From The Booking Desk:
Yesterday, I ran my much buzzed about review of Caroline Kepnes’ debut novel, You.
Today, I am pleased to present to you, the author herself.
If the review didn’t convince you that you need to read this book, I am pretty sure that this interview will. Join me in welcoming Caroline Kepnes to BOLO Books!
BOLO Books: Briefly tell us a bit about you – the author and You – the novel.
Caroline Kepnes: I was born …kidding. Let’s see. I love figuring out what makes people tick. I also love making things up out of thin air. So writing in the fictional voice of a violent, intelligent character is heaven for me. I am a Scorpio, by nature an obsessive person prone to rereading, listening to songs on repeat, watching Pitch Perfect 700 times. I think my passions are reflected in You. And I love observing our changing world through characters. Joe is living adamantly analog, selling paper books. Beck, meanwhile, is using Twitter to construct a version of herself that she might become were she not preoccupied with the presentation. Neither way works. I always strive to be empathetic. That’s my drive. And I love to laugh, so I’m elated when people are surprised that this dark thriller is also funny.
BOLO Books: In the acknowledgements at the end of the novel, you thank Joe Goldberg for coming into your mind and demanding to be heard. Where were you when you first heard Joe’s voice?
Caroline Kepnes: I was in a coffee shop writing about teenagers and my story wasn’t grabbing me. I opened a new blank file. I stared. I messed around on Facebook and then Joe sort of broke in, telling me to get off Facebook and tell his fucking story already. It sounds cliché, but it really is the best when you’re writing and you feel like there’s something bigger going on, like your creative brain has taken over the self-aware side. I experienced that a lot while writing this book.
BOLO Books: Stalking in a crime that appears to be on the rise. Do you agree? What part do you think the increased use of social media has on the prevalence of this crime?
Caroline Kepnes: I think we all see the same image when we hear the word stalker, a creepy undateable guy cowering and looming. Joe is interesting to me because he is well-read, smart, naïve and endearing at times. Beck is something of an exhibitionist and Joe is somewhat of a voyeur. He is a stalker, yes, but he’s also the articulate, romantic yet cynical bookworm that we ladies have been learning to dream about since we were little girls. You should despise Joe, but half the time, he’s the voice of reason. I love characters who make me feel conflicted, like maybe I’m morally off.
Social media makes stalking a part of normal daily life. We go on Facebook and/or Twitter and are aware of what our friends are doing, what they want us to know. Social media gives us a sense of control, that you can block people, judge people. Even the word “like” has become somewhat devoid of meaning. You can investigate someone without risk. There is less mystery.
But at the same time, there is a kind of psychological analysis that we do. You can extrapolate things about a person based on what that person chooses to present. I love being with Joe as he grapples with the dissonance between Beck’s social presentation and her real life actions. That’s what compels me about online stalking. Electronic life enhances a sense of intimacy, which raises the stakes. We can gorge on HoHos while we Instagram kale smoothies. This fascinates me to no end, what people choose to display, why. Joe judges Beck based on the books she purchases, and I love this opening. It’s like online stalking in real life, old school, face to face.
BOLO Books: When I was about halfway through the book, I tweeted out the following message: “It has been years since I read someone who gets pop culture as well as @CarolineKepnes. Her (Joe’s) references are spot on.” How important is pop culture to you?
Caroline Kepnes: I loved that Tweet. My mom loved that Tweet. Pop culture is profoundly important to me. This book felt like a love letter to all my favorite things, particularly Hannah and Her Sisters and The Da Vinci Code. I vividly remember the first time I saw Hannah, the references to art and music. It’s not like I had never been exposed to this stuff, but I had never seen it integrated into a story like that. And then The Da Vinci Code, ah. What a powerful reading experience.
I used to work at Entertainment Weekly where there was always conversation about the concept of “guilty pleasure.” I am fascinated by different kinds of pleasure with the arts. I love Paula Fox books. The world regards her novels as art. They’re good for you, like vegetables. But then, when you say you love Dan Brown, a lot of people are like, number one, that’s not unique, millions of people love Dan Brown and number two, anything that riveting and delectable must be bad for you. I don’t agree. I am equally drawn to obscure art and popular blockbusters. I hate snobbery. I recently saw No Good Deed. You read the reviews of that movie, the vitriol. Of course there are plot holes. Yes, there is a child who is conveniently, seemingly deaf at times. But the movie was fun. I don’t feel guilty about loving it.
BOLO Books: Looking at these pop culture references, I wonder, did you have a list of things you wanted to reference at hand before you started writing or did you just write the novel and when a moment came that you felt needed a cultural reference point, did you think of one at that time? Or maybe Joe just came to you with all his knowledge already intact.
Caroline Kepnes: No list, it was all so natural. I have never gone more than a few days without reflecting on Hannah and Her Sisters in some way. I have a beautiful bound version of the script that I see every day. Elton John and Prince are two of my favorite poets, so their lyrics resonate with me. I did consciously want Joe to be someone with a deep sensitivity to music. I love that scene in Good Will Hunting where Will attests that his best friends are dead, renowned authors. I think Joe could relate.
BOLO Books: Without giving anything away, a frequent refrain in the book was inspired by the song “Nothing Compares 2 U.” This song, written and first performed by Prince, was made popular by Sinead O’Connor. I have to ask, which version do you prefer?
