Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Mickey Finn-isher Off of the Windy City Rollers!

Welcome to Women Who Rock Wednesday! The winner of my latest contest for Carrie Jones' book Captivate is... Audrey from blogger! Audrey, I will be emailing you shortly!

I'm particularly psyched about this week's Woman Who Rocks for a few reasons. 1. She is our first athlete on WWRW and she does the sport I only wish I was bad-ass enough to do... roller derby! 2. She is local. She lives in my town and in fact this Women Who Rock Wednesday is an expanded interview from a newspaper column I wrote that is being published today.

So first things first, you should run off and read that Forest Park Review column about Michelle Balogh AKA Mickey Finn-isher Off because it describes exactly what is so awesome about roller derby (in case you didn't already know) and gives you the basics on Mickey and the Windy City Rollers, which is the roller derby league here in Chicago that she is a part of as a member of the team Hell's Belles. So yeah... go read that.... We'll be waiting for you.

Okay, ready?

Let's meet Mickey Finn-sher Off!

First off, can I get the basics about you? Were you raised in Forest Park or how long have you lived here? And you mentioned there were about 10 other Windy City Rollers from the 'burbs. Any others from Forest Park?

Mickey: Michelle Balogh, Age 24. I was born and raised in Brookfield right near the zoo. I moved to Forest Park last year to be close to the L cause I work in the Loop. There are some Oak Park ladies. Sue Perduper, Fearagamo, Tamikazi, Notorious D.I.E., Tay Q Down, Diana Hoss and Tara Bonaparte are all from the area.

How did you get into roller derby? I imagine you'd have to be pretty athletic to get involved. Were you an active skater as a kid or involved in sports in high school? What was the process of getting into the Windy City Rollers like? You mentioned you were on a farm team of sorts first, can you just give a timeline, when you signed up, how long you were on the farm team, how long you've been on Hell's Belles?

Mickey: I saw a flyer a little more then a year ago and decided to go see one of the bouts and fell in love!! Since then it had been sitting there in the back of my mind. I didn't skate much as a kid it was mostly fellow kids birthday parties at Fleetwood or Lombard Lanes. I never owned my own pair of skates till 3/4 months ago.

I was involved in lots of sports growing up. I play softball, volleyball, did the swimming thing. In high school I play softball and ice hockey for Fenwick....

So there are tryouts for the farm team maybe twice a year and if you make it on then your a rioter and a windy city roller. You can be on the farm team for a few days or a year. Just depends on when team call a draft, who they need, if you get along with the other team members. Each team has a certain persona to it. The Manics are the crazy ladies, the Belles are the pretty ones LOL. The farm team is coached by two players from the home teams. They teach basic skating and derby skills and off skates to build up the proper derby muscles. I personally tried out for the farm team in early December. I got my skates a week before and had skated on them only once!! I totally didn't expect to make it. I was just thinkin I could go out and see what its like and get some feed back and try out next time for real. But I got an email the next day saying that they would like me to be on the farm team!! I could believe it. So I started to go to the Sunday practices and outside speed skate clinics. A few weeks later there was a draft called and I didn't even think twice about it.. there was a transfer from Gotham (New York) so I figured they wanted to give her a spot on a home team. So the day after the draft I'm checking my emails and there are two or 3 asking for my phone number and I replied with it. Later that day I got a phone call from the Capitan of the Hells Belles saying that I was drafted!! I flipped a shit. It was all so sudden for me...was I ready for this... how about the time commetment... but all that didn't matter I MADE A TEAM!! Some girls have been on the farm team for a 8-12 months. The reason I found out later that they drafted me was that I had heart no matter how many times I fell down in practice I got right back up and tried again. I am a loud mouth and have played team sports all my life so encouraging my teammates also made an impression. I guess my skating and quick learning and improvement was also a factor. All in all I made the team I think I said Holy Shit a million times that day and was in a daze at work. So I have been a Belle for about 2 months now. Loving every minute of it!!

How'd you pick your name?

I'm pretty darn Irish and proud and thought the pun on "Slipping someone a Mickey" was pretty good. The guy that the pun is named for is Mickey Finn he owned a bar on the South Side of Chicago way back when and would drug and rob some of the bar patrons went to jail and got another bar and did it again. LOL! My name being Michelle, figured it was good. Then I had to add the " Badass aspect" for those who didn't get the Mickey Finn reference. It makes it kinda long but its true to me and how I roll. Irish bad ass that likes to drink!!

The name selcetion seems to be the hardest part. I mean most of the people I know from derby if I haven't hung out with them outside I only know their derby names. So in the derby world I am Mickey. Its almost like a persona, like a second life that you live that only a few people know both people/personalities. One jewelry photographer and other torn-up fishnet, heavy makeup wearin ass kicker!

What's your training schedule like? Is it pretty brutal? Keeping ya in good shape? Any wicked injury stories yet?

Mickey: Well once you make it on a home team we scrimmage on mondays, have team practice on tue or wed depending on the team you are on. Have open league skates on Thursdays and Saturdays. The scrimmages are hour and a half 7 till 830 or 830 till 10. Team practice is 7 -9 or 9 -11... makes for a long night. The same hours apply for the league skates which are specfic to something like gettting more speed or pack awarness or blocking. The calendar for the farm team the Haymarket Rioters is a little different. We need to get cleared to do certain things within the league. This helps prevent major injurys so we dont have 5 year vets knocking the crap out of someone who has been on skates for a month. We are also "highly" encouraged to go to outside speed skates "AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE" at the local roller rinks to improve our speed and technique better. I could skate 7 days a week, 5 of them twice a day if I had the time and energy! We also have dry land workouts that are kinda specfic to derby as a sport!!

It does keep you in good shape but we do have to cross train. We work out our legs a whole lot!! Some ladies say that they have measured their quads and the left leg was 3 inches bigger then the right!! Makes its hard to find pants, LOL.

