Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!!!!

My favorite holiday is here!!!! I love the spooky and macabre. I love pumpkins and candy. I love playing dress up and creating a character to be for the day. I LOVE HALLOWEEN!!!

So today's blog is all about things to get you in the Halloween spirit. I've kind of been lacking in Halloween spirit the last couple of years because I've just been so busy. Last year I did nothing, absolutely nothing, for Halloween because I was in the midst of IWBYJR revisions. I bought candy and hoped for trick-or-treaters (we never get any because we live in a townhouse on a really busy street), but that was about it.

I still haven't done as much as I would have liked to for Halloween (I wanted to throw a party, but I'm gonna do that next year when Halloween falls on a Saturday, the day I work at the Beacon, and then I can throw a Halloween party at the bar and have fun and make money at the same time, how perfect is that!), but I did a few things.

There is an amazingly cool cemetery near my house called Forest Home Cemetery, which I toured back on October 12th. It's a really old cemetery with a lot of history to it. Like it's the only place in Chicago where you can be buried no matter what you’ve done in life, hence Belle Gunness, famed female serial killer, lays in an unmarked grave there—or does she? It might actually be one of her victims! I wrote a column about the cemetery tour and my fascination with cemeteries for my local newspaper. Here's the link in case you want to read it to get in the Halloween spirit!

But honestly, I haven't been feeling the Halloween Spirit as much this year. I wasn't even really sure about making plans for today other than snuggling up on the couch and watching the Lost Boys 2 (I know it's going to be a travesty compared to the original, but I hope it is an amusing travesty). I've just been so busy lately that I'm exhausted so I wasn't sure I was in the mood for Halloween celebrations and I'm broke so no money for a good costume.... AH! NO! How lame is that! My favorite holiday and I'm not even going to bother to celebrate it for two years in a row???

Thank ghoul my friend Kathy prevented this. It turned out that she's going to a Halloween party/concert thing that I was invited to go to and suddenly knowing that I was going to get to see a friend I haven't seen much lately made it all worthwhile for me to get up off my lazy ass. I still had no idea what to do for a costume though and it was Monday and I had no time to shop or make something. Then I looked up more details on this concert/party thing and saw that Zombie costumes were encouraged!

I love Zombie movies and have never dressed up as a Zombie, so this was perfect! It's totally affordable because I just needed to grab some makeup from the Kmart down the block and peruse my closet for some clothing. I had a long white dress so I considered Zombie Bride. I had a prom dress (yes, in case you didn't know I collect dresses) so I considered Zombie Prom Queen. But guess what shares the closet with my dress collection? My old office job clothes! That's when inspiration really hit. Holding a 9 to 5 job where I worked in a cubicle totally made me feel like an office slave zombie, so that's my costume! I won't accidentally ruin clothes I actually like (ie my dresses) and instead I get the catharsis of ripping up those boring office clothes I loathed wearing every day. It's another way to bid fond farewell to my 2 years as office drone. So yay for zombies!

To get in the zombie spirit, I have been playing this fun choose-your-own-adventure movie game.

And now the moment you have been waiting for, my costume:
And zombie me trying to create a zombie kitten!
I'll have more pics tomorrow. But tell me/show me all about your Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Kelly Parra!

Yay! Women Who Rock Wednesday is back! Did you miss it? I know I did :) Today I'm shining with WWRW spotlight on an incredibly talented writer who I admire greatly and had the privilege of doing a signing with this summer: Kelly Parra!!!

But before you meet Kelly and learn all about her fabulous new release, INVISIBLE TOUCH, we've got some business to take care of. First, I must announce the winner of the signed poster from my Metro reading with Irvine Welsh, and that lucky gal is Kay from blogger!!! Kay, please send your mailing address to stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot com so I can send out your prize.

Also you have two chances to win copies of I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE today! Melissa Walker is giving it away on her blog as part of Win It Wednesday. And then, our fabulous guest, Kelly has been hosting the Secret Fates extravaganza all month long with tons of authors spilling their secrets and giving out their books and today it was my turn. I shared a dark and painful secret from my teen years in the hopes that it may help other teens. I won't say anymore about it, just go read it here and leave a comment to be entered to win a signed copy of IWBYJR.

Now on to the star of our show, who of course will be giving out a signed copy of her book at the end of the interview! The reason that Kelly Parra has been hosting the Secret Fates extravaganza is to celebrate the release of her brand new book, INVISIBLE TOUCH. Kelly will tell you what the book is about below, but I got to read an Advanced Readers Copy of it and immediately fell in love. So much so that I wrote my first official blurb. So here is what I had to say about it:

"INVISIBLE TOUCH is the kind of book you'll stay up way too late to finish and then wake up the next morning hungry for a sequel. Kelly Parra combines elements of mystery, romance, and the supernatural that will keep readers turning pages and ultimately leaves them with a story that rings true for anyone who felt like they had to hide their real feelings in high school. INVISIBLE TOUCH may have a paranormal premise, but it still showcases Parra's talent for nailing the raw, real emotions faced by today's teen."

So now that you are all hyped about her book, let's meet Kelly!

Kelly Parra is the author of GRAFFITI GIRL, a double RITA nominee and a Latinidad Top Pick, and the contemporary paranormal, INVISIBLE TOUCH . When not pulling her hair while writing her current novel, she likes to play with her abundance of websites and feed a serious television addiction. For excerpts visit, or follow the Secret Fates blog.

Q: Your latest book, INVISIBLE TOUCH, came out earlier this month. I completely and totally adore this book, but instead of me enthusiastically explaining it to the blog readers, I'd like to ask you to tell them all about it! We want to hear about the basic plot of course, but if you can also share how you got the idea for the book, which is certainly a lot different from your last book GRAFFITI GIRL, we'd love to hear about that too.

Kelly: Hi Steph! Thanks for having me, and double thanks for your kind words!

Invisible Touch is about Kara Martinez. Kara was in a tragic accident at eleven and lost her father, yet also gained something else--visions. Or "signs" that she sees on individual's torsos. She must piece these signs together like a puzzle and do her best to stop unfortunate fates. Because of the pressure and mystery of the events, Kara keeps an anonymous blog called Secret Fates. When she sees the sign of a gun on a fellow classmate, the latest mystery takes her into dangerous territory that only increases with a new relationship with a boy from the wrong side of town. Invisible Touch has mystery, romance, and family drama, and I'm hoping I give readers an entertaining read.

I've always believed in intuitive vibes and repetitive signs and thought wouldn't it be cool to have a girl who really saw visions and have to piece the signs together to help others? But it wouldn't be easy, not with a logical mom who wouldn't understand, and with the family dealing with grief of losing their father. I wrote up a proposal and I was so glad MTV Books thought Kara's story was worthy of publication.

Q: Tell us a little bit about how you came to be such a fabulous writer. When did you first get the writing bug? Were there specific people (parents, teachers, friends) who encouraged your talents? And who were some of your influences and inspirations (since this is WWRW we are particularly interested in hearing about the women so we can discover more women who rock, but feel free to name guys, too!)?

Kelly: In school, I was a total art kid, even though I'd always excelled in english lit and wrote poetry in my free time, it never dawned on me to become a writer. Art was how I expressed my inner feelings. Pretty words were harder for me. But as an adult I started to read again and once I read Nora Roberts aka JD Robb, I never stopped. Yes, Nora writes commercial fiction and that's what I hope to write for a long time.

The people who have been with me through the beginning have been author Tina Ferraro (How To Hook a Hottie) and Dianna Love (Phantom in the Night) and a few years later, Anne Frasier (Garden of Darkness). Not only are these ladies talented storytellers, they are my friends and always there to listen to my ups and downs in this business.

Q: Kara from IT has psychic talents and Angel from GG's talent is art, do share either of these talents with your characters, if so, please tell us about that talent. If not, what is one of your other talents besides being a fabulous writer of course!

Kelly: As I mentioned, being an art kid helped me to write Graffiti Girl. I also had a group of friends who were into the urban artistic style. I do not have psychic visions, but believe everyone has an inner instinct or voice that helps them make decisions so it was cool to embellish that talent in Invisible Touch.

Q: Even though IT and GG are very different books, they share one thing in common: strong, unique teenage girl narrators who are trying to navigate their way in the real world and stay true to who they are. A lot of my blog readers are those types of teenage girls, can you share some advice with them on how to survive high school and pursue their dreams?

Kelly: I am the first to admit high school was incredible hard. If I had the choice to do it again, I wouldn't. :) But I do wish I had the knowledge of the real world to get me through it a little easier. My advice is that high school is just one stage in your life, don't let the social set effect you in negative ways. The social set is history once you graduate and you can do anything you set your mind to no matter what anyone says, no matter what anyone does. Its you, who's going to live your life. All you have to do is believe in yourself.

Q: I know IT just came out, but as soon as people devour it, I know they will already be wondering, what's next for Kelly Parra?

Kelly: I wish I had a set date for a new release, but I am currently working hard on my next project, a sci-fi YA. Its a whole new challenge for me to write. I also have another urban teen book in the works after this one. Like in television, please stay tuned...

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

Kelly: The first album had to be Michael Jackson's "Thriller". I was enamored by him as a young girl. I watched MTV (back when it didn't even have commercials!) like it was going out of style. My very first concert was not of my own choosing, so don't hold this against mother took me to an Eddie Money concert. Eddie who? *wink* The last concert I attended was a reggae concert and I couldn't see through the smoke. haha.

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

Kelly: My first "rock star" moment was my very first book signing. Family and friends who had supported me since the news of my sale all attended. It was a big hit and I felt like a real writer. It was one of those moments, you'll never forget. I have not encountered my "I'm not worthy" moment yet with my idol Nora Roberts. I had two chances and couldn't bring myself to introduce myself to her. The first time I saw her I wasn't published and she was always busy. The second time I saw her, I was published but again she was swamped. I'd brought the first book I'd read by her that had brought me into the glorious world of books again. I wanted her to sign it, but I never got the chance. One day I will again. :)

Q: And since tis the season, there's a bonus question this week. What are you doing for Halloween?

Kelly: Since I'm a parent, its all about the kids. But I'll definitely join the festivities with colored hair and Halloween make-up. What are YOU doing on Halloween, Steph?

Thanks for having me on your ultra cool Women Who Rock!

Well, Kelly, I just came up with my Halloween plans and costume on Monday, but I will blogging all about them on Halloween, so everyone should stay tuned for that.

Thank you for coming on WWRW and also for agreeing to give out a signed copy of INVISIBLE TOUCH to a lucky random commentor. So comment away guys! Since it's Halloween and fits the theme of Kelly's book, you could tell us about any paranormal or psychic experiences you've had! Trust me you want to comment about something and win this awesome book. As usual, I will choose the winner via random number generator next Wednesday when I host, Brenna Red, frontwoman of the amazing band, The Last Gang USA. This is a band I discovered via MySpace where I get a ton of friend requests from bands and it's pretty rare that I find one I really love. So you'll definitely want to come meet Brenna next week!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A fabulous CTA experience for once

Last night I went to Schuba's with my one of my dearest friends from high school friend, Thea. We had dinner and hung out to see Office play. Office is one of my favorite bands and I swear I'm not just saying that because one of my other dearests from high school, Tom, is in the band and so is Thea's husband Justin. They are amazing and if you don't believe me, go listen to the songs on their myspace. My best friend Katie was supposed to go, too, but she got an icky stomach virus. Katie was also my ride. I tried to get Scott to go, but he had too much homework, so he dropped me off at the train and lo and behold, another CTA adventure was born! That is not surprising. Whenever you take the L outside of rush hour time (and even during rush hour on occasion!), you risk "interesting" encounters. Usually they aren't pleasant. You know, like witnessing public urination or masturbation or the like. But for once I had an enjoyable encounter!

