By Karis Fields
I recently got the pleasure to interview Instagram writer Caro Claire Burke about the song inspired stories she posts for her followers. Caro is the self coined founder, writer, social media manager, pr rep, and unpaid intern for what she calls the Cover Story Project. Every Sunday at 9am, Caro releases a new short story based on a song to her Instagram story. She mainly writes stories based on songs by Taylor Swift, but there are ones based on songs by other artists including Olivia Rodrigo, Lorde, and Phoebe Bridgers as well. During the interview, we talked about her affinity for Taylor Swift and her lyrical mastery, her hopes and dreams for the Cover Story Project, some artists she hopes to cover in the future, and even a bit about her novel-in-progress.
How long have you been a writer?
So, I think – it’s interesting because I think people sometimes when they talk about writing, most authors that I admire, when they have interviews they’ll be like “I always knew I was going to be a writer.” And I think that a lot of times it can just be kind of retrospective bias where once you decide to become a writer, you look backwards and you think ‘oh my god, well I read books all the time.’ I was a pretty aggressive reader growing up, but I didn’t really write in high school or in college. I was an athlete, so I was recruited in high school. I was always kind of recruited into sports. And then in college I was recruited to the University of Virginia to be a rower. So, I didn’t really have much time to devote to my studies, honestly. I would take creative writing classes, but I would sleep through them, I would miss them. And so, the May of my senior year of college, one of my creative writing professors kind of encouraged me to try and publish a piece and I ended up getting it published with the Atlantic. It was the first moment that I thought ‘oh, maybe I can do this.’ And then, when I was twenty-three, I quit a full time job I had in marketing and kind of had a nervous breakdown and decided I wanted to write a novel. I wish I journaled more, I’m not a journaler because now I’m like ‘wow, why did I think I could do that?’ But, I just kind of started doing freelance work and keeping myself afloat. Sometimes that meant having credit card debt, and sometimes paying it off. I just started writing. And I think the reason I know now that I want to be a professional writer is because it’s the one thing I don’t give up on. I mean, I give up on some other things but with writing, the more I learn about it, is all about the long game of who can do the most drafts, who doesn’t get put off by being frustrated. I just kept at it and I’ve been doing it for I think six years now and the last two years are the years where I’ve really started seeing returns, so it’s really the long game.
What got you to write your first cover story?
When the “folklore” album first came out last year, that kind of hit it off for me. But, I’d been thinking for a long time I’ve wanted to find a way to share writing on Instagram. I just always thought it would be a good idea. I’ve shared some stories before, if you go back to my Instagram highlights you’ll see that I’ve posted some longer short stories. I just could never think of a way to do it regularly. And, with social media, it has to be regular for anyone to pay attention to it. And, when the folklore album came out, I had this really clear memory of listening to “seven” and having this reaction of ‘oh, this is a story, this is absolutely a story.’ Then there was about a week and a half where I just listened to the whole album and thought that every single one of these songs could be a really literary story, as I’m sure you feel and a lot of Taylor Swift fans felt. And that was such an exciting feeling, it was the first time that I thought ‘I could probably do this.’ It started out as just a short project of just covering folklore and then the “evermore” album came out and I just kept going. Then all of a sudden I was ten weeks in and that was when I realized that I could maybe do this indefinitely.
So you would say that folklore and evermore are what inspired you to create the Cover Story Project?
Yeah, I think the whole thing started just with covering folklore and I kind of imagined it’ll be a three month sprint and we’ll see what comes after that. But, by the end of those three months, it had already grown into something that I don’t know what the end will be now. So, it’s pretty cool how things can kind of morph into something as you do them.
What do you hope to achieve with this project?
Oh god, I don’t know. I want to believe in manifestation. I don’t, but I will say that my biggest dreams for this are that every single album eventually becomes a short story collection. And then one thing that I’ve thought about a lot that could be really cool would be if it succeeded even more, and there was a television anthology (*one would need Taylor’s permission for that of course). I’m really interested in how, as in the same way that I’m interested in turning music into literature, I love seeing literature turned into a visual mode. And so, I feel it would be cool to work with people who have much more experience in the realms of film and television than I do and see how they take a song, and then the story, and then put it all together. That’s what my biggest dream for this would be: a Netflix anthology.
