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Life, Words & Rock 'n' Roll
Hey guys, I know it has been quiet on the blog lately, but that's because I've been so busy with ROOKIE! I hope you all are loving it as much as I do and don't forget that there is a contest surrounding it and DEAR BULLY which runs until the end of the month. It's really (sadly!) low on entries, so check it out because you have a good chance to win!

I have a really awesome interview for you today. I love each and every Woman Who Rocks that I bring you, but Patricia Ann McNair--or simply Patty as I've known her for the past eleven years or so--is extra special because she is one of those women that would go in my list of inspirations and people I wouldn't be a writer without. When I went back to college at 21, pursuing my BA (and eventually my MFA) at Columbia College Chicago, she was one of my professors in my very first semester. She taught a class called Fiction Writers & Censorship, which totally set me free. I wouldn't be able to write what I do without her. She was also there toward the very end of my time at Columbia and taught my thesis development class when I was putting finishing touches on the first draft (or maybe it was second... my drafts blur) of the book that would become I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE. Again, I wouldn't be the writer I am without her input and guidance. And she wouldn't be a stellar writing teacher if she wasn't a stellar writer, so I am extremely excited about the release of her book THE TEMPLE OF AIR. It is my honor to bring her here today to talk about it, so let's meet Ms. Patty McNair, shall we?


Q: Tell us about your new collection of short stories, THE TEMPLE OF AIR. How long did it take for this collection to come together and what are some of the common themes? Also tell us about some of your favorite characters and what inspired you to write them.

Patty: THE TEMPLE OF AIR was a long time in the making, Stephanie. The first story that was published was “The Joke,” and that was in the 1990s. Now, I didn’t know that it was part of a collection, but as happens, you start to write a few stories here and there, and then things start to surface: similar characters, a familiar place—in this case a fictional Midwestern small town called New Hope. What started to emerge for me first, probably, were these voices of young girls and women. A number of the stories feature teen-aged girls who find themselves caught in situations beyond their control—witness to an accident, part of a broken family, facing—literally—a coming storm. While these stories are set mostly in the seventies, many of the situations the girls (and boys and men) encounter are important now. The devastation of war, parents looking for work, encountering the homeless.

I am drawn to writing about young women of a certain age: fifteen or thereabouts. Perhaps because my own father died when I was just fifteen, and it had a lasting effect on who I became as a woman. That age is so precarious and important. Young women know so much then, but also have so much ahead of themselves to experience and learn. They are discovering or rejecting or experimenting with everything out there—religion, sex, drugs. Life. Some of my favorite characters here are Nova—the girl in the very first story who is shaken and shaped by an accident that starts the book off (she appears later in the collection as well); Rennie, a girl whose mother has an eating disorder and a weird religious belief; Christie who gets stuck baby-sitting a girl with special needs over the course of a summer; and a high school senior who doesn’t tell us her name and who is helpless when her best guy friend is drafted into the army. There are adults here, too, and men of course. A young man who is caught in a bizarre way when he tries to rob an ice cream parlor; the twins who own the ice cream parlor and are on the run for their own crimes; a gorgeous blond boy named Sky who is more bad than good, a father who loses his daughter.

Q. I also love place as a character and I know that you are a travel writer in addition to writing short stories, so can you talk a bit about the use of place in your work? The small town in THE TEMPLE OF AIR is called New Hope. Is it based on a real place? Tell us about how you developed it.

Patty: I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, but since I was a kid, my folks took us on some pretty great trips: Jamaica, Spain, Portugal, a long camping trip throughout the American West. I guess that started my affinity for place. I love maps and travel books and I love to travel. To me, being somewhere else is the best way to figure out where I come from. Does that make sense?

Anyway, my grandparents lived in small towns and farming communities, so we also spent a lot of time in rural areas. I really loved those places. The way everyone knew each other, how everyone walked everywhere, said hello to each other. And later, I went to school in Iowa and stayed there for some years after. I’ve also spent some time in other small, Midwestern places: Interlochen, Michigan; Siren, Wisconsin; Mount Carroll, Illinois. So New Hope is a sort of composite of these towns in the middle of America. A little bit of the plains, a little of the rolling river towns, some of the small lakes, a tornado alley. Like you in your first book, Stephanie, I wanted to use a place where it would be hard to go entirely unnoticed, a place where people knew your business at least a little. New Hope isn’t a tiny town, but small enough that the people who live there might get antsy within its limits, and also a place they might come to if they were trying to escape the life of a city.

Q: If THE TEMPLE OF AIR had a soundtrack, what are five of the songs that would be on it and why?

Patty: What an interesting question. Hmmm. There are probably lots of ways to answer this, but here goes:

1. Jimi Hendrix: “All Along the Watchtower”
2. Cat Stevens: “Wild World”

These first two because they evoke a feeling from the time the book starts (late sixties, early seventies.) The Vietnam war was going on, and the people in the stories who were growing up in New Hope would probably listen to something intense like Jimi Hendrix (psychedelic, sophisticated in its riffs) when they were
home or in small groups. And Cat Stevens’ sentiment about the wild world pretty much sums up what was going on for these young people.

3. Steve Miller: “The Joker”

I just heard this song on the radio the other day and thought it had to be on this list. It’s a song I remember so vividly from my own life at the time of when the book is set. We’d sing it at the top of our lungs, thinking we were getting away with something yelling out “I’m a joker, I’m a smoker, I’m a midnight toker” and “really love your peaches, want to shake your tree.” Pretty tame stuff compared with lyrics today, but we thought we were clever and subversive then, speaking a language our parents weren’t supposed to understand. And I think my characters would feel that way, too.

4. Donna Summer: “Bad Girls”

The stories move into the disco era, and some of the women in the stories take on a certain reckless pursuit of good times.

