Kiley Roache is the author of Frat Girl and a senior at Stanford University. She is a multi-published journalist, with bylines for The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and The Huffington Post. She is originally from the Midwest and has a dog named Chewbacca.
Make Muse: Why are you a “Woman Who Writes?”
Kiley: I first started writing to make sense of my own thoughts and emotions. I’m often writing about the same things my friends and I can’t stop talking about. For example, how we felt joining Greek organizations as feminists, and whether the two were compatible.
The great thing about sharing your writing, as nerve-wracking as it is, whether it be in a book, article, Tweet or blog, is that you get to start a conversation about the thing you care about with other people. Sometimes you may put your thoughts into words and people say “I feel the same way!” and that can make you feel less alone, which is great. Sometimes people will say “I feel very differently” and you have the opportunity to learn from them, and gain a greater perspective, which is also invaluable.
Make Muse: You like to write about social and political issues. What kinds of topics within those broad themes does you work center around?
Kiley: With Frat Girl, the main social/ political issue I addressed was gender equality. I am very intrigued by the idea of “ the personal is political”. Cassie, the main character, confronts politics not because the book is about the political process directly (no one is running for anything) but because political issues are not just things that are debated in US history classes or the floor of the Senate—they affect each of our lives quite intimately. Cassie’s experience walking around campus is different than that of her male friends particularly because of the social forces around her, and the way they are institutionalized in politics. In that way, her story is inherently political.
Make Muse: You have said that you wanted to be a writer, “To show that individuals carry powerful stories and contain multitudes, whether they live a neighborhood or a world away.” Can elaborate on this reasoning?
Kiley: Yes, I think that we all understand our own lives and the lives of our close friends to be complex and meaningful. But sometimes we have a tendency to assume that people we pass on the street, and people across the world that we do not know are somehow just background extras in our story, and the stories of people like us. What the written word allows, is for us to know intimately and in their complexity another person, whom we might not be able to meet in face to face. I think that it has great potential to build understanding and compassion, and if I can contribute even in a small way to that process, I would be proud of my career.
Make Muse: What is the first piece or story writing ever? What was it about?
Kiley: The first story I ever remember writing was about a dolphin trainer. I think I was about 6 at the time. I couldn’t read or write yet, but my grandmother, who my family calls GaGa, transcribed it for me, and I drew the pictures. The first thing I wrote that vaguely resembled a novel was in the 7th grade. I didn’t finish that, or a number of other ideas I started. The first manuscript I finished I started my sophomore year of high school, set aside my junior year, and finished my senior year. I learned a lot from completing a manuscript, which really informed how I approached writing Frat Girl.
Make Muse: Tell us about what prompted you to write Frat Girl. How did you go about writing it? How long did it take to write?
Kiley: I first got the idea for Frat Girl when one of my friends jokingly bet me $50 to rush a fraternity. But the real reason I wrote it was because I was wrapping up my freshman year of college, and I was 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 started writing it the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college. Every author has a slightly different process, but I tend to free-write or “pants” as some people call it, for a few weeks to get to know the characters and get my ideas down on paper. Then I stop for a moment and outline, so I make sure I can see the forest for the trees, before returning to writing. I wrote the first draft of Frat Girl in about four months. Once I have the first draft done, I put it in the drawer for a few weeks, and then revise it by myself. Then I send it off to get input from my agent and editor, and revise again.
Make Muse: What was it like writing a book while a college student? What were the reactions of your friends or peers?
Kiley: Well, I was fortunate that I was able to spend a summer living at home and putting the first draft together. So in that way it was sort of my “summer internship” that year. But I definitely had to practice time management during the revision process, when I was back on campus and taking classes. I made sure to set aside certain times during the weeks for writing.
My friends have all been very supportive of the book, which has been great. I have always said that the friends I have made in college are like a second family to me, and I actually dedicated Frat Girl to them. They have cheered on my writing from the beginning. I had a book signing at Kepler’s Books, which is right near Stanford’s campus, and a bunch of my friends came to it, which made me so happy.
Make Muse: The book contrasts two F-words in society- Fraternities and Feminism. The book goes further into how these terms are not that “simple.” Can you elaborate on the broadness of both the Greek life system and the fight for equality for women that exist? How has it been watching the media debate these topics and share the wide-range of opinions existent?
Kiley: Throughout the book, the main character, Cassie Davis, has her understanding of the Greek system challenged. At first, she wants to write off the whole thing, and all those involved with it, completely. But over the year she lives there, she sees how these organizations can provide community and support, and sees a number of the young men grow and learn. She comes to conclude that there is no real reason while living in a house with your friends and having parties should have negative social outcomes like misogyny. Rather than wanting to get rid of Greek life, she ends up suggesting that by changing these organizations so they are not defined by gender, it is possible to keep the good of them while dispelling the bad.
The book also delves into various perspectives on feminism. For example, there is a conflict between second wave feminist beliefs about sexuality and third wave sex-positive feminist ideas, which comes to a head when Cassie and her friend Alex argue with a teacher who is unwaveringly second-wave. There is also 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.
Make Muse: What is your personal definition of feminism?
Kiley: For me it is “a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes,” a dictionary definition that I first encountered through Chimamanda Ngozi’s TEDx talk “We Should All Be Feminists.”
Make Muse: What are some of your favorite female-focused publications (news sites, online media)?
Make Muse: Do you have a favorite female author or book by a female author?
Kiley: One of my favorite non-fiction writers is Roxanne Gay and one of my favorites for fiction is Sandra Cisneros. They both have a number of fantastic works, but I’d say a good starting point for each is Bad Feminist and The House On Mango Street.
Make Muse: What are your plans for future writing? Would you like to continue writing books, articles, or something else?
Kiley: Both! I plan to continue writing fiction and am working right now on revising my second book, which will be published by the same HarperCollin’s imprint as Frat Girl. At the same time, I hope to continue to grow as a journalist, as I intern in London at the Wall Street Journal this summer and then head to Columbia Journalism School in the fall.