Stephanie Kuehnert is the author of two YA novels, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone and Ballads of Suburbia which which is officially released tomorrow but I've heard it's in stock everywhere already! You can visit Stephanie here.
I came up with the “ballads” concept of the book in grad school when I took a class with the amazing author/teacher Joe Meno. He brought a boombox to class one day and played us a bunch of Johnny Cash songs, using them to illustrate the way songs told stories. Ballads, he pointed out, were one of the original forms of storytelling.
I scribbled down notes frantically, thinking of all the songs that I loved where the musicians laid their souls bare to tell either a personal story of how they came to be the person they were (like “Story of My Life” by Social Distortion and “The Young Crazed Peeling” by The Distillers) or an interesting story of another life that teaches a lesson in a way (like “Cocaine Blue” by Johnny Cash or pretty much any Johnny Cash song.)
At the time I was working on I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, but I had this other book on the back burner. It was something I wrote in six months when I first started college, but it was too much of a flimsy autobiography, which I really didn’t want to write. (If I choose to write about my life someday, I will call it a memoir.) But what I liked about it was the concept of shattering the illusion of the safe, peaceful suburbs. I grew up in the suburbs and it wasn’t all happy families. I witnessed a lot of the fallout of broken homes, broken dreams, and broken hearts. I saw secrets tearing people and friends and families apart. I realized everyone had a secret song, like the kind of songs I just mentioned, like the songs my main character Kara says, “tell the story of [someone’s] life in three minutes, reminding us of the numerous ways to screw up.”
The secret songs are the “ballads of suburbia.” That was the concept I built the book around, writing “ballads” for all of my characters, their deep dark stories to tell. The title is central to the book and I was relieved that it was catchy enough that the publisher let me keep it!
As for the cover, I’ve been really lucky with both of my books to get amazing covers. I was instantly in love with the I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone cover. This time the cover love didn’t happen instantly, only because Ballads of Suburbia is set in a real life place. Most of the action happens in Scoville Park, a park I spent almost every spring/summer/fall afternoon in as a teenager. So to see an image that was definitely not from my real park, it threw me off a bit. However, I immediately loved the ominous feeling that the cover exudes—the creepy duck, the lighting, the sky. I just wanted to see a touch of teenage presence. I asked my editor if they could add beer bottles or cigarette butts or graffiti or something. The beer bottles looked too photoshopped, but the graffiti on the slide was the perfect touch. And now I have to say I’m totally in love with the cover of this book!