Things were looking bright as soon as I got into the station because I decided to see if a fare card I'd found in a random pocket of my purse had any money on it. I thought at most it would have 2$, but as it turned out 10$! I skipped happily (okay, maybe not quite) up the escalator, but as soon as I got up to the train, "ding dong, doors closing!" The train wasn't pulling out of the station though. It was one of those mystery CTA moments where the train just sits there with the doors closed even though it's cold and there are passengers waiting to board...

So I headed to bench under the warming light. Four guys carrying red plastic cups had the same idea. One of them came right up to me and read my hat and said, "Hole. What's Hole?"

"The band. Hole."

"Hole's a band?"

"It's Courtney Love's band," his friend interjected. "How is Courtney doing?"

I said, "Um, hopefully putting out another album soon?"

"Yeah, it's been awhile," he said, but then the original guy I was talking to interrupted because he'd been looking at the buttons on my bag.

"Obama! What if I told you I love Sarah Palin?"

Before I can even answer, another one of the guys goes, "No, we don't! We're gay! We're Obama supporters."

Original guy goes, "What are the rest of your buttons?"

"Uh, bands..."

Another guy giddily exclaims, "Do you know where we're going? Madonna concert!"

"Cool, where is she playing?"

"United Center! We're drinking rum and diet coke, want some?" And a plastic cup is thrust at me. So I decided to drink from it. Probably pretty stupid. I mean I don't generally drink strange drinks from strange men, but these were nice gay men going to the Madonna concert who said, "Sit with us on the train! We'll protect you from the creeps. We're weird and drunk, but not creepy!" (yes they literally said all of that)... Okay, I still don't recommend doing what I did to anyone, but it was fun, dammit! I had a long train ride ahead of me and they made the first half of it interesting.

They didn't know what stop to get off at and the conductor actually called someone for them to find out which one (it was Med Center as I suspected). They were just that friendly and fun, she couldn't help but be charmed. I mean, seriously, they had red plastic cups on the train. You aren't supposed to have beverages period and um, what could be in those cups besides booze? But she just said, "Ain't no alcohol in those cups, right, honey?" to one of the guys and he replied, "Nope, just Diet Coke."

So until Med Center we talked about Madonna and Pink and good dental work (one guy was a dentist and he did all the other guys' teeth, which were quite perfect) and my book (one guy was a flight attendent so he reads a ton!) and we drank Rum and Diet Coke (don't worry, I only had like 4 sips). Definitely my most delightful train experience ever.

And I'm sure they enjoyed Madonna concert, but I was happy to be at the Office show. They were all dressed up and playing covers by dead rock stars starting with Roy Orbison and ending with Nirvana. One of my favorite bands playing songs by my favorite bands. And seeing Tom play Nirvana songs totally gave me high school flashbacks to the summer he was so obsessed with the first Foo Fighters album he learned to play the whole thing.

Yeah it was a good night and a good kick off to Halloween week.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Adventures in Madison!

Sorry for the week-long hiatus from blogging. I need them every now and then to be productive. I spent last week working on the proposal for my third novel (aka the first 50 pages of it and outline). Now I just need to tweak it a bit per the notes from my fabulous critique partners and I need to write some semblance of an outline. I abhor outlines. I really don't know what is going on in my books until I am about half to two-thirds of the way done. I just need to follow my characters and discover who they are until then. But I need to give my agent some semblance of an idea of how the book is going to go. Then she'll let me know if she thinks this idea is worth pursuing (I hope, I hope, I hope! I've been back and forth between two ideas for the past few months, but finally have my heart set on this one). In the meantime, I hope to be at work on the revisions for BALLADS once my poor swamped editor is able to get me notes!

Anyway before I disappeared into 3rd Book Land, I had a very exciting trip to Madison as you know. I took Scott to see my old haunts, including my first apartment building:
Now, I'm not gonna lie. At first I wasn't sure this was my building. I coulda swore I lived at 524 W. Wilson not 526 and I also thought we had a balcony. Yeah, well I guess I was mixing up the balcony thing with my second apartment in Madison. I texted Tai and she told me that, but she also didn't remember our address so I didn't feel totally horrible about. And besides, after standing there for a little while the memories came back to me. So that's my first apartment building. The first place where I lived by myself. Pretty cool.

My old neighborhood hadn't changed a ton in almost twelve years, but there were some fancier looking condos here and there. The "punk" house down the block, which was one of the first squats I'd ever been in, is now a regular house. The name of the grocery store I worked at changed from Capitol Centre Foods to Capitol Centre Market. The sketchy convenience store down the block from my second apartment had become a fancy florist and there's an upscale wine shop across the street. Scott and I had the following conversation about that:

Me: Oh man, I'm glad that wasn't there when I was living here. It would have been bad to have so much wine so close by.

Scott: You wouldn't have been able to afford that wine.

Me: Hmm. Yeah. I guess they probably don't sell Franzia boxed wine, huh?

I'd also noticed a cool looking dive bar at the other end of my block and wondered why I didn't go there. I was probably too pretentious at the time.... But the changes in my neighborhood that upset me the most were that Mifflin Street Co-op was gone and that the little park with the swings I used to go swing on to think had been turned into a dog park. Dog parks are great and all, but those swings meant a lot to me.

State Street was mostly the same. I was sad to learn that Cat's Meow, which used to be the source of many of my fabulous goth outfits and accessories was gone. But there was my delicious Nepalese food at Himul Chuli and plenty of other fun funky stores to make up for it. Willy Street was good, too. Mother Fools was still the same, which made me happy. That's where Tai and I used to play board games and eat vegan scones that were so delicous that Sidney would go crazy when we brought them home like they were made of meat and cheese and fish or something. Sadly, Sid is no longer a kitten and now he has such a touchy stomach that even though I saved him a bit of scone, he was uninterested. Lars and Kaspar enjoyed it though.

Inferno was the same but different. Yes, I actually went there. I didn't plan to. I have good and bad memories there, but clubs just really aren't my scene anymore. I drove by it so Scott could see it from the outside (and in the process realized I'd never seen it from the outside during the day and it totally doesn't look like most clubs), but Saturday night, Kevin suggested we go there and I agreed. It was odd going in there in jeans, sneakers and a hoodie, which I would have never ever done back in the day. Going out to Inferno always meant dressing to the nines either goth or glam (oh god, how embarrassing are these pictures!):

So I felt a little bit strange and out of place, but it was cool to see how the club had changed. The back bar(s) are set up completely differently and it looked pretty sleek, though I'm not sure how I felt about the giant screen TV... maybe if it was playing old horror movies like they used to. The music was still the same. I saw some old friends like Amy and Kat, which was great. But it used to be that I knew or recognized everyone when I went to Inferno. Now I was the stranger. There were all these new characters that I didn't know. Like back in the day, the guy we used to make fun of on the dance floor was Tai Chi Guy, who "danced" like he was doing tai chi. Now there is Annoying Chains Guy. This must be the thought process of this guy every time he gets ready to go out to Inferno (because Kevin tells me, he is always dressed like this): Hey, I think I'll wrap some huge chains around my neck, shoulders, and legs like I'm a serial killer being led to the gas chamber, that will look awesome and whenever I dance everyone in the entire club will be able to hear every move I make. That's not annoying or anything! Now, I've definitely worn some crazy shit out to the club in my day (*cough* see above outfits), but this guy was a reminder that at the Inferno there was always someone weirder than me. I think along with my bar book, I really need to write a club book someday...

Despite my lack of being dressed up, I felt pretty at home at Inferno though. When Joy Division came on, I almost jumped up to dance, but I wasn't so sure I wanted Scott to see that side of me and plus it really was more fun to dance with the cool clothes and shoes and not to mention a couple more drinks in me...

Anyway so that was the revisiting my past part of my trip, which was fun because I do enjoy a bit of nostalgia, but the three most fabulous things about my trip were not nostalgia-based. Now I can't really rank these events in order of coolness so I will write about them in chronological order instead:

1. School Visit at Madison's Alternative High School Work and Learn Program. When I agreed to take part in the Wisconsin Humanities Festival, they asked me if I would be willing to do school visits. I was very excited about this, so I said yes. Then they couldn't find a high school classroom interested in having me. A few days before I was to leave for Madison, the organizer of the school visits asked me if I would be willing to visit with kids in an alternative program. I told her, Hell yeah, those are my people! (Okay, so I really didn't say it like that, but that's what I thought.) I haven't made it a secret that I hated high school and I hung out with people who felt the same way. Two of my best friends dropped out of high school to home school. One friend got pregnant and dropped out and did an alternative program. A bunch of other friends got kicked out or dropped out for various reasons, some of them going on to alternative programs and succeeding, some of them not going on and not really succeeding. I finished high school as fast as I could, graduated early and hightailed it to Madison. All of us shared one thing in common, the traditional system of learning did not work for us. And many of my friends were written off as failures from a young age because of this. I think this is bullshit. So, I hugely support programs like Work and Learn where kids who don't fit in in a traditional school environment are given a chance to succeed. And I hugely admire teachers like Erik Shager, the teacher of the class I visited, who work so hard to meet the needs of kids who were pushed aside or fell through the cracks of society.

I loved the kids I met with at Work and Learn. They were clearly some of the brightest, most talented kids and I have no doubt that if they stick with their program that they will succeed. It was awesome talking to them because I didn't have to put on any airs. I just told them the straight story about my life. I even passed around the zine I wrote while I was in Madison just to give them an example of something they could do to express their thoughts and feelings. As it turned out many of them already were expressing themselves creatively, some through writing, some through rapping or other kinds of music. I was really impressed by all of them and the discussion we had and look forward to going back to visit Erik's classes again in the future. Here I am with some of the students:

The next day was my scheduled Wisconsin Book Festival event, a reading, discussion and signing at my favorite bookstore in the Mad City, A Room of One's Own Feminist Bookstore. As always I had a great time reading and answering people's questions and there were some amazing folks that came out. It was really cool to see a mother/daughter pair, both big readers, writers and punk rockers who could enjoy my book together (not to mention, the daughter, Mariah had a killer green wig on!) sitting in the front row. And then there was Chelsie and Justinne, who I think might be deserving of biggest fan of the year awards! They drove an hour down to see me, recognized me as soon as I came and gave me big hugs. And we got to chat a ton before and after the event, exchanging book recommendations among other things. These girls really just made my day. They made me feel like a superstar and it means the world to a writer to feel like that. You write a book, put your soul into it, then it goes out into the world and you hope for the best. Meeting people that really loved it and have great faith in you to write more good books is so important. I still have the self-esteem of the average teenage girl, so it's always nice to get a little boost from people who believe in me. Not to mention Justinne and Chelsie are just damn cool girls. They totally remind me of me, Katie, Polly and Thea in high school, just really into books, reading, zines, and having adventures. It was unbelievably awesome to meet them. Here we are, that's Chelsie on the left of me and Justinne on the right.

