Friday, July 29, 2011

GCC Presents: Jennifer Echols!

I'm thrilled to host Jennifer Echols, my MTV Books sister, on her Girlfriends Cyber Circuit tour in support of her latest release LOVE STORY.

I'm really excited to read this one because Jenn writes some of the best romantic drama around! (And her romantic comedies are a blast, too!) Here are the details on LOVE STORY:

For Erin Blackwell, majoring in creative writing at the New York City college of her dreams is more than a chance to fulfill her ambitions – it’s her ticket away from the tragic memories that shadow her family’s racehorse farm in Kentucky. But when she refuses to major in business and take over the farm herself someday, her grandmother gives Erin’s college tuition and promised inheritance to their maddeningly handsome stable boy, Hunter Allen. Now Erin has to win an internship and work late nights at a local coffee shop to make her own dreams a reality. She should despise Hunter… so why does he sneak into her thoughts as the hero of her latest writing assignment?

Then, on the day she’s sharing that assignment with her class, Hunter walks in. He’s joining her class. And after he reads about himself in her story, her private fantasies about him must be painfully clear. She only hopes to persuade him not to reveal her secret to everyone else. But Hunter devises his own creative revenge, writing sexy stories that drive the whole class wild with curiosity and fill Erin’s heart with longing. Now she’s not just imagining what might have been. She’s writing a whole new ending for her romance with Hunter… except this story could come true.

Now let's meet Jenn and get the full scoop, shall we?

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

Jenn: I have been in a lot of creative writing classes. The authors in them are always so invested in their writing. They are putting their hearts on their sleeves, and then other people are CRITIQUING them! So the classes are always very emotional, and I have witnessed some big, ugly arguments! (I MIGHT have been in one of these big, ugly arguments myself.) I thought this would make a great background for a romance.

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

Jenn: Lonely Day by Phantom Planet. Hunter and Erin each have two roommates in their New York City college dorm. They are never alone, yet they’re both very lonely, unable to connect with each other.

There for You by Flyleaf. Even though these characters aren’t getting along with each other, they are constantly watching each other’s backs in the big city.

I Won’t Let Go by Rascal Flatts. Near the end of the book, as Hunter and Erin slow-dance in the middle of the techno dance club, Hunter whispers that they are really dancing to a country song. This is it.

The Only Exception by Paramore. If you’ve heard this song, I think it needs no explanation. After a lifetime of failed relationships, finding your soulmate is like coming home.

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

Jenn: I’m writing a romantic comedy that will be published by Simon Pulse in December. I hope I will have a cover and a title soon! Then I’m finishing SUCH A RUSH, my new romantic drama that will be my hardcover debut in July 2012.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Writing Conundrum

So I've had this concept that I've wanted to make into a story for more than 3 years now. I've tried it a few different ways, adjusting the plot line, the world (the real world vs. a more fantastical setting), the title, the character names. There has always been something Not Quite Right.

Since I've finished (for now, there is no such thing as finished til it is published) with The Bartender Book, I felt I should move back to this one. This is kind of how I work since I'm a slow writer. I have kind of a catalog of ideas in my brain that stew for quite some time and eventually I get back to them. This is the concept I've had for almost as long if not longer than The Bartender Book, so it seems that naturally it should be the next book I write.

But here's the thing. I've been stewing on it for a few weeks now and while I have these pieces of a puzzle that I think are brilliant and utterly unique. I can't seem to arrange them into a story. Normally this is not an issue for me. I'm not a plotter. I dive into the scene that I can't get out of my head and I just go. I figure out from there who my characters are, what they want, what is stopping them, where they came from and where they are going. I write for a little while and then I plot or at least I put the bigger chunks of plot that I know in order and then just go back to writing and it comes together-- not necessarily easily. I usually completely panic somewhere around the 3/4 mark and I'm never happy with it until I've been through a couple rounds of revisions, but that is how I work.

It's how I worked on my first couple attempts on this book idea, I had full story arcs for them, but they were Not Right. Maybe that's why this is happening now. I don't want to write 50 or 75 pages of this story again and have it fail. Maybe it's just the kind of story that is going to need a world and need rules (because it will probably be fantasy to some degree, whether straight up urban fantasy or mostly realistic with a twist is still to be determined) and I feel like I need to know them. Maybe I'm just scared shitless because this story puts me outside of the boundaries of what I usually write. All I know is that for much of the past month and definitely for the past four days, I have sat down with this scene in my head and can't write more a than a hundred words or so, usually just changing words that are already written because I need to know my characters' history, I need to know where they are going and most of all I need to know their fucking names!!! (Because their names will be determined by certain traits, which I need to figure out.)

So I keep freezing up. Earlier this month and last month there were reasons. The past six weeks or so have been a shitstorm, hence I haven't blogged, much of it is far too personal to blog and I didn't want to come off as whiny. But we'll just say that no part of my life has escaped the shitstorm. I've had friends going through really rough times, family members who are sick, problems with our car and our house, business at the bar AKA my main source of income has been slow, I've had some serious doubts about my writing career. You know how bad things happen in threes, well for me it's three times three. I'm sure I'll go more into depth at some point once I'm feeling up to it, but the last two weeks were just pure hell of wanting to give up on everything completely. However, I'm kind of a hopeless optimist so this week I decided to push forward despite all the crap. I'm motivated. More motivated than I have been in a couple of months, but when I sit down to write....