The worst I have gotten thus far is skate rap. This is when you fall and land on your skate right in your butt like your foot fold unerneath you. There comes a pretty nasty bruise right between the crack and its hard to sit for long periods of time. It sucks too cause you can't show anyone to prove it!! Rinks rash is pretty bad too its a like a carpet rash on steroids when your going 15 MPH . The court is a hard plastic with holes that go to the ground so its like sliding on a cheese grater ...less than pleasant!

What do you love most about doing Roller Derby? Is there anyone in particular that you look up to or keeps you motivated?

Mickey: That I still get to be athletic and physical and challenge myself everyday. After college there aren't many opportunity to get out there and hit some people with out having a lot of Bail money on hand. Also the comradery of the Ladies. We all have the same workout and love to come skate even when we are exhausted or just broke up with a boyfriend and want to cry. We are there for each other. Plus hitting others and getting back is a great stress relief. You don't have to wear your pants suits and put your hair up. You can wear funky sox and put your hair in pigtails if you wanted without getting strange looks or a "talk" from your boss. I look up to all the ladies for a multitude of different reasons. Some chicks have been skating since to start of WCR years ago. I look to them for the staying power and lessons about skating and tips. Other are just starting up and get knocked down all the time and get back up with a smile on there face and hit right back. Some still have been on the rioters farm team for almost a year yet they still show up to all the practice and bust their ass waiting for their opportunity to see their name in lights at the UIC Pavilion. So they all keep me motived and i look to them for inspiration on days when my knees are sore or my skate rap is hurting or im tired as hell. I just remember that we have all been in the exact same position and work througt it you become stronger physically and mentally like you can take on the world. Cheesy I know but you can say some of us are lacking class with our fishnets or not a size 2 but we all have heart. I think thats why fans come back. We dont get paid we actually pay dues to be part of the WCR so we do cause we love it.

Mickey and her derbymates warming up!

There's definitely an image to derby girls, a punky tough chick sort of thing. Can you address that at all? Was that something that naturally fit with your personality? Personally I love how bad ass all the Windy City Rollers look. I like that it's women looking powerful and not adhering to classic standards of beauty, just being themselves.

Mickey: I went to a Catholic high school and then went to NIU for Art photography so I kinda had to to wear a uniform for 8 years. One was a plaid skirt and then paint clothes or something that could get dirty. So finding my style was a little later and is always evolving prob like most people! All the girls have day jobs weither it be in a scientific lab or a lawyer or a stay at home mom where they have their styles but when they hit the tracks its your chance to express yourself and let loose. Whoever can find the craziest sox or leggings get mad props! We are pretty tough and the attire come with the sport!! You've got it exactly right, ladies just being themselves and there are some beauty queens and some crazy chicks with blue hair but we all have one goal kick ass and win! Skulls are our favorite find something with skulls on it all over! Tattoo are pretty much the common place on the skaters. Having only one myself, they are like where's your ink... So ashamed only a tramp stamp for me... But most girls have leg and sleeves tattoo which adds to the mystic of a derby girl!!

What would you say the primary audience is for Derby? Is it family friendly or more of an older crowd? (it seemed mostly people around our age when I went a couple years ago) What do you think people will enjoy most about going to see the Windy City Rollers?

Mickey: 20- 30s, a decent mix. Some older... we have gotten a lot more really young fans recently too. I think in the past few years we and derby has become less "underground" and more widely accepted. I know the movie Whip It had an influence on our audience. There are a lot of family and friends that do come but then they bring friends and they fall in love... and so the cycle of life continues !!

People say what they like the most about the WCRs is prob the atmosphere. When you go to a game theres a big crowd and cheering and girls on skates on the concourse passing out flyers and chatting with you. We are a fan interactive sport. We love to hear from the fans and talk about everything derby. After each bout we all go to the Fan Zone and sign programs and take pictures! SO you get to see a real sporting event but you get to interact with the players you just saw skating around kickin some ass. Every bout we have in the regular season is a double header. So all 4 home teams play in one night so you can see one game have some nachos and a beer then meet some derby chicks then watch the 2nd game. So the price of the ticket really gets you a lot when you compare it to other sporting events you could be attending. You can be close to the action!!! Most of the ladies go out to an after party bar afterwards so the fan interaction can continue! They serve beer and other adult beverages at the UIC!!! But on that note we are also super kid friendly. The crazy untamed fun still happens just less swearing or vulgarity. Don't get me wrong there are still girls in fishnets and super short shorts that hit girls on their butts!! Going to see derby is not just a Saturday hitting the bars or doing some karaoke or watching the game at home, it's an experience you will remember for a long time!! We also have a great group rates 15 or more get a Major discount, a roped off section for all your people so late comers still get great seats, a shout out on the ticker tape and having a rioter (farm team) player sit in your section to answer questions is in the works!!....... We sponsor a charity for every event. The Windy City Rollers is a non for profit company.

Are there any comments you'd like to make about being a suburban derby girl? In terms of what that means for you, kinship you feel with the other suburban girls and how it matters to get a suburban audience out there?

The suburban girls are a special breed. Everything that we do is in the city so its a bunch of extra time for commuting and gas for driving or getting our happy asses out much less home after a late practice midnight on a week night. There aren't many of us but we are all troopers. I personally dont know the city that well so I see this as a great oppertunity to learn and expand. I think we are getting a bit more of a Burbs auidence. The UIC is right off the blue line so its accessible plus there is your ride home/DD. I am honored to be a burbs girl but represent Chicago as a whole. I hope the further we go away from the city will only help spread the word about roller derby.

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!