Then after my event I got to spend time with Kevin and Ryel, who really are two of my favorite people on earth, but I never get to see them because we live in different cities and have busy lives and not enough time to visit each other. Scott and I spent the whole weekend at Kevin's so we got to catch up with him a lot (well, catch up for, get to know for Scott). He also is an amazing framer, so he framed this blow-up of my book cover which is going to look so fabulous in my living room once we tear down this ugly mirror thing on the wall. Ryel is just one of those kindred spirits that I'd be having tea and great conversation with once a week if we lived in the same area. Instead we had incredibly spicy Thai food. Oh it was so good. I'll be back in Madison for that dish ASAP. Not to mention more time with my dear friends.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Women Who Rock Wednesday: The Characters of IWBYJR!

In honor of Teen Read Week, I decided to do an extra special Women Who Rock Wednesday and interview Emily Black and Regan Parker, two characters from my book, I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE. After all, as members of the world famous (yet fictional) punk band She Laughs, they qualify as women who rock, right? So I made several announcements on the blog and on MySpace asking for questions from fans of the book for Emily and Regan. You guys sent in some awesome questions and I tried to incorporate as many of them as possible without getting totally carried away and making the interview last forever. It still did turn out a wee bit long. What can I say, I had sooooooooo much fun revisiting two of my favorite characters!

I started the interview with general questions that people who haven't read the book can still enjoy and get to know my characters, but of course lots of fans wanted to know what happened to the characters after the book ended. So there are spoilers. I marked in BOLD where the spoilers begin and if you haven't read the book, I highly advise that you stop reading at that point, go read the book and then come back to finish the interview :) But you can still leave a comment and be eligible to win this week's prize which there will be a picture of at the bottom of the blog and you can see that as your safe point to continue reading.

Before we begin, I have a couple of IWBYJR-related announcements and of course, I have to announce the winner of last week's prize, a signed copy of Denial of Death by the Brain Surgeons! The winner is Teddy of Reddy Teddy from blogger. Teddy please email your mailing address to stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot com!

Now I also want to remind you that today is the absolute last day to vote for IWBYJR as the Best Book of 2008 on Venus Zine's Hott List. I'm up against some really stiff bestselling book competition, but with your help my little punk rock book might actually have a shot. So get those last votes in here!

Saving the best for last, I wanted to tell you guys about an amazing opportunity to get your hands on a marked-up copy of IWBYJR and help out an amazing charity, First Book which helps disadvantaged children have access to reading material. Some fabulous teen book bloggers came together to raise money for First Book's Leave a Mark auction and they asked authors like me to mark up their books so they could auction them off. Basically this means I didn't just sign the book, I spent all night writing notes in the margins giving you background information and insights into the story. So if you are a hardcore IWBYJR fan, this is a must have for you OR if you haven't read the book yet, this is your chance to get a one of a kind copy and help a good cause. Bidding runs through Friday, I believe and you can check out the auction on The Page Flipper's blog right here!

Now, on to the main event! The long-awaited interview with Emily Black and Regan Park of She Laughs!

Q: Welcome to Women Who Rock Wednesday, Emily and Regan! It's great to be speaking with you guys again because it's been way too long. I've got some awesome questions that your fans sent in and I think we'll start with this one: If She Laughs was an ice cream flavor what flavor would they be?

Shit, do you know how many ice cream flavors there now? I don't even know them all, so how are we gonna choose? Does Ben and Jerry's have punk flavor yet?

Emily (laughing): Dude, what would that taste like sweat and stale beer? I don't know about that. Lets stick with the classic most awesome flavor. Cookie Dough. Cookie Dough ice cream is the ultimate because it's two kinds of dessert in one and our band will leave you as satisfied as two desserts in one.

Regan: Isn't Cookies and Cream two desserts in one, too, though?

Emily: But you usually eat cookie dough raw. And we're totally raw.

Regan: Okay that's good. Though in the past we've been Rocky Road...

Emily: Well yeah, and like Rocky Road even though it's rocky, it's still awesome.

Regan: She's not really this arrogant. She just plays it up to cover her soft underbelly.

Emily: Pfft. Whatever.

Q: Well, that's a good lead-in for this next question actually, speaking of soft underbellies. Was there ever something so personal to you that you couldn't express it in music? Something you're saving for later, when it's easier to handle, or something that's just so private it's yours alone?

Regan: Well, I have I have to say that the nice thing about being a drummer is that there's no way you know what I'm thinking when I'm playing. I can pour everything into music and I do. Drumming has always been the way I get through things. When I don't drum, that's when you have to worry about me. Then I'm letting things get pent up and well, I've had a tendency in the past to drown my sorrows in the bottle instead and that's just no good. But Emily as the singer and lyricist, I imagine you have to be more guarded.

Emily: Yeah, I am, but not about the personal stuff that you'd imagine. Like when I'm hurt or angry. I can write about those emotions comfortably, my lyrics aren't always direct, but I know what I'm singing about. I can't write about the things that make me feel really vulnerable though. Like love. True, real, deep love. You won't see me writing a love song. Not one that anyone besides my beloved will hear anyway. That's mine. I can't share that with anyone but him.

Q: I like this uncomfortable line of questioning... Let's try another one. What was the most embarrassing thing to happen to you on tour and where?

Emily: Oh that's an easy one. The show in Seattle where I got totally trashed and ranted about my love life on stage. You simply cannot top that kind of embarrassment. Well unless you get trashed and go on stage often maybe, but I try to avoid that.

Regan: It's an easy one for me too because I never do embarrassing things. I just embarrass Emily and Tom like when I talk about Emily's love life on stage.

Emily: Whatever, Regan! You embarrassed yourself a bunch when we first started touring and meeting bands that we admired. She would either get so tongue-tied or she would stand there and babble to them like a drunken idiot.

Regan: Except I wasn't drunk. I do think Mike Ness from Social Distortion still avoids me though because I kept him cornered for like fifteen minutes just babbling away to him when we first met.

Emily: That is so not the worst of it though. You puked on Moe Tucker's shoes when you met her.

Regan: Yes, I puked on Moe Tucker, the drummer from the Velvet Underground's shoes. That's how I show people how much I respect them by getting so nervous I vomit on their shoes.

Q: I take it she is one of your heroes then because that was another question about which drummers you admire?

Regan: Yes, I love Moe. Her and Sandy West from the Runaways were my earliest influences. I also love the greats like John Bonham and Neil Peart even though it is so unpunk to admit to listening to Rush. Dave Grohl is a real powerhouse, too. And Patti Schemel from Hole. Oh and Sam Maloney who also drummed in Hole AND drummed for Motley Crue. A girl drummer in a cock rock band. That has to be the greatest thing on earth. I would totally do that. I'm just waiting for the invite.

Q: Thanks for the perfect lead-in to another question. If you could play in an already existing band, besides She Laughs, what would it be and why?

Emily: So Regan, I guess your answer is Skid Row or something, huh?

Regan: Maybe more like Guns N Roses. I might be the one person who could keep Axl in line since I've had plenty of practice keeping you in line, Em.

Emily: Ha! Well, I think if I did anything else besides She Laughs it would be because I want to play with all girls. So I'd have to see to join the best all-girl band currently in existence, Civet.

Regan: Hey, I don't really want to play with all boys. If I did they would have to be cool boys like Social D if Mike Ness would ever forgive me. But now I need to one-up, Emily and say I'd form all girl super-group with Courtney Love and Brody Dalle on vox and guitar and Kim Deal on bass.

Emily: Are you saying that Courtney and Brody are better than me?

Regan: I'm saying that I would need both Courtney and Brody to replace you.

Q: Aww, but now Tom is going to think you're going to replace him with Kim Deal.

Regan: We might if he doesn't behave!

Q: Well, I don't want to stir up trouble in your relationship, so lets go back to Social Distortion since they keep coming up. In interviews I've read, you've said that Social Distortion's "Don't Take Me For Granted" is sort of Emily's anthem; so my question is, what song would Regan's anthem be?

Regan: Well, I'd honestly have to say that "Don't Take Me For Granted" is sort of me and Emily's song.

Emily: Awwww!

Regan: Shut up! Anyway an anthem meaning a song that tells the story of my life is hard for me because I'm not always so focused on the lyrics of the song, more the rhythm and the way it makes me feel. So I'm going to answer by saying what my go-to song is, the song I listen to when I need cheering up or to work out my feelings or whatever, and that has always been "Wave of Mutilation" by the Pixies. The rhythm is great, you can dance around the room to it and yet it's about mutilation. I don't know. I think I love the Pixies so much because it's not about the lyrics, at least I can't usually make sense of them, but just the way the songs make you feel is so perfect. Yeah they aren't anthems in the typical sense, in the Emily sense, but in the Regan sense they are because of the vibe of the song, the way it makes you feel.

Q: Cool, okay on to the next question...

Emily: Wait don't I get to answer that one, too?

Q: Well it was for Regan...

Regan: Typical front woman, can't stand to let the drummer talk.

Emily (playfully hitting Regan): Whatever! I just thought that since we determined "Don't Take Me For Granted" was "our" song. I could choose mine. But you are getting more questions than me. You got that one about your drumming influences or whatever.

Q: Well there are some questions that are just for you. They're more personal though, so I thought we'd start on the musical stuff first.

Emily: Ugh, I always get the personal stuff and she gets the musical stuff.

Q: Don't worry, there is personal stuff for her, too. But go ahead and tell us what your anthem is.

Emily: "Ask the Angels" by Patti Smith. Rock 'n' roll is what I'm born to be, baby. Okay, you have some more music stuff for us, I hope. I'm not ready for the inevitable mom and love life questions yet.

Q: We've got a few more musical ones here. If there was one band they could bring back (either from the dead, or put back together) who would it be and why?

Emily and Regan in unison: The Runaways!

Regan: We loved them!

Emily: We lived their songs, a little too literally sometimes. (Singing) "Hello world, I'm your wild girl! I'm your ch ch ch ch ch cherry bomb!"

Regan: I was so completely devastated when Sandy West died. I'm glad we were invited to play at the memorial tribute. It was probably one of the most meaningful concerts we've done. We've done a ton of political fundraiser type concerts and festivals and stuff, but that one mattered the most to me.

Q: Speaking of festivals, which bands and singers would perform at your "dream music festival"?

Emily: A reunited Runaways with Regan filling in on drums.

Regan: Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Social D, my sister's band July Lies.

Emily: But newer bands too. Like Spinnerette, Brody Dalle's new band. I'm dying to check them out. And Rise Against, gotta support Chicago punk.

Regan: Tiger Army and the Horrorpops. Those psychobilly bands are so much fun live.

Emily: And now this is almost all punk. We need more variety.

Regan: How about the Pixies and Sonic Youth and PJ Harvey?

