Thursday, May 29, 2008

Contests Galore to Win I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone!

You now have lots of opportunities to win all sorts of fabulous IWBYJR stuff:

Melissa Marr is hostessing a contest on her Live Journal where you “suggest three songs that have that grrrl power to get your attitude dialed up to screaming.(Links are encouraged so we can hear them.) The 6 that make Stephanie sigh the most will get a signed copy of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone.” To do this you either email me your three songs or better yet, leave them as a comment on Melissa’s blog entry so everyone gets exposed to new music. That contest ends June 6. Ooh, I pick 6 winners on 6/6. 666=satan=devil horn’s hand gesture=total rock ‘n’ roll. I like this. Wonder if Melissa planned it that way…

Anyway, so 6 people could win big in that contest. Then I am still running my contest until June 13th (I changed it cause Friday the 13th is my lucky day and also to give one week after Melissa’s contest ends). My contest involves plastering the web and you can read all the details here: There will be 7 lucky winners in that contest. 5 runners-up will receive signed cover flats. (Basically that's exactly what it sounds like, the cover, front and back, but all flattened out and ready for you to hang on your wall.) Second Place> gets a signed cover flat and a gift certificate to DownloadPunk (my fave place to download MP3s). The Grand Prize is a signed cover flat and a signed early copy of IWBYJR. Here are some more hints of things you can do as entries. You can post bulletins and tell people about both of these IWBYJR contests. You can put it on your GoodReads or Shelfari to-read shelves (or if you have already read it, you can review it these places or other places online).

Yep lots of ways to win over the next couple weeks, so I hope you’ll enter!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Good times and good tunes in Denver

Denver was awesome. I will sum it up for you in the usual photo-essay blog style. In fact this one will be even better than usual because there will be a video involved!

I went to Denver to visit my dear friend Eryn, who is basically like my twin except born 3 years later. She is one of the people I am most comfortable being my truly weird self around. This may come out in the photos... I’d never been to Denver to visit her before. I’d visited her in Detroit when she had the misfortune to live there for awhile and she’s visited me in Chicago a couple times, but mostly we just travel together. I was excited to see her hometown and meet her adorable, troublemaking puppy, Ballard.
Yes, he only has one eye. He had a problem where one eye grew abnormally large and the people who initially adopted him, returned him to the shelter (Bastards! They wouldn’t have done that if he were a baby.) He was "at the end of his stay" at the shelter-- and we all know what that means-- when Eryn found out about him. She is a good, unsuperficial person so she gave him a loving home. The eye was removed, and, no, another eye will not be put in. Some woman in the dog training class actually thought it would be...

The plane ride there was smooth despite leaving late because the crew was stuck in fabulous Chicago traffic. I read the rest of Ink Exchange on the plane. *Big sigh* totally gorgeous book, though I will probably elaborate on that in another blog. I arrived, took the little tram to baggage claim, hugged Eryn, and waited for my bag. And waited. And waited until finally we figured out it was set aside with the "priority" bags. Not sure why. Eryn felt they must have known that I was in Denver to do a Very Important Event on Sunday. (You know all about the event because I blogged about it like 3 times, right?)

When we finally got to Eryn's car, she informed me that like I had made her a Welcome to Chicago mix CD, she'd made a Denver mix for me. (It's called Breakin' the Law in Denver!) I happily enjoyed songs by the Fluid , who I already knew and liked, and discovered two fabulous Denver bands, Dressy Bessy and Le Boom, among others.

The lunch place Eryn planned for us had no vegan options so we drove around at random until we stumbled upon an Ethiopian place and I introduced Eryn to that cuisine for the first time. Then it was off to Eryn's to collect Ballard and go to the Riverfront (Denver's only body of water, I feel bad for them):
And Ballard shows off his rebellious streak:
Later that night we went for Mexican food. The first of many Mexican food meals. Sadly this place did not have vegetarian green chile (lots and lots of fabulous green chile is one of the best things about Colorado), but they did have massive margaritas... Before:
Just kidding, I'm more hardcore than that!

Thursday involved massive quantities of thrift store shopping, which was one of the other wonderful things about Denver. Unlike Chicago, stuff in thrift stores is still cheap! Umm, but I still spent way too much money.

That I also got to see Eryn and Nick rehearse as A River Rise, the acoustic band that would be playing with me during my reading on Sunday. I was hugged by both of Eryn's parents when I entered their house (where Eryn and Nick rehearse) because they felt they knew me so well. They are both extremely sweet people. Eryn's mom insisted on making Nick a grilled cheese sandwich when he mentioned he was hungry. And Eryn's dad heard me practice my reading and expounded on how awesome my adjectives are. But by far the most impressive thing that day was seeing Eryn sing and play for the first time. I mean, I'd heard her fuck around before on my guitar, but we were drunk and she was doing covers. To hear her and Nick do a song they had written called "The Pretty Girls You Meet," I seriously almost cried because she amazed me so much. She's just that good. And the song kept getting stuck in my head so the last night I was there, I drunkenly made her and Nick play it for me so I could record it. Please note that Eryn was drunk while playing this and she still totally rocked it. Nick was the sober one that night (thank you for being the DD, Nick!). I wish I could have recorded the first time I heard it to capture that moment and share it with you, but this will do:

The next day involved more shopping and an unfortunate incident where a parking garage was clearly labeled 6 dollars for the whole day and we were charged 18. Grrr. But all was forgotten after adventures in the dog park, discovery of fabulous cheap Mexican food with vegetarian green chile, and then seeing the absolutely fucking amazing Mike Ness at the Gothic Theater. Oh how I adore seeing concerts in classic old theaters like this. And it was set up so that we could be a mere 6 or so rows back, but still stand up on a riser to see clearly.
I wish I had pictures of the actual show, but they were being total nazis about photos. You will just have to trust me that it was amazing. Mike Ness/Social D put on the best live shows around in my opinion. Every song triggered these little flashes of story. I wished I could scrawl in my journal and listen and watch and avoid having beer dumped on me from the balcony all at the same time, but I had to stick to the listening, watching, and avoiding beer. Despite the rain of beer, it was awesome. I seriously can't even sum up how awesome. And I loved seeing all the rockabilly types in the crowd. I wish I was cool enough to be a rockabilly girl. I think that those girls and roller derby girls (going to roller derby this weekend!) have the absolute coolest look and often the best tattoos and they all seem so confident. Yeah, lots of admiration for them.

Saturday morning, Eryn took me to Red Rocks, where she has had the opportunity to see Social D among other bands. It's this gorgeous natural amphitheater.

As you can see there were chairs on stage because when we first got there there was a graduation going on. But eventually it cleared out and we got to go down there and pretend to rock out:

After that came more shopping. Sigh. I really did spend too much money, but I got so much cool stuff! Vintage dress, handmade necklace, incredibly marked down designer handbag, cure shoes, loads of CDs and other clothing items, and a few books. I did resist purchasing another vintage dress, which was a bit overpriced and I would have had to find a slip to go underneath. I kind of regret it though. But mostly I just think the prices at that place were totally outrageous. There was another gorgeous black vintage dress, that was like my dream dress, but was 88$. I had no clue why since the dressmaker didn't seem to be anyone important and the era the dress was from was not noted. I don't think the dress would have even sold for that much in Chicago. In a break from shopping we had a fabulous (but expensive, they even charged for chips and salsa, it really must have been the neighborhood) lunch at a New Mexican restaurant. I had some great Navajo stew that involved more vegetarian green chile. While we were out, we came across a flyer for our gig the next day!
That evening we briefly saw my friend Becky from high school and oddly enough this old friend of my brother's who lives below Becky. Then Eryn took me to her favorite dive-y music venue, the Larimer Lounge. Not only did I immediately love the place, thinking it the perfect small venue to see bands and just hangout, but when we walked in, the music was actually really good. Instead of sticking to our plan to sit on the patio where Eryn could smoke, we wandered over to the stage and observed the rest of the set by a band called Sybris. I thought I was discovering another cool Denver band, but it became clear during their onstage banter that they were not locals. I decided I absolutely had to purchase their CD so we visited them at the merch table after they played. Eryn asked the singer, Angela, where they were from and she answered Chicago. Whoa, holy shit, who would have known I had to go all the way to Denver to find my new favorite local band (besides my friend Tom's band Office of course). The band was equally as excited to meet a fellow Chicagoan and even gave me a discount on their CD. We conversed for awhile outside. I told them about my book. Angela and Eryn discussed gear, happy to have a fellow rock chick to discuss it with. Eventually we decided we had to leave because it was our gig the next day and we needed rest.

