIAB single). We're hoping/planning to release it in late February or early March. At this show on the 28th we'll be selling "download cards" so that folks can download the album immediately and trade the cards in later for a physical copy of the disc when it's released.

And for those of you who aren't able to go to the show tomorrow night, you are luck. One of these lovely little download cards is the prize for this week's contest!!!!

Contest Rules:

So, if you wanna win the Maybenauts download and of course you do, there are many ways to enter.

First and foremost, leave a comment about today's interview and you will be automatically entered. Don't forget to leave an email address so I can track you down and send you your prize.

And here are some ways to gain extra entries.

+1 for blogging, linking to or tweeting about this interview, the Girls Out of the Garage Concert, or the Maybenauts

+1 for following the Maybenauts on Twitter, becoming fans on Facebook or Myspace

And yes you can do all of those things and get lots of extra entries, so get going on it!

I will announce the winner next Wednesday when I feature author Suzanne Young as my next Woman Who Rocks!

Friday, January 22, 2010

For the love of reading

I've always been a big reader. My love of writing was born from my love of reading. When I talk to aspiring writers, I always say the most important thing to do for your writing is to read read read. Every now and then I meet an aspiring writer who says they don't read or hate reading and I totally don't get it. Books are my teachers. I get ideas from them, learn new tricks. Whenever I read an amazing book, it inspires me to work harder. I want to be as good at that author at plotting or description or dialogue or just come up with a story as powerful as they did. But most importantly, books rejuvenate me. When I'm burned out, they get my creative juices flowing again. And I like to just be a reader and get lost in a story, another world.

But for awhile there I wasn't taking my own advice. I allowed myself to get too busy to read and then I wondered why I was having writer's block and feeling burnt out. Now I'm back on track and so far this year I've really been enjoying my reading time.

First up, I reread, SONGS FOR A TEENAGE NOMAD by Kim Culbertson because it is being re-released later this year by SourceBooks new YA imprint and I was honored to be asked to blurb it. Revisiting Calle and her story was like getting to hang out with an old friend again. Here is the blurb I came up with, not that I'm entirely sure it does the book justice:

"The best kind of song takes you on a roller coaster ride of emotions. It makes you think. You find yourself humming and pondering it for days. SONGS FOR A TEENAGE NOMAD does the book version of this. It's an unforgettable story that music lovers in particular will appreciate, but every teenager trying to find their place in the world should read because they will definitely relate to Calle."

Then I read SWEETHEARTS by Sara Zarr while I was on my honeymoon and I've gotta say, I'm continually amazed by that woman. She is one of my writing idols. I love how real her characters are. And it is truly refreshing to see class issues dealt with in YA lit and read about working class characters.

Next up, I checked out an author I'd been meaning to read for awhile because I've heard nothing but good things. I read UGLIES by Scott Westerfeld. And I had a similar reaction as I did when I read Sarah Dessen for the first time a few months ago (JUST LISTEN along with THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH by Carrie Ryan were the books that got me back into reading regularly), which was basically WHY DIDN'T I LISTEN TO EVERYONE AND READ THIS SOONER! Seriously, UGLIES just blew me away. It's the kind of story I've loved to get lost in since I was a little kid. I love realistic fiction, but glimpses into potential future paths for humanity just really get me. Not only is it a completely different world to escape into it, when it is done right, these types of books are really philosophical and get you thinking. UGLIES is definitely done right. I can't wait to read the rest of the series. I thought about rushing to check it out of the library, but I think I need to own it. I've got a dystopian idea up my sleeve and once I finally get around to it, I'm guessing Westerfeld's books will be those good teachers I was talking about earlier.

So I'm saving to get the other books in that series, but right now I'm reading THE LOVELY BONES by Alice Sebold. Nope, I never did get around to reading it when it came out. I was still in grad school then and reading mostly for school, but I've always been intrigued and the release of the movie reminded me of it. And I like to read books before I see movies, so I'm reading it ASAP so I can go check out the movie.

And after that I have an extra special treat waiting... a package arrived for me while I was on my honeymoon and it contained one of my most highly anticipated books for this year SHADE by Jeri Smith Ready! Yep, my dear friend Jeri was kind enough to send me an ARC of her YA debut because we have a special interview planned.

So those are the next two books I'm reading before I get back to my Scott Westerfeld. After that I think I'll be looking for some good realistic contemporary. I've got a couple on my TBR pile, but I'm always looking for recommendations, so please comment away with yours!

PS. If you are in Illinois and want to make sure we continue to have good libraries, please go here and tell the comptroller to fund them!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Girls Out Of The Garage

A while back I asked for things people would like to see more of on my blog and someone said they'd love to hear more about local Chicago music. I definitely like to promote local bands when I can and recently I was sent an email about this show which sounds incredible:

The email included links to all of the bands and I checked them all out and I have to say, I was blown away. I'm really excited that my first exposure to fabulous new music this year is not only local, it's all women! So I had to share this for Women Who Rock Wednesday.

I'm definitely going to this show and I hope that if you are in the area and over 18 (stupid Chicago curfew laws!), you will come check out GIRLS OUT OF THE GARAGE with me at Lincoln Hall (2424 N. Lincoln in Chicago) on Thursday January 28 starting at 8 pm. I mean seriously 10 bucks for these 4 bands is a steal!