I do have this other idea. It's newer. I struggled with it for about a week, but then it seemed to start flowing. The thing is of course it will flow for me, it's the kind of book I'm most naturally drawn to writing: a contemporary, realistic, coming of age, girl dealing with a really rough time in her life story. I love writing these stories. I love reading these stories. So why did I stop and go back to the other, older idea? I have a few reasons. Some of them are good, some bad, some mixed.

1. The older idea has been stewing for longer. It feels like it has waited it's turn and it's time should be now. I love the idea, I just need the right story arc for it.

2. The older idea is different since it is either paranormal or realistic with a twist. I've written three realistic books. I feel like now is the time to challenge myself and try new things.

3. This is the "bad reason." As we all know the market is not good for realistic contemporary. This other idea is high concept, has a twist of paranormal/magical realism, may sell and be promoted better. I didn't come up with the idea because I was trying to find something marketable, but this just happens to be marketable.

So now, what do I do?

Keep stewing on the older idea til something clicks? I don't really like stewing. I know it is necessary, but it doesn't feel like I'm working. It feels like I'm wasting time and I already am beating myself up for July, my best writing month, being wasted. August is going to be the month of travel and preparing for teaching and for this sekrit freelance project. Maybe stewing is actually plotting and I just don't know how to do it and those of you who are more experienced with plotting can give me some pointers. So far my approach has been trying to make notes, trying to make a plot summary, trying to listen to music to inspire me, making more notes, trying to write a scene, bombarding my writer friends with emails about my ideas, reading.

Or do I write the newer idea even though I have all these doubts about it that it's not commercial enough or that it's just me writing the same sort of book again. Maybe if I work on it, the other book will click or maybe this one will take hold and it won't matter.

Is this what happens every time I start a book, but I just don't remember? Do I have a genius idea and have a hard time launching it? It seems to me that that isn't supposed to be how it works. Normally I write 50 pages or so before getting stuck for the first time. Is that how it works for most people or do others sit and stew on an idea for weeks and not worry that it's not coming together fast enough, just let themselves daydream and read and listen to music without any pressure? I'm really not sure I can do that. I'm kind of suffering here without putting words on a page, completing a scene or at least having really good ideas about what is going to happen.

So that's what's going on. I'm, motivated. I'm enthusiastic. I just don't seem to have a gut instinct about what book to choose to write and/or I've frozen up under the pressure. Advise me please.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Guys Rock Too Thursday!: Jon Skovron

I started Women Who Rock Wednesday to spotlight the female writers, musicians, and artists I adore. However, there are a lot of guys who rock out there, too, and I wanted to have an opportunity to let you know about what they are putting out there. Back in May, I did my first Guys Rock Too Thursday with Daniel Kraus and planned to sporadically run other interviews when the opportunity struck and now that time has come again.

Jon Skovron, author of STRUTS AND FRETS (AKA one of my favorite YA books ever. Seriously this guy kills at writing about music and work harder to meet the high standard he sets), has a new book out called MISFIT that is coming out on August 1. And I'm honored to say that he gave me an interview and is giving YOU the opportunity to win a sign MISFIT galley.

Speaking of giveaways, we have one to do really quick. The winner of CHEAT SHEET by Rea Frey, my last WWRW guest, is Bean from blogger! Bean, I may have your email address from previous contests, but if you don't hear from me, email me at stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot com.

Now on to meet Jon and hear about MISFIT which I am really psyched to read and will bet that you are gonna be dying to win!

Q: Tell us what MISFIT is about and what inspired you to write it.

JON: MISFIT is about many things: forbidden love, family, loyalty, friendship, kindness, betrayal, adventure, mythology, science, religion, believing in yourself, not letting others define you, and a lot more. But mostly, it's about this demon girl in Catholic School.

As for what inspired me to write it, I attended Catholic school all twelve years of primary and secondary education, and even went to an all-boys Catholic prep high school. It was a great education, but I didn't fit in very well. A lot of what MISFIT is about is this struggle many teens have to find their place in a world that doesn't seem to offer them anything past a strict mainstream traditional mold. I've taken the idea about as far as it will go, I think.

Plus, there are cool monsters.

Q: If you had a soundtrack for MISFIT, what are five songs that would be on it and how do they relate to the story or characters?

JON: STRUTS & FRETS was all about the indie rock, mostly male vocals. That was because the protagonist was male and in an indie rock band. The female protagonist for MISFIT, Jael Thompson, is someone who is deeply grounded. So I listened to a lot of female artists that I felt have the same sort of strong individualism that she does.

Troubled Waters - Cat Power

I listened to this song nearly every time I sat down to write the first draft. It's raw, earthy, simplicity is the perfect song for Jael. Plus the lyric "I must be one of the devil's daughters".

Samson - Regina Spektor

One of the chapters is inspired directly by this song. Its blend of sweetness, melancholy, and irreverent good humor is perfect.

The Good That Won't Come Out - Rilo Kiley

Jenny Lewis is such a contradiction of opposing beliefs and values. So is Jael. Plus, the idea that there is good inside that has trouble getting out is something Jael struggles with.

I Don't Feel Young - Wye Oak

Jen Wasner breaks my heart every time I hear this song. I would like her to sing this song to me. Um...I'm sure that has something to do with this book...really...
Your Next Bold Move - Ani Difranco

There is no way to sum this one up. The desolation, the anger, the defiant hope.

