I am soincredibly excited to have Stephanie on my blog today! She is amazing. I read Ballads of Suburbia earlier this year and was completely blown away by the book and the stories within the story. Stephanie wrote such a raw and emotional book that I was consumed by it for days and now I talk about it all the time. (Wanna read my review? :) ) So, when I got the idea for Just Contemporary, I knew that I wanted to ask Stephanie to be a part of it and I made embarrassing noises she emailed me yes!:)
Here are some links to places where you can see more of Stephanie — Her website, her blog, Rookie an online magazine she writes for (and is crazy excited about, with good reason to be), and Twitter. And now — The Interview:
I've heard you mention before that Ballads of Suburbia is a deeply personal book, one that a lot of you went into writing. What was it like, to write a book like that? A book that used so much of you? Did that make it easier or harder to write that I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone?
It was definitely a lot harder to write than IWBYJR, though that book dealt with some pretty hefty things, too, so there were some scenes that were difficult, but all of Ballads was hard. I mean I guess writing the setting was easier because unlike with IWBYJR, I wasn't making it up, I was writing about the place I lived during the time I lived there, so it was all in my memory, but that was the only easy part about that book. Early on, I worried a lot that I didn't want to make it too autobiographical. Fortunately as soon as I stopped thinking about it and started really creating the characters, especially through their ballads, I was relieved to find that they were all fictional... Well, Kara has a lot in common with me, but her story is different. Then it was time for revisions and the main feedback I got from my editor on it was something like "get closer to Kara's emotions, get into her head and really let us feel what she's feeling." At first I was all mad, thinking, I did that! Kara's head was basically my head when I was a teenager. But then I reread it and realized I'd actually held back a lot during my first few drafts, not intentionally but because I didn't want to go back there. The things I dealt with as a teenager, primarily the depression and the self-injury affected me into my early twenties. I'd felt like I'd healed, but probably only about five years before I was working on Ballads, so I had those emotions locked up pretty carefully and I knew it would be scary to revisit them. I reread old journals and things I wrote about cutting to get into Kara's mindset. I actually got so scary close to her that I was exhausted both mentally and physically when I finished the revision. When I was a teenager I'd had an ulcer form from all the stress and that ulcer had healed in my mid-twenties, but started acting up again after I finished Ballads. It really was the hardest thing I've ever done, but as a result, it is also the thing I am most proud of.
Does I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone draw from your personal experiences the way that Ballads did?
Both books in a way are me looking at my own life and saying "What could have happened if... " With Ballads it was, "What could have happened if I did heroin more than once" because in real life I did it one time and it scared the shit out of me, so I sobered up completely for the rest of high school. With IWBYJR it was, "What would have happened if I actually could have learned to play the music I loved so much." If Kara from Ballads was the girl I was was, then Emily from IWBYJR is the girl I wanted to be. However, I actually have more in common with Louisa. Without giving the book away, I'll say that Louisa is carrying an awful secret that has to do with a guy she dated in high school, while I dated a guy who didn't do quite as bad things as this guy, he did some pretty bad things to me and while I didn't do what she did to the guy, I still came away from the situation, well to put it bluntly, really fucked up and I ran away in a manner of speaking for awhile, but not as long as Louisa did. Once again, with her I projected, "What would have happened if I never came to terms with that guy did to me... " I know that a lot of readers really don't like or relate to Louisa, but I actually feel for her because that could have been me. For the most part though, IWBYJR came from my love of punk rock, especially girl bands like Sleater-Kinney whose song "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone" I named the book after. I dreamed of a world where they would take over the mainstream rock airwaves.
Did you have a goal while writing either of these books? A specific message or meaning you hoped people would take away from the experience? Or were they just stories that needed telling?
They were just stories that needed telling. I honestly wrote both books because they were the books I needed as a teenager. I was a punk kid and I wanted there to be this big girl rock revolution, and would have loved reading about it, so I wrote it. On a more serious note, my friends and I were dealing with some pretty heavy stuff like the characters in Ballads, but in the mid-90s there weren't really YA books that dealt with that or if they did, they were all preachy and after-school special like. I just wanted to see someone like who survived so that I could draw strength from that. I wrote that story to give voice to teenage me and all the other teenagers like me who weren't seeing their stories out there.
