A little over 10 years ago, Carley Fortune said goodbye to her childhood lake cottage tucked away in a slice of Canadian heaven called Barry’s Bay. Similar to her book’s protagonist Persephone, Fortune packed up her old bedroom, including a series of diaries spanning from when she was 7 years old to well into her young adult life. In spring 2020, Fortune read every single diary entry, because what else was she to do during a global lockdown?
“It was a very emotional experience,” Fortune recalls to Scary Mommy. “It was 20 years later, but those emotions felt so present and so raw. It was like living them all over again.”
Little did Fortune know that those diaries — and a summer fueled by COVID, nostalgia, and a lake staycation — would go on to inspire her debut novel.
Every Summer After is a sweeping love story between two childhood best friends, Percy and Sam, whose adolescent relationship ends in heartbreak only for them to be brought back together due a tragic circumstance 10 years later. Told in now-and-then duel timelines, Fortune weaves an epic, coming-of-age romance set across six sun-kissed summers while simultaneously unraveling Percy and Sam’s complicated history in present day. All of this, of course, is set at Fortune’s first true love, Barry’s Bay.
Fortune is undoubtedly one of this summer’s most celebrated new authors. I got to chat with her about life as a highly successful debut author, and pick her brain about Charlie and Percy as an item (yup, I said Charlie!) and the novel’s most controversial character, Delilah (IYKYK), as well as her forthcoming novel, which is set to release in May 2023.
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Scary Mommy: How does it feel to have your debut novel be one of the “it” books of summer?
Carley Fortune: It’s quite surreal honestly. Two years ago, I had just started writing Every Summer After and I wrote the book for myself. I wanted to show myself I could write a book. It was something I had always wanted to do, but never thought I could get around to. I set out to write something for me; something that I’d like to read, with no intention of publishing it. So to even have a book out in the world was so unreal for me. When the book was published, that moment was so incredible and then to have it explode in the way that it has is hard to get my head around.
I’m so humbled and appreciative. The way people have just kind of picked up this book and then told other people to read it and become such vocal advocates for it has been just incredible. I sometimes stare out the window with my mouth open.
Coming from a journalistic background, did you find it hard to switch from a reporting narrative to a more creative headspace?
No, I didn’t. I, as a journalist, am really drawn to narrative nonfiction and creative story packaging. I always found my job quite creative, so I didn’t find it challenging in that way; but, I did find it very liberating to switch from writing nonfiction to fiction.
There was a moment where I got stuck at the beginning of writing Every Summer After. I didn’t know what happened next and then it dawned on me for the first time that I could just make it up! That makes me seem quite simple, but it hadn’t occurred to me that the story lives and breathes in your mind. It’s like, “Oh wait, I’m just making this up as I go along. How fun is that?” I had so much fun in my job as a journalist; but as I rose up the ranks editorially, it became less and less fun for me. So having recaptured that feeling in fiction is so satisfying.
Every Summer After is told over the course of several summers and in present day. I’m curious to know which timeline, the now or then, was easier to map out and write?
I didn’t map it out per se. I wrote as you read it, so I would go back and forth between the now and then. I tackled each moment as I came to it. In my mind, there were definitely scenes I wanted to have in the book. But, I really approached it as: “It’s this summer and they’re 13 years old. What is it like to be 13 and meet cute boys?”
And there are a lot of firsts in the book as well.
Yeah, exactly. I also really wanted to give Percy the friend I always wanted as a teenager. First I figured out who Percy is and then, who is her ideal friend? What does that make Sam? So, Sam came from Percy really. It felt manageable to work from past to present because I could figure out what I needed to happen in each moment, and because the present timeline is only a weekend, that also felt very manageable. We went back and forth on how many days it should be, but it ended up being around three days and there’s a funeral, so the arc seemed clear to me.
Did you enjoy writing one timeline more than the other?
I liked writing all of it. I had such fun with all of it and hopefully that shines through. For most of the past chapters, they have more levity and humor, which is really, really fun; but the present chapters are so much more dramatic.
I need to know…was there ever a moment where you toyed with the idea of having Percy end up with Charlie instead of Sam?
No, I didn’t! I knew Sam was her person. I love Charlie. He was my favorite character to write, he and Delilah were. I really like him and I think he has a really good heart. But, I knew that [Charlie and Percy] was not the story.
Why did you like writing about Charlie and Delilah more?
I didn’t like them more, I just had so much fun with them and I think secondary characters are often like that. They’re all about how they affect your primary characters. Charlie and Delilah are antagonistic in some ways, which is really fun to do with your characters. The first scene I wrote with Charlie in it, aside from the phone call in the first chapter, was the scene where Percy is watching them that first summer, watching Charlie and Sam play on the floating raft. As I was writing it, it became abundantly clear who Charlie was. As soon as Charlie pushed him off the dock, I knew exactly who Charlie was. He’s also more than meets the eye, which I really like and so is Delilah. I like characters who have depth, but are also playful. The thing about Charlie is that he really knows how to get under people’s skin.
I got that vibe from Delilah, too. She annoyed me a bit throughout the whole book. She’s that person who’s your best friend, but at the same time there’s something that just irks you about her. I loved the ending between her and Percy though.
I liked that, too. In young friendships, the power dynamic switches back and forth throughout the friendship and what draws you to someone initially when you’re young isn’t necessarily what sustains a friendship. I’ve found people who you may not see for a year or years and when you see them again, it’s like no time has passed. I wanted to show that in several relationships with this book. I think empathy and forgiveness are two wonderful things and wanted to write about that.
You recently announced the title of your second book, Meet Me at the Lake, which is set to come out in May 2023. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Yes, I would love to! I’m so excited about it. It is a love story about two people, Will and Fern, who first meet in their early twenties after just graduating from their respective universities. They meet in the city in this by-chance encounter and they end up spending 24 hours together wandering through Toronto. They make a pact to meet one year later. Fern shows up and Will doesn’t, and they never speak again. Cut to ten years later, Fern is in her early thirties and has gone back home to run her mother’s resort, which is something she never ever wanted to do. Her ex-boyfriend is also her manager and, in walks Will with an offer to help.
It’s told like Every Summer After in that it goes back and forth. In the past, you’re with Will and Fern for their one day together and in the present day, you’re at the resort with Will and Fern trying to figure out what’s going on. The hook of the book is that the day they spent together changed Fern’s life and she has to figure out whether she’s willing to put herself out there and help Will out.
Part of the book is a series of diary entries from the summer of 1990 when Fern’s mother became pregnant with her. So it has part of Fern’s mom’s love story in there. The mother-daughter relationship is really important and there’s a best friend relationship that’s really important, too. The story is really about who we think we are going to be and where we think we’re going to end up and how life doesn’t always work that way.
Finally, we love to ask our authors for book recommendations! Have you read anything amazing lately?
One Hundred Other Girls by Iman Hariri-Kia. As soon as I read the description I was like, “I need to read this immediately.” She paints a really great picture of New York in a way that I’ve never read about before. It’s also about how much we put of ourselves into our work, how our work does or doesn’t define us, and how different generations approach work.
I also loved The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston. You will love it, I guarantee, and there is a happy ending. Ashley is a beautiful writer; it’s a book you just want to spend time in and cozy up in.
The next thing I’m reading is the new Taylor Jenkins Reid book. I’m interviewing Taylor in September at a virtual event so that is literally next on my TBR. I’ve read every single one of her books and love them all. She’s so brilliant.