by stephanie

In bloom: Of April and old cats

Just wanted to post a few updates and events for 2018. First of all, I’m excited to be traveling to Santa Monica May 4 and 5 for YALLWEST. It’s such a fun event and I hope to see you there!

In writing news, the cover for (DON’T) CALL ME CRAZY is up and it is gorgeous! I’m thrilled to have an essay in this anthology. It’s about my experience with misophonia and how a lifetime of sound intolerance and intrusive thoughts have shaped my sense of self.

I’m also excited to be a part of the upcoming Poe-inspired anthology, HIS HIDEOUS HEART, edited by the fabulous Dahlia Adler. I’ll be tackling “The Tell-Tale Heart,” one of my all-time favorite short stories.

In other news, my family has made friends of late with an old scraggly cat who has been visiting us. We had taken to calling her Mrs. Kitty, but when we took her to the vet, we learned that she is a male cat named Orlando. Orlando is very old (16!) but enjoys visiting us and our neighbors–who all feed him. He’s a very sweet kitty.

Spring is here! Enjoy!


Morris Award Finalist Interview: Akemi Dawn Bowman and STARFISH!

It’s that time of the year again! The fabulous list of this year’s William C. Morris Award finalists is out and the lovely tradition of past winners interviewing the current nominees endures. I was fortunate enough to be paired with Akemi Dawn Bowman, author of STARFISH, which was a book I’d heard wonderful things about from Brandy Colbert, whose taste I always trust. Well, it was right up my alley and I loved this book and its thoughtful exploration of trauma, anxiety, art, pain, and identity. STARFISH is about a biracial teen, Kiko, who lives in a household where she’s made to feel as if her needs and her autonomy and her personhood don’t matter. Kiko’s also an artist and she values the ways in which she’s able to express her emotions and truth on paper, in a visual medium, and when she’s reunited with a childhood friend who also processes the world in a space removed from verbal language, Kiko sets out to define her universe on her own terms.

The interview:

1. Congratulations on being a Morris Award finalist! How did you find out that STARFISH was selected?

Thank you so much! I was sitting on the couch with my three-year-old when I read the email. It had actually been sent hours before, but we’d been out running errands and it had been a while since I checked my phone. When I finally did, I had a bunch of messages from my editor and agent, and I promptly started bawling my eyes out.

2. How did STARFISH come to be? Can you tell us a little about the evolution of the book and Kiko’s journey?

I wrote STARFISH because it’s the book I needed most as a teen. I really wanted to write a book that would help teens going through similar situations feel seen, and understood. Kiko’s story is about feeling like you don’t belong, healing from trauma, and making sense of what it means to not have the unconditional love I think every child is entitled to. And those can be very isolating, lonely, and difficult concepts to deal with. I wanted to create a character who really struggles to navigate through these things, but ultimately comes to a place of hope and wanting to move forward without depending on anyone else. And hopefully this story will allow other people to feel like they aren’t alone in what they’re going through.

3. The relationship between Kiko and mother is both a fascinating and painful one, especially as Kiko is treated very differently than her two brothers. How did you navigate the intersecting realms of gender, culture, trauma, and mental health in the development of this dyad? Did anything surprise you about their relationship over the course of writing the book?

I knew how this relationship would start and end from the first page, so nothing about the way their characters interacted surprised me. I think the easy way to describe Kiko’s mother is to say that she’s self-centered, but it’s also a lot more complicated than that. It’s also never fully explained in the text. Because the reality is that some people will never understand why their abuser makes the choices they make. They’ll never get closure, or an apology, or an explanation. And maybe that’s frustrating, but it’s also real life, and I wanted this story to be about Kiko finding hope and healing on her own, without trying to give an abuser a redemption arc. Because STARFISH very much centers a victim of abuse—this is Kiko’s story, not her abuser’s. And her trauma intersects with every other part of her life—and might do for years to come, because sometimes that never fully goes away. So, for example, when her mother makes negative comments about her Japanese features, or calls Kiko “too sensitive,” Kiko’s natural reaction is to internalize all of this and to assume that she herself is the problem—because her trauma has made her feel like she’s never been good enough, and therefore being half Asian isn’t “enough” and having anxiety makes her difficult to be around. These things obviously are not true, but trying to make sense of the world when you have trauma—particularly when you’re still a teenager—is incredibly difficult. Ultimately, Kiko wants her mother to love her, and when she realizes she doesn’t—at least not in the way Kiko needs her to—she comes up with reasons of why that must be. Kiko has to unlearn a lot about how her mother’s biases affected the way she thought about herself. It’s a journey, for sure, and one that I hope opens up discussions for people and allows those with trauma to feel seen.