However we stopped for a photo op at this storefront near Eryn's house that both horrified and amused me. (Horrified because I'm not a gun fan, amused because I don't understand why you would need a class to learn how to conceal a gun... Oh and the stop, unload weapon sign... Umm) Apparently I looked pretty hot because a man across the street kept loudly whistling at us...

Though we were suffering from a lack of sleep thanks to crazed puppy Ballard, we got up early on Sunday to bring the raffle box to the Mercury Café. I was raffling off a signed ARC of my book and I’m very proud of the box we created from a leopard print hat box we found for 2$ at the thrift store. Eryn had the idea to mod podge (a technique I was completely unfamiliar with, but now am highly excited to know about) all the bits of flyer and guitar picks and fun stuff to the box. I took many pictures, but will remain calm and share just one:

The gathering at the café was small, but spirited, basically made up of Eryn’s friends and family. *Shrugs* We put it together at short notice so didn’t get the word out in media very well and unlike other locations I’ve worked with, the owner didn’t seem very enthusiastic about the event so she didn’t spread the word about it to her customers the way, for example the fabulous people at the Tamale Hut Café at home do. But like I said, regardless it was a good time and my brunch before the event involved even more vegetarian green chile. A River Rise played a song, I read a section from the first chapter, they played another song , I did a section for the second chapter (this way everyone got a taste of both Emily’s and Louisa’s stories), they played another song, and we finished off with the raffle. Eryn’s brother won the raffle, but it wasn’t fixed, I swear!

There is a video of the reading, but it is on actual VHS video tape, so until we find someone who convert it to DVD and then put it on YouTube, I’m afraid, I have nothing to share but still photos. (If you can do this kind of conversion please let me know though!) So here is me reading (note the cute shoes that I bought in Denver):

And here is A River Rise (note Nick’s boot. He got a stress fracture from running and has to wear that for awhile, not fun for him.):

After our gig, we had another momentous occasion: Ballard’s puppy training graduation! At first he seemed too excited to take his final exams and we weren’t too sure he was gonna make it:

But the trainer let Eryn take him outside the ring to demonstrate his mad sit, down, wait, come, and leave it skillz and he graduated without any conditions (his buddy Hamlet has to do the doggie equivalent of summer school). Ballard also didn’t pee all over the place like this other dog Tucker. Here’s the happy diploma ceremony:

Unfortunately dogs were not allowed at the restaurant that we were going to that night so Ballard had to celebrate his graduation alone. But I had my finest Denver eats at Watercourse, this absolutely mouthwatering vegan restaurant. I had blackened tofu and sampled some of Becky’s seitan buffalo wings. I might have to make Eryn ship me meals from there it was so good. They also had 2 for 1 mimosas, so we started drinking. Over dinner Becky and I caught up on each other’s post-high school lives (we both had “lost years,” but are doing awesome now) and the gossip about people we grew up with (some of them are doing great, others are most likely in jail…). Eryn took this picture of us and her cigarette smoke got in the way which made for a cool effect.

Then massive quantities of drinking ensued with Eryn and her friends Mikey and Elise. Nick was the responsible DD (actually Elise was too) and Becky met up with us again toward the end. Here’s Mikey making the first bar we went to look way more happening than it actually was:

And here is what might be the best picture of the trip, me, Eryn, and Elise posing with hot guys in a painting:

I didn’t sleep well that night, nervous about flying after my not–so-fun flight home from Florida a couple weeks earlier and because I was at the point where I missed Scott severely. I only got in like 10 minutes late or so though and read the whole way through the flight. Had that whole absence makes the heart grow fonder thing with Scott, which is part of my love-hate thing with leaving him behind. Sometimes I need to go off with my girls and we both accept this and I love the happy reunions, but missing him sucks.

Happily Chicago was insanely humid when I got back. Wasn’t so fond of the dry Denver air and the allergy situation it created. But I miss Eryn, Ballard, and that green chile pretty damn bad. At least I came back with a ton of great music to remember the trip by. That is definitely a very good thing.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Contest Winner and the excitement from Denver!

Just wanted to pop on quick to announce that Tracy from myspace is the winner of the signed copy of WICKED GAME. Tracy, I sent you a myspace message telling you how to claim your prize.

Denver has been crazy fun so far. Lots of photos taken, but they will have to be shared later. There was a huge margarita last night. Shopping at several thrift stores today where we had some good finds including matching dresses. Eryn's is purple and mine is green. And there was also a rehearsal for Sunday. And let me just tell you, we are going to be awesome! I knew Eryn could sing, but man, hearing her today... If you can come you absolutely have to! Exhausted, so I will have to tell you more once I return to Chicago after Memorial Day. I leave you with the fabulous flyer one last time:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Denver, EBay, and a window into my soul

In just about 24 hours, I'll be on a plane to Denver to visit one of my best friends, the fabulous Eryn Mulloy. Good times. Who know what crazy things might go down. Don't even ask me what we were doing here in Seattle in 2005 (Eryn is in the poncho, I am wearing her hat):

But if you really want to witness exactly how weird we are, hear Eryn sing, and me read and possibly win a signed ARC of IWBYJR, you will want to come here:

So there may be some blog silence while I'm away, though I will log-in on Friday because I need to announce the winner for the Jeri Smith-Ready WICKED GAME Contest. Keep entering that until Thursday night!

If you can't make it to Denver to see me read. I leave you with two things to amuse you:

A window into my soul (aka my top 50 favorite albums of all time list) on the MTV Books Blog.

! Yeah, I know, I was like wtf, too! Umm, I hope it's worth something!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Jeri-Smith Ready Interview and Contest!

First off, I want to announce the winner of Alexa Young’s FRENEMIES. Alexa had a hard decision to make, she and I both loved all your stories, but ultimately she decided on Dominque! So Dominique, please email me at stephanie AT stephaniekuehnert DOT com to claim your prize.

Today I’ve got another author with a new release here to do an interview and a contest. I’d like to introduce Jeri Smith-Ready, who is going to tell you about her book WICKED GAME, which is definitely one of my favorite books of 2008! I mean, it mixes rock ‘n’ roll and vampires, how much cooler can you get? Not to mention it’s funny and sexy, the heroine kicks ass, it brings up the important issue of corporate radio buyouts (bad for music!), and it allowed me to fantasize about what Kurt Cobain would be like if he were a vampire. But enough of my blathering, here is the official lowdown on WICKED GAME:

Late-night radio you can sink your teeth into

Recovering con artist Ciara Griffin is trying to live the straight life, even if it means finding a (shudder!) real job. She takes an internship at a local radio station, whose late-night time-warp format features 1940s blues, 60s psychedelia, 80s Goth, and more, all with an uncannily authentic flair. Ciara soon discovers how the DJs maintain their cred: they’re vampires, stuck forever in the eras in which they were turned.

Ciara’s first instinct, as always, is to cut and run. But communications giant Skywave wants to buy WMMP and turn it into just another hit-playing clone. Without the station—and the link it provides to their original Life Times—the vampires would “fade,” becoming little more than mindless ghosts of the past. Suddenly a routine corporate takeover becomes a matter of life and un-death.