5. The Wallflowers: “One Headlight”

This song falls out of the time span of the novel, but it is one I played a lot while I was writing some of the stories. It has a sweet, rural feel to it, a lush sound that makes me think of what the stories’ landscape is like. A loneliness, a quiet, rich darkness.

Q: Who are some of the people that inspired you to become a writer or keep writing? Since it is Women Who Rock Wednesday, we particularly love to hear about the women, but feel free to include men too.

A: I loved books by Madeline L’Engle (A Wrinkle in Time) and S. E. Hinton (The Outsiders, etc.) when I was a kid. Women writers, both. Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Allison, Bonnie Jo Campbell, all women whose work makes me want to write. And I hope you don’t mind my saying this, Stephanie, but women like you, who have been my students and who show me how they had the strength and tenacity it takes to keep the writing going despite other obligations, have been such an inspiration. You guys (gals) make me take the work seriously. And lucky me, my husband, the artist Philip Hartigan, gives me such inspiration and support. He works so hard at his own craft, I have to work at mine in order to keep up.

But the most important person is my mom, who died a few years ago. She was a travel writer herself and got me writing gigs early on. On summer days when I was a little kid, she used to give me writing prompts and would expect me to have a story written by the time she got home from work. I loved that. And she told me that she chose my name—Patricia Ann McNair—by imagining what it would look like on the cover a book. I mean, come on! How could I not be a writer with that sort of juju?

Q: What's next for you? What are you working on now?

Patty: What’s on my desk at the moment is a novel-in-progress that also takes place in New Hope. It has a working title that shifts now and again, but today it is called “Climbing the House of God Hill.” It’s a story about a fifteen-year-old girl (huh, imagine that!) who is homeschooled and who gets mixed up in a scandal in town that involves an older man (who also happens to be an immigrant and a father of seven kids), and a friend of her own father who is a member of the church, and her stepmother. It’s a complicated plot right now, but I am hopeful that it will begin to both untangle and deepen the more I write.

Q: I have two standard questions for 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 :)

Patty: My first album Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5. (Okay, now you know how old I am.) I remember it cost 3.99 (or was it 2.99?) at KMart. I came home and played it over and over and over again. I had such a huge crush on Michael Jackson who was just my age. We had this big picture window that was like a mirror when the sun went down, and I would dance in front of it to the album and pretend I was the sixth Jackson, a token white girl.

My first concert was Chicago, with the Pointer Sisters opening. No one knew who they were (The Pointer Sisters) at the time, and so they were practically booed off the stage. I was there for Chicago like everyone else, but I remember thinking that the women were pretty good, and we’d hear from them again. I was too young to get there on my own; my brother had to take me and some girlfriends. We tried to lose him at the concert, though, so we could meet guys.

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!

Patty: It’s gotta be the launch party for my book just this past Friday. I read at Women and Children First, a bookstore I have always hoped to see my book in some day, and it was so great.

I got there a little early, and at the time, there were only about eight people there, two of them friends of my mom’s, one my own brother, a couple of colleagues, some random shoppers. I knew that the bookstore had ordered a load of books, upping their order a couple of times because they were expecting a lot of people. I was worried that it would be a total flop, that they’d hardly sell anything, that no one would come. Do you ever get over this feeling.

Well, little by little the place started to fill up. Soon it was standing room only, folks in all the chairs and stuffed in all the way to the front windows of the store. And the door kept opening. I could see faces of people I knew were there to support me all the way in the back of the crowd. And when Kathie Bergquist, a Woman Who Most Definitely Rocks, introduced me, the crowd actually cheered! Holy shit!

And no one left in the middle of things, and the book-signing line went on forever it seemed, past closing time for the bookstore. And they sold pretty much every book of mine in the store, even pulling the display one out of the window.

I think that must be what it feels like to be a rock star. Excited, listened to, enjoyed, humbled. And lucky. So very, very lucky.

Thanks for doing this, Patty. I am honored to have you and thanks for the shout-out. I'm glad I can be an inspiration to you too, since you have been such a big one to me.

Today's Contest:

After hearing more about it, I'm guessing you want THE TEMPLE OF AIR and you are in luck! Patty is offering up a a signed copy of it!

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 TEMPLE OF AIR
+5 for blogging about THE TEMPLE OF AIR

Note your additional entries in your comment as well as giving me an email address or some way to contact you if you win.

Please note that due to shipping expenses this prize can ONLY be shipped to US/Canada addresses.

I will be drawing the winner on September 28 during my next Women Who Rock Wednesday interview!
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Before I wrote novels (or short stories that would become novel material as my short stories tend to do), I wrote 'zines. When I talk about why I write YA, I often say that I do so because there weren't a lot of really good YA books that told the kind of stories I needed/wanted to read. One of the few things that gave me a voice as a teenager was Sassy magazine, but even that faded out of existence during my the middle of high school when I needed it the most. My life might have been a little easier or at least made more sense if Sassy had continued, but fortunately it inspired and motivated me to write about the changes that I wanted to see in the world. It was my guiding force at sixteen along with bands like Bratmobile (who I discovered through Sassy) and Bikini Kill who made their own 'zines and were involved with a movement called Riot Grrrl that I desperately wanted to be a part of after reading about it in an amazing book (that sadly is out of print) called GIRL POWER by Hillary Carlip.

I teamed up with my three best friends and wrote a feminist 'zine called Kill Supermodels, which of course did not indicate actually killing supermodels, but rather the standard of beauty that it seemed only the tall, skinny, white girl could achieve. We ranted about all of the things that made the world hard for a teenage girl to live in and advocated for change, dreaming of a safer, more just and equal life for all. I used to fantasize that me and my three friends could start a real revolution right there in my bedroom, typing up our stories and creating collages and illustrations to go with them. That time period, junior year of high school, was probably the single hardest year of my life and the one beam of sunshine was doing those 'zines and the community--the girls across the country and the world that they would lead me to, some of whom remain my best friends.

