Fangirls Unleashed: Exclusive Interview with Stephanie Kuehn

Welcome young adult fanatics to another episode of Fangirls Unleashed! I, Alyssa, attended the 2nd annual Bloggers <3 Authors event hosted at Books Inc., an awesome independent bookstore in Santa Clara.  Addie, being a librarian, was unable to attend due to teensReach.  But don't worry, I made sure to get her a signed copy of Tamara Ireland Stone's newest book, Little Do We Know.  No fangirl left behind!

The Bloggers <3 Authors event is unique in that young adult authors, bay area bloggers, and an independent bookstore collide to bring the community together, all in the name of the increasingly popular young adult world.  The authors who attended were a diverse mix of cultures and experiences, from those who have written multiple series to debut authors.  The bloggers in attendance were a fun mix of teens, college students, and working professionals fangirling in the presence of 13 authors.  Each author was paired up with a blogger to discuss their most recent book, which enabled me to present to you an exclusive interview with Stephanie Kuehn!

Stephanie Kuehn is an award-winning author and psychologist. Her works includes the William C. Morris award winning Charm and Strange and COMPLICIT, which has won YALSA's 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults. Her newest book, When I Am Through with You is described in our catalog as "A simple mountain hike in northern California turns deadly for a group of high school students, one of whom has killed before". Intrigued? Then let's get on with the interview!


Tell me the inspiration behind When I Am Through with You.

I feel like there were probably a lot of things.  When I was writing that book, I've kind of been reading a whole bunch of old-timey crime novels like The Postman Always Rings Twice and They Shoot Horses Don't They, which are these books in which people have committed horrible crimes.  Yet you've kind of come to understand why they did it and that it was done for a very twisted reason, or that sometimes these things that come out of what we think is love can be really awful.  So I kind of wanted to start off with this idea that this character right at the beginning has done something awful and unforgivable, and he's not forgiven over the course of the book. I wanted to take the reader on a journey in which they they may come to understand why they made that decision, and not that it excuses it or makes it right, but just to understand who that person is.  I wanted the reader to realize that all these different character's circumstances, psychological make up, and who they are are what led them to that and how that's the only sort of choice they could have made in that moment. I also wanted to write about the relationship between Ben and Rose and how messed up it was and the dynamics between them.  Rose loves him so much that she wants to teach him how to get rid of her because she realizes that it's toxic and he can't see that. He wants to hold on to her more than anything because he can't get validation for himself from himself.  He can only get it from how the women in his life treat him, and no matter how much he tries to make them love him, they all end up hating him.  For Ben to be so insecure and can only find the good in himself based on how these women love him, he ends of making this choice, which was to make Rose go in the most horrible way possible.

The ending was pretty explosive.  Was it difficult for you to write that sort of ending with Rose and Ben in the mountains?

It was hard, but I think that it was the story I was going to go with.  I wanted it to be as horrible for Ben as it could be.  I spent all this time creating this character who has no sense of self, and who can only feel good about himself based on how other people feel.  He's super needy, he's got this relationship with his mom that's very twisted and this idea on what it means to love somebody is something that is really painful for him.  But all that pain he'd rather have back then to have nothing because to be alone for him would be the worst thing for him.  I set up this whole book for this character and that dynamic which ends up having him to make that choice, to be alone and wanting that tho be the most devastating thing for him.  It's agonizing but that's kind of the whole point, which was to make it really horrible for him.

I've noticed that you like to write from the male perspective.  What made you want to write from that as opposed from writing from a female's perspective?

Part of writing is getting to explore different experiences that maybe you don't have.  So for me it was sort of fun to get to play with this gender that I don't identify with but I have obviously seen and observed of what it's like to be a male in our society.  So getting to interpret that in ways that feels true to me was like an interesting exercise.  I also think that there's something about writing from that perspective because it's not my experience and I have to be very thoughtful about it. Whereas I think it's easier for me if I'm writing from a female's perspective that I can default to and not question that it is that I know and whether that's part of my viewpoint as a woman.  I have to be a lot more deliberate with the writing of a male character.  I'm always trying to be intentional and deliberate about the choices that I make, so it's easier to separate myself from it if it's not me.  So I think it's find and I enjoy writing female characters, but I also enjoy writing the male characters.  I think there are interesting things that I get to say about gender from that lens that I don't get if I'm writing from a female's perspective.  So I get to enjoy that and have fun.

Another thing I noticed is that you gravitate towards themes of mental illness and sympathy.  What draw you in about those themes?

