Some interviews take longer to wait for than others and I have been pursuing poor Caroline Kepnes since July to have her be my guest on the site. I was obsessed with talking with her, kind of like her obsessive character she has created… I wasn’t going to let this one go. Why? Well, heck, if you have read You, you know why I had to talk to her.
As a rule, I hesitate to take on any series books. I am one of those fickle people that can’t seem to follow through on a series and since I try to read such a diverse amount of books for our reviews each month, I like to offer you a plethora of choices. After reading it though, I knew that Caroline had more of a story to tell about her character Joe, and I knew I wanted to hear that story.
For my friends that don’t like to read racy literature, this is one you can skip, but for my friends looking for a little excitement in their lives…well, this book is for you. Bring on the excitement (JAZZ HANDS)!! Every friend I have recommended this one to has gotten swept away in the crazy. It’s impossible not to.
This is a twisted love story told from Joe, our obsessed narrator, who finds love in his bookshop after cyber-stalking a girl who used her credit card at his store. We watch as Joe becomes more and more unhinged as he discovers love is nothing like the books he’s read and the movies he’s watched- a fact that he is most displeased with. Twisted humor makes for laugh-out-loud moments and cleverly woven pop culture themes add a little lightness to the dark. This is an author to watch. To read my full review, head on over to my July Must-Reads list!
Grab your coffee and let’s settle in with Caroline to chat about this year’s new guilty pleasure book, You!
The way that Joe utilizes social media to stalk Guinevere, in an attempt to create her ideal boyfriend, was chilling for someone who uses social media so much. How did you come up with the concept of creating this cat-and-mouse game through tweets and Facebook?
Writing a book full of status updates and tweets is one way to rationalize your time on Facebook, isn’t it? Looking back to that time before I started writing, I realize that I was on Facebook a lot, in a negative sense. I had spent a lot of time in hospitals, waiting around, too anxious to read, too fried. My phone was always there, the ever-changing fake-true story of sometimes interconnecting narratives that is your Facebook feed. I was fascinated by the dissonance between how we present ourselves and how we live. I was so aware of how interactive Facebook is, emotionally, how you can use it to drag yourself down if you want, how to lift yourself up, get attention, give it, such a strange new tool in our pockets. And it’s intriguing to me, what people choose to project, why they make that choice. I’m a psychologist at heart in a lot of ways and I loved the idea of this misguided, lonely soul who uses this tool in all the worst possible ways. But you feel for him sometimes of course, because he wants love. I liked the idea of technology as a weapon for both Beck and Joe. She is using it to get attention. He’s using it to pay attention. It’s all too extreme. Also, I had been a heavy smoker and I quit cold turkey, which was traumatic, and this book was like a replacement for cigarettes in some way.
As a former journalist for Tiger Beat & Entertainment Weekly, we can really see your pop culture personality pull through with all of your references to current songs, movies, and the media during this time. Did you ever worry that this would date your book in any way by using so much pop culture within it?
I was watching The Honeydrippers video for “Sea of Love” so much while writing that I put the video in the book. That’s how it worked with a lot of the references. I would write in a coffee shop, then get in my car and listen to a mix CD of Hannah and Her Sisters instrumentals and Elton John. And I would end up stopping at a coffee shop on the way home to write more. I was so full of drive and inspiration and my God, what a joyous time. I genuinely didn’t care if the book was good or bad. It felt like its own thing, a beast that I was nurturing, and as I type that I’m like, eew, pretentious, but at the same time, it’s true. So that was the fun, the flow part.
Then of course, there’s so much more to writing than the high of the first draft, with or without the musical inspiration. You snap out of it and review your work, find that you have quoted e.e. Cummings and Prince repeatedly and become self-conscious and bite your lip and question all of it. It’s extreme to point toward a moment in history in a work of fiction, like when Benji finds out about Lou Reed’s death. But I love reading books and looking at the publication date and thinking, ok, so this is what it was like at this moment. And in this case it felt right. With lyrics, it’s also extreme to quote so many songs and seek legal permissions. But similarly, the references felt right for this particular narrative. Joe’s mind was absolutely clogged with quotes and songs and images. That was endemic. His interpersonal relationships have not been rewarding. I thought of that scene in Good Will Hunting when Will says his friends are Shakespeare, et al, the guys who wrote the books and the good doctor is basically like, No, kid. They’re dead. That scene stayed with me. And it’s interesting, in Hidden Bodies, I started quoting songs again and rewrote seventy pages over and over and it felt wrong. And it was like, that’s because it is wrong. He has a relationship now and this story isn’t about him swooning, being alone, seeking. It’s about him trying to preserve what he has. He’s not in his head so much, he’s in the world, socializing more. The references are there, but they’re different.
While we are on the subject of pop culture, can you share your favorite story or celebrity that you covered and why it was so special to you?
I have always been obsessed with film press junkets. I used to write the Reel Girl column for E! Online and I got to go to junkets a lot. They are trippy and interesting, with journalists who know so much about movies, tense publicists, uncomfortable celebrities, Fiji water flowing, the air of formality of The Four Seasons that I swear makes everyone awkward. I. Love. Junkets. Anyway, I was sitting at a roundtable with journalists and Frank Langella. He was in this intimate movie called Starting Out in the Evening. I asked him what it was like to slap a woman on camera. And he slapped me. Gently, but you know, it was a slap. And it was just amazing. Best junket ever. Here’s a link to the play by play!