Here's the schedule of the bands with links to their myspace pages so that you can listen to them and enjoy no matter where you are. Check out this line-up:

The Wanton Looks (11 PM)

Leslie Hunt (10 PM)

The Maybenauts (9 PM)

Scotia Widows (8 PM)

Next Wednesday, I'm hoping to have a proper WWRW interview with one of the bands (The Maybenauts). Happy listening to all of these bands. If you are in Chicago, lemme know if you are gonna go to the show. If you aren't in Chicago, tell me about your favorite local band, especially local bands with rockin' women!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

While I Was Away...

Perhaps you noticed it was awfully quite around these parts last week (these parts=my blog). If you follow me on twitter, you know this is because I was finally on my honeymoon. I debated honeymoon spots a few months back on here. We couldn't afford the dream honeymoon of Hawaii and I didn't want to just go to an all inclusive resort in Mexico for the sake of it seeming like the proper honeymoon type thing to do when I had no actual interest in going there and we couldn't truly afford it. I mentioned that I had a friend with a condo in Miami Beach and many of you gave me the wonderful advice to go to Southern Florida. So we stayed a couple days in Miami Beach and a couple days in Key Largo and it really was wonderful there.... only one thing sucked. IT WAS FREEZING! Not Chicago freezing obviously, but low 60s during the day and 30s/40s at night which I was not prepared for clothes-wise and um, a lot of places weren't prepared for in general in that they didn't have heat. We went on a Snuggie search at one point, but apparently they don't sell them down there or they were all sold out, so I ended up with the most hideous but warm pair of pajamas.

I was also sad because I didn't get a day of laying in the sun on the beach or at the pool to read. I tried on a couple of occasions but got so cold it made me cranky. Now mind you, I didn't want a tan. My inner goth girl would still completely object to that. I just wanted to soak up enough sun to try to tide me over through the rest of winter. (I so don't get it when Chicagoans object to me moving to Seattle because it is so gray and depressing all winter... um it is just as gray and depressing here, but on top of that it is insanely cold and snowy, which is truly what drives me to the brink.) *sigh* But despite this we had fun.

You will find the photo highlights all here on the MTV Books blog. Probably the coolest part of the trip was the Keys. Miami was alright but I am no longer a let's go out to clubs and party girl. Knowing this my friend recommended the best dive bar in the city: Mac's Club Deuce. That was my kind of place. Good jukebox, take-no-shit bartender, cool S-shaped bar, pin-up girl style neons as opposed to the beer advertising neons you see at most places,strong-ass drinks, no draft beers cause the 95 year old owner who has owned the place for 45 years says that he can open 4 bottles in the time it takes to pour a proper draft.... I wish I lived near this bar. I wish I could take Melissa Marr to this bar because it is so our kind of place. Sigh. Yes, if you are ever in Miami Beach and appreciate dive bars, go to Club Deuce. Do yourself a favor and go between 8 am and 7 pm for 2 for 1 happy hour drinks. yes, I said 8 am. The bar is open from 8 am to 5 am. Craziness.

So, that was the highlight of Miami Beach. Though the beaches were gorgeous. I just wish I could have enjoyed them more.

In the Keys we got to see all kinds of wildlife. We went on a glass bottom boat tour of the Molasses Reef (so-named because a boat carrying molasses for rum making wrecked there many years ago and all the people screamed like Jack Sparrow "noooo! why is the rum always gone!"). It made me slightly seasick looking down through the window the whole time, but it was totally worth it, mainly because we saw a couple giant sea turtles!

We also went to a sanctuary for wild birds that had been injured. It was cool to see all the tropical birds up close, though sad to think of them being hurt.

Oh and I should mention that I am scared of both birds and fish. This did not make me less scared. I became terrified when I had to walk close to a pelican, but I do appreciate the beauty of both of these creatures so it was nice to see them in their natural habitats (or as close as the injured birds could get).

Just driving through the Keys was fun too, though we didn't have enough time to go to Key West and meet the six-toed cats. One day I hope we can afford to go back and stay longer. We did meet an adorable cat hanging outside of a restaurant. We also spotted a gecko and an iguana in the wild.

Meeting my fellow MTV Books author, Danielle Joseph was a huge highlight. You all know how much I love her book Shrinking Violet so it was cool to meet her in person. We were saying how funny it is how much we authors know about each other before meeting just because of blogs and online communities. It's pretty cool!

Ooooh and I should mention that the place we stayed in Key Largo was so cool! We had a two bedroom townhome in this resort/gated community with two pools and hot tubs, one hot tub even had a waterfall! Definitely would go back there if I could get a deal again.

