Queen of Rock n Roll

Some girls just wanna have fun like Cyndi Lauper. I, personally, want to be the girl with the most cake. And Stephanie Kuehnert wrote the new book I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone. It's about Emily Black, who starts her punk rock career as (what some might call) a groupie but discovers her true power when she forms her own band—called She Laughs—with BFF Regan. It's also the story of Emily's mom, Louisa, who left the family when Emily was just a baby and has been running ever since. After a few weeks on the road herself, Stephanie kindly took the time to answer some of my questions about this epic rock tale.

Did you write I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone with a YA audience in mind? I found it much more mature than many of the teen novels I read and think lots of "grownups" in their 20s and 30s would like it.

I didn't necessarily write it with a YA audience in mind. I wrote it hoping that it would be enjoyed by anyone age 16 and up. I knew it would have appealed to me as a teenager, but I wrote it originally as an adult novel. The adult publishing houses passed it up and my agent eventually started shopping it to YA publishing houses, but MTV Books who ultimately took it on is actually an adult publisher. They do both YA books and books that may have a teen audience, but that are sold in the adult section of the bookstore, which is what is happening with my book. It's really more of a "crossover" book than a YA book.

In the book, Emily gets into the underground music scene at River's Edge; was there a cool all-ages venue near your hometown when you were that age?

Yes! It wasn't quite as underground and run as a collective like River's Edge, but River's Edge is like the rural version of Chicago's Fireside Bowl, which is a functioning bowling alley that started hosting punk shows in the mid-nineties. The Fireside actually makes an appearance in IWBYJR. I was at that place every weekend and sometimes more often than that depending on what bands were playing. It was cheap, it was intimate, it was totally punk rock. And people even bowled during shows sometimes. Now, sadly, it is back to being a regular old bowling alley. It's a real loss to the Chicago punk scene.

Can you envision a She Laughs music video?

Wow, the one thing I didn't write about was a She Laughs music video. Huh. They watch a show on MTV, like a made-up punk version of TRL, but I never did do a shooting-a-music-video scene. I think this might be because I never wrote full lyrics for any She Laughs songs and I would need to know what the song is about to get a video idea. Those are the kind of videos I love, like Jane's Addiction's "Been Caught Stealing," or REM's "End of the World as We Know (and I Feel Fine)." I imagine they would intersperse some live footage from River's Edge in with the video though. And their videos would have a sense of humor to them because Emily is so sarcastic and funny. I can see her doing something like Nirvana's "In Bloom" video for example. Yeah, I'm dating myself referencing all these early nineties videos, but maybe if MTV played more videos, I'd have a better idea of what they were like now. Hint, hint, MTV!

Emily and Regan are best friends and bandmates. Who's your favorite real-life girl rock duo?

Well, technically Sleater-Kinney is a trio and I don't mean to leave their drummer out at all, but I would have to say Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein. The way their voices and instruments work together and feed off each other. Ah gorgeous! Those ladies write the best songs together (including the song that the book is named for, "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone" from their second album Call the Doctor). Please come back from hiatus, Sleater-Kinney, we miss you!

Have you ever been in a band? If you started a band now, what would it be called?

I haven't been in a band, not really. I tried to form a band called the Morning After on two occasions in high school. I wanted it to be an all-girl band, but none of us really knew how to play and were too busy with other adolescent antics to seriously learn to play. I still would love to have that band. If I miraculously woke up talented one day… And if someone else isn't already using the name.

What can you tell us about your next book?

It's called Ballads of Suburbia and will be out next summer, probably in July. The brief one line summary (which I am so bad at, I really won't be able to describe it until they write the back cover copy for it) is "After years of feeling like an outcast in her suburban town, sixteen year-old Kara finds her place among a group of punks, skaters, and other misfits who hang out at a local park, but as the teens try to cope with bad relationships and broken homes, life spirals out of control." You can read more about it, including the first chapter at stephaniekuehnert.com/backstage.

Thanks, Stephanie! This was a real treat after my long hiatus. I can't recommend the book enough to all the girls out there with rock n roll dreams.


Stephanie Kuehnert said...

I also want to be the girl with the most cake :) Thanks again for having me!

Melissa Walker said...

Oooh, the Morning After. I didn't use that one in LOVESTRUCK SUMMER but I did use a ton of invented band names. Love this interview!