Here's a link to the playlist for these and other songs that inspired the book.

Q: What or who originally inspired you to write?

JON: Back in middle school I had horrible insomnia, and I used to make up stories in my head just to keep myself entertained. Possibly it was making up stories that kept me awake...ah well. But I didn't write them down. I was too busy writing lyrics to songs.

I kept a journal all through high school and college, but it wasn't until after I graduated from college that it actually occurred to me to try writing books. I was reading WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP by John Irving, and with the arrogance only an early twenty-something recent college grad can muster, I said, "I could do that!"

It took a long time for me to figure out exactly how to do it and what I wanted to write. I loved Neil Gaiman's AMERICAN GODS, Cory Doctorow's DOWN AND OUT IN THE MAGIC KINGDOM, and China Mieville's THE SCAR, and I tried to write stuff like that, but it just wasn't quite working. It wasn't quite right. Then I read in rapid succession Holly Black's VALIANT, Pete Hautman's GODLESS, and Gabrielle Zevine's ELSEWHERE and I realized I wanted to write YA.

Q: I know that like me you are a huge music lover. Can you talk a bit about how music figures into your writing? For example can you write while listening to music because freakishly I rarely can.

JON: I totally know what you mean! I can't listen to new music while writing or music I'm not very familiar with. It's too distracting. Instead, I'll just listen to a few songs (see above) that really capture the mood or character for me, and listen to them so much that I'm almost not hearing them. I think they do influence me though, even if I'm not consciously aware of it.
I sometimes think it would be a good idea to write in silence. Like, it would be more pure or something. But with two small kids, the idea of actually achieving silence is pretty much impossible. It's either write to music or write to the sound of epic action figure battles in the next room. Which sometimes I do.

Q: What is next up for the fabulous Jon Skovron?

JON: Hmmm, not quite sure yet. A lot of possibilities, none of them set in stone yet. Get back to me a month or so after MISFIT comes out ;)

Q: I have two standard questions that I ask my women and guys who rock interviewees. 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.

JON: I am about to utterly destroy any indie cred I might have earned in your eyes. The first album I purchased was Fat by Weird Al Yankovik. The first concert I attended was Milli Vanilli. But in my defense, I wasn't really into music at that point. The first album I truly fell in love with, the one that made me love music, was Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, given to me by my stepfather.

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!

JON: I love meeting famous authors, people I respect. Pretty much every time I meet Holly Black I'm struck dumb. And I love getting rockstar treatment at book festivals, like Rochester's TBF Live and Austin Teen Book Festival. But the times when I really feel like a rock star are when readers tell me how much my work means to them. Like when I got this email from a teen boy reader who said S&F was the first book he'd ever willingly finished and that he loved reading it so much it made him late for soccer practice twice. Or when this girl introduced herself at a festival and she was so passionate that her hands were shaking and she couldn't really formulate sentences. For me, it doesn't get better than making that kind of impact on readers.

I would have to agree that it really doesn't get any better than that. Also I have a bit of of Weird Al and Milli Vanilli in my past, too. If being honest doesn't get you indie cred than screw it! Thanks for joining us, Jon!

Today's Contest:

After hearing more about it, I'm guessing you want MISFIT and you are in luck! Jon is offering up a a signed galley of it!

This contest is open to international entries!

To enter all you have to do is leave a comment. However you can gain additional entries:

+1 for tweeting or posting on facebook about this interview
+1 for tweeting or posting about MISFIT
+5 for blogging about MISFIT

Note your additional entries in your comment as well as giving me an email address or some way to contact you if you win. I will be drawing the winner on July 27 during my next Women Who Rock Wednesday interview!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Goodbye Q101

Well, I didn't have time to write a Tunes Tuesday post this week and I haven't done a Memory Monday in a while, but this post will be a mixture of the two. Unfortunately it's a very sad post.

After today, Chicago will no longer have an Alternative Rock radio station.

Tears actually welled up in my eyes as I typed that.

Q101, which started an all-alternative rock format in 1992, was bought out a couple weeks ago and there were rumors that it would change to an all-news/talk radio format. I tried to ignore these rumors and tell myself that I didn't really care because I don't listen to the radio much. Every once in a while I borrow my mom's car to run errands and forget my iPod and I tune in then, usually catching the cool noon request hour called "The Last Letter Game," hosted by a female DJ named Electra, who really likes Tool. Sometimes really late at night when I'm driving home from bartending, I tune in as well and that's my favorite time because I'll catch them playing tunes that are less mainstream like by Fugazi or The Butthole Surfers. In other words that's when I flashback to what Q101 used to be for me.

I started listening to Q101 right when it adopted the alternative rock format, switching my loyalties from the hard rock station The Blaze. I was in 7th grade. It was 1992. I'd gotten into Nirvana the summer before and with them/through them discovered a slew of other bands from The Sex Pistols to Mudhoney to L7. I was addicted to MTV's late night program "120 Minutes" that exposed me to more and more alternative rock bands. Then Q101 came along and the floodgates of music were opened to me. The Lemonheads, Soul Asylum, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. Juliana Hatfield, PJ Harvey, The Replacements, Green Day, Tool, Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, Beck, Babes In Toyland, Primus, Rage Against The Machine. I can't remember exactly when or how I discovered each of them whether it was on MTV, Q101, or through reading about them in Spin magazine or in an interview with Kurt Cobain. But Q101 gave me a place to listen to them all the time. I was young and I couldn't afford to buy every CD I loved as soon as I heard it. So I was glued to the radio in my room or to my Walkman when I was walking or rollerblading to school or around town.