To boost ratings and save the lives of her strange new friends, Ciara re-brands the station as “WVMP, the Lifeblood of Rock ’n’ Roll.” In the ultimate con, she hides the DJs’ vampire nature in plain sight, disguising the bloody truth as a marketing gimmick. WVMP becomes the hottest thing around—next to Ciara’s complicated affair with grunge vamp Shane McAllister. But the “gimmick” enrages a posse of ancient and powerful vampires who aren’t so eager to be brought into the light. Soon the stakes are higher-and the perils graver-than any con game Ciara’s ever played…

Here’s what you need to know about Jeri:

Jeri Smith-Ready has been writing fiction since the night she had her first double espresso. She holds a master’s degree in environmental policy and lives in Maryland with her husband, cat, and the world’s goofiest greyhound.

You can find Jeri on her website:, but today she’s obliged me with an in-depth interview and after that, she’s giving away a signed copy of WICKED GAME!

Thanks for letting me interview you, Jeri. Now getting to read an advance copy of WICKED GAME was one of my first published author perks. You and I found each other on myspace, realized we had the same editor and a lot of the same interests, and decided to trade ARCs. I cannot say how glad I am that that all happened because WICKED GAME is an absolutely awesome book and a truly unique vampire story, which is hard to find. Rock 'n' roll gives these vampires a connection to the era they were born, thereby keeping them from "fading" into mindless ghosts. What a cool concept! Can you tell us a little bit how you came up with it?

Stephanie, thanks so much for having me. I found you totally by chance, when I was web-surfing one day avoiding work, and your blog post caught my eye, “Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from Rock 'n' Roll." Then I stalked you, and the rest is history!

Anyway, the idea for WICKED GAME: I was driving to work flipping the dial and came to a classic rock station playing “Bad Company” by the band of the same name. I thought, Hmm, “Bad Company” would be a perfect title for a paranormal book with a shady main character.

I suppose it was the radio itself that got me from title to concept. By the time I reached the office half an hour later, I had a fully formed idea about vampire DJs stuck in time and a heroine with a criminal past. (The punch line is that even though it all began with “Bad Company,” the publisher ultimately asked me to change the title.)

Ciara, our heroine, is a kick-ass chick who is sexy (my YA readers should take note that this book is definitely an adult book and R-rated), sly, and tough and her whole con artist upbringing makes the book even more unique. Would you share the inspiration for her or tell us a little about how she developed as a character?

At the beginning, I only knew that Ciara would be 'bad' in some way. Bad but not bitchy. Blonde but not ditzy.

When I figured out she would be a con artist, that helped me form her personality. Con artists are the charmers of the criminal world. They tend to be highly intelligent and highly attractive, which is probably why they're so glamorized in Hollywood. Look at the dudes in Ocean's Eleven. We all want to be that cool.

Ciara’s a little different than most urban fantasy heroines. She kicks ass, but with her brains and charm, not with muscles or magic.

It would have been very easy to make the vampires cliche. Not only are there the typical vamp cliches, there are the stereotypes associated with their eras, but you avoided those. Your 60s vampire may be a hippie, but he's got a very dark streak in place of that peace-and-love thing. You chose a reggae vampire for the 70s and a goth vampire for the 80s instead of the stereotypical disco and neon wearing new-waver. Can you speak to these choices? Did they come out of your own musical preferences or did the characters just reveal themselves?

Heh. Jim's darkness was definitely an effort to buck the stereotype. I decided that when he was alive, Jim became a hippie as more of a fashion statement (and to get chicks) than as an expression of his true inner philosophy. This was not uncommon, I am told. Every movement has its poseurs.

As for reggae, I loved the idea of a man trying to reconcile his Rasta faith with a vampire's need to prey on others. Noah does his best to stay true to his religion (even though he can't strictly be a vegetarian). Plus, reggae has an revolutionary, anti-establishment attitude, like all the other genres represented by the vamps. Disco does not.

As for the 80s, Goth and vampires go together like peanut butter and jelly. Regina is the only DJ who looks like a stereotypical vampire (and her transformation was definitely voluntary). But Regina also has the punk thing going on, which gives her a more aggressive edge than your average goth.

Speaking of musical preferences, what are your favorite musical eras? Which eras took more research to write?

Out of the 6 represented in the book, I'm most passionate about the oldest (Delta blues) and the two newest (80s punk/Goth and 90s grunge/indie).

It was interesting to learn about Jim's era, delineating his focus (60s psychedelia and British Invasion) from all the other classic rock that I've listened to my whole life. Jim died in 1970, so he wouldn't have had a clue about bands like the Eagles or Boston or Billy Joel (or if he did, he would ignore them).

Now, I think everyone knows Nirvana is my favorite band and I kind of feel like Shane is Kurt Cobain if he became a vampire instead of killing himself, so that makes him my favorite vamp. Do you have a favorite?

Definitely Shane (Nirvana is my favorite band, too). In a lot of ways, Shane is me. I'm not nearly that tortured, but I think that's due to the grace of good fortune. Shane faced a lot of challenges in his human life, and like Cobain, had (and still has, as a vampire) a rawness to his soul that leaves him vulnerable.

If Shane were just Moody Guitar Boy, it would get old really quick. But also he has a very dry, self-deprecating, occasionally raunchy sense of humor. Not unlike Cobain himself.

Now I'm gonna provide you with my questions I ask every writer I interview, though I think they will work extra well since WICKED GAME is such a musical book. Please list five songs that would be on the soundtrack to your book and explain how they relate to your story or characters.

Better yet, I’ll give you the complete playlist. These are most of the songs that are mentioned in the actual book. It can also be found at . is a fantastic site I first learned about from none other than Stephanie Kuehnert (thanks!). (If anyone would like the code to put the WICKED GAME playlist on your website or MySpace page, just e-mail me at jeri AT SIGN jerismithready DOT com. The playlists come in different colors!)

Name some of Ciara's favorite musicians or bands.

Red Hot Chili Peppers is her #1 favorite. My mother-in-law read the manuscript and said she thought of Ciara when she heard the song "Dani California." The band completely embodies her attitude.

Other faves:
Jane's Addiction
Fiona Apple
The Shins
Violent Femmes

Who are some of your favorite musicians or bands?

First tier (ones whose every album I own)
Eve 6
Tori Amos
Green Day

Second tier, close behind:
The Cure
The Smiths
Steve Earle
Marcy Playground
Liz Phair
Neil Young (with or without Crazy Horse)

Then there are the subgenres I love, like the riot grrls (especially L7 and Bikini Kill), Delta blues (esp. Leadbelly and Son House in the old days and more recently Guy Davis and Alvin Youngblood Hart), and Irish folk-rock (especially The Pogues and Dropkick Murphys). I also love all forms of punk (too many to name).

My latest hot band discovery is The Raveonettes. Entertainment Weekly described them as “the supergroup that, in an alternate universe, the Ronettes, My Bloody Valentine, and the Velvet Underground formed on a lost weekend.” For me it was Love at First Listen.

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?

I usually listen to music when writing a first draft. It helps me focus, keeps my mood up, gets me into a rhythm, and most important, keeps me awake. But during editing, I can't have anything on because I need to be able to hear the words in my head.

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?

Definitely music. My first two novels came to me while I was watching live performances, and WICKED GAME hit me while I was listening to the radio.

I find inspiration in sports as well, but not for the creative part. I admire athletes' drive and perseverance, and especially their discipline. Professional sports is a lot like the entertainment industry, of which publishing is a part. We work hard and dream hard for years, with no guarantee of success. The life can be all-consuming and requires unwavering dedication. But there are triumphant moments when it’s all worth it.

