Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Interview with Stephenie Kuehnert!

Yes, I said I would bring you this interview tomorrow, but I couldn't wait. Today I'm excited to bring you Stephenie Kuehnert, author of I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE.

If you've been under a rock (or, you know, on summer vacation) these past couple of months and haven't yet heard about this book, here's the back-cover blurb:

A raw, edgy, emotional novel about growing up punk and living to tell.
The Clash. Social Distortion. Dead Kennedys. Patti Smith. The Ramones.

Punk rock is in Emily Black's blood. Her mother, Louisa, hit the road to follow the incendiary music scene when Emily was four months old and never came back.

Now Emily's all grown up with a punk band of her own, determined to find the tune that will bring her mother home. Because if Louisa really is following the music, shouldn't it lead her right back to Emily?

And check out what they're saying about this book!

" empowering new twist on a girl's coming of age..." - Los Angeles Times

"...irresistible..." and "...acidly incisive and full-out entertaining..." - Booklist

"Debut author Kuehnert keeps the story raw and gritty... the intensity of the characters' emotions and experiences will
beguile many teen readers." - Publisher's Weekly

"...a rich, muscular story..." - Bust Magazine

"I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone is a manifesto for defiant high school girls, as well as a refresher course for the goddesses they turn into." - Venus Zine

"Emily's coming-of-age story in I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone is allusive, real, and honest. Even I, the most non-rock oriented teen in existence, found it overwhelmingly easy to connect with and relate to Emily. It makes no difference if you're a punk-rock chick or a glam princess, I would recommend this book to any ELLE girl." - Elle Girl

"This book could be any real band's Behind the Music, but Kuehnert creates some realistic characters that drag you
down past reading it on the shitter. Congrats, Steph, you got me to read a whole fucking book for once. Solid writing, Ms. Lady." - Racket Magazine

"A wonderfully written and evocative story of a mother and daughter parted by circumstance and joined by music. I
heartily recommend it." - Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting

"Some books play at trying to be "edgy"; some books try to hit the right notes; but Kuehnert's prose doesn't notice labels. It just is--which is the purest kinda edge. Teeth. Punk. Combat boots. Attitude. Feminism. Family. Girls with guitars. Relationships that jack you up. Sharp things of the not-good kind. Friendships. Love... It's all here; it's all pure and real. I loved it."- Melissa Marr, New York Times bestselling author of Wicked Lovely and Ink Exchange

"Kuehnert's love of music is apparent on every page in this powerful and moving story. Her fresh voice makes this novel stand out in the genre, and she writes as authentically about coming of age as she does punk rock. She's titled the book
after a great song by Sleater-Kinney, and both that band, and the iconic Joey Ramone, would be proud of this effort." Charles R. Cross, New York Times bestselling author of Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain

"I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone is intense, raw and real; a powerful and heartbreaking weave of Emily Black's public dream of making music and the intensely private one of finding her elusive, missing mother. Emily, a gutsy, passionate and vulnerable girl, knows exactly what she wants and strides straight into the gritty darkness after it, risking all and pulling no punches but leaving us with the perfect ending to a fierce and wild ride." - Laura Wiess, author of Leftovers
and Such a Pretty Girl

"Stephanie Kuehnert has written a sucker-punch of a novel, raw and surprising and visceral, and like the best novelists
who write about music, she'll convince you that a soul can indeed be saved by rock and roll."- John McNally, author of America's Report Card and The Book of Ralph

"Stephanie Kuehnert writes with dramatic flare and all the right beats, as she spins a story with punk rock lyrics, big dreams, and one girl not afraid to reach out to her lost mother through music, while enduring intense journeys in between. A debut like an unforgettable song, you'll want to read I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone again and again." - Kelly Parra, author of Graffiti Girl

And now, without further ado, Stephanie herself:

LG: What was your inspiration for writing IWBYJR?
SK: Music. I live and breathe music, particularly punk rock and it's been that way since I was about 13. I always searched and searched for punk books as a teen, but never really found any, so I wanted to write one. Particularly I wanted to write one about a punk rock goddess because I always identified most with female musicians from Courtney Love to Tori Amos and still, to this day, female musicians are marginalized. I wanted to create a world where a woman was "the queen of rock 'n' roll" as Sleater-Kinney sings in their song, "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone," which the title of the book is taken from.