Can you tell me about your process when writing these stories? How do you translate from lyric to story?
For me, it’s hard, it’s kind of like a binary. There are the songs where the story comes immediately to me, as in the song, “my tears ricochet”. I knew immediately that it was going to be something about sexual assault because it felt like a story about that. The hardest ones for me to turn into a story are the most obvious ones such as, “cowboy like me”. When the song isn’t metaphorical and when it’s really literal, when the story is already in the song, the challenge then is how do I create an individual experience with this? Because if I just tell the story the way Taylor Swift has already told it, then I am just basically piggybacking off of her art. How am I making sure that it’s meaningful? With those I do a lot of freewriting, so I’ll listen to the song and throw out ideas. One of the things I learned as a writer with this project that’s become valuable in other parts of my life is that giving yourself the pressure to not feel like a failure – for instance in those cases when you know you’re writing those first few drafts and you can feel so down on yourself when you haven’t figured it out – and become much more patient. So, I can spend a few hours writing and being, ‘well, what if it was this’ or ‘what if it was told from this perspective’. And when I’m really at a loss I’ll start to think about what are some of the things I’ve wanted to do before? For instance, for “gold rush” my idea was I really wanted to do something from a second person narrative where it’s ‘you’. So, that’s kind of helped me with stories like that one.
What about Taylor Swift’s music outside of folklore and evermore makes you want to turn them into stories?
I keep a running list in my phone where I’ll just type in songs as I listen to them and be, ‘oh, i can probably do this’ and what I’ve found is that for me it’s a pretty small list in terms of artists who have more than one song that I would want to cover. You know, Florence + The Machine is one artist that I would love to do an album of hers. I think one of the challenges I’m always facing with this project is that it is by definition a project that I run on social media. So, I’m constantly coming up against, for example, CAAMP, which is more of a folksy band that I love, and I’ve been wanting to cover their stuff for a while, but they’re never going to be a fan suggestion because not as many people know them or follow them. And so, doing it with Taylor Swift canon has kind of helped me double fold because, for one, I do think that she is a very adept songwriter. Obviously there have been more think pieces on this than I can count and I can’t contribute anything particular to it just besides the fact that she’s very good at writing about feelings. She writes with specificity. And I think that’s the difference I would encourage anyone to think about. For instance, I love Miley Cyrus, but I don’t think her songs have the same level of specificity in them as Taylor’s. I think that’s why a lot of people love Taylor Swift, even if they don’t realize it, is because there is such specificity and one of the things you’re taught as a writer is that the specific is what’s universal. I’ve always been a Taylor fan, so it’s easy for me to think that I can create a story for songs in most of her canon. And then thinking about just running this project on social media, I think if I were to do a different artist every single week it would be harder to create an audience. And that’s something I’m trying to figure out because I have so many different artists that I want to cover. So I think it’s a balance. If I do a few Taylor Swift songs every month and then I insert another artist, then I’m also gaining the trust of the core community of people who read my work.
Which cover stories are your personal favorites that you’ve written?
That’s a hard one. “seven” is a forever love of mine. I really liked writing “gold rush”. I really loved doing the “august” collection just because it was really fun to map out multiple stories at once. When I was writing “august”, “betty”, “cardigan” I was basically writing three stories at once and hopping into all these different GoogleDocs, and so that was a total joy. Some of the ones that I love the most are the ones that don’t get the most attention. “Holy Ground” I really loved, which was a story told in three parts. I really liked that one and it implemented some structural things that I’ve always wanted to do such as jumping forward in time and that kind of stuff.
What songs or artists do you plan on using for the Cover Story Project in the future?
