Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Update on WWRW and GCC Presents Laurie Faria Stolarz

It won't officially be Wednesday in Chicago for another half hour, but close enough. I need to spend all day tomorrow focused on the chapter I couldn't nail today. Sigh. Yeah, I'm in that place right now with the revisions. There were crying jags today and a two hour bath with a glass of wine to figure things out. This book is going to take all of my energy for the next couple weeks so Women Who Rock Wednesday will officially be going on hiatus until after BALLADS is handed in. I will be returning on January 14th with one of my favorite female authors and partner in crime for Rock N Read, Alexa Young, who will be talking about her new book, Faketastic. So you'll want to be here on Jan 14th!

But I still have a winner to announce from last week. The winner of Leslie Hamer's awesome Spindle print is.... Annika from blogger! Yay! Send me your address Annika! Also since I never heard from Paula Yoo's winner, I'm picking a new one and that is Kay from blogger. Send me your address Kay! Both you ladies can send addresses to me at stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot come

Now, I didn't want to leave you high and dry and interview-less on too many Wednesdays in a row, so I decided to post an interview with one of my Girlfriends Cyber Circuit buddies today. Laurie Faria Stolarz definitely rocks and she is running a really cool contest, which she'll talk about in my interview with her, so you have a chance to enter that and win something! But first, let me tell you all about Laurie's amazing new book, Deadly Little Secret:

Some secrets shouldn't be kept...

Until three months ago, everything about sixteen-year-old Camelia's life had been fairly ordinary: decent grades; an okay relationship with her parents; and a pretty cool part-time job at an art studio downtown. But when Ben, the mysterious new guy, starts junior year at her high school, Camelia's life becomes far from ordinary.

Rumored to be somehow responsible for his ex-girlfriend's accidental death, Ben is immediately ostracized by everyone on campus. Except for Camelia. She's reluctant to believe he's trouble, even when her friends try to convince her otherwise. Instead she's inexplicably drawn to Ben...and to his touch. But soon, Camelia is receiving eerie phone calls and strange packages with threatening notes. Ben insists she is in danger, and that he can help – but can he be trusted? She knows he's hiding something...but he's not the only one with a secret.

Laurie Faria Stolarz is the bestselling author of the BLUE IS FOR NIGHTMARES series, which has sold over 500,000 copies worldwide. The series comprises Blue is for Nightmares, White is for Magic, Silver is for Secrets, Red is for Remembrance, and the forthcoming Black is for Beginnings. Stolarz's titles have been part of the Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers list, the Top Ten Teen Pick list, and YALSA's Popular Paperback list, all through the American Library Association. Also the author of Bleed and Project 17, her most current work, Deadly Little Secret, the first book in the TOUCH series, is due out in December 2008. Born and raised in Salem, Massachusetts, Stolarz attended Merrimack College and received an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College in Boston. For more information, visit Laurie’s website at www.lauriestolarz.com

Now for my interview with Laurie!

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

Laurie: Actually, I need to refrain from answering this question because I have a contest going on right now where readers need to come up with a soundtrack for DEADLY LITTLE SECRET. The winner gets a character in DEADLY LITTLE LIES, the second book in the TOUCH SERIES named after him or her. Check out the contest details here: http://www.lauriestolarz.com/news.html

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

Laurie: I can seem them definitely liking what’s current and popular: Chris Brown, Rihanna, Britney, Katy Perry, Fall Out Boy, etc., etc.

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

Laurie: Gwen Stefani, Gavin Rossdale, James Blunt, Black Eyed Peas.

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?

Laurie: I don’t normally listen to it while I’m working, because I find it too distracting. But, when I’m trying to get in a certain mood to write a particular scene, I rely on music to help me.

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?

Laurie: I love to be active – yoga, dance/aerobics, and power-walking. I also love movies, spending time with family and friends, and cooking.

Well, I don't know about you, but I'm seriously intrigued by Deadly Little Secrets and will be picking it up at Borders with the gift card my boss gave me last night. And I love Laurie's contest, I hope you'll all go to her site and enter!

Happy Holidays, blog readers! I'll return when I can in the next couple weeks. To vent or cheer or cry. But I'll definitely be back on the 7th to let you know if I was able to hand Ballads in.... I will be. I must be....

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Greetings from Revisions Land

You can learn all about what my life is like during revisions including pictures of my insane set-up and a breakdown of my writing process over at the MTV Books blog.

Back to work...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

WWRW: Leslie Hamer and Girl Week!!!

Hello everyone and welcome to last Women Who Rock Wednesday until the New Year! For those of you who don't know, every Wednesday, I blog about (and usually interview) a female artist, musician, author, or other amazingly talented woman who rocks my world. They also usually give out a fabulous prize to one random commentor. I'm extremely excited about my guest today because she's someone I've known since I was 15 years old, but I will introduce you to her in a sec....

First I want to talk about Girl Week, which is being hosted by Steph/Reviewer X on her blog. This is what Girl Week is about in Steph's own words: "a celebration of strong female characters & feminism in YA lit!" You can read more about it here and see the table of contents here. I was honored to be on of the authors that Steph asked to guest blog. Since my character Emily Black from I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE deals with having a bad reputation, Steph asked me to blog about double-standards when it comes to sex and the stigma of being labeled a slut. I was labeled a slut in high school and it's safe to say that it messed me up pretty bad. So the guest blog I wrote was one of the most personal I've done. You can check it out here. Steph is also giving away a signed copy of IWBYJR here, so enter to win!

