Q&A With Emily Henry: People We Meet on Vacation

 Emily Henry

Author: Emily Henry

Author Bio:

Emily Henry writes stories about love and family for both teens and adults. She studied creative writing at Hope College and the now-defunct New York Center for Art & Media Studies, and spends most of her time in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the part of Kentucky just beneath it.
 
Her romantic comedy debut, Beach Read, spent twelve weeks on the New York Times Bestsellers list, along with weeks on the Indie and USA Today Bestsellers lists. Her books have been featured in Buzzfeed, Oprah Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times, The Skimm, Shondaland, Betches, Bustle, and more."
 

1.  What was your writing process like for “People We Meet on Vacation”?

It was honestly such a blast. My editor, agent, and I had talked very loosely about the book, but hadn’t settled on whether it was definitely the right next book. But we had some time before we had to make a concrete plan, and I used those weeks to write a first draft in secret. The characters came to me pretty quickly, compared to other books. I really felt like I knew them within the first couple of chapters, which made the rest happen naturally. I knew how these people would react to most situations, so it was just a matter of writing it all down.

 

2.  Do you feel any pressure following up your bestselling success, “Beach Read”?

Oh, absolutely! One really great thing is, I was able to write the first draft of People before Beach Read came out, and I will always be grateful for that. I think it would’ve been much more daunting to be drafting with the knowledge of how many people there were to potentially let down. Second books are always strange animals, because you really want to be bringing a gift to the people who loved your first but you absolutely cannot (and should not!) write the same book twice. I knew in some ways people would be a departure, but I wanted to make sure there were enough similarities for Beach Read lovers to not feel cheated.

 

3.  Fans have boasted in the past that your books have helped their love lives. Have your stories helped any of your relationships?

Wow, I actually had no idea this was a thing people were saying, and I couldn’t be more honored! Honestly, yes, for me, writing is always helpful in my relationships. I know every writer approaches things a bit differently, but for me, the heart of every single book I write is the characters. Whether I’m writing sci-fi books for teens or romance novels for adults, I’m most interested in figuring out what shaped my characters and how they need to overcome that.

I think that naturally breeds empathy, but it also just means a lot of self-reflection. There is a kernel of me in most of my characters, so subconsciously (and sometimes consciously), I’m constantly working out my own thought patterns and pushing up against the things that scare me. When I talk to aspiring writers, I always liken writing a novel to putting a group of fictional people through therapy, but it’s also extremely therapeutic for me.

 

4.  The relationship between Alex and Poppy resonates because it feels and reads very unique and authentic. As a writer, when character building how do you craft in compatibility and a genuine love with real-world nuance? 

First of all, thank you so much. That’s a lovely compliment. Some of it feels like magic. I know it’s not, but I think there are a lot of things I don’t know that I know how to do, if that makes sense. But one thing is, I don’t start with archetypes. When I was first starting to write seriously, I was convinced I was going to be a fantasy writer, and all my books had these sprawling casts, so I’d try to pin each character to a particular archetype and heighten their idiosyncrasies in that way.


I don’t do that anymore. Instead I just think about one belief that sort of shapes them, and how they got that belief (again, often it’s a fear). I kind of comb through their childhoods seeing the way those beliefs became codified in their minds. When I know who my characters are naturally—and who their trauma has forced them to become—it’s actually pretty easy to know how they’d interact with each other, what they would admire about each other, what would grate, what they’d draw out. And I’ll also say, Poppy and Alex’s dynamic was particularly easy for me, because, like Poppy, I’m the youngest and only girl in my family, and I think that has a lot to do with my and Poppy’s personality. We are both a little bit rascally and like to tease the people we love.

 

5.  Fan Question - Would you rather travel on a cheap budget and spontaneously making up your itinerary or would you rather have an unlimited amount of money but have your vacation planned with no wiggle room?

Oh my gosh, I have to admit, here’s where I’m Alex. I love a planned trip. I don’t love to do the planning. But I absolutely love when I take a trip with someone who’s incredibly type-A and creates the perfect itinerary, and I just get to be along for the ride.

 

6.  What is the best vacation you have ever taken?

It’s so hard to choose. It’s kind of comparing apples to oranges. I’d say Croatia was the most beautiful place I’ve ever traveled, but one of my absolute favorite trips was to a place I go fairly often: northern California and southern Oregon. Two of my best friends and my husband and I took this trip together, and it was very much a Poppy and Alex trip. We were trying to do everything as cheaply as possible, and stayed a few nights on the floor of my grandparents house, which was one of my absolute favorite memories. It was so special getting to introduce two of my favorite people to two of my other favorite people.

 

7.  It has been said that “communication is key”. How would you rate Alex and Poppy’s communication? More specifically, their emotional communication?

I actually think their communication is decent. I think the issue for them is, they’re trying so hard to figure the correct boundary between them. They can share absolutely everything with each other—except their potentially romantic feelings for each other.  But I don’t think this is a failure at communication. I think it’s a carefully weighed choice that they’re both wrestling with at different times in the book. The longer you’re close to someone, and the more integral they become to your life, the greater the risk you’re taking by trying to shift the direction of your relationship.


