Sunday Brunch: A Chat with Authors Georgia Clark and Bethany Mangle

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[Note from Frolic: Our resident YA expert Aurora got the chance to chat with authors Georgia Clark and Bethany Mangle and ask them a few questions each. Up first, Georgia Clark!]

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

Georgia Clark: My new rom-com, It Had to Be You, centers around a mismatched pair of New York wedding planners, interweaving five stories starring the various vendors who work the weddings; the florists and caterers and musicians and staff. And I was planning, and having, my own wedding, in New York, over the writing of the book. Guess I had weddings on the brain?

I’d never written a rom-com but felt quite jealous of people doing good ones. I loved the genre, and as a sensitive, romantic queer girl, rom-coms are political for me: representation matters. Because this was my fifth novel, I was feeling confident that I could pull off something more ambitious. How about not just one love story; how about five? I’m a sensation seeker: I liked the extravagance of the idea. I wanted to see if I could pull it off. 

The opening page of the story states the thematic territory: tradition and ritual didn’t arise from some universal experience of love and commitment. Rituals were reinvented and reinterpreted all the time. All of the characters are negotiating the tension between tradition and modernity: between who they should be vs who they are. That’s essentially the conflict most couples wrestle with in wedding planning, and I was no exception: Do I want to wear white or do I feel I should wear white? What is my true desire? Who am I?

On the flip side, while weddings are steeped in tradition that can be stifling, they’re also a Bacchanalian space outside of regular life, where change happens and surprises occur. And there was something interesting about seeing all that through the lens of people not getting married, but helping others get married, as a day job. How does constantly assisting with the performance of love affect your own love life? I’m always interested in paradoxes like that. 

I loved playing in the genre and finding ways to subvert it while still delivering what readers of romance want. While It Had to Be You features five romantic couples, the pairing at the center of the story isn’t a man and woman, nor is it romantic. It’s Liv and Savannah, two women a generation apart from entirely different backgrounds whose mutual lover’s death ultimately allowed them both to form truer identities. That felt unique in a rom-com. It wasn’t until I finished did I realize I’d told a story about people coming together across deep, ideological divides.

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

Each of the characters has a little part of my soul inside them, but some more than others. 

I relate to Liv, my slightly cynical New Yorker with a secret soft side. She’s blunt and funny; the same might be said of me. I relate to Darlene’s ambition and (let’s be frank) her horniness. I relate to Gorman’s ambivalence about marriage and dry sense of humor. And I relate to Savannah’s sexual awakening: the way it feels to be consumed with the thought of your lover, constantly hungry for them. Mm-hmm.

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

I suppose novels with powerful and unique characters have always been popular, but if we define “unique” as “diverse”, coming from the pen of diverse writers, then I would say they’re reflective of the world we live in. Humans are curious: we want to know how other people experience the world; fiction is a great way to gain that understanding. We also want to see ourselves represented in fiction, to validate our experience or learn more about our own subcultures. Diverse writers either show you something new or show you yourself in a clearer light. 

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

It Had to Be You is a modern romantic comedy set in New York that centers around two mismatched wedding planners. For the past twenty years, Liv and Eliot Goldenhorn have run In Love in New York, one of Brooklyn’s top wedding-planning businesses. When Eliot dies unexpectedly, he even more unexpectedly leaves half of the business to his younger, blonder girlfriend, Savannah Shipley. Liv and Savannah are polar opposites: while Liv is a cynical New Yorker, Savannah would see the silver lining at a funeral. But what starts as a personal and professional nightmare transforms into something even savvy Liv Goldenhorn couldn’t begin to imagine. It Had to Be You unites Liv, Savannah, and a diverse group of couples in a braided narrative. My aim was to write something sexy, tender, and charming.

What’s next for you in the bookish world? 

