Hello everyone, and welcome back to The Bookworm’s Fantasy! I hope you’re all well. Today I’m really excited to be posting an exclusive interview with Caroline Kepnes! Those of you who read my blog regularly will know that I love Kepnes’ books, so I was delighted that she agreed to answer some questions for me! You can find my review for ‘YOU’ here and ‘Hidden Bodies’ here. Thanks so much to Caroline for answering my questions! So, here goes…
About the Author
Caroline Kepnes is the author of two novels: ‘YOU’ (2014) and ‘Hidden Bodies’ (2016). A 10 episode TV series based on ‘YOU’ will premiere on Lifetime Network later in 2018. Kepnes studied at Brown University and worked as a pop culture journalist on Entertainment Weekly and a TV writer on 7th Heaven. She now writes full-time and lives in Los Angeles.
1) How would you describe your first two novels using only three words (You and Hidden Bodies)?
Joe. Wants. Love.
2) I’m really looking forward to your latest release, Providence. Could you tell us a bit about this book and the inspiration behind it?
Providence is my deep dive into the horror of love. Jon and Chloe have an intense friendship where they both expect that something will come of it…one day. But then Jon gets kidnapped, and they both evolve. He goes missing and is forever altered by the experience, she misses him, and is forever altered by the experience. I was inspired by the notion of “connection” and how modern life is unique because it’s so easy to be loosely connected to others. There’s also a detective in the mix, because that’s another thing that fascinates me, how the Internet allows us to embark on missions of discovery, which is so often a way of avoiding intimacy. It’s about what happens when our hearts are broken, when we break other people’s hearts, how our next moves define who we are.
3) I think your writing in the perspective of Joe is fantastic – he’s dark and creepy, but also very charismatic. What difficulties did you face whilst writing in a voice that is (assumably!) so different from your own? And how did you overcome these?
I will tell you what I told my mom when she was reading the early draft. I am not Joe! I love writing in the first person because it’s a creative opportunity to embrace another person’s point of view. You see what they keep from others, how their internal monologue compares to their outward behavior. When I was in high school, I was in a summer-long psychology experiment/class at Yale University. We did case studies where we diagnosed people based on their therapy records. I remember being like, oh God, I could do this for a living. And now, I’m so lucky that I do. The challenge with Joe was remembering that he was deeply fractured in a way that’s specific to him. Like Joe, I love Prince, I’ve always thought of him as a poet. But, I’ve never murdered anyone. The challenge was convincing myself that you could be this person with a deep appreciation for art, for love that overrides your respect for human life.
4) What advice would you give to others about how to write a successful villain?
For me, it’s about throwing the word “villain” out the window. Joe doesn’t think of himself as a villain. He would tell you he’s a romantic. With every person who crosses Joe’s path and winds up dead, he has this martyrdom, a God complex, this woe-is-me self-pity because, the way he sees it, he gets stuck being a veterinarian for humans, sparing these tortured souls from living another day. Find your character’s perspective and flesh it out. The kidnapper in Providence considers himself a scientist, a savior. Get to know your “bad” characters, get to know why they feel good about themselves.
5) I’m really excited to watch the TV adaptation of You! What are your hopes for the TV series?
I am excited for you to see it!! The producers (Sera Gamble and Greg Berlanti) approached this adaptation with deep appreciation for the book, and you feel that love in every episode. The show is unique to me in the way that it hones in on the eternal struggle to find someone at this particular moment in time. I hope the audience will be sucked in right away, when Beck walks into the bookstore, into Joe’s life. And as the author, I knew what’s coming, but countless times I was on the edge of my seat, shrieking. It’s exciting to me that we all get to watch together, as we look over our shoulders and wonder if we should change our passwords. Also, oh man, I wrote an episode and it was a thrill to get into Beck’s head, to jump back into therapy with Dr. Nicky and Joe, to have another chance to make things work out for Joe and Karen Minty.
