By Seija Rankin
March 25, 2019 at 04:33 PM EDT
Mary Grace Long; HarperCollins

When Jenna Bush Hager chose The Last Romantics as her very first pick for the new Today show book club, the novel shot to the top of best-seller lists. But the TV host isn’t the only person to quickly become enamored with Tara Conklin’s epic family saga — here at EW, we’ve been fans ever since we picked up the unfinished galley.

The book follows a set of four siblings who, after an early tragedy sends their mother into a years-long depression, find themselves in a close-knit and highly complicated dynamic. It spans decades of their lives, detailing childhood fiascos and very adult drama. This week, Conklin answers EW’s burning questions about the novel that’s captivating an entire morning show audience, and lets us in on the secrets of her writing routine.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What is the first thing — ever — that you remember writing?
TARA CONKLIN:
I remember one particular assignment in fifth grade: The teacher asked us to write an autobiography that included both our life to date (all 10 years of it) and predictions about the future. I wrote pages and pages of my imagined adulthood where I became (of course) a famous writer and also a doctor who discovers the cure for cancer.

What is the last book that made you cry?
News of the World, by Paulette Jiles. I finished it on an airplane and cried my eyes out.

What is your favorite part of The Last Romantics?
I really like the last few pages. From an early stage in drafting the book, I knew that I wanted a satisfying, sweeping end that provided the reader with true closure on the story and the characters’ lives. I just wasn’t sure if I could pull it off. But after many rewrites and a few new grey hairs, I think I got it.

Pick a GIF that you think, in this moment, best describes your book:

Which book is at the top of your current To-Read list?
Helen Oyeyemi’s Gingerbread is by my bed now. And I’m already looking forward to September, when The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, will be released.

Where do you write?
Wherever my children are NOT.

Which book made you a forever reader?
I remember two books in particular that provoked intense emotion in me as a child. I read them countless times just to see if their impact would ever lessen. It never did. Bridge to Terabithia, which made me weep, and War of the Worlds, which scared the hell out of me.

What is a snack you couldn’t write without?
COFFEE. Does that count as a snack?

What was the hardest part to write in The Last Romantics?
For some reason, I had the most trouble finding Renee’s character. Like Renee, I’m a classic first-born, so I knew the rough outlines of her personality. But the specifics of her life — What were her passions? Who was her partner? Was she a parent? — eluded me. In the first draft of the book, for example, Renee was a Pilates instructor who never has children. In the final manuscript, she’s a transplant surgeon and a mom.

If you could change one thing about any of your books, what would it be?
I wish I had finished The Last Romantics sooner so my grandmother could have read it.

If The Last Romantics had a movie poster tagline, it would be:
Four siblings, three cities, two tragedies, and a story you’ll never forget.

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