Album No Doubt Tragic Kingdom it was between this and the spice girls I made the right choice!! and concert Smashing Pumpkins also where I had my first beer in public!! :)

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

Mickey: It's between two times I played in the little league softball world series twice as an All Star, we played teams from China and Jamaica. Just to be able to have that memory of sharing the field with the best in the world is awesome even if its little league.. so I peaked early. But I was the catcher who caught all the opening pitches for the whole series. Pretty nice honor!! ........Or a moment thats coming up in the near future. I work for a jewelry company as a photographer. We have been working on our website for a while now. As soon as it gets all the bugs out it will be up and running. I didnt do any of the script writing but I did take and edit every single picture that is on the site and there are a whole ton!! When that is finally avaliable to the public I will consider myself a professional published photographer!!

I've gotta say emailing back and forth with Mickey and talking to her at my bar the Beacon has been one of the most fun WWRW interviews I've done. Hopefully you enjoyed it too and if you haven't already seen a roller derby bout, you are looking to see if there is one in your town. If you are in Chicago, you are in luck and should check out the Windy City Rollers! If you are in other cities, here is the national league information, so you can look for your local team!

This Week's Contest:

Mickey has been cool enough to put together a fun Windy City Rollers derby prize kit for one lucky winner. As usual, to enter all you have to do is leave a comment. Be sure to include your email address so I can track you down. For additional entries:

+1 tweeting/blogging about/linking to this interview
+1 tweeting/blogging about/linking to the Windy City Rollers
+1 for become a fan of the Windy City Rollers on Facebook/or Myspace/ or following them on twitter. (yes you get +1 for each of these!)

I'll draw a winner next week!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Playing (perpetual) catch up and new story

Sorry I've been absent from the blog lately. When that happens, most likely I'm writing. Sometimes I'm dealing with personal crap. Sometimes I'm trying to write and meet a deadline while dealing with stressful icky bad personal crap.... and that's pretty much what happened last week.

The good news is that a big hurdle was jumped in the stressful personal crap yesterday and over the weekend I sent the latest version of one of my works-in-progress to my agent. Hopefully my proposal is closer to where it needs to be to get shopped. And then she can shop it and while I'm waiting I can fix the other work-in-progress. And then my agent can shop that. And hopefully sell one or both of these projects. And I will feel like an employed writer again and you will have something new to read by me, maybe even next year (I really really hope next year). My fellow Teen Fiction Cafe blogger and author who I just adore, Kelly Parra, wrote a really great blog on Teen Fiction Cafe about how much work it is to *stay published* after you get published and what a mental toll it can take on you and what a creativity suck it can be. This is something I've been struggling with lately too, but Kelly said it much more eloquently than I could, so I urge you to read her entry. I personally bookmarked so I can reread it when I am feeling stuck.

While you are at Teen Fiction Cafe, there are a couple more things you should check out. For one, we are having a big ol' 2 week party there starting March 1 and the details are here. Also I blogged about bullying and mean girls on Teen Fiction Cafe after reading this very upsetting news story online a couple weeks ago. It's a topic that is close to my heart since I certainly dealt with my fair share of mean girls growing up and like with everything, I firmly believe that the more we talk about it, the more we can help people who are struggling with being bullied and let bullies know that it is not okay. For those of you wishing to read more about bullying--cyber-bullying in particular--this book was just brought to my attention, it is written by a judge and may be worth checking out.

Another quick catch up item that I forgot to tell you about. I did an interview with Every Girl Blog which was lots of fun and you can read it here.

Oh yes, today was all about catch up. I'm not sure I will ever find the balance in my life where I manage to blog a few times a week, keep up on my email, spend the majority of my day writing, work my night job, spend times with husband, friends, and family, eat, workout and sleep. I think I would need to double the day in order to do all of that. But if I ever come up with a system, I'll let ya know. For now it's the people I love come first when they need me, followed by writing and the essentials (ie job, food, sleep), and then I catch up with the rest when I can.

Sometimes I don't even know what to blog about because my life on a day to day basis is not all that exciting and I don't have a lot of news lately, not the kind of news I want to give you about a new book, at least. But I have to write that book in order for that to happen.

In the meantime I have something to tide you over though. In case you missed my twittering about it last week, a short story I wrote aired on a Chicago Public Radio station and you can listen to it here. It's an interesting collaborative project. My friend Matt, who runs the Reading List (which has me reading the first chapter of Ballads), has this ongoing project where he tracks down people with interesting true stories, interviews them about their true story and then finds a writer that he thinks is appropriate to write a version of the story. The writer's version is then read by an actor or actress on the radio. So he had this story about a woman who was living a rather crazy life in Los Angeles and had a nervous breakdown that ultimately led to her meeting her husband. He thought it was the perfect story for me to tell (gee, I wonder why... am I the queen of punishing her characters or what?), when I heard his interview, I was definitely inspired. I wrote the short story in a day, then revised it a bit per Matt's suggestions and now... well go listen to it and get your Stephanie fix... not quite fiction, definitely not YA, but hopefully you will enjoy it!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Carrie Jones

Welcome to Women Who Rock Wednesday! Today I have two winners to announce! JessicaSecret is the winner of the Maybenauts download card and Catie S is the winner of Suzanne Young's naughty list. I will be emailing you both for your mailing addresses, unless you email me first at stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot com!

Today, I have another lovely GCC sister here, Carrie Jones who rocks and has a new book out called CAPTIVATE.

Here's the lowdown on the book:

In this NYT-Bestselling sequel to NEED, Zara and her friends knew they hadn't solved the pixie problem for good. Far from it. The king's needs grow deeper every day he's stuck in captivity, while his control over his people gets weaker. It's made him vulnerable. And now there's a new king in town.

A turf war is imminent, since the new pixie king, Astley, is moving in quickly. Nick nearly killed him in the woods on day one, but Zara came to his rescue. Astley swears that he and Zara are destined to be together, that he's one of the good guys. Nick isn't buying it, though Zara isn't as sure -- despite herself, she wants to trust the new king. But it's a lot more than her relationship with Nick that is at stake. It's her life -- and his.

