Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Q&A with Kathleen Barber

Kathleen Barber is the author of the new novel Follow Me. She also has written the novel Truth Be Told. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Q: You write that the inspiration for this novel came from something you came across on the internet involving men who spy on women through their webcams. How did this discovery turn into Follow Me?

A: I don’t have the words to described how unsettled I was when I stumbled across an article entitled “Meet the Men Who Spy on Women through Their Webcams.”

I couldn’t decide what I found most horrifying: that it was reportedly very easy for these creeps to remotely install software on your computer granting them access to your hard drive and webcam, or that some of these men made a game out of collecting “slaves” (their name for the women they spied on) and then trading or even selling access to them amongst themselves.

I had such a visceral reaction to the article that I instantly knew I wanted to write about it. I wanted to explore how it felt to be on both sides of the comprised webcam, and so, in Follow Me, you’ll find a woman who is being secretly watched through her laptop and a man who is doing the watching.

Q: You tell the story from several characters' perspectives. Did you always know who your point-of-view characters would be, or did you change things around as you wrote?

A: I’ve always thought that each of the narrators—Audrey, Cat, and “Him”—have a perspective that’s imperative to the story, and so I always knew I wanted to hear each of their voices. I initially conceived the story in three parts, with each of them getting one chunk of the novel.

Once I started writing it, however, I changed my mind about the structure. The problem with my original plan was that the reader only knew what the current narrator knew, which meant they were missing out on a lot of the machinations behind the scenes.

Specifically, I had given Audrey the first portion of the book, and that meant I couldn’t reveal the steps that the character known as “Him” was taking to follow her. I decided to instead intersperse the characters’ perspectives, and I think that really heightened the tension.

Q: What do you think the novel says about the use of social media today?

A: Follow Me is both a love letter to social media and a cautionary tale about it.

In many ways, I’m a big fan of social media—I love that it allows me to remain in touch with old friends and to connect with new writing friends and readers, and I love to discover new books and other types of art through social media.

But I’ve always been really curious about and suspicious of influencer culture and the way many of these influencers package their lives for consumption, and so I wanted to explore that in this book.

In Follow Me, Audrey is as online as you can get: she’s both an influencer in her personal life, and a social media manager in her professional life. Living her life online in second nature to her.

It’s been largely successful for her thus far, helping her achieve minor fame and secure her dream job, and she no longer stops to worry about whether she’s sharing too much.

As social media becomes an ever-increasing presence in our daily lives, I wonder if we’re getting too complacent about it and whether we, like Audrey, are sharing too much without even realizing it.

Q: The novel takes place in D.C. How important is setting to you in your writing?

A: It’s important to me that I can visualize the setting, and so I only set my books in places that I’m familiar with.

My first novel, Truth Be Told (originally published as Are You Sleeping), was set in a fictionalized version of my hometown in Illinois, and the protagonist Josie lived in a neighborhood not far from my own former neighborhood in Brooklyn.

In Follow Me, Audrey and Cat live in the neighborhood in D.C. where I reside, and, while the actual building Audrey lives in doesn’t exist, it’s a mash-up of a few real buildings in the neighborhood. The coffee shop she frequents likewise doesn’t actually exist, but shares similarities with my favorite local spot.

As you might be able to tell, I don’t feel constrained in representing a setting exactly as it stands in real life, but I do think it’s important to be able to capture its general feel.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on another suspense novel with a social media bent. It’s still in the drafting stages and subject to change, so I don’t want to say too much about it—but I’m excited about it!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: It probably comes as no shock to you that I’m often on social media, so please connect with me on Twitter or Instagram!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Kathleen Barber.

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