But now, I'd like to introduce you to Leslie Hamer, today's Woman Who Rocks! As I mentioned I met Leslie back in high school. Thanks to the glories of Facebook, we've been back in touch and I was really proud to see what an amazing artist and entrepreneur she's become! She has a website and an etsy store that you should definitely check out. And if you need custom design work (weddings in particular are her specialty), you'll want to get in touch with her. I love the clean style of her drawings (I don't know if that is the best way to describe it, but I'm no artist) and she was sweet enough to send me a drawing she did of the Berwyn Car Spindle (a landmark near our childhood homes that was torn down earlier this year for a Walgreens, I blogged about it here) which I'm framing ASAP. The drawing is to the right and guess what, you can win one!!! Just read Les's interview and comment! It's a must read interview for any of you who have ever dreamed of starting your own business!

Without further adieu, here's Leslie!

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about how you got your start as an artist? Who are some of your art-world influences (whether they are known artists/crafty folk or teachers, friends, or parents)? Also I'm a writer, but music heavily influences my stories, what are some of your inspirations outside of the art-world?

Leslie: This is actually a tough question! The last "art" class I took was actually in 8th grade and was a requirement. I remember trying to sculpt a bust of myself, and the nose kept falling off. In my youth I always considered myself a writer, and even got a degree in writing for small screen at Columbia here in Chicago. I did the LA thing, hated it, came back to chicago and got engaged. I despised all the girly, swirly, invitations out there and set out to make my own. So I kind of started right there, at 25, teaching myself how to draw out of necessity. I remember in the beginning looking a lot Shannon Gerard's comics, I love the way she draws hair, there is no much texture, it makes her characters so touchable and real. My favorite artist of all time is Diana Sudyka, I couldn't tell you why, I just love every piece she makes.

Outside of art I find myself listening to my itunes playlist on random a lot when I'm drawing. I'm sure that sneaks in somewhere.

Q: You have your own business, a website and a store on Etsy where you do posters, invitations, custom artwork of all sorts for all occasions. We've had a lot of artistic entrepreneurial women on here, but haven't really talked about starting your own business which is a really cool thing to do and also I'd imagine difficult in these economic times. Can you tell us a little bit about your business? When did you start it? Are you able to do it full-time? What are your dreams for it?

Leslie: First of all, I've always wanted my own business. It's always been my dream. I didn't care what kind of business it was so long as it was mine! Here's how it happened.

When my son was a little over six months I took a job as a chiropractic receptionist. I hated it so much - or should I say just as much as every other job I've ever had. I've worked at the Chicago Board of Trade, I've washed hair, waited tables, done the retail thing, been a barrista, worked at Guitar Center, I was a bank teller, and there I was 26 with a bachelor's degree and answering phones. I used to lay awake and night and try to think of ways to start my own business, just some way, any way, to not taking someone's messages for the rest of my life.

It was around then that I stumbled upon etsy, and on a whim listed the wedding invitations that I had made for myself. My shop took off right away which was a total shock. I soon realized that it is practically impossible to be a receptionist, business owner, and super mom all at the same time so I dropped my job and never looked back. There really wasn't a lot of debate between my husband and I whether I should start my own business or not. It was a no-brainer. Not too long after that my husband quit his job too to go back to school. I bring home modest bacon, but we get to spend oodles of time together as a family, which to me is a great trade off.

As for the economy, we live very simply and don't buy much to get through the rough patches. My business has stayed fairly stable though, probably because my invitations and designs are extremely affordable compared to what's out there. I'm knocking on wood of course, along with every small business owner out there. Yet, I'm hopeful about the economy.

As for my dreams for my business I really feel I'm almost there. I do something I love every day, and the thing that I do brings joy into other people's lives. What could be better?

Q: Since I'm in the middle of revising my book right now, I'm thinking a lot about process. Can you tell us about your creative process? How you go about creating your artwork?

Leslie: It's so funny that my degree is in writing for television, because it really prepared me for what I do. When you are studying writing you get told a lot to write everyday even if your don't feel like it, even if you have nothing to say. That is my process. Just go into my office everyday and draw. All day. If I'm not pleased with how anything turns out, I just try again the next day.

They also told us in college, not to get attached to your writing, because some corporate Joe is going to come along and change it into something you hate, and it's still going to have your name on it and there will be nothing you can do about it. In a funny way that totally prepared me perfectly for working with brides. I once had a bride have me redraw her nose at least 15 times. It was a little tiring, but, in the end the art is for her. So what does my opinion matter? I try not to get attached to my drawings.

Q: Please show us one of your favorite custom pieces that you did, tell us about it and why you enjoyed doing it?

Leslie: Wow that's tough! I always love something the day I make and then hate it a week later. I love when I get the opportunity to draw stilly faces and poses as they make for the best drawings. I did a drawing of a little girl and her mother recently that was a thrill to draw:

Q: In addition to your wedding designs and custom pieces, you also have some prints in your store like the Spindle poster which you will be giving out as prize. Can you show off one of those pieces that you are quite proud of, maybe something you did just for you and tell us about the story behind that?

One of the first things my husband and I did when me moved in together was to get a kitten. When we went to the ACL (animal care league) this little striped kitten just cuddled up to us and didn't want us to leave. We went back the next day, and the next, to visit and she would run right up to us each time we arrived. It was a few days after we took her home that she first got sick. We had to rush her to the animal emergency hospital, and she had a seizure. She fought for a good year against a rare form of FIP. We did everything we could to make her comfortable, and enjoy our time with her. She passed away at 17 months, a few months after our wedding, at home in my arms. I was around 2 1/2 months pregnant. I had just started to draw then, and I drew this picture of her:

Q: I always ask two standard questions of my Women Who Rock. What was the first album you bought and the first concert you attended? Be honest, we don't judge.

Leslie: The first album I bought with my very own pennies was REM Green. The first concert I went to without my parents (my parents took us to lots of concerts) was Nirvana at the Aragon Ballroom. It was absolutely horrible. It still stands out as one of the worst shows I've ever been to. I would like to mention that my son bought his first record for his record player this week, the soundtrack to Return of the Jedi.