You can get more details, read excerpts from both NEED and CAPTIVATE, and enter contests here!

And now, it is interview time, let's meet Carrie Jones!

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

Carrie: Well, CAPTIVATE is the sequel to NEED, and NEED was inspired by this weird thing that happened.

I was at the Common Ground Fair, which is this huge, cool fair in Maine that’s sponsored by the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association (MOFGA). To get to the main part of the fair you have to walk through this sweet trail that curves through these tall spruce trees.

While I was walking, right in front of me was this guy. He had a weird vibe. He was wearing all corduroy—blazer, pants. And sticking out from his blazer was this long tail-like appendage that was wrapped in different colored earth-toned cloth.

I guess he could tell I was checking him out because he turned his head and looked at me. His eye was this startling silver color. How startling? So startling that I actually gasped and got creeped out.

When we were in line to pay we made eye contact again and his eyes were brown.

I know! I know! I probably imagined the silver eye color.

It doesn’t matter. That was one of the main things that got me started. Then, I just had this image of a man standing outside an airport pointing at an airplane this girl was on.

It also creeped me out.

So, I started writing.

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

Mad Girl's Love Song
Nobody's Home
Who Knows
Feels Like Tonight

If I say how they relate to the story it totally spoils the story, so I’m not going to. I hope that’s okay. Oh, I feel so rebellious now. Wow. Where are my purple combat boots?

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

Carrie: Em, my daughter, because she demands new stories EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. Without her I would still be a newspaper editor.

Joe Sullivan, my high school creative writing teacher, because he would always say YOU ARE A WRITER! He was so nice. He made me believe I was.

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?

Carrie: Sometimes, I can. Sometimes though it tricks me into believing I’ve written this brilliant, moving scene when it turns out that it was just the music that was brilliant and moving.

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

Carrie: I am working on the third book in the NEED series and a horror novel with Steve Wedel.

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!

Carrie: The first album I ever bought with my own money was U2’s WAR.

The first concert I attended is SO embarrassing. The city next to my town had just started a concert series in the parking lot of these old mills. Everyone (and their parents) went to the inaugural series, which was Hall and Oates. I spent the entire time mumbling, “I hate this” and trying to ditch my mom.

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

Carrie: My biggest rock star moment happened last week when Caroline Abbey, Deb Shapiro and Melanie Ceckla of Bloomsbury called me up and told me that CAPTIVATE had debuted at #7 on the NYT Bestseller list for hardcovers and that NEED had debuted at #10 for paperbacks. I spent the entire phone call hyperventilating while Caroline shouted, “I told you that you were a rock star! I told you!”

She had in an email, and I told her I was more like the local guy playing guitar too loudly in the back of the very small restaurant, the guy who everyone wants to stop playing because they can’t hear each other talk.

I still feel more like that guy than a rock star.

Also, I am still in shock.

What a rock star moment! I have to say that is probably every writer's dream rock star moment... well at least it is mine :)

Today's Contest:
So, you want to win a copy of Captivate? I'm sure after hearing what it's about you do... ll you have to do to enter is comment. Please leave an email address so I can track you down if you win and get your mailing address.

Want additional entries? +1 for every tweet or link posted or blogged about to this interview with Carrie or spreading the word about Captivate!

I'll pick a winner next week!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Books on Film

Man, the blog title got that old Duran Duran song "Girls On Film" in my head. Oh 80s music, I love you. Anyway...

Sunday afternoon my friend Jenny and I went to see The Lovely Bones. We both had just read the book so it was fresh in our minds and we were eager to see how it would be interpreted on film. The answer? Loosely.

I really enjoyed the book. I went into it thinking it was about a girl trying to help her father solve her murder from the beyond. I got this impression from vague memories of people discussing it years ago when it came out (it was one of those books I kept meaning to check out at the time, but I was in grad school and had lots of assigned reading occupying my time) and then the commercial for the movie which revived my interest in reading it and pushed it to the top of the TBR pile because since I usually prefer books to movies, I like to read the books first. I found that the book was so much more than that. It was more like a study of how people respond to grief and rebuild their lives over the years after a violent and sudden loss. This is a subject that definitely interests me. I'm still grappling with recent deaths myself. I don't want to get too spoilery so I'll just say how much I loved how the many different characters were developed so fully (as that is something I work hard on myself) and I was impressed by the wide scope of the story.

And I really wondered how the hell they were going to recreate that in a movie. This was something Jenny and I chatted about on our way to the theater, specifically wondering how they would age the younger characters over a ten year period. We also wondered how they would deal with the ending since it wasn't a Hollywood ending by any means. I expressed that I felt the ending in the book fell short emotionally for me... just a little bit. If you've read my books, you know I don't like the Hollywood ending or to have all the loose ends tied up. And while I got most of the emotional closure I needed, something felt missing.

So Jenny and I sat down for the movie. We thought it was going to be nearly empty since it was Superbowl Sunday, but I guess there were a bunch of women who had the same idea as us--let's catch the chick flick with our friend while everyone else is focused on getting ready for the big game. Unfortunately there was a group of elderly women right near us who talked for a few minutes as the movie started until everyone in the theater was shushing them. They also made that awful obvious commentary throughout, like "Don't go in there! Oh no, she's gonna go in there..." Ugh. I'll probably have to see the movie again at some point just to see it without that obnoxious soundtrack. And I also think I need to see it without thinking so much about the book.

