Caroline Frank is a new author, with In for a Penny being her debut book that she self-published through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing).
She decided on using her time spent in London working on her degree as inspiration for this book, wherein some of the experiences the main character Penny faces are ones that Caroline also faced: meeting her now-husband, racism from her British cohort (with Penny being Colombian and Caroline being Venezuelan) and dealing with annoying ex-boyfriends. The main character Penny is funny, a bit annoying at times (like everybody can be), and tends not to have a filter. Caroline Frank tells a very entertaining – and sometimes spicy – story about a young woman dealing with unsuspecting heartbreak a continent away, meeting lifelong friends who genuinely care for her, and somehow among all of that, finding the love of her life.
The interview below contains small spoilers and descriptions of sexual assault that happens within the book.
Check out our interview below with Caroline Frank!
The Knockturnal: To start with, what was your creative process – did you plan everything from the beginning, or did you start with an idea then and let the story flow?
Caroline Frank: I started with the prologue. I dreamt the prologue for 6 weeks straight – that’s actually the last time I had an interaction with my ex-boyfriend, and I wrote it to get it out of my system. From there, I kind of mapped out a story – I thought it would be a good premise to a self-growth novel. I think at the beginning I wanted it to be like a rom-com, but it evolved more into like a story of self-growth for this main character, who can be super annoying at times at the beginning of the book. The whole point is you get to watch her emotionally grow after all this horrible stuff that happens to her, even though there were times where I didn’t even like my character! I was like, ‘she’s so annoying!’ I feel like you can identify with the character because we’ve all done stupid stuff when we’re in love, or think we’re in love, or young and dumb. At least, we’ve probably had friends that have done that. I thought it was a relatable tale but she’s definitely frustrating at times.
The Knockturnal: So, what I found really great was once we were introduced to Penny, the thought that came into my head was the pun in the title based off of the saying ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ – did you come up with a character named ‘Penny’ first or did you come up with the with the title first?
Caroline Frank: I don’t know; I think it’s like the chicken or the egg thing. I mean, ‘in for a pence (penny), in for a pound’ is very British saying, to me, and the theme in the middle of the book is that she’s in this program and she may as well f—ing finish it: in for a penny, in for a pound. I wasn’t into the name that my character originally had, and then I thought, ‘oh wouldn’t it be cute if her name was also Penny?’ She comes from Latin background, so maybe her real name is Penélope, only they call her Penny because she’s Americanized since at this point and she’s been living in New York for most her life. It just evolved to there by accident.
The Knockturnal: Good puns are always great – especially ones by happy accident! So, the next question is: what made you decide to write the book about your experience in London, or was there a specific event that then inspired you to write a book?
Caroline Frank: I’ve always liked writing. I was originally a creative writing major for my undergrad before I switched, but also when I was in London, I met a fantastic group of people. I loved everyone there; I actually found love with my husband in London. When I had moved to New York I didn’t have time for anything, especially in grad school. I had stopped reading for quite a bit – around four years – and I wasn’t reading for pleasure anymore. So, while on furlough I was reading and I missed writing – I had thought, ‘oh, wouldn’t it be nice to write a romcom about how my husband and I met?’ and wrote that first chapter. Obviously, it’s not entirely the same story. My husband is actually much nicer than the character ‘Josh’ – Josh said some extremely mean things at a certain point – but I took inspiration from my relationships there. My husband actually did write me a notebook full love letters, I did meet him the first day, and he did give me granola bars.
The Knockturnal: Oh, that’s super cute! Did there happen to be events that happened with you in your life in London that didn’t make it into the book and vice versa?
Caroline Frank: Oh, for sure! I mean, like I said, it’s not 1,000% based on what happened to me. My friends from London have this thing that they want to do – they want to play a drinking game of ‘did Caroline do this or not?’ A lot of things are in there that never actually happen; like the library scene didn’t happen, the apology never happened, and my husband and I never fought – so Josh and Penny never fought. Obviously, I’m not living in London and pregnant; Oliver doesn’t get married and have twins. Big things like the Stonehenge trip actually happened and I did have a “fun” experience with a good friend of mine, haha.