Emily: Good and the White Stripes. When I first heard them, I had such a crush on Jack White. Not like an I'd-cheat-on-my-man-with-him crush, but like an I-wanna-be-him crush. I should amend my "What other bands do you want to be in" answer and say Civet and the White Stripes.

Regan: And Civet needs to play our festival, too.

Emily: Definitely.

Q: Since you're opening up about your Jack White crush, maybe you're almost ready for some personal questions? (Regan shrugs, Emily looks mildly distrustful.) We'll start with a fun one to ease you in. Tell us about a prank you pulled as kids.

Emily (immediately brightening up): Oh my god, where do we begin? There was the time I replaced that bitch Jackie Jenkins shampoo with blue hair dye. She showered at home after cheerleading practice after that.

Regan: Oh but how about our best prank phone call of all time?

Emily and Regan's eyes meet and they in unison: Tom's mother!

Emily: We did this little mini-tour the summer before our senior year--

Regan: Tom's junior year. So he was barely sixteen and his mom hated us, so she totally forbid him to go--

Emily: Even though were just in Madison, Milwaukee and Minneapolis. With Regan's responsible older sister the whole time.

Regan: Marissa is not that responsible. Our parents might have told themselves she was, but not Tom's mom. Not to mention, Marissa was the result of my mother's teen pregnancy, the very thing that most repulsed Tom's mom about my family.

Emily: And we totally played on that.

Regan: Tom was just gonna go on the tour and deal with the consequences when he got home, his usual method of dealing with his mother in regards to the band and me. But we decided that was no fun, so we called her from Madison and told her that Tom and I were up there getting married because Tom knocked me up.

Emily: She was so livid. I didn't think her religion allowed her to call us all those names she called us. She actually told us she was calling the police too and filing some sort of kidnapping report. It freaked us out a little bit, so we didn't tell Tom about it.

Regan: Poor Tom. He always ends up being a prank victim it seems. He had to go through the most embarrassing sex talk in the world when we got home. It's a wonder he didn't break up with me and quit the band.

Emily: On several occasions!

Q: Well now that we are talking about Tom, let's get into these more personal questions.

Note to Readers: SPOILER ALERT!!! If you haven't read IWBYJR quit reading the interview now and go read the book first!

Seriously, QUIT READING if you haven't read the book, there are serious SPOILERS ahead!

Q: Regan, readers want to know is your relationship with Tom still going strong and if so how do you keep the love with your high school sweetheart alive?

Regan: Tom and I have been married for four years now. I did chicken out and break up with him the first time he proposed, so maybe that's the key. Take a break, see what's out there and be reminded that you had the best, then beg him to take you back. Actually, I wouldn't advise that though. That was really painful. Honestly, I think playing music together helps us keep the love alive because it's always triggered such chemistry between us. That and having a sense of humor. Tom's finally gotten into the prank playing thing. It's fun.

Q: Regan, if you ever did have a child what would be some of your top boys and girls' names?

Regan: Tom and I have a three year-old girl, Rose. I liked the name on a few different levels. I think it's a cool name for a girl because roses are beautiful but they can also hurt you with their thorns. My daughter certainly isn't a delicate flower.

Emily (proudly): She slapped a boy in her preschool just last week.

Regan: And Aunt Emily should not encourage such behavior. Rose is also named for Emily in a way because there's this story called "A Rose for Emily."

Emily: Ugh! I hate when she says this! In that story Emily is crazy, she like sleeps next to the body of her deceased lover or something.

Regan: And you're not just the teeniest bit crazy? (Shaking her head at furious look from Emily). Okay, Rose is partially named for Emily because she has the same middle name as Emily, Diana. And I do want to get pregnant again as soon as the band's touring schedule allows for it. I think we want to tour for one more year since we took off last year when Emily had her son and on that note, I'm not sure what we'd name a boy because Emily stole our boy name, Cash.

Emily: Well like you, I wanted a tribute to Johnny Cash and I'm sure as hell not naming a kid Johnny! It's only his middle name anyway so you could still use it. My son is named for the best man on this earth, Michael, for his grandfather.

Q: Speaking of your dad, Emily, I have a couple questions for you about your dad.

Emily: At least they aren't Mom questions. Shoot.

Q: Well the Mom questions are coming, but we'll start with this. Do you feel that a girl misses out on anything specific when being raised by only a father?

Emily: I want to say no, but I'd be lying. My dad gave me everything I needed on so many levels, but sometimes I did just need a woman to talk to. Like about boys. I turned to Molly usually when I needed to, but maybe I wouldn't have made so many mistakes with guys if my mom was around. Well, maybe not my mom, but a mom who could give more sound advice about guys.

Regan: I made guys mistakes and I had an awesome mom.

Emily: Yeah, well, there is that... Maybe it wouldn't have made a big difference. Probably not given my personality, but having a woman to talk to is important. I'm glad I had Molly for that.

Q: Okay, Emily, since every girl marries her father, what are the shining examples of that truth in your man?

Emily: Well as much as I love my man and even though we have a beautiful child together, I'm not marrying him. Maybe it's a leftover fear-of-love thing that stems from my parents' relationship, but I think moreso it's just that I don't like doing things the traditional way. And Ian accepts that. Like my dad, he accepts me completely for who I am. He's also kind of on the quiet side like my dad, but when he has a point to get across he can make me listen. Most of all, he has the same honest creative passion as my dad. For my dad, it's music, for Ian, it's photography. My dad taught me almost everything I know about music and now Ian's teaching me a ton about photography

Q: Emily, where are you living and why?

Emily: In Chicago. It was always the city I claimed for myself. Growing up in Carlisle, I clung to the idea that I was born in Chicago and from a real city. I love being in the midst of all the busy-ness in the city. But I do need a break from it sometimes. Both Ian and I were raised in the country. We have a farmhouse not to far from River's Edge where we go to escape and hang with our families and I record most of my music there because that is just where my music has always come from. It's funny how before Chicago was the escape and now the Carlisle area is.

Q: Okay, here comes the big unavoidable questions. Everyone wants to know, Emily, if Louisa has tried to make contact with you and if you stay in contact with her at all? And, Regan, if your mom is in touch with Louisa.

Emily (sighing): See, I can write songs about this stuff without having to really be obvious about my feelings. It's still hard to just straight up talk about my mom. Yeah, she sent my dad and me a letter. And I didn't read it or her notebooks for over two years. My dad kept his distance a bit at first, too, because he didn't want to go against my feelings or whatever. But I told him to go ahead and talk to her, have his closure, work things out, whatever he needed. And their relationship, well, that's their business and I won't really get into that here. Molly and my mom write and talk all the time. They need each other, just like Regan and me. So yeah, when I was finally ready to look at Louisa's letters and her notebooks, Molly was the one I sat down with. Maybe it was more of that weird, emotional girly stuff you need a mother figure for, but probably it was just because my dad has his own shit with Louisa and it is just way too emotional the two of us combined. Anyway, Molly helped me process, Louisa's letters and the notebooks. And I actually wrote like six or seven letters to Louisa with my response to her. Some of them were angry, some of them were sad, one of them was even a total "I forgive you, come home and let's be a family" letter. I put a sticky note on top of all the letters that said, "Clearly I don't know how the fuck I feel about you and you're just going to have to deal with that for right now." And she wrote me back and said she'd deal with it however I wanted to deal with it. So there were letters for another year, then finally there was a phone call and now I see her every once in awhile. Our first meeting was at a bar in New Orleans which seems appropriate, don't you think? She's still kind of nomadic, but obviously so am I with touring and everything. Meeting in places outside of Carlisle and Chicago works for us, it's like meeting in neutral territory. She's come to Chicago once though to see her grandson. Yeah, so that's that.

Well, there you have it. Now there is no need for a sequel, right? Or maybe there is plenty of room for a sequel. Only time will tell. And if I do someday decide to write a sequel, I reserve the right to completely change all of this. This was just my first instinct of where I thought Emily and Regan would be 9 years after the book. Feel free to leave a comment on how you imagined Emily and Regan 9 years after IWBYJR because now that the book is out there, it is just as much yours as mine and I always think the story is best left up to your interpretation.

I gotta say, I had wayyyyy too much fun doing that interview. I hope it was fun for you too. Now feel free to comment away about it because here is the fabulous prize that one lucky winner will receive:
Since I didn't have any She Laughs memorabilia, I wanted to give you a piece of my biggest rock star moment. This is a big poster from the event I did at the Metro a month ago. It is signed by me, Irvine Welsh, and Bill Hillmann. Now Bill and I aren't very famous (yet!), but obviously signed Irvine memorabilia is a big thing. The Metro will be auctioning these off for charity at some point. But you can win one right here by leaving a comment. I will choose a winner at random two weeks from today on October 29th when I host Kelly Parra, author of the amazing book Invisible Touch which just came out yesterday (but I read an ARC and I can tell you it is soooooooooo good!)

Yes, I did say Kelly will be here two weeks from today. Next week I am taking the week off from blogging (except at MTV Books where I'll be Monday and Teen Fiction Cafe where I'll be sometime next week because I'm due up on those group blogs) to get some hard work done on my 3rd book! I love blogging but if I don't take a week off here and there you guys won't get more books and that would make us all sad.

Hope to see some of you at the Wisconsin Book Festival this weekend! And a big shout-out to everyone who was at the Forest Park Public Library last night, especially all the teens who came out. It was one of my most fun events yet!

GCC Presents: Stacy DeKeyser!

Okay before we meet the fabulous Stacy DeKeyser, I just want to remind you that today (or perhaps it's tomorrow? It says vote by October 15th, not entirely sure when that means voting ends) is the last day to vote for I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE as the Best Book of 2008 on the Venus Hottt List! It would mean the world to me if my little punk rock book actually won out against some of the bestsellers (or at least finished well!) so please go vote here!

Now, the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit presents Stacy DeKeyser and her suspense thriller YA, JUMP THE CRACKS. Here is what the book is all about and what people are saying about it:

A 15-year-old girl is accused of kidnapping when she finds an abandoned child on a train and then hides him from his abusive father. Soon she's on a cross-country journey with the boy, as each "right" decision gets her deeper into trouble -- and farther away from home. Victoria has vowed to protect the little boy no matter what. But can she keep that promise? Fast-paced suspense about a determined girl who becomes both rescuer and abductor of a child at risk.

"Bracingly realistic….With a combination of lively adventure and humane treatment of its characters, this is an absorbing and emotionally effective read." — BCCB

"Strong characters and fast-paced action." — VOYA

"Thought-provoking....Introspective tweeners will find plenty to chew on." — Booklist

"Teens are sure to find this an interesting read." — School Library Journal

It sounds like a great book and very unique premise to me! You can find out more about the book at Stacy's website and visit her on MySpace or LiveJournal, but today she is here to answer my usual questions for the Girlfriends!

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

Stacy: I'm so bad with specific songs. I love to listen to music, but I don't really listen, if that makes sense. I just let it soak into the air and my brain. But here are two oldies that would fit:

You Are My Sunshine (because that's what Victoria sings to Wills in the book)
Homeward Bound by Simon & Garfunkel

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

Stacy: She likes singers like Christina Aguilerra and Fergie.

