The Sweetest Debut: Kim Hooper on Writing a “Barf Draft” and Colbert Fanfiction

Welcome to the Sweetest Debut, a new and regular installment in which we reach out to debut (or near-debut, we’re flexible!) fiction, poetry and nonfiction authors working with presses of all sizes and find out about their pop culture diets, their writing habits, and their fan-fiction fantasies.

Today we hear from debut women’s fiction writer Kim Hooper. A story that addresses the fantasy we all have about starting our lives all over with a different identity, Hooper’s People Who Knew Me, which arrived on shelves last spring, was called “refreshingly raw and honest” by The Wall Street Journal and is currently being consumed along with appetizers and wine by book clubs around the country.

What is your elevator pitch to folks in the industry describing your book?

People Who Knew Me is about a woman who fakes her death on 9/11 to start a new life in California.

What do you tell your relatives it’s about?

Most of my relatives have short attention spans so I give them the same elevator pitch as the industry folks.

How long was this project marinating in a draft or in your head before it became a book deal?

It started as a short story in 2009. It kept begging to be a novel. I started the novel in January of 2013 and had a book deal by the end of 2014.

kim-hooper-photo-by-ashley-jennett-1What’s a canonical book you think is totally overrated?

Moby Dick.

What’s a book you’ve read more than two times?

The Witches by Roald Dahl. I loved that book as a kid.

Is there a book or other piece of art that influenced your writing for this particular project?

I watched a lot of documentaries about 9/11. I believe my character’s motivations to flee are somewhat selfish and impulsive (she’s very young and in a difficult situation in her life), but I think the chaos of that day also affects her decision. I can’t imagine anyone was thinking straight during that time. The old news footage still gives me chills.

Is there a particular TV show you like to binge watch when you’re not writing?


What’s the last movie you saw in theaters?

The Light Between Oceans.

Do you listen to music while you’re writing?

No, but sometimes I have HGTV on in the background.

Who is your fashion icon?

I am one of those people who wishes I could wear the same “uniform” every day, so I guess my fashion icon is Target.

If you could buy a second home to be your writing-only retreat anywhere in the universe, where would it be?

The Pacific Northwest.

Do you prefer writing in a buzzing coffee shop or silent library?

A silent library.

Do you write at a desk, in bed, or on a couch?

Lately, bed. Usually, a giant armchair.

Are you a morning writing or late-night writing type?

Morning. I’m in bed by 9pm.

Do you tend towards writing it all out in one big messy draft and then editing, or perfecting as you go (or something in between)?

A big messy draft. I call it the barf draft. I have to get it out before I know how to fix it.

How do you pay the bills, if not solely by your pen and your wit?

I am an Associate Creative Director of Copy at an ad agency. I write marketing materials for one of the biggest pharma companies.

people-who-knew-me-cover-1What is your trick to finding time to write your book while also doing the above?

There is no trick — except I have to set aside most weekend days, which means I have no life. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

If you could write fanfiction about any pop culture character, real or imagined, who would it be?

Stephen Colbert. Because I love him.

Care to give us a few sentences of micro-fiction about that character?

Whenever Stephen introduced himself to a new kid at school, he said, “I’m Stephen. Bet you can’t guess my middle name.” The kid would give up after 20 guesses and Stephen would say, “Tyrone” with a satisfied smile. Stephen Tyrone. When he was nine, he asked his mother, “Why Tyrone?” and she shrugged and said, “You’re the youngest of eleven. We were running out of options.” For a while, he told his friends to call him Ty because he thought it sounded cool—cooler than Stephen, at least. Or Steve. Or, God forbid, Stevie.