4. Kiko’s art is such a huge part of who she is and where she feels free to express herself. As readers, we can’t physically see her art, but it’s described to us at the end of each of chapter. Was it challenging to put words to something visually creative and what was your approach to finding Kiko’s voice in her artwork?

Creating Kiko’s artwork was actually the easiest part of the entire book. I wrote most of them really quickly—in a matter of seconds, usually. I just thought about how Kiko was feeling after each chapter, and let those emotions morph into a drawing or painting. In a lot of ways, art is Kiko’s voice. She struggles so much to say what she’s thinking, and even how to make sense of what she’s feeling. Art is how she not only expresses herself, but voices the biggest emotions and fears she has buried inside her. I think readers might get more insight into her thoughts at the end of these chapters than everything Kiko says within them.

5. I just read the summary and saw the gorgeous cover for your next book, SUMMER BIRD BLUE, and I wonder if it also explores the experience of anxiety (although in a different form than Kiko’s social anxiety)?

No, I wouldn’t say Rumi (the main character in SUMMER BIRD BLUE) really deals with anxiety. She struggles with depression and grief in the aftermath of losing her sister, but there are also other themes like learning to forgive yourself, feeling abandoned by a parent, questioning your sexuality, and feeling like you don’t quite fit into any one “box.”

6. Are you working on anything new that you can tell us about? 

My third book was just announced the other day! It’s another YA contemporary with Simon Pulse, about a teenager who dreams of being a trapeze artist in her parents’ Las Vegas circus, against their wishes. She ends up joining a rival circus in an act of rebellion, and meets a handsome musician/performer while trying to make sense of her past and the relationship she has with her parents. I am very excited about this book, because I’m obsessed with all things circus, though its release date is quite far away—Fall 2019!

7. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Sleeping. Honestly. I have a three-year-old and a one-year-old, and I have not slept through the night in over four years. I’m exhausted! But if I wasn’t on deadline and actually had a good night’s sleep, I do enjoy playing video games. The Sims, Zelda, Pokémon, Mass Effect. I like to binge-play though, which is probably not the best for someone who seems forever short on time.

8. Do you have a favorite Pokémon (I’m quite partial to Slowpoke)?

YES, of course I do! Vulpix has been my favorite forever and ever. I’m an Aries as well, and a Fire Rabbit, so I guess it makes sense I’m prone to fire Pokémon!

Thank you so much, Akemi!

A (late) look at October past

We’re on the far side of November now, but I am finally taking the time to look back at my favorite month of the year. This past October was wonderfully full of birthday cake, cross-country meets, hiking beneath the giant sequoias, acquiring a new kitten (hi, George Michael!), and of course, tackling Booklist’s annual horror film challenge.

I hit 36 films this year, and with the discovery of ShudderTV, I was able to watch a lot of indie and foreign films I hadn’t seen before, plus some great stuff from the seventies. The list is below. I’ve highlighted in green a few favorites, and I eagerly await 2018.

Oh! This is also a chance to mention that I’ve greatly enjoyed the horror resurgence of 2017. I was thrilled by the brilliance of GET OUT, loved the toothy leer of old Pennywise, but one film I really admired, and which has stuck with me, was IT COMES AT NIGHT. A slow burn, perhaps, but well worth it.

My list:

36. LAKE MUNGO Meet Alice Palmer, Australia’s Laura Palmer.
35. THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE Oh, this was right up my alley. Mental illness, self-loathing, and the language of empathy.
34. RED DRAGON Ralph Fiennes gets a tattoo. Kills everyone.
33. HOSTEL: PART II Elite Hunting gets sloppy again.
32. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS We let the kids pick tonight’s movie, and monsters that we are, we let them watch it.
31. DRAG ME TO HELL That was a lot of dragging over a button. RIP kitten.
30. SPRING An American fugitive heads to Italy where he finds an earthly (and dangerous) sort of miracle.
29. PIÑATA: SURVIVAL ISLAND A $20k purse competitive panty hunt + partying co-eds + an ancient piñata filled with evil
28. CARRIE (2013) Remakes are tough, but there were a few moments before the blood’s spilled that really worked for me
27. HONEYMOON How do you REALLY know you’re not marrying an alien host?
26. SUN CHOKE Little girls and their violence…
25. CUBE Interestingly enough, this was pretty much the same story as THE BAR, except it featured Leon from PIN.
24. THE BAR A group of strangers trapped in a Madrid bar by an unseen killer. Human nature, as always, prevails.
23. THE BABYSITTER Okay, I thought this was a remake of the Alicia Silverstone movie. Spoiler alert: It’s not.
22. RESOLUTION A junkie and his best friend just might find God out in the scrubby California wilderness.
21. THE GALLOWS The Hangman Cometh. Was this going for gasps? Or laughs?
20. FRIDAY THE 13TH Yeah, we should’ve watched this one yesterday.
19. FRIGHT NIGHT It’s an abundance of 80’s goodness when a vampire moves in next door to a teen horror fan.
18. WOULD YOU RATHER That’s really not how I remember that game.
17. THE SACRAMENT A fictionalized found-footage version of the Jonestown tragedy.
16. BE AFRAID I don’t know what this movie had to do with sleep paralysis, but that corn monster scared me.
15. I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE An elderly horror novelist hires a hospice nurse who scares easily.
14. FUNNY GAMES A Clockwork Orange, this was not.
13. ALWAYS SHINE Best friends harboring some dark career rivalry head to Big Sur for the weekend. Rompers abound.
12. WOLF CREEK Australian Outback Texas Chainsaw Deliverance Massacre
11. THE REEF Step 1. boat capsizes in Australia’s shark-infested waters Step 2. Everyone gets in the water. Yikes.
10. AND SOON THE DARKNESS (1970) Two girls cycling the French countryside. One vanishes. It’s all downhill from there.
9. CRUSH THE SKULL Just the right amount of pedicure comedy mixed into this torturous game of cat and mouse.
8. IMAGES Robert Altman’s 1972 look at a children’s author’s lonely descent in madness. Goodbye, unicorn.
7. THE LAST EXORCISM A fraudulent exorcist heads out on one last scam & ignores some very real drawings of his fate.
6. RAW Reasons not to go to college with your sister: jealousy, secrets, family drama, she’ll eat your boyfriend.
5. THE CRAFT Snakes. Hexes. Walking on water? Something witchy this way comes. With bonus nineties Skeet Ulrich.
3. SWEET, SWEET LONELY GIRL A doll broke. An aunt died. Someone wore a bunny mask. Was this a horror movie?
2. BLUE SUNSHINE Disco, LSD, copious wig snatching, and a politician who wants to “make America good again.”
1. COMPLIANCE Nastiness going down at the Chickwhich. I really don’t think this is what Stanley Milgram had in mind.



Grizzly Lake

It’s the first day of August, and my fifth book is out today! WHEN I AM THROUGH WITH YOU follows eight teens from a high school orienteering club who set out on a backpacking trip in the remote Trinity Alps. Pretty much everything goes wrong, and the book’s narrator Ben earnestly recounts the terrible events of this trip, the group’s fight for survival, and ultimately, his role in the death of his beloved girlfriend Rose.  

This book has meant a lot to me, right from the start. The story is undeniably dark and often sad, but where a lot of my other writing has focused on people trying to understand themselves, WHEN I AM THROUGH WITH YOU is more about relationships, about looking outward and connecting with others, about understanding what it really means to love and be loved.

It’s fitting then, perhaps, that this story feels more collaborative than others. I am so very thankful to everyone who helped make this book a reality – in particular the wonderful Andrew Karre, who understood what this story needed to be and helped me find my way there. I’m also eternally grateful for my early readers and critique partners who have offered so much valuable feedback and support along the way. It’s been quite the journey – a highly rewarding one.


Grizzly Falls on Thompson Peak

If you want to learn more about this book, starting tomorrow The Fantastic Flying Book Club will be hosting a blog tour through August 8th.

I’ll also be at a few upcoming events, including two with Brandy Colbert, which you can check out here. It would be great to see you!

And of course, you can buy the book now: online or in person.


Happy reading!












© 2022 stephanie kuehn