I also wrote three very raw, very personal 'zines called Goddess Defiled, Hospital Gown, and Do Not Go Quietly Unto Your Grave. These dealt with what I was struggling with: self-injury, addiction, depression, the painful recovery from an emotionally and sexually abusive relationship, and just plain growing up and realize that the world was not what you thought it would be.

I wrote and distributed my last 'zine around my eighteenth birthday. I still have file folders with ideas for other issues, but I got distracted by college and short stories and an ugly period of self-destruction. When I got through that I focused on writing my novels, only publishing the occasional personal essay in a friend's magazine or on a website or here on my blog.

My regular blog readers probably won't be surprised that I've always wanted to do some sort of project like a big 'zine that would reach teenage girls and give them a voice the way Sassy did for me. It's been a deep down desire for years that has only gotten stronger lately. You see I don't have a daughter, but my childhood best friend had a baby girl during our senior year of high school and that little girl is now a brilliant and talented young woman who is entering high school this year. She is like my daughter, she is definitely my niece (blood does not matter there) and she is my muse. I wanted to gift her with something like Sassy because like all good parents and aunts, I want her life to be better than mine.

Then almost a year ago, I was hanging out with two my high school best friends/fellow Kill Supermodels founders and one of them asked, "Have you heard about Tavi Gevinson?" My other friend and I had not, so she went on to describe this fourteen year-old girl from our town--Oak Park, Illinois, where BALLADS OF SUBURBIA was set--who became a well-known for her fashion blog Style Rookie at the age of eleven. The more she said, the more awestruck I was of Tavi. She gave all three of us massive hope, this young teenage girl who who was letting her voice be heard and had a lot of the same beliefs in feminism and girl empowerment that we had developed as teenagers. Unlike us, she had her shit together, had a platform, and a real chance to make a difference.

A few weeks later my friend emailed me and my other friend to tell us that Tavi was planning to start a Sassy inspired magazine and would even be consulting with Jane Pratt, the woman who started. I kid you not, I almost cried when I read about it. My friend suggested that the old Kill Supermodels craw submit so we did. Last November. I practically forgot about it, but in early April, I received an email from Tavi inviting me to be a part of her online magazine, which the group of us would eventually decide to call Rookie. She said she couldn't pay, but I didn't care. I had to do it. I thought the world needs this. Today's teenage girl needs this. I needed this. Hell, I still do.

So I've been plotting and planning and writing pieces all summer with Tavi, our incredible story editor Anaheed, and the rest of Team Rookie--a bunch of fabulously talented writers and artists that I am unbelievably honored to work along side. We're creating the kind of project I wished to be a part of since I was in high school. I was not kidding last week when I tweeted that this Super Sekrit Project might be the project I am most proud of out of anything I've done, possibly even my books. I can't believe I've kept it a secret (from all but a select few) for five months. Part of me also can't even believe that it's real. But here it is.

This is ROOKIE.

I'll be writing two to three times a month for it (which has been keeping me quite busy, but is soooo worth it), mostly personal essays about the things I've grappled with as a teenager, but every now and then I'll write something fun and light about pop culture because angsty as I am, I do have a sense of humor. I'm really proud of the pieces I wrote for our first issue and will be sure to let you know when they go live. The way the site works is super cool with a new piece (some are written, some are images or multimedia) going up three different times a day, around the time people are getting home from school, around dinner time, and around that time you are supposed to be finishing your homework but are procrastinating instead. Tavi explains more about that and the site in general in her letter from the editor, which you should read here. You can also read more about how it all came together in this article that ran in the New York Times magazine. And do check out the full list of amazing contributors here.

There are already some wonderful written pieces and gorgeous visuals up, so if you have the day off today, I hope you'll spend it exploring the site. I'm also going to run a contest, which I will detail below after one more announcement.

I haven't been keeping this one secret at all. The DEAR BULLY anthology comes out tomorrow. I am one of 70 YA authors (including a bunch of huge amazing authors like Ellen Hopkins who I am truly humbled to be included with) who wrote an essay, letter, poem or comic about their experience with bullying. It's amazing, inspiring, and another project I hope will make a huge difference.

If you've read my novels, you know that silence and the need to break it to survive the painful things in life is a major them in my work and it is so because that's the hardest lesson I've ever learned. In fact I'm still learning it. I think Rookie and DEAR BULLY can play a big part and breaking the silence surrounding the hard issues and giving teens a voice. I'm insanely proud of them and I want to get the word out, so I'm gonna do a massive contest this month.

September Contest
The mission is to spread the word about Rookie and DEAR BULLY. So you will get:
+5 for writing a blog post about Rookie
+5 for writing a blog post about DEAR BULLY
+1 for following Rookie on Twitter
+1 for following DEAR BULLY on Twitter
+1 for "liking" Rookie on Facebook
+1 for "liking" DEAR BULLY on Facebook
+1 for following Rookie on Tumbler
+1 for every piece you comment on on Rookie, so that means the more pieces you read and comment on, the more entries you get
+1 for *each* tweet or facebook status update about Rookie (yes, each one, so tweet your hearts out)
+1 for *each* tweet or facebook status update about DEAR BULLY

You can record your points in your comments here (including links to tweets/status updates/blogs etc) or if it is easier to email me a big list at the end, you can do so to stephanie AT stephaniekuehnert DOT com. The deadline is September 30. I'm going out of town the day after that, so I will tally things up and announce/contact the winner on October 7th.

The prize will go to the person who has the most points (and if there is a tie, it will be decidedly randomly using a coin toss, dice roll or random.org). The prize as of now is signed copies of both of my books PLUS a copy of DEAR BULLY PLUS copies of some of my 'zines. Karen Mahoney has also agreed to give away a signed copy of her fabulous book, The Iron Witch! I'm hoping to get some more of my author friends who are all about empowering teenagers and giving them a voice to donate prizes. Hey author friends, if you are willing to, let me know either here or via email.

