Born to Write Outside the lines.... since 8th grade at least

My bio says that I got my start "writing bad poetry about unrequited love and razor blades." If we're going to be technical about it, I got my start writing about a colony of cows who lived on the moon.... or maybe it was Mars. But I started really writing from the heart and writing outside of the lines (which are one in the same in my book) with that bad poetry.

It was eighth grade. I was dealing with a lot. Friendships crumbling. Mean girls. Mean boys. Crushes that taught me why they were called crushes. So, naturally, I was really into Sylvia Plath. And when we were told to write poems for English class, I mimicked her, alluding to suicide and self-injury in the poem I handed in. I'm not sure that I was truly suicidal, though that was the year I started cutting myself. I got sent to the guidance counselor for my poem. I didn't get any real guidance, but it didn't matter. I'd found what I needed: words could be the outlet for my pain. Of course it would take a while for me to give up my other unhealthy outlets.

Fast forward to junior year of high school. I was still writing my bad poetry though it had evolved to include more of a punk influence. Now I was ripping off Sylvia Plath, Courtney Love, and Kat Bjelland of the band Babes in Toyland (though clearly Courtney and Kat were pretty influenced by Sylvia, too). I was also writing short stories about kids hanging out in diners and smoking cigarettes and girls trying to fall asleep after watching their boyfriends nod out on heroin. Then there were the political rants. I was a Riot Grrrl and had a lot to say about the injustice I saw in the world. Can't you tell from the picture on the right? I'm outside the auditorium of my high school at seventeen, plotting revolution.

My high school had a literary magazine called Crest. Needless to say, they did not want to touch my writing. It was too raw. It talked about things (rape, drugs, abuse, self injury, depression) that we were supposed to pretend that fresh-faced teenagers from the suburbs did not deal with. Maybe if I channeled Ernest Hemingway (the most notable graduate of my high school, who my town always put on a pedestal even though he hated the place) and wrote about fishing. Maybe if I wrote something sweet and innocent. Maybe if I made friends with the Crest editors. Yeah, I didn't think so. I liked where I was outside of the lines. It was real out there and I was going to talk about it. So my friends and I got together and put together our own literary zine.

We called it Crust.

I put out several different zines in high school, some just of my own writing, some collaborating with others. I did it because I felt we were dealing with things that no one was talking about. I did it because I felt like if I didn't give voice to those things they would eat me alive.

That is why I write. I tell the stories that I needed to hear as a teenager, the stories that I couldn't find. I give voice to the characters that might be ignored by society at large, the characters who I think have something really important to say. If that puts me outside the lines then I am happy to be here and as you can see by the contributors to this blog, I am in very good company.

My first book, I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE is about the girl I wanted to be. Emily Black is a tough and talented singer/guitarist for a punk band that she forms in high school with her best friend. But of course she has a hidden vulnerability. Emily's mom, Louisa, disappeared when Emily was an infant. Emily's father has always told her that Louisa was a free spirit who went to "follow the music," specifically punk rock which was just really heating up in America when Emily was born in the seventies. Emily pretends that she doesn't miss or want to know her mother, but in truth her music is a way of crying out to Louisa. If Louisa is following the music, won't Emily's songs lead her back home? But of course Louisa has a dark secret: the truth about why she really feels like she can't be with her family.

This book paid homage to all the female punk musicians I admired growing up, who I always thought deserved as much (and sometimes more) of the spotlight as the men. It was also an "outside the lines" book because no one could seem to decide whether it was a YA or an adult story. It took over a year to sell because of this and MTV Books, who ultimately bought it, never really seemed to settle on which way to market it. Personally it was the kind of book I always wanted to read in high school, but would have loved as an adult too. So I hope that people of all ages (or, well, ages 14+) enjoy it and I was honored when my local library asked me to be on a READ poster posing with it:

My second book BALLADS OF SUBURBIA is about the girl I was. It's not an autobiography. Unlike my main character Kara, I was not addicted to heroin. However I did struggle with self-injury, depression, and a lot of the other issues she deals with in the book. BALLADS is the story I've been trying to tell since the bad poetry and stark short stories I wrote in high school. Once again it gives voice to the things that real teenagers deal with that adults often like to pretend don't happen. However as one of my characters, Maya, says, "Secrets lead to sickness." If we hide from what is troubling us, we won't find any solutions. I learned that the hard way during my teenage years, but ultimately I wrote my way out.

So I write from the heart, I write outside the lines, but I write to tell the stories I think need to be told and to help heal the wounds that I know need to be healed.

And since this new blog makes me so happy and I want as many people as possible to read what my fellow authors are posting. I'm gonna do a little giveaway....

The Contest

I'll draw one winner who will get a signed copy of Ballads of Suburbia plus the last 'zine I ever made (not Crust, it's called Do Not Go Quietly Unto Yr Grave).

All you have to do to enter is leave a comment, but you can gain a whole bunch of entries by doing the following:

+5 for becoming a follower of this blog
+5 for each time you tweet a link to this blog (YA Outside the Lines in general, not my post specifically necessarily, though posting specific links to my post or any of the other authors' posts counts too)
+5 for blogging about our lovely new blog and helping us spread the word
+1 for leaving a comment on any YA Outside the Lines post.

The contest will run for a month, I will announce the winner the next time I post here which is December 13th.

Please record your additional entries here as I won't be able to count up all the comments, tweets, etc. I will only be counting entries here. And it is probably best to leave an email address so that I can contact you if you win.


  1. This is such a brilliant post.
    I love the dark stuff, stuff that's real and not sugar-coated and Plath greatly influences me. She had this way with words and everything that was so cool and out there.

