Cat Person writer Kristen Roupenian on her viral success & new short story collection

Kristen Roupenian's new collection of short fiction, You Know You Want This, comes out on Jan. 15. She talks to CBC Radio's q about her viral success.
You Know You Want This is a short story collection by Kristen Roupenian. (Simon & Schuster/Elisa Roupenian Toha)

One weekend, just over a year ago, the internet's unwieldy attention was trained on a piece of short fiction called Cat Person. Kristen Roupenian's story about a 20-year-old woman and 34-year-old man's awkward sexual encounter sparked conversations on consent, power and gender dynamics.

It's rare to see short fiction go viral, which is perhaps how Roupenian ended up with a seven-figure, two-book deal. She's now published her first book, You Know You Want This, which is a collection of short fiction featuring Cat Person and 11 other stories. You Know You Want This comes out on Jan. 15.

Tom Power, host of CBC Radio's qspoke to Roupenian about the new book. 

On going viral

"I don't know the answer. I think, partly, it was timing. There were a lot of conversations happening around that time about gender and consent that people wanted to talk about in a real in-depth way. Having a fictional story to talk about, as opposed to a first person essay, which is how a lot of these stories tend to enter the public consciousness, I think in retrospect was a great thing because it let people — to a tiny degree — set aside the idea that they had to immediately determine who was right and who was wrong, what was true and what was not true. They could talk about the story, the characters Margot and Robert, and identify with them or judge them, and do that with the freedom that these are not real people. This is not a real woman who has come forward with her story and is asking for understanding. It's a story and it lets us talk about our own stories and our own ideas, but with this mediating piece of fiction in between.

"I think that was a very surprising and unexpected moment that the story entered into. But, I think short stories should go viral all the time. I think that's why fiction is great. I said to someone, 'I was sad I missed that weekend, when everyone was at parties talking about a short story.' I was hiding under a bed because it was my story. But I hope one goes viral and I can have a lot of opinions about it and tweet about them passionately."

Finding an audience

"It's for anyone who wants it, as the title suggests. In some ways, I imagine that, as with most writing, the easiest leap will be for people who have an experience similar to mine, or the most clear set of shared experiences: young-ish women who have been dating and wrestling with questions of power and consent. They are the ones that picked up Cat Person and shared it in a way that was passionate and engaged.

"But at the same time, me as a reader, I am always making huge leaps across age and gender and life experience. I think, in that sense, anyone who is open to that level of discomfort, for whom reading is a thing that unsettles rather than soothes them and tells them things that make them uncomfortable — if you like that experience, you'll be able to find some way of having it in at least one of the stories."

Kristen Roupenian's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Listen to Kristen Roupenaian's interview on q:

Kristen Roupenian is the writer behind 'Cat Person', the short story that went viral on The New Yorker website back in 2017. She's releasing her first collection of short stories called You Know You Want This. 18:46

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.