Oh and the only other thing that sucked was the Florida rock radio situation. I'm not much of a radio person in general and only listen to it when I use my mom's car and forget to bring a CD, but Chicago has three radio stations that play a decent variety, the alt-rock station, the classic rock station (for when I'm in the mood for 80s hair metal... it happens), and then this sort of general rock station that plays everything from the Beatles to Green Day but also more obscure bands. Florida had two stations, both very mainstream. We did hear our fair share of Guns N Roses and Nirvana, which kept us going but there were a lot of moments where I would just turn the radio off because I was so appalled by the awfulness. And they played a lot of Creed!!!! (AKA the band I loathe most). Fortunately, they always seemed to announce "Here's Creed..." so I could scream and change the channel. But Miami/Southern Florida is very club music oriented so I guess good rock is hard to come by down there.... too bad considering some of my favorite punk bands come from FL, Against Me! and Hot Water Music.

Anyway this is rambly because I'm still half on vacation mentally and half trying to get back to the writing.

But seriously, go check out my pictures at the MTV Books Blog, they tell the story better than I could (though I'm sad I didn't take a pic of Club Deuce!). There were a couple things that happened while I was gone that you should check out:

-Actually this is from before I left but I forgot to blog abt it. Speaking of Melissa Marr, there is an apportunity to win a signed copy of Ballads or a bunch of other amazing books from her via her blog. Contest is ongoing until Valentine's Day. All the details are here.

-My group blog site, Teen Fiction Cafe got a makeover and it looks sooooo super hot! We are also talking about throwing a big anniversary party soon, so you should start following that blog now so you don't miss out!

-I wrote an article about self injury and SAFE Alternatives for my local newspaper (since SAFE Alternatives was founded by a woman who lives in my town) and it would mean a lot to me if you read it/spread the word about it, so hopefully more people who need SAFE can find out about it.

Ummm okay, I think that is it, but if not, my scatterbrained self will update you later. What about you? Anything exciting happen in the last week or so?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

GCC Presents: Eileen Cook!

It's the first GCC interview of the New Year. Eileen Cook has a new book out called Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood, which I am really looking forward to reading (maybe I'll pick it up while I'm on my honeymoon, which is where I will be next week!) so let's find out about it shall we?

About the Book:

Popularity is the best revenge.

In the final weeks of eighth grade, Lauren Wood made a choice. She betrayed her best friend, Helen, in a manner so publicly humiliating that Helen had to move to a new town just to save face. Ditching Helen was worth it, though, because Lauren started high school as one of the It Girls--and now, at the start of her senior year, she's the cheerleading captain, the quarterback's girlfriend, and the undisputed queen bee. Lauren has everything she's ever wanted, and she has forgotten all about her ex-best friend.

But Helen could never forget Lauren. After three years of obsessing, she's moving back to her old town. She has a new name and a new look, but she hasn't dropped her old grudges. She has a detailed plan to bring down her former BFF by taking away everything that's ever been important to Lauren—starting with her boyfriend.

Watch out, Lauren Wood. Things are about to get bitchy.

About the Author:

Eileen Cook spent most of her teen years wishing she were someone else or somewhere else, which is great training for a writer. When she was unable to find any job postings for world famous author, she went to Michigan State University and became a counselor so she could at least afford her book buying habit. But real people have real problems, so she returned to writing because she liked having the ability to control the ending. Which is much harder with humans.
You can read more about Eileen, her books, and the things that strike her as funny at Eileen lives in Vancouver with her husband and dogs and no longer wishes to be anyone or anywhere else.

Praise for Eileen’s Writing:

“Sassy and sly and sweet all at the same time, this book made me laugh out loud.” --Meg Cabot, author of The Princess Diaries and Airhead

“Not since Judy Blume's Margaret introduced herself to God has there been such a funny, genuine, conflicted, wanna-be-sorta-good-maybe-later girl as Emma. Cook's tone as she takes on the big ones—life, love, faith, and friendship—is pitch perfect.”--Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Midnight Twins and The Deep End of the Ocean

"Smart and fun and full of heart." --Sarah Mlynowski, author of Bras & Broomsticks and How to Be Bad

And now for the best part of the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit.... the interview!

Q: Please tell us what your new book is about and what inspired you to write it.

Eileen: The book was inspired in part by rereading The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s such a great revenge tale with secret identities, romance and betrayal between best friends. It made me think how things would play out if the story were to take place in a high school. Right then I was off and running with a story.

Q: If there was a soundtrack for your book what are five songs that would be on it and how do they relate the story?

Eileen: Well, this question has resulted in spending a lot of time on iTunes. I wanted a few songs that captured that angry revenge feeling, one to reflect a love for classic movies and my all time favorite song about friendship.

You’re So Vain by Carly Simon

One Way or Another by Blondie

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Deep Blue Something

You’re My Best Friend by Queen

Q: Who were some of your inspirations to become a writer or the inspirations that keep you writing? Feel free to include other authors, teachers, parents, or people in other creative fields, whoever is an inspiration to you!

Eileen: My parents were my first inspiration as they were huge readers and raised me with a love of reading. Then I would have to think of every author I’ve ever read. I’ve always been so impressed with how people can create completely imaginary worlds, that we know are fake, and yet we still find ourselves crying or cheering for them. Lastly, I’d have to thank all the writers that I’ve come to know along the way who have cheered me along and picked me back up on the days when I was sure I was never going to make it or survive in this business.

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?

Eileen: I find I can’t listen to music that has words or I tend to sing along. (trust me- this isn’t pretty. Be glad you don’t live near me) I do have a playlist of all movie soundtracks. Those are written to evoke emotion so I find they help when I’m writing.

