When someone asks about my inspiration for Joe Goldberg, I always pause.
There are always three ways for me to answer this question. There is the personal truth about my life. I lost my father in November of 2012. He was a powerful force in my life. His voice and his contagious passion for all creations in literature and TV, song and film, Tolkien and Led Zeppelin, Stephen King and Sex and the City. He was a huge influence. Towards the end, when cancer was winning, he was on YouTube, finding new bands, raising his voice in song, going to Monterey Pop.
Someone like that slips away, and there is a hole in your world. Anyone who’s ever lost anyone knows about this. You try to remember the basic rules of life, which is, first and foremost, as my dad always said, that it’s for the living. My mom was right when she said that I should write something. (Moms: Why do they get to be right so much?) And I wanted to pour myself into something new, a creative adventure. I wanted to keep that passion for the arts alive, thriving in my mind, in my work. This is where Joe was, from inception, someone who loved his books and his movies, someone who felt it all.
The other answer to this question is more analytical, about my passion for cultural shifts, the way my heart beats when I read about some new study on how social media impacts our brains, our hearts, the impossibility of knowing how children will be different from growing up with iPads.
It’s timeless and timely because every generation deals with social evolution. But you know, when it’s your world, at your time, it’s yours.
Here I was, participating more and more in social media. I quit smoking and it was comforting to hear so much encouragement online. I was a journalist and now it wasn’t enough to write an article. You had to tweet it. Social media was important in every domain of my life. I was aware of the dark side, the limitations of a Like-it-or-Don’t-Like approach to interaction, a disintegration of grey areas.
I was also enamored with the beauty of all this connection. You talk to people online you wouldn’t see in the real world.
And then again, I was shattered by the price we pay for that connection. It robs us of reunions. The mystery produced by distance. You go to your high school reunion, you don’t learn anything. You knew that guy had those kids. You knew she cut her hair. We don’t drift apart. We stalk. We keep tabs.
Social media is of course good and bad, like any rich territory for the world of a novel. I wanted to explore modern communication through Beck and Joe, someone who is deeply invested in social media, to her detriment, and someone who is antisocial, to his detriment.
And in the end, there is the simple, overwhelming truth of what I always set out to do when I write. To activate empathy, in both of us, you and me, and that doesn’t mean that you love Joe or hate Joe, it only means that you’re experiencing life from his perspective.
About Caroline Kepnes
Caroline Kepnes is a native of Cape Cod and the author of many published short stories. She has covered pop culture for Entertainment Weekly, Tiger Beat, E! Online, and Yahoo. She has also written for television shows, including 7th Heaven and The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Her directorial debut short film, Miles Away, premiered at the Woods Hole Film Festival. Caroline is a Brown University graduate now residing in Los Angeles in the same building that the Hillside Strangler once called home. She spends a lot of time on Cape Cod.