Okay, now that everything thinks Jeri is as awesome as I do and are dying to get their hands on WICKED GAME. Here’s the contest to win a signed copy! It’s easy, just leave a comment, a question for Jeri or tell us how music inspires your life or creativity by Thursday at 5 pm, Jeri will pick a winner at random, let me know and I will announce them on Friday. It would be an excellent way to start off your Memorial Day weekend, right? So comment away!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I'm not a one-hit wonder, the second book sold!

Friday afternoon after I got back from my brother's law school graduation (see pic to the left, click to make big, congrats, Dan!), I got word from my agent that we'd officially reached a deal with MTV Books for my second book, BALLADS OF SUBURBIA! I'm very excited to be working with my fabulous editor Jen Heddle at MTV Books again, but mostly I just heaved a big sigh of relief when I found out she wanted the book. Maybe it's silly, but I kinda felt like the first book was a fluke. I've had multiple nightmares since finishing BALLADS and sending to my agent to send to Jen wherein Jen rips my writing to pieces and basically laughs at me. Even though writing has always been the thing I'm best at, I've always felt like my best may not be good enough.

BALLADS is also a very different book than IWBYJR. I think it's beautiful, but in a different way. Like IWBYJR is a Nirvana song with big catchy hooks and BALLADS is a Joy Division song, darker, moodier, and a little bit harder to interpret. I'm glad that Jen could appreciate them both and I hope that readers will, too.

It seems fitting that I sold the book around the time Dan graduated from law school. He and I both have two degrees from college now. And selling the second book is much like graduating from college a second time. You've done it before, so part of you expects you can do it again, but it's much harder this time (at least for me, the second book came a lot harder than the first. Jen says it needs editorial focus and it really does and I'm so glad it is her because I know she will ask the questions that will get the story right on track *finally*), and when it's done it's more of this feeling of relief almost than celebration. Again, at least for me. When I got my BA, I went out and got totally smashed to celebrate. Getting the MFA was a much quieter affair.

Anyway, enough of that comparison. Here is what you need to know about BALLADS.

The little one sentence summary of it:

After years of feeling like an outcast in her suburban town, sixteen year-old Kara McNaughton finds her place among a group of punks, skaters, and other misfits who hang out at a local park, but as the teens try to cope with bad relationships and broken homes, life spirals out of control.

Very hard to summarize, had to leave lots out like how the main life spiraling out of control thing is heroin addiction (see darker than IWBYJR, yes?), so you can read more about it, including an excerpt on my website here:

I don't have an estimated release date yet, but will post it on my website as soon as I do and prolly blog about it, too.

So yay! That's my big news!

You have about nine more hours to have something of your own to celebrate, namely a signed copy of FRENEMIES by Alexa Young, so read the blog before this one and answer the song question to enter!!!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Alexa Young Interview and Contest!!!

Tuesday marked release day for two authors I’ve gotten to know and love recently. Jeri Smith-Ready released WICKED GAME and she will be on the blog on Monday. And Alexa Young released FRENEMIES and she is here today! Best of all, both of them are running contests for their books!!! I haven’t had contests on here yet, so I’m pretty psyched, how ‘bout you?

Alexa Young has quickly become one of my author BFFs. I met her while trying to find someone to collaborate with on a rock ‘n’ roll literary event in Los Angeles. No one was cool and energetic enough to step up until Alexa. She even coined the event name, ROCK AND READ. We are still in the find a venue phase, so no new news on the R&R front, but it’ll happen soon. I’m sure it didn’t happen this week because it didn’t want to steal Alexa’s debut release thunder. This week is all about FRENEMIES.

Now admittedly, I still have to get my copy of FRENEMIES (planning to pick it up at the bookstore this weekend!), but I read the first chapter online and am psyched! (You can read it, too, by going here) When I first approached Alexa about doing events with me, she swore that she and her book were not cool enough for me the punk rock girl with the punk rock book. But I assured her that despite the tough girl façade, I am the least judgmental person ever and I like a wide variety of things and refuse to be ashamed of them. For example, I’ve been watching the soap opera One Life to Live since I was fourteen. FRENEMIES appeals to my inner-soap opera lover as well as my inner teen-melodrama-lovin’ Degrassi fan. (When the N runs a Degrassi marathon, my weekend is usually shot.) Here’s what the book’s about:

Best friends Avalon Greene and Halley Brandon have big plans for eighth grade: Not only are they coauthoring a fashion column for their school’s online newspaper, but their celebration of their forever friendship is sure to be the blowout party of the year. But when the girls begin to disagree about…well, everything, these two besties turn into full-blown worsties. From sharing custody of their puppy, Pucci, to drawing up a list of who gets which friends, Avalon and Halley discover what happens when you battle the person who knows you best—and isn’t afraid to use your secrets to get what she wants.

You can learn even more about the book at

As for Alexa not thinking she’s cool??? Yeah I have to disagree. Check out exactly how cool she is:

ALEXA YOUNG spent the first several years of her professional life working in the music industry—for the legendary Capitol Records and the irreverently funny trade magazine HITS. She subsequently worked as an editor for the now-defunct teen magazine JUMP, as well as for the #1 women’s fitness magazine in the country, SHAPE. As a freelance writer, she’s contributed to a number of national consumer magazines, including Marie Claire, O: The Oprah Magazine and Family Circle. She holds a bachelor's degree in Literature/Writing from the University of California, San Diego, and lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband, son and dog. FRENEMIES is her first novel.

You can learn more about Alexa on her website and her blog. But today, she is here to answer my favorite questions to ask authors and also give away a signed copy of FRENEMIES!

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


1) Fashion (David Bowie) The two protagonists—Halley and Avalon—are obsessed with anything and everything having to do with fashion, and Bowie is such a class act who has pulled off just about every style he’s ever attempted (even the god-awful ones!). I mean, new wave, bohemian, futuristic, punk, supermodel sophisticate…he’s kind of done it all, hasn’t he?

2) I Wanna Be Adored (The Stone Roses) It’s a song from my own youth and it totally captures the foggy, hazy, trippy adolescent experience flawlessly. Don’t we all just want to be loved, and yet we’re never totally clear on why that is, or even how we can achieve it…and is any of that so wrong?

3) Friend Is a Four-Letter Word (Cake) This band puts a smile on my face every single time I see them. I’ve been in the WORST MOOD EVER and not wanted to go out, but the moment I get to the show and they take the stage, I’m in a totally different headspace. They’ve just got this skewed but oddly accurate way of looking at the world and especially relationships, and how could a song like this not be appropriate for two besties who become full-blown worsties?

4) I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor…or the Cake version!) Best breakup song ever. Whether you’re dealing with the demise of a friendship or any other relationship, you NEED this song. It’s all about empowerment…moving on…getting stronger…being better than you’ve ever been. Both of my girls draw strength from songs like this. Who wouldn’t?

5) Unwritten (Natasha Bedingfield) I realize this song is such a clichéd reality TV anthem right now, but I just can’t resist it. It captures all the energy and passion and optimism of youth—the notion that anything is possible, that you can change the course of your life by continuing to move forward. THE FUTURE IS IN YOUR HANDS…SO WHATCHA GONNA DO?! When you’re dealing with the drama and trauma of a relationship gone wrong, that’s exactly the attitude you need: Take responsibility for your own life, dammit!

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

Alexa: Avalon is kind of the Top 40 pop princess with a beachy, California girl twist. She’s into “classic” Kelly Clarkson or any of the American Idols du jour. She also likes Broadway soundtracks and show tunes—like songs by Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand, as well as the Wicked ST (“Popular” being one of her absolute faves!).

Halley is more of an edgy, artsy, pop-punk princess with an interest in the past (specifically eighties and nineties bands, like those her mom worked with as an ex-music biz executive) as well as the future (she totally wants to discover the next big thing—like the Dead Romeos—the band her crush is in—perhaps?). Anyway…she likes some of the stuff Avalon likes—if she’s being forced—but is mostly into bands like Coldplay, Snow Patrol, Beastie Boys, Foo Fighters, Radiohead, etc.