Okay that's it. I hope you guys are excited not only about the contest but also about Rookie and DEAR BULLY. Please visit Rookie and tell me what you think!
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Welcome to Women Who Rock Wednesday! Before we meet today's guest, I have a book to give away. The winner of Arlaina Tibensky's And Then Things Fall Apart is jpetroroy from blogger! Congrats! I will email you for your address!

Today I'm stoked to feature a YA author that I admire and had a blast signing beside at BEA 2010 right before her first book THE DUFF: (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) came out. I'm talking of course about the fabulous Kody Keplinger, pictured here with her lovely new curls:


Kody has a new book called SHUT OUT that will be out next week (but is already shipping from B&N), so I thought I'd invite her over to be the rock star that she is and tell us about it on Women Who Rock Wednesday. Let's meet her, shall we?

Q: Please tell us about SHUT OUT and what inspired you to write it?

Kody: SHUT OUT is a modern re-imagining of Lysistrata by Aristophanes, a Greek play I read and loved in college. Which is to say, I read it and then turned to my roommate and said, "Hey, this would be AWESOME in a high school setting!" So that's how SHUT OUT came to be. It's about Lissa, a teenage girl whose boyfriend is constantly being distracted by a stupid sports rivalry, so she and the girlfriends of other jocks band together and go on a sex strike, telling they boys they're getting zero action until the pranks and hazing end. Chaos and hilarity ensues!

Q: If there was a soundtrack for SHUT OUT, what are five songs that would be on it and how do they relate to the story or characters?

Kody: Oh, there IS a soundtrack! (Well, in my head). I'll be putting a full list up on my website soon, but five songs that, to me, were influential to the book are:

1. "One Girl Revolution" by Saving Jane (which totally sums up the entire novel, actually)
2. "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga (the entire inspiration behind Lissa's frustrated love life)
3. "Can't Hold Us Down" by Christina Aguilera and Lil' Kim (all about the double standards Lissa and her friends begin to see between boys and girls when it comes to sex)
4. "Doll Parts" by Hole (was constantly playing on iPod when I was writing about Lissa and it just seemed to filter through into her character.)
5. "Come On Closer" by Jem (a song all about sexual tension! What could be more appropriate?)

Q: You totally amaze me because you are a published YA author who is still in college (right? or did you recently graduate and I totally didn't know?). Writing was my dream since I was a kid, but it took me awhile to get it all together. I bet there are a bunch of teen writers who you are an inspiration for and would love to know how you reached your dream so quickly. Can you tell us a little bit about your path to publishing? How old were you when your first book came out? What were some of your key inspirations to start writing and what were some key steps you took to ensure that you met your goals and got published?

Kody: Well, firstly, I'm not in college anymore. I didn't graduate, but I"m taking some time off to figure things out and to get some writing done! But I did start writing early. Like you, I have ALWAYS wanted to write, ever since I was a little girl. But when I was in high school I finally decided to research how it was that one go published - what steps needed to be taken. That's how I learned that I needed an agent. I didn't get one on my first book, but when I reached out to agents for my second I had a little more luck. I was only seventeen, but that didn't bother her at all, which was good! I was still 17 when my first book, THE DUFF, sold, and I was 19 when it was released last year. I've been so inspired by other writers, like JK Rowling, Judy Blume, Sarah Dessen, and others. My biggest piece of advice to teen writers is to just keep writing. There will be a lot of "no"s in the road to publication, but if you keep writing, you might reach that "yes" one day, and that's what makes it worth it.

Q: I also love that you write contemporary, realistic YA fiction, which isn't a genre that gets as much attention as paranormal or dystopian, but the stories are just as important. Can you talk about what inspires you to write the kind of edgy, realistic stories that you write?

Kody: To be perfectly honest, I write the stories I want to read. I LOVE fantasy and dystopian, but I loved contemporary, too, and I could never seem to find enough of them in high school, so I wrote one. Then another. I think there can be just as much excitement in a realistic setting as there can be in a fantasy! There's angst, romance, drama. So, yeah. I write what I wanted to read - stories about real people dealing with real, not-sugar-coated issues. With a little fun mixed in, of course!

Q: I know SHUT OUT is brand new, but you have rabid fans including me, so please tell us what's next?

Kody: Aww, thank you! Well, after SHUT OUT I have a third book out next Summer (just under a year from now) called A MIDSUMMER'S NIGHTMARE. Now, before you get all excited, its not related to Shakespeare. I'm done with retellings for a bit. But it's about a girl dealing with what she thinks is the worst summer ever, only to discover that through all the bad, she might find something very important she's been missing for a while. I'm REALLY excited about it and hope my readers love the characters as much as I do when it comes out.

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!

Kody: Oh, Gawwwwd, this is embarrassing, but okay. My first album was "Oops, I Did It Again" by Britney Spears, and I still know all the lyrics to half those songs because it was on constant repeat. And my first concert, which i saw when I was 16, was Hank Williams Jr, which my dad took me to for my birthday, even though its HIS favorite musician, not mine. Still a fun show, though.

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.

Kody: Oh my gosh, okay - so last year I got to attend a YA Lit conference in Chicago. My publisher sent me, and I go to stay at this super nice hotel. Now, I've stayed in nice hotels before, but not like this one. I kid you not - there was a TV inside the bathroom mirror. Like, there was a remote and you could see the TV on the mirror and watch it while you got read int he morning. It was the coolest thing I'd ever seen, and at that moment, I felt like a rockstar - because I was in a hotel with such fancy bathroom furniture! haha.

Dude, that is super cool. Yanno, I'm near Chicago, so next time invite me over, okay?