    I love that you write outside the lines, because that's what makes you Stephanie Kuehnert.

    Totally, totally love the hair, btw!

    You don't have to enter me for the contest. I already own Ballads :)

  2. Excellent post! I am a little bit younger than you but when i grew up and was somewhere around 15-16 I really looked up to the Riot Grrrls and always trawled my local record shops to find records with Bikini Kill etc. The feminist movement was a huge part of my adolescensce - great to hear that it helped you too!

  3. Brilliant! More adults need to be talking to the reality of teens. In my own little community they like to pretend these issues don't exist. And they are shocked when those like me actually talk to teens about things like cutting, depression, etc. Thanks for writing outside the lines and reminding me that I should ALWAYS be true to my heart.

    Look forward to more from this blog!

  4. Excellent post! I love reading the dark reality of teens, and I think it's a vitally important area to have available. Teens need to know that they're not the only ones dealing with their problem.

    +5 follower of this blog (which I love!

  5. Is it an international giveaway? Because I would love to read it! I struggled with depression and self harm growing up (still do, with the depression) and this is the sort of book I'd love to have read in high school and a book I'm sure I'd enjoy now at 28!

    +5 for being a follower and will probably referee something linking here..

  6. Clover, yes, to celebrate this fab new blog, I'll pony up the postage $ and make this an international giveaway. I'm sorry to hear about your struggles

    Christi, exactly teens do need to know they aren't alone.

    Debbie, yes it is so important to be true to your heart, hope you enjoy the blog!

    Willa, you sound just like me :) The Riot Grrrl movement was huge for me.

    Bee, thanks re: the post and the hair :) And yes, I still love Sylvia, nobody can match her.

  7. Steph, you tell it raw and real. I love that about you!

  8. I completely second Bee's comment.

    This was an incredible read. I love how when you were seventeen, you were this bad ass punk chick, which is pretty much exactly what I wanted to be at seventeen. Sigh, but instead I turned emo. LOL!

    You're pretty much my hero, yo.

  9. Wow, this post is really...real. I personally never went through a depression phase, but I've seen others who have (and I've read their angsty poetry in skull-printed notebooks).
    And hell yeah for starting your own edgy zine!

    +5 I'm a follower
    +5 tweeted:

  10. What a great post! Really great of you to start something with meaning.
    +5 follower
    +1 comment on

    deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

  11. Love this post. Very honest.
    +5 follow this blog

    jpetroroy at gmail dot com

  12. Great post. I don't think I've read many meaninful YA stories.

    +5 Blog follower
    +5 Tweet:


  13. to my fellow Chicagoan:
    Excellent post. Real, just like your books, just like what teens need to hear.
    Thanks for your honesty : )
    ~Mary Jo

    +5 for following - great new blog!!
    +5 tweet:
    +1 comment : )
    11 entries

  14. Fabulous! I love the new blog! :)

    +5 I am a follower via GFC.

    +5 for blogging the contest:

    +5 for tweet:

    +5 for blogging on FB:!/profile.php?id=1350491523

    +1 for comment!

    Total = 21 entries for Lady Reader! ;)

  15. +5 for following blog via Google Friend Connect

    +5 for tweeting:

    +5 for posting about this on my blog:

    +5 for posting this on Facebook:

    +1 for commenting on another post on this blog:

    +1 for this comment

    = 22! Yay!

  16. I love reading about the personal journeys of writers. You were totally the girl that I was friends with, admired, and secretly wanted to be in high school. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

  17. Thanks to everyone for entering the contest, following us and spreading the word about this lovely blog. It's going to be a great and honest place and I'm very excited about it.
    Amy, you are too sweet. Thank you! I'm glad I can be a hero just by being me.

    Spav, I think you will find lots of meaningful YA books here. My fellow authors are very talented and write from the heart.

    Mary Jo, Yay! A fellow Chicagoan. And you are welcome, happy to be honest :)

    Adrianne, Thanks you are so sweet!

  18. Loved your post. This blog makes me happy too :) My teenage life was definitely what you would consider outsides the lines so these are the stories I best can relate to. I only wish I had these books when I was teen.

    +5 Follower
    +5 Blog post
    +1 comment
    Total = 11

    Thank you for the giveaway and sharing your story :)

  19. Thanks Nic! I wish I had all of these books as a teen too!

  20. It makes me so sad that you've had such a tough year, and I just want to hug you and take you ahead to some time where things aren't so difficult. But it has to pay off, right? And it will one way or another.
    I am in that bad poetry phase, and I love it.

    +5 for becoming a follower
    Thanks Stephanie. :]

  21. my daughter would love this

    she just getting back into reading after a summer in fla and came back and started school, but now she back to read , just to read

  22. Stephanie, the bravery and honesty in your posts and books (and in your life) always inspires me. Keep going!

  23. This is a very empowering post. People might not like what you do, but I'm glad you did not give up. I think a lot of people will learn from this, and I hope a lot of people do. Now I can't wait to read about Kara in Ballads of Suburbia:)

    +5 follower


  24. I love how most of your inspiration comes from a song, much like me :)
    And that your stories never have a happy ending, but they have the perfect ending.

    +5 follower

  25. Hi Stephanie! I have some more links for you. :)

    +5 for blogging on FB: Amy Del Rosso

    +5 for daily tweet: @ladyreaderstuff

    +5 for blogging the contest: ladysbookstuff

    Total daily entries for 12/8 = 15

  26. I love Ballads, and I've always wanted to read a zine by someone who is (or was) my age. Count me in!


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