Today I have Kiley Roache on the blog to talk all about her debut novel, Frat Girl! (You can read my review of the book here as well as check out my playlist). She’s also written The Dating Game, and will have a murder mystery book about TikTokers called Killer Content releasing on November 30! For now, check out my interview with Kiley below!
What inspired Frat Girl? Additionally, I know in the acknowledgements section, you mention some of your college friends who inspired characters — how much of the book was inspired by your personal college experience?
The initial idea for Frat Girl came about when a male friend from my freshman dorm at Stanford jokingly bet me $50 dollars to rush a fraternity. Although I did not end up taking him up on this, I started thinking about what that experience would be like for the first woman to join such a traditionally masculine group. At the same time, another fraternity on campus held a vote about whether they should break away from their national organization and let in women. That proposal did not get enough votes, but the idea stuck in my head.
I was wrapping up my first year of college and thinking a lot about how the social structures on campus impacted women. It was something my friends and I spent a lot of time talking about, and I felt it was an important conversation that I wanted to have with more people. I wrote Frat Girl the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college.
The book is set at a fictional school called Warren University, and while I share some similarities with the main character, Cassie Davis, there are also many ways we are different. The characters, setting, and plot of the story are all made up. However, I would say that the emotional truth of the story is based on my experience at Stanford. Like the characters in the book, throughout college I forged deep friendships, fell in love, took intellectually exhilarating classes, found encouragement from rock star mentors, and became a surer version of myself. I also did a fair amount of partying at fraternities, which I can now tell my parents was for “research purposes.”
What was your writing process like? (i.e., did you outline everything first, write out of order, etc.)
I do a little bit of all of those things. I usually start with an idea like—“girl joins a frat to document their behavior” or “three college freshman create a popular dating app; and fall into a love triangle of their own” (my second book, The Dating Game).
Once I have an idea I can’t let go of, I start writing whichever scenes I see most clearly. During this time, I jump around out of order and just explore. Once I have about 50 pages of material, I take a step back and see what I like most, and what threads I’d like to pull at. Then I outline the book. After I have a solid outline I go back to drafting. So basically, I am an “outline first” person, but I do a bit of writing at the top so I can find the voice of the characters and explore them and their world without yet needing to know where the story is going.
Throughout the book, Cassie’s not 100% sure where she stands with DTC’s president, Peter. Still, it seems like her and Marco get along quite well. When Cassie sneaks into Peter’s room and sees the scores given to her by the executive section, Marco gives her a decent score, while Sebastian and Peter give her low scores. Peter later explains that he couldn’t make it look like he was favoring her, but wouldn’t he and Marco have had a majority vote, for lack of a better term, against Bass?
Great question. My thought was that Peter was keeping count during the vote and knew that Cassie was going to make it in no matter what he put down as her score. Peter wanted the frat to go co-ed, but also knew it would be a tough sell with some of the guys. So, by not giving Cassie a high score when they voted, it didn’t change if she got in or not, but it gave him an ability to tell those who were originally against Cassie joining, “look, I wasn’t about this at first either, but look how well it’s going.”
Cassie later calls him an “evil genius” for this plan, but he thinks he’s more “a rough-around-the-edges, deeply-troubled-but-ultimately-good hero” ala Han Solo. Either way he was a very fun character to write!
We see Cassie confront her own biases and unfair assumptions, even as she works with her frat brothers to confront their own. Was there anything you learned through the research/writing of the book that surprised you, or made you change your own views?
That’s a really good question. I think it’s always important to engage with perspectives other than your own, and to interrogate your biases. There were definitely things I learned while writing the book, and also generally while working my way through college, which changed my perspective.
Throughout the book, I wanted the characters to meet people who challenged each other’s views. For young men like Duncan, Bambi, Jordan, and Peter this means understanding the perspectives of women, and how they might experience fraternity houses, campus, and the world differently. For Cassie, her fundamental belief in feminism, in equality among the sexes, remains steadfast. She does however, encounter women who define what feminism looks like in a different way than she does, which challenges the details, but not the core, of her views. I definitely think this mirrored my experience during college, as I lived in dorms with people of various perspectives and backgrounds, and saw my own beliefs challenged and further developed through the conversations I had.
Were there any scenes you had to cut from the book that you loved? Can you tell me a little bit about any of them?
There was a lot of editing and revision that went into the book, in partnership with my agent and editors, and there were certainly scenes that got cut and others that were added. I’ve had such a great experience working with my team, and typically they would ask me questions like “What was this characters motivation here/ can you dig more into that?” or “Things seem to slow down here/ what can we cut that doesn’t serve the story?” So, it was never like I was told I had to cut a scene that I otherwise loved. The scenes I did cut, well, all these years later, I honestly can’t remember them, which I think really speaks to the wisdom of my editors in suggesting a cut could be made.
Will we ever see characters from “Frat Girl” pop up in any of your other books? (Sequels, companion novels, etc.)
Yes! My second book is set at the same fictional college as Frat Girl, and there’s reference to Cassie and DTC. As for a sequel, that’s something I’d love to write in the future—so that’s definitely a possibility.
How do you think Cassie, Jordan, and the rest of the gang would be handling quarantine?
Oh, great question! I think that Cassie and Jordan would share an apartment off campus this summer as Cassie does a remote internship for the San Francisco Chronicle and Jordan tries to keep up his soccer training by doing YouTube workouts in their living room. I think they’d have a bunch of Zoom happy hours with Duncan, Bambi, and the rest of the crew. Peter, who’s probably working remotely for Senator Harris or the Biden campaign, would join the Zooms when he could, amid much fanfare. I think that Bambi would be living in the DTC house alone during the summer, and constantly Facetiming people to show them how their rooms are doing in their absence.
I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that “Frat Girl” would make a really cool movie or limited series. Have you given any thought to who you’d like to see play your characters in an adaptation?
Thanks so much! That would be so cool. I haven’t thought that much about it, but it’s fun to dream up a fantasy cast. I am a huge fan of Florence Pugh and would love for her to play Cassie. Michael Evans Behling would make a great Jordan. Tom Holland would be perfect for Peter. And then I’d love Asa Butterflied for Bambi, Ramona Young for Jackie, and Emma Mackey for Alex.
What can you tell me, if anything, about your next book? Do you tend to always write college-aged stories?
My second book, The Dating Game, is out now! It’s the story of three college freshman who create a popular dating app which ranks each user based on how many times someone swipes right or left on them. And to make matters even more complicated, the startup founders are in a love triangle of their own.
I don’t always write college-aged stories, but it’s definitely something I enjoy and think I’ll continue to do.
Huge thanks to Kiley for answering all of my questions! Make sure to check out Frat Girl and let me know what you think!