I could tell pretty much right away that they were going to make changes. When they stated the age of one of the characters (Susie's love interest, making him older than her, not the same age), I knew they wouldn't be doing the whole ten year time span thing. That's okay, I told myself. It would be hard to do in a movie anyway. But the problem was I kept waiting for certain parts that I'd loved from the book to show up... and then they wouldn't. Much of what they chose to cut was the stuff I loved the most, the stuff that showed how the characters developed and changed after the narrator died. Jenny and I felt that the mother in particular was overlooked. (My mother's response to that: was a man producing it? Um yeah actually.) The other thing that bugged me was they completely changed Susie's heaven into something that could be visually spectacular, ie good for the movie and full of special effects etc. I thought the heaven that Alice Sebold gave Susie was perfect: it involved the things in life she missed the most, like the high school she would never get to attend. It was another thing I'd really loved about the book.

So those were the main two things that bothered me. Some of the time compression was to be expected, but fewer over the top visuals and more of a focus on developing the supporting characters would have been appreciated. However, Jenny and I both loved the ending. They didn't change it from the book, but they did actually make it better. Something about it being visual gave it the emotional oomph that I felt it was lacking in the book. It makes me wonder if an extra line or two of description in the book would have made it more powerful. Not that I'm going to be critical. I know how damn hard endings are to write!

Anyway I will watch the movie again at some point and try to see if I can separate it from the book and judge it solely that way, though I don't know if I can. I think I'm kind of a stickler for staying close to the original text. Obviously a 2 hour film equals 120 pages and books are much longer than that, but the most important scenes need to be chosen. I feel like the Harry Potter books have been translated to film quite well. And, as I was discussing with my mom since Shutter Island is about to come out, Clint Eastwood did an amazing job with Dennis Lehane's novel Mystic River. That, to me, was about as perfect an adaptation as you could get. I was about to say that maybe only genre fiction translates to the screen well, but Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting is another book that worked very well on the big screen.

Yeah, I guess being both a writer and an avid reader makes me insanely picky when it comes to adaptations. I took a semester of film courses about adaptation and one of things that I will always remember is my professor saying, "Shitty books make the best movies, working with a good book is really hard." In those courses I learned a lot about the business of film but also about the art of adaptation. It's not an art I'd trust myself at. People ask me if I'd like to see my books made into movies, and my answer is yes, absolutely. I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, I think would make a good film in particular (though I hope this doesn't mean it's a shitty book, pls no mean comments that it is, I totally opened myself up for that...) and a friend of mine from college is in the early stages of trying to make that happen. Both she and other people have asked me, well, would you want to adapt it? And my answer to that is no, absolutely not. Because adaptation means re-envisioning. My books are written exactly the way I envisioned them. I couldn't make the necessary cuts and changes and I couldn't reinterpret it for that medium. I can only hope that one day I'll be in the position where I can see someone else's interpretation of my story on screen... well, maybe... I can imagine that it might be like my Lovely Bones experience times a million trying to watch that...

Anyway, where do you stand with books on film? Are you often disappointed or usually pleased? What was your favorite adaptation? Your biggest disappointment? And what would you love to see on the big screen? (For me, it's Wicked Lovely.... I know there has been a deal so I really really hope that one gets made and fast! Though it's so dear to me, I will be grumpy if it is done wrong.)

Friday, February 5, 2010

What I've learned about writing from soap operas

I've been addicted to soap operas since I was fourteen. I was in summer school, to get the required health credit out of the way and scope out my new high school before I had to start in fall. Every day after class let out we'd head over to either Laura or Jenny's house for lunch. Both of them were addicted to All My Children and One Life to Live. They got me hooked. Really, it was the most innocent thing I'd get hooked on in high school. And I've quit smoking, doing drugs, dating boys that are bad for me, but please do not make me give up my One Life To Live.

I can still remember what got me hooked on both shows. On All My Children, Erica Kane's long lost daughter had returned that summer--a daughter she'd had as a result of rape when she was fourteen years old. Erica was having a hard time being confronted with this and the daughter was having a hard time coping with being unwanted, she reacted in rebellious teenage/early 20s ways that were extra conniving because, well, it's a soap opera. And who played that long lost daughter? Sarah Michelle Gellar. Yeah Buffy will always be Kendall Hart to me. But she was a damn good actress even then, hence I loved--well really loved to hate her character.

On One Life To Live, there was a guy who looked like a daytime TV's answer to Kurt Cobain on the run from the law. Todd Manning, every feminist bone in my body should make me hate you. You're a rapist. And I did hate you, despite you being the cleaned up soap star version of my favorite rock star. But the writers did an interesting thing with you, they gave you a backstory that did not in any way excuse your actions, but it humanized you.

And this my friends, is when I started learning a little bit about writing from soap operas.

Yes, I'm serious. This is me, Stephanie Kuehnert. The chick whose books get called "raw" and "edgy" and "punk rock." Judge away if you want. I own my guilty pleasures. And I've always loved drama--whether it be of the Shakespeare variety or the daytime sort--and since I've always loved writing, I've learned what I could about storytelling from every source out there.

So today, I thought I'd share what I learned about writing from soap operas. Hey, it's Friday, I think a somewhat silly post is in order.

So I started watching both All My Children and One Life to Live when I was 14. While still in high school I caught up on them during spring and summer breaks. During my senior semester (I graduated early), I had a half day so I was usually home in time to catch OLTL. I ultimately phased AMC out because I was more interested in the characters on OLTL (Kendall just wasn't the same after Sarah Michelle Gellar went on to slaying vampires and left her to be recast. Todd got recast too, but I was involved with so many other characters that I let that go.). Now, I record it every day and when I'm done with writing for the day, I go downstairs and watch it while I work out. My husband often makes fun of me especially when I scream at the TV out of irritation because they've added a truly horrible character (Stacy the stripper, she's getting killed off this month, I hear, thank god) or out of delight because they've brought back a villain that I truly love to hate (Mitch Lawrence, the cult leader, he came back from the dead and dug up his own daughter's dead husband and led her to find the corpse, pure fabulous evil). But my soap opera viewing really is part guilty pleasure, part learning experience, though admittedly I learn a lot of what NOT to do.