Thanks very much to Kody for swinging by for an interview. I bet everyone is pumped for SHUT OUT now, so what are you waiting for.... go order it from your favorite bookstore!
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As I mentioned on my YA Outside the Lines blog entry earlier this week, I'm having a really hard time getting started on my new YA project. I explain my issues there in depth (and ask for advice on how to kickstart a new project so if you have tips, please go and share them!), but to summarize lot of them have to do with self-doubt, especially after struggles with The Bartender Book and general uncertainty about my career. And I don't know, maybe I always struggle with the beginning of a book, but because it takes me so long to finish a book, I forget how hard it is by the time I have to start a new one.

This time around I also had a really hard time deciding between three ideas, but I'm pretty sure I've settled on my oldest idea. It's something I've been toying with since early 2008, around the same time I started toying with what became The Bartender Book. I've written a few partial drafts and synopses of this idea. It's had two different titles. It's been a contemporary realistic YA story with a metaphor that didn't really work and then it was a paranormal YA story that almost worked, but something just wasn't right. I also took input from too many people without trusting my own instincts and it became this Thing That Was No Longer Mine. But the idea at the very core is one I've been obsessed with such I was a teenager, actually maybe even younger, so I felt determined to reclaim it.

Through working closely with a couple of trusted writing buddies (I love you Kaz and Vanessa! Also Jenny and Jeri!), I think I've hashed out a plot that will actually work this time. I've been inspired by books that blend realistic fiction with fantastical elements like IMAGINARY GIRLS by Nova Ren Suma. (Such an amazing book!!! Seriously, click that link and get it now. You will thank me!) It seemed like that sort of touch is exactly what this book idea needed. I want to straddle the line of reality and fairytale so that readers feel like maybe I'm telling a story that could actually happen or maybe I'm creating my own modern fairytale. Because fairytales, myths and classic stories from my childhood are where the center of this thing is. I've always been fascinated by girls who get lost, wander off the path, are taken or that someone tries to break and what becomes of them depending on the choices they make.

So, I've been plotting and brainstorming for the past month and a half (and how I hate that it has taken that long, gah!!! One of these days a book will just pour out of me. Hopefully the next book because I am due.) It has often been very frustrating, but I think I have a general idea and usually a general idea is all I need. But as I mentioned in that YAOTL Blog, I'm having a really tough time diving in. I'm leaving to Seattle on Saturday and hoping that my six-day trip to my favorite place on earth will give me clarity and peace of mind so I can come back ready to dive in.

Because I figure I may need it, I thought I'd put together the things that stirred up this idea for me in some way so I have them in one place to feed my muse. This will also give you hints about what I'm working on, as many hints as I'm willing to drop at this point at least. Like last time I am still not comfortable sharing real titles though I do have one, but I think in order to officially make this a Work In Progress rather than a brainstorm it needs a project name like The Bartender Book. For now I will call this The Modern Myth YA and here are her inspirations:

I will start with music because music always comes first for me. This is one song that has stayed on my playlist (which has changed names and dropped and added songs every time I change titles). It contains the quote I have at the front of the manuscript right now, which is pretty much my driving idea for the story:

"How we survive is what makes us who we are." - Rise Against, "Survive":



But when I was trying to reclaim this story and figure out how to change it so that I could actually write a full book on it, I tried to listen to my old playlist and I wasn't feeling inspired by it. I was actually ready to give up because if I don't have the music for a story idea, the idea just isn't going to work for me. Then I landed on this song. I listened to it 10 times in a row as I started to sketch out new ideas. It's all here. "I Am A Revenant" by The Distillers is my main character. It showed me how she feels, how she acts, what she does, what she looks like. It gives me a glimpse into her heart:



At that point, I realized that The Distillers are my band for this project. I have no idea why it wasn't obvious before. I dumped almost half of their catalog onto my playlist. Two songs that particularly stuck out to be were these. It's strange because in my own life, "Hall of Mirrors" and "The Hunger" were break-up songs, forever they have reminded me of the end of a painful 8 year romance. My story isn't centered on a romance, but I still hear my character in this song.

This one has lines that speak of her journey: "There's a highway to the edge/Once a night you will find yourself there/At the end of the road you will find the answer/At the end of the road you will drink the fear":



And The Hunger which is may be my all-time favorite Distillers song has that pure raw scream of anguish, that "Don't Go!" even though you know you have to let go and "Hold on to the memory, it's all you got":


Then at one point I was listening to "Live Through This" by Hole and realized that most of that album should be on my playlist, especially "Violet" because that whole "I'm the one with no soul, one above and one below" line is perfect as is the whole "Might last a day, Mine is forever" part of the chorus:



Oh and this next song. This has been on the playlist all along, but I didn't realize exactly what it would mean to the project until very recently. This song and fireflies in general are really symbolic for me in surviving my own depression and dark times when I was in high school, something which I talk a bit about in this vlog I made a couple of years ago. Yeah, this song, major part of The Modern Myth YA's theme:



Corin Tucker is the singer of Heavens To Betsy and also of Sleater-Kinney whose song I got the title I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE for. It seems she is always a huge inspiration for me because songs from her album 1,000 years with her latest band, The Corin Tucker Band are finding their way on to my playlist as well. In fact I might name a character after this song, although my Riley would be telling my main character, "What you've been through is rough. Just keep going, don't let it get you down for too long." And I love this video too:



In addition to music I am also drawing a lot of inspiration from this:

Yes, wild girls. Definitely.

But books and music are common inspirations for me. What's surprising is I've always been drawn to a lot of imagery as well for this one. These are probably what will give you the most insight into what I'm writing about.... Maybe.

Here's one I just saw yesterday. Frances Bean Cobain, the daughter of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love is about to turn 19 (today I think! Happy Birthday, Frances Bean!) and there have been some really beautiful images of her that were taken recently. I've got to say that as the daughter of the two people I idolized most as a teenager, she intrigues me, but beyond that she is just really pretty and photographs quite well in that you can see a story in the images of her. Is it her story? I have no idea, I wouldn't be so presumptuous to assume that. What I see in this photo is my story though actually. It's something about those branches that appear both behind her and on her chest and the way she is partially shadowed and lit up. Though my main character looks a lot different than Frances does here, I see her in this image. Also one of the tiny little hints I will give about my story. My main character is the daughter of celebrities and the book is set in LA. Modern myth, there you have it.

