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Emily Henry on 'embarrassing, giddy, freefall' of writing, reading and being in love

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Picture this - you have the dream job, a dream home and are planning a dream wedding with the love of your life. And then said love of your life realizes they are in love with someone else. That is the exact nightmare scenario children's librarian Daphne Vincent finds herself in at the start of Emily Henry's new book, "Funny Story." Daphne's fiance Peter breaks up with her for his childhood best friend, and her plans are thrown into chaos. All this leads Daphne to move in with Miles, a guy who knows all too well what Daphne is going through, since the childhood friend who ran off with Peter is Miles' now ex-girlfriend, Petra. It's a premise that Henry wondered about after writing about a best friendship turn more in a different novel.

EMILY HENRY: Every time I kind of investigate one kind of trope or story line, I'm always curious, like, ooh, what happens to, you know, the rest of the cast? What about the woman who just got dumped? She's not the star of this rom-com, and I wanted to make her the star.

SUMMERS: I asked Henry what shades of Daphne she saw in herself.

HENRY: That feeling of not being enough is a real common fear for so many people, and especially in romantic relationships, you know, you can just feel like there's just this whole world that you should be, like, providing to this person. And you're aware of everyone else around you and how they interact with this person that means the world to you. And I think that that fear of, like - I'm not enough - is just a really pressing thing that gets kind of triggered in romantic relationships especially.

SUMMERS: I now want to talk about Miles, who is just this kind, warm, comforting person. He's tattooed. He wears Crocs. I am curious - when you're writing romance books where a lot of the tension comes from the obstacles that come when it comes to getting two people together, how hard is it to write a character who is just so genuinely kind and warm?

HENRY: This is the exact battle that this whole book was - to realize these two people really like each other, and they're really connecting. And he's kind, and he's emotionally available, and he's present. And so I had to really dig deep into kind of their histories and their traumas and figure out which things about themselves would sort of trip each other up, if that makes sense. You know, I think when you meet someone and you really click, there's all these facets of your personality that just complement each other, and that's a really exciting feeling. But of course, they're always also going to be things that really grate against each other. And for Daphne, this person who has, you know, kind of built her life on needing to have this sense of control and order, it's a real challenge to start falling for someone who's sort of the total opposite of that.

SUMMERS: I spend more time than I should probably admit on the radio on TikTok, specifically BookTok, and reading reviews, and something that I watched or read somewhere suggested that you happen to be very good at writing male characters, men who have gone to therapy and worked on themselves.

HENRY: Yes (laughter).

SUMMERS: How do you feel about that?

HENRY: I mean, I'm passionate about that. I'm passionate about men going to therapy.

SUMMERS: Me too.

HENRY: I mean, I'm passionate about everyone going to therapy. But, yeah, I mean, if you're a really introspective person and have really great friends and all of that, that can go a really long way. But, you know, if you want to have a sustained relationship that goes through all of these different phases of life and that really challenges all of your own hang-ups and triggers and all of that - I don't know. A lot of us need help. I need help, and I think it's always beneficial to a relationship to have an outside source you can lean on.

SUMMERS: One of the things that really stands out, not just in this book but also in your other books, is the fact that there is this quick-witted, fun, kind of steamy banter between characters, and it is certainly there all throughout with Daphne and Miles. Their voices, their chemistry, the intense attraction between them just jumps off the page. I guess I wonder - when you're writing, do you hear their voices in your head kind of having this back-and-forth, or how do you capture that?

HENRY: Definitely. I mean, in the best case scenario, that is what's happening. And I'll admit that sometimes the earlier drafts are not that, and it's just sort of writing filler dialogue and cranking out beats to a specific plot that I've decided. But I think the magic moment for any writer is when you feel those characters just take over. And I feel like I was really lucky with this one that while there were a lot of challenges, the dialogue was really there from the beginning. The dynamic was there. I understood that he was sort of the softer, sunnier one, and she was, you know, a little bit sharper edged. And I just loved the feeling of bouncing between their voices.

SUMMERS: I think one of the things that is so fun, whether it's in a book or in real life, about being in love is that you lose yourself in it. You have those little cringeworthy moments where you smack yourself in the head and you're like, oh, my gosh, I cannot believe I am saying this right now.

HENRY: Yes.

SUMMERS: How do you think about writing those kinds of scenes that feel almost unbelievable, but yet they're so relatable for us?

HENRY: I do think that writing romance and reading romance and falling in love all feel very similar for that exact reason. It's this kind of embarrassing, giddy freefall. And if you're - you know, it's so easy to judge yourself, to have this sort of out-of-body experience where you're replaying every conversation and smacking yourself on the head and feeling humiliated. But that's also the joy of it. It's, like, just the most vulnerable thing a person can do.

And as hard as vulnerability is, I think it's beautiful because it's the only thing that can ever lead to true intimacy and to truly being known. And so, you know, I think it's good for us. I think it's good for us to engage with stories like this where we kind of see raw vulnerability on display and the cringe that you're talking about. It's like you kind of have to learn to roll with those punches and enjoy it. And later, you know, like, in real life, when you have those things happen, later, it is a funny story.

SUMMERS: I'm also curious about your personal philosophy on love. Where does that come from?

HENRY: I mean, I got very lucky with my parents, I would say. They have been married since they were 17 and 19. They're in their late 60s now. So from the very beginning of my life, I had this view of what love was, and it was, you know, patient and kind. And they can bicker with each other, but there's always an apology. Like, there's just no pride in themselves. There's no ego getting in the way. And their partnership is just so beautiful. And, you know, I've gotten to now watch it grow and change for over 30 years. And it's just such a special thing to see two people who really got to grow up together and go through all these different seasons of life and be a witness to the other's experience.

SUMMERS: It's an incredible story. There was something that I read on your substack a few weeks back, and it was about how you think about the reader as you write your books. You wrote that traditionally, authors try to forget about their readers when they're writing. And you said that recently, we've been a little bit more present in your mind. What has that done to your writing process?

HENRY: Oh, I honestly think it's made me a better writer. I think, you know, it can slow things down. It can make me a lot more nervous. With "Funny Story," specifically, I remember telling my editor that I spent the whole editing process telling myself, you've done this before. You can do it again. There's no need to worry. It all works itself out in the end. And then the last couple of months were just sheer panic. And so we decided next time, we're going to panic a little bit throughout instead of at the end. But I do feel this - you know, this pressure and this responsibility because I see it as my readers having given me this amazing gift in being able to do the work that really means the world to me. And I want to show that I appreciate that. I want them to feel like they are part of the journey.

SUMMERS: That is author Emily Henry. Her new book, "Funny Story," is out now. Emily, thank you so much.

HENRY: Thank you so much. This really was a joy.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

William Troop
William Troop is a supervising editor at All Things Considered. He works closely with everyone on the ATC team to plan, produce and edit shows 7 days a week. During his 30+ years in public radio, he has worked at NPR, at member station WAMU in Washington, and at The World, the international news program produced at station GBH in Boston. Troop was born in Mexico, to Mexican and Nicaraguan parents. He spent most of his childhood in Italy, where he picked up a passion for soccer that he still nurtures today. He speaks Spanish and Italian fluently, and is always curious to learn just how interconnected we all are.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
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