Q: What is next for you? What are you working on now?

Eileen: I am doing a middle grade series about a girl who comes from a long line of fairy godmothers. All she wants is to be normal, but that is harder for her than you might imagine.

Well, I hope you are now as excited about Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood!

As I mentioned at the beginning next week I am finally getting out of town and going some place warm on my long-awaited honeymoon!!! WOOO! We're headed to Miami Beach and Key Largo so obviously I won't be online to blog all next week, but I'm sure I'll be back with cool pictures and maybe a story about meeting up with one of my fave fellow MTV Books authors, Danielle Joseph for lunch :) Have a good weekend and next week!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

WWRW Winner and my Best-of Lists

Thank you to everyone who entered and helped me spread the word about some fabulous non-profit organizations and Women Who Rock For A Cause all last month! I'm ready to announce the winner of the contest who will receive signed copies of both my books and determine which of the charities I listed that I will send a donation to. That winner chosen by random number generator is.... Andrea F from Blogger! I will email you to get your prizes and choice of charity squared away Andrea!

Today, I don't have a Woman Who Rocks lined up, but we'll get back to that soon I promise. Instead this week, I thought we'd talk best-of lists.

I was honored to see my book Ballads of Suburbia gracing some Best-of-2009 lists. Alex from A Flight of Minds named it number one on the top 20 list here, it also hit number on on Harmony Book Review's list and it was number one on Hope's Bookshelf too, as you can see here. Natalie from Mindful Musings also ranked it as her number one pick and she gave it an amazing review here. It landed an honorable mention on Chicago alt-weekly NewCity's list here and as runner-up for Best Contemporary on Kate at Read This Book!'s list. It made the Frenetic Reader's list and Audrey from Holes in My Brain's list too.

So I figured that I ought to name some favorites of both 2009 and of the decade, though I can tell you right now that this is going to be hard. I'm not good at choosing favorites.

Let's start with the things that should be easiest since I don't watch TV or movies nearly as much as I read or listen to music.

My favorite TV show to watch this year was definitely Californication. I adore this series. I started subscribing to Showtime for it and Weeds. Weeds has gotten kind of out there the past couple seasons though it's still awesome, but Californication constantly keeps me entertained... and sometimes depressed. The season finale was extremely depressing and powerful.

Californication is up there for my series of the decade too. A couple years ago, I would have named Grey's Anatomy for that, but I've been less invested in it lately (though this season and the end of last season definitely picked up). Degrassi: The Next Generation is another front runner for fave show of the decade. Maybe it's cheesy at times but I adore that show. However, I think my number one TV show for the 2000s has to be Veronica Mars. I just saw all three seasons this year and was crushed when I reached the last episode. The only shows that I've loved as much were My So-Called Life and Twin Peaks, both also cancelled too soon.

This year my favorite movie was The Hangover. What can I say, it was freakin' funny and I needed laughs.

Movies of the decade for me hands-down go to the Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean franchises. I go to the theater a lot less often than I used to but those Harry Potter and Pirates flicks got me out to the theater in the first week, guaranteed. However, when it comes to movies on the non-blockbuster ilk, my favorite of the decade was Amelie. And when it comes to documentaries, it was The Gits Movie, so glad to see the life of one of my favorite musicians on the screen, getting some of the exposure she deserved.

And since we are talking about music, my favorite albums of 2009 was by bands I've loved since I was in high school. Rancid's new album Let The Dominoes Fall is probably my favorite by them since ...And Out Come The Wolves (well, Life Won't Wait is special because it reminds me of my husband though). My all-time favorite band Nirvana got their first album re-issued in 2009 and the live recording of their 1992 Reading Fest performance came out, both of which I enjoyed throughly.

But hands down, I would choose Black Gives Way To Blue by Alice in Chains as my album of the year of 2009. I really didn't expect to like it. I didn't even intend to buy it. I thought you couldn't have Alice in Chains without Layne Staley. However, as much as Layne is missed, this album is sheer brilliance. I still cannot stop listening to it.

We lost a lot of musical greats in the 2000s: Layne Staley, Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer, a number of Ramones. But there were a lot of great new artists carrying the torch. Picking favorite music might be the hardest task of all, so instead I'll just list the new bands and albums that got me most excited about music again in the 2000s-- a hard feat because at the end of the 90s, I really was starting to think the rock 'n' roll was dead... or at least had become utter crap (I mean, Creed???? Seriously?)

Top New Artists of the Decade (in no particular order besides this first band, which is my number one and the artist I'm most excited to hear more from in the future):

-Civet (my fave album is Hell Hath No Fury because it's the only one I have but I would love to get my hands on their older stuff)

-Rise Against (my fave album is umm... all of them, probably Siren Song of the Counter Culture is my top fave I guess though)

-Against Me! (my fave albums are As The Eternal Cowboy and Searching for a Former Clarity)

-The Gaslight Anthem (love both of their albums, cannot choose!)

