In the spirit of welcoming a new year and saying goodbye to 2010, I want to thank everyone who has played a big part in my writing life over the last year.  I can now say that I have spent an entire year writing Bring Me Back, although to be more precise, it’s more like fourteen months.  I learned a lot about myself over the course of 2010—about what I’m capable of and how writing plays into that.

Warning:  this is going to sound like chicken soup, but I’m going to say it anyway.  When I write, I feel like myself.  It doesn’t always make me happy or feel like I’m perfectly fulfilled and it certainly doesn’t mean that my problems go away.  I’m just me, at least for a little while.  I suggest fostering this in yourself whenever possible.

Thanks to my husband, Steve, for unconditionally supporting me even when he has no idea what I’m doing or why I’m doing it.

Thanks to Sara, my cheerleader, for reading dozens and dozens of revisions and always “getting” what I’m going for.

Thanks to Karen, my writing critique partner, who isn’t afraid to tell me when something sucks and is happy to watch me tear it apart and put it back together.

Thanks to friends who pushed me to get better—Bill Williams, Sam Stephenson, Laurie Cochenour, Sarah Dessen, and Heather Ross.

Thanks to friends who went above and beyond to help and encourage—Jane Greathouse, Maura Partrick, Jennifer Resnick, Jared Resnick, John Strohm, and Jay Faires.

And thanks to all of my early readers—Karrie Adamany, Angie Mack, Lisa Kaylie, Evette Horton, Christie Oppliger, Mairead Maloney Eastin, Melissa Cain, Amy Barefoot, Smudge, Jill Mango, Sarah Austin, Ashley Mattison, Fran Wittman, Monica Shelton, Annette Alicea, Jane Sangster, and Diane Tameecha.  Love you guys!

My high school BFF Jane and me, in all our sparkly eye shadow glory

Installment #2: Monica Myers Shelton, Jordy Birch, Jane Greathouse

This time I have surveys from Monica Myers Shelton, Jordy Birch, and Jane Greathouse.  FYI, Jane was my BFF in high school and she and I recently re-connected via facebook.  People love to slag facebook, but it is good for some things and that is one of those things.
I’ve got more of these coming, but please let me know if you would like to participate and I will e-mail you the questions.  You can reach me at karen [at] karenbalcom [dot] com.  You can write as much or as little as you want.  Also, there have been some strong reaction to the question of best make-out song.  I had no idea it would ignite such a powderkeg of adolescent emotional scars, but it has for some people.  From now on, that is an optional question.  I don’t want anyone walking down memory lane if it isn’t fun.
Monica Myers Shelton
Etiwanda High, Charlotte, NC, Class of 1987, Currently: owner, Ablutions Spa

Band and/or song that reminds you the most of high school: U2’s War album (yes album) takes me right back to high school- that’s the record that turned me onto U2, the song New Year’s Day in particular.  Yes, they suck these days but there was a moment in time that they were brilliant, sincere and relevant. Boy, October, War, The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree were amazing records. Then came the hate part of my love-hate relationship with them and it’s been downhill since.
Favorite piece of music memorabilia (poster, t-shirt, etc.) in high school: My husband! He started playing drums around the time we started seeing each other the first time around and he’s the most kick ass metal drummer ever. I’m still in awe of his talent and power.
Band that you hated that everyone else at school seemed to love: Madonna and/or Bon Jovi. I felt like the only one that hadn’t been turned into a pod person when it came to these bands. How could otherwise sane, intelligent people think either one was anything other than total crap? I still don’t get it.
Best high school make-out song: You name it!  I remember everything from Joy Division, Bauhaus, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, U2 and more all setting the mood nicely.
Best show or concert you saw in high school: I saw so many great bands between living here and in Southern California during high school but the standouts are probably The Dickies, DRI and Bad Brains. I know I’m forgetting some awesome shows. (Say no to drugs kids, you might forget seeing your favorite bands.) I was so excited about seeing Black Flag until meeting Henry Rollins and seeing what an arrogant, rude, misogynistic prick he was- at least that day. That sort of killed the Black Flag thing for me.
Jordy Birch
Currently: taking over the world with new band Guilty About Girls
Band and/or song that reminds you the most of high school:
Rio?
Favorite piece of music memorabilia (poster, t-shirt, etc.) in high school:
Kiss Alive1 poster and a Cheap Trick concert t shirt.
Band that you hated that everyone else at school seemed to love:
I kind of liked everything, but Huey Lewis and The News seemed kind of like old people music to me.
Best high school make-out song:
I didn’t get into having a make out soundtrack until I was about 30, but I guess High Voltage.
Best show or concert you saw in high school:
David Bowie and The Thompson Twins
Jane Greathouse
Park High School, Cottage Grove, MN, Class of 1986