Then this is an image from a graphic novel that has stuck with me since high school. There are certainly elements of The Crow in what I'm working on.


And finally we have these paintings:

That's "Demeter" and "Persephone" painted by Jeanie Tomanek. Yes, elements in my myth for sure. I'm going to remain mum on how and the only reason I even posted these is because I saw them during my research (thanks again, Kaz!) and haven't been able to stop looking at them or the rest of this woman's artwork, which you can check out here. Especially this one, which speaks to me in sort of the same way as the Frances Bean photograph (but sadly comes out much too big for me to post directly here.) I've admitted before that I am usually totally dumb when it comes to art. I have no idea what I like, but now I have found it. I love love love this. It's exactly the mood I hope to capture in my book. And if I actually manage to write it and it sells, I may reward myself with one of Ms. Tomanek's brilliant paintings.

So yeah, those are my muses. If you've seen/heard/read things that you think may inspire me, by all means post away. And I hope these various elements intrigue you about what is to come from me. Most of all I hope that after my vacation, I can get my ass in gear and create it!

Also last minute thought.... I probably don't need another online distraction, but as I compiled this, I thought maybe it would be easier to just get a tumblr to compile all of these things as I come across them. Any tumblr fans out there? What do you think?

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Welcome to Women Who Rock Wednesday! Before we meet today's guest, I have a book to give away. The winner of Melissa Walker's Small Town Sinners is auds07 from LiveJournal! Congrats! I will email you for your address!

Today we have the fabulous debut YA author Arlaina Tibensky here tell us about her book AND THEN THINGS FALL APART. I was lucky enough to meet Arlaina for coffee while she was visiting Chicago a couple of weeks ago. See, aren't we adorable?


I can tell you firsthand that she is made of awesome and I am really excited to her book and I'm guessing that if you love my books you will love Arlaina and her book, too. So let's meet her, shall we?

Q: Please tell us what AND THEN THINGS FALL APART is about and what inspired you to write it.

ARLAINA: The book is about how Sylvia Plath and an old typewriter usher an angsty reluctant virgin through the worst summer of her freaking life.

That’s the tagline but it’s about a lot of things, great literature, misbehaved parents, the coolest grandmother ever. Garage sales, vintage clothes, Chicago, expensive nail polish…

When I was 15 my parents were getting divorced and I was staying at my grandma’s house when I got the chicken pox. I had been writing other novels and short stories forever but this idea about a sick literate girl stuck in bed without a computer really stuck with me. One day I heard an interview with Libba Bray on a podcast of Meet the Writers where she talked about making a playlist for all her books. I had never even heard of her and she was so warm and funny and we seemed to have a similar sensibility and I thought hmmm. YA, huh? Why not! I went home, made a playlist and started typing. And as soon as I hacked out three pages in like, 5 minutes, it felt like the planets had aligned and I was finally writing what I was supposed to be writing. FINALLY.

Q: If there was a soundtrack for AND THEN THINGS FALL APART what are five songs that would be on it and how do they relate the story?

ARLAINA: Smokestack Lightnin' by Howlin' Wolf
This one makes me feel the kind of sad I get at Christmas, which is a feeling I adore and think of as a particularly teenaged feeling.

You Know I'm No Good by Amy Winehouse
This song is so open and raw- love it. It best exemplifies the kind of tough Keek wishes she could be, especially in matters of the heart. Don’t get me started on the heartbreak of her dying on me…

Stand And Deliver by Adam Ant
My love of Adam Ant knows no bounds. This song was also a kind of battle cry for Keek, daring her to stand up for herself. And it’s kind of funny and Keek has nothing if not a sense of humor.

Remember (Walkin' In The Sand) by The Shangri-Las
This one tears you a new aorta. It reminds me that the passionate turmoil of being a teenager is timeless and really embodies the kind of hurt and betrayal Keek feels over both Matt and Amanda.

Like Cockatoos by the Cure
I hear this song and I am instantly16 and in an attic making out with my hot goth boyfriend. INSTANTLY. So it really helped ground me in that time and place so I could write with authenticity.

Q: We have a lot of things in common like being raised in the Chicago suburbs and going to punk shows at the Fireside Bowl. But it also sounds like you loved Sylvia Plath as much as I did in high school. Can you please talk about how she influenced you?

ARLAINA: Sylvia Plath was one of the first writers I read where I actually noticed the writing. There’s this whole idea, especially in high school English class, that when the writing is really “good” you don’t notice it. Plath’s poems and the best places in The Bell Jar just captivated me with the surreal and punk rock beauty of the words and the way that she chose to put them together. The words called attention to themselves in the best possible way. It made me see, probably for the first time, that writing was an art. And of course, her suicide glamoured me into loving her too, the maudlin idea of a beautiful, tortured young poet, dead at 30. It fit perfectly into my romantic notion of the suffering artist.

Q: Who else has influenced you as a writer? It could be anyone from other artists to parents and teachers. We love hearing about inspiring women on Women Who Rock Wednesday, but feel free to include men as well.

ARLAINA: I can’t leave out Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. That book was a huge influence on And Then Things Fall Apart (and me). Holden’s voice is so powerful and has a flat-footed oddness to it that made me notice the words as I was totally caught up in the momentum. Dorothy Parker. Jane Bowels. The Hernandez Brothers of Love and Rockets. Bukowski. Those are four more big influences. I’m really drawn to slightly off-kilter dark yet redemptive characters with a sense of humor. I guess because they mirror how I see myself. Or something.

And of course there are all the badass women (including two nuns!) who taught me how to diagram sentences and conjugate verbs and write lucid and entertaining 5 paragraph essays. My English teachers expected the best from me and encouraged all my writing endeavors and I wouldn’t be writing today if it weren’t for them and their red pencils.