Actually the reason I thought to blog about this is because it's February sweeps this month so they are busting out with the big storylines and this week they used a classic soap opera drama-inducing device: The Big Storm. During the summer it's a tornado, during the winter it's a snowstorm. And generally it leads to 1. Death, injury or coma of characters, 2. birth of baby (or last time there was a storm in Llanview, an unknown baby was found), 3. Characters that do not usually get along end up trapped together, 4. a car accident, and most importantly #5. Secrets are revealed.

When I saw the melodramatic preview that "The Storm" was coming to Llanview, my inner soap fan squealed at delight for all of the dramatic possibilities, but my writer self groaned and thought "This is totally unfair! My editor would never let me get away with this!"

There are many, many cheats in soap operas. Characters can come back from the dead. ("Wait, you're back? I personally shot you fifteen times, watched you fall off a bridge, and spat on your grave when they buried you!") And there is no regard whatsoever for timelines if they get in the way of the plot. There's even a name for this: Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome (SORAS). For example, the aforementioned Todd Manning's first child Starr was born in 1996. She just turned 18 last week. I suck at math, but I know for sure that isn't right. More irritating, Todd's long lost daughter Dani who was conceived *after* his son Jack was born and yet is somehow magically 4 years older than him. This pisses me off. It's pissed a lot of the shows's fans off (and now comes the part where I admit guiltily that I know how many people it pissed off because I signed up to be an "ABC Insider" and give feedback on OLTL on a special messageboard, but I swear I did it in hopes that they would see that my plot ideas for the show were totally brilliant and hire me as one of the writers....) BUT there is still a writing lesson here about plot:

Don't get so focused on plot points that you force your characters into something that doesn't suit them or change your own rules just so you can make your plot work. Your readers will cry shenanigans and become disgruntled.

Okay so that's a "don't do" but as I mentioned before, I did learn a lot from soap operas about how to write "bad" characters or villains. There is a certain character in BALLADS, all of you who have read it will immediately know, but I don't want to spoil it for those who haven't, who I wanted readers to ultimately hate, but still feel sympathy for. People are not just born evil, something happens to them to shape them one way or another. I always want my villains to be human. Watching Todd Manning is where I first formed my interest in what really happened to a character to make him or her act the way he does. And I make sure I know those key moments about every one of my characters, no matter if they are "good" or "evil" or a major or minor character. I don't do character interviews where I find out their favorite foods, etc. I sit down and ask my characters, "What was the moment that changed your life? What fucked you up or what made you walk the straight and narrow?" And, yes, I learned that from a soap opera. Because I was so amazed by the way the writers conjured sympathy in me for a character whose actions disgusted me.

That was back when the writing was better on OLTL. It's been slipping lately and I'm seeing characters typecast. During this whole big storm saga that is currently going on, I can see already see two things that are going to raise my hackles. Mentally fragile Jessica is going to be the victim again and John the savior cop is going to almost lose his love in fiery car crash. The fiery car crash thing is pissing me off the most because it seriously happened in almost exactly the same way with a different chick two years ago. But both these characters are seriously typecast and in very stereotypical gender roles (weak woman, strong man). Another big writerly don't. Lesson learned from soap opera: turn the typical roles around. What would happen if the perpetual victim finally fought back? What would happen if the strong cop had to be saved for a change? My guess? A more interesting story.

Moving on to pacing. It can be atrocious in soap operas. I'd stopped watching One Life to Live for awhile and then picked it up again one summer when I discovered that we got SoapNet with our cable package and OLTL was on when I got home from work. My boyfriend at the time started watching it with me (yeah, feel free to mock him, that's fine), but after three months of watching a character being held captive (she was thought to be dead, but really badly injured and given a memory erasing drug, of course!) and almost get discovered... but no! Almost escaped... but no! Almost released by her captor... but no! My ex shouted, "I can't watch this anymore. This same plot has been going on for months and it will never end!" It did. Probably during sweeps. Perhaps during a storm. Honestly, I don't remember how that storyline concluded because they let it go on way too long. So obviously dragging out the plots too long = bad. Lesson learned. But let's talk about the other devices used to slow the pacing and break up the drama.

Okay, mainly it's sex scenes. That's what the desperate housewives want to see I guess. But sometimes comedy too. Or a touching moment between family members. And I have noted those occasions and stolen them for my writing. I never drag out the drama so long you want to pull your hair out (I hope), but to both break tension and build it at the same time, I do like to insert moments of sex/comedy/touching dialogue to break up the action.

I'm sure I have some other examples, but for now I will conclude with my favorite thing that I've learned from soaps besides the giving characters history thing. When they are bringing a story arc to it's climax a lot of times two enemies get trapped together and end up confessing things to each other. That's a device, but what I discovered from seeing it happen so many times is that opposites really do attract when it comes to storytelling. Seeing personalities clash is instant drama and there is something really satisfying about the moment when those two people realize what they have in common or finally take the risk of opening up to each other.

So there it is. Mock me if you will, but soap operas are my favorite escape. The plot lines are often ludicrous, but I enjoy letting myself be manipulated by the writers and I've learned a lot from them, even if much of it is what *not* to do. Most of all, it reinforced in me that dramatic tension can be completely addicting (though you have to suspend your disbelief in soap operas quite often), which is why you will always find plenty of it in my books. Though I haven't written my story about the girl with multiple personalities who fakes a pregnancy to get the guy, then really gets pregnant, then has a psychopath after her and her baby, gives birth during a terrible storm and dies only to come back from the dead five years later and demand her baby back ... well I haven't written it yet. Hey One Life to Life, if you're hiring...

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Suzanne Young!

