How This College Student Published Her First Book Before Graduating
Is writing a book on your bucket list? Kiley Roache wasted no time in making it happen for herself.
She's now a senior at Stanford University and her first of two books is about to be published by Harlequin TEEN, an imprint of HarperCollins on March 27, 2018. Titled Frat Girl, this novel is about a girl who pledges a notorious fraternity as a research project to prove their misogynistic behavior. With a feminist in the frat house, you know the story is going to be fascinating.
Despite accomplishing such a major milestone before even earning her degree, her road to publishing Frat Girl represents years of dedication to honing her craft and pursuing her passion for writing. Read on to learn how you can do the same and check off whatever big endeavor finds itself on your bucket list.
What was your inspiration for writing Frat Girl?
My freshman year of college, I had a majority guy group of friends for the first time in my life. And I lived in the same dorm as them. It was my conversations and interactions throughout this year which inspired a lot of Cassie’s emotional experience, as she navigates the personal and political experience of a young woman in a male-dominated space.
The actual spark for the idea of the book came when my friend A.T. jokily bet me $50 to rush a fraternity. I laughed, but then started to wonder what that would be like. I realized that this person’s experience would in many ways be the epitome of what me and my female friends experienced throughout campus–whether it be at a frat party or a lecture hall where women are less than equally represented. I wrote the first draft of the book between my freshman and sophomore year, as I tried to make sense of my own experiences.
Can you give us a glimpse of what the writing process was like for you?
I wrote the first draft of Frat Girl as my “summer job,” after my freshman year of college. I drafted a lot of the book in sweatpants with a cup of coffee on my desk and my puppy, Chewbacca, on my lap. I would typically try to write between four and seven hours a day. After that first draft, I set it aside for a bit to get some distance, and then went back and did my first round of revision. Once I had a draft I felt good about, I got key insights from my agent and my editor and then jumped back in to revise again.
How was writing a book different from writing an article?
The obvious answer is that it’s longer. While this seems unexciting, there are actually a lot of unique challenges and joys that come with that length. For one thing, you can be excited about an article idea, write it, and share it, all within a few weeks or days.
There are a lot more ups and downs with writing a book. You may be excited for a while, but then somewhere in the middle of the first draft, you might have days when you’re not sure if you have part of a book or 40,000 random words in a row. But you also learn a lot through that process—how to sustain conflict, to establish the foundations for your character’s growth, how to convey themes. When you do end up with something that feels like a real book, it is quite an amazing moment.
What did you learn about feminism throughout the writing process?
I learned a lot about feminism while writing Frat Girl, particularly as I considered the different perspectives of the various women Cassie interacts with throughout the book.
For example, in the book there is a conflict between second wave feminist beliefs about sexuality and third wave sex-positive feminist ideas. Another example of this is the debate about whether feminism should mean that women should adopt traditionally masculine views of success and power, or if it should be about validating and lifting up that which is traditionally feminine. Cassie is confronted with this question by a number of sorority women who insist that it’s okay to be strong, driven women who also like pink and crafting.
While working on the book, I learned that part of being a feminist is listening to other women and considering their point of view when forming your beliefs.
What message do you hope to convey to readers of Frat Girl?
To question the status quo and to stand up for what you believe in. To not accept the structures around you, what your friends and peers are doing, or what adults tell you is “just the way things are.” You get to determine what the future looks like.
What ultimately drives you to write?
Connecting with other people. I wanted to write a book that someone would read and say “yes, they get what I am going through!” I wrote the book I would want to give my little sister as she started her freshman year of college. And I wrote the book I would like to give any girl anywhere who has experienced life in a male-dominated space, which unfortunately is many of us.
You’ve been featured in so many publications, from the Huffington Post to the San Francisco Chronicle to the Chicago Tribune. How did you land those opportunities and what advice would you have for someone interested in a career in media or journalism?
I did it by starting small and not stopping. When I was a sophomore in high school, I saw an advertisement seeking a student columnist at The Doings, the neighborhood paper where I lived. I applied and was named one of the columnists and spent a year doing that, where I wrote about, among other things, how A Tale of Two Cities connected to Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, and interviewed Veronica Roth about the release of Divergent.
After that, I was chatting about journalism with a girl from another school at a high school football game, and she mentioned she had written for the Chicago Tribune’s teen publication, The Mash. When I got home that night, I applied, and a few weeks later I joined The Mash. While there, some of my articles, like a cover story about social media and body image and a piece about learning literary terms using Taylor Swift songs, were picked up by Huffington Post Teen.
After the second one, I took a chance and emailed Huffington Post Teen asking if I could write for them directly, and they responded positively. I used my clips from these and my journalism classes to apply to the San Francisco Chronicle.
To someone starting out in media and journalism, I would say to write consistently and publish wherever you can, as well as to seek mentors and listen to your editors, as they have so much to teach you.
What have you learned about finding your voice throughout your years of writing?
Trust yourself. It’s important to read a lot and learn the rules; but then don’t be afraid to make the bold choice to break the rules, knowing exactly what you are doing and why you are doing it. And in addition to reading books in the genre you write, read other genres, listen to music, look at visual art, and watch TV shows and movies since there is a lot to learn about voice and style outside of your own creative space.
I wanted to write a book that someone would read and say “yes, they get what I am going through!” I wrote the book I would want to give my little sister as she started her freshman year of college.
What are some challenges you have faced as a young woman in the world of media and journalism and how have you overcome them?
When I was 17-years-old, reporting on events like boy band concerts, a lot of people would see me, a young woman, in the press area and assume I was lost or snuck somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be. The first time this happened I was really hurt and embarrassed. But I had great mentors who told me to politely show my credentials and state that I had the right to be there. I think a huge reason I was able to overcome challenges like that was due to the editors, many of them women themselves, who supported and encouraged me and my fellow teen reporters.
If someone aspires to become a stronger writer, what are your top tips for upping your writing game?
Read! It’s classic advice, but it’s so true.
Publishing a book at any age is no easy feat, but publishing a book while in college is particularly impressive. How did you make that goal happen amidst everything else that comes with being a student?
That’s a good question, and one I wonder myself, especially with finals approaching. I think the main answer is discipline. I sometimes write late into the night, or early in the morning. Sometimes I stay in when my friends are going out. But if you love it, and you have a cup of coffee, it’s not too bad. In high school, I used to write fiction between midnight and 1 a.m., after I finished my homework, even though I had to get up for school at 7. I just couldn’t not do it.
What other goals do you have for your writing career?
There are the really cool, big dream things: a book tour, the New York Times list, or an adaptation for film or TV. But I think the main goal is for someone to really connect with the book, and feel like it connects with them and their experience. To see the way you are feeling or something that happened to you reflected on the page of a book written by a person you haven’t met is a pretty special feeling. For me, it always makes me feel less alone. It helps me feel seen. I hope I can do that for at least one person.
We can’t end this interview without getting your book recommendations. What are some of your favorite reads?
Oh, what a good question! There are so many I love. For a great fantasy series, anything by Cassandra Clare is a great choice. For literary, my favorite book is The House on Mango Street. It is so vivid and emotional and moving, I cannot recommend it enough. For contemporary YA, I would say anything written by Julie Murphy, but especially Ramona Blue. Also The Hate U Give, which was the last book that absolutely astounded me, and Simon Vs. the Homosapiens Agenda, which is totally swoon-worthy and heartwarming. Oh and speaking of swoon–Anna and the French Kiss is perfection! And finally, for books coming out this month that I am super excited about, I would say The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, Twelve Steps to Normal by Farrah Penn, and Time Bomb by Joelle Charbonneau.
featured image by Harlequin TEEN