-P!nk (my fave albums are Try This! and I'm Not Dead)

Additional Albums of the Decade:

-Sing Sing Death House and Coral Fang by The Distillers (I didn't discover them until the 2000s, so they would be on my personal artists of the decade list but technically their first album came out in 1999. They revived my love of punk rock after years of being a jaded goth girl.)

-White Blood Cells and Elephant by The White Stripes (ditto the above about discovering them in the 2000s. They were the first band of the 2000s I truly loved and they revived my faith in music period after the icky nu metal of the late 90s.)

-Sex, Love, & Rock N Roll by Social Distortion (love love love this album and "Don't Take Me For Granted" really inspired my first book I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE)

-American Idiot by Green Day (this album sums up so much of what I feel about the 2000s)

-Bubblegum by The Mark Lanegan Band which is tied with Saturnalia by The Gutter Twins (oh Mark Lanegan, now that Kurt and Johnny are both gone you are my favorite living male vocalist)

-The Woods by Sleater-Kinney (please come back to us Sleater-Kinney! your last album just proved exactly how awesome you are!)

Last but certainly not least we come to books. Ohhh man this was just as hard as the music...

Well this year I really loved the latest books in some of my favorite series. I can't say enough good thing about Bad to the Bone by Jeri Smith-Ready, the latest the WVMP series (vampires + rock + feminism = best book ever!) Fragile Eternity, the latest in the Wicked Lovely series by Melissa Marr was phenomenal. And I'm really digging The Immortals series by Alyson Noel, reading both Blue Moon and Shadowland this year. But for the moment, I am going to put fave series aside.

My favorite contemporary fiction book this year was Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. I really don't have words for how much this book touched me and inspired me to be a better writer. Laurie Halse Anderson is one of my biggest idols.

My favorite genre fiction book this year was The Forest Of Hands And Teeth by Carrie Ryan. Holy shit. I read this book on my writer's retreat while I was in a cabin in the woods. Not a good idea. Scared the crap out of me. But an amazing zombie book. And also very feminist and thought provoking.

Now books of the decade.... Ugh this is impossible. Of course there was the Harry Potter series. I adore it and it really did make the decade for me. Though right up there in the genre category with HP are Melissa Marr's and Jeri Smith-Ready's series that mentioned above. They are just as amazing. Seriously.

When it comes to contemporary... man I've read so many good books, especially in YA. Wintergirls is up there. Beige by Cecil Castellucci, Almost Home by Jessica Blank, and Leftovers by Laura Wiess. In adult fiction I loved Shout Down the Moon by Lisa Tucker, Whores on the Hill by Colleen Curran, and The Book of Ralph by John McNally. But I guess if I had to choose a book of the decade, I would have to pick the one that influenced me most as writer and it influenced me on a really personal level because I was lucky enough to have the author as a teacher and major mentor. My book of the decade is Hairstyles of The Damned by Joe Meno.

Well, there you have it... though it is incredibly late as I am typing this and I'm sure I'm forgetting things. Perhaps you will remind me of something I forgot to list because I hope you will do me the honor of sharing your top books, movies, music, and TV of 2009 and the decade with me now!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Goals and Resolutions for 2010

The first big New Year's resolution that I remember making and keeping was when I was 13 years old and I decided to become vegetarian. That's a resolution I've kept for 17 years now. During my teenage years and early twenties, I rarely made or kept resolutions. My self destructive tendencies always won out. But over the past few years I've been pretty good at keeping resolutions.

In 2007, I vowed to get in better physical shape and lose 15 pounds. I did that. I've been working out regularly ever since. However when I quit my office job (which had an amazing gym in the next building over and tons of free classes that got me into the best shape of my life) and went back to bartending (where I work late and therefore snack late at night, especially on the free popcorn), I've slowly regained 10 of those 15 pounds despite the fact that I still exercise. Admittedly, I've mostly just been using my elliptical, which isn't as great as the ones at my old gym, so my workout hasn't been as intense. I've started adding in some workout DVDs to substitute for those classes and I'm trying to figure out the best way to deal with my late night appetite so I can get back into ideal physical shape.

Very important note: I had major body/self-esteem issues as a teen that I still sometimes grapple with, so I'm trying very hard not to make this be about achieving a certain number on the scale. I want to *feel* my healthiest, the way I did in mid-2007. I like feeling strong and healthy. This is not an image thing. And for those of you with the typical lose weight/go to the gym resolutions, I hope you are doing them for the right reasons, ie. your health and feeling like a stronger person and not because you are trying to meet those unrealistic, way too skinny Hollywood body ideals we are constantly bombarded with.

In 2008, my resolution was to get off of the sleeping medication (Ambien) which I'd been addicted to for ten years. This was a difficult resolution with many many setbacks. The first time I detoxed from Ambien, it was like the shit you see on Celebrity Rehab. I'd be waking my husband (then-boyfriend), sobbing that I couldn't sleep and I was a junkie and I should just give up. (This is why I do not recommend sleeping meds of any sort to anyone. I was told Ambien was not addictive and that was a lie!) I got a total of 2 hours sleep in the week I went off the pills, but with the help of acupuncture, soon I was almost sleeping normally. Then I had a major setback, a dear friend died a couple weeks before my first book came out. I was struggling with major grief while promoting a book and going on a tour on the West Coast. I got back on the sleeping pills again. But I continued with the acupuncture and slowly began to work my way back to sleeping without medication. When a friend of mine stumbled upon the CBT for Insomnia program, I decided to try it and after 17 years of struggling with insomnia, I finally found what I needed. It was as simple as discovering the ideal time for me to go to bed (2:30 am, this is why bartending/writing works so well for me) and the ideal amount of time for me to sleep (7 and a half hours) and sticking to a consistent schedule even if I don't sleep every once in a while. So it took a year and a half, but 2008 resolution met.