Who are some of your favorite musicians or bands?

Alexa: Where do I start? You’re talking to somebody who worked for the college record store and campus radio station, who graduated with a degree in lit/writing but moved to Hollywood to work for Capitol Records as an UNPAID intern…until they kicked me upstairs for a paying gig because I was violating labor laws by working for free! I used to be a total music snob, but at this point I pretty much embrace anything and everything. I have total respect for almost all forms of music on one level or another. If I have to name a few artists though, I’d have to say U2 is at the top of the list. I’m a huge fan of a lot of other Irish artists as well, like Sinead O’Connor, the Pogues, the Devlins, the Stunning, the Frames, Luka Bloom. I also love Coldplay, Snow Patrol, Beastie Boys, and classic artists like Cat Stevens (“Oh Very Young!”), James Taylor, the Beatles, Badfinger. Honestly, I could go on for days answering this question. You can see on my MySpace and Facebook pages just how ridiculously long the list is!

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?

Alexa: I need complete silence and an absence of any and all distractions when I write. However, I find that listening to a particular song when I’m stuck can definitely pump me up and put me in the right headspace—so while I don’t want it on in the background, I tend to take periodic music breaks. Anything from an old Chicago or Styx song to a new Avril Lavigne or even—gasp!—Justin Timberlake track can totally get me back in the mode I need to be in. My two protagonists are a cheerleader and a gymnast…so I need to hear the things they’re hearing and get super-pumped-up to feed their energy.

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?

Alexa: Citibank…and my mortgage lender. Knowing I’ve got to pay my bills every month has this incredible way of inspiring me to take my writing to the next level (or at least meet my deadlines). Was that a horrible thing to say? Okay, it’s really all about the chirping birds and cute little squirrels frolicking in the wilderness just outside my suburban Los Angeles window. That, and a big cup of coffee, and I’m SO. TOTALLY. MUSED.

Now I’m sure you think Alexa is as cool as I do (love the honesty about paying her bills!) and you probably wanna win her book, so here is how you can win. Leave a comment in which you tell us about a song that reminds you of either your best friend or one of your frenemies. Be sure to tell WHY the song reminds you because Alexa will choose the best song story and that person will win a signed copy of FRENEMIES! You have until Monday May 19th at 8 am CST to enter, so start commenting!

Even though I am not eligible, I figured I will share my songs. Actually I have an entire album for my best friend Katie. She’s just that cool and I’m just that music-obsessed. It’s …And Out Come the Wolves by Rancid, which reminds me of junior year (Katie’s sophomore year) when we were always planning to run away. It also reminds me of our loyalty to each other and in fact this summer we are incorporating a lyric, “To the end, to the end, I’ll journey to the end” into a tattoo we’ll both be getting.

My frenemy song is “Bruise Violet” by Babes in Toyland. Though the girl that Katie and I used to scream a certain very angry line (umm, you can read the lyrics here and guess…) at was much more an enemy than she ever was a friend. It’s the ultimate punk rock girl frenemy song though because Kat Bjelland of Babes wrote it about her frenemy Courtney Love.

Okay, share your stories and win!!!!

Monday, May 12, 2008

The first big gigs: Young Authors and Denver!

I always love it when bands schedule a short tour right before their new album comes out and you get a sneak peek of their new material. So I’m doing that a little bit for IWBYJR. Well, I mean, I have been reading sections of the book at open mics and local events for a while, but now I have swag to give away and can answer questions about writing and the publishing process and stuff, too. Basically these are bigger, better events that are a preview of my tour and the stuff I’ll do after the book comes out.

I did my first major event this weekend. I was a panelist at Young Authors at Columbia College Chicago. I helped coordinate this event for four years while I was at Columbia, so it was really amazing to be invited back to be a part of it in this way. I got to answer questions about my writing process and publishing for high school students. It was my first ever experience on a panel. I’m glad that I was with such a great group of authors (Don DeGrazia, Colt Foutz, and Drew Ferguson), who had really insightful things to say and taught me a thing or two and we were in front of a very savvy audience of teens who asked great questions. I actually felt surprisingly comfortable up there and didn’t have a whole lot of brain freezes or anything. Good for a first time out. The best part was talking to the teens afterwards and hearing them read at the open mic at the end of the event. I always loved that part when I worked on Young Authors, so I made sure to stick around for it, and I was not disappointed. There was some extremely powerful, sad, hilarious, and daring stuff. Much better than I was when I was in high school. So I hope they all keep it up.

My next event on May 25th at 2 pm at the Mercury Café in Denver is exciting for several reasons:

  • It’s my first out of state event (this also makes me completely nervous that no one will come so if you are near Denver or have friends in the area please please come or send them!)
  • It’s my first event with musical accompaniment, which given the subject matter of my book and my not-so-secret desire to be a rock star is so appropriate and I want to do more of these kinds of events if possible.
  • My musical accompaniment is the River Rise, a band that one of my best friends in the whole world Eryn plays guitar and sings for. She is like one of the best people to try to this music/literary combo event thing out with because she is so talented and easy-going and helpful and with her up there I will be less nervous.
  • We’re doing a raffle for one of my last available ARCs of IWBYJR.
  • Eryn made this sweet-ass flyer that she intends to plaster all over Denver (if you click on it, it will open in another window so you can zoom in and read it better):

So yeah, please come see us in Denver in less than two weeks!

After that I’ll be doing some more sneak peek gigs with swag and book giveaways at Printer’s Row Book Festival in Chicago, Summer Fest in Forest Park, and at Old School Records in Forest Park. Check out my gigs page for info.

PS. Melissa Walker has a great opportunity for teens on her blog today. Check it out here!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Attack of the Giant Books (and thanks Erica!)

I came home last night slightly tipsy from 1.99$ margaritas. My boyfriend told me I had a very large package waiting for me and I was trying to figure out what I'd ordered. When we finally got inside, I saw that it was from my publicist, Erica Feldon. I remember that she said she'd sent me two posters that I could bring to my non-bookstore events (ie. Printer's Row, the release party at the Beacon Pub and the library stuff). I figured she would just send me posters, like the kind you hang on a wall with thumb tacks. Well, actually wasn't sure what I expected. I just asked for some sort of larger than a book-type advertisement, Erica said she would do what she could. I did not expect giant stand-up cardboard book covers!!! Seriously these things are huge and gorgeous and now I feel like the star of some big movie with my name appearing so huge.
It was particularly exciting because I was slightly drunk, so we took pictures of the giant book with each cat.
And me just being like "Holy shit, my publicist rocks!"

And since I didn't start working with Erica until after the acknowledgments page for the book was written, I didn't get a chance to thank her properly in a public forum. So this is my big thank you blog for Erica. She has been awesome to work with, answers my fifty million questions, and so far hasn't thought any of my ideas to be too crazy. I ask her for things and she does them very quickly. So far, she has been able to make everything happen (fingers and toes crossed that she scores the venue for Rock and Read in which case I'll have to send her lots of chocolate or something). In short, she is amazing. So thanks, Erica. You made my Friday night delightful!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Weekend Fun: a new contest on my website!

Bored this weekend? You can start entering my new contest, which begins today and ends in a month on June 9th. It’s round two of my “Plaster the Web” contest and you can get all the details on the contest page of my website. We had lots of fun during the last round. This time the grand prize is a signed copy of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone and you’ll receive it about three weeks before it is in stores! All the winners in the contest also get these:

That’s a cover flat for the book. It’s on cover stock and of course I will personally sign it. Maybe I’m a dork, but if I could get these for all my fave books, I would wallpaper a room with ‘em. So I thought they would make a fun prize.