Band and/or song that reminds you the most of high school:
This guy we worked with at Target made Karen this awesome mixed tape that she copied for me.  Any time I hear those songs I think of high school.  What was on that tape?  The Jim Carroll Band, Johnny Cash, who else??? (editors note: Wall of Voodoo, Black Flag, Romeo Void, and some other stuff) I can’t remember the bands but when I hear the songs it takes me right back.
And for sure, Love is the Law!
Favorite piece of music memorabilia in high school:
I don’t have anything left.  Where in the hell are all my records?  My brother probably stole my t-shirts.  I know I had a lot of buttons.  Man, now I’m bugged.
Band that you hated that everyone else at school seemed to love:
Creedence Clearwater Revival was awful, horrible, dreadful.  I didn’t get Bob Dylan AT ALL, although now I do.  I can do a great Bob Dylan version of Raspberry Beret.
Best high school make-out song:
This question really sucks.  Thanks for reminding me that I didn’t make out in high school.  (editor’s note:  uh, not true, you just don’t want to admit who it was with)
Best show or concert you saw in high school:
Do I have to pick just one?  When I was in 9th grade I saw Hall and Oates in Duluth, MN.  It was my first concert and it was awesome.  There were no chairs on the floor.  It was an open dance floor.  I totally loved them and I still do but don’t judge me please.  I remember getting a jersey shirt with the H2O graphic design.  It was the shit.  I wore it out!
In 10th grade I saw Duran Duran.  That was pretty awesome.  I think we were in the 17th row for that concert.  Did we wait out for tickets?  Karen, help me out?  (editor’s note:  it was the 18th row, Smudge and I waited out for the tickets, and we were on the opposite side of the stage from John Taylor, much to my chagrin)  I do remember the concert program.  Those guys were beautiful in their eye shadow and mascara.
There were a lot of great concerts…REM, U2, New Order, INXS, Billy Idol, The FIXX…but the BEST concerts of all were:
1) The Violent Femmes Hallowed Ground Tour at First Avenue.  Gordon Gano spit on me.
2) The Suburbs…I don’t remember where but it was the concert where we kept screaming, “Play Cig Machine!”  At one point, Beej stopped, looked at us, and said, “Oh yea, Cig Machine!” and they played it.  Friggin’ awesome.
3)  Any Urban Guerillas all ages show at First Avenue.  Remember when Larry Sahagian would tell us to lay down on the ground and he would walk around us singing.   Whatever happened to him?  (editor’s note:  no idea what happened to Larry but I do remember laying down on, ie. sticking to, the floor in the 7th Street Entry.  Good times.)

Installment #1:  John P. Strohm, Jenn Halter Prenda, Karen Balcom

We all have memories of high school that are inexorably tied to music, right?  (Hey, I’m pretty sure about this one–wrote an entire book based on that idea.)  So, I’m starting a new feature on the blog, five questions about music and high school, answered by anyone who wants to take part.  I’ll be posting these in blocks of three.  Let me know if you want to take a stab at it or if you know someone who should take part.  Just send me an e-mail at karen [at] karenbalcom [dot] com.  And since I’m going to be a good sport, I answered the questions in this first installment.  Have fun!

