Credit: Chad Griffith; Atria Books

Colleen Hoover’s life story is such a contemporary fairy tale that it practically belongs in one of her novels, books which grant her damaged heroes and heroines their long-desired happy endings.

In 2011, the author was living in a single-wide mobile home in Texas with her husband and three small children. When she self-published her first novel, Slammed, in early 2012, she was shocked to end up on the New York Times best-seller list. Three books later, with Hopeless, she made history as the first self-published author to hit the No. 1 spot on the list.

Now with All Your Perfects, her 17th book overall, Hoover is diverging a bit from her path. She’s garnered legions of fans with her contemporary romances, which often look at the blossoming of first love and focus on characters who are teenagers or in their 20s. With All Your Perfects, Hoover turns her attention to a couple at two points in their life: the “then” of the early days of their relationship, and the “now” of their floundering marriage. Can Graham and Quinn overcome the secrets they’ve kept and the wounds they’ve inflicted to find their way back to each other?

Prior to the July 17 release of All Your Perfects, EW called up Hoover to talk about what inspired the story structure, how she’s really not a romantic at heart, and much more.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: In the spirit of All Your Perfects, let’s do a then-and-now: What was your life like before you published your first novel, and how is it different now?
COLLEEN HOOVER: On the “then,” it was 2011, I was living in a single-wide mobile home, working for the state of Texas. I was a social worker. I worked 11-hour days all day long. I have three little kids — they were little at the time, they’re all teenage boys now. I worked all the time. My middle one was in a play, and he was having rehearsals every night, and I’d get off work and take him to rehearsal and ended up sitting in the auditorium every night for three hours, and just started writing this story just for fun while I waited on him. After a couple of weeks, it got longer and longer, and I was like,“Maybe this is going to turn into a book.” After a couple of months of writing it, I sent it to my mom, and she was the first one to read it. Four months later, I self-published it. It hit the New York Times best-seller list. It was a whirlwind. It happened so fast, and my life is completely different now, but still so much the same. I still have my boys and my husband. We were able to get out of the mobile home, and I have a more flexible schedule now, so that’s nice. I travel a lot. I hadn’t traveled outside of Texas before writing my book, and now I go everywhere.

Were you always an avid reader/lover of romance? And how did you decide you wanted to write one yourself?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Since I was 4 years old. I remember my sister coming home from school and she wrote down our address, and I was so jealous because I wanted to know how to write, and I tried to get her to teach me, but she was like 7, and she didn’t know how to do that. I was so ready to go to school and learn how to write. I read a lot growing up. I loved to read. But I didn’t think writing was a lucrative career that could sustain my family, so I went and got a degree in social work. I had never read a romance before writing my first book. I didn’t even know that I had written a romance. I read a lot of true crime. It’s just crazy that that’s the story that came out of me. I didn’t know that I liked it. I’m not a romantic person, but I love it now. I read a lot of romance, and that’s basically all I write.

You began self-publishing and then moved to Atria, your current publisher. Why did you decide to make that move?
I self-published first. I didn’t even try to get it traditionally published because I just never viewed myself as a writer. I wrote this story and I wanted my sister and my friends to read it, and Kindles were really big that year. I was like, “Hey, I’m going to put this story on here. It’s going to be free for five days. It’ll be fun to have it on your Kindles.” I didn’t think anything would come of it. Then when everything started happening and the two books I put up hit the New York Times, I started getting offers from publishers. I felt like maybe they were making me offers not because the books were good but because of the rankings. I wasn’t stupid. I actually I turned down a couple of offers until Atria. The editor reached out to me, and she read one of my blog posts, and that’s what made her reach out to me. I just really liked her, and we connected on a personal level.… When they made an offer on a third book, I was like, “No I’m going to self-publish it.” I still felt like a fraud, and that I didn’t deserve a publishing deal. After that one came out, it did really well, and I ended up selling them my next two. They’d done so well with the editing of Slammed. I was like, “This can help me learn more.” That’s really why I did it, because I had never taken a writing class. I didn’t know a whole lot. I felt I was learning so much from my editors that I felt my writing [would] improve if I went with them.

Your books tend to be about damaged people finding their happy endings. Why is that a narrative that attracts you?
People tend to tell me my books are very emotional, and they are a little bit heavy. That’s because I’m a very stoic person. I don’t have a lot of emotions. I don’t cry. I’m not romantic, so it’s very strange to everyone that knows me in real life that I write these books. It takes a lot for me to feel what the characters are feeling because I’m not easily affected by it. I just push the limit and write about these people with these huge issues they’re having to overcome, so I’ll feel what I’m writing. That’s why I go a little deeper and write about traumatic things.

Have you drawn on your past as a social worker for any of the story lines?
I used to be an investigator for Child Protective Services. I dealt with a lot of sexual abuse cases. I did that for seven years, so that definitely played a heavy role in Hopeless. It Ends With Us deals with domestic abuse, and I dealt with that some as a social worker, and also pulled a little of that story from my parent’s marriage from when I was younger. Those were really the only two books where I pulled from real life, because I usually try to avoid that because I don’t want anyone thinking I write about them.

A lot of romances, yours included, are about new love. What made you want to tell the romance of a married couple finding their way back to each other?
I actually pulled a little bit from my sister’s marriage. When my sister got married, my mother gave them a box and made them write a letter to each other and told them they could’t open it until their 10-year wedding anniversary. I just thought that was the coolest idea, but I forgot about it and then the year before I wrote All Your Perfects, my sister and her husband had