Welcome to Women Who Rock Wednesday! I still think more people need to check out last week's Women Who Rock, The Maybenauts because I am so loving their music right now, so I'm leaving that contest open for another week. Go read the interview and enter to win their tunes here!

This week I'm excited to feature one of my Girlfriends Cyber Circuit sisters! Suzanne Young has a new book out called The Naughty List. Let's learn all about it, shall we?

As if being a purrfect cheerleader isn’t enough responsibility! Tessa Crimson’s the sweet and spunky leader of the SOS (Society of Smitten Kittens), a cheer squad–turned–spy society dedicated to bringing dastardly boyfriends to justice, one cheater at a time. Boyfriend-busting wouldn’t be so bad . . . except that so far, every suspect on the Naughty List has been proven 100% guilty!

When Tessa’s own boyfriend shows up on the List, she turns her sleuthing skills on him. Is Aiden just as naughty as all the rest, or will Tessa’s sneaky ways end in catastrophe?

The Naughty List. Is your boyfriend on it?

Follow the squad at

Look out for series: The Naughty List-2/4/10, So Many Boys-6/10/10, A Good Boy is Hard to Find-10/2010

And now let's meet Suzanne:

Suzanne Young is a brilliant scientist. Not really. But she is a former middle school teacher turned zookeeper (mother). When Suzanne's not fending off zombie squirrels or narrating her daughter's Barbie soap operas, she can be found camping on the Oregon coast or writing obsessively.

Suzanne is the author of The Naughty List series coming February 4th, 2010 from Razorbill/Penguin. The Naughty List is about a group of cheerleaders who investigate cheating boyfriends. Which Suzanne never did. Or at least, not that you can prove.

Learn more at

Now the Women Who Rock Weds interview!

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

Suzanne: The Naughty List is about a group of cheerleaders who investigate cheating boyfriends. First, I expected it just to be light fun. But as I explored some of the emotions, I ended up with a book about trust in relationships. And lots of really perky sayings.

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

Suzanne: Just a Girl-No Doubt
Fidelity-Regina Spektor
Boys with Girlfriends-Meiko
Underneath it All-No Doubt
This Year’s Love-David Gray

Q: Who were some of your inspirations to become a writer or the inspirations that keep you writing?

Suzanne: My grandmother inspired me to be who I am. She gave me permission to follow any dream I had—even the ones that seemed impossible or downright crazy. And when she was passed away, she became the reason I went on. I’m always striving to make her proud. All of my books are dedicated to her.

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

Suzanne: You know, I used to listen to music while drafting. But now, I listen in the car to get me thinking. But when I write, I’ve become someone that needs silence. Not sure how I got so boring!

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

Suzanne: I’m finishing up book 3 in the series: A Good Boy is Hard to Find. I’ve also been working on a special book that I’m keeping under wraps right now. I hope to have more news
on it soon.

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!

Suzanne: Haha. Okay, I’ll be honest. My first album was DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince—He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper. And the first concert was Cinderella. Yes, the hair band Cinderella.

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

Suzanne: In the grand scheme of things, this may seem really small, but it was amazing for me. I was at a book signing for a very successful author. While I was sitting in the audience, a girl sat next to me. We smiled. Then my friend came over and I gave her an ARC of my book that I’d
just received. The stranger gasped. She said, “Oh my God. Is that your book? Are you Suzanne Young?” I just about died. She said she’d been waiting to read my book and had seen it all over the internet and followed my blog. She knew my book!!! So I gave her an early copy and a very special shout out on my blog. I don’t think I ever felt cooler.

I have to say that is really cool and totally my kind of rock star moment. Also Suzanne just sent me some late breaking news... perhaps the top secret project she was talking about? She just sold more books!

Suzanne Young's A NEED SO BEAUTIFUL, in which a 17-year-old discovers that by performing the good deeds that her body compels her to, she will disappear into the Light and be
forgotten, but by fighting "the Need," her fate could be even more dire, to Donna Brayat Balzer and Bray, in a two-book deal, in a pre-empt, by Jim McCarthyat Dystel & Goderich Literary Management.

Pretty cool! But for now let's focus on The Naughty List. You definitely want to read it, right? Well, you are in luck! Suzanne is giving away a copy to one lucky commentor in...

Today's Contest:

All you have to do to enter is comment. Please leave an email address so I can track you down if you win and get your mailing address.

Want additional entries? +1 for every tweet or link posted or blogged about to this interview with Suzanne or spreading the word about The Naughty List!

Check back to see if you won this contest or the Maybenauts contest next week when my guest will be Carrie Jones, New York Times Bestselling Author of Need and Captivate!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

New Music (and a music heavy book!) Tuesday!

Just a quick plug for the MTV Books blog... I blogged there yesterday about the new projects I've been working on, so if you want the insider info on those, check it out here.

It's New Music Tuesday. I gotta admit, mostly I'm listening to old stuff again because I'm getting all psyched up for my Seattle trip, so bring on the Nirvana, Screaming Trees, Alice In Chains, The Gits, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney. It seems every year as the trip approaches I get particularly obsessed with one of those bands. The first year I went it was Nirvana, seeing as I was going there to remember Kurt Cobain. Last year it was Alice In Chains, the year before that was The Gits, and the year before that it was Screaming Trees. This year I'm thinking it might be Mudhoney. I broke out my reissue of Superfuzz Big Muff while I was cleaning on Sunday and got super into it. But I've also been on a Soundgarden kick lately. I haven't listened to them in a long long time, so that could be the one...