Q101 was the first thing that Chicago gave me that felt like mine.

We moved to the Chicago area when I was 8. I've never been completely happy here because you know first impressions.... And my first impression was a lot of really mean kids that I seriously struggled to fit in with. I've said it before and I'll say it repeatedly, when I discovered bands like Nirvana, Faith No More, REM and Hole, I found a voice, I found inner strength, I recognized that I wasn't alone. Listening to Q101 in junior high and freshman year of high school gave me the first real sense of connection I had to Chicago. There was a larger community out there who liked what I liked and I would find them.

Here I am in my bedroom during the fall of my freshman year of high school. I remember that my dad caught me off guard when he took this. I hated having pictures taken of me back then because I hated how I looked, but now I see a beautiful, fresh-faced fourteen year-old girl. Check out the classic grunge look: flannels, corduroys, *and* Doc Martens. It's the trifecta!. And I remember that was listening to Q101 and reading Sassy magazine. You can see evidence of the giant collage that engulfed my entire teenage bedroom, which I talked about today on Teen Fiction Cafe (along sharing a really bad drawing of Kurt Cobain that I did and with my general cluelessness about art, please go over there and school me!) and the old acoustic guitar that I never did learn how to play well.

I remember that at Christmas time they would play full albums and I'd beg my parents to drive around looking at the Christmas lights so I could hear every song of "It's A Shame About Ray" by the Lemonheads just because it was so cool to hear it on the radio, especially in my parents' car, which I convinced them to put a Q101 window decal up in.

I remember discovering local bands like Veruca Salt, who I absolutely heard on Q101 before any place else. They had a Local 101 showcase that introduced me to alt-rock acts and punk bands. They did concert showcases too where I got to see The Lupins and Hum.

I remember the day Kurt Cobain was found dead and the DJs reacting to his suicide in much the same way I did. They did an hour long tribute to him, which I recorded and I still have that cassette tape though I'm almost afraid to listen to it because it's certain to make me sob.

I remember sophomore year when I made my first friend with a driver's license and we all crammed into his family's Saturn, far too many of us than legally fit, me usually sitting on some guys lap, blaring Rage Against The Machine when it came on Q101, screaming along even though could barely breath because the car was so full of cigarette smoke.

I remember a few months after that stoned as hell in the back of someone's minivan making out with a guy I was so crazy about when we heard Bush for the first time and of course we totally hated it. "Did he just say 'Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow?' Who the fuck is this asshole to attempt to rip off both David Bowie and Nirvana?"

And that ushered in the era of "Q101 Sucks" for me. As a bunch of Pearl Jam clones flooded the airwaves, I peeled that window decal off my parents' car ashamed. We wrote "Q101 sucks" on our backpacks and notebooks. We said it to the people handing out stickers after the concerts we went to. Another tape I still have is one my friend Tom made for me the summer between sophomore and junior year which was really more of a sound collage of him switching between his B52s vinyl, his eighth grade band's demo tape, a Latin radio station, and Q101, which mostly was playing Bush that summer and he caught clips of that stupid "Glycerine" song like 6 times in one day of making the tape, though at least he also recorded the Bjork song they played.

They didn't completely suck then, not as bad as they would in a few more years when Creed and Limp Bizkit ruled the airwaves and the tape deck in my car broke making the summer of 1999, the summer of pure musical hell. (Don't even get me started on that asshole Fred Durst who represented the sexist frat mentality that Kurt Cobain loathed yet has a Cobain tattoo on his chest, which I'd like to sandblast off.). But by the mid-nineties alternative had gone mainstream and Q101 like MTV was too busy focusing on hyped up, commercial crap like Bush and forgetting that they used to be about discovering new bands. And to a degree we didn't want them to. Instead of getting excited about hearing a band I loved on the radio, I started to hate the songs on the albums that got radio airplay. I was into Rancid and Op Ivy way before you heard "Time Bomb" or "Ruby Soho" on the radio thank you very much. Ahh teenage self-righteousness. I wanted all of my bands to be MINE and never ever sell-out... whatever that means.

I think the Chicago band Slapstick (members of which went on to be in Alkaline Trio, which Q101 certainly does play now) sums up the decline of Q101 and "alternative rock" in general in their song "Alternative Radio":

Don't wanna hear no alternative music
it don't say anything
I don't like anything about you
1234 Fuck you Alternative radio
This shit's really getting to me
Q101 and fucking MTV
everything just seems to sound the same yeah
don't care about punk rock shows
great spot about the Counting Crows
everything it stands for is so fucking lame
Fuck you Alternative radio
Alternative D.J. isnt your friend when hes cashin in on the latest trend
forty minutes to keep rock commercial free yeah
so much for the music industry
money where the punks be
someone's gotta stand up for the punk rock scene
Fuck you Alternative radio

In all honesty, this might have been when Q101 died for me, all the way back in 1996 or 1997-- certainly in 1999 when the aforementioned Nu Metal awfulness took over and it seemed like rock 'n' roll was a total bore again. Chicagoist said that Q101 hasn't been good in 15 years and it should have burned out rather than fading away and maybe that's true, but I'm too much of a nostalgic, emotional person to agree with that completely or mourn the loss of what was once one of my favorite providers of music.

