Author Q&A: Annabel Monaghan

Elena Bowes spoke with Annabel Monaghan about her latest funny, romantic page-turner, Summer Romance, which came out in the US just a few weeks ago and is available in the UK on July 4th. Summer Romance is already an instant USA Today and Washington Post bestseller.

The book is about a woman named Ali Morris who lives in a suburb outside of Manhattan. She’s a professional organiser, but her life is a mess. Her mother died two years ago. Her husband left her a year ago. Her pantry is a sight to behold. She hasn’t worn hard pants (i.e. pants with a zipper), in she can’t remember how long. She has three kids who she’s trying to hold it together for. She’s stuck.

Then, one day, Ali takes off her wedding ring. She puts on overalls, which kind of count as hard pants. And she goes to the dog park with her little dog. She meets a cute guy named Ethan. And as the title of your book suggests, things start looking up for Ali.This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. The full recording can be listened to here.

I love romantic comedies, intelligent romantic comedies. But they do get a hard time, like they’re not proper literature. Why do you think that is? Do you think it has something to do with how they look like they’re easy to write but are anything but?

I think it is. They’re easy to read so they probably seem like they’re easy to write, but I don’t know why that, for something to have value, it has to be hard to read to begin with. I read for pleasure. I read for escape. I don’t read to make my life harder than it already is.

What does your ideal writing day look like? Do you drink a lot of coffee, walk a dog, light some candles to find your mojo?

I do all of it. My ideal writing day starts at 5:00 a.m. I find that that’s my most creative time. It’s before my thinking brain has really kicked in, and my thinking brain likes to remind me that I don’t know what I’m doing. I sit with my dog, I light a candle. I have a cup of coffee and then the people wake up and then I have to walk the dog and all the things happen. And then I have to walk myself, and then I’m back in a writing chair by ten o’clock and then I’ll write for, I don’t know, three more hours. That’s a really good writing day. A writing day is not eight hours long. It’s very difficult to write for eight hours–just too intense and you wear out. You know, you need a break to kind of refresh and to have new ideas. I don’t have eight hours’ worth of material. A five-hour writing day is great.

Not only do you write great metaphors, like when Ethan is surprised and not in a good way to see Ali, you describe his look as ‘If bats started flying out of your toilet’, which is just perfect. I can picture his expression easily. But you also have much broader metaphors about life, like how the charms on Ali’s bracelet stop once her mother dies, as if there are no more milestones to be had, how skateboarding is a lot more than it seems, and how owning a dog is a bit like a summer romance–they’re both worth the guaranteed heartbreak. Do you think of these bigger messages before you start writing?

I actually do not. There’s a magic moment that happens when you’re writing a novel where things start to come together. There was this moment when I realised that a summer romance and having a dog is basically the same thing. And I didn’t realise it until I had written it. One’s going to end on Labor Day, one’s going to die.

Your sex scenes hit just the right note. They’re suggestive and sexy without anything too embarrassing. No Fifty Shades of Grey. Do you have any tips on writing about sex?

When I wrote Nora Goes Off Script, I needed to write a sex scene, and I just panicked. I didn’t know how to approach that, and I actually Googled it. I talked to a bunch of people. What I realised is that there are two kinds of sex scenes, and you just have to make a decision. One is a scene where there are body parts. And you are seeing where the body parts are going and that’s spicier. And then the other kind is where the people are together, and you know how it feels that they’re together emotionally and you can kind of feel it, but you’re not seeing any body parts. That’s where I’m comfortable.

My editor always says, especially in this book, I want to be dying for that kiss. Make us just die for it. That takes a lot of revision to get right.

What lessons do you hope readers take away from Summer Romance?

I never want to write a book where there’s a moral. But I do hope that if people are stuck, the answer is not to go to law school. The answer is doing one small thing to get you a tiny bit less stuck, and then another thing, and then another thing, and then another thing.

And part of that, I think, is what Ali does in unburdening herself of all of her stuff. Putting on a pair of hard pants…

Are there some constants that we can always expect from an Annabel Monaghan novel?

I will always write a love story. I have tried to write a murder, I’ve tried to write a thriller, and they’ve been disasters. They’ve crumbled because I’ve turned them into a love story immediately. I can’t stay in the darkness for very long when I’m writing. So, it’ll always be a love story.

There will always be a heroine, who starts out in a certain situation and ends up just being more herself. And it will not be because of the relationship; she’ll never have a man solve all her problems. It drives me crazy, where everything’s terrible, but then the guy calls and everything’s fine.

That’s not how it works in real life. She will always come back to her truer self by the end. For me, that’s really satisfying. I think that’s the journey we’re all on, just to get back to ourselves and away from all the nonsense that we learn for fifty years.

Can you promise us a happy ending?

That goes without saying. And I’ll never kill a dog.

Very reassuring. There are so many books being published this year, this summer, especially. It could be daunting to wannabe authors. What advice would you give aspiring novelists?

You have to write the book that you’re going to want to read, the book that really only you can write. Because you’re going to have to read that book a hundred times while you’re writing it. It should be something that is personal to you and that you care about.

And lastly what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Just relax a little, for God’s sake. Everything’s going to be fine.

I wish I’d known that. Thank you so much. In the words of the Morris family, I’d like to wish you a happy champagne summer.

So far so good with the champagne summer over here. It’s been great.

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