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

Stacy: I'm really into Celtic/punk/rock bands like the Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly. But I can't usually listen to them while I'm writing! They're great bill-paying music, though. :)

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?

Stacy: I need background music, but it has to be instrumental or I'll listen to the lyrics instead of my own writing. I like traditional Celtic music or classical baroque while I'm writing.

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

Stacy: I guess it's nature and the outdoors. I love hiking, biking, raking leaves...any outdoor activity where there's lots of trees and grass.

So Stacy's a Flogging Molly fan, yet another reason for me to buy her book! I hope you'll go check out JUMP THE CRACKS today too!

Monday, October 13, 2008

<3 Madison <3

Thursday night I'm heading off to Madison, Wisconsin to be a part of the Wisconsin Book Festival. I read on Saturday the 18th at 4 pm at A Room of One's Own (my all-time favorite bookstore in Madison!) which is at 307 W. Johnson St. for anyone who is in the area and interested in coming out. This reading is going to be extra special for me for a variety of reasons. One, since IWBYJR is set in Southern Wisconsin, I have been really eager to get up there and do an event. I am hugely honored that I was selected to be a part of the huge annual humanities event that is the Wisconsin Book Festival. Two, Chelsie and Justinne, who are my MySpace friends, street team members and just all around awesome girls are going to come to the event! Three, some of my friends from Madison who I haven't seen in years will be there.

I've started doing some press for my event, which has made me extra nostalgic for the Mad Town. Here is an interview with their alt-weeklie the Isthmus and here you will find a podcast of a radio interview I did with Madison's Progressive Talk Radio Station, 92.1 (I am in segments 1 and 2 of the 10/12/08 Sunday Journal program.) Check them out, it should get you hyped up if you are coming to see me this weekend or fill the void if you can't. (Though if you are in Chicago, you have the opportunity to see me tomorrow, the 14th at 7 pm at the Forest Park Public Library at 7555 Jackson in Forest Park, so please come to that!)

But now I want to reflect on Madison in my own way. I've seriously missed the place. It was my home for two and a half years and at the time it felt more like a home than Chicago had ever been. For a while, I had mixed emotions about Madison. I still loved the place intensely (how could you not, look at how beautiful it is in that photo above), but I had too many bad memories. My last year in Madison is a blur of substance abuse and arguments with my boyfriend-at-the-time. I had to get out of there in order to gain control of my life, to stay alive, which is ironic considering that in the zine I wrote on my typewriter on top of a TV tray in my first apartment in Madison I talk about how I didn't have to die to get out of Oak Park like I always thought I might. I guess that's not really irony though, just an illustration that running to a new town didn't solve my problems. It provided temporary relief, but until I turned and faced them I would never really get to where I am today.

But this isn't about that. This is about what I loved about Madison, about what I'm so eager to revisit. Other than a quick stop for my favorite soup at Himul Chuli and a pit stop at East Towne Mall's food court on two occasions when I was on the way back from Northern Wisconsin, I haven't been back to Madison since right after the unfortunate re-election of George W. Bush (and my memory of that visit is rather blurred due to consuming way way way too many "Fuck Bush!" shots with Kevin). So almost four years. Hope is on the horizon for our country with Obama ahead in the polls. He stands for change and lots has changed for me personally. I'm in a healthy relationship. My past is firmly my past. I've learned from my mistakes and now Madison can just be Madison. The city I fell in love with at 17, my place of hope and change.

I graduated high school a semester early because I felt I needed to escape from my hometown. Fortunately my dear friend Tai felt the same way. So we moved into a one-bedroom apartment on Wilson Street in downtown Madison. In January. When we moved in, the parking lot was full of snow and I had a sprained ankle. My best friend Katie helped us move. She was a year younger than me hence her not moving with me because otherwise I certainly would have begged her to. When she and my mom left and our phone wasn't working (this was before cell phones) and I realized I was in this strange place with just one friend and my cat, both of whom had only been in my life for a little over a year, I started to sob. I was scared to death. Tai comforted me, of course. She's always been braver and wiser and more put together. And we started to unpack and get settled into our new world.

Tai turned the living room into her bedroom. My bedroom consisted of futon, stereo, music collection, and typewriter. All the essentials. We didn't have a computer, so instead of emailing friends we wrote letters. We had an antique TV that we watched movies on occassionally (rented from Four Star Video Heaven, the best video rental place EVER), but mostly we read and wrote zines and journaled and healed. My cat, Sid, prowled the place. He especially liked to sleep on top of the kitchen cabinets. I went fully vegan then because Tai was vegan as well and she taught me the art of vegan cooking. I remember buying soy milk by the case and making potato soup by the vat. We were two blocks from a small playground that overlooked Lake Monona. We'd walk there waiting for the snow to melt so we could play and for the ice to melt on the Lake.

We tried to get jobs at some of the cool little stores on State Street, though we wouldn't succeed. We had high hopes to work at a book store or a record store or a movie theatre, but Tai ended up working at a gas station and me at a small grocery store where all the other cashiers were UW students who worked part-time. The only other non-student was this guy in his thirties who had an unfortunate mullet (he was already balding) and played Vampire: the Gathering live role playing games. He liked to flirt with me, which was creepy, seeing as I was 17, which everyone knew because I'd had to go to elaborate lengths to prove I'd graduated high school to get the job because Madison had some sort of law about people under 18 working forty hours a week. I was pretty desperate to get that job because the only other one I'd almost gotten was as a hotel maid. The head housekeeper who looked older than my mother, but probably was still in her thirties told me she wouldn't give me the job because it would completely break my spirit. The conversation we had about maid work in a room that basically amounted to a custodial closet has led me to tip maids very, very well.

But back to that first day of job-hunting on State Street. I remember taking a break to see the People Vs. Larry Flynt at the Orpheum Theatre. This beautiful old movie house from the vaudeville days. It wasn't your average cineplex, it was so huge it doubled as a concert venue. That January day, Tai and I had completely to ourselves, furthering that feeling that Madison was our own little world.

We also stopped to eat the best dahl soup in the world at Himul Chuli, which we always just referred to as "the Nepalese place." It's still my favorite restaurant in Madison, though there was a great vegan restaurant on Willy Street (short for Williamson), in the hippie neighborhood where I always wanted to live but Tai and I couldn't afford it and after that I was too goth to admit I wanted to live among hippies. They also had a great co-op though, but the one near our apartment was pretty good, too. I remember the giant vegan cupcakes fondly. Oh, and Mother Fools, the coffee shop on Willy Street, where Tai and I would play board games and eat vegan desert. Our adventures were so simple then. The coffee shop. The grocery store. The Nepalese place. The late night drives out into the country, picking random County Highways to drive along, the glimpses of small, rural towns that would eventually inspire my book. One time we stopped into a bar to see if we could get away with ordering a drink. I don't remember if we did or not.

Drinking was not a big thing for the first three months of the six we lived there. We'd rather have parties with vegan desserts, like when we had a birthday party for Sid and made a tasty treat called Tiger Balls that involved peanut butter, chocolate and graham crackers and though years later when we were living together again we searched desperately for the recipie, we couldn't find it. Once we had a "Queen is Dead" party, which basically involved listening to that Smiths album and jumping on Tai's bed and chasing Sid around the house. There is a picture of us looking flushed and holding up plastic Care Bears cups that you'd probably think contained booze, but no, it was water. Back then clubbing was limited to seeing Sleater-Kinney at O'Cayz Corral (and meeting them! We took pictures with them and gave them our zines and felt like we'd just had the hugest celebrity encounter ever!) and drinking was limited to Mai Tais at the Phoenix Dragon (at least I think that was the name, it closed a couple years after I left) our favorite Chinese place on East Washington that never carded even though I definitely looked seventeen and though Tai was eighteen, she looked twelve. We'd get buzzed off of one drink and once Tai forgot to put her headlights on when we left and we got pulled over and were scared to death, but the cop just smiled at us and asked us to turn on our lights because we wouldn't want to be mistaken for those bad kids who spent their weekends "cruising" on East Wash. Ah, Madison, so innocent compared to our Chicago where the problem with kids and cars was driveby shootings.

Madison was innocent and we were innocent up until about halfway through when we let this homeless goth boy move in with us for a week and at the end of that week we went to Inferno. A real club. 21 and over. Where we weren't supposed to go in. I remember Ryel (one of those dear friends I am so incredibly eager to see this weekend), who was also our age and dating a DJ who worked there, showing us the basement, where we were supposed to go if the place got raided. That first night, Tai and I were so naive we didn't know what to order at a real bar where we couldn't just get Mai Tai's like the Chinese place or wine, which was the limit of my drinking experience of the time. So we ordered a vodka and cranberry and split it. Tai woke up that night to find the homeless goth boy we'd invited into our home fucking this skanky girl right next to her bed. Innocence was over.

That's not to say that the good times were over too. We met new people, sure some would become exs who we still can't really speak of as friends, but some remain very dear like Kevin and Ryel and then there are those that I loved and miss and only get to talk to now and then via MySpace, Facebook and what-have-you: Sigrid, Kelly, Erika, Amy, Jeffrey... There were adventures at Inferno and the cemetary GR and that lake in Cambridge with the playground and the graveyard. And goth went from being something that interested me/music I enjoyed to a lifestyle and it was both good and bad. And maybe I shouldn't have moved back to Madison after I dropped out of college. Maybe those six months with Tai in the Wilson Street apartment were all I was meant to have, but I had to return because there was so much I loved and so much I still do. But these memories of Madison that I just shared, those are the ones that are really my heart.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Weekend excitement, good tunes, and favors to ask

Weekend Excitement
Tonight I am attempting to go to two events and be home by midnight, goddess help me. Today is Kelly's birthday (happy birthday, Kelly!) so there is a birthday shindig and then one of my favorite authors in the world (and he's a good drinking buddy too) John McNally is in town. He's reading at this super sweet event called the Windy City Story Slam tonight at Chinaski's in Chicago (1935 N. Damen for anyone else who wants to go). He's also reading tomorrow at the Tamale Hut Cafe (8300 W. Cermak in North Riverside), but of course I have to work. I'm trying to convince him to come drink at the Beacon afterwards though. (Hint hint: this means if you come to the Beacon you could hang out with more than one author, woo hoo! So come to the Beacon, dammit! I need more good business and less weirdos who cause fights!)

Then Sunday I am going to the first of two tours of my local cemetery. Why? Well, not just because it's Halloween season and I'm spooky like that. Forest Home Cemetery which is right in my neighborhood is actually a very historic cemetery. There is a tribute to the Haymarket Marytrs there and Emma Goldman and other anarchists are buried in Dissenter's Row. Then there's Adolph Luetgert the Sausage King of Chicago who supposedly turned his wife into sausage ala Sweeney Todd and female serial killer Belle Gunness, though those may or may not be her remains depending on if she faked her death! See all kinds of cool history to learn about and turn into fodder for novels and newspaper columns. I think this weekend's tour is going to be the straight up historical stuff and next weekend will be the fun tour with costumed reenactments and stuff. Yeah, I'm a nerd. A spooky nerd who loves that there are more dead people than living folks in her town.

