Stephanie Klein, Straight Up and Dirty
Stephanie Klein has gotten so much attention from her popular blog Greek Tragedy
, that publishing powerhouse, Judith Regan offered her a book deal. The result is a memoir with a fabulous title, Straight Up and Dirty.
It is raw and honest. Nothing is off limits from bikini waxes to sex talk.
The book swings back and forth from present day to past when Stephanie was in a marriage that wasn't happily ever after. She has legions of fans eagerly reading her innermost thoughts both online and in book form.What is your most painful childhood memory?
Well there was the time I broke my nose in the fourth grade which involved going to the hospital, so it seems it should be right up there with painful childhood memories, but the truth of it is, what hurt me most was being called "MOOSE" by the older boys when I was overweight in eighth grade. I came home after school crying one day, and when I confided in my father, instead of hugging me and telling me I was beautiful no matter what, he actually laughed. When I recount this memory to him now, he responds, "what, it was a funny name." It was tragic.What has shaped you most to become the woman you are today?
Cheese doodles. Definitely. Oh, what else? I don't think it comes down to a moment as much as it comes down to the people in our lives, namely our parents. My father is my best friend and always encouraged me to be honest at all costs, and I think that shows up in my living, and certainly in my writing.How did you meet "The Suitor" and what made him different than any other man? How did you know you were in love with him?
I met him online. I had an ad up on nerve.com
, linking to my blog (www.stephanieklein.com
). He found my list of hundreds of things about me and emailed me clever responses to many of the items. I eventually agreed to meet him in person, though I really wasn't ready for a relationship. So we spent a lot of time together as friend boy and friend girl, until one day I declared, "Okay, I'm now ready to date you." To which he rolled his eyes and replied, "We've been dating for months, Stephanie."
I knew I was in love with him in a specific moment. I climbed into bed with him one night, turned to him, and said, "this feels like home." And I didn't mean it in some cheeseass way. I meant being with him reminded me of the comfort I felt growing up, slipping into bed between my parents, rubbing my mother's feet with Kerri lotion.
In a moment, beside The Suitor, I felt my childhood, the comfort of being with someone without having to do anything.In hindsight, do you think you could have worked things out withGabe? If you could go back in time, would you undo your marriage to him or was that experience something that helped you grow as a person?
I love the "if" game; I really do. Especially when time travel is possible. We're all tempted to rewind and undo, and when we're going through it, we want time to fast forward, so we can awake over it. Bottom line, when we're in pain, we do the most growing. We leave our comfort zone and are forced to stretch.
I regret how long I stayed, but I don't regret going there at all. If we didn't make mistakes, we wouldn't learn how to make things right. As for working things out with Gabe, the answer is still no. It takes two people to make a relationship work, not one person and a nightmare of a mother-in-law. He wasn't willing to work on anything more than his golf swing, and that's no way to be a martyr.What is the biggest lesson you learned over the past few years?
That you're not a failure just because a relationship doesn't work out. I've been in relationships before where I've actually heard myself confide in a friend, "Would I still be okay if it were just me again? People kind of expect us, but would I be a failure if it didn't work?" Holy shit. I know so many of us think it, feel it, worry about it. And it's fucked up. You're not a failure when a relationship ends, the same way you weren't a success when it began. I measured my worth, for way too long, on the merits of a romantic relationship, instead of valuing myself based on my female friendships, or the stuff that puts the "self" in self-esteem.One of the things I like most about your blog is the photographs you take. How did you get started in photography, do you know your way around a darkroom? I was always intimidated by the art of photography because of the idea of a darkroom and chemicals and pans.
I was working in advertising full-time, responsible for choosing artwork for my clients. I was drawn to photography after combing through so many portfolios, so I began to take classes at night. I began with film photography, and color transparencies (slides) and yes, learned how to use a darkroom, but given that I worked as an interactive art director, I became impatient, so I eventually switched to a digital SLR. I was already comfortable using the digital darkroom that is Photoshop, given that I was a web designer, so it was a natural transition.What are five words you would use to describe yourself?
Honest. Passionate. Brassy. Foodie. Vulnerable.What would I find you doing on a typical Friday night?
It depends which state I'm in, not just state of mind, actual US state. I'm between Austin and New York a lot, so that changes what I'm up to. In Austin, I suspect you'd find me lakeside, eating a burger on a picnic table, listening to live local music. That or movie hopping like it's my job.
