Elena Bowes

New York-London design & culture writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

Q&A with Bestselling Author Annabel Monaghan… Summer Romance

June 26th, 2024
Books & Authors

 This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. You can listen to the full interview on my new podcast, Elena Meets the Author.

Annabel Monaghan’s  latest book, Summer Romance, came out a few weeks ago and is already an instant USA Today and Washington Post bestseller. If you’re wondering what to throw into that beach bag, wonder no more. I loved this book. Annabel has a gift for creating flawed, funny, charming characters that have enviable chemistry. And a whole quirky community and back story that adds layers and challenges to the plot.

I interviewed Annabel in 2022 about her first novel- Nora Goes Off Script–  which I also loved (for the same reasons as above- she’s nailed the formula yet each story is its very much its own)  Here’s that Q&A. Annabel has written three best sellers in the last three years. And I’m happy to report that she’s  working on a fourth for next summer. She  is clearly on a roll. Her books are funny, smart, philosophical without being too heavy. Feel good without ever being stupid.

In this interview you’ll learn about hard pants, , how to write a sex scene and how anthropological it is to be a seventh grade girl and get ditched by your friends, ‘cheetahs going in for the kill’.

Summer Romance is about a woman named Ali Morris who lives in a suburb outside of Manhattan. She’s a professional organizer, 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. Ali is 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 Annabel’s book suggests, things start looking up for Ali.

First question. I’m a big fan of romantic comedies, intelligent romantic comedies, the Harry Met Sally’s of the book world. But they do get a hard time like they’re not proper literature. Annabel, 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 something to have value 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.

 I agree. I love knowing I’m going to go to sleep with a smile on my face after reading a few chapters. I think Summer Romance has got to be made into a movie. Your descriptions of Ethan really made me want to meet him. He’s the perfect guy who not only really sees Ali but is crazy about her. He’s gorgeous without an ounce of vanity. And he’s always bringing her snacks and glasses of wine. If you could choose any actor to play both Ali and Ethan who would they be?

 I think maybe I was hungry while I was writing this book. I really do like how he would show up with chocolate pretzels and a little bit of Sancerre. It’s really not that hard to please a woman. For Ali, I would say Jennifer Lawrence. She is always my first choice, and I would actually have her play any of my heroines in any of my books.

And Ethan, I have a harder time with because I see him as a complete person, but I sort of think of him as a younger Sean Penn, but Sean Penn is not younger, so we couldn’t get him to do it. So, I don’t know who that actor is.

 In your notes at the end of the book, you talk about how after your mother’s death in 2009, a nun who knew your mother emailed your sister to say she’s as close as your breath. What do you think she meant?

I think about that sentence all the time. I think what it means is that if somebody loves you a lot and loves you your whole life, it becomes a part of you. And so, once they’re gone, you don’t feel so much that they’re gone because they’re inside of you and they’re also outside of you, like your breath.

A couple times a week I get in the car, and I say, Mom, can you believe what just happened or what am I going to do? And it’s not like I hear a response from her. I’m not hearing dead people, but I know in my head and in my memory and in my heart what she would say to comfort me in a certain situation.

I read that this is your most personal novel yet. Can you expand on how this book has a lot of parallels to your own life? You talked about your mother. Do you hate dog parks?

I really can’t express how much I hate dog parks. The meet cute in this book (happens when) Ali goes to the dog park and her little dog runs over to this very attractive man, lifts his leg and pees on him. (The dog)  chooses him for Ali in that way.

The first time that I ever took my dog to the dog park was also the last time I ever took my dog to the dog park. He just ran over to this lady, just this perfectly nice lady, lifted up his leg and peed on her flip flop. No joke.

 Oh no!

The look on her face, and I just apologized and backed away and frankly never went back to the dog park again. So certainly, that’s part of my life. And the grieving of my mother is in this book.

But also, this idea that I think about all the time, I put into this book, which is what is the right amount of involvement to have in your children’s lives? You know, what is the right amount to step in? Ali’s mother steps into her marriage a lot while she was alive. Ali’s mother steps in when her husband is absent to sort of make everything okay. And her over-helping in her marriage sort of makes Ali lose her voice and sort of keeps her from ever really learning how to be married.

I think this is a thing that we do as parents as our children get older. We don’t let them learn how to live because we are just trying to prevent them from feeling any kind of pain.

I was raised on a really heavy dose of negligence, and I survived, and it was fine. There’s this idea that I think all of us would love to do everything we can to keep our children from ever suffering. But that is not really best practice. Because they’re going to suffer, and if they haven’t ever suffered along the way, you know, their first step out is, it’s a doozy.

 I agree, all this helicopter parenting is not healthy for the kids or the parents. You have two main older women characters in your book, Ali’s dead mother and Ali’s 94-year-old neighbour, Phyllis. How would you compare these two women and can you talk about the importance of intergenerational friendships.

 I love my intergenerational friendships both up and down. I think they give me so much context. Ali has this neighbour who’s 94 years old, who she’s known forever, but she got closer to after her mother passed away. And Ali’s mother, as I said, was overly involved in everything in her life. Phyllis, her neighbour, has the opposite attitude about things.

She says, pull the weeds and let God do the rest. She’s very hands off about everything. Phyllis is kind of how my mom was. I appreciated Phyllis’s outlook on everything. So, they were a contrast to each other and hopefully to have Ali change throughout the novel.

I think those relationships help wherever we are in our lives. We get so full in our heads about where we are and what we’re doing and what our particular circumstances are. Our older friends give us context for where we’re going and how maybe some of (the things in our head) aren’t so important. And our younger friends give us context for where we’ve been.

You have three sons, no daughters, yet you really captured what Greer is going through. How did you know how traumatic it is to be a seventh-grade girl?

 I was doing an event this week and I asked the crowd of a hundred people, I said, who here knows what it is to be a seventh-grade girl and get ditched? And every single one of them raised their hands, every single person in the audience. It is the most universal feeling. So, I don’t have a daughter, but I was in the seventh grade, and I remember what it was like.

It’s anthropological. It’s like when the cheetahs are going in for a kill and they surround the prey. They pick out the weaker girl and pounce and then everybody turns on her. It’s bananas. I wrote about what I remembered.

Changing tack here. 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 realized 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.

 I also liked how Ethan dealt with ex-husband Pete’s put downs. He deflected rather than replied aggressively. Were those scenes fun to write?

 So fun. I really like writing a horrible guy. And the thing about Pete, her ex-husband, is he’s not physically abusive. He just talks to her in a way that can literally wear you down after time. It’s just belittling and demeaning and dismissive in a way that just makes you want to punch him in the face.

So, in the scenes where Ethan is just quietly putting him in his place, it was very satisfying writing. I loved writing those scenes.

 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 50 years.

To who we once were. Can you promise us a happy ending?

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

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

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

You can read the rest of my edited Q&A here on 26.

June 2024

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