I think a big goal of mine, as this project continues to grow, I would really like to highlight lesser known artists. And one of the things that I would really love to do is collaborate with artists that are earlier in their stage. I would love to work with CAAMP and ask the question, “what’s a song that you’re still trying to figure out?” I’m really interested in that collaboration because I think writing is such an isolating experience. And so the more that I learn about music and start to appreciate it, the more that I want that type of experience. I’ve never really made art with anyone else, so definitely one of my pipe dreams would be to actually work with a musician at an earlier stage of the song. But, shorter term than that, I really love bluegrass, I love folk, I love music with instruments that feel raw - for instance, a fiddle or something. I just trust that the people who follow me will keep following me if I do more different work because I know Taylor Swift is such an icon that you start to feel nervous to stray. I would also love to do a Florence + The Machine album too.
Have any of your followers reached out to you about how your cover stories have inspired them to create their own?
Yeah. You know, I think that’s been one of the cooler things with this. There have been two different things. I have friends from my MFA program and friends who are writers and I help them figure out different writing projects on Instagram, which is pretty cool. I think I have three or four friends who have launched their careers in some capacity by sharing their work on their Instagrams, so that’s been very fun. I think what’s more fun is hearing from people who are interested in writing and who are interested in using this for their own inspiration. One thing I’m really excited about is one of my good friends from high school is now a high school teacher and I’m going to be meeting with her class in November. And their assignment for the week is going to be writing their own cover story and then we’re going to talk about that. So, that’s been really cool. It’s such a lesson in being honest about the things you care about, because when you do that you give people the opportunity to support you, which has been really cool to see. On the one hand it’s so scary to be this public about my writing, because there’s the fear of failure. But then on the other hand, you’re able to have conversations with likeminded people that you wouldn’t have had otherwise about turning songs into stories. So yes, a lot of people have reached out and I think that’s been one of the more fun parts about the project.
Have there been people who have tried to criticize your work on this project? If so, what are some of the things they’ve criticized about it?
Not many people have criticized it to my face. I do think that one of the things that I was worried about is – and I have my MFA, I have a literary agent, and I’ve been working on things outside of this – there are some people in my MFA program who have indicated that they think… “Commercial” is kind of a buzzword. When you go to an MFA program, everyone is afraid of being “commercial” and I think there can be a sense of like, “oh, well if you’re writing a story a week then it can’t be that good?” Or, “oh, you’re writing about Taylor Swift,” and of course that’s it’s own buzzword where someone has decided that they think all the words you could insert for people who are criticizing Taylor. But one thing that I try to do to get ahead of the narrative is say that I don’t think all of these stories are perfect, you can’t write a perfect story in a week, but I do think that you can write a really good draft. Or, with my Patreon - the importance of Patreon is almost equivalent to the importance of people who monetize art because art is value. So I think I have a kind of heightened paranoia about it because I’m always worried that people are criticizing it. But for the most part, people have been incredibly, incredibly supportive. And that’s another thing I think, when you’re an artist. And I think in particular as writers, we can be so insecure about our work that I think we can be our biggest critics. And so, I definitely think that I am my biggest critic for this project and that for the most part I have received an outpour of support for.
Finally, what are some projects you’re working on other than the Cover Story Project?
So, one of the other reasons I started the Cover Story Project was because I was two years into work on a novel and I was just feeling at the end of my wits with it and wanted to do something more short term. I am now at the end stages of that novel and I am hoping to go on submission with that soon. So, hopefully my real dream that I’ll just put out into the universe, is that I do a book deal with the Cover Story Project and this novel. That’s kind of been the other big thing. And then, when I’m fully finished with that novel, I would really love to write an essay collection about how belief works for different people. I was raised Catholic but now I’m kind of an Atheist and I’m really interested in belief and belief systems.
Are you allowed to say anything about the novel you’ve been working on yet?
It’s got nothing to do with music, the title of it is Furious, it takes place on a campus, and it has to do sexual assault.
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO KEEP UP WITH THE COVER STORY PROJECT, AS WELL AS HER UPCOMING WORKS, YOU CAN FOLLOW CARO ON HER INSTAGRAM.
FOR THOSE WANTING TO SUPPORT CARO, YOU CAN DO SO THROUGH HER PATREON.
*The influencer’s “The Cover Story Project'' is not affiliated directly with Taylor Swift. No rights for her songs are reserved for The Cover Story Project. And this is an interview conducted with the influencer for sole purposes of this article”.