I did make one major new music discovery that I am *obsessed* with though. The Maybenauts. Yes, they were last week's Women Who Rock Wednesday feature, though has anyone read that yet? Because there are like no contest entries and trust me... you want to win this band's music. I'm giving you guys an extra week to enter because you need to hear this band. So go listen to them on either MySpace or Facebook and then go enter the contest. I don't really know how to describe them, my best approximation would be Yeah Yeah Yeahs meets Veruca Salt. I think I'm especially excited about them because they are a local band and I love love love discovering local bands that are awesome because that means I get a chance to see them live and The Maybenauts are amazing live! I just saw them at this Girls Out of the Garage showcase and as much as I enjoyed the whole thing, they were the best band there. The energy they have on stage is incredible. I love it when you can feel the passion a band has for their music and I could definitely feel it. I also like fun audience interaction and there was a ton of that. Plus the guitarist came onstage looking like an astronaut Panda. Pretty freakin' cool. Seriously, I can't say enough good things about this band, so check them out and see them live if you can.

Oh and speaking of girls who rock, I have to share one music-related thing that made me so happy this weekend. I took my 12 year old pseudo-niece (daughter of a friend, she's like the daughter I'll never have... well most likely... we're undecided abt kids but leaning towards no, unless we can clone this kid) to Guitar Center for the first time. I used to sit in Guitar Center with my evil ex boyfriend in high school and it was usually a totally annoying experience (let me see how many guitars I can play the same Nirvana song on... hey, did you notice how close this one chord progression in Smells Like Teen Spirit is to More Than A Feeling? Let me demonstrate. Let me demonstrate with special effects pedals. Even though I didn't need the demonstration because I'd noticed that a long ass time ago. yeah, lame), but with Tessa it was the most delightful thing ever. Just watching her moon over all the instruments. Of course she fell in love with a thousand dollar Martin acoustic guitar. Yes, I need to sell a lot of books so I can buy it for and help her on her path to guitar goddess. I can't help it, I totally want to spoil this kid. And I'm just so excited that she loves playing guitar!

Okay, pseudo-aunt/mom moment done, back to the sharing of new things that I'm excited about. This isn't a band, but it is filled with music--references to Irish punk to be precise, which is a genre I love and have not seen written about. It's totally evil of me to talk about this book now because I lucked out and got an advance review copy so that I can do an "interview" with the main character in the future and the rest of you won't be able to get your hands on it til May (on the 4th to be precise), but I'm not doing this to torture you. I'm doing you a favor because you need to pre-order SHADE by Jeri Smith-Ready right. freakin' now. I'm serious. Here's a link, go click pre-order. If you read my blog because you are a fan of my books, then you will love this one. If you read my blog because you are interested in books with punk character or about music, you will love this one. Okay, I'll shut up and give you the basics:

This is the summary of the book from Jeri's website:

Best. Birthday. Ever. At least, it was supposed to be. With Logan's band playing a critical gig and Aura's plans for an intimate after-party, Aura knows it will be the most memorable night of her boyfriend's life. She never thought it would be his last.
Logan's sudden death leaves Aura devastated. He's gone.
Well, sort of.
Like everyone born after the Shift, Aura can see and hear ghosts. This mysterious ability has always been annoying, and Aura had wanted nothing more than to figure out why the Shift happened so she can undo it. But not with Logan’s violet-hued spirit still hanging around. Because dead Logan is almost as real as ever. Almost.
It doesn't help that Aura’s new friend Zachary is so understanding—and so very alive. His support means more to Aura than she cares to admit.
As Aura's relationships with the dead and the living grow ever complicated, so do her feelings for Logan and Zachary. Each holds a piece of Aura's heart…and clues to the secret of the Shift.

Okay, back to my ravings about how awesome this is. (I warn you, I suck at reviewing books, I tend to just freak out. I talked about this a little bit and why I blog about more personal subjects over at Harmony Book Reviews on Sunday, and you can find that here in case you interested.)

I read the first fifty pages and practically hyperventilated. Cool, kick ass punk rock girl plus supernatural elements plus complicated romantic relationship with hot punk boy. This was the book I wanted to read when I was in high school. Where was it? Okay, so it's 15 years late, but at least it is finally here. And I honestly believe only Jeri Smith-Ready could have written it. She knows her shit and the way she weaves a tale is brilliant from the language to the twist and turns in the plot. I bow down. I totally bow down.

After reading the first fifty pages, I emailed Jeri and said something along the lines of OMFG this is brilliant!!!! If this doesn't debut on the NYT Bestseller list then something is fucking wrong with the world. (So, ahem, help it debut there by pre-ordering it, and make the world feel like a better place for punk girls everywhere.)

I read the rest of the book in one sitting. I stayed up way past my bedtime. I could not put it down. Umm.. when does the next one come out, Jeri???

Seriously, what I love most about this book is that the main character Aura is a very real girl and she's not a wimp. I know a lot of people love Twilight and I'm not one to slag books because I know the hard work that goes into them and I know how much it means to find that book that you love so much. But I have to say, I felt like Bella is a wimp. She's very subservient to all of the men in her life and that bothers me, especially since some of Edward's actions reminded me *a lot* of my abusive high school boyfriend. That's all I'm gonna say because to each their own, but I crave books with *real* girl characters, those who are strong, who try to figure things out on their own, who don't depend solely on men, who have their own separate identities from their lovers, etc. Basically I want my pseudo-niece and all the girls out there to have good role models. And I think Aura is one. And her story still has romance, she still has heartbreaking choices to make. And the book has an excellent soundtrack. Seriously, it makes you want to break out Flogging Molly and the Pogues and The Dropkick Murphys and the Tossers.... hmmm I hope Jeri can squeeze a Tossers reference into the sequel since I took her to see them in Chicago.

Anyway, amazing book. Like I said, I suck at reviewing, but I hope you'll still buy it because, to throw one more big statement out there, I have a feeling that this series is going to be up there with my other two favorite "children's" book (meaning YA and MG) series: Harry Potter and the Wicked Lovely series. Yes, I totally meant that. *cough* pre-order it *cough*