Q: I know AND THEN THINGS FALL APART just came out, but as soon as we devour it, I know we're gonna want more, so what is next for you?

ARLAINA: I have two ideas arm-wrestling for dominance in my brain… One is a mother daughter thing and the other is an effed up family with a brother and a sister. I love them both and can’t seem to figure out which one I should dance with first. The short answer is: another book. 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!

ARLAINA: First album I bought on purpose was the soundtrack to Fame- the original… I used to listen to it in my grandma’s oversized sea-foam green carpeted bathroom and construct these elaborate routines in the mirror. “I sing, the body electric…” And it was a cassette tape.

The first concert was U2. I know! It was a big big show at Rosemont Horizon. I want to say it was the Joshua Tree tour but it’s kind of a blur.
I was so caught up with the drama of the guy who invited me (we had just broken up and I didn’t know if it was a date or what and that kind of thing totally unnerved me then) but it was big and fun and electric. I saw the Cure there too on the Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me Tour, not long after…

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.

ARLAINA: When I was in high school my mom and I went on a safari in Africa. To prepare we had to attend a pre-trip meeting at the Rosemont Hilton. The meeting room was near the pool and was very exciting. We learned about the shots we would need and the unique places we were going to stay and we were all dazed and drunk with the glamour of international travel when we got into the elevator to take us back to the parking lot. As we were waiting for the doors to close, a very tattooed and skinny eyelinered and wet man got in the elevator with us, a towel around his neck. Dude. I RECOGNIZED the giant blue dragon tattoo. And my mother (who is the true rock star here) asks him, “Excuse me, but aren’t you a musician?” and he says- in total British accent, kind of like a question, I kid you not “I’m Ozzy Osborne.” And I’m practically inside out with embarrassment and awe and then my mom says: “Oh, my brother really enjoys your music.” And he says, “Thanks very much” and we got out at the lobby.

This was like, 1989 when he was still a rock star and not a reality TV star. But the moment was very rock star all the way around, my badass mom, the badass trip my mom couldn’t really afford, the nonchalant half nakedness of the encounter. I think of that experience often because it made me realize in a concrete way that you are always the rock star of your own life.

Today's Contest:

After hearing more about it, I'm guessing you want AND THEN THINGS FALL APART and you are in luck! Arlaina 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 AND THEN THINGS FALL APART
+5 for blogging about AND THEN THINGS FALL APART

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 August 31 when I bring you the next Women Who Rock Wednesday interview, which will be with Kody Keplinger!
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Sorry this blog got all kinds of spotty again after a really good June. I feel bad when I only post up interviews even though I do like to share the cool authors and other folks that I discover with you guys.

I think I'm still trying to figure out how to best use my blog. I want it to be a source of interesting information as well as personal reflections on well, my life, writing, and music as the blog's name Life, Words & Rock 'n' Roll suggests. But I don't even know how often people read blogs any more because Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook and now Google+ (which I'm on but haven't actually used much) make it easier to get the basics and small doses of information.

The thing is, I'm not a small doses kind of gal. My blog entries are longer than they should be and I know it and so are my books. But I write the stories I write because they are what I want to tell and I don't like to blog for the sake of blogging. I blog when I have something urgent that I need to share whether it be my own news or a great band or book or author or just an observation or obsession I need to talk about. I also use this a sort of public journal where I work through my own issues whether they be with my writing process or regarding things I've gone through in the past like self-injury, abuse, addiction, etc. So I guess I'm saying that I hope this is okay with you and you will keep reading and entering my contests, etc and that you will also bear with me during my quieter moments like right now because I just don't blog when I don't have things that are interesting or appropriate to say and I also seem to go through cycles when I barely have time to eat or sleep so blogging just falls off.

Here's what's been going on with me lately & why I've been so quiet:

1. There is a lot of stuff going on in my personal life that I don't feel comfortable talking about publicly so I'm not. It's been a hard summer. People I love have been sick and/or going through difficult times and it's just seemed like one bit of bad luck after the next. I don't want to be a whiny Debbie Downer, so I'm following the "When you don't have anything nice to say, STFU" rule.

2. There is a lot of stuff going on in my professional life that I either don't feel comfortable talking about or simply can't talk about it. Yet. You'll hear about it when I'm ready/allowed to talk about it. But I spent much of last month in yet another cycle of major self-doubt. Like consulting tarot cards for a different career path self-doubt. Like wondering if I could be a nurse like my mom even though I'm pretty sure I'd faint at the sight of a ton of blood self-doubt. More on that when I've processed it completely, I'm sure because while I don't want to be one of those writers who writes about writing all the time, there are some things that are really important to share and self-doubt and how we work through it is a biggie. But rest assured I'm not quitting any time soon. Still have lots to figure out, but not quitting.

3. There is one professional-related thing that I am so bursting to tell you about but can't. It's not a book, but it's something that I'm as excited about and proud of as I am my books and I'm sure that readers of my books are totally gonna love. All I can say now is that you will find out more in early September. As soon as I can tell you, believe me I will. But this Super Sekrit Project has been sucking up a ton of time and is a large reason of why I haven't been blogging. It's like better than blogging though. You'll see.

4. Another professional-related time suck is I'm going to be teaching a Young Adult Fiction class at Columbia College Chicago this fall. I'm excited and nervous and hoping it will help me learn more about my own writing while I'm teaching others, but holy cow is it taking a lot of prep.

5. I'm trying to figure out which of three YA ideas to work on as my next project. It's caused a lot of angst as you might have noticed from this post. After the trouble I had with the bartender book, I'm gun-shy. I don't want to start writing until I've fully plotted, which is so not my usual style. That's it's own separate blog post (unless you think that would be totally boring!) which I will write about once I figure things out a bit more and get deeper into my process. Every book is a new animal. I'm pretty sure I've chosen my next book idea, but we'll see. More on that later.