In New York, I'd be having a girl dinner at a lounge, tasting tapas, sipping champagne. Going home hungry and ordering in a burger.Did you hope to inspire others when you began the blog? With the success of the memoir, will you continue it?
I didn't have any hope when I began the blog other than trying to makemyself happy. I began the blog because of a break-up, and I realized all that energy I'd been putting into dating and into men wasn't working out so great. So I made a New Year's resolution to write daily because writing always made me happy. It's one of those activities where I don't notice the time passing.
As time went on, and I realized people were actually reading it, my tone might have changed every now and then, but at the end of the day, I keep the blog for me, as a tool, as my gym. It's "throat clearing" for me, the writing I do to get to something else. So I imagine the blog will absolutely continue, since it has very little to do with the fact that I'm a writer. It has to do with living.There are millions of blogs out there in cyberspace, what do you think makes yours so relatable and popular?
Luck certainly has something to do with it. But I think people stay once they stumble upon it because I'm just honest. I write about my insecurities, the things we all worry about. Rejection. Jealousy. Self-esteem issues. My obsession with food. It's not just my anecdotal humor or observational prose; I write about what touches me, which in turn drives people to think and react, even if they disagree.
Sarah Grace McCandless, The Girl I Wanted To Be
I was quite eager to dig into The Girl I Wanted To Be
by Sarah Grace McCandless
. I love coming of age books, because I so identify with the awkwardness of being a teenager. Even to this day, well out of my teenage years, I connect with those angsty feelings and painfully embarrassing moments. So it was with great delight that I tore into the novel and finished it within a day.
This is the story of fourteen year old Presley who learns her favorite aunt is not as perfect and cool as young Presley has grown up believing. Aunt Betsi was the girl Presely wanted to be....hence the title. However, it's Aunt Betsi who contributes to a tragedy that effects Presley and her family, something so terrible it cannot be undone. Presley must find her way through a tangle of unchartered emotions without her dear aunt to help her. Sarah's book is so good- well written and touching and emotional.The Girl I Wanted To Be
has some tender moments and it's with sharp precision that Sarah writes about the pressures of being fourteen years old.
Sarah is the only other person I know who can identify with a love of all things Sassy magazine
. She is very cool and fun and has a great blog
, take a look after you read our interview!How would you describe your teenage years?
Hm…periods of sun followed by a mixture of clouds and storms? Partly cloudly with a 30% chance of rain? Why am I talking like a meteorologist? I guess from my perspective, I’d include the following descriptions: tricky, embarrassing, acne-prone, eyebrow tweezing-challenged, silly, melodramatic, and finally, profoundly significant. I remember often being told, “Don’t worry – none of this will matter when you’re older.” This, of course, is total bullshit.
I think the teen years serve as a blueprint, good or bad. And some of those experiences develop into foundations of your character, the way you react to things, why you make the choices you do. At the same time, I think you can control what parts of that blueprint you keep, and what you throw away. But don’t tell me none of it matters – it ALL matters. Did you plan an alternate ending to the book? Or did you know right away how it was going to end?
For The Girl I Wanted to Be
, I did actually know exactly how it would end as soon as I wrote the first chapter. That first scene came to me during a workshop in Abiqui, New Mexico – Georgia O’Keefe country, no less – and at that moment, I could see the beginning, middle, and end. I didn’t know how I was going to get from point A to point B to point C, but I knew the points. The primary characters of Presley, the 14 year old who narrates the story, and her two family heroes Betsi and Barry – they were all instantly real to me, like people I’d grown up with or know for years.
Now, that said, I rarely have that kind of clarity when it comes to writing. But there was something different with this story. The only thing that changed slightly was how far things would go during a confrontation scene at the end between Presley and Betsi. Without saying too much, it had to do with an actual roadtrip to Graceland, but I realized it would’ve been the wrong direction for the story. This of course won’t make much sense unless you’ve read the book, but I don’t want to spoil it. What are your favorite teen movies? John Hughes so defined ages thirteen to sixteen with Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club and all those movies that made teenage girls swarm to the theaters.
Both of those are definitely in my top ten. “Look Fred, she’s gotten her boobies!” – story of my life. Also on that list, in no particular order: Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Better Off Dead, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Mean Girls, Thirteen, Say Anything, Bring It On, Never Been Kissed, The Outsiders, Weird Science, and Just One of the Guys.
