August 11th, 2009

Ballads of Suburbia

Ballads of Suburbia
About the book
There are so many ballads. Achy breaky country songs. Mournful pop songs. Then there’s the rare punk ballad, the ballad of suburbia: louder, faster, angrier . . . till it drowns out the silence.

Kara hasn’t been back to Oak Park since the end of junior year, when a heroin overdose nearly killed her and sirens heralded her exit. Four years later, she returns to face the music. Her life changed forever back in high school: her family disintegrated, she ran around with a whole new crowd of friends, she partied a little too hard, and she fell in love with gorgeous bad boy Adrian, who left her to die that day in Scoville Park. . . .

Amidst the music, the booze, the drugs, and the drama, her friends filled a notebook with heartbreakingly honest confessions of the moments that defined and shattered their young lives.
Now, finally, Kara is ready to write her own.

What the reviewers are saying

" intensely real and painfully honest novel of high-school anxiety." and "....Kuehnert nails the raw vulnerability of teendom and delivers a hard-hitting and mesmerizing read." - Booklist

"Like an American Beauty for the teen set." - NewCity 

"With her first two novels, Kuehnert has created vivid pictures of teenage lives that lie in that borderland that abuts adulthood. It is a fertile, confusing and intense place, and Kuehnert never holds back. But like a good ballad, she keeps the stories taut and precise, with a touch of heart thrown in for good measure." - Chicago Sun-Times

"This book is powerful. It's been haunting me for days. Yes, haunting me." - The Story Siren, 5 star review, Recipient of the Luminous Pearl Award

I asked, Stephanie answered
A. What's the scariest thing that's ever happened to you?  Bonus question:  have you used it, in any way, in a book?
S. The day after Christmas in 2004, I was driving home to Chicago from Wisconsin. I’ve had lots of scary drives to and from Wisconsin in snowstorms, tornados or late at night. This time the weather was fine, really cold, but fine and actually traffic was at a standstill. We’d just gone through a toll and were merging onto the expressway. I was stopped with a car in front of me and a car beside me and all of a sudden this semi truck just comes plowing into my lane, into my car and I have nowhere to go! I’m stuck in the car listening to it crunch, thinking he is never going to stop, doesn’t he know he’s hitting me? It probably only lasted a few seconds, but it really was the scariest moment of my life because I thought I was going to be completely crushed! I still don’t drive on the highway after that. I haven’t used it in a story… yet.

A. Mystery writers often give their characters an unreasoning  fear - and then make them face it.  Do you have any phobias, like fear of spiders or enclosed
 S. I’m horribly afraid of spiders and really anything with more than four legs, but especially spiders and these big centipedes we get in our area!

A. Do you have a favorite mystery book, author, or movie? 
S. Dennis Lehane. I absolutely loved reading Mystic River and loved the Shakespearian elements he brought to it. I enjoyed the movie too and his other books. As a kid, I adored reading Nancy Drew and also the Cat Who mysteries.
A. At its heart, every story is a mystery.  It asks why someone acts the way they did - or maybe what will happen next.  What question does your book ask?
S. My book starts out with the main character, Kara, returning home four years after a near-fatal heroin overdoes. The question that the book asks is what happened in a period of a couple years to send Kara and her friends, who were a little out of a place and little lonely, but smart, creative kids, down this path of self-destruction?

A. Is there a mystery in life that you are still trying to figure out?
Oh there are many. Life wouldn’t be interesting if all the mysteries were solved! One of the mysteries that has always plagued me though is where do all the shoes on the side of the road come from? Don’t people notice that they only have one shoe?

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Burke and Black on NPR

I listen to NPR every morning and evening. It was strange to hear not one, but two stories about people I knew this morning.

The first was about James Lee Burke. I interviewed him before I was published. Jim is a delightful person, intelligent and self-deprecating and funny. Anyway, he knew I was anxious about ever making it as a writer, and at one point, he told me, "You're a winner, I can tell." I kept that tape in my car for months and when I needed to, I would rewind it 10 seconds and listen to him reassure me.

The second NPR story was about Cara Black. Cara and I did the Vegas Valley Bookfest four or five years ago. It was a wonderful festival with sparsely attended events. Let's just say Las Vegas is not a reading town. And they put us up in Sam's Town, a place where all the gamblers seemed bitter and determined, and were often crippled and elderly. And everyone smoked. It was like a fog machine was working overtime. Even Cara, who at that time was a smoker, found the smoke overwhelming.

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Thoughts on Publishers Lunch

Love the author's first name and the premise:
Rainbow Rowell's FLAGGED, a fresh take on the office comedy in which a shy but endearing I.T. guy whose job is to monitor the company email falls in love with a girl in his office whose emails are constantly flagged, to Erika Imranyi at Dutton, at auction, by Christopher Schelling at Ralph M. Vicinanza.

An idea I'm jealous of:
Journalist Hilary Davidson's debut THE DAMAGE DONE, about a travel writer who is called back to New York when her estranged sister is murdered, only to discover that the body belongs to a stranger who'd stolen her sister's identity, and that her sister has vanished, to Paul Stevens at Forge, in a two-book deal, for publication in October 2010, by Judith Weber at Sobel Weber Associates (NA).

If she hadn't gone to my high school (a couple of years behind me), then I would be the most famous person from my high school:
Actress, TV host, and author of RINNAVATION: Getting Your Best Life Ever, Lisa Rinna's untitled roman-a-clef, a gossipy trip through Tinseltown, pitched as "The Starter Wife meets Jackie Collins or LA Candy all grown up," again to Jennifer Bergstrom at Simon Spotlight Entertainment, with Emily Westlake editing, for publication in 2010, by Dan Strone at Trident Media Group (NA).

Is fat the new vampire?:
Seventeen-year-old debut author Kody Keplinger's THE DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend), pitched as reminiscent of Juno and She's Come Undone, in which a cynical and witty "DUFF" decides the intrigue of casual sex with a gorgeous-but-jerkoff player is more alluring than facing her own issues with self-esteem - until it all goes wrong when they realize they're falling in love, to Kate Sullivan at Poppy, at auction, in a two-book deal, for hardcover publication Fall 2010, by Joanna Stampfel-Volpe at Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation (World).

Allen Zadoff's FOOD, GIRLS, AND OTHER THINGS I CAN'T HAVE, in which a boy finds it hard to fit in - in his pants, in his family, in his school and in his life; although he is big (size 48 and 306 pounds), he still feels like nobody can see who he really is, to Egmont, in a two-book deal.

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