I think that's the same thing that draws me to psychology, which is really being interested in other people and how they experience the world and themselves.  So much of that is visceral and at the forefront as a teenager and adolescence of "who am I?" "How do I fit in in the world?" " How do other people experience the world the way I do?" To me, those are things that I'm interested in and how I'm always trying to understand dynamics in relationships between people which is who are people, what do they need, how are they trying to get it from other people, and how does that kind of bounce off of other people's situations or create a conflict.  To me that's inherently interesting and so that's what I write about, whereas some people are interested in fantasy or taking things in our world and changing them in how these consequences can impact people's lives.  For me it's always been the internal world of people in how we hurt each other and care for each other.  All of those things wrapped up are compelling to me, and so it's compelling in every aspect of my life, which is why I keep going back there.

As a psychologist, do you think that mental health in YA books are represented in an accurate way?

I think what's wonderful is how openly mental health is now.  It doesn't have to be kind of this issue book about depression or so and so's problem.  It can just be about what people deal with and they can talk about and it doesn't have to be the entire focus of the story.  I appreciate that you can see people with a mental illness or diagnosis who are doing all sorts of things, and not just dealing with their struggles.  They're having adventures, romances, or whatever in ways that feel really real and authentic.  I think that there are representatives of things that aren't as positive I'm sure and I think some of that is subjective.  What feels right to one person and might not feel authentic to somebody else or there's books that use certain plot devices having to do with mental illness that may feel insensitive to some people  but are just in the spirit of fun story to another person.  But then again I haven't read all these books and in books you ask yourself who are these for, is this for somebody who has this diagnosis versus is it for somebody else who maybe knows somebody.  I think it's complicated, I think that books are complex and not every book is for every reader.  I t think the best thing is that there's a range of books and range of experiences that are being talked about in a way that it wasn't before.  So regardless of my personal feelings about all of them, I'm happy that there's more and that there's a discussion since there's been such a stigma around them for so long talking about it. You weren't supposed to talk about it or it's just too scary to talk about and now it's not scary.

I work at the library.  Do you have any fond memories of going there and did you have any favorite books and if you still go there with your kids?

Yes, I grew up in Berkeley and there was a library two block away, the Claremont branch at the Berkeley Library.  The main Berkeley Library was huge, but the Claremont was a really tiny branch but I loved it.  I went there all the time.  I would go and read tons of books and look around.  I would read all the Beverly Cleary books and Black Stallion.  I loved animals a lot when I was little and I read about them a lot. Albert Payson and June books were about Border Collie dogs.  I loved< a href="">The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden which was a little later.I love the series where I can just keep on reading and reading them.  Now I don't read series. I loved them when I was younger.  So I remembered I loved the library for that.  I also loved horror novels, which came in during my early middle school years.  So I went from reading about horses and dogs to reading Stephen King.  I loved going to the library and they have this kind of big funky conversation pit in the kids area, which was one of those places where it was a big sunken room.  You can sit and lie on the floor and I loved that.  Now we live in Martinez which also has a really tiny library.  It's sort of like it has one room and a second floor below but they do all these great programming and my kids go there after school. They love to hangout and do nice social things.  They do activities like Wii Wednesdays. But it's such a nice community and it's really wonderful and you have librarians who care a lot about what the kids have to say.

Another thing that's really popular and trending right now are YA books being made into movies.  Out of all of your books, which one would you love to see on the big screen?

That's so hard to picture that.  I would love for it to be a really great movie version because you know, you lose control when something becomes a big thing.  If it was going to be really amazing, I feel like When I Am Through with You feels like the most physical, in terms of the outside world and it's really clearly defined.  It's exciting and it's mountains and bank robbers and all kinds of external things that are happening that are sort of fun and would be beautiful.  I don't know that Complicit, the second book which took place in Danville, and it's so dark psychologically and sort of Hitchcock and thriller and I think that it would be sort of dark and fun in that way.

Anything that we can expect from you in the future?

I am working on more projects, nothing imminent that's coming out right now.  I'm working on more YA and more thrillers so hopefully in the near future.

That's a wrap on this exclusive interview with Stephanie Kuehn! A huge thank you to Stephanie for letting me interview her, and for the team behind Bloggers <3 Authors event for inviting me once again.

Want More?

Want to see the rest of the Bay Area Bloggers and their exciting interviews with your favorite YA authors? Check them out below, courtesy of Tales of the Ravenous Reader!

Fun Fact

Want to be one step closer to achieving your dream of becoming the next big author? Introducing Pressbooks! Pressbooks is this great FREE service that according to them, helps you "create, edit, format and generate print-ready and eBook formats for your book—no matter how far along it may be." Eager to get started? Create a BiblioBoard account, and remember to thank San Jose Public Library under your acknowledgements.

Who am I?

I am one-half of the Fangirls Unleashed duo. Our mission is to show our patrons what's trending in the young adult world and local conventions and how to explore those interests through the San Jose Public Library.  When I'm not blogging you can find me with an iced coffee in one hand and the hottest YA book in the other.  Want to see our latest convention adventure and #What'sNewAtTheLibrary? Follow us on our social media links down below.

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