The Knockturnal: Since this is your debut book, how did you decide the style/voice of it – how did you decide on the voice of Penny, especially where one of the chapters it’s just a page with five sentences on it, with what felt like an accurate portrayal of Penny’s mental state at that point in time?
Caroline Frank: I wanted to sound like your best friend was telling you the story while drinking wine. Obviously not that she’s drunk, but to the point where she’s comfortable enough with you to be passionate about what she’s telling you and has no filter of what she is thinking – there’s a lot of f-bombs and stuff in there. I think that it’s part of the reason why some people don’t like her in the beginning, because she’s so raw about everything, or at least that’s how I wanted her to come off as. The story itself is raw after Penny gets sexually assaulted, but it’s also she goes from telling you everything that’s on her mind to just being in a blurry state and not understanding what’s happening. I also wanted there to be that contrast. Obviously, it’s not fun to hear or to think about, but I feel like the majority of women have been through something like that at different levels – though, you know, I hope not everyone. I also wanted to give a point of view of why certain rape victims or victims of assault never come forward. Because in the movies or in the books we always see that the character gets their revenge, but sometimes you see people who don’t want to do anything, that pursuing something will just cause them more pain, and they just want to turn the page – literally and figuratively – and move on with their lives. I wanted that to be part of this. The conflict was there and then when I got there I was stuck, and I’m like, ‘what’s gonna happen?’ Well, Penny’s been through so much sh*t lately and she’s not going to want to keep going through this – she’s going to just build herself back up. She’s stubborn and she just wants to just move on, in my point of view.
The Knockturnal: How long have you been writing – and even with the period of not reading and not writing – and how do you think your style has changed?
Caroline Frank: I’ve been writing my whole life. I’ve been writing since I was a kid – I kept journals and short stories. Up until I was in college, I’d say that my voice was much more jaded and cynical; I would call it a little bit more angsty. Now it’s definitely changed; I think I’ve grown up and my voice has grown up, too, but it still has that kind of sassiness to it. Definitely, when I was younger it was more like, ‘who hurt you man, like, what happened?’
The Knockturnal: Our voice changes as we grow and how we perceive things, too, I feel like. Was there any additional research that you had to do, either about London or about Stonehenge or did you just use what you learned while in London?
Caroline Frank: So, I lived in London and geographically it wasn’t that much of an issue, but obviously there were some things that I had to re-think – I had a line about J-Lo in Hustlers, for example, and when Penny is doing the pole-dancing on the subway, I’m like, wait no, because Hustlers hasn’t come out yet. It was a lot of fact-checking because I was going to be working in two different timelines. You had the epilogue – which I wanted to keep pre-COVID. That was the thing, it couldn’t just be like any other book because now we have COVID. So, if it’s seven years later and it’s the present you have to address the changes – if she’s pregnant and she’s going to a restaurant, she has to be wearing a face mask, or should she be going at all because London is on lockdown. So, COVID and the timeline were the most difficult thing to manage, because life is not back to normal, especially not for people in the UK.
The Knockturnal: Last question – how difficult was it to put everything into one cohesive story; what were the writing/creative blocks that made it challenging, and then what did you do to overcome them?
Caroline Frank: I started off without an outline, which is dangerous, just going chronologically, and I think as I delved deeper into the story, maybe 1/3 into the story, I had to completely map it out. There were some days where writing just flowed out of me and I could write for 10 hours straight, and then I had a block right before the assault scene. I knew what was coming and I knew it was going to be really rough, so I stared at my computer for two weeks straight without writing a word, and then whatever I would write I would delete because it would just be really tough. I actually wrote a completely different scene and I thought it was a lot – what I wrote is still a lot – so I deleted it and reworked into what it is now. The original scene was a little more complicated than just someone getting roofied. So that was the hardest part of writing the book, that was the hardest part of the creative process, and then after that, it was pretty much downhill. You had to tie up loose ends – I’d say outlining and plotting is the main part and then the hardest part was writing out that particular scene.