Q: Please dish about the moment where you felt most like a rock star. Maybe it was an art opening or a moment of big success in your career, an "I'm Not Worthy!" Wayne's World type moment where you met someone cool, or a time where you just got the rock star treatment.

Leslie: I recently got asked to design matching tattoos for a couple of their dog who is very old and will pass away soon. I felt so honored I almost cried.

Okay guys, I'm a total sucker for animal stories, but I kinda think the dog tattoos might be one of the best rock star moments I've heard yet. What about you? And don't even get me started on the kitten story. I cried! But most of all, I just feel completely inspired by Leslie's story about starting her own business. Much like the musician Jenny Hassler who I interviewed last month, she had a dream and she went for it. I think we all need stories of hope like Leslie's in times like these.

So comment away about the interview and you'll be entered to win Leslie's awesome Spindle drawing. I'll pick a winner next week and announce the interviews I have coming in the New Year so be sure to check back!!! I'm still looking for Stephanie from Blogger to contact me about winning Paula Yoo's book. If she doesn't by next week, I'll need to pick a new winner!

Remember check out Leslie's store and the other stuff on etsy if you are still in need of unique gifts for the holidays or any upcoming occasion! Support artists!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Women Who Rock Wednesday: RockHer Magazine

I don't have a proper interview today since I totally feel like I'm drowning in revisions. Instead I have something awesome to tell you about that will give you something to read while I'm blogging less frequently. You'll probably become totally addicted to this site like I'm sure I will as soon as I have time to breathe and read things other than my own words (which I hate and think suck at this present moment. Good thing I have a couple weeks to bring them up to par... I hope). Anyway, I'm talking about ROCKHER MAG. It's an online zine that covers all things female rock.

I discovered it via a MySpace friend request (this is why I'm slow to approve them right now because I like to look at each page when I get a request in order to make these discoveries). I asked Nicole, the editor/creator of this fabulous webzine to tell me a bit more about it. She said you can learn all about the mission of RockHer here, but she also told me this:

Basically, I'm a one woman show working my butt off on this blog/webzine out of my cozy Brooklyn apartment hoping to set a trend of positive women role models in the music biz. "Positive" in a sense basically that they are truly talented, not necessarily that there's not an edge to them. Edge is cool. Gossipy, pop-star nonsense is not.

Two years ago when I started RockHer I counted over 90% of the bands showcased in main stream music mags were basically just all-male stereotype indie/rock bands, nothing new, nothing notable, nothing memorable, nothing female. RockHer was my way of saying "hey, there's tons of female bands and artists out there, but nobodies talking about them."

I thought that was very cool, so I wanted to spread the word about it. Rock on, RockHer!

Now to announce last week's contest winner, recipient of GOOD ENOUGH: Stephanie from Blogger! Please email me at stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot com to claim your prize!

Now I am going to do an interview next week, the last one until after revisions are done, so you will definitely want to be here. I'll be featuring artist Leslie Hamer who is awesome and if you need a unique holiday gift or some design work done, I highly recommend her etsy store which I adore!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Adventures in Bartending #147

Yes the blogging is getting sparse. Revisions came Wednesday night. They are due 1/7. This is a faster turnaround than last time plus over the holidays. Right now I hardly feel like I have time to sleep. I'll try to blog a couple times a week, but Twitter is the best way to keep up with my random thoughts right now. I have more thoughts to share about revisions and BALLADS but right now I'm blogging because I just got home from work and I know you guys like the crazy bartending stories, so here are my most recent adventures in bartending.

It was probably the worst weekend I've worked thus far. Not because of bad drama (though there was some), but because thanks to the cold and snow, it was the slowest and I made very little money. Sigh. Another reason to hate winter. That's reason #35328563876.

Anyway Saturday night was dead until midnight. You may have seen my random tweets (another reason to go on Twitter). For awhile my only customer was this couple that comes in. The dude only drinks water. The chick is crazy crazy crazy. My boss said he thinks she is literally a crackhead. She asked me to rate the dude and offered to pull down his pants so I could rate that. Umm no thanks. Yeah that was the start to my weekend. Now for my Good, Bad, WTF breakdown.

Now I'm only rating this good because my 15 year old self would have thought it the coolest thing on earth. At 29, it's more of a WTF. Tonight one customer partially tipped me in weed. Yes. Weed.

Annoying customer who pissed off my good customer by being borderline racist (making vast generalizations about crime for the most part). He also kept asking me stupid questions and sharing his stupid theories about how all girl bartenders drop into conversation that they have a boyfriend. This came up because I told a customer who has met my boyfriend that my boyfriend would like the drink he taught me. Newsflash: All girl bartenders tell YOU they have a boyfriend because you're gross, creepy, borderline racist and definitely annoying.

Last night upon leaving the bar, Scott and I were accosted by a crazy drunk girl (not a person I overserved mind you, a random stranger). She came charging toward me, not wearing a coat and it had to be like 0 degrees and she told me "You have to hide me!" Then she ducked down behind Scott's car and told me, "If anyone asks you if you've seen Julie you haven't!" Scott meanwhile was wondering if he is about to be caught in the crossfire of a driveby shooting. Once the car passed, she stood up and started babbling about a fight with her brother-in-law and needing to call her husband (her cell phone was in her hand, mind you) and could we just give her a ride. Scott and I exchanged doubtful looks. I generally have sympathy for girls and automatically want to help them, plus, she was pierced, tattooed, someone who I would have thought looked cool, if she weren't acting like a crazy drunk. We asked her where she lived and all she could seem to spit out was "Roosevelt Road."

"Roosevelt Road and what?" we asked

"There's a Walgreens..."

