Apr/May 2021  •   Reviews & Interviews

An Interview with Caroline Kepnes (2016)

by David Ewald

Photo of Caroline Kepnes

Caroline Kepnes isn't just a fantastic writer and bestselling author. We're also super proud to claim her as part of our extended family of Eclectica contributors. To celebrate the April 6th release of her latest novel, You Love Me, we're including two interviews I did with Caroline for our blog. This one was done in 2016 when she had just published her second novel, Hidden Bodies.


David Ewald     I'll start with an obvious one: What's next? Another novel? Or, now that You is in development with Showtime, are you considering turning to another form of writing perhaps?

Caroline Kepnes     Ooh, right now I am deeply into two new books. I write one for a while, then I decompress, let it kind of go to sleep in my brain. And then I work my way back into the other. One is dark comedy, LA, motherhood, sexism, family, apps, appetizers, daughterhood, oh God, it's breaking my heart in the good ways. And the other is doing that to me in the sick way. I'm at the point where I'm genuinely scaring myself sleepless and afraid of my shadow and then I have to watch Last Days of Disco in order to level off and go to sleep. That one has more violence. The Showtime development is crazy exciting and I can't wait to see things come together. And the writing is just my favorite thing to do. I am so constantly overjoyed that my job is playing with dolls, that's how it feels. I get to make things up and listen to songs on repeat until I'm deaf to the songs and only hearing the story. Thank you, universe.

DE     Although Hidden Bodies is your second novel, it in no way smacks of sophomore slump. Did you fear sophomore slump going into writing Hidden Bodies? Do you even believe there is such a thing as sophomore slump? How much more difficult, if at all, was it to write Hidden Bodies compared to You?

CK     There was a moment of hyper-consciousness. Heightened because of wanting to nail the voice, but let him grow. Make a book that's seamless from the first one but also self-contained. A lot of this-but-that going on and I forced myself into that chair day after day after day until I hit it. There can never be enough said about discipline, right? I had those days where I would write many pages and look out the window of the coffee shop like you know not one word of this is going in the book, right? But that's the writing process. It's unique for everyone. I'm one of those people, I write a book and a half to get a book. I love to write. And not all writing is going to survive the journey. It isn't supposed to because some of it is you getting back in the head of the character. I laugh now, but I wrote a few kills, where it didn't feel right, but it was like, oh yeah, this is what it's like to be Joe, this feels like it, inside his head. But that's not enough. It's about feeling like what it is to be him at a specific moment, the moment that the story picks up, realizing, ah, it begins again when he's walking down the street, he's going to buy flowers, he's normal as all fuck but then he gets that spasm: He killed people and this means he might have to pay for it. That was the point of entry that felt like home, like the truth.

DE     In grad school a professor said that the reason why Flannery O'Connor's stories are so popular is because "she writes like a man." Obviously, your narrator for both You and Hidden Bodies is a man, the same man, but beyond that do you feel that you do, in fact, "write like a man"? Do you feel this is a preposterous assertion to make about an author? Do men and women write differently?

CK     Oh, God, your professor... oh, God. Flannery O'Connor writes like Flannery O'Connor. That's my opinion. I just had a lunch with some authors where we all got worked up about this. Like, no. Writing is not a male activity. It is a human activity. That is why there are the million mugs with the Cheryl Strayed quote, "Write like a motherfucker." A motherfucker is a beast. That is the goal for anyone writing.

There are men who are genuinely interested in women. There are women genuinely interested in men. There are people genuinely interested and respectful of all people. The best writers get men and women, which is why their work is compelling. That's why I think when I am reading: Does this writer give a fuck about these characters in this book? To me, you can feel it when a woman is like fuck all you dumb men and you can feel it when a man is like oh you crazy women. My favorite storytellers dig into all humans. That's the motherfucker way!

DE     I have to say: there are some pretty intense sex scenes in Hidden Bodies—more intense, as I recall, than those in You. Did you intend to write about Joe and Love so intensely; was it a case of not holding back in describing their relationship in order to make the novel work?

CK     It's not intentional but even in early drafts it was clear to me that in this book, Joe is going to have some intense love. You is a winter story, this coldness, this frustration. Hidden Bodies is spring. It's summer. This is the part of his life where he gets what he wants. And then of course, he gets burnt. Again and again. Literally burnt by the sun. And the comedy is that he's a murderer but he perceives himself as a victim. It's so different to start with him where he's being satisfied, getting laid, getting loved. He's got this swagger. Basic needs are a big part of this story, this biological desire to have food and sex, what happens when those needs are met, when the aspirations for more kick in. Like, his horror at that bathtub full of champagne. His intense, all-consuming desire to be someone's everything, that "everythingship" he wanted with Beck in the first book, his desire for Love to drain that tub of money in the second, that is Joe. And then he's just an entertaining, hypocritical prick because oh, he does enjoy that bedding at the Chateau, doesn't he?

DE     I believe the moment I laughed most out loud while reading Hidden Bodies was when I got to the end of a chapter, found out a character had died, and there was an emoji on its own line just under the reveal. A smiley face, no less. Will the smiley face stay in the final version of Hidden Bodies set to be released later in February? Do you plan on using more emojis in future novels? And, to that end, do you think an entire novel could be written using emojis? (Perhaps one already has?) Could that be where novels are headed, decades and decades from now?