Caroline Kepnes: I still make mix CDs. I leased a car and the guy looked at me like I was crazy when I was upset that the CD player only takes one disc. He started in about my phone and memory cards, but I like my CDs! I had a CD while I was writing with both versions on it. I can’t choose between Prince and Sinead O’Connor. I think a brilliant cover has purpose. It introduces something new to the song. Prince’s original has a jazzy, smoky feel, like he’s singing in a lounge. The one who left him might be in the back. Sinead O’Connor brings brutality, loneliness; the one who left is gone. I love both. I could talk about covers all day. Ben Lee’s version of “If You Were Here” is another one of my favorites. I want to make a list but I won’t make a list.
BOLO Books: How difficult was it to let Joe’s voice go when you were not actively writing You. As a reader, he was constantly there with me during the whole weekend I was reading it (and he still comes to mind on occasion). Did you have that problem while writing the book? And did that scare you?
Caroline Kepnes: He’s not gone. I still half-expect him to pass by on the street. He’s real, right? Right. When I was writing it was very difficult to stop and go about the world like a civilized human. I wrote a lot in my phone, sometimes I pulled over to jot things down or left a meal to go into a bathroom and manically type. Joe did not like time off. But that’s a great feeling, to be so absorbed. I would have thoughts like, what if I’m walking through a parking lot and I get hit by a bicycle and I can’t write anymore?! I was on edge, hyped up. I love that sensation.
BOLO Books: You is without a doubt one of the creepiest books I have ever read – most likely because of how realistic it was and how authentic Joe’s voice is. What books creep you out?
Caroline Kepnes: My trifecta of creep is Misery, American Psycho and The Shining. I saw The Shining before I read it, one of the most unforgettable films of all time. And my dad was like, “Read the book.” And it terrified me so much that I would sneak out of and put it in the living room because it was hard to sleep in the same room as it. Stephen King does things in that book that you can’t do in a movie. That book is such a book. And I agree, authenticity is so important, which is why American Psycho resonated so much with me, all that Whitney Houston, and then Misery, I felt like Annie Wilkes might be living in my neighborhood. That book affected my perception of smiling, chortling neighbors.
BOLO Books: Since Joe works at a bookstore, books play a very important role in the story. What makes bookstores so special to you?
Caroline Kepnes: When I was a kid, there was this dreamy bookstore called Chart House Books. My heart raced every time I went in there. I loved the idea of all the different stories together, the impossibility of reading them all, the compulsion to try anyway. And I worked in a used bookstore many years ago. I read Lolita while I was working there, and listened to Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book tape to the point where I had every sound memorized. That was more than fifteen years ago, I think. Mooney Books has pieces of all my favorite bookstores. And I hope it makes people want to go to bookstores, even if they feel afraid to use their credit cards.
BOLO Books: I love the cover design for You. I remember picking it up at BEA and loving the whole Advanced Reader Copy presentation (and hoping that the book would live up to it – SPOILER: It did!). What are your thoughts on the cover design?
Caroline Kepnes: I cannot tell you how thrilled I was when I saw the cover. I loved it immediately, I did not want to see options and I wanted to hug it. I taped it to a hardcover book. This is how much I loved it. There are so many talented artists designing covers, essentially translating thousands of words into one image. I cannot imagine doing that, starting from scratch in that medium. The only blank page I can deal with is the one in Word or Final Draft. I think it’s magical when a cover has a life of its own and looks different to you when you finish the book.
BOLO Books: What is next for Caroline Kepnes? Believe me, anticipation is going to be high for your second novel. Any hints?
Caroline Kepnes: I finished a first draft and I am so excited to finish it and get notes. I love the rewriting process. And I don’t want to ruin anything or give anything away. But let’s see. There is champagne. There is blood. And there is a grocery store.
BOLO Books: If forced to choose only one format for all your future reading, which would you choose: Hardback, trade paperback, mass-market paperback, or e-book? And why?
Caroline Kepnes: Hardback. I like using the jacket as a bookmark. I love the formality, the weight. I love that moment when you start using the back cover to mark your place instead of the front cover. You know you’re now into the second half of the book. It’s like the home stretch of a road trip, mixed emotions, wanting to get there but at the same time, wanting the trip to last forever.
BOLO Books: I thought I was the only one that used the hardcover jacket flaps as a bookmark. I totally understand that moment when you switch from using the front flap to using the back flap. The momentum of the book just picks up and suddenly you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Special Note: For those of you who use SPOTIFY, Caroline’s publishing contact has informed me that there is a YOU Playlist available.
From The Booking Desk:
Well folks, if that doesn’t inspire you to rush off and pre-order the book, I don’t know what will. Remember, it is out later this week in the UK and next Tuesday here in the States. I’d like to thank Caroline Kepnes for stopping by BOLO Books – but most of all, I want to thank her for writing You and creating Joe and Beck.
This is a terrific interview!
I love the cover and am glad you asked about it. It reminds me of drawing in circles with a pen: It starts out as an artistic exercise (act of creation), but suddenly deviates into an act of destruction and violence until you tear a hole in the paper.
Thanks Cy. The cover is really special. You can almost feel how many times Joe has folded and unfolded that piece of paper. Creepy!