And while these aren’t movies, I think both My So-Called Life and Freaks & Geeks did an amazing job of capturing life from the teen perspective. Of course, the shows I love always end up getting canceled. Mr. TV Network Executive, get ready, because I’m coming for you – one of these days.
I also consider 13 Going on 30 a teen movie, at least for part of it – or, as I like to call it, the Sarah Grace McCandless E! True Hollywood story. I was so much like the main character at 13, even down to the aspirations to work for a magazine – for me, that would’ve been Sassy, of course. I also took a dance class – wow, this is embarrassing – but I actually took a dance class to learn the choreography from several Michael Jackson videos, including “Thriller.” When I saw that dance sequence in 13 Going on 30, I just about lost it.
You mentioned Sassy magazine in another interview. Was that not the best magazine of the time? After Young Miss became YM, Sassy came along and I loved it.
Best. Magazine. Ever. These are the girls I wanted to be: Jane Pratt, Christine Kelly, Karen Catchpoole, Kim France. The list goes on. The fact that I can still rattle off many of the names from the original masthead speaks volumes (without Google assistance, I might add). I think one of things that made Sassy so special was how it became the first magazine I read that connected me as the reader to both the writer of the article and the story they were working on, whether it was a quick blip on the new Church album or an interview with Johnny Depp.
The staff’s personalities were so evident and inspiring, and I think this made for better stories within the magazine overall too. Maybe I can convince Jane to round up the old gang, if only for the sheer purpose of allowing me to apply for the Sassiest Girl in America contest. I just know I could win. (I totally remember those names too. I wanted to be Christina Kelly--- I grew up wanting to write for Sassy and hang out with all the editors.)
This book can easily be for an adult or a teenager. Who did you want to connect to with this novel?
I love that I have both adult and teen readers. Just last week, I received an email from a 17-year-old girl in Ohio and a 33-year-old woman in New York. I guess I wasn’t thinking so much of, “I’m going to write a book for adults” or “I’m going to write a book for teens.” It was more like, “I’d like to tell this story.”
Sometimes I think people automatically assume if you have a teen narrator, it means the story is primarily – or even only - for teens. But I would argue that by pointing to several examples, from classics such as Catcher in the Rye and more contemporary works such as The Lovely Bones. Not that I think I’m of that caliber or anything (mentally bowing down to JD Salinger and Alice Sebold). But there’s definitely many works out there that cross paths in terms of audience, and I feel really privileged to be considered one of them.Do you have a favorite "coming of age" book?
Oh sure. The ones I cherished growing up include Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret and The Bell Jar. More recently, I adored Blake Nelson’s Girl, Joe Weisberg’s 10th Grade, and Shawn McBride’s Green Grass Grace. Both Joe and Shawn’s books were told from the male perspective, which I found particularly engaging – like I got to spy on what was happening from the other side of the fence.
It’s kind of sad because I think “coming of age” has developed for some people into almost a negative phrase of sorts – like if you’ve read one, you’ve read ‘em all. Of course, I couldn’t disagree more with this statement. I also think “coming of age” doesn’t always have to be directly linked with adolescent years.
I’m working on a new novel right now, and even though the narrator is in her 20s, it’s definitely reflects another type of a “coming of age” period.I want to hear about how you became a published author. I wonder if people realize the hard work it takes not to just write a good book, but also deal with rejection from agents and publishing houses. How was it for you?
It’s definitely a difficult process– in some ways, it’s like applying for any job. You have to present yourself well on paper and even in person. And, like many of the responses to my early job applications, I have a STACK of rejection letters, particularly from some journals I tried to get published in fresh out of college.
My process for actually getting published really kicked into gear about six years ago. You might want to fetch the beverage of your choice and settle in for this story. I was living in Portland, Oregon, having moved out west after graduating from Michigan State where I studied English (with a writing emphasis), Communications and Theatre. I was paying the bills by working in marketing, while sort of producing some stories and poems here and there, and doing a little theatre on the side. But I realized there wasn’t really any forward momentum in terms of my writing career.
Sure, I’d spent a lot of time at some very valuable and rewarding workshops while in Portland, but I was getting to the point where I was just going to become a workshop rat with no actual finished complete project to show for it.