Q101 meant a lot to me in it's early years. I still have the request line memorized (312-591-8300) from years of calling in to try to win concert tickets or request songs or tell them that they should play something cool and actually alternative for once. I've been trying to call it though I wasn't sure what I'd request. "Mrs. Robinson" by The Lemonheads, which is the first song I remember hearing on Q101? "Seether" by Veruca Salt or "Stars" by Hum, which are songs I know I discovered thanks to Q101? But I can't get through because presumably a lot of Chicagoans are feeling nostalgic today.

I'm disheartened by the fact that new "alternative" (whatever that means anymore) bands will have one less place to be heard. Chicago has two other rock stations, but neither of them focus exclusively on "alternative rock," so there will be a big void for those of us who can't afford satellite radio. And seriously it's a MAJOR SHAME that the city that hosts Lollapalooza, the original celebration of alternative rock won't have an alternative radio station any more. Also now that the first thing that made me feel like I fit in here in Chicago is gone, I've got to say that the pull to move away is even stronger.

It's strange to think that Q101 won't be around to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Nirvana's Nevermind in September. The way we listen to music has evolved so much since I bought that on cassette tape to listen to on my Walkman. And of course it's not just music.

Earlier this year, I learned that I was losing something else that had been significant to me since junior high/early high school, One Life To Live, which again I've had my ups and downs with and I know a lot of people view it as cheesy, but it has meant a lot to me. (And here's the blog reflecting on that.) Last week, the news came out that OLTL had been "saved" by a company that will air it online only. Details on how that will work still aren't entirely clear and I have my doubts that it will ever be the same. The way we are reading is changing, too. I have to say I'm not completely comfortable with it. It scares me a bit and I'm beginning to feel like I can't keep up. The internet changed everything, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst, but that's a whole other thing that I don't really want to get into right now.

Maybe this is all hitting me extra hard because it's the day after my 32nd birthday and I'm already dealing with a mixture of nostalgia and a hell of a lot of uncertainty about the next directions to take with my life and especially my writing. Strangely, I'm feeling as out of place as I did when Q101 went alternative when I was 12. It all comes full-circle, so maybe I should just go lay on my bed, burn some incense and turn the radio up and write in my journal until I figure things out like used to back then.

My one last thought is that I wish Q101 had stayed true to it's less-mainstream roots in the early 90s, though that definitely would not have saved them. While the station isn't perfect, I lost faith in it when I lost faith in "alternative rock" in general, but I know there are still some cool bands out there. In fact, Q101 just played a band that friends of mine have been telling me to check out forever, but I hadn't gotten around to looking up online yet: Mumford & Sons. Sure enough, they were amazing and it brought back that feeling of being twelve and wanting to run out to the record store and look for them.

Thanks for giving me that feeling one last time, Q101. I loved you and I loved to hate you, but mostly I'm grateful for all the music you helped me enjoy.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Rea Frey!

Welcome to Women Who Rock Wednesday! Before we meet today's guest, I have a book to give away. The winner of Stacey Jay's DEAD ON THE DELTA is... SammyJones57 from livejournal! Congrats!

This week I'm very excited to introduce you to Rea Frey, who is a woman that I went to school with at Columbia College Chicago and I admire greatly not only for her writing, but also for her healthy lifestyle, which she will talk a bit about in our interview along with her new book, THE CHEAT SHEET: A CLUE BY CLUE GUIDE TO FINDING OUT IF HE'S UNFAITHFUL. Let's meet her shall we?

Q: Tell us about THE CHEAT SHEET. What can readers expect to learn from it and what inspired you to put together this book?

Rea: Despite the title, The Cheat Sheet is for anyone in a relationship or just thinking about getting into a relationship. I find it fascinating that 60% of people who get married will be divorced and that half of men and women are said to cheat at some point in their committed relationships. I feel like we’re doing something wrong. I come from a very committed family. My parents, who have been married 34 years, are so blissfully happy, it was almost confusing growing up. While my friends’ parents got divorced as easily as going on vacation, I was guarded by my parents’ love. I wanted to emulate it. Relationships began to fascinate me. I studied them in school and in psychology. I became the kind of relationship guru – the person people always came to for advice. Confidently (and naively) I got married at 22 and found myself vastly unprepared. Seven years into that relationship, I separated, had an affair with my male best friend and realized that infidelity can happen to anyone at any time. We can convince ourselves of anything if we want it badly enough. After that experience, I really began talking to people about their relationships. Everyone I know has a story about infidelity. So, I decided to write a book about it. This book provides real stories of infidelity, tools to discover cheating, how to get through infidelity with our without your partner and most importantly, how to affair-proof your relationship. It is a book based on reality. Being in a relationship can be tricky. I feel like we get so much pressure from society to grow up and get married, but we’re not provided with the right tools to live happily ever after. I’m hoping this book will provide some accessible tools so people can make their own relationship rules.

Q: Many of my readers are younger, in high school or college, but you and I discussed how hard those first few romantic relationships can be (mine sure as hell were!). Can you share some wisdom about teenage/college-age relationships and what those readers will find beneficial from your book even if they don't necessarily think their partner is cheating on them?

Rea: Your first relationships are often the most intense and impressionable of your life. You’re not yet bombarded with paying bills or having a steady job – you can enjoy each other – you can focus on your feelings and not much else. As we grow older, this is what we often lose sight of: each other. This book reminds you of what’s important at any stage in relationships – focusing on what you appreciate about the person, not what annoys you.

