Caroline Kepnes interview

Family-friendly TV writer delves into the dark mind of a psychopath

Interview, Time In
Interview, Time In

Following a stint writing for clean-cut, family-friendly TV shows, US author Caroline Kepnes delves into the dark mind and world of a psychopath in her new book You.

‘I write because I like to imagine what it would be like to be different people,’ says Caroline Kepnes. Her definition of ‘people’ is certainly expansive – the first stories she wrote as a kid took the points of views of mice and ‘this tuba that had a disturbing inner life.’ Her debut novel You takes the furious, expletive-laden voice of Joe, a charismatic bookstore clerk whose keen pursuit of a customer named Beck unfolds in a mad and macabre love story that’s earning comparisons to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

This is a dark, nasty book. Yet you were once a staff writer for the family-friendly TV shows 7th Heaven and The Secret Life of the American Teenager. What gives?
The first story I ever sent into the world was about a young girl who dies accidentally. So I have always had the darkness in me. And I gravitate to extremes, which is why I was attracted to the clean-cut universe of something like 7th Heaven.

Did anything in particular inspire this story?
I watched my vivacious dad be mostly confined to a couch for two years, stricken with cancer. Losing him was emotionally gruelling – it changes how you live and think. I had all these new horrible and beautiful memories, the nonstop pain that comes with loss, the awkwardness of adjusting to the quieter world, realising that it’s true. You never adjust. I needed a new obsession, a place to go. Joe was it.

And Joe is obsessive. He hacks into Beck’s phone and emails, and her boyfriend’s Twitter account, to manipulate and ensnare her.
I wanted to capture this particular moment where we are all savvy stalkers, when it’s so easy to know so much about someone based on so little. The word ‘follower’ used to have a negative connotation; now people want to follow and be followed. It was so much fun to unleash Joe, a singular follower, onto this landscape of people cultivating followings.

Joe has a pretty negative opinion of people who read Stephen King novels. Are you a fan?
I love everything about Stephen King. On Writing should be mandatory in all schools the world over. I love him as a fellow New Englander, but also for the way he can make you laugh, cry and cower at once. He writes from the heart, with such confidence.

Some early press focuses on the fact that you’re a woman writing as a man. Does that bother you?
You don’t have to have hair on your chest to write about having hair on your chest. Classic example: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. She was 18 when she started that book – while in a contest with a bunch of guys to see who could write the best horror story.

What do you make of the Gone Girl comparisons?
It’s mind-blowing. Gillian sees all sides of a character and a crime. And the lens that she brought on the McMansion – if anyone feels I’ve done something similar with the Twitter generation, I’m thrilled.
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