Sigh. I know of at least 3 Walgreens on Roosevelt Road. Scott guessed the one closest to our house. "Harlem?" he ventured.

"No. I don't know. I'm from New York. Villa Park, I live in Villa Park. Roosevelt Road. Villa Park."

I wasn't even sure if Villa Park was near Roosevelt Road. I've checked now and it is, but it is far away from where we live. So we offered to call her a cab. She asked me if I could just let her "in that house" so she could call her husband. "The house" she referred to was the Beacon... I tried to explain this. "That's a bar. I just locked it. We can't get back in there."

"I don't want to go to a bar."

The conversation went in circles for a few minutes and then abruptly she ran off only to slip on the ice and fall on her ass a few feet away. Scott and I got in the car and debated calling the police. I grew up punk, I don't like to call the police. I don't think of Officer Friendly, I think of Officer Wrongful Arrest or police brutality, but I'm kind of freaked out that this girl might freeze to death and that someone is after her. Besides all the Forest Park police I've met have been nice. But before we can decide about calling the police the person who is after her shows up. In an SUV, even though the car the girl hid from was a sportscar. The guy that gets out is huge and appears to be smoking a cigar. I have my phone posed and ready, any sort of shouting or violent looking gestures and I'm calling the police. But he is just talking to her calmly. We are sitting in the car with the headlights on not going anywhere though, being an obvious presence. After a minute another person gets out of the SUV and approaches us, indicating to roll the window down. It's a woman so I tell Scott to do it (I should also mention that we just watched the Californication where Hank gets carjacked so I was mildly paranoid about that through all of this since you know, bartender, people are gonna think I have lots of cash). She explains that the crazy girl is indeed their sister in law and she got drunk at Doc Ryans and then disappeared and they have been looking everywhere for her for half an hour. She also scratched the brother in laws face unprovoked. She thanks us profusely for keeping an eye on crazy drunk girl. I definitely believed her so I advise her to get crazy girl in the car ASAP because cold weather plus massive quantities of alcohol = bad. Then we drive off.

Yeah, WTF. But this job is definitely way more interesting that office work, wouldn't you say?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Paula Yoo!

Yay! It's my favorite day of the week, Women Who Rock Wednesday, the day when I get to shine the spotlight on a female artist who totally rocks my world. Before we meet today's amazing lady, I have a mix cd of my favorite songs by female artists to give away. The winner is... Shooting Stars Magazine from MySpace! Please send me your addy, Lauren!

Now, I want to introduce you to Paula Yoo, a fabulous author that I met at a conference a couple months ago. I bought her book, GOOD ENOUGH, and immediately devoured it. No, I'm not musicially talented nor am I Korean like the main character Patti, but I related to Patti on a couple different levels. As I mentioned in yesterday's blog, I was a geek/nerd/dork. Also, I was a big overachiever who put a ton of pressure on herself in school. Yeah, in high school I hung out with the punks and the misfits and the stoners and I ditched classes and got high, but I made sure I maintained straight A's in all of my classes (except for Biology. Grrr at Biology.) and I got extremely stressed out over my grades. Yeah, weird I know. But there it is. My confession of the day.

Anyway, so not only did Paula write an amazing book that I think you all will love, I also believe she and I might have been separated at birth. All the stuff we have in common is crazy. But let's get on to the interview because she gave some amazing answers! And of course, she is being kind enough to send a signed copy of GOOD ENOUGH to a lucky winner drawn at random from everyone who leaves comments. So read and then comment away! Here's Paula!

Q: There aren't enough books that show us exactly how cool and kick ass "nerdy" girls really can be. Since I was a total nerdy girl growing up, I was head over heels in love with GOOD ENOUGH. But instead of me describing the story to my readers, can you tell us all about the book and where you got the idea?

PAULA SAYS: I can't believe you were nerdy, Stephanie! Wow, we would have been BFF's back in high school together! :) Thank you for your kind words. To answer your question: GOOD ENOUGH was based on my life growing up as a violin geek whose Korean immigrant parents pressured me to stay home and study all the time because they wanted me to get accepted into the Ivy Leagues. And then I met a cute new guy in the 10th grade who played guitar and trumpet and we shared the same tastes in music - this was back in the '80s when alternative rock was NOT mainstream and the only way you could hear this music was to listen to college radio stations. Eventually, we would meet to "jam" as he taught me how to improv on my violin to rock music. Our friendship was important to me because he was "popular" but yet treated me like an equal because of our interest in music.

When I wrote GOOD ENOUGH, it was the first novel I had ever written that was based specifically on my own life. I used to hate debut novels that were thinly-disguised autobiographies because I used to think that was "cheating." Instead, I now realize that often a first novel is heavily based on the author's own experiences because you are trying to find your own voice and how your perspective shapes your writing. As a writer, you are sharing your world view with readers, and in order to have a world view, you need to have a deep understanding of your own life to shape that world view. Wow, that suddenly sounded very pompous. LOL. Well, in regular English, I just wrote about my own awkward teen years and first crush and how I learned to relax and not study so hard and do a little rebelling and act like a normal teen. When I started writing GOOD ENOUGH, I thought it would be much more sarcastic and darker in tone but I kept laughing as I remembered all my so-called miserable experiences and the book just became a funny and satirical look at academic pressure for teens, growing up with immigrant parents, exploring my love and passion for music and the violin, and using humor as a way to deal with racial stereotypes and cultural differences. It ended up being a story about a nerdy, high-achieving teen girl who learns the difference between the importance of being successful versus being happy.

Also GOOD ENOUGH was originally set in 1984 but my publisher wanted me to make it contemporary, and joked that "historical fiction" wasn't in these days. haha! So I made it contemporary and changed Duran Duran to "Jet Pack." But I still managed to sneak in a DD reference near the end of the book. So that's a fun trivial pursuit fact for you!

