Juniors and seniors had the opportunity to talk face-to-face with author and alumna Kristen Roupenian ’99 prior to her speaking about her writing journey to an adult audience at a Falmouth Academy Community Series event. Thoughtfully, the students had prepared questions prior to her talk and seniors Lenie Draper and Gedeon Pil moderated the discussion.
They asked how it felt for her short story “Cat Person” to go viral within a week of its being published in The New Yorker. The story had been submitted to the publication in the beginning of the summer, and Kristen didn’t hear a word until the end of September when the editor asked to hold on to it to tweak it a bit. It was accepted in November and published in December–becoming the second most read New Yorker story of the year and over the last five years. “I remember I was sitting in the middle of a noodle restaurant when I got the call that it had been accepted. It was the purest moment—the moment before anything else happened.”
The story went viral, criss-crossing social media and international airwaves and sparking thousands of online conversations on dating and relationships. The following week Kristen was offered a two-book publishing deal and her first book, a collection of short stories called You Know You Want This, was published in January 2019. In the midst of all this, her collection was optioned by HBO, and a film production house purchased a screenplay she had written separately.
Had she always known she wanted to be a writer? Kristen said she felt very strongly about writing in high school. “I was a big lit mag person,” she revealed. In college (Barnard) and later in the Peace Corps and her PhD program (Harvard), Kristen said there was so much going on in her head that she couldn’t focus enough to write. She had severe writer's block. Finally she rationalized most of the worries she had and reduced the causes giving her enough “head space” to write. “After a dry period like that,” she said, “whatever you write will be better than nothing. It turned out that I didn’t feel self-conscious after a while and I just knew I had to write.”
She noted that during her writer's block she had standards for herself that she wasn’t meeting. “The more you make your story do something, the harder it is to write a first draft. Just get it on the paper, then you can pare it down in the editing process.” Later when she was working with an editor, she was told, “You’re a writer – write!”
Kristen was asked what the most important quality of good writing was. She said, “There’s one thing a story should be doing—and that’s making sure that the reader reads it. Are they engaged enough to read to the end? What is going to be worth it to your reader to pick up your story and keep reading?”
What’s her favorite book from high school? Probably of all time, she said, is All the King’s Men, read in senior English. “It was such a gift to be able to read it slowly. I loved being able to stay with the book for a long time and examine the characters from a lot of different points of view.”
The seeds were planted for a skill that has proven very helpful in Kristen’s own writing.
-Barbara Campbell, Director of Alumni and Parent Relations