What sort of weekend fun do I have in store for myself? Well it kinda started yesterday. My friend Irvine and his wife are in town from Scotland and we went to watch the Sox kick the Minnesota Twins’ butts yesterday and then gorged on great food in Chinatown, a train stop away from the stadium, mmm, MaPo Tofu …( and *ahem* Sox park’s proximity to Chinatown, yet another reason the Sox are superior to the Cubs). Did drink a bit too much and I’m not used to drinking early in the day or on a weekday anymore, so I’m a bit tired today, but I’m still looking forward to hanging out with my friend Kathy and her dog Max this evening and seeing some Columbia people.

Tomorrow I will be at Columbia at the Young Authors event, doing a writer’s panel. I’ve never been on the panel before, but I co-coordinated the event for a few years while at Columbia and I love meeting all the teens, so I’m really psyched about that. Then tomorrow night my buddy Rob is reading at the Tamale Hut Café and an open mic follows that I will probably read at if I get home from Young Authors early enough to figure out what. (Tamale Hut is at 8300 W. Cermak in North Riverside and the event starts at 7 if you wanna come hang out, it’s fun and delicious!)

Sunday, of course, is Mother’s Day. Mom is not a blog reader (she is not a fan of computers), so I can share what I got her: a copy of Wicked Lovely, which I had Melissa Marr sign when she was in town, and some fancy tea. Tea and a good book, I must have inherited these loves from her, also my love of gardening. Mom wanted to garden on Mother’s Day, but that depends on the weather, otherwise lunch or something. I’m glad she’s so laid back about it and she understands that I have my Forest Park Review columns to write that day as well.

What are your weekend plans and what did you get your mother? Happy Friday, happy contest-entering, and happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there!

PS. I almost forgot Time Out Chicago listed IWBYJR in it's summer reads this week, if you are in Chicago, pick up a copy or if not, check it out here! I'm in good company :)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Girlfriend Cyber Circuit Presents: Shanna Swendson

Today Shanna Swendson is visiting my blog on her Girlfriend Cyber Circuit tour focusing on her brand-new book (available now!) DON’T HEX WITH TEXAS (gotta love that title and adorable cover!). Here’s a little bit about the book:

Shanna Swendson delivers the magic, love, and humor her readers have come to crave in DON’T HEX WITH TEXAS.

Katie Chandler has fled fast-paced Manhattan and returned home to a simpler life, working at her family’s feed-and-seed store in Cobb, Texas. In a painfully selfless gesture, Katie left the sexy wizard Owen Palmer to battle his demons in the magical realm—after all, she just seemed to attract evil, which only made Owen’s job a lot harder. But now, it seems, trouble has followed her home. Despite the fact that Merlin, Katie’s former boss at Magic, Spells, and Illusions, Inc., has assured her that Cobb is free of enchantment, magically speaking, Katie begins to notice curious phenomena.

Cobb is being plagued by a series of unexplainable petty crimes and other devilish mischief, and after her experiences in Manhattan, Katie knows “unauthorized magic” when she sees it. As this new dark magic strikes deep in the heart of Texas, Owen reappears (literally) to investigate. Now Katie’s friends and family must show the bad guys why it’s bad luck to hex with Texas, while Katie and Owen combine their strengths like never before to uncover a sinister plot before evil takes root in the Lone Star State.

Swendson’s contemporary urban fantasy novels have enchanted fans of romance, chick lit and fantasy alike. DON’T HEX WITH TEXAS—and don’t miss what Booklist calls “one of the best romantic-fantasy series being written today”!

You can visit Shanna at her website or on her blog, but today she is here answering my usual q’s for the Girlfriends.

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

Shanna: 1)Pinch Me by the Barenaked Ladies — it captures the mood of my main character early in the book when she’s kind of in a blah place. She’s safe from all the danger and excitement of the previous books, but she’s also bored and missing her old life.

2)The Visitors by ABBA — it’s about someone feeling like they’re going insane, and that sounds like what goes on with my heroine’s mother when she starts seeing magical things that aren’t supposed to be there (and doesn’t know about magic to know what she’s seeing).

3) Fallen by Sarah McLachlan — this really captures the emotion my heroine has about her relationship with the man in her life and what they’ve gone through together.

4) Out of the Frying Pan by Meat Loaf — there’s a restless energy in this song that sums up the feeling as everyone heads toward the big showdown.

5) Final Answer by The Calling — this feels like what’s going through my hero’s head as he faces the situation in the book.

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

Shanna: My main character isn’t really a music person. She was in high school band, but music isn’t a big part of her life. She mostly just listens to whatever’s on the radio, and she’s a little self-conscious about being terribly uncool in that area.

Who are some of your favorite musicians or bands?

Shanna: I’m a musical theater geek, so most of the music I listen to is cast albums. Otherwise, I’m a retro dork. I still like the stuff I liked when I was a pre-teen and really kept up with the top 40. I’ve recently rediscovered ABBA and remembered why that was so much fun for me back then. And then there are the classic jazz performers like Ella Fitzgerald. Lately, I’ve started listening to some opera because I had to sing a couple of arias for a voice class I was taking, and I’ve gained a new appreciation for it. I guess you could say I’m all over the map musically. I just look for good voices with technique that doesn’t make me cringe, regardless of the genre.

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?

Shanna: I can’t listen to most music with words when I’m writing because I’ll start singing along. The exception is music where the voice is almost ambient sound rather than words, like with a lot of Celtic music (even that in English seems to work that way). I vary on whether I listen to background music when I’m working. When I’m struggling with a book and can’t concentrate, I’ll listen to instrumental music. I’ll pick one CD and try to get into a habit so that this music is like a trigger telling my brain it’s time to work. Oddly, the CD that works best for me for that is the soundtrack to Battlestar Galactica (the new version). It’s this really eclectic, atmospheric music that almost puts me into a trance. The only problem is that now when the opening credits for the TV series come on, my brain says, “Okay, time to work!”

I generally try to create a soundtrack for a book before I start working as a way of organizing my thoughts and feelings about a book — almost like an auditory collage. I’ll pick songs that sound like they relate to the atmosphere, the emotions, the plot or the characters and try to put them in an order that makes sense. I’ll listen to it when I’m not working, like when I drive or when I go walking. It’s a way of getting my brain into the book. It’s also handy when I get revision notes from my agent or editor months later after I’ve moved on to another project. I can play my “soundtrack” and get right back into the world of that book.

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?

Shanna: I don’t have any one muse. I find inspiration in a lot of places. Some of my ideas come from other books that trigger a desire to read something like it but different in some way. Television can inspire me if there are characters or scenarios that start my brain going “what if?” I do get some inspiration from music. I have a mental list of songs that I think may be hiding a story, but I haven’t figured out what the story is yet.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

R.I.P. Berwyn Spindle

I’m sure you’ll all be happy to know that yesterday evening I resurrected my record player. Its late night squalor (which Scott tells me sounded more like an impact wrench being used at the auto shop across the street than anything wrong with the cats) was apparently a cry for help. So I fiddled with it while dinner simmered and found that it would play the MTX record but it made that awful sound at times, like its motor or some sort of belt was really working in overdrive. Fearful that it would harm the record and also thinking that maybe because it was a colored vinyl and therefore thicker and heavier that the weight was causing the distress, I switched it out for the Pretty in Pink soundtrack (not that I wanted to sacrifice this album, but I did get it used for 1.99 and it was good dinner-making music). Sure enough, it played just fine.

I’m assuming that the cats jumped on the record player and screwed it up at some point or it was the weight of the record, or most likely it is on its last legs, but at least now I have ample time to research and save for a good record player (I’m still taking recommendations!). In the meantime, I will use it gently and unplug it when it is not in use because if it makes those late night noises again, I have a feeling Scott might smash it.