In 2009, my resolution was to be more environmentally friendly. I took some simple steps like always bringing my own bags to the grocery store and replacing all my cleaning products with earth friendly brands like Method. I also purchase organic and/or locally grown produce whenever I can afford to.

So yeah, that is where I'm at. Now, what are the 2010 goals???

For one I intend to continue the 2007 and 2009 resolutions (and hopefully I will have no reason to be tempted by sleeping pills and the 2008 resolution will continue to stick). I mentioned my plan to work out and figure out better things to eat above. As for the environmentally friendliness, I've been trying to switch us over to cloth napkins since we got some for our wedding and perhaps reusable cleaning clothes are next. I also want to find more ways to volunteer or raise awareness about the issues that are important to me. Doing my Women Who Rock For A Cause thing last month (and you can still enter the contest for that up until tomorrow morning, so check it out here!) reminded me of how much public service mattered to me as a teenager and I hope to find more time to do it again. But I'll have to work delicately to fit that into the balance of my life because...

The main 2010 goal is to stress less.

This is going to be a hard one for me. I'm a worrywart. I have been since I was a little kid. I used to get terrible stomach aches when I was worried about something in grade school. By the end of high school, I had an ulcer (though the abusive relationship I was in sophomore year was probably the prime cause of that). I got my ulcer under control in my early twenties, but what happened in April of 2009 after very stressful Ballads of Suburbia edits and my cats getting sick? Ulcer flare up!

I put an incredible amount of pressure on myself. I always have. And I can't meet my own high standards. As proud as I am of my books, I am also disappointed in them and in myself. With IBWYJR every time I saw a bad review, it *crushed* me. With Ballads (with both books really, but especially Ballads), I was disappointed to see it kind of get lost out there in the world. It's not selling the way I want it to or getting the attention I hoped (although all the book bloggers have been incredibly kind to me/it and I love them so so so much for this). I've been disappointed in it since before it came out when I found out it was getting a much smaller print run than IWBYJR. It never got reviewed by Publishers Weekly or Kirkus. It didn't get any kind of promotion other than the stuff I did myself and enlisted the lovely bloggers and my street team for. And I took all of this very hard. Even though I know it is out of my control, I can't help it. It wasn't upsetting because I want to get rich or whatever. I simply want to be able to get by as writer, which is a hard enough goal. It was upsetting because I'd never poured more of myself into a project. I had to go very, very dark places to write that book. I had nervous breakdowns while writing it, but I pushed forward and I did so because I knew there were teenagers out there who needed this story. I wanted to do it right, to do the best I possibly could to give real life to these characters. I did that, but then the book never really broke through and I fear that the teens who could benefit from reading it most may never get their hands on it.

So that was my biggest concern. And then of course I have goals. I'm a very goal-oriented person. Getting published was the first major goal achieved on my list as a writer. Now I'd like to sell enough books to warrant another print run, to assure that my books remain in print. I'd like to be on those bestseller lists someday. I can't help but compare myself to other writers and when I don't see my books measuring up to theirs, it upsets me. I wonder what I am doing wrong.

The truth of the publishing industry is that authors are clueless and powerless over a lot of things. We can't control if our books get promoted by our publisher. And we often have very little clue as to how our books are doing aside from those hard-to-interpret royalty statements that come twice a year and usually bring more questions than answers. People ask me if my books are selling well and when I answer "I don't know," they give me a WTF? look. But I don't know. I don't know if my publisher is happy with my sales. I don't know if I should be happy with my sales. It's all very scary.

The greatest source stress in my life is my lack of control. I can't control how my publisher will promote my book. All I can do is write the best book possible and do all the promotion I can handle. And of course, my writing is *not* how I earn my living right now. Bartending is. And that is just as unpredictable. I can't control the weather or the other factors that determine if people will come to my bar tonight. In short, this means that I cannot control my income. Hugely fucking scary. Like I said, I don't want or need to be rich. I just want to be able to pay my bills and maybe buy some new clothes, music, books, and travel from time to time.

This past year I spent a lot of money. I had to. I put out Ballads and got a publicist and put other promo $ into it. I got married. I refinanced my house (in order to get rid of my terrible ARM loan that might have thrown me into foreclosure in the future) and had to fork over an unexpectedly large amount of money to do so. In late November/most of December, the business at the bar was abnormally terrible. I got incredibly stressed and depressed. I started thinking about going back to school, knowing that if I do so, I would have to give up writing at least until I finished and established myself in a new day-job. But the thought of giving up writing is the scariest thing in the world. It's like giving up breathing. I want to make this work.

