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Thursday, December 31, 2009

What kinds of writing did you do as a teen?

This is my favorite photo ever of me as a teen:

I'm 15 going on 16 and it shows how I spent most of my afternoons as a teenager, sitting in a park (though this was not taken in Scoville Park from Ballads of Suburbia. Sometimes we changed up our park-going routine and went to Mills Park, which is where I am here) and when I wasn't getting into trouble, I was writing.

I always carried a notebook like the one in my lap with me and I filled several of them, mostly with angsty poetry. That line in my bio about getting my start writing bad poetry about unrequited love and razor blades in eighth grade is totally true. My main inspiration as a teen was Sylvia Plath... as well as Hole and Babes In Toyland lyrics. Yeah, most of my poems were total rip-offs of Sylvia, Courtney or Kat. I entered lots of poetry contests. There were tons of shams back in the 90s (and probably still now) to lure in aspiring writers like me. Enter your poem! Oh look, it made it into an anthology! Would you like to buy the anthology? And my proud mom was easily duped. I think she has four or five of those anthologies. Sigh. At least she has actual published books to put beside them now.

In addition to poetry, I also wrote zines in high school. Three friends and I put out four issues of a riot grrrl feminist zine called Kill Supermodels (which was not about killing actual supermodels, but about killing the idea that women had to look like supermodels to be beautiful.) during my junior year. It created controversy at school, which I loved and thrived on, but also got a lot of great dialogue going with some of my classmates about feminism. We also had a lit zine called Crust because our high school's literary magazine was called Crest and you totally had to know someone to get in. We were the punk rock, we'll publish anyone's writing alternative.

I also put out three per-zines: Goddess Defiled, Hospital Gown, and Do Not Go Quietly Unto Yr Grave. Per-zines meant personal zines. Those were the kinds of zines you purged your soul in as opposed to issue-based zines like Kill Supermodels (though I purged a lot in there too) or lit zines like Crust or fanzines for bands. It was almost like publishing your diary. And some people were very proud of me for what I wrote about and others felt I crossed the line. Ultimately, it was the release I needed at the time and I learned a little about boundaries in writing, so I have no regrets. My zines mainly focused on my struggles with self-esteem, self-injury, and Hospital Gown in particular focused on the emotionally and sexually abusive relationship I was in during my sophomore year of high school. That zine led to my first real publication credit that I was proud of. My all-time favorite YA author and idol Francesca Lia Block co-wrote a book with Hillary Carlip (whose book Girl Power turned me on to the Riot Grrrl movement and zine writing) called Zine Scene. They talked about Hospital Gown and reprinted a page from it in their book. Seeing this in print was probably my biggest motivation to get published some day:

Yeah, those zines were kind of intense. I was probably proudest of my last one, Do Not Go Quietly Unto Yr Grave. I wrote that one after graduating high school early and moving into my own apartment in Madison, Wisconsin, when I was seventeen. I reflected a lot on the life I left behind, friends with drug addictions and problems not unlike the ones my characters in Ballads of Suburbia go through. And I also put a short story in one of my zines for the first time. Those short stories were odd, not very good really. Full of image and metaphor-- my current obsession with existentialist philosophy very evident in them. But they were about restless kids sitting in diners, girls struggling with friends and boyfriends were teetering on the edge of something--addiction, depression. You can definitely see the early themes that would become this:

So, my love for writing was definitely honed in my teen years and I think that might be why I write YA!

What about you? Were you or are you a teenage writer?


little miss gnomide said...

It's so awesome that you and your friends created a feminist zine in high school.

I wrote awful poetry and created a comic book world with my bf. We loved Ghost World and comic books and science fiction.

Anonymous said...

You're an inspiration to many. Keep up the good work :)

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Anonymous, thank you, that is so so sweet!

Gwen, a comic book? Super cool! I wish I'd tried my hands at that in high school!

Danielle Joseph said...

Steph, great photo! I love the zines, so creative! I filled notebooks too but mine were more daily observations that my friend and I took turns writing in.