I was lucky enough to meet Stephanie when I took part in her (along with the awesome Alexa Young) brainchild event--
ROCK 'N' READ, and let me tell you that Stephanie is the uber cool girl I always wanted to be.
She's the kind of girl I channel when I play ROCK BAND on my wii!
And as if it weren't enough to be amazingly cool-- she just had to go write an incredible debut novel that's getting a ton of well-deserved notice.
Blurb from Irvine Welsh of Trainspotting fame? Check.
Great reviews from Booklist, Elle magazine, etc? But of course!
Anyway, Stephanie was kind enough to stop by and answer some questions- but first- here's a sneak peek at the book:
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?
"...an 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, the questions:
Every story has a backstory, what's the backstory for your book?
In high school, I was a big punk rocker and was particularly into female bands like Hole, L7, Babes in Toyland, and Sleater Kinney. Towards the end of high school, I got really jaded by the punk rock scene and went goth. Black hair, white face makeup, black lipstick, lots of listening to the Cure... When I came out of that phase, what had been "alternative rock radio," which had been really female friendly when I was a teen with more female artists like the ones I mentioned and more popular ones like No Doubt and Alanis Morrisette and also really woman-positive male artists like Nirvana, all of this had given way to this macho icky Limp Bikzet thing. There'd been this whole backlash and it felt like all the progress we made in the early 90s had been wiped out. The band that really revived my interest in punk rock, was a band called the Distillers with an incredible front woman named Brody Dalle. They weren't a very mainstream band, but I had all these fantasies about what if a slightly more radio-friendly Distillers ruled the airwaves and this icky macho thing never happened. So I created Emily Black, the main character in I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE (which is named after a Sleater-Kinney song by the way) and to make her more complex and interesting, so the book isn't just a Behind The Music for a fake band, I gave her a complicated, absentee mother, Louisa.
What's your work environment like? Any rituals, totems, or must haves?
My office looks a lot like my bedroom as a teenager, decorated with band posters and stickers and postcards and photos of my friends and other weird little knick-knacks. It's kind of cluttered, but the clutter is organized. That is the kind of environment I need. My rituals vary depending on what I'm working on. When I was revising IWBYJR, I listened to the song "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone" to get pumped. And I do have one little totem type thing taped above my computer. As inspiration, my friend Eryn sent me a guitar pick she found that says "Girls Rock Harder" when I was revising IWBYJR. The note she sent with it was so sweet, too. Looking up at it helps me when I'm feeling stuck.
If you could live inside any book-- which would it be?
The Weetzie Bat books by Francesca Lia Block. Weetzie doesn't have a girl best friend. I would love to be her girl best friend and Witch Baby's godmother.
What book rocked your world growing up?
Erm, not to be repetitive, but the Weetzie Bat books for when I was a teen. When I was in grade school, I was obsessed with the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Those books are why I became a writer. I wanted to tell stories like Laura. But my world wasn't nearly as interesting as hers, so my stories are fictional.
If you could visit any time, place, or person- what, where, or who would it be?
Kurt Cobain's music really changed my life when I was 13 and shaped my teen years, shaped my creativity, shaped who I am today, so I would really have loved to meet him. Or even just to see him live. My parents didn't allow me to go to what ended up being Nirvana's last concert in Chicago because I was 14 and they thought I was going to too many concerts and it was expensive and I needed to focus on my school work and blah blah blah. They said you can see him next time. There was no next time. So yes, I would like to go back to October 23, 1993 at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago and see that show and if at all possible meet Kurt Cobain. Of course I'd also like to be in New York City when the Ramones were getting started and be partof the whole CBGBs scene and see the Clash in London in their heyday and the Germs and Social Distortion in late 70s/early 80s LA, and Minor Threat when they first formed and The Replacements in their early days and basically all the places where Louisa goes in IWBYJR. I have her following the music and witnessing all that I wished I could have witnessed!
Stephanie Kuehnert works at the University of Illinois Chicago College of Nursing, but is a writer through and through. She has published short stories, interviews, and essays in Hair Trigger and No Touching magazines, as well as for websites such as inkstains.org, freshyarn.com, and Virginia Quarterly Review. She was recently named to the Lit 50, the list of Chicago's hottest writers by NewCity, the renowned list also includes Studs Terkel, Elizabeth Berg, Scott Turrow, Aleksandar Hemon, and Audrey Niffenegger. Stephanie received her Bachelor’s in Fiction Writing at Columbia College in Chicago, and went on to earn her master’s degree there in 2006. She was awarded Third Place in Traditional Fiction by the Columbia University Scholastic Press Association for “Fairytale”, an excerpt from her novel I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone. Stephanie currently lives in Forest Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, with her boyfriend and three cats. Stephanie’s heart and soul will always reside in Chicago, and her up-and-coming work Ballads of Suburbia has been divinely inspired by the Windy City.