6) Could you tell us a bit about your writing journey and how you managed to get published? Did you receive rejections and how did you overcome these?
I love storytelling, always have. In my twenties, I published a lot of short stories, which means that I dealt with a ton of rejection. Rejection is so good for you. There’s nothing like sending out a story, and then an hour later, you’re like, oh, I didn’t say what I wanted to say, this part feels incomplete. Then the editor who rejects the piece echoes your gut feelings, which is the best kind of motivating validation. And so often, editors points out a flaw you didn’t see. I started out as a pop culture journalist with seasoned, smart editors taking a red pen to my work. I interviewed TV showrunners as part of my job, and spent a few years writing for television. When I wrote You, I was coming out of this monster year of life where I lost my father. I was nervous, but I tried to think of the book as a bunch of short stories, and that helped me settle into a groove. I had writer friends who introduced me to people in publishing, and then it all came together.
7) How would you describe your writing process, from start to finish? How long does it usually take you to write a novel?
It varies. I finished a draft of my next book in six months, which is where I’ve been a bit of a zombie this year. I like to have a map of the big picture. I break that map down into chunks. I take it one chunk at a time, one chapter at a time, one paragraph at a time, and so on. It helps me have a system of rewards and punishments. It’s also the best fucking procrastination in the world, taking an hour to create a calendar with goals set for every day of the week. So it’s part that, a lot of discipline, then relaxing into the work, allowing time to think and figure it all out. Throw the calendar out the window and accept that some days, I will write four chapters, other days, none. Everyone has a system, and the best thing you can do is experiment with different strategies to find one that works. Mostly, I aim for two chapters a day, and I write the first couple sentences of the third. The next day, I’ve slept on it, I dive back into those two chapters and make adjustment, which makes it so much easier to move onto the third chapter because of those couple sentences I wrote the day before.
8) Which books have you read recently that you’d recommend to others?
Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World broke my heart and blew my mind. Jennifer Hillier’s Jar of Hearts is one of those books you don’t want to put down. Jessica Knoll’s The Favorite Sister left me with dozens of screenshots of paragraphs where I was like yes, she nailed it. You-Jeong You’s The Good Son is the best mind fuck I’ve come across in a long time.
9) Tell me a bit more about yourself! What do you like to do in your spare time?
I grew up in Cape Cod, Massachusetts and I love to go home and see friends and family, visit the beaches and swim. My favorite game is blackjack, double deck, so I also like to go to Vegas. It’s the best interactive people watching, too. Most days I’m in LA, on the hunt for a rabbit hole. I get obsessed with something and learn about it. And, because of our blessed devices, this education oftens happens while I’m on my sofa, watching reruns of The Office or The Middle. Talking, laughing and observing humans in action, these are my favorite things.
10) And finally, what writing tips would you give to other budding authors?
Do whatever it takes for you to get that first draft done. Whether it’s a whole manuscript, a shorter piece or a single chapter, it is a treat to have the beginning, the middle and the end, a place for this story to live. There are a million metaphors to choose from, right? You are the baby and now you have a playpen. You are the visionary and now you have the blueprint. Then, you get the hell out of there and go live a little, which can mean going to your job or the grocery store or a birthday party. Your best friend is the notebook app in your phone. Once you have that playpen, that blue print, the story is in the back of your mind. Everywhere you go, all the things you do every day, that story will tug on your shirtsleeve and tell you what it wants. You make a note in your phone, sometimes I wind up writing in the phone. Writing is rewriting. There will be parts of it that fly out of you in that dreamy way, and that’s a rush. But the other rush comes from learning to know your process and fixing the parts that were fighting you every step of the way. Don’t be scared when it doesn’t feel right. Read a book. Reread your work. It will come to you. You will come to it. And accept the possibility that you didn’t assemble the playpen correctly, that the blueprint should be scratched. You have to start somewhere, and don’t feel bad about that. Writing is like life. It’s a learning experience with highs and lows.
Happy reading 🙂