Early relationships can be filled with drama, insecurity, and heartache. First of all, realize that you will change. Your wants will change, your preferences will change, your feelings will change, and your needs will change. We can feel so deeply at such a young age – but when you imagine your life five years from now, understand that the type of people you love now often get complicated with the demands of life. So, enjoy your relationships when you’re young, but don’t cling too tightly to them.

When I think of all the anguish I could have avoided (I was actually a cutter, dealt with an eating disorder and rape), it baffles me. I was so consumed, so lost in myself and other people, that I didn’t see every decision I made was setting the stage for all future relationships. Just as importantly as figuring out what you want is figuring out what you don’t want. Sometimes I think those early relationships can often teach you what you don’t want, so you can figure out what you actually need for the long-term.

This book is a great “prep” tool for the world of adult relationships.

Q: Normally I ask my fiction authors for a soundtrack for their book, songs they were listening to while they were writing. Since your book is a bit different, can you share with us 5 of your favorite songs about infidelity or healing from it or hell, maybe even about love and healthy relationships and tell us what you like about them?

Rea: I hate to break it to you, but I don’t like mushy love songs (I’m so not girly that way)! But, my favorite songs to write to are the following, which happen to deal with love:

1. Tool – The Pot (This song’s lyrics deal with the pot calling the kettle black. I think it’s so easy to play the blame game instead of taking responsibility for our actions a lot of the time. So many issues in relationships have to do with little resentments that build up over time. Talk. Talk a lot. Talk about everything. It works every time.)

2. Esthero –I Drive Alone (This song starts out “Can’t move on but I can’t go home,” which I think speaks true to places we get “stuck” in from time to time – especially with love. I used to listen to this song a lot when I was single, and the fact that I was driving alone listening to a song called “I Drive Alone” gave me an immediate calm. I think it’s so important to spend time with yourself before you get into serious relationships – to make sure you know what you really want, not what you’re taught to want. We’re always in such a rush for love (especially when we’re young). Enjoy being alone. It is such a gift.)

3. Billie Holiday – There Is No Greater Love (One of my favorite artists of all time, Ms. Holiday was a troubled soul. But, I love this song because it’s about pure love in its simplest form; it’s about feeling a great love for the one you’re with. Nothing more. Nothing less.)

4. Martina-Topley Bird – Phoenix (I saw her in concert and just fell in love with her voice and shy nature. This song talks about “round and round we go,” which is like life, love, and everything in between. Sometimes it feels like we’re just having one giant relationship with the world: hopping from person to person, experience to experience. This is why it’s so important to know who you are. Don’t play games.)

5. PJ Harvey with Thom Yorke – The Mess We’re In (The title says it all. How many times do we feel like that? How did we get here? What do I do? Love is a powerful thing – it can lead us to bad decisions, but at the core, it’s a good emotion. Remember that relationships are supposed to make you feel good. Don’t stay in something negative because it’s convenient.)

Q: You aren't just a nonfiction writer. We met of course in a fiction writing program and you are a Jill of all trades. You were a boxer, work as a personal trainer, and write a lot about healthy habits. Can you talk a bit about that side of yourself and give us some links as to where we can find more about that side of you because I think that will be something cool for my readers to check out. I know I love the links and recipes you share on facebook.

Rea: Since I was young, I’ve been active. Thirteen years as a gymnast, five years as a boxer and going on my eleventh year as a personal trainer and nutrition specialist, fitness has always been a vital part of my life. I approach health the same way I approach relationships: there’s no “one size” fits all. It’s all about the individual.

But, as a society, I think we have become really unhealthy and confused. What are we supposed to eat? Which workout is best? How long will my relationship last? What does this text message mean?

Look at our obesity rates. Look at the crap schools feed kids. Look at all the divorces. Look at how sedentary we are. To me, wellness is about being healthy in all aspects of your life: relationships, job, romantic life, and personal life. Hundreds of years ago, we weren’t married to technology. We moved our bodies and we ate food from the ground. We actually talked to each other instead of texting.

Your health is one of the only things you can control, and the healthier you are, the happier you are. It really does feed into every aspect of your life. It’s so important for younger people to realize this – by developing healthy habits, they can virtually erase disease later in life.

In terms of writing, I write for Martha Stewart’s Whole Living site for their Meatless Monday series. I write a weekly vegan column for Cheeky Chicago and contribute to I have my own blog, Clean Convenient Cuisine hosted by the Tribune. I write several relationship columns as well.

Q: Who are some of the people that inspired you and/or continue to inspire you to write--or as an athlete, perhaps other artists, athletes or people from your own life? On WWRW we like to hear about inspiring women in particular, but feel free to include guys too!

Rea: One of the earliest women that inspired me was the boxer Lucia Rijker. I remember going to this little independent theater in Chicago, and watching this beast of a woman box on screen. It wasn’t barbaric. It was grace in motion. It was a ballerina on pointe. It was music every time her fist connected with its target. Alice Walker was another inspiring person growing up. I loved the stripped down version of her work; the way she manipulated words and often left them in their basest form. The first time I saw Maya Angelou speak was breathtaking. Suddenly, I was jealous of her, at such an advanced stage in her career, reflecting, laughing, sitting up there in her rocking chair with her cane, so many decades older and wiser. She had the look of a writer who knew her words have literally changed and shaped lives.

