Author Q&A

‘Book Lovers’ Author Emily Henry Talks Humor, Books, and Writing in a Pandemic

Book Lovers is for bookworms and it may just be Henry’s funniest novel yet.

If Hallmark ever wanted to do a modern, romance-minded retelling of The Devil Wears Prada, this is the perfect script for adaptation. Author Emily Henry has captured all the classic Hallmark tropes in her newest rom-com, Book Lovers, including a small town fix project and a main character that embodies a perfect combination of Miranda Priestley, Andrea Sachs, and Nigel — but some of our favorite tropes are subverted, modernized, or just tweaked a bit.

In the opening pages, readers meet Nora, a a neurotic cut-throat book editor, and her sweet little sister, Libby. When the pair take an extended vacation to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina, everyone’s motives are in question and Nora’s peaceful stay is disrupted when she runs into her equally cut-throat work nemesis, Charlie Lastra.

A lot of stuff happens next, but just know that the romantic banter is next level.

On the surface, Book Lovers is very much a love story. Not only between Nora and Charlie, but between Nora and Libby as well. The novel is also about trauma and healing, and the ways it can bring like-minded (maybe too like-minded) people together.

Book Lovers is Henry’s funniest, heartwarming novel yet; but it wasn’t until early copies started finding their way into the eyes, hearts, and hands of reviewers that Henry started to believe she may have struck gold. It also didn’t help that she had been sequestered to her writing den for over a year trying to write a witty love story amid the COVID-19 pandemic, where first dates and awkward encounters seemed like relics of the past.

We sat down with Henry to talk about Book Lovers, from her love of big cities and small towns to all of the novel’s winks and nods to real-life book lovers, as well as chatting about her forthcoming project.

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Scary Mommy: I found it funny how Nora skips to the end of books — my mom is the same way. But Libby is the opposite, she doesn’t even read the dust jacket. Do you think you’re more like Nora or Libby?

Emily Henry: I’m way more like Libby actually. I do not want to know how a book ends. Sometimes I will text a friend if I know they’ve read it to be like, “Here’s how I’m feeling, should I read it?” But, I love not knowing. As little as I can know is ideal for me as a reader.

As a writer, too! I’m not an outliner because I like writing for the same reasons I like reading. It just feels like a really intense reading experience, where I don’t know what’s going to happen and I need to find out. It’s really fun to write a draft that way.

Did you know how Book Lovers was going to end, or have a rough idea of where you wanted Nora and Charlie to end up?

I knew from the beginning that Nora needed to go back to New York because that was the whole idea behind the book for me. I really wanted the message to be that she doesn’t need to change. She needs to heal and she needs to grow, but she doesn’t need to change who she fundamentally is.

I really try to keep it as this is one character’s arc. So one character deciding to give up her life in the city doesn’t necessarily mean the author is saying cities are bad. But when you see that story over, over, and over again, it’s like, “Well, what are we saying about people who live in the city?”

Nora is a steadfast, independent woman, but she’s viewed by her peers as a shark. Was there any awkwardness writing about a shark agent (and future editor) then handing the draft over to your literary team?

Luckily, they knew from the beginning how it was going to go; however, there were some funny details. My agent actually does have a Peloton and is in love with it like how I think most people are obsessed with their Peloton.

The reason I wanted Nora to be an agent is because it’s such a weird job. You are sort of this lawyer and negotiator where you have to be a hard ass to get what your clients need, but then your clients are just a weepy mess and so ridiculous and so needy. So you have to be soft with them and coax them into doing their job. I know that because I’m a writer.

All my writer friends, we’re in our group text being like, “Omg, I emailed my agent in the middle of the night because I was freaking out about this. Now I know it’s actually not a big deal.” I think it was fun to write a character who was both a hard ass and who really knows how to be there for people. I felt like it was a big thank you to my editor and agent.

Sort of like, “I’m sorry, and thank you.”

Yes, that is like the whole book! And that is why the book is dedicated to my agents, my editors, my publicists, and my marketers. This whole book is very much like a love letter to them.

Sometimes I read romance because I want a lighter read, but your novels are more than that. Book Lovers is a rom-com, but it also has hearty storylines. Vulnerability and loss are two big themes, and then you have multiple characters who are in a self-discovery phase. How do you balance a plot that’s sexy-as-hell that also tugs at the heartstrings?

First of all, thank you. That’s such a huge compliment. That just means a lot. When I set out to write my first romance novel in Beach Read, I really wanted to write this fun, light, sexy rom-com. Then immediately I’m like okay, her dad died and betrayed her, and instantly my brain just goes there. I don’t really know how to get into characters’ heads without figuring out the worst thing that’s ever happened to them.

Basically, you brainstorm a traumatic event, bestow it upon the character, and see what happens?

It’s how I figure characters out. In romance, so much of it is that character arc. You need that person to have some realization or awakening over the course of this love story for it to feel like a full fledged story. In figuring out the character arc, I need to know what’s changing for them. How have they seen the world that is not right from the beginning? Usually that comes from trauma. There were so many drafts of Book Lovers just trying to get it to feel funny enough and light enough while still having these heavier moments.

I love the witty banter between Nora and Charlie. Does that come to you in the first draft or not until the end?

It’s a little bit of both. With Book Lovers, it did take a lot of drafts to get it to where it is. I did not feel confident that the book was funny until I fully turned it in and people started reading it. The whole time I was writing it I was like, “This is not funny. I’m not funny anymore,” because we were in a pandemic. I wasn’t seeing anyone. I have no idea how to talk to people anymore.

Would you say that was your biggest challenge?

You nailed it. I’ve never had this specific problem when writing before where I just don’t remember what it’s like to go out and do things anymore. I don’t really remember what it’s like to go meet someone new. It was the first book I wrote in the pandemic.

The truth is, I do run out of things to say. I need to go somewhere. I need to be around friends. I need to take a trip. You need to have life experiences or you have nothing to write about.

Within this novel is another novel. Did it ever feel like you were writing two books at once?

Book Lovers is for readers. Everything about the book is a wink and nod to people who love books. In not telling the actual story of Nadine Winters, I thought it was kind of fun to just keep making comparisons to other books that a lot of people have read in the last few years such as A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman and A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

What are you working on now? Will we be getting a Bigfoot erotica by Emily Henry?

Haha! My editor would kill me if I turn that in — she thinks I’ve been working on something else this entire time. But yes, I’m working on something else that is supposed to come out next summer. The process feels very similar to Book Lovers in that I have just been rewriting it, rewriting it, and rewriting it, and it just keeps getting a little bit closer. It’s another rom-com. I can’t say too much about it, but there’s a friend group that’s really central to it so there’s a larger cast, but still very much a love story. And I’m having fun with it!