At the time, I’d also become friends with a wonderful writer and actress named Ritah Parrish. She was then married to Kevin Sampsell, and they helmed the independent press Future Tense Books. Ritah decided to create an imprint on the press called Heavy Flow, which as you might have guessed was geared toward women writers. Ritah already a few small press books under her belt but decided it was time for another one, and invited me to do the same with my first collection.
This is what ultimately ended up being version one of Grosse Pointe Girl – a slim volume, maybe 80 pages or so, of six short stories and two poems. These initial stories were more memoir than fiction, all based on my personal experiences growing up on one of the most notoriously affluent suburbs in the U.S. Ritah acted as the editor, Kevin helped with some of the distribution, and I did the layout and invested some money in the printing to make it look as professional as I could. I called in some favors and had one friend to the cover design and another build a website for me. I also put my marketing skills to work and created my own media plan and press kits. My goal was to sell 200 books within the year, but ultimately just to have something on hand to serve as a “demo tape” of sorts, so I could send a good example of my work to potential agents or editors.
The small press version did way better than I expected. I think I ended up going through three print runs, which translated to about 1500 books or so. That’s pretty solid for a small press. The first version was even used as text in a class at the University of Michigan, and the fact that I was someone’s required reading made me laugh. Anyway, I used the small press version of Grosse Pointe Girl
in my queries as I was trying to obtain representation for what would become The Girl I Wanted to Be
I had feelers out to several agents, and there were a few who were receptive at different levels. One wanted to see the novel I was working on when it was complete, one was interested in seeing it after 100 pages, etc. etc. I also had some experiences with agents who were NOT so receptive, and some that were even downright rude. I’ll keep specific names out of it, but one in particular told me he was very busy and was screening potential authors to rep by giving things to his 13 year old daughter to read. I still wonder to his day if she got an actual paycheck.
Oddly enough, the agent I ended up going with, Jenny Bent, found and contacted me via my website. She also came to me with the idea that Grosse Pointe Girl
still had legs, and that we should resell it as a full length fiction novel. She had previous success doing the same thing with Laurie Notaro’s best-seller The Idiot Girl’s Action Adventure Club.
I loved Jenny right from our first email exchange and phone conversation. She got me, she got my writing, and most importantly, she completely supported me. I’m still with her, and I’m fiercely loyal. She’s always got my back.
If you’re a writer and you’re getting to the point where you want to investigate representation, I think it’s crucial to do some homework first. Find out where the agent is based, and not only who they represent but look at actual examples of books by these authors. One trick in terms of figuring out where to start is by looking at the writers you like or think you’re in line with in terms of style and then check out their acknowledgements page. Most writers always thank their editors and agents, and it’s a good way of getting names of people who are much more likely to be into your type of work.What is the last book you read?
I’m currently reading The Apple’s Bruise, a short story collection by Lisa Glatt – she’s incredible. She’s also a poet, and that background is so evident in her prose. Her writing is mesmerizing – her characters and scenes stay with me long after I’ve closed the covers.
I also recently finished Jodi Picoult’s The Tenth Circle. I was particularly interested in reading her book because it incorporated elements of the graphic novel with the story – from the profession of the father character to actual story segments told in comics format. Jodi’s book was very powerful and heartbreaking, and I was really impressed with how well she wove the industry into her story. I worked in the comics industry for about five years as the Marketing Director for Dark Horse Comics, and I still have strong ties to the comics community.Who would you cast in the role of Presley and her Aunt Betsi? No Olsen twins, right?
I’ve actually thought about this a lot, because I think this novel really lends itself well to film, but of course, I’m not exactly impartial. But I like that this book offers strong female roles, particularly for a late 20s/early 30s actress that is something outside of the typical best friend, girlfriend, or wife roles.
For Betsi, I can see a number of actresses – Rachel McAdams, Judy Greer, Radha Mitchell, Samantha Morton. I also love Carly Pope, who was in the magnificent but unjustly axed series Popular. (I wasn’t kidding when I said I’m coming to get you, Mr. TV Network Executive!)
I think Presley provides an opportunity to introduce a new young talent, but I’ve often thought of her being played by a young actress named Abigail Breslin. She’s only 10 or so, but by the time everything would get rolling and into production, she’d be just the right age. She played the little girl in Signs and she’s also in the soon to be released Little Miss Sunshine, which I think looks terrific.
And of course if that fails, there’s always the Olsen twins, circa 1998 or so of course. They could take turns playing Presley. And I could take turns stabbing myself in each eye.