I love the bravery of a writer who sticks to the page; who believes that if they are good enough people will read them, and if not, then perhaps they will make their mark on a select few. I feel like we’ve lost that authenticity a bit these days, and for the younger generations, I worry they won’t read good novels. They won’t peruse the shelves of bookstores and inhale the scent of paper. They won’t be as affected by true artists… we’re so over stimulated, it’s hard to distinguish hard work from a quick payday sometimes. But, I know there’s good everywhere, and keeping our eye on successful, inspirational, positive men and women is always a step in the right direction.

One person in particular who has been such an inspiration to me is a man named Byran Smith. When I was living in Nashville, I signed up to teach adults to read. Byran was 42. He was from Jamaica. He had a wife and four kids, and he was at a second grade reading level. By the time we were done, he could write checks, read his children bedtime stories and help work colleagues spell words. Working so diligently to try and explain our hard (nonsensical) language was one of the toughest and most rewarding experiences of my life. It’s a constant reminder that without words, we have so little, and with words, our lives can become richer and more beautiful than we could have ever dreamed. I think of him and his perseverance whenever I get tired or don’t feel like doing much. His ambition is an ongoing lesson to never lose mine.

Q: You've got so much cool stuff going on. What are the next big things coming down the line for you? Any fiction? Were you serious about that cookbook you mentioned on facebook? (I really hope so!)

Rea: I’ve had my novel sitting in my drawer for years. Now that I’m a nonfiction writer, I panic that fiction might not see the light of day. But, my fiction has always fought with the truth, which is why I naturally gravitate to nonfiction. Since I just wrote a book about relationships, I would love to write a book based on living a balanced life. As I mentioned earlier, health means paying attention to what you feed your body, how you move your body, and who you share your body with. I think they all work together to create the definition of wellness. And yes, I am serious about a cookbook! I want to show people how easy, healthy, and delicious eating a plant-based diet can be. No fake meat. No complicated recipes. Just quick, simple recipes that mimic a lot of regular American fare.

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!

Rea: I can’t believe I can’t remember the first album I bought. This could mean a couple of things: I had so much music around, I bought more than one, or I have early onset Alzheimer’s. I grew up in a house full of music; on Saturdays, my parents would put on a Police record or Sting and we would clean for hours. My brother introduced me to all types of music. One of the first was probably a Faith No More album. The first concert I can remember attending is Korn. It was at this little hole in the wall place in Nashville. From that moment, I was hooked to going to shows. Every weekend, for the majority of my teenage life, I would get lost in the thrum of local bands, popular bands, any type of band. Every boyfriend I had through high school was a musician. I loved watching that passion onstage – I would try and emulate that when I wrote. It was and still is so inspiring.

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!

Rea: I don’t know if this qualifies as a rock star moment, but after my divorce, I moved back to Chicago. I had lost my house, my pets, my relationship and any semblance of a normal life. I didn’t know which way was up, but I knew I wanted to write this book (The Cheat Sheet). However, I didn’t have an agent yet. I moved in with roommates in a loft in the West Loop. I went from a 3,000 sf home to a room without walls. All my belongings were shoved in a closet. I was stripped to the bones. Everyday, I would get up, work out and go to a coffee shop to write. I kept saying, “I need to go to Europe. I need to go to Europe for free. There has to be a way to get there for free. I need to be in Europe.”

A week later, I got a call from a woman I was ghostwriting for. I had written a proposal for her that had landed her a deal with Nestle. She wanted to finish her book and decided to fly me to Switzerland first-class in order to do it. I stayed for 10 days. I climbed the Swiss Alps. I stayed in a hotel outside of Zurich and wrote until my fingers ached. I drank cappuccinos and ate rosti and gelato (pre-vegan days!) and breathed the crisp, fall air. I played by the water and jumped on a trampoline on the side of a mountain and spent days outside constructing someone else’s sentences. At such a lost time in my life, it was exactly what I needed. I’ve always loved helping writers and getting excited about their ideas. Through the entire trip, I think I spent $100. It was an unreal experience – one I will always cherish. It was a definite rock-star moment, for sure.

Today's Contest:

After hearing more about it (and how awesome Rea is; she's definitely one of my inspirations!, I'm guessing you want THE CHEAT SHEET and you are in luck! Rea is offering up a copy!

This contest is open to international entries!

To enter all you have to do is leave a comment. However you can gain additional entries:

+1 for tweeting or posting on facebook about this interview
+1 for tweeting or posting about THE CHEAT SHEET
+5 for blogging about THE CHEAT SHEET

Note your additional entries in your comment as well as giving me an email address or some way to contact you if you win. I will be drawing the winner on July 21 (taking next week off because it's my birthday!) when I bring you my second ever Guys Rock, Too! Interview, which will be with another of my writing heroes, Jon Skovron!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tuesday Tunes: The First Five Rock Bands I Loved

I'm continuing my summertime trip down memory lane (or through my massive iTunes artist list) reflecting on the music that shaped me during various points of my life. But before we get to that, I want to announce winners from my Tuesday Tunes contest two week ago when I told you about two bands that I've recently fallen totally in love with: Farewell Continental and Wilson.

I have one CD of each to give away and the winner of the Farewell Continental CD is Back2The Beat and the winner of the Wilson CD is Katherine, both from blogger. I will be emailing you both for your addresses, but if I am too slow (and I sometimes am), feel free to email me at stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot com.