My new theory is that the record player may have been sounding a belated death knell for the Berwyn Spindle, which is pictured above. You may recognize the Spindle from the classic movie Wayne’s World (ahem, well it’s a classic in my mind. I can watch that movie again and again and it’s still hilarious). You know when they are driving around listening to “Bohemian Rhapsody” and they pick up hungover Phil and tell him that if he’s going to spew, he should “spew into this,” a crumpled Dixie cup that Garth hands him. (Yeah, I do have the movie memorized, so??) Anyway, well, I hate to destroy anyone’s perception of the movie, but they are not driving solely through Aurora, Illinois. That spindle of cars with the Volkswagen Bug on top is (or was, sniff!) located in Berwyn, Illinois, a town that borders Oak Park, where I grew up.

The Spindle was in a strip mall along with this sculpture of a wall of garbage that I was never sure if I liked or not. It was pretty hideous, but it seemed to be in the shape of the United States and I thought it might be making an interesting political statement… Anyway, I loved the Spindle. We all did. Then the bastards that own the strip mall decided that corporate greed overrules art (what else is new) and that the 24 hour Walgreens that is located in the strip mall was at a huge disadvantage because in its current place it couldn’t have a drive-thru pharmacy (oh boo hoo!). So they decided to knock down the Spindle and build a free-standing Walgreens (which, goddamnit, I will never go to! If I need a 24 hour Walgreens in an emergency, I will drive farther to the one in Elmwood Park. Personally, I still use an independent pharmacy, not as convenient as Walgreens, but I like to patronize independent businesses whenever possible.)

The people of Berwyn and Spindle-lovers across the nation tried to fight The Man and Save the Spindle, but alas under the cover of night (this tends to be how The Man operates in the Chicago area, anyone else remember when Mayor Daley decided to take it upon himself to demolish Meigs Field? Gotta love Chicago politics.) on Friday, May 2, the Spindle was demolished. You can see the destruction here. It’s pretty depressing:

I know it sounds like I’m making light of this a little bit, but while it’s kinda funny, it’s really not. It pisses me off that Walgreens wins over public art, even if the public art is a little bit odd and tacky and hasn’t be properly kept up (isn’t that the fault of the strip mall owner anyway?). And it makes me sad to see parts of my childhood disappear. That’s a large part of why I wrote my second book (which I still have no updates on for ya, sorry!). I wanted to capture the Oak Park/Berwyn/Forest Park/River Forest area that I grew up in. I’ve made a mental note to reference the Spindle in the manuscript when I revise it.

*Sigh*, farewell Spindle.Okay, to alleviate my sadness, please share some kooky or cool landmarks in your town or area. I know everyone has something!

Monday, May 5, 2008

My Record Player’s Final Throes…

I had a total fangirl moment this weekend when I found out that I get to read with Frank Portman, author of King Dork, in San Francisco at InsideStoryTime on July 17th. Frank Portman is also known as Dr. Frank, the frontman for the Mr. T Experience (or MTX), one of the pop punk Lookout! Records bands that I totally adored in high school. I had a minor “omigod I love you!” freak out and hopefully Frank is not completely dreading meeting me (I swear, I will remain calm and cool in person).

Of course this inspired me to break out my MTX records on Sunday when I needed fun music to clean to. For the most part the music I loved junior and senior year of high school is on vinyl. I believe that it all started because of a Bikini Kill seven inch the summer before junior year. You could only get those particular songs on seven inch, so I dragged my parent’s record player, tuner, and speakers out of the basement (along with Mom’s Billie Holiday record) and set it up next to my CD player which would gather dust over the next couple years because I quickly decided that records were way cooler than CDs.

I attained an amazing bunch of early 90’s riot grrrl and punk vinyl online at some point, though I’m not entirely sure how this occurred because it was 1995 and pre-eBay, must have been through the riot grrrl message board on AOL. I think it was somebody paring back their record collection before going to college. I would do this when I moved and come to sorely regret it (the Apocalypse Hoboken and Oblivion albums that are now out of print, not to mention Minor Threat’s Out of Step, *sigh*). Anyway that started my collection and Earwax Records built it.

Ah, Earwax Records. Oak Park, Illinois’s punk and indie rock record store that lasted about a year. *Shakes head.* That store belonged in Wicker Park or maybe Logan Square near the Fireside, but Oak Park? It was a nice attempt to make the OP hip and me and my friends sure appreciated it, but I think the ten or so of us might have been their only customers. But we hung out there after school daily. I remember Mike and Tom begging for jobs, but since the owners couldn’t afford to pay employees, they just spent all their free time there and acted as volunteers. Since we were the best customers, we basically had the run of the joint. They let me hold a benefit there for the Midwest Girl Fest, a riot grrrl convention of sorts that I was collaborating on. Sadly, no one showed up. Maybe because of poor promotion on our part or more likely, no one wanted to come out to the burbs.

Anyway the folks at Earwax (Brendan was the guy’s name and for some reason I am totally blanking on the girl’s even though I thought she was so awesome and had a total girl crush on her) were largely responsible for my record collection. They turned me on to so many cool bands. I walked in knowing Rancid, NOFX and Screeching Weasel and left with records by Propagandhi, The Queers, Tilt and MTX. And who else would make sure I had the new 7 Year Bitch album on vinyl the day it came out? And Sleater-Kinney’s first EP before anyone had even year of them? The latest Oblivion seven inch? Yeah, I got all of it at Earwax and most of it on vinyl. As I mentioned, I thought vinyl was cooler (and still do despite it being impossible to listen to in a car and difficult to transfer to an iPod), but it was also cheaper than CDs by a couple bucks. With the amount of music I consumed, my limited income from working as a bagger at Dominicks was stretched thin between all I spent at Earwax and shows at the Fireside and gas for my car and then my “get the hell out of Oak Park a.s.a.p.” savings fund.

I got my own record player for high school graduation. I’m sure I was one of the few class of 1997 graduates who was thrilled to get a record player and a typewriter instead of a computer. The record player is not pre-amped, so it has to be run through a tuner, which meant lugging my parents’ big old tuner and speakers to college and all my subsequent apartments. When I returned to Oak Park in 2000, I got a stereo that came with a record player component. It was much more compact and modern. When the CD player died on that stereo a couple years ago, I just hooked up the record player to my old roommate’s stereo through the video aux and it’s been working out fine. Then, yesterday, bad things happened.

As I mentioned, I was in need of fun music to get me through cleaning and I really, really, really wanted to hear MTX’s Love Is Dead. So I put the pretty blue vinyl on, pressed start, and attended to putting away the last record I’d been listening to (The Bronx first self-titled LP, also good cleaning music). I swear I heard the proper things happening when I first pressed start, but then there was no music. I pressed start again, repeatedly, then manually tried lifting the arm, but the record would not spin. After some swearing, tapping, moving, shifting, unplugging and replugging, still no luck. I begrudgingly put on a Replacements CD instead, reassuring myself that Scott would be able to fix it. He has to be able to fix it. There are probably twenty amazing albums that I only have on vinyl, not to mention all the things that I prefer to listen to on vinyl because, dammit, it sounds better.

Scott looked at me skeptically when I told him my record player was in need of fixing. I’m sure he wonders why I think he can fix everything when his area of expertise is fixing cars, but dammit, he fixed the leak in my foundation and he took apart and fixed my DVD player when my Total Cardio Kick DVD got stuck in there. The look he gave me did not assure me that he could fix my record player, though. I told myself, maybe he can figure out how to make the old record player work with one of our stereos then. Or maybe Mom will buy me another record player for my birthday. *Sigh*, anyone know of any sites where she could get one cheap? I remember hearing that records are trendy again.

Then I was awakened by an awful sound at 4:30 am. It didn’t sound like a noise my cats could make, but I was afraid one of them was badly ill or injured so I stumbled downstairs. Before I could make it to the basement where they spend the night, I realized the sound was coming from my stereo, more specifically from the record player. Unable to figure out what to do, I simply unplugged it and wandered back to bed wondering how long it had been making that sound. I’d heard something that I’d assumed was cats playing around 12:30...

