What we love about Emily Henry is her ability to balance a witty rom-com style while also addressing heavy themes that are relatable and realistic. Think: The People We Meet on Vacation and Beach Read, as well as Hello Girls and When The Sky Fell in Splendor. Now the acclaimed author is bringing us one of the most anticipated books of summer: Book Lovers. Talk about your target audience; after all, as of Book Lovers’ pub day (May 5, 2022), both People We Meet on Vacation and Beach Read are still on the New York Times best seller list for 30+ weeks—and counting.
Book Lovers isn’t your typical rivals-to-lovers romance. Nora Stephens is an all-work, no-play literary agent, dragged to the charming Sunshine Falls by her sister Libby. Why? Because Libby thinks that heading to a sweet small town might soften up Nora and open her heart to romance. But as they arrive, expecting relaxation and a change of scenery, Nora runs into someone all too familiar: Charlie Lastra, a brooding hard-headed editor from back in the city. Like in the books they both work so hard on, this is no meet-cute. They’ve meet many times, and it’s never been cute. If Nora knows she’s not an ideal heroine, Charlie knows he’s nobody’s hero, but as they are thrown together again and again, what they discover might just unravel the carefully crafted stories they’ve written about themselves.
Emily Henry has become a go-to expert on beach reads, writing book recommendations for The New York Times and Parade, and sharing her picks on Good Morning America.
Read on for our exclusive interview with Emily Henry on the change in inspiration behind Book Lovers, how she sees writing as therapy for her characters, and how her favorite book to write was also one of her most torturous.
What was the inspiration behind Book Lovers?
Most of my books start with a setting. But this one started with a very distinct character. I’d been watching a lot of made-for-TV Christmas movies, and I was really intrigued by this recurring premise, wherein a workaholic from the big-city gets sent to a small-town to do something despicable, like run a local toy store out of business, or lay off half of the staff of a candy factory. In these movies, it’s fairly common for the lead to have a significant other back in the city, whose sole function in the story is to call the main character every so often and remind him to do his job.
She’s often cold and cruel, and she doesn’t understand what’s the hold up. She’s the perfect foil to the big-hearted, down-to-earth woman the lead is currently falling in love with. She’s sort of a miniature Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada or a variation on the materialistic and shallow Meredith Blake of The Parent Trap. We see these kinds of characters fairly often, but again, they’re usually functioning more as a foil or a villain than a full-fledged character with history and a motivation.
So I wanted to take that character, that put-together and ambitious and polished careerwoman, and figure out what made her who she is, but also what her version of a happy ending would be.
When do you recognize that spark of inspiration for a good plot idea or character when it comes to your books?
Well, I know when something really intrigues me, but I usually take a list of ideas to my editor and agent and see which ones they respond to. I found the concept of a character who keeps getting dumped for small-town sweethearts instantly funny, and luckily they did too. I know when I’m ready to start writing (and that I have an entire book) when I have at least three scenes that keep playing out in my head. In the case of romantic comedies, that’s usually a meet cute, a bit of banter, and a kiss.
So far out of the books you’ve written, which has been your favorite? The most difficult?
Well, my favorite book of mine was also torturous to write. It’s one of my YA novels, When the Sky Fell on Splendor, and it was hard for just about every reason: It felt very personal. It’s a very intricate story, and it’s fairly genre-bendy, and it’s also just strange. It’s far and away my least popular book, but it also tends to be the favorite of my friends and family, because I think they can see so much of me in it.
Beach Read was the most fun to write. I had no plans of trying to sell it at the time, so I just dove in and had a blast. And People We Meet on Vacation honestly poured out of me. The writing process felt like having a very intense fever. I just couldn’t stop writing but also had no idea if it was any good.
In books like People We Meet on Vacation, Beach Read, and Book Lovers, you don’t keep it “light and fluffy” like a lot of other beach reads. How do you balance creating a beach-read feeling, but still with heavy themes?
I think a lot of times I’m setting out to write a different book than the one I write and that’s okay. That’s the funny thing about making something. It’s never going to be exactly what was in your head, but that’s part of the fun for me. I want to feel like the story has taken over and I’m no longer in control. That’s an amazing feeling. So I’m usually trying to write a much lighter book than the one I write, but the best way I know to really understand my characters, through and through, is to push against all their sore spots. Once I know what a character really fears—and why—I understand so much more what their emotional arc needs to be, and what’s going to impede their relationships.
I think a lot about my writing as sort of therapy for the characters: unearthing their wounds and also using plot to force them to confront those. That’s usually balanced out, though, by a fun setting and a love story and a lot of jokes.
Did you encounter anything unexpected while writing Book Lovers?
I set out secretly thinking of this book as my own homage to You’ve Got Mail, and specifically a bit of a hat tip to Parker Posey’s character. But looking back, I’m really amazed how much more of my love of that movie seeped into the book. The publishing industry, the quaint bookstores, the love for New York, the enemies-to-lovers, and the flirting over email.
What are you working on now?
I’m not sure how much I can say, but as of now, I’m planning to release another romantic comedy this time next year, and working on it has been my happy place!