So yes between all of those things I've been insanely busy and the rest of this month isn't going to be much better, but I do have two more great interviews planned for you (and you can still enter to win Melissa Walker's latest book here). I also want to eventually (sometime this week or next week I hope!) tell you about going to see the original version of the play Grease here in Chicago a couple of weeks ago. It was amazing and I have so much to say about it. I'll do my best to get a post up about it before I go on vacation on the 20th. Yes!!!! I get a vacation! Dudes, I need a vacation so bad and it is with two of my bestest girl friends in my favorite city on earth, Seattle, so I am thrilled!

I will definitely be blogging at Teen Fiction Cafe this Thursday, probably about my favorite places in Seattle, and there is going to be some seriously cool stuff going on at TFC soon (that does involve winning/earning free books!), so keep your eye on that site.

Next Tuesday you will find me at my other group blog, YA Outside The Lines talking about beginnings and endings and probably about this new YA book project I'm trying to get settled into. We are doing something cool at YAOTL for September where we are going to pick our topics from questions that readers ask. So if you have a question that you'd like to see one of your favorite YA authors answer-- a serious question or a totally goofy, off-the-wall one, please send it to blog administrator, Holly Schindler, at writehollyschindler (at) yahoo (dot) com. Nothing's off limits!

Actually come to think of it, that might be a good idea for me personally to do on this blog too. So if there are certain things you'd like me personally to blog about or reflect on in the future, please leave a comment. I can't promise I'll get to them all and I may not get to any of them until September, but I really could use your feedback about what would make reading this blog enjoyable because as long as it stays enjoyable for me as a writer and you guys as readers, I will continue to maintain it... even if it does get spotty when life gets hectic. Again, I apologize for that and appreciate all of your comments and hope you are having a fabulous summer!
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Welcome to Women Who Rock Wednesday! Before we meet today's guest, I have a book to give away. The winner of Jon Skovron's MISFIT is Jasmine1485 from blogger! Congrats! I will email you for your address!

Today's Woman Who Rocks, Melissa Walker rocks extra hard because not only did she have a new book, SMALL TOWN SINNERS, come out last month, she gave birth to her first baby this week!!!! Can we all please say congratulations?

I love and adore Melissa. Along with Mari Mancusi, our daily Twitter check-ins and cheerleading helped me finally finish the Bartender Book. Plus she was a blast to hang out with in New York last year. But most importantly, she writes amazing books! I have SMALL TOWN SINNERS on my shelf, waiting to be read as soon as I get through the books I have to read for a class I'm teaching this fall. I think that after hearing about it, you will be dying to read it to, so let's get this interview going and meet Melissa, shall we?


Q: Please tell us what SMALL TOWN SINNERSis about and what inspired you to write it.

MELISSA: Small Town Sinners is the story of a girl who's grown up in an evangelical community. She dreams of starring in her church's Hell House production and has never really questioned what she's been taught at home or in the church. But then she starts to look around and see injustices among her friends, she meets a boy who asks questions, and she starts to realize that faith isn't always black and white. I was inspired by a story I wrote for ELLEgirl in 2005--meeting the people of this small town and watching them put together their Hell House production was truly an experience that stayed with me. I had to write more about it. Here's the original article.

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?

MELISSA: It's funny because this music isn't so much "my" music, really, but it feels very right for the characters, so here goes:

1. Love Story-Taylor Swift. Lacey Anne is definitely a girl who believes in true love and happy endings, so this song--and its fairy tale message--is one of her favorites, no doubt in my mind.

2. Wild Horses-The Rolling Stones. Ty is a big classic rock fan, and I always imagined him listening to this song in his car, thinking about his past and his hometown of West River.

3. Firework-Katy Perry. Lacey's best friend Starla Joy is all about bright pink lipstick and a spitfire attitude, much like Ms. Perry.

4. She's in Love With the Boy-Trisha Yearwood. A 90s country classic, this is the quintessential small-town love story that Lacey, at least at first, hopes will be hers.

5. Oh Very Young-Van Morrison. Another Ty favorite, this song poignantly gets to the loss of innocence in the book.

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!

MELISSA: So many people, but just to name one I'll say fellow YA author Carolyn Mackler, who really helped me start out with pitching my first book (and having the confidence to even say "Maybe I want to write a YA novel"). She's the best.

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?

MELISSA: Sometimes if I want to create a certain emotion that I'm just not feeling naturally, I'll turn on some songs to try to evoke that mood. It definitely helps, but I only use it every once in a while. Usually I write without music.

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

MELISSA: My next book, UNBREAK MY HEART, will be out in May 2012. It's about friendships and betrayal and summer love... stay tuned.

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!

MELISSA: First album: Thriller, Michael Jackson. It was a cassette tape. My first vinyl was Cyndi Lauper's She's So Unusual. I loved MTV and these guys were in heavy rotation. First show: 6th grade, Poison--Open Up and Say Ahhh... tour. Tesla opened. Oh man, I loved it. Fallen Angel, Every Rose Has its Thorn? Somebody get me a lighter!

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.

MELISSA: I've had a few of these since becoming an author, but one huge one was being able to pose with the amazing Sarah Dessen for the cover of our hometown magazine, Chapel Hill Magazine. I could not believe I was back to back with Sarah in our high school hallway--she is a huge inspiration to me and to be included in that article was a dream come true! You can see the full article here.

Umm yeah, that is definitely one of the coolest rock star moments I've heard for sure!

Today's Contest:

After hearing more about it, I'm guessing you want SMALL TOWN SINNERS and you are in luck! Melissa 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 SMALL TOWN SINNERS
+5 for blogging about SMALL TOWN SINNERS

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 August 17 when I bring you the next Women Who Rock Wednesday interview, which will be with Arlaina Tibensky!
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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.
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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
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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!
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