Do you look back on either of these novels and see things you would like to change? Things you wish you would have done differently?
There is one minor character in IWBYJR that I wanted to kill off, but my agent told me not to. I still sort of wish I had. I can't really say more without spoilers. There are probably sentences or words here or there that I might change just because everyone grows as a writer (hopefully) so I might see a phrase as awkward or overwritten now that I didn't back then, but if I intentionally looked for that stuff it would make me crazy, so I don't. I am very proud of those books. I told the stories I wanted to tell. The only thing I wish is that I'd fought harder for them to be marketed more as YA. Sometimes they were in the adult sections of book stories and libraries and I want more teens to be able to find them.
I know the 'Bartender Book' is considered to be more Women's Fiction than YA, but is there crossover appeal? Are the people (specifically the teens) who enjoyed your previous novels likely to want to read the Bartender Book?
I must say that the Bartender Book isn't the actual title, I'm just being all secretive about that because I'm afraid of jinxing it, but yeah it is set a lot in a bar, so that and the fact that the main characters are 18 and 38 makes it "women's fiction" rather than YA, but like IWBYJR it is a mother/daughter story. The mother is in the story a lot more than Louisa was in IWBYJR because the chapters alternate, but the mother is actually a lot more like a teenager than the daughter. I actually tried to inject a bit more humor into it because I had to after writing a book like Ballads or that ulcer would come back for good, but it's not a "light" book by any means
It deals with a lot of the same issues as my other books though, like finding a home or place to fit in, coping with grief and life not turning out like how you thought it would be. I'm pitching it as "an edgier version of The Gilmore Girls." So if you liked that show and/or if you like my other books, I think you'll like this one. At least I hope so!
Any hints or ideas you can give us for what is in the works next?
The Bartender Book is only just going on submission, so I'm not deep into anything else yet. I have three ideas... No, two, I think I've successfully limited it down to two. They are both YA, so a YA project is definitely next. They are both the edgy, real-life type of stories that readers have come to expect from me, but both would have a paranormal/magical realism twist to them because I have always admired Francesca Lia Block and wanted to add some small element of strangeness to the very real contemporary issues that my characters are dealing with. Though I love reading paranormal and sci-fi books, I'm kind of afraid to dip more than my feet into those waters, but I feel like I should at least deep my feet in and challenge myself if that makes sense.
Other than the writing itself, what is the hardest part of being a writer.
Honestly there are a lot of hard parts. Waiting is hard. Things happen at a snail's pace in publishing. Rejection is super hard and so is reading really nasty reviews. I am not a thick-skinned person and that is why I would say hardest of all is the self-doubt and the worrying. Even though I have two books published, I worry that I am not good enough to get published again. I worry that I will never be successful enough as a writer to properly make ends meet and should get a more reliable job. I worry that I will run out of ideas or start to suck. I worry that deep down I really do suck, but have been managing to squeak by somehow. In short, there is a lot of self-doubt and worrying that goes along with writing for me. But I do my damnedest to push past it because I love telling stories, I don't know what I would do if I couldn't write.
Anything else you'd like to add or share with us?
I just want to thank you for having me and supporting contemporary fiction!
You are so welcome Stephanie and thank you so very much for being a part of this event! You are amazing and I for one am very grateful that you keep writing! Can't wait to read your next book!
And now — The giveaway! Because Stephanie is all kinds of awesome, she has donated a signed copy of either of her books, winners choice! How awesome is that?! Both are amazing and I'm so excited that you will have a chance to win!
To enter, fill out the Rafflecopter below! It's open US/CN only will end Dec 10 and there are chances for extra entries!! I promise, you don't want to miss this one! Here is the link to Rookie , the online magazine. Going there will get you extra giveaway entries!