Good Tunes
Today I picked up the new Rise Against album (at my local record store because A. I like to support local businesses over iTunes and B. I like to have the physical cd with the liner notes, etc to look at even though I'm just gonna put it on my iPod) and I am enjoying it immensely. It seems to have the perfect balance of political songs and songs about being the heartbroken, kinda messed up misfit kid. When I was a teenager I'd get kinda pissy when my favorite bands got popular, but now I'm thrilled. I like it when talented people with smart things to say get a larger audience because I hope it makes people think. Now I just want to hear Civet on the radio...

Speaking of good tunes, you can learn all about my favorite songs in this awesome interview that Harmony did with me. It's another really cool creative interview and you should all check it out because Harmony is awesome. She didn't ask me for a political song and if she had I might have chosen a Propagandhi song like "Apparently I'm a PC Fascist", but now I might have to pick Collapse (Post-Amerika) by Rise Against...

So if you are bored this weekend and an I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE fan, I'd like to ask you to do me a couple favors...

1. As you may have read, I am doing a fictional Women Who Rock Wednesday interview next week in honor of Teen Read Week. I am interview my own characters, Emily Black and Regan Parker of the band She Laughs. But I need interview questions!!! So if there is anything at all you were curious about maybe backstory, maybe what happens next (because remember we are now almost 9 years past when the book ended!), maybe basic things like do Emily and Regan have tattoos or just pretend you are from Rolling Stone and you have the opportunity to interview one of your favorite bands. ANYTHING! Just get them into me (either via comment or emailed to stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot com) by the end of the day on Sunday and I'll choose about ten of them and interview the girls, okay?

2. We are nearing the end of the voting for Venus Zine's Hottt List. I am still hopefully that maybe just maybe with your help that my little punk rock book can beat those bestseller heavyweights like David Sedaris, so please, go vote for IWBYJR here!

Okay, have a fabulous weekend!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Deborah Frost!

Yay, it's Wednesday! The day when I get to spotlight one of the many women whose art (be it music, painting, writing, whatever!) rocks my world. Today I am honored to feature the legendary musician and writer, Deborah Frost. I discovered Deborah and her music with her band the Brain Surgeons via MySpace, which as she addresses later is a great way to be able to discover really meaningful music without having to deal with the all the gatekeepers put in place by the music industry. Deborah gave me one of the most in depth, insightful interviews I've gotten so far on WWRW. It's a long read, but a really, really good one. I gotta say she completely schooled me on so much in this one interview, and I hope you learn as much from it as I did. As usual, please leave a comment about anything this interview made you reflect on and you will be entered to win a signed copy of the Brain Surgeons album Denial of Death and possibly some more Brain Surgeons swag! I'll announce the winner (chosen at random from all comments across all three of my blogs) next Wednesday.

But before I let Deborah take over the show, a couple quick announcements. Khyrinthia from blogger is the winner of the Liz Adams grab bag and painting! Please email me at stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot com with your mailing address and I will pass it on to Liz!

Also the fabulous Eli and Rae from nineseveneight reviews did possibly the most interesting interview with me ever, so you will want to check that out here.

Lastly, as I announced last week, in celebration of Teen Read Week, next week, I'm letting you interview my characters Emily and Regan from I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE! This is your chance to find out any backstory (or what happens next!) that you were wondering about for those characters and their band She Laughs. I haven't gotten many questions yet and I need your participation in order for this to work, so please leave your questions as comments or email them to stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot com by Sunday!

But now without further adieu, the amazing Deborah Frost!!!

Q: It's an honor to have you on the blog for WWRW because as a Harvard-educated woman who not only plays music as part of the Brain Surgeons, but also writes about it, I think you can give us an interesting perspective on women's role in rock music throughout the years, but let's start with you. When did you start playing music? Did you come from a musically inclined family or discover it on your own?

Deborah: Thanks, it's great to be here. My parents were incredible music lovers-- their first Manhattan apartment, in fact, was next to a conservatory where you could hear everyone playing right through the walls and out of the windows, so I was exposed to this constantly before I was even born. My mother has always played the piano-- not on that level-- but there was always music and my parents were always going to the Philharmonic and the Opera. If my mother was home, it wasn't Sunday without the live broadcast from the Met blasting through the house-- they had a really good stereo system set up practically as soon as they were invented. Now mother probably goes to as many concerts as any critic-- though she only goes to what she likes! Leonard Bernstein had these Young Peoples' Concerts, and I was taken to them as a very young child in Carnegie Hall-- before Lincoln Center existed. And then I went to the New York City Ballet alot-- and not just the "Nutcracker"-- and what could be more fabulous than Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky-- and everything that Balanchine set his dances to. This was basically the soundtrack of my childhood. And then there were the Broadway musicals of the era--of course Leonard Bernstein wrote some of em-- by the time I was 9 or 10, I was incredibly into them. This was also the moment when Broadway musicals were great and not mish-mashed out by Andrew Lloyd Webber or Elton John. Not that Elton John hasn't been great-- especially his earliest stuff-- but not when he's connecting dots for Disney. I would spend hours singing and acting out all of the parts of "The Sound of Music" or "West Side Story" in my living room-- to this day, I can probably do most of them for you on the spot. I was thrilled when they had Sound of Music--because it had kids as characters-- but somehow I knew I'd never get a gig as one of these little Austrian blondes-- and believe me, I thought about it. Although I didn't start auditioning for anything til I was old enough to take the train by myself, I was very, very driven when I was really young and was always trying to figure out how I would get into some kind of Broadway show--or even, God forgive me, the Micky Mouse Club-- but in my day, there wasn't very much else on television, especially for kids.

I actually started going to my mother's piano lessons when I was about three-- which is when I also taught myself to read. So I thought it was just like another form of reading-- unfortunately, my sightreading has not improved too much since. Maybe it was something with the left hand-- it either got to be too much work or I lost interest and decided I'd rather jump around in a little leotard or ride ponies or whatever, and my mother was probably just as happy to have her music lessons back to herself-- though I was later in the school orchestra--playing the clarinet. I was really pissed off that they wouldn't allow me to play drums, which was my first choice-- it wasn't for girls. And by the time I was in high school, I studied classical singing and my teacher was really heartbroken that I didn't want to pursue opera. But frankly, I couldn't stand the idea of wearing a dress! Not to mention how rigid the roles were, and you had to sing exactly what was written and by the time I was in high school, I'd already been writing my own songs-- as well as alot of other things-- even if not a lot of people heard them-which was probably just as well-- for years. Probably as soon as I heard the Beatles write their own songs, I wanted to, too. But I actually have gone back and studied more formal singing again. Actually, James Hetfield, who is an awesome vocalist and has developed so much in general as a singer and musician, gave me the idea-- and I did it at first for the same reason he did, because I was concerned about blowing my voice out and just being more prepared for night after night. It's just like dealing with any other set of muscles-- and it's basically really painful when you hurt yourself and as you get older, it just gets harder to recover. And it's just not fun-- especially when you're concerned about giving people a good show. And if it's not fun, what's the point? You have to really love this or there's no way to do it night after night-- whether you're making money or not making money, or playing stadiums or dives. Because you have to do it under so many adverse conditions before you even get to the point where you might possibly break even, never mind make money, that that is really not that important-- and it's never motivated anyone I've ever seen become really successful-- and stay that way, which is even harder-- and I've seen alot.

But as for singing, I studied with a really great teacher here in New York, Leslie Giammanco, who's also a great opera singer and performer, she's done Broadway, the whole bit, and she also happens to be a friend and neighbor, which is particularly good for me, because I'm so lazy I hardly like to get out of my bathrobe and go anywhere. But what's ironic when I look back now is that as a teenager, I wanted the world and I wanted it now---of course I still want it NOW- but I didn't really want to take the time it would take to develop as a classical singer, I wanted to get right out there and scream with a rock band-- and what's funny is that I really didn't evolve as a singer--or anything else-- until I was probably the same age I would have been to hit my stride in any other genre or make my debut at the Met, lol. But growing up, popular music was not such a big deal-- though for some reason, I had the Doris Day single of "Que Será, Será" and also, when I was about three, I was in the restaurant of the Biltmore Hotel in Palm Beach with my parents led by the bandleader who'd played my parents' wedding and I got up and I will never forget, it's such a vivid, indelible memory-- I didn't really come up to the first bend of the stand up bass-- I got up on the stage and sang "Que Será, Será" and the people in this huge fancy restaurant, maybe it was a ballroom, all clapped. And that was it-- I was hooked. On clapping. Maybe it had nothing to do with music.

Q: No doubt you have been an influence on numerous women in rock, but who were your early influences? And which women (in music, art, writing, any creative field) are you really inspired by lately?

Deborah: You don't want this interview to be longer than War & Peace, do you? In terms of rock, for me, the major, major thing was the Beatles. Elvis had come along earlier-- but as a child I was basically repulsed by him-- and there was no reason for me, coming from where I came from, not to be. It wasn't until much later that I appreciated his music. But as I've said before, most of the girls I knew immediately had the response that they wanted to be one of the Beatles' girlfriends-- I wanted to be THEM. In fact, really early on, when I was 9 or 10, I was trying to figure out how I could sing with myself-- and be like John and Paul TOGETHER-- my father got a Wollensack tape recorder and I couldn't figure out why I couldn't figure out how to make it multitrack--of course I didn't even know the name for it then. It wasn't until I heard Todd Rundgren--at which point I was about 17-- and learned how he did Something/Anything on a Teac 4 track--one of the first that was available for home use-- and recognized that was what I'd been trying to do--and of course, as soon as I could, I went out and got one of those. This is also why I called one of my first bands the Imaginary Playmates-- cause it was based on this idea of me singing and doing all the stuff myself. Of course I also didn't realize that you also needed a mixer or a preamp--and basically I decided pretty much then that the technology part was not what I was most passionate about and someone else could be the engineer! But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Anyway, at first with the Beatles--and the Stones-- and most of the British Invasion--well, you'll notice there were no women influences, because there were NO women! Except maybe, Petula Clark. And I'm not ashamed to admit that I liked her too--I may still have the single of "Downtown" somewhere. But I appreciated good, well crafted pop-- and I still do. But another HUGE influence was Motown-- but it wasn't just the Supremes, or Martha and the Vandellas--I don't know that I would call them "women influences" just because they were biologicallly women. I was just completely into the songwriting and the sound, the beat. And of course, Phil Spector's production of the Ronettes-and people who imitated him-- or them--like the Shangri Las-- but with groups like that--even though I was too young to articulate it and there certainly wasn't a WHOLE lot of information disseminated--- I mean, there was 16 Magazine--which I devoured RELIGIOUSLY- as soon as I discovered it- but that was more fan nonsense--not that I cared--I was just so into this whole world that I wanted to see it and get as much of it as possible. But I also had other people who lived with--and/or worked for my family-- and I probably began hanging out with them a lot more than with my mother-- who had three younger kids to deal with and probably didn't even notice-- and music was something really vital that we shared. I would spend hours in the basement while my Southern housekeeper did the laundry, just listening to R&B radio and talking-- I could really identify with that character in Tony Kushner's Caroline or Change-- cause I thought, for the first time, that is, in a sense, me! But I was very influenced, early on, by R&B-- and for me, the music I truly, truly love--that resonates most personally and emotionally for me, always has some element of blues and soul-- which is one of the things that separates me and say, Robert Plant, with whom I've had this conversation, and really helped me clarify it all for me-- from, say, people like Metallica--as much as I admire them-- or Joan Jett, much as I love her. They're just a little too white. At the end of the day, as far as I'm concerned, Aretha Franklin IS and will probably always be, the voice of God.