John P. Strohm

Bloomington High School South, Bloomington, IN, Class of 1985, Currently:  musician, entertainment lawyer

Band and/or song that reminds you the most of high school: TV Party by Black Flag.  When I first got into the punk scene in my town, there weren’t any all-ages shows or other organized events.  We had parties.  I started going to punk parties when I was in ninth grade.  The parties were thrown by older kids – juniors or seniors in high school – but they were mostly in my neighborhood so I could walk there on my own.  Usually I’d go without my parents’ permission, but my older brother was usually around to rat me out.  Nevertheless, these parties were so much fun I’d have risked being grounded forever.

I remember hearing Black Flag’s Damaged album at one of these parties.  I picked it from a dozen or so LPs scattered around the floor.  I’d heard of the group, but I’d never heard their music.  The first song I played was TV Party.  “We’re gonna have a TV party tonight…ALRIGHT!”  When I hear that now, it’s almost as if I can smell the spilled beer – it’s transporting.  It’s not that it’s a particularly good song; there are plenty of punk songs I like better…plenty of Black Flag songs I like better.  But that song just works that particular magic in my brain, no matter how many times I hear it.  I can feel the excitement of being young and finally finding my place in the world, my people.  It brings back so many amazing memories.

Favorite piece of music memorabilia (poster, t-shirt, etc.) from high school: I have a Minutemen T-shirt I had in high school, but that’s about it.  I’m lousy about keeping things from those days.  My favorite post-high school memento I have is the test pressing from the first Blake Babies album.  Holding that in my hands for the first time was such a thrill.

Band that you hated that everyone else at school seemed to love: U2.  I don’t so much hate U2 now, though I never really caught the bug.  But there was this guy named Oly in my high school who I thought was a total asshole.  And he liked U2, so I associated them with Oly.  Also U2 seemed so self-important and humorless.  I loved REM, but for some reason I felt like U2 was the anti-REM.  I can kind of see that now.

Best high school make-out song: One of the first dates I went on with my first girlfriend (Freda, we were together 8 years) was to the movie Valley Girl.  We both loved that song I Melt With You by Modern English.  It was obscure back then – didn’t become a “hit” until years later.  That sort of became “our song,” and we’d listen to it often when we managed to find time to be alone.  That did the trick.  The first time I made out with a girl – summer before 8th grade, 1980, was to “Time” by Alan Parsons Project.

Most memorable show or concert you saw in high school: I almost exclusively went to punk shows in high school, with the odd exception (lots of Police shows early on, Psychedelic Furs, Stray Cats, Go-gos, etc.).  We used to have these punk/hardcore shows in rented rooms – an empty loft above the Salvation Army store, an unused church in Indianapolis, the old library in Bloomington (the unused building across the street from the new library, built in the mid-70s).  But although we had national touring acts, the same one or maybe two hundred kids showed up every time.  You’d see a little polite slam-dancing, lots of bro activity.  But it wasn’t really violent.

While visiting schools in D.C. during my senior year (late 1984), I went to see a show at this place called the Wilson Center.  Government Issue and Marginal Man, a couple others.  I swear there were 800 kids there, and they were going berserk.  I associated D.C. with straight edge, but many of these kids were drinking and getting high.  As soon as the first band came on, kids started stage-diving, one after the other – a dozen for every one-minute song – into this massive pit.  I stood along the sidelines for the first hour or so, finding my courage.  Then I totally went for it – jumping in the pit and stage diving during the Government Issue set.  It was a huge rush.  Strangely, that was one of the last hardcore shows I ever went to.  After that night, I’d sort of had enough.  But man that was fun.

Jenn Halter Prenda

Kings Mountain High School, Kings Mountain, NC, Class of 1993, Currently: Mommin’, Marketing and Advertising

Band and/or song that reminds you the most of high school: Yes, 
Pearl Jam, Matthew Sweet, Peter Gabriel, haha the Black Crowes (Shake)

Favorite piece of music memorabilia (poster, t-shirt, etc.) from high school: gosh I have no idea, I didn’t save much music wise from then…I have a Yes poster…I’m sure there’s others but nothing stands out

Band that you hated that everyone else at school seemed to love: Barenaked Ladies or maybe Sugar Ray