Speaking of contests, you have one more day to enter for a signed copy of Stacey Jay's new book DEAD ON THE DELTA, which I got say is one of my mostly hotly anticipated books of the year and I can't wait to read it. Check out her Women Who Rock Wednesday interview and you will see why! That is also where you enter the contest!

Okay, last week on Tuesday Tunes, I admitted that my first musical love was Madonna. I was mostly a pop/top 40s girl in 4th and 5th grade. (I remember listening to and recording songs off of Casey Kasem's Top 40 on B96 and also loving the DJs Eddy and JoBo, who my mother had a lot more objections to than Madonna.) Though I had genuine love for Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and Janet Jackson, my listening to Top 40 radio was mainly an attempt to fit in at my grade school. I admittedly bought and enjoyed Vanilla Ice, Milli Vanilli and C&C Music Factory tapes, but around 5th grade, I started listening to more rock. There were three major influences for this.

One, I spent a lot of time at the library and in addition to checking out books to read by the pool that was two blocks from my house and I visited on a daily basis every summer, I also started checking out tapes to listen to. Perhaps because of my Casey Kasem habit, I grew fascinated with the old Billboard hits from the 50s and 60s. My library had those albums of greatest hits of each year and my absolute favorite was 1963, which had both of these songs on it:

Though my all-time favorite early 60s song was actually from the 1964 Billboard CD:

This led me to change my preferred radio station from 96.3 (B96, Chicago's pop station) to 104.3 which was Chicago's oldies station. You can imagine the relief of my parents as they found the pop channel headache inducing... though of course their relief was short-lived as within a couple years I would discover my preference for punk and metal.

But this brings us to my second rock influence, which was my parents, and the first rock band I fell in love with. My love for early 50s and 60s music quickly led me to The Beatles, the first band I was ever obsessed with. My parents had many of their albums on vinyl and my favorite has always been Abbey Road followed closely by Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band... though I didn't get all the drug references until a good four or five years later.

I definitely had a hippie/greaser phase (oh, I was so in love with the movie/play/soundtrack for Grease) in 6th and 7th grade. This picture of me at 12 pretty much embodies it:

Aside from the Beatles, I didn't pick up much other music from my parents, though. They were into the more folk side of the 60s. I couldn't get into Joan Baez or Joni Mitchell like my mom and I wasn't even all that keen on her favorite band, Fleetwood Mac, led by Stevie Nicks, the woman I was named for. (I find it quite interesting that while my early pop loves both from the 80s and the 60s were women, when I started getting into rock, I mainly listened to men until I discovered punk/alternative.) My dad's favorite was Bob Dylan, which as I've mentioned before, try as I might, I still cannot get past his nasally whine even today. However given my fascination with hippie culture, I did steal my dad's Woodstock soundtrack cassette tapes and after listening to his mind-blowing performance, I also stole Dad's Jimi Hendrix "Are You Experienced?" album, which is probably the thing that led me from my love of The Beatles and lighter 50s and 60s pop/rock into more guitar-driven classic rock and metal.

But the second band that I fell in love with was one I discovered via another parent--my best friend Angela's mom who is a bit younger than my parents and grew up on 70s rock as opposed to 60s rock. This is the band that I've probably caught the most shit for liking (besides Hole, maybe), but I don't care. I'm still a proud fan of RUSH! I definitely like their earliest stuff best because it has the most memories for me. Caress of Steel is my favorite album and I fondly remember the way Angela and I teased my dad with the song, "I Think I'm Going Bald." But my all-time favorite song is "Lakeside Park," and say what you will about Rush, in my mind that song belongs on the soundtrack for BALLADS OF SUBURBIA just as much as any of the punk songs that influenced it. "Lakeside Park" sums up what I was looking for as a teenager. Between that and my early perception that high school and junior high should have been like Degrassi, clearly I should have grown up in Canada.

The third and possibly the biggest influence on my musical tastes may seem strange to anyone younger than me: MTV. I first discovered it in 1989, the summer between fourth and fifth grade, back when it still played music videos. My family didn't have cable, but I met a girl who'd just moved 2 blocks down from me whose brother played on the same little league team as my brother. She lived right across the street from the park where they played and when it got hot or we got bored of watching them, we retreated to her house and watched MTV. It was an overload of awesomeness. At first I was excited about Madonna and Janet Jackson's latest videos, but then I started discovering a wider variety of music. I begged and begged and begged my parents to get cable and it took a year but they finally relented. Then I was creeping into our den at night to watch Headbangers Ball and 120 Minutes. There were so many bands to discover, but the three that meant the most to me at first were these:

Depeche Mode, which felt like a natural transition from my pop phase paved the way for The Cure and the goth phase in my late teens:

R.E.M., which opened me up to the world of indie/alternative rock and also provided me with one of my earliest crushes. I was so in love with the skater boy in this video. And our family dog looked like his dog:

And then there was Faith No More. They were especially huge for me becoming an outlet for my anger when I was being bullied and opening the door to heavier punk and metal bands. And yeah, I also had a huge crush on Mike Patton in this video:

So there they are, the five rock bands that shaped me and sent me looking for other music. Soon after this I would discover Nirvana, my all time favorite band, but I've talked about them at length before, so I'll probably skip ahead down nostalgia lane next week and cover the different phases besides punk and grunge that I went through.

What were some of your earliest rock 'n' roll loves and who or what exposed you to them?