Yet at the same moment, we also had an au pair from Belfast, Maureen Simpson, who I adored--and I was shattered when she had to go back to Ireland under somewhat mysterious circumstances and I know she came back and settled in White Plains and got married and had a few kids-- I saw her one day on a corner but we didn't really get a chance to exchange info--in any case, she knew where I lived-- but I've always wondered what's become of her--so if anyone out there knows---she had a brother Terrence, who was my penpal for years and another named Liam (William)-- her mother would knit incredible sweaters for us at Christmas--and she also exposed me to the plight of what was going on in Ireland-- which is something that at 9 or 10 I certainly would not have been exposed to otherwise-- it was not exactly front page news in the Times-- and something that has really been a concern of mine since. In fact, she got me very into Catholicism-- of course my mother was horrified to find my counting rosary beads and sprinkling holy water on myself-- and I was so into the entire megillah that I was ready to convert--until I realized that you couldn't jump into the baptismal font and come out immediately as Joan of Arc!

That was not the deal I wanted.

But in terms of rock, the first woman I heard singing a rock song was Grace Slick. "White Rabbit"-- and I can tell you exactly where I was, just like I can tell you where I was when I first heard Eric Burdon doing "House of the Rising Sun"-- which had almost as profound an effect. And it was very earth shattering for me. Mind blowing, if you'll pardon the expression. And then came Janis-- who was so clearly ripping her heart and her throat out on every song, which is really what I was determined to do too--for a long time-- even when I wasn't necessarily singing. If I were just writing a piece-- everything was beyond full-throttle--if there wasn't blood, fairly literally on every page--I wasn't trying hard enough. You can imagine what a joy I was for any editor. I cannot believe some of the things I did, and I really can't believe I survived any of them. Sometimes I wake up and I'm just amazed that I'm here.

As for other fields-- well there is so much literature that I've devoured, and SO many writers who've stimulated and inspired me, it's impossible to start. And I really hate classifying anything in terms of male/female anything--great art transcends that stupid kind of classification. Why not ask who my favorite Black or Asian writers--or artists with blonde hair or need wheelchairs or who are short fat Jews with an eyepatch? I would resent being looked at or categorized that way, so frankly, my gut feeling is I don't even want to participate in what I consider to be a completely idiotic enterprise. I mean you don't WRITE or paint or make music with your- or any--dick (unless you're some total chest thumping moron who participates in some fairly primitive derivative crappy metal or pseudo rock noise that has nothing to do with any art form, it's just monkey see-monkey do). So my gut feeling is that I don't even want to participate in that kind of discussion or even privilege that question. I think it should be outlawed. And if I were queen, I would!

Shakespeare influenced me, JD Salinger influenced me, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, Raymond Carver, the list goes on and on and on, I don't even know where to start. The Bible influenced me, numerous classical thinkers-- there are a lot of historians I've been into at various points. Alot of junk has influenced me too! AS for female writers-- everyone from Louisa May Alcott, Edith Wharton, Dorothy Parker, Virginia Woolf, Djuna Barnes, Jean Stafford, Sylvia Plath, Ann Sexton, whose daughter was a good friend of mine at school- it's endless. Jane Jacobs, who was not a fiction writer, was a huge influence on me. Grace Paley was massive. But sometimes if I have the time to go back to someone I simply could not get enough at some other point in my life--well, it's interesting to see if their voices still resonate in the same way. Paula Fox-- Courtney Love's biological grandmother-- who came to writing fairly later, as a fullblown human being--- her adult novels- as well as the way they relate to her memoir which allows you to really see how she was able to transcend the circumstances of her life and transform it into art-- incredible. If I could figure out how to do that, I would be happy. She's a tremendous artist. It's also amazing how the craziness of the women in this family has been passed on and the same patterns repeated through at least four generations, even when these people had no idea--due to being literally abandoned by their mothers in one way or another that they were biologically related. It's astounding. If Courtney Love has one functioning brain cell or iota of talent, you can see exactly where it came from--- as well as her insanity. If you're talking about contemporary writers, I went through a massive
Ann Beattie phase in my impressionable youth-- and I met her and hung out with her-- she was a friend of a friend who was also a teacher of mine-- to me that was a much bigger deal than ANY rock star-- and believe me, I've encountered quite a few--John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page--you name em, I've probably bumped into 'em somewhere along this strange wild trip. It was even weirder when someone I knew had been her first husband and later was married to another pretty decent writer called me up when he found himself suddenly single and got my number from an editor after supposedly liking some piece I wrote somewhere. I was beyond flattered-- but I was so in love with the idiot I am unfortunately still married to I don't think I gave him the time of day. Joan Didion was a major, major influence upon my younger years-- I was similarly awestruck upon meeting her, and likewise Nora Ephron, another major total idol. And her sister Delia is no slouch either. And she and her husband Jerry are just terrific hosts and just super wonderful, lovely people who help restore my faith in humanity, period.

But I've also spent I alot of time surrounded by and studying fine art-- whether in my own home, family friends' homes--I've really been privileged to have been exposed to alot of amazing, museum quality work in pretty intimate settings and not just in the great museums of the world, where I've also spent a lot of time. For me, communing with art is basically a religious experience-- though not a substitute for other kinds of spiritual practice, searching or reflection-- it's one of my most favorite and most private things to do. And there are many women artists-- Frida Kahlo, what's not to like?-- who I appreciate tremendously-- from Berthe Morrisot, Helen Morgenthaler and the tragic, perhaps underappreciated Camille Claudel (unfortunately the subject of one of the world's most boring French movies).

But there are also artists I adore-- Matisse, Klimt-- that give me a greater appreciation and understanding of female beauty and in fact, it is these great artists who can make you-- or anyone with half a brain-- see women as not as any kind of object or merely reflection of their own "male gaze," that favorite feminist saw. Rather they glorify the souls of their subjects.
Perhaps my favorite artist of all time is Van Gogh-- but its my identification with his suffering rather than his sex, which frankly means nothing to me.

As people who really inspire me right now-- Allison Anders may be my favorite filmmaker of all time, although she may not have as great a body of work as Truffaut, Spielberg, Howard Hawks, there are a lot of great filmmakers of all stripes whose work I love. It's funny though, I read an interview with Allison Anders-- which is what may have first really gotten me into her work-- because her first stuff--like Border Radio, which people loved--was fairly crude, by my standards, and I know this is blasphemy in certain circles, not that I won't blaspheme in ANY circle--but I was never into the whole X scene, and I sort of associated Border Radio with that LA punk vibe-- really, it took me a long time to even appreciate the Minutemen-- and I sort of came to it backwards, via my friendship with Mike Watt-- by the time these people all came along, I was a little more developed musically and not into that whole ilk. But anyway, I read an interview with Allison Anders, and the way she spoke about and related to music-- I almost thought I was reading about or hearing myself-- only these words were coming out of the mouth of a woman who grew up-- and is actually only 363 days younger than I am, though I think she's WAY more mature--maybe having a kid at 17 has something to do with it-- in practically Appalachia, in a completely different-you would think-- physical culture or aspect of the American landscape. And yet rock served very much the same purpose for her as it did for me-- which also involves coping with some very intense pain and personal tragedy. And she's been able to transform her own experience into some incredible art--I see things that other people may not even in her "flops," like Grace of My Heart-- but this is a whole other topic, which hopefully I'll get to explore in further depth at some other time. Things Behind the Sun-- which she didn't write, Kurt Voss did--but I think HE's best when he's channeling her-- is actually my favorite. I met her in Seattle, and did something I can't imagine myself ever doing to anyone else, which is literally kissing her hand, and calling her "Goddess." Of course, she acted as if she were very used to it.

As for musicians-- well of course, Joni Mitchell may be one of the most brilliant singer/songwriters of all time-- and also one of the bigger crackpots. And even though that "Shine" is utter shit, you can't take away her countless masterpieces-- any more than you can Mick Jagger and Keith Richards' or Paul McCartney's, no matter how dopey their latest rehashes-or excuses to go back out on the megatour-might be. Joan Armatrading has written some of my favorite songs. Jill Sobule, Amy Rigby, Lucinda Williams I love-- even though you might never hear it in my own music, and are not necessarily people who work within relatively the same genre I do, which will probably always be much more of a hard rock, maybe even metal-oriented thing. Though, really, I hate and resent labels of any kind. I think they're for lazy people-- and people who are lazy in a different way than I may occasionally be-- which has more to do with getting out of my bathrobe than anything else. It's not intellectual laziness. I just would rather waste less time getting dressed-- or UNdressed, as the case might be.
Joan Jett interests and fascinates and inspires me-- maybe just in terms of sheer work ethic-- more now than she ever did, for a whole variety of reasons. I remember talking to her, probably Kim Fowley set it up-- I don't even remember if the Runaways record had even been released-- and I just thought she was a snotty--well, I don't know if you could even call it snotty-- it was probably more just inarticulate-- punk kid. Cute, but not even that cute-- maybe it was just that she didn't seem all that bright. She seems much brighter now. But she was what, all of 15. I was maybe 19. I didn't think she was much of a musician, she didn't appreciate Fanny-- who I was very into, just musician-wise, at that point. I think the songs she wrote with Kathleen Hanna, which she's been playing for what, the last ten years now-- but then again, her whole thing is not really about doing new--or for that matter, even original, music-- and these are really some of the most original things she's done-- esp. because she's not re-writing Eddie Cochran--or the Who doing Eddie Cochran-- let's face it-- "Bad Reputation" is her "My Generation." But you what, you look at her audience-- and the people she's a role model for--who come to see her at the county fairs and chili cook offs where she gets a guarantee of $40,000 where some other oldies act like BOC gets $5,000-- along with the grandparents and kids and farmers and just the people who make America for you and me-- and it IS their "My Generation." And God bless her for it.

Q: As your bio says, you were a teenage drummer when you started writing about music. Can you speak a little bit about why you enjoy writing about music and how writing about music connects with playing music for you?

Deborah: Haha-- wasn't it some genius like Mark Twain who said no one but a fool enjoys writing I enjoy HAVING written. And then of course, you have to get up and do it all over again. There are moments when I get into the groove and really ENJOY writing. But it can be excruciating just to get to that point. I hate sitting in a chair. And there's no way to write, for me to write, anyway, without doing it. For a long, long time. Writing is also a very lonely, very isolating enterprise.