In 2009, I didn't sell a new book. This was sad and distressing to me, but out of my control. I submitted a partial manuscript to my editor and I can only hope I'll hear back soon. However all the stress and the pressure has slowed down my writing process. My push to try to figure out ways to promote my books has slowed down my writing process. My constant comparison of my career to others has slowed down my writing process.

I have to stop stressing myself out over things I cannot control. If I cannot control them, why stress? There is nothing I can do. All I can do is write.

So in 2010, that's what I'm going to try to do. Just write. For the love of it. For the new characters whose stories need telling just as badly as the characters in Ballads needed me to tell theirs.

I'd like to sell two books this year, though I know that goal is kind of out of my hands. So my goal is to write two books this year or at least one and a half since that is kind of lofty and it all depends if I end up under contract or not.

The ultimate goal is to be self-sufficient as a writer in five years--that means I want my portion of our household income to come from my writing. As much as I love bartending, it's not a forever job. I'd rather do it for the pleasure of doing it than because I depend on it. I also dream of moving to Seattle in five years. I don't know what it is about that city, but I really fell in love with it and miss it like a person.

Again these feel like lofty goals and I'm not entirely sure they are attainable, but I want to try. I think it helps to break down big goals into smaller goals. For example at the end of 2009 my goal was to finish 100 rough pages by a certain date. I did so, but I totally beat myself up because I wasn't happy with the pages. Sigh. I really do need to learn how to silence these "you are not good enough" voices in my head that have been plaguing me since childhood.

Seriously, my mental state and this whole stress-less thing is going to require a lot of work this year. I think I'm going to be repeating to myself a lot " do not to worry about the things that are out of your control and focus on what you love about life and writing." Because there is a lot to love. My husband, friends and family are fantastic. I have some story ideas that I'm truly excited about. The rest will come.

I also have to stop piling so many tasks on myself. You might not see me around the internet as much this year. This blog might only be updated 2 or 3 times a week instead of the 4 or 5 I was striving for last year. The people I love come first. Writing comes after that. And promotion comes third. I saw author Sara Zarr post on facebook that she was going to try to reduce the noise in 2010 (ie all the internet stuff). I'm trying to figure this out too. Figuring out a schedule that works for me and ways to balance my time is a work in progress and another part of the stress-less goal for 2010.

If anyone has suggestions on balance, time management or other techniques for a worrywart to unwind and stress-less, please let me know! Because this worrywart and sometimes pessimist is determined to have to a bright and happy 2010 with much less stress and much more success. Since there was a Blue Moon on New Years I am determined that I can do it!

What about you? What were some of your goals and resolutions for the New Year?

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Obligatory End of Year/Decade Reflections Blog

I was going to write up one of these reflecting on the old year/goals for the new year blogs last week, but what started out as a lazy holiday week turned somewhat chaotic when my littlest kitty Lars came down with a stomach ailment. My cats are my children so when something is wrong with them it turns my world upside down. And whatever Lars had spread to Kaspar and Sid so we are starting out 2010 medicating all 3 cats, which is just about the most torturous thing on earth for the whole household. *Sigh* But I refuse to take this as a bad omen for 2010. It was just 2009 getting the last of the ickiness out... kind of literally....

So I'm behind on blogging, but really were you paying much attention to blogging last week anyway? I mean, it was the last of party time and now it's back to work which means back to reading blogs while you procrastinate work... at least that is how I operate. I did manage to meet my group blogging deadlines, so in case you missed those posts you can learn all about the kind of writing I did as a teenager (complete with pics of me as a teen) on the MTV Books blog here and you can read about my very mortifying first experience with introducing a boyfriend to my family on Teen Fiction Cafe here. And I also posted the last in my Women Who Rock For A Cause interview series, which means your chance to get in on the big contest (prize being signed copies of both of my books and your choice of the charity I donate to) ends on Wednesday, so please check it out here and enter!

Now, on to the task at hand, that whole obligatory reflecting on the end of the year thing. I realized just last week that apparently it wasn't just a year ending but an entire decade. That felt weird to me. Personally I feel like the decade shouldn't count as over until the end of 2010, but apparently that isn't how decades work. And maybe I'm just reluctant to admit that the 2000s are over because that makes me feel really freakin' old. Technically I've seen the end of 4 decades now. (Though I really don't feel like the 70s should count. I was like 5 months old when they ended.) Also I *still* don't feel like the 90s are over. I think I'm just holding on because the early 90s were totally my golden years (if you can't tell by my books.... but the books I'm working on now are set in the 00s, woo hoo, progress!). I mean, what band did I choose to start out the New Year listening to? The same band I've been listening to for... shit... almost 19 years now: Nirvana. I still needed to hear them first to feel like I would have a good year.

Anyway, enough of that rambling, whether I like or not, a decade has ended. And it's bizarre because while culturally things like Nirvana and grunge ruling the airwaves doesn't seem that far in the past to me, the person I was at the end of 1999/beginning of 2000... that seems like another lifetime ago. I hardly remember that girl, but then again that girl worked pretty hard to blot out all consciousness and memories.