(Stephanie totally squeals at this point, going 'I knew Jet Pack was Duran Duran!!!!')
Q: Like many of my Women Who Rock, you are a true renaissance gal. You also are a musician and TV drama writer. Let's talking writing first, how did you get into writing? Have you loved it since you were young? Which came first TV writing or novel writing for you? Who have some of your influences and inspirations (particularly the women since its WWRWeds) been?

PAULA SAYS: I like that label, "Renaissance Gal"! That's so much better than the term I use to refer to myself - "Jack of All Trades, Master of None." I also refer to myself as "Overeducated and Underpaid." :) But I think I'm sticking with Renaissance Gal! :) If I could only have one word to describe myself, I would definitely say WRITER. I wanted to be a writer ever since I was in the first grade and read CHARLOTTE'S WEB. In fact, I wrote my first novel (with the horrific title, "The Girl Called Raindrop") in the 2nd grade and submitted it to HarperCollins (back then it was known as Harper & Row) because they published the Little House on the Prairie books which I was also obsessed with. They sent back a nice letter saying I was talented and should consider applying for their children writers' contest for kids age 7-10. I was furious and ripped up the letter, crying to my mom, "I"m not a child writer! I'm a REAL writer!" LOL! So that led to an obsession with novel writing - the journey veered into journalism after college because I felt that I wasn't ready to write the Great American Novel until I had lived life a bit, so I figured, if Hemingway was a journalist, then I should do that too! Being a journalist proved invaluable as it taught me how to write on deadline and to get to the point quickly in your stories and to trim the fat when it came to purple prose. I then decided to quit journalism and try writing again, so i got my MFA in creative writing and taught for a few years. I was all set to be a teacher and hopefully one day get published when I accidentally fell into TV writing.

A TV friend suggested I try out for the Warner Bros. TV Drama Writing workshop because I loved watching TV! So I submitted my first ever TV script and six months later got the call - I had been accepted into the program! That quickly led to my new life as a TV writer for shows like THE WEST WING on NBC and most recently SIDE ORDER OF LIFE on Lifetime. During my TV career, I still clung to my dream of getting published, and during my "free" time, I finally wrote two books that sold - my non fiction children's picture book biography SIXTEEN YEARS IN SIXTEEN SECONDS: THE SAMMY LEE STORY (Lee & Low Books '05) about Olympic Gold medalist Sammy Lee and GOOD ENOUGH.

As for inspirations and influences, of course as an English major I was into the heavy hitters like Hemingway and James Joyce. But as for women writers, I would say Virginia Woolf blew me away with her use of language and experimental stream of consciousness writing and of course her famous treatise on women and writing, "A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN." And I will say that Amy Tan's "JOY LUCK CLUB" was an influence because I didn't realize you could write about your own ethnic background and make it universal and appealing to a wide audience. Up until Tan's novel, I had been part of the generation who grew up with immigrant parents who wanted to "assimilate" into American society by emphasizing that we were AMERICAN of Asian descent. Or just plain AMERICAN. Today, kids now embrace their hybrid heritage of being ASIAN AMERICAN. I would say love her or hate her, Amy Tan's book influenced me to NOT deny my heritage and to embrace it in my writing. However, this is not to say that I will ONLY write about characters who are Asian American - I can write about ANYONE, but in order to do that, I had to embrace and accept my dual heritage as a writer.

Q: Now let's talk music. You're violinist. When did you start playing and who are your musical influences? Can you talk a little bit about how your writing and your music go together and inspire each other?

PAULA SAYS: I started playing violin at age 5. My favorite classical composers are not just the Big Three (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart) but also the romantics like Brahms and Grieg and I have a thing for the Eastern Bloc composers (Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Bartok, Janacek etc.). Much of GOOD ENOUGH's musical scenes are based on my real life experiences where I was concertmaster of my All-State Orchestra and the time I performed the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with my youth orchestra. I still play today and do professional freelance work with TV shows and recordings and with rock bands. I have gone on tour with bands like Arthur Lee of Love and Spiritualized. I also have given some fun classical chamber music recitals with friends, and recent performances include a Mendelssohn piano trio and Copland's Appalachian Spring with the Los Angeles Chamber Players.

Q: Admittedly this is kind of a selfish question because right now I'm writing a book about violinist who starts to get into listening to punk rock. I know you are into both rock n roll and classical music. Can you talk about what these different types of music do for you? Also, many of my readers are probably like me and more into rock than classical, can you list some must-hear classic music pieces that will charge us up just as much as a great rock or punk song? We want our horizons expanded (or at least I do!).

PAULA SAYS - OMG! I CAN'T WAIT TO READ YOUR BOOK!!!! THAT SOUNDS AWESOME!!!! I grew up listening to both types of music and my musical tastes are all over the map (I also play country fiddle and Celtic fiddle). I've played with my regular acoustic violin and my Fishman pickup with Arcade Fire type bands, and I've also played on my Fender electric violin (solid body) with heavier rock bands because it doesn't feed back as much. I'm a huge pedal fanatic, so I have a billion special effects pedals, including my favorites the Chorus pedal and the Tube Screamer from Ibanez. I use a Fender blues jr. amp because I love tube amps and the Blues Jr. is also light enough that I can carry it by myself. (As a girl rocker, you gotta be able to carry your own gear!) Being a classical geek, I have always hated the stereotype that classical music is "pleasant" and "soothing." A lot of music I grew up to ROCKS. For example, a list of really great rockin' classical favorites off the top of my head:

Holst, "The Planets" - check out this amazing performance of the first movement "Mars" (think: original Darth Vader theme!)

Shostakovich, "String Quartet No. 8, Movt. 2" - I played this in a recital few years ago. Here's a great youtube performance from a string quartet that nails this piece - to me, this is just as aggro as Nine Inch Nails!

Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 1, Movt. 2 - I LOOOOOOVE THIS PIECE! Check out Hilary Hahn's performance here.

Brahms Piano Concert No. 1 - here's a performance of Movt. 1 - it's just majestic.

If you want a rockin' brass section, check out the opening to Janacek's Sinfonietta here.

Now a lot of these examples are rather "modern" sounding. For more traditional classical sounding stuff, I think Beethoven's famous 9th Symphony is amazing, especially the 2nd movement. Here's the famous Herbert Von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic.

Here's an excerpt of Mahler's Symphony No. 2, first movement. This changed my life because I performed this as concertmaster of the Connecticut AllState Orchestra in 1985. This ROCKS!!!!!

And of course, the opening to the movie Amadeus included Mozart's rockin Symphony No. 25 in g minor.

And if you want a great melding of the two worlds, check out LA's SECTION QUARTET. They are the best string quartet that does classical versions of everything from Radiohead to Led Zeppelin to Tool. Check out this youtube clip of their performance of "JuiceBox."

Phew, and that's just off the top of my head!

Q: What is next for Paula Yoo? Do you have a new book or another project coming soon that we can look forward to?

PAULA SAYS: My next children's non fiction picture book, SHINING STAR: THE ANNA MAY WONG STORY, will be out in May 2009 from Lee & Low Books. It's about the 1920s movie star Anna May Wong who achieved stardom despite being the daughter of a poor Chinese laundry worker in Los Angeles' Chinatown. I am also writing another YA novel that hopefully my agent will like!

Q: Now for the two standard Women Who Rock Wednesday questions. 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 true roots of rockin' women!

PAULA SAYS: First album bought - unfortunately, I am so old I can't remember the FIRST album. I lived in Seoul Korea for many years so whenever we would go home to the U.S. during summer vacation, I would buy as many 8-tracks (I told you I am old! hahaha) as possible. I mostly recorded music off the radio on my cassette tape player. So my first 8-tracks in cluded Chipmunk Punk (Alvin & the Chipmunks doing versions of punk rock songs including My Sharona!), Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, Donna Summer's Bad Girls, and The BeeGees Spirits Having Flown. Clearly I was a child of disco... until Pink Floyd's THE WALL came out. I bought that on cassette tape in the fourth grade and it changed. my. life. forever. I loved the symphonic structure of this album and how it also told a story (albeit a scary one cuz I was only 9 years old!).

I also made a tape recording of my friend's record album of The Sex Pistols Never Mind the Bollocks when I heard it in the 6th grade. It also changed my life - that's how punk rock entered my life. When I was in the 9th grade, for my English Honors Gifted Program class, I tried to write a play about the life of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, that's how obsessed I became. I was a secret punk rocker and would occasionally rebel by spraying pink into my hair and trying to spike it up. LOL! (I would clean the pink hairspray out before I went home.) But for the most part, I was sadly too geeky and never managed to look punk enough. :(To me, the DIY attitude of early British punk was fascinating because I was so classically trained and the idea of just raw power as a form of music was so new and unique for me. To play a song out of tune and out of rhythm? To scream instead of sing? The rawness and energy and spirit behind those types of bands (Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, etc.) made me rethink my violin playing. Sure, I still had to play in tune for classical music, but I started re-interpreting music with more emotion and passion, because that's what made punk rock (at least the original old school sound) work for me - the energy and passion behind the music made up for the lack of technical prowess! :)

My first rock concert was in the 8th grade. I went to see RUSH. Of course I love prog rock, I play the violin! My friend couldn't go so my dad had to take me, and to this day, whenever he hears Rush, he gets excited and says, "That's Geddy Lee!" LOL!

Q: So far, what has been your biggest rock star moment? Maybe it was a concert you went to or played, a moment of big success in your writing career, an "I'm Not Worthy!" Wayne's World type moment where you met someone cool, or a time where you just got the rock star treatment? Whatever it is, please dish!

PAULA SAYS: Biggest rock star moment? When I played with Arthur Lee of Love and we headlined the House of Blues in August 2003. When that curtain rose and the sold-out audience screamed, I remember thinking how I wanted to quit everything and just join a rock band. That was an incredible moment I will never forget. When I toured with Spiritualized last November 2007, we played the historic Apollo Theatre in the heart of Harlem, so we all had to touch the famous "Tree of Hope." Here are my myspace blog entries from that tour.

Thanks again for doing this, Paula!

And here is an added bonus that Paula sent me. It's not her rock star moment, but it might have been mine, she's performing on the Two Coreys!!!!

Personally I love Paula even more after reading this interview. She named two of my childhood obsessions: Little House on the Prairie and Rush. And she just has to be the coolest classical music rock star on the planet! I was thrilled to learn so much about classical music and hope you were too. Please comment away and be entered to win a signed copy of GOOD ENOUGH! I will draw the winner next Wednesday!

As of right now I don't have a guest lined up for next week. Hopefully I'll get one, but since I should be getting my revisions notes for BALLADS tonight or tomorrow, WWRW blogs and blog entries in general may be sporadic. I'll keep you updated as best I can and remember you can follow me on twitter for the most consistent updates. But no matter what next week, I will announce Paula's winner!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Punk Enough? How punk rock really fits into my life and IWBYJR.

In high school, my friends and I used to joke about punk points. If you behaved in a manner that was deemed not punk enough (like maybe admitting you liked Bon Jovi when you were younger or maybe not knowing a certain band/zine/book), someone would go, "Dude, I'm sorry but you lose like 20 safety pins for that one." Safety pins representing punk points of course.