CK     YAYAYAYAY. That made me so happy so omigod it is so awesome to hear you say that. Like seriously, the bestest feeling in the world. I am so fascinated by how our minds are changing because of these new languages, these new territories we live in. How we can now speak in cartoons and images in this way that is so modern, yet also so Sanskrit, so elemental, right? That moment felt so good, that smiley face. That smiley face is in the final book because oh God, the thing about emojis, they're so warm and yet so cold, right? I use that one with the heart eyes all the time, I like the way it looks, what it conveys, eyes full of love. But then I'm like, that is how it feels to me. What does it feel like to you? I can see where it also looks fucking scary and obsessive. Heart eyes! With the future, oh who knows, right? When it works, it works. I hope it will work again because I love that moment so so so much. And it is easy to imagine a new field of emoji storytelling. I mean fiction reflects how we live, and I know now, some of my favorite conversations are in emoji-form, sending ones that make no sense, playing around. That said, gimme them words. 😊

DE     Who are you reading currently? Any time for reading at all?

CK     Not enough time! I'm writing so much and reading a lot of science for this one book, a lot of writing about H.P. Lovecraft and other things I don't want to say because it's all still gestating. Most recently I read Phillip Roth's Paternity and Mary Kubica's Don't You Cry. And I loved 'em both.

DE     How has LA been treating you? Do you plan on becoming a permanent resident, or is a move back to the East Coast at all in your future?

CK     Oh yes, I'm a permanent resident here. I love it, it amuses me, it baffles me, I love LA. And I love to tease it, too. In June it will be twelve years, which blows my mind. I take big breaks. I like to go back to Cape Cod in the summer, it's odd to be that asshole, coming for the summer when I grew up there year round, so I also like to go in off-season, any time, really. Cape Cod is special. I go a couple months, and I just gotta get back there. I love LA as long as I can get away. I tend to hang around my neighborhood, I think that's an LA thing, you find your one square mile and you just fucking stay there. Also with something like Postmates where they will bring you Starbucks, oh God, it's easy to stay home.

DE     How do you manage your social media time and your writing time? Do you set aside time for each, or are you good at multi-tasking?

CK     I go with the flow, to a degree. When I'm consumed, when the majority of my thoughts are about my books, I stay off of it. Sometimes this is on the weekend, sometimes during the week. It varies. I binge. So I will write like 30 pages in a day and feel so in my head that I can't sleep and then I will take a day and do nothing but let those pages kind of simmer in my head. I make notes in the phone, fix that, fuck that.

Weekdays, I make a schedule in the morning. Generally, I wake up like, oh man, I'm ready, get me to a coffee shop right this second and that's when I write in the morning. Other days I wake up well aware that I am driving somewhere random and trying on clothes and twiddling my thumbs. I am so prone to imbalance. When I get into it, I won't eat or move about the cabin or drink water or anything. It's odd. Like I will go on Facebook but I won't get up and walk outside. I just stay in the computer. So for me, it works out well that sometimes I go on my walk-abouts where I get nothing done. I am afraid of blood clots from sitting so much. (Hi, Mom.)

DE     In the (good?) old days, the vast majority of writers just wrote; now they promote as well. What are your feelings toward the need for authors to promote their work, to build an audience, a following, even a brand?

CK     I think if you're living and writing in 2016 then you are probably going to be on the social media. My friend and I, we laugh about those writers in the '80s. What the hell was that even? They wrote their books and then what? They sat around at the Odeon and they didn't Tweet or Instagram or Facebook or anything. No Goodreads. No stream of criticism-validation-question-love-judgment-notification-radio-silence.

The way I see it, it's the greatest feeling, when people are revved up about your book. We live in a very communicative world. We're all figuring it out together. I've met some fantastic people because of the Internet. Readers who get it and bloggers who post and you can feel the passion. It's about that translation. I got so high writing and now I get to know that other people are reading, getting that high, compelled to tell people. That is a dream. The pure connection, pure book club joy of oh yes omigod you get it we are in it together now you know Joe yayayaya!

And it's a dream when people like Stephen King and Lena Dunham and B.J. Novak are online talking about your book. I love what they've created. I love their minds. So if they tell me about what they're into, I'm going to check it out. And the pace of it all! I think of waiting for the next issue of Sassy Magazine to come out, that was once a month. And we live in this world where Sassy is out all day, every day. It's a lot. But life is always a lot. Distraction exists. The Odeon in the '80s, Instagram, an Apple box full of Roseanne, a herd of wild hogs. It's always on you to write.

Brands fascinate me. We all have brands now, whether you're a reader or a writer. You're presenting yourself, your look, your style. It's fucking crazy. I love it. To observe the modern way. We are all Applebees and this is the future and the present and it's endlessly fascinating to me.

DE     You're gearing up for a book tour that will take you to Texas, California, back to Texas, and then on to New York, Massachusetts and England, with possible stops in Phoenix and Kentucky in between. Did you do a book tour for You? If you did, what's it like being on one? What are your thoughts on book tours? Still necessary, in this age of instant, digital connection?

CK     I'm so excited to meet the people from the computer, you know? That is the greatest feeling. That's where it all circles back to the wonder of these machines. Touring now is more exciting than ever because over all this time, there are so many people I've talked to, messages, Tweets, and now I'm going to these places and they're going to be there. That is so utterly, profoundly spectacular. That's something so special about a tour in 2016. So I feel pretty much blessed. Also, it's hysterical to me, to write about the danger of telling the world where you are, because of the Joes out there, and then here I am, announcing my appearances. It's funny because of this particular character. It's meta. It's 😊