It took me half an hour to fall back to sleep because of a killer headache and the birds outside chirping away (yeah, not one of my favorite things about spring, can’t they wait for a more reasonable hour?), so I was tired and in a rush to get to work this morning and still have not investigated the demonic sounds from the record player. I’m not sure if this was its attempt to tell me it is still alive and fixable or if these were the sounds of its agonizing and painful death. I’m not particularly hopefully, so yeah, if anyone knows where I can get a record player cheap, I’d be grateful. I’m not sure I can wait until my birthday in July for a new one…

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Good chatter over drinks and oatmeal

To clarify, the chatter over drinks was separate from the chatter over oatmeal. I suppose mimosas with my oatmeal could be okay, though usually when I'm drinking in the early hours it's Bloody Marys and a slight hangover is involved, so oatmeal would not be as appealing as greasy hashbrowns. Drinks occurred Wednesday night with Melissa Marr; oatmeal occurred this morning with Josh Adams who is the managing editor for the Forest Park Review. Given my stressful week of playing catch up from vacation and the car break-in, good chatter was a much needed relief. I shall discuss in chronological order.

I must gush immediately that I heart Melissa Marr. She is one of the coolest people I've met in a long time and of course I love love love her writing. When I read Wicked Lovely it instantly became one of my favorite books and I'm reading Ink Exchange now and feeling an even closer bond to it. She requested to read IWBYJR a while back and apparently really loved it, which well, I can't even put into words how it feels when someone you admire so much thinks highly of your work. Pretty damn awesome basically. So Melissa and I have chatted back and forth through cyberspace and when her tour brought her to a Borders somewhat near my town, I went to see her and we planned to have drinks afterward.

I really enjoyed her event because she basically just sits and chats with whoever shows up. Very casual and friendly. To me it was the author version of a Fireside Bowl show, where there was very little boundary between you and the band, and you feel more like a participator than an observer. I made a mental note to do this at my events. Probably a good thing to see because I had no idea what I would actually do at my events.

Following Borders, I took Melissa to the bar I used to work at, the infamous (to my friends and blog readers at least) Beacon Pub. How people react to the Beacon is usually indicative of how well we will get along. The Beacon is not hip, it is not swanky. It is comfortable like your favorite pair of jeans. I like people that I can feel that comfortable around. I knew Melissa was one of those kind of people before we even got to the bar, but I appreciated that she admired the scuffed floors, searched for a functional stool with good humor, and posed with me under the lady legs. Here we are (and I know regular blog readers will be excited for this glimpse of the Beacon), please excuse the way the flash whitewashed us:

Anyway we chattered until somewhere around midnight, talked writing, bartending, life in general, etc. like old friends. We discussed two things in particular that are close to my heart and I wanted to bring up here:

Books that are good for our daughters. One of the things I like most about Melissa is she's a feminist and proud of it. Too many women even now think of feminism as another f word (personally I like f words...), so it was refreshing to listen to her talk about how she's not gonna write female characters that are pushovers. Ash from WL makes decisions on her terms, not on some guy's, even if he is the very handsome Summer King. Obviously I also try to write empowered female characters. This is probably why Melissa and I liked each other's books in the first place, but good to discuss it further. And definitely something I wanted to discuss here because I would love recommendations for more books with strong female characters. We need to buy these books and draw attention to them because I still remember all too vividly how it felt to be a teen girl sorely in need of reminders that I could be strong.

Speaking of my teenage years, another thing that Melissa and I have in common is that we were both labeled as "bad girls" as teens and it hurt and we fought to overcome it. At her Borders event, Melissa spoke about being voted "most likely to end up in jail" in high school and why she mentions it in her bio. I'll be honest, I thought perhaps she just put it in there to be interesting like her mention of bartending at a biker bar, but she did it to make a point. (I should have realized this as I made certain to include the word feminist in my bio even though the context may seem light and fun.) She explained that she was a straight A student, who did rebellious things and ran with "a bad crowd" because she was coping with difficult things, namely being a rape survivor (and she has spoken publicly about that, obviously if that was told to me in confidence, I would not say anything about that). Rather than address the root of her issues, the school just labeled her "hopeless" and overlooked her for scholarships that she deserved and needed badly. So her point was along the lines of "they voted me most likely to end up in jail, they didn't help me, but I worked against that label, overcame it and now look at me." Seriously, people, look at her, she's a New York Times bestseller.

I bring all of this up in a public forum because it's very important to me. Both my female main characters in IWBYJR struggle with their reputation for a reason, because many girls do. I know a lot of the people who read my blog and who will read IWBYJR will likely be in a similar situation of unjustly being labeled. I was in practically the exact same situation as Melissa. Straight A kid who was subjected to lots of locker checks because she hung out with drug dealers and skipped class a lot and no one really cared to investigate why. My peers labeled me slut because of how I dressed, which was hurtful because the one sexual relationship that I had in high school was abusive and unhealthy and I was confused enough as it was. It was hard, hence my first few years post high school being filled with substance abuse. But eventually I went back to college, I got straight A's all the way through my master's degree and now I have a book coming out. So, I want to say this and I will say it very strongly and not apologize for my language: fuck labels. Don't let people cut you down. Don't believe it if people say you are going to end up a loser, go out there and reach for your dreams and prove them wrong.

*jumps down off soapbox and shrugs sheepishly*

So, in all, it was inspiring to talk to Melissa as a writer and also extremely empowering to talk to her as a woman. Very cool.

Meeting with Josh over oatmeal (he had coffee, I thought about having tea, but froze because I am being very careful about caffeine consumption and couldn't locate the decaf tea list) was completely different. He was asking me if I would consider being a columnist for the Forest Park Review, my local paper. Even though it barely pays at all and doesn't pave the way to an obvious fame and fortune, I am very excited about this for a few reasons.

Like probably every creative writing major, while I was in college I was repeatedly asked by people concerned about my ability to make a living, "Why don't you consider journalism instead?" I have never been interested in journalism, preferring day jobs that are not directly related to my field. I always have admired my freelancer friends, but for the most part I like to write about made up things. Also I face enough rejection as a fiction writer, facing more as a freelancer is too intimidating. But this was someone coming directly to me, so that eliminated that concern. And they are asking me to write a column, which I basically see as being like a blog except I can't swear and I need to be less ramble-y. I see this is a writing challenge, and I like writing challenges.

The other reason I'm excited is because I get to write about my town. I like my town quite a bit and I have strong "support your local scene" ethics from growing up punk. This will give me opportunity to talk about the Beacon and my favorite record store (Old School Records) where I got 5 cds for 20$ today, and Centuries and Sleuths, the cool history and mystery bookstore, and the Farmer's Market (well, they call it the French Market), and the new restaurant (Gaetano's) that my best friend is a chef at, which is like her dream and I am so extremely proud. I can also explore more things about my town like the toy factory that Jodi from Old School told me about. Yes, Forest Park not only has a famous candy factory (Ferrera Pan, makers of Lemonheads), but a toy factory. Can you see now why I live here? And the public pool has a waterslide, which I still have not been on.

It just feels nice to be invited to be a part of the community in this way. I have only lived here for four years, but feel much more a part of it than my hometown, the neighboring Oak Park. Maybe I still have my resentful teenage feelings about Oak Park, but yeah, sorry Forest Park is just cooler and friendlier. Can I say that in my column? Hmmm.

So I have to write some practice columns for Josh first, but hopefully he will like them. He was very nice and insisted on paying for my oatmeal. I see that the columns do appear in the online version of the paper, so should it all work out, you will get to read them once a month.

I think I'll go try my hand at writing one now. Or I'll go read more of Ink Exchange. Decisions, decisions...