Alex and Poppy spend a decent amount of the book dating other people, and they’re doing their absolute best to preserve the most meaningful friendship in either of their lives while not crossing boundaries that would make it impossible to go back to how things were. Communication in a friendship like theirs is always going to be a balance. Once you come right out and put everything on the table, there’s no going back.

 

8.  What is your secret for capturing and maintaining the readers’ attention throughout without letting up or letting go?

I wish I knew! I know it has something to do with tension, but to create that feeling for the reader, I really have to feel it myself when I’m writing. So again, it feels like magic, like whatever I’m doing is just kind of bypassing my brain. But I think being deeply embedded in the POV character’s head is super helpful, and really trying to sense their feelings and get those onto the page.

 

9.  Was there anything you learned about yourself while writing “People We Meet on Vacation”?

It’s so interesting, but that feeling Poppy and Rachel call “millennial ennui” was what I was trying to work through at the time. Just a couple weeks ago, I saw an article in the NY Times describing the same thing as “languishing.” They were kind of linking it to the pandemic, but I’ve seen a lot of this in my generation before the pandemic (which is when I was writing this book).

I think the most common thread among millennials is that most of are chasing a sense of purpose. And when you’re desperately pursuing a goal, you have that. Once you’ve met that goal a couple times over, it can start to feel strangely empty. I wanted to investigate that feeling, and see how a character might pivot or find a new level to that purpose.

 

10.  The incorporation of a lengthy road trip has many drawing comparisons to ‘When Harry Met Sally’. What are some rom-com’s that have inspired your writing and is ‘When Harry Met Sally’ one of them?

Yes, definitely! I only started reading romance a few years ago, and now I know what I was missing out on, but before that, I had always, always loved romantic comedy films. So I think that’s probably what I tend to draw more from. I’ve also always enjoyed writing dialogue more than anything, so I think that’s another reason that comparison gets made—When Harry Met Sally is all about the dialogue, in my opinion.


I could list a lot of favorites, but I’m not sure whether they’re actually inspirations. Maybe in a way they are, because I do think there’s a lot of breadth in romantic comedy heroines. We like to joke that there are only a few types, but those type aren’t hugely represented in any other genre: the messy, chaotic woman who does the Meg Ryan stream-of-consciousness rambling, the focused hard-ass city woman who loves and excels at her job. I find the idea that these women are all deserving and capable of great love so refreshing, and I think that’s a huge inspiration.

 

11.  What is the toughest emotion to write about?

I would say that while anger is very easy to write about, I’m kind of aware the whole time that a lot of readers are going to find it unappealing. I write it anyway, but I often have that voice in the back of my head warning that some readers just simply won’t like a woman who defaults to anger.

And I think grief and sorrow are emotions I really cannot write if I’m not able to drum them up in myself. I can’t fake those. If I’m not feeling it while I’m writing, it’s going to fall flat, and usually, I need to reconceive the scene to find a way to reach that point.

 

12.  What’s your best advice for getting over writer’s block? 

Write anyway! I have writer's block most days while I’m drafting. I’m not talking about burnout: When I finish a project, I won’t have any ideas for a new book for weeks, and that’s okay, and I think resting is the ticket there. But while I’m drafting, I’ll have a few good days up front, usually, followed by weeks of toiling. I write anyway. Everyday.


I don’t believe everyone needs to write everyday, but I do think when you set aside time for writing, you need to show up for yourself, which means pushing through your own fear of failure to do this thing that deep down you want to do. In my life, there have been so many experiences I’ve felt briefly excited about and then looked for any chance to back out of because of fear. And your body rewards it. You get this feeling of utter relief when you decide you’re not going to do something you’re scared to do.

 

But that feeling doesn’t last, and then you’re left with this disappointment. And the reverse is true if you push through the fear. The fear doesn’t last and the feeling you’re left with is accomplishment. So when I have writer’s block, I sit down, and I’m not allowed to be done for the day until I hit my word goal. Sometimes this means I turn off my Wifi and put my phone in the other room. Sometimes it means I’m writing scenes where absolutely nothing is happening. But if I write long enough, I do inevitably stumble on something that matters, and I believe you will too if you give yourself the time and space for it.

 

13.  What’s the best book you have read this year so far?

I could never make a choice like this! I don’t have it in me! I will say, I read Mhairi McFarlane’s Just Last Night and I wished I’d written it. I also choked over laughter reading Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto.



14.  What’s the best advice you have ever received on happiness?

To find it in the present instead of looking forward. We very likely only get to live every day once. And if we actually relive each a million times over, that’s all the more reason to be present and stop rushing and make your day mean something.

 

15.  Do you plan on writing more books in the future?

No. Just kidding, I hope I get to write and publish for the rest of my life. It’s pretty hard for me to imagine enjoying anything more!

 

Other Places To Find More From This Author:

Instagram: @emilyhenrywrites

Website: www.emilyhenrybooks.com

 

People We Meet on Vacation

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