I censor myself in my writing that I put out into the world because I’m always worried what other people might think. I really need to work on that! Your book really pushes all the envelopes. Did you ever worry about what anyone would think about any of these scenes that you wrote or do you write without worry about it? Do you have any advice about stepping out of your comfort zone when writing?
Oh, God, that’s such an important topic that I think about so much. The main thing, forget about the end result. Remember that a bomb could go off and that would be the end of that. Stop editing. Stop wincing. Stop rereading. (You get to do all that after and torture yourself for as long as you want.) Seek flow. Follow your instincts. Don’t put writing on a pedestal. I like to think of it as a combination of playing and thinking. You can’t undermine the importance of the play part, the need to create a time and space to play. The way you do when you’re a kid. Be a hedonistic child. Do what you want. A few weeks ago, my friend’s kids had me read B.J. Novak’s book to them over and over again. This is what I love about kids, they’re not like oh I should read something else, broaden my horizons, seek balance. They indulge. I think it helps to have that spirit as an adult. Worry later. And then yes, worry and think a lot about what’s wrong with what you did. But separate those two tasks, the play and the edit. And everyone is different. Some people want to breathe, regroup and edit after a chapter. Some people want to push out the whole thing and then look after. And some people change with each project. It’s just about figuring out what works for you.
I think, if you’re having this issue with what other people think, go sit in a coffee shop and write. You’re exposing yourself. Anyone who walks by can see that you’re not just futzing around on Facebook (not all the time) but that you are attempting to create something. So already, you’re facing the opponent, letting strangers know that you are trying to write. It’s a great starting point because these people don’t get to review your work. It’s more about you becoming comfortable creating something out of your imagination on your own, near other humans, rising above the din and letting the work take over.
Of course, if an hour later you are miserable and have a blank screen, that’s okay too. You learned something about yourself. You hated being in that coffee shop and trying to create something. Ask yourself why. Go home and draw the curtains and tell the computer about your day. Maybe that ranting will spark an idea and before you know it, your bad writing day rant has mutated into a scene. Let this exercise be a priority. Same way you have a skin routine, this is no different. Your imagination deserves to be treated with tenderness. And if you fall off the wagon and freeze up and go into that, oh shit I don’t think I can write ever again mode, let it rip. Indulge the anxiety. Binge on TV and let yourself slowly realize that the only cure for writing anxiety is writing. Your brain is resilient. Just like your skin.
I really, really adored that you thanked two of your former teachers in your acknowledgements. What was it about these two teachers that made them so special and have you heard from them on their reaction to your book?
Teachers are so important. Their contribution is incalculable. Both the teachers I thanked are legends in my hometown school system. I saw one recently and it was such a joy. He’s an author as well as a teacher (Girl Singer by Mick Carlon is out November 10!). He loved the part in the book where Joe arrives in Little Compton, and that meant so much to me, particularly that’s a descriptive scene and Mick was my journalism teacher, which is to say, he helped countless students hone into their environments, notice surroundings. He’s a phenomenal person. They were both so encouraging and thoughtful and above all, my God, they both love books. That’s contagious.
Stephen King with The Thing of Evil (read all about her- so cute!)
Joe makes fun of Stephen King an awful lot in your story and the actual Stephen King happens to endorse your book on the cover. Did he love all of the references to himself and how do you get such a legend to write a blurb for the cover of your book?
I see his name on the cover and I feel overjoyed. Stephen King dazzles me. To think of him creating so many rich stories and then sharing photos of Molly, The Thing of Evil, I mean, he’s such a wholly admirable person. Joe’s take on him was so much fun to work out. There’s Joe’s basic deranged sense of authority. He’s miffed at people claiming to love Stephen King. Joe, of course, feels superior to his customers. He suspects they haven’t read the bulk of King’s work. He thinks most of the people buying the book about Danny Torrance never even read The Shining, only saw the movie version. And then, Joe is flat out mad at Stephen King because the man publishes a novel when Joe has a date?! He makes Joe late! And Joe has control issues. He resents the reliability of our culture, the guarantee that a Stephen King book will attract readers, the resultant inconvenience that this creates for Joe. Ah, narcissism!
Stephen King is just amazing. I have turned to On Writing many times in my life. He gets it. And his understanding of us, strengths and weaknesses, I am grateful for his work. I don’t know how the blurb on my book happened. I just know that last December I was roaming around Kitson in the Beverly Center with a low-grade fever in holiday shopping panic when my phone started buzzing. He was tweeting about me. It blew my mind. Always will. It means so much to me that he read my red and white book and felt compelled to tell people about it.
I understand you are preparing the sequel to You now! Where are you in the stages of development of the next book and are there any talks yet of turning your first book into a screenplay?
Hidden Bodies comes out in February! It’s the sequel and the waiting is killing me. But it’s the good kind of pain, like waiting for Christmas as a child. I finished writing it a few months ago. I knew I wanted to spend more time with this character while I was writing the first one. There was never any doubt that there are at least three books. The first one for me was primarily about being in your twenties, Joe being about thirty, feeling he missed out on having normal twenties, always a little late. Hidden Bodies has Joe in his thirties, a little weary, driven and violent as ever, but you know, he wants love, home, stability, the American dream. But it’s the same thing, nothing is quite what he wants it to be. I have plans for another one and I hope to tell his story for years to come. And yes, Showtime optioned You. Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble are working on the script. It’s all tremendously exciting. And I’m working on two new books right now.
If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (we list it with all the recommendations over the year HERE)?
The Street by Anne Petry is brilliant and searing. One of my all time favorites.
You can connect with Caroline Kepnes on Facebook or through Twitter! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!
*This post contains affiliate links!