LG: In your blog, you mention IWBYJR going through eight revisions during the writing process. How did the story evolve?
SK: It evolved from short stories. I wrote a few short stories about Emily and one about Louisa and then I realized these characters should be linked. Louisa should be Emily's mother. I envisioned IWBYJR as a novel-in-stories first, which basically means it was short stories about the same characters, but not necessarily linked in the usual linear fashion as a novel. But eventually I scraped that idea because my stories really did flow together as chapters, though of course since we are following both Louisa and Emily, it is not totally linear.

Also IWBYJR wasn't originally conceived of as a YA book. I thought teens would read it and adults would read it. As it turns out, that is what is happening and it is more of a crossover book that is usually sold in the adult section of the bookstore, but it was bought as a YA, so there were other sections told by adults other than Louisa that I took out and expanded on more of Emily's story. Also the way I've woven in Louisa's story has changed a bit, but ultimately I found a way that I think works.

For people interested in seeing a bit of the evolution you can see deleted scenes and alternative versions at but I would recommend it for anyone who hasn't already read the book because there are spoilers galore.

LG: If you made a playlist of your life, what would the top five songs be?
SK: "On A Plain" by Nirvana- There are a lot of Nirvana songs that could have made the cut for me, "Serve the Servants" is a really close second. But this is the song that helped me get out of more than one dead-end relationship because "I love myself better than you" became my mantra. And self-love was something I really did have to learn and am still working on. I had really low self-esteem as a teen.

"Softer, Softest" by Hole- Again, lots of Hole songs I could choose from and this isn't even one of my all-time fave Hole songs, but it is the ultimate song about being the outcast girl so it really sums up how I felt much of my life.

"Journey to the End of the East Bay" by Rancid- Basically this whole Rancid album, …And Out Come the Wolves, reminds me of my best friend and being 16. This particular song just sums up our loyalty to each other despite the stuff that was going on in the "scene" around us at the time. We're actually getting matching tattoos that incorporate the lyrics "To the end, to the end, I'll journey to the end…" very soon.

"The Young Crazed Peeling" by The Distillers- This was the song the restored my faith in punk rock in my early twenties. And I totally related to that need to escape your hometown and find who you are. This is my self-discovery anthem.

"I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone" by Sleater-Kinney- What can I say, I named my first book after this song. I have the music tattooed on my arm because writing that book is my biggest accomplishment.

LG: You recently quit your full-time job. How has the change affected your writing?
SK: Actually, I'm not done until this Friday, so I don't know quite yet, but I know it will mean I actually have time for writing. I've barely been writing since IWBYJR came out because there is so much work that goes along with having a new book out. Having a writing career is a full-time job, so I just can't work full-time anymore. I'll be bartending part-time instead to keep the bills paid. But there are lots of stories in a bar so instead of draining me like office work, it will probably inspire me in a lot of ways.

LG: In IWBYJR, music plays a pivotal in role in both Emily and Louisa's lives. How has music affected your life?
SK: Music has been my guide, my outlet, my solace, my security blanket since I was ten years old. That summer I met one of the few free spirits I knew in grade school and she had MTV. We discovered bands like Jane's Addiction and Faith No More and REM and I started to drift away from pop music like Janet Jackson and Madonna. That friend turned me on to Nirvana right before they hit it big with "Smells Like Teen Spirit." I discovered a lot of punk rock through Nirvana because there were bands that Kurt would mention in interviews and I'd go check them out and discover other bands and so on. Pre-Nirvana, I was the weird girl who was afraid to express herself because she was sick of getting picked on. When Nirvana broke and punk started coming into the mainstream, I saw that weird, creative types could find an audience. I never would have started writing seriously if I hadn't heard Nirvana. So music truly made me who I am.

LG: What's next? What can you tell us about your upcoming book, BALLADS OF SUBURBIA?
SK: Yep, next is BALLADS, which comes out next summer, so I'm about to start working on revisions on that one soon. I have a really hard time summing it up. I can't wait until they write the back cover copy and I can just cheat and use that. It's not as easy to explain in one sentence like IWBYJR (not that I was able to do that in one sentence til probably about three months ago). Basically it's about a teenage girl named Kara, who has always felt like an outcast in her suburban town until she starts hanging out at this park with the other misfit-types—skaters, punks, ravers—at the end of her sophomore year. She and her new friends all come from messy family situations and as much as they try to help each other out, things start to spiral out of control. It's pretty much your classic coming-of-age story, but of course it has a musical touch to it because that's what I do. You can find out more about it at:

If you want to learn more, you can visit Stephanie on myspace or her blog check out her website.