Best high school make-out song: In Your Eyes (Peter G) seems about right

Most memorable show or concert you saw in high school: The only 2 shows I saw live while in HS were Yes (10th grade) and Lollapalooza w/Alice in Chains, Arrested Dev….(12th)

Karen Balcom

Park High School, Cottage Grove, MN, Class of 1986, Currently: writing, being mom

Band and/or song that reminds you the most of high school:  I would have to say U2, anything off of the Unforgettable Fire.  I used to go to school early every morning my Junior year, and I would sit on the floor in front of my locker, with my Walkman, and listen to that tape over and over.  I was not a very happy camper that year, not completely sure why, and that music left me suitably depressed and feeling like there was good reason for it.

Favorite piece of music memorabilia (poster, t-shirt, etc.) in high school: The thing I wish I still owned more than anything is my black Suburbs t-shirt (lost in the fire).  One of my fave Minneapolis bands, and such a cool shirt.  That was the first band I would regularly go into “the pit” for—mostly because there were lots of cute guys in said pit, but they weren’t dangerous like they were at the “real” punk shows.

Band that you hated that everyone else at school seemed to love: Everybody in my school loved REO Speedwagon and they made me feel like throwing up.  I can’t even look at dude from REO without feeling sick.  My friends and I used to call them Oreo Chuckwagon.

Best high school make-out song: Hmmmm…”Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” by the Smiths (although I suppose “Reel Around the Fountain” is more appropriate…fifteen minutes with you, I wouldn’t say no…) or “Girls on Film” by Duran Duran, but these would only be if I could go back and orchestrate the circumstances.  I don’t remember any good music and I certainly don’t remember being given the option of picking something to listen to.

Best show or concert you saw in high school: Violent Femmes at First Avenue with my BFF Jane.  She and I were so into it—dancing around like crazy and everyone else was so lame.  At least it felt that way.  Some guy flicked a cigarette ash and it went in Jane’s shoe.  I remember the day Jane bought the first album, her mother was absolutely horrified by the lyrics.  I think she actually stormed out of the room crying or maybe that’s my overly-dramatic adolescent memory.

I read an article about a woman who was shocked when she looked at her husband’s  iPod while he was in the shower.  Sounds innocent enough, but she found something, or someone, that disturbed her, deeply–Debbie Boone.  It took her weeks to get over it; her husband’s manly mojo was erased by “You Light Up My Life”.  Personally, I would’ve laughed my ass off if I found Debbie Boone on Steve’s iPod, so, I was wondering–what’s the most embarrassing song on your iPod?

I have spent the last month on the emotional tilt-a-whirl of querying literary agents.  I would say rollercoaster, but that’s way too linear.  The tilt-a-whirl, with its undulating vortex of disorientation is a much better analogy.

It’s a process, I suppose I could say that it’s flawed, but I don’t have a suggestion as to how to improve it.  It’s all about who you know, just like in music, and since that’s a world I’m highly acquainted with, I understand why things are the way they are.

As a novelist, you’re expected to write a query letter, which will sell your story to an agent, make them want to read it, and hopefully represent you.  Those three paragraphs end up being the measure of your work, just like the first 15 seconds of an unsigned band’s demo.  I wish I could take back every snide comment I ever made about unsigned bands.  I’m sure this is all coming back to me somehow…

I’m supposed to get a bunch of rejections.  Rejections are good.  It’s one step closer to finding the right fit, a move toward the ultimate reward, which I guess is supposed to be publication.  I still feel like writing the book was the ultimate reward—all of this other stuff is what you do when you’re a grown-up and you’ve put so much hard work into something.  I’ve already started writing the new ultimate reward, as a means of keeping my head together during the query process.  I’m happy to say that’s it’s mostly working.

I’m thinking that I will design some sort of rejection badge, first for myself, and then for my fellow writers who are going through the same process.  We can all get a sash (brown, of course) and I will sew the rejection badge on everyone’s sash (because I am good at sewing) and we can wear them in public, as a sign of being a real writer.  Real writers get rejected.  Here’s to being a real writer…