I had so much fun working in rom-com, of course, I had to do it again. My next book is another ensemble comedy/drama that takes place in a wild and beautiful setting: I promise you will have never read a book set there before. Its centered around two families, one Australian, one American, with a sweet-and-sexy queer rom com at its giant beating heart. As someone who came out at 19, it’s bizarre to me that I haven’t written a central girl-on-girl love story yet. My next book will remedy that: fans of queer rom-com will fall hard for Liss and Amelia. I’m having a ridiculously good time hanging out with this funny, charming cast, telling a beautiful, feel-good story surrounded by the natural world. I’m incredibly excited to share it with everyone, as soon as I can.

Who is your current favorite writer? Why? 

 I recently reread Karen Russell’s short story collections:  Vampires in the Lemon Grove, St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, and Orange World. They are all freaky gorgeous masterpieces. “Quirky” is an understatement. You will never be the same after reading “Spinning for the Empire” and “The Barn at the End of our Term” (please DM me all fangirl thoughts).

Any writing advice for aspiring writers?  

Craft: No matter where you’re at in your writing journey, a dedication to craft is essential. That might mean enrolling in a class (which also connects you to a community and can give you some much-needed structure), reading craft focused books (Story by Robert McKee really helped me, as did Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes), and/or hiring a freelance editor (I’ve worked with Sarah Cypher of The Threepenny Editor on five books and counting; her development edits are like getting an MFA). You’ll have better luck getting words down if you write at a regular time, with no internet (just keep a running tally of things to google afterwards; it’s near impossible drafting otherwise). I work from an outline; if you’re new to the game, it can save you time. 

Community: Unless you are a master of self-control, it can be helpful to join or create a writing community for emotional support and accountability. You might read each other’s work or you just might use the group to make sure you meet your own deadlines. Because there are no guarantees as to getting published, a supportive and fun community can be part of the pleasure of writing. If nothing else, you’re in it with cool like-minded creatives: that is a reward in and of itself. 

Kindness: Not gonna lie, writing is hard (and novel writing is even harder). As a writer, you’re both the talent and the manager. You have to be a good manager of you. A good manager doesn’t scream at the talent that they’re hopeless and will never be published. Conversely, a good manager doesn’t let the talent binge reality TV all Sunday when they’re supposed to be writing. Not all published writers are the best in their genre; what they are is persistent. If you really want to write, stick with it. Read widely. Edit brutally. Be patient. And tell the truth. 

Up next, Bethany Mangle!
Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel? 

Bethany Mangle: I was watching an emergency drill one day and started thinking about what it would be like to be prepared for every possibility at all times. That eventually involved into the idea behind Prepped and setting a story in the middle of a doomsday prepper community.

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

I probably relate to Becca the most because we perceive the world in similar ways. I invested a lot of myself in Becca, sometimes unintentionally. Like her, I need a lot of time to understand what’s going on around me and figure out the next step forward. The scenes where she’s trying to come up with plans and solutions aren’t solely to build dramatic tension. That’s also how I tend to approach things in my daily life.

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

I think people are drawn to characters who can connect with them, open up a different world, or show things in a new light. At least, that’s what I enjoy about finding a story with unique characters. I’ll become so attached to some characters just because I’m curious about what drives them or how they’ll react to what’s happening throughout the novel.

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

Prepped is about a girl named Becca who grows up in a community of doomsday preppers. Before she can follow through on her secret plan to run away and go to college, there’s an accident that makes her little sister start to believe in the doomsday ideology. The only person she can turn to for help is Roy, the boy from the bunker next door.

In Prepped, I tried to strike a balance between quieter moments like Becca caring for her sister and the action of training to survive the end of the world. Readers can also expect a few surprises, an unconventional romance, and a cute dog.

What’s next for you in the bookish world? 

My next novel, All the Right Reasons, comes out in spring of 2022. I’m so excited to introduce those characters to the world. I’m also working on a couple of projects at the moment that are particularly close to my heart.

Who is your current favorite writer? Why? 

I don’t really have a favorite author because I find it difficult to compare between genres. If I had to narrow it down, I really love the work of Mindy McGinnis and Claudia Gray.

Any writing advice for aspiring writers?  

My advice is to not take advice from other writers. We all have our own methods and paths. I don’t think there’s a rule that applies to every writer or even gets close to that. At least for me, half of the fun is figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

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