It was our way of making light of something that actually plagued me quite a bit: not being cool enough, even in a scene that supposedly did not judge or have that sort of hierarchy. For the most part, I try to remember everything that was positive about punk rock for me as a teenager, the fun I had going to shows at the Fireside Bowl every weekend for instance, but honestly, the thing that turned me off from punk rock for a few years post-high school (aka my goth years) was that I got sick of walking into shows or certain neighborhoods or hang-outs and feeling judged the same way I felt in grade school. It was just that the judges were using different standards.

Let me explain where I come from in regards to punk rock. I was a nerd/dork/geek in grade school. A total misfit who didn't share her peers' opinions about what was beautiful or important. I didn't like the plain, preppy look. I wished I could have hair like Spike on Degrassi and I constantly sketched a drawing of a girl I'd seen in one of my dad's books about the protest movement. The girl had purple and yellow liberty spiked hair and a safety pin through her nose with a chain of safety pins that led to her ear. I cared about social issues and animal rights not Debbie Gibson's new perfume. I studied hard because I thought it was cool to learn as opposed to pretending to be dumb. Ultimately, I was a kid who felt rejected and hurt and angry and sad and had only a couple friends and no real outlet until I started discovering music, bands with a certain sound and lyrics that expressed the way I felt. How did I discover these bands? A couple of them through friends, but mostly through MTV.

People forget that in the late 80s and early 90s there was more to MTV than Britney Spears and reality shows about rich kids. There were REM and Jane's Addiction and Faith No More and Depeche Mode videos. Those were my early favorites. As I got a little bit older, I conned my way into staying up late and watching 120 minutes where I discovered the Ramones and Social Distortion and Hole and Sonic Youth and Skinny Puppy. Then there were the Chicago bands that were gaining popularity at the time: Smashing Pumpkins, Veruca Salt, and Urge Overkill. This led me to explore other local music past and present, bands like Naked Raygun and Screeching Weasel.

My all-time favorite band, Nirvana, was discovered through a friend who bought their Bleach cassette tape right before Nevermind came out. It was 1991, I was starting junior high, and Nirvana spoke to me like no other band had. No, they are not punk by the traditional definition, but they were my gateway to punk. Kurt Cobain talked about bands like the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Iggy & the Stooges, the Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid, Fugazi, and the Wipers in interviews and I went on a quest to find music by those bands. Most importantly he talked about a band called Bikini Kill, which led me to discover the whole Riot Grrrl movement. More than I ever considered myself punk, I considered myself a riot grrrl. Bands like Bikini Kill, Heavens to Betsy, Sleater-Kinney, 7 Year Bitch, and Babes in Toyland along with their godmothers like Patti Smith and the Runaways spoke to me more as a 16 year old girl than Crass or even the Clash, who I came to appreciate a lot more later. Of course there were some notable exceptions, boys I liked just as much as the girls like Social D and especially Rancid.

But Rancid was considered kind of mainstream. They played "Time Bomb" a lot on the radio then. Was it punk enough to like Rancid? It certainly wasn't punk enough to like Green Day. You could admit that you liked their albums on Lookout!, but not Dookie. I hated that crap, HATED it. And I don't mean Green Day. I mean not being punk enough because you liked a band that was getting mainstream attention. I mean not feeling punk enough because heaven forbid my all-time favorite band was Nirvana and not Crass. I never thought that just because a band signed with a major label so their sound could reach a wider audience, they'd "sold out." What's so wrong about Rise Against or Against Me!, for example, reaching more people with their political songs. They're opening minds. But maybe that's not a punk enough opinion. Maybe I should lose some safety pins for that.

There's a reason I'm bringing all of this up. It has to do with my book, which I know is not "punk enough" for some people because I've read reviews on Amazon and Goodreads (and I'm gonna stop because it just brings out my insecure teenage girl. Seriously, early New Years resolution don't read reviews except for the ones sent to me by bloggers because of course I appreciate their hard work and am interested in their feedback), so I want to speak briefly about my book and punk. I think that telling you what my punk rock background probably tells you a lot about where I was coming from in writing I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE. My passion for punk has always been about loving the music, not really feeling like I fit into the scene. A lot of times I still felt like the nerd/geek/dork at the punk show, not cool enough, not punk enough. But my love for the music helped me ignore those feelings. And as I mentioned I always felt closer to riot grrrl than I did the rest of the punk. My book is more of a homage to riot grrrl and female musicians than anything else. This brings us to issue one, the title.

FWIW, the MTV Books marketing department did not come up with the title I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE to sell more books. I came up with the title. No, my book is not about the Ramones (though I have always loved that band dearly), it's about a girl who wants to be the queen of rock 'n' roll and the title comes from a Sleater-Kinney song. It's my homage to bands like Sleater-Kinney and the lyrics, which you can read here, fit my main character.

And let's talk for a second about MTV Books. MTV Books is not like MTV the channel. Yeah, they put out some books about Fall Out Boy and the Hills and I don't buy those books, but they also put out a lot of great YA books and books that fall on that cusp between YA and adult like mine. These books tell stories centering around many different topics, not just music, by authors with very diverse backgrounds. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an MTV Book. And I very highly recommend books by Laura Wiess and Kelly Parra to show you the diversity and quality of MTV Books. The variety of stuff you find on MTV Books reminds me of MTV the channel when I was a kid and loved it.

Lastly, I'd like to address: "I wanted to read about real punk bands, not bands like Nirvana."/"There weren't enough real band references." This is really a two-parter. I'll start with the Nirvana thing.