Playing I get to get up and jump around. And even occasionally meet some really cool people-- and I am basically, as I have realized fairly recently, a very social person even though I've also spent vast amounts-- and I mean years-- involved in this other very isolated thing and I really need to spend that time doing that in order to do it-- and not always for such tremendously great and/or rewarding results. But playing is the fun part-- when everything is going right. But it doesn't always. There's always the monitor that freaks out, or the note you or someone else misses. Some stupid person who throws something. Just some stupid something, in general. A zillion things. So I just live for the moments when it goes right. Because there is nothing, and I mean nothing, else like it. And nothing else-- no drug-- or any other kind of activity-- and believe me, I've tried most of 'em-- will do it. Like the stupid credit card ad that tries to define priceless. It's what's priceless. And you just try to hit it every time. And then-- you try again.

Q: Tell us about your band the Brain Surgeons, how the band formed, what you play, your role in the songwriting, etc. What are some of your songs that you are most proud of and what are the ones you think people who are new to the band should check out?

Deborah: Well, the Brain Surgeons are in a very funny place right now because unfortunately I am in the midst of a fairly horrendous divorce from my husband, who was also my creative collaborator since 1984-- even before we become romantically involved-- who is not only the father of my son, but someone I assumed would be my soulmate and dearest friend and partner for life. And there are alot of things I can't really discuss because it's all a matter of litigation and just really ugly and unpleasant on every level. But when you are dealing with a narcissistic sick person who will never get help (and is therefore incapable of being cured) who would rather accuse everyone else of having some problem rather than accept any responsibility for ANYTHING, this is what you get. I can't even take it personally because he's done it before, unfortunately. And it's been much, much harder for my son than for me-- but only because I've been through a lot of tragedies-- and pretty early in my life. But you know what, basically I have the same relationship to the Brain Surgeons as Flaubert to Madame Bovary-- c'est moi. And I've written a lot of great songs-- and I will continue to do so-- it's funny, that I think some of the greatest, and perhaps our most cohesive album, Denial of Death, was written during a particularly terrible time-- and I can't believe I wrote a song like "Plague of Lies" which I thought I was writing about someone and something else, and is all too unfortunately the story of my life. There are some great songs on that album, like "Strange Like Me"-- which was funny, cause Albert said, "I can't believe how you wrote that song about me. You got me to a T"-and I said, "You? I'm not talking about YOU, it's about me!" "Lady of the Harbor" is a really good song, in its last incarnation-- I actually recorded it and re-wrote it maybe twice. "Medusa" on Trepanation, the second album, is a really good song-- though I re-did it again, the way we did it live, on Beach Party-- but I did the vocal in like 2 seconds and I wish I did it again. Now that's a song I actually started when I was like 15, after reading Edith Hamilton- and thought Medusa, now there's a song. But I didn't get around to finishing it for decades. That's just the way it works sometimes. In the Brain Surgeons-- well, at the beginning, there might have been a couple of songs I didn't write-- there were some Meltzer or Patti Smith things, probably rejected by Blue Oyster Cult for good reason! Just joking, sometimes the demo might not have been too persuasive or someone else had to get a song in or there was some producer trying to turn them into the Cars for a moment (oh, that was GREAT idea) or maybe they thought they SHOULD be the Cars for a moment, or someone at a record company did. Who knows? Hey, they should thank their lucky stars they didn't stick around long enough on a major to let themselves bend over and try to be turned into Hootie and the Blowfish!

Q: As a woman who has been involved in the music scene for many years both as a musician and a journalist, how has the music landscape changed for women since you were a teenager? Every woman I've talked to still seems some degree of sexism in the industry, but in your point of view what challenges are still out there and what has gotten easier?

Deborah: The industry-- it deserves to die. See Hootie and the Carfish, above. I know for myself, the internet, which I've been involved with since it coincided with my putting out my first albums through my own company in 93/94, though I've really been involved with independent music-- and putting out other people's stuff one way or another since the Punk scene of the early 70s (which by the way-I don't consider the Ramones, or the Sex Pistols-CBGB-thing--or even pre-CBGB, the Dolls-- the FIRST punk thing-- to me it was the MC5, Iggy.) But you know what, ELVIS was a punk-- who was just exploited by a carny barker. The Beatles were punks, REAL punks in Hamburg. And you know what, even Mick Jagger- though he probably always had the same dreams at the London School of Economics as Jann Wenner had at prep school in Switzerland and that's how they all eventually end up on basically the same beach together--even he was a punk. For a minute. But anyway, the internet has allowed me to cut out the middleman- and the gatekeeper. Though I'm sure they'll all figure out how to put up new gates and new middles, because people who only want to make money always figure out how to do it-- whether it's in hedge funds or derivatives or turning record companies and book publishers into mere cogs in some rental car magnate or real estate developer's or Australian news baron's "empire." That's just how it works. It's also allowed me to do a certain kind of very simple market research-- which of course, no one who went to business school would actually be trained and or have any interest in doing, because that's all about turning things into formulas and science and cookie-cutting. But basically, what it also tells me is that what most of these industry assholes-- like the Jason Floms, with his father on the Time Warner Board, who actually got lucky with his Hootie or Skid Rows or Wingers (and where are they all now) for a minute once told me--"There are too many girls on this label"-- and all kinds of other shit that Joan Jett still goes on about hearing from the 23 labels who rejected her in when was it, 1981-- and then went on-- even if it took three years, to have a number one multi-platinum album that is still selling and more important, is still wonderful and MEANINGFUL today-- or that such and such is not "what the kids want." Well it tells me what I've felt in my own gut all along, that these people are full of shit. Rock is not about what kids want, any more than any other art form is about what old people or anybody else wants to buy or have shoved down their throat. Art-- of all kinds-- whether it's making music or tattooing something you feel is beautiful on your or anyone else's skin-- or trying to communicate something you feel passionate about and may or may not articulate something that someone else feels but can't quite figure out how to say in his or her own words fills a very important and very basic human need. And people who are driven to make it will always figure out how to do it-- whether they have to paint it on a cave or weave it into a basket. This is how we try to express ourselves and how we COMMUNICATE with other people who may not necessarily speak the same language.

As for sexism, I had to put up with all kinds of crap-- and so did everyone who was a pioneer, whether they were trying to cover the White House or baseball-- places where they wouldn't let in Black people with dicks for however many years. But that's their problem. In terms of music, guys-- whether Led Zeppelin or Metallica have had the privilege of saying "Fuck 'em all" for years. Now more women-- simply by virtue of having their own record companies or developing their own audiences-- and Joan Jett is a prime example-- or even the Donnas--and I think they are great, as is their management-- can say fuck em all too (although they all actually say it relatively nicely). I don't know whether this is progress. But the point is, women have own money to spend--although in this economy, they may soon have less of it. But also kids have grown up in a different environment. The Donnas or Joan Jett have as many guy as girl fans. It's not an issue to these people. Joan Jett may have a message--or be communicating Paul Westerberg's-in something like "Androgynous" (which is, in some ways one of the least hard rock but most interesting things she's ever done) or in her own "Change the World." But the world is changing-- the western world, anyway. If not fast enough. In other places, women are still forced behind walls and burkhas. And the men want to keep it that way. So they don't have to improve their own game. You really have to look at the much bigger picture.

Q: What is next for you? Any upcoming projects we can look forward to either listening to or reading?

Deborah: What is next for me? Ask the judge in my divorce case!! All I can say is you'll be seeing and hearing alot from me--probably on your local corner singing and dancing with a little styrofoam cup and I'll try to have a very nice sign. I don't know. Read my lips.

Q: I always ask two standard questions of my Women Who Rock. The first one is a two-parter. What was the first album you bought and the first concert you attended?

Deborah: Obviously I remember a single I had when I was 3-I guess I didn't buy it.
I don't really remember the first album I bought. I remember going to Korvette's..getting a whole bunch of records--like Otis Redding.

And I have no idea what was the first rock concert I went to.I went to clubs before I went to concerts--and I'm still much more into experiencing music in an intimate setting--of course, I've seen a lot of people most people later see in concerts very early on--sometimes I've been like the only person in the audience--or the audient, as I like to call it-- Springsteen, the Police, Tom Petty, Pearl Jam, Courtney Love- the Cars-- there are people I've been the first person here to write about-like PJ Harvey--but that's not because I'm into any trend--in fact I hate them-- I am totally non-trendy.

But I am into music--and what is gonna turn ME on.Actually, I basically hate concerts--for me, it's always been work, not fun, even if I have a backstage pass or I'm literally on the side of the stage while people who really know what they're doing-- like Jimmy Page or Robert Plant or the guys in Metallica-- are on. Look, it's weird to me to go to a concert w/out a notebook-- but then again, I was a professional rock critic when I was still a teenager-- and not be scribbling more notes than most people will ever do in any class-- but I was also a very good notetaker, and a great student, in the traditional sense, when I wanted to be. But I've very, very rarely gone to a concert for ENTERTAINMENT, per se. And if I get off, that's even better. I have rarely, almost never, in my life, bought a ticket for one. I don't go to parades either. I hate crowds. They're not a lot of fun for a small person. But that's not necessarily what provides me w/ a sense of community--which is why I think alot of other people, particularly young people who desperately want to feel a part of SOMEthing--go to them. They have a different kind of experience--and motivation--than I do. I would always rather be creating something or trying to learn how to better create it. There's nothing I enjoy MORE than just being able to be a fan-- and when I am, you will see me right up there in the front, non-stop dancing. It makes me so happy to be able to do that. But there aren't too many artists who make me want to-- and it's usually some kind of inspired occasion. Like the Rock Hall of Fame at the Waldorf. Hey, I was even rockin out to Lynyrd Skynrd. And I caught the glass slide!

Q: My other standard question is what was your biggest rock star moment? Maybe it was a concert you performed or one you saw or maybe it was someone you met or a time you just got the celebrity treatment.

Deborah: Honey, I've been getting celebrity treatment all of my life-- and I think I deserve it!
I met John Lennon when I was, what 16-- Robert Plant has driven me through the Alps. I've had a really wild life-- and there are things I've gotten to do just with my family that are just in completely different realms and they've been amazing experiences that I cherish and would rather keep to myself. I appreciate the highs cause the downs... believe me, they've been pretty horrendous, as bad as it gets. But OK, if I had to pick a rock experience-- no, it was not the day I saved Cher's life and every time since when I hear her horrendous, even pitch corrected bleating, I have only myself to blame--but that was really a gym moment, not a rock one. I would have to say when I went to Wrestlemania with Cyndi Lauper and hung out with Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant and Mohammed Ali and my total, total idol, the Fabulous Moolah, that was pretty cool. She invited me to come to her wrestling camp, I still have the card-- but I was afraid I'd get too black & blue--what a wimp. But really the topper was when Liberace, who was a very sweet man, let me put on his gold diamond encrusted piano ring. Now that was fun.

See, as promised, an amazingly in depth and insightful interview. I want to say thank you so much to Deborah for spending her time answering these questions so thoroughly. I also love that someone I admire so much also believes that punk began with Iggy and MC5. And yeah, Wrestlemania with Cyndi Lauper??? Definitely one of the coolest rock star moments that has been shared so far. So what did Deborah get you thinking about? Leave a comment about it and be entered to win a signed copy of the Brain Surgeons album Denial of Death!

See ya next Wednesday with our fictional guests, Emily and Regan!