GETTIN’ LUCKY: An Interview with Steph Kuehn, Author of CHARM & STRANGE

We’re excited to interview Lucky13 author Steph Kuehn, whose incredible young adult debut novel CHARM & STRANGE hits the shelves today. Here’s a bit about the book:

When you’ve been kept caged in the dark, it’s impossible to see the forest for the trees. It’s impossible to see anything, really. Not without bars . . . 

charm-and-strangeAndrew Winston Winters is at war with himself.

He’s part Win, the lonely teenager exiled to a remote Vermont boarding school in the wake of a family tragedy. The guy who shuts all his classmates out, no matter the cost.

He’s part Drew, the angry young boy with violent impulses that control him. The boy who spent a fateful, long-ago summer with his brother and teenage cousins, only to endure a secret so monstrous it led three children to do the unthinkable.

Over the course of one night, while stuck at a party deep in the New England woods, Andrew battles both the pain of his past and the isolation of his present.

Before the sun rises, he’ll either surrender his sanity to the wild darkness inside his mind or make peace with the most elemental of truths—that choosing to live can mean so much more than not dying.

1. Tell us a little bit about your path to publication. Was Charm & Strange your first novel?

Charm & Strange was not my first novel. Or my second novel. Or my third novel. It was actually the fifth complete novel that I wrote, and my path to publication is one that has been filled with as much rejection as it has wonderful kismet moments. I wrote Charm & Strange early in 2011 and I began querying agents that summer. I know it’s been said over and over again that querying is about finding the right agent for your book, and I truly believe this, especially with a story like Charm & Strange, which is dark and odd and deals with some uncomfortable things. I received many rejections over the next couple months, but I also found that one perfect agent–the one who loved and got my book, every bit of it. For that I feel very fortunate and thankful.

Being on submission to editors was its own roller coaster. I was on sub at the exact same time that I was applying to pre-doctoral internships for my graduate school program, which is a process far more stressful and agonizing than anything publishing-related. However, having both processes occurring at the same time in my life was overwhelming. There was rejection of all kinds coming at me, and at some points, everything felt very bleak and dreary. But then…lots of good things happened, all at the same time! I remember traveling around the state, trying to squeeze in editor phone calls in between internship interviews. It was frantic and strange and exciting and nerve-wracking. In the end everything worked out well (for the book and my internship placement), but in the immediate aftermath, I was exhausted physically and emotionally.

2. Wow, that sounds seriously intense – but it’s amazing how both things worked out at the same time! So now you’re a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology, and CHARM & STRANGE is very psychologically driven. How did your background in this area help shape this story?

I think that my background in psychology helped shape this story in ways that are difficult to quantify. I did do a great deal of research before and during the writing of the book, and I also brought into the writing my own theoretical perspective of how I understand change and healing (and under what circumstances change and healing can occur).

3. Was sparked your initial idea for CHARM? Do you typically start with a character or plot?

I think most of my stories are character driven, so I usually start with a character and a conflict. But more than anything, I need to know the character’s voice before I can start writing. I think there are probably many, many things that sparked my desire to write Charm & Strange, however the main premise of the story and the character’s voice came to me pretty full-formed. My only hesitation in writing it was whether I could pull off the structure or not.

4. The structure is one of my favorite elements of the story. Did you write the first draft in that order, alternating between Win and Drew? Or was that something that came more into play during revisions?

Yes, I wrote it exactly as it is in the book (switching from past to present). It was easy to draft that way, because it’s how I envisioned the story from the start, although at some point I did put the two timelines in order and read them separately for continuity. I actually found that confused me more than anything because it ruined the gestalt of the whole thing.

5. What are you working on next?

I have another YA novel coming out in 2014 titled COMPLICIT. It’s about a teenage boy whose life gets turned upside down when his older sister gets out of jail.

Since our community is “All For One and One For Kidlit,” we’d like to know what two or three books inspired you most as a kid.

As a kid, I loved, loved, loved all the Albert Payson Terhune books (the Sunnybank collies), as well as Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series. Horses and dogs!

Thanks for stopping by, Steph, and congratulations on your debut!

Steph KuehnABOUT THE AUTHOR:
STEPHANIE KUEHN holds degrees in linguistics and sport psychology, and is currently working toward a doctorate in clinical psychology. She lives in Northern California with her husband, their three children, and a joyful abundance of pets. When she’s not writing, she’s running. Or reading. Or dreaming.
This interview was conducted by OneFour member Michelle Schusterman, and is part of an ongoing series of interviews with The Lucky13s —- YA, MG, and children’s books authors debuting in 2013.
Michelle Schusterman writes books for kids, screenplays for a tv/film production company, and music for anyone who’d buy a “groove matters” bumper sticker. She lives in New York City with her husband (and band mate) and chocolate lab (who is more of a vocalist). Her debut MG series, I HEART BAND, will be released by Penguin/Grosset in January 2014.
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One thought on “GETTIN’ LUCKY: An Interview with Steph Kuehn, Author of CHARM & STRANGE

  1. Huge congrats to Stephanie!!! I’ve been impatiently counting down the days until Charm & Strange came out…so now I’m really excited to read it. YAY!!

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