Emily Henry: “I’ve also spent most of my life as a hopeless optimist, if not an outright romantic”

5 Questions With...

beach read by emily henry

[Note From Frolic: Our resident YA expert Aurora Dominguez got the opportunity to interview author Emily Henry and ask her five(ish) questions. Emily’s novel Beach Read is out May 19th!]

Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel?

Emily Henry: Honestly, this book came from my own writer’s block. I had just turned in another book to my young adult publisher and had some down time I was eager to use as productively as possible, but I was worn out, dried up, and stressed out. I couldn’t seem to make the words come, and even worse, I was having trouble sticking with any of my current reads.

All I wanted was to bask in a perfectly summery story, but I had absolutely zero ideas for a plot or characters. So, just sort of by necessity, I started writing the most meta project I can imagine: a book about an author with writer’s block. From there, I asked myself questions about all the different obstacles the main character, January, might be facing in her writing. Because I’d been craving writing or reading a romance, I decided she should be a romance writer, and what would make it hard for a romance writer to write? A loss of belief in love. So essentially every decision I made in that first draft was about pushing her creatively—throwing up hurdles to her own creative process and forcing her to face them head on.

What character in this novel do you most relate to and why?

I think I’d have to say January. I’ve also spent most of my life as a hopeless optimist, if not an outright romantic, and as an adult, a lot of those beliefs have been challenged. It’s been a real process to accept all the ways that people can fail us while learning to love and appreciate them in all their imperfection. So much of January’s journey is about that: learning to accept the bad with the good and vice versa. I think in this time especially, we can all appreciate how hard it can be to accept small bits of happiness when worry, anger, or hurt try to push them out of the way, but what I (and January!) love so much about romance is the insistence that joy and love are essential and important parts of the human experience. They are a story worthy of telling, and living, regardless of whatever else is going on in the world and in our lives.

Why do you feel novels with powerful and unique characters are so popular and have such a voice right now?

Hm, this is a really good question. Personally, as a reader, I spent a lot of years drawn to plot-driven books. I needed propulsive action—not to say that I was reading ‘action books,’ whatever that means, but I was maybe a less patient reader and was always looking for story first. I’ve seen this shift in myself to where character and voice are really the things that make me finish a book. I remember one of my professors telling me once that, in writing, the more specific a detail the more universal. So maybe by seeing unique characters, people with vivid quirks and hang-ups and opinions, we actually relate to these characters more not less. And that’s such an amazing part of reading, when you read something and think, “They do that too?!” or “I thought I was the only one!” It feels good to know that someone out there in the world is having the same thoughts as you. It’s a connection, and a way of feeling understood.

Please describe the content of your latest read and what can readers expect from it.

Well, I unfortunately am joining many others in echoing the sentiment that it’s been extremely challenging to read during the stress of Covid-19, but I recently read Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes and it was a total delight. In tone, I think it’s comparable to Beach Read. It’s very much a love story about two people with real-world problems they’re trying to work out. Evvie herself has lost her (verbally abusive) husband and doesn’t know how to grieve properly for someone she doesn’t miss, especially when no one else knows the truth about how her late husband treated her. Enter Dean, a baseball player with a bad case of the “yips.” His career has ended prematurely and, desperate to escape the bad press, he relocates to Evvie’s town and rents a room in her house. I loved it from start to finish and am already looking forward to rereading it. I also have in my Inbox a very exciting manuscript from Bethany C. Morrow, a retelling of Little Women that recenters the story by reimagining the March sisters as women of color. I adore Bethany’s writing and cannot wait to see what her spectacular voice and perspective will do for this classic.

What’s next for you in the books world?

Next summer I’ll have another love story out with Berkley! I’m not sure how much I’m able to share just yet, but I will say, it’s my homage to stories like When Harry Met Sally, and I’m very excited to share it in the not-too-distant future.

Who is your current favorite writer? Why?

Oof, this truly feels impossible to answer. With regards to romance, I am fully on the Helen Hoang, Jasmine Guillory, Sally Thorne, and Josie Silver hype trains. I’ll read anything they write because their books just sweep me away in the best way. I read very widely, though, so I have favorites for every genre. In fantasy, Naomi Novik is my current favorite. I recommend her Spinning Silver and Uprooted wholeheartedly. They’re romantic fairytales I desperately wish I’d written. I’m dying for her new book.

Any writing advice for aspiring writers? 

I always say the same thing: fail hard and fast. Everyone you’re seeing publishing, or having some kind of “success,” has had all the failures you’ve had (and then some). What slows us down often is the fear of rejection or failure but those are ultimately part of the process, so when they happen, try not to be too discouraged. Let yourself feel your feelings, then move on and give yourself another opportunity to fail.

Other than that, I think it’s so important in the grander scheme of things to write exactly the book you crave, the one that could only come from your brain. There are no guarantees in the business side of writing, so making something you love and believe in has to become the reward. You’re capable of creating something that no one else can, and that’s such a worthy use of your time and energy.

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