My character, Emily Black, is slightly older than me in real life. She comes of age in the late eighties/early nineties. She is from a small, podunk town and dreams of escaping it by playing music. Who escaped a small town by playing music during that time period? Nirvana. The Nirvana reference is in the book because it's something that my character would be aware of at the time and it would influence her. If I had set my story earlier, maybe she would have been influenced by a different band. But I set her story when I set it because I saw a gap in the late 90s/early 2000s where mainstream music was just totally atrocious and I wished a band like the Distillers was the most popular band out there instead of Britney or Limp Bizkit. So I timed my story so that in my fictional verision of history a band like that was huge, Emily's band She Laughs. Maybe Emily is not punk enough because she does want to reach a larger audience or maybe her influences which range from Nirvana and the blues to The Clash (an influence coming from her father) and Patti Smith (an influence coming from her mother) are not punk enough. But Emily doesn't really care. That's why I like her, she's a hell of a lot less insecure than me and she does what she wants.

As for not making a ton of punk references through the book, well, I was just trying to keep it subtle. If I namedropped a bunch of bands, I'm sure I'd be criticized for that, too, but more importantly that wasn't the point of the book. Ultimately, my story is not about any real bands. It's about a band I made up and a woman who tries to escape into music. Louisa journeys back and forth across America visiting places at the time when the music scene was really happening. She's in SoCal in the heyday of Social D and the Germs and late 70s/early 80s LA punk. She's in DC for Minor Threat. She's in Minneapolis for the Replacements. She's in Boston for the Pixies. She's in the Bay Area for Operation Ivy. I carefully researched and timed this in the book because if I could travel through time those are the places I'd go. It would be cool to see all that. However Louisa is seeing it while she's running from something pretty heavy, so no I don't write a bunch of scenes of her at infamous concerts. It would have been fun to write, but it would have taken away from the story a bit. I use some musical references as a framework and also for my own writing enjoyment and for the reading enjoyment of music fans who are going to get the Joy Division reference in the beginning of chapter 2, or who like me would have liked to visit all those indie music scenes across the US through the years.

But there is more to the story of IWBYJR than just the music and I wanted to make it accessible to all kinds of different readers. Accessible doesn't mean "fake" or "dumbed down" or that I wrote for a current MTV the channel audience. But I didn't want anyone who read it to think, "I'm not cool enough or punk enough for this book." I hated those feelings as a teenager and even now and I don't want to engender them. I wanted music lovers and non-music people alike to be able to enjoy my story. I also hoped that it would open people's ears to music they haven't discovered. Maybe some teenage Britney or Avril fan will discover Sleater-Kinney and that's pretty cool.

Anyway, I hope this doesn't come across as defensive because I certainly didn't intend it to. I just thought I should speak up and talk about where I come from musicially and where my book comes from musically. I really do believe music fans and non-music fans will enjoy it. Maybe some people won't dig the characters or the writing style, but everyone has their own tastes and I get that. Maybe it won't be cool enough/punk enough for everyone, but to me, the root of punk rock is about feeling free enough to be yourself and expressing yourself in your own way. And that's what I did by writing this book.

So now I'm going to try to take a page from Emily's book (oh god, I didn't mean that as a really bad pun, I swear!) and not worry what everyone thinks of me and my writing. I write the kinds of stories I write because I'm passionate about them and I believe in them and I know at least a few of you out there can relate to the kinds of stories I like to tell. Even though I'm 29, my teenage (and pre-teenage) insecurities tend to rear their ugly head from time to time. My main character in BALLADS OF SUBURBIA and in the book I'm working on now are more like me in feeling like they are too geeky to fit in even with the misfits, so I'm trying to channel my leftover insecurities into them instead of feeling it.

Instead I pride myself on the good moments. Like last night's reading was completely amazing. Meeting Jolene Siana and Chris Connelly was awesome and I loved what they read so much. And to do an event with Joe Meno, who was my professor at Columbia and will always be a huge mentor of mine, dude that was just unbelievably cool. And the thing that really made me feel good was that when I finished he reading, he called me over and hugged me and told me he was so proud, that I'd really come into my own and that in fact he didn't really want to read after me because he thought I'd done so well. Then right after that, an older man walked over to me and told me that I'd done really well and that he thought I was going to be huge one day. Praise from one of my heroes and from a complete stranger, not to mention I read with three totally kick-ass authors and didn't feel like I wasn't cool enough. Yeah it was a good night.

Thanks for listening to my ups and downs. I have a feeling that lots of you can relate about not feeling good enough/cool enough/whatever enough. And that means you will really love the book Good Enough by Paula Yoo, tomorrow's WWRW feature. So please check that out tomorrow and if you want to be entered to win a mix CD, remember to leave a comment on last week's WWRW here!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Twitter, Venus, and a reading tonight!

Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday! I had a great time with my fam and my boyfriend's fam and made good money at the bar on Black Wednesday so I can't complain.

Now I am waiting for my editor to send me BALLADS OF SUBURBIA revision notes, which she told me I would have early this week. I'm excited and nervous and absolutely cannot bring myself to work on anything else since I know I have this big project on the horizon. I'm also a bit anxious about how fast they are going to want me to turn the revision around since well, this book comes out two weeks after IWBYJR did and I'd turned in revisions for IWBYJR almost a month ago at this point. Regardless, I am expecting to be blogging a lot less frequently once I start working on BALLADS. So I finally broke down and joined Twitter as a way to keep you all updated in brief little snippets at least of my activities and random thoughts. You can "follow" me (which sounds like stalking, doesn't it? That's okay, I internet stalk, too.) at http://www.twitter.com/writerstephanie. Come stalk and join the fun!

Also I just wanted to remind you all that the Winter Issue of Venus Zine hit the stands today and it has an interview with me and (thanks to everyone who voted again!) IWBYJR is featured as the #2 Best Book of 2008! So check it out if you see it in bookstores or newsstands!

Last but not least, if you are in Chicago tonight, please come see me read with Chris Connelly, Joe Meno, and Jolene Siana at Book Cellar, 4736 N. Lincoln. The fun starts at 7 pm.