I spent the end of 1999 having a quiet evening with my mom and brother at my mom's house. This was very unlike me at the time and I only did it because I was a little freaked about Y2K. Actually I was a little freaked and little hopeful that Y2K would wipe us out in some way-- kill us all or give us a fresh slate. I was okay with either option. I needed a fresh slate badly though I wasn't fully admitting that yet. I was twenty years old and living in Madison, Wisconsin with a guy who'd been causing me nothing but heartache for almost three years, but for some reason I was addicted to him. I was addicted to bad love. I was an alcoholic even though I couldn't even legally drink yet. I spent what little money I made from my shitty job doing telesurveys and data entry on cheap wine and going to one of the two goth clubs three times a week and getting completely smashed and occasionally high on cocaine and usually coming home to fight with my boyfriend and take sleeping pills. I could barely afford my rent. I charged groceries on a credit card because drinking was more important. Oh and even though I'd dropped out of college two years ago to focus on my writing, I'd written only a handful of shitty poems and a few short stories that were as uninspired as me.

Yep, ten years ago that was my life. I'm a little fuzzy on the details but mostly I remember the clothes, the make-up, the long black hair and the spinning spinning spinning drunk and high to dark trancey music. Oh and I hated myself. I knew I could do better though I kind of felt like I deserved what I'd gotten. I hadn't dealt with the fallout from the end of my teen years, I just drowned it in booze, pills, powders, and razor blades. This is me. Lost Soul. A life of plastic and cobwebs:

But by the end of the year 2000, I was on a path to something different. My mother, smart woman that she is, had set a deadline for me when I dropped out of college. If I chose to go back, she said she would help me financially per the agreement we had in high school (in high school, my parents agreed to pay for a certain portion of college), but only if I did so before I turned 21. So, right before my 21st birthday, I applied and was accepted to Columbia College Chicago and made plans to move back to Chicago in Fall of 2000. Of course, I hadn't shaken all the vestiges of my old life-- the boyfriend came with me. But once I was in school, my life calmed down considerably. The program at Columbia was so inspiring that I was writing constantly and I drank a lot less as a result. I wanted my head on straight to write; creativity was a much better drug-- no hangovers. I also started seeing a therapist again and talking through the pain I'd been running from for so long (talking is a real solution unlike running--a lesson hard learned by me, hence it shows up as a theme in much of what I write).

2005 was the year everything changed for me. Maybe you've heard about the Saturn Return, that astrological period in your late twenties when life shifts and you are forced to take stock of who you are and where you are going. 2005, the year I turned 26 was my Saturn Return. That March I met my agent, Caren Johnson Estesen, at a literary festival at Columbia College. She read the first chapter of a novel that I was three-quarters of the way finished with. At the time it was called The Black Notebooks. The chapter she read was called "Rock Gods." When I met with her she said, "I want this. When can you be finished." Then she took me out to lunch. I promised to visit her in New York in September and bring her a finished draft of the novel. I had less than six months to finish and polish my manuscript.

I realized then that writing was the most important thing to me, far more important than the alcoholic boyfriend of 8 years who was still partying like it was 1999 and he was still 23, the age he'd been when I met him. I'd actually known I'd wanted to break up with him for about a year, but I wasn't good at quitting things (except when I was wasted and decided to drop out of college at 18). However, since I'd become so focused on my writing, I became boring and no fun to him and in May, he broke up with me. Over voicemail. I cried for a couple hours that night, but in the morning I called my lawyer and asked him to draw up papers to remove my ex's name from the title of *my* house which he had never paid a dime toward. In 1999/2000, I thought I would have died of heartbreak if I ever lost that boy. In May 2005, I learned that losing him wasn't true heartbreak. True heartbreak came in the form of a phone call I got in October of 2007 telling me that one of my good college friends was dead. I'd get two more phone calls like that in the next six months. So yeah, I learned about heartbreak this decade. It wasn't what I expected. But I survived it.

After the break-up, the last vestiges of the bad late 90s were finally gone (except for the sleeping pill addiction, but that was kicked successfully in 2009). Doors opened. I finished that book. That agent took me on. Writing was my life. Writing and my friends and family. And then New Years Day 2006 there was a boy. The first good boy I've ever dated (besides my friend Tom who doesn't really count because we only dated for a month when I was 15). That boy was the second person I called (after my mom of course) when I got the word on April 17, 2007 that my first book had sold. That boy was the one I married on October 3, 2009. And this is me now:

That's me: published author of two books, wife, cat-mom, homeowner, and generally well-adjusted human being (though sometimes moody as we creative types can be). I really never could have predicted this ten years ago and I'm incredibly grateful for the life I have. My wedding day was hands-down the best moment of 2009 and of the decade for me. The runner-up for best moment of 2009 was the release of my book Ballads of Suburbia, and the runner-up for the best moment of the decade was getting The Call that my first book had sold. Both career-wise and personally, this decade has definitely been a winner and it has made me eager to see what the next decade holds--a nice change of pace for the girl who, ten years ago, couldn't see life past the age of 21.

I spent New Years Eve of 2009 at the bar where I work to support my writing habit. I kissed my husband at midnight. I hugged my friends. I was glad there were no bugs in computer coding to potentially cause chaos or wipe us out because I have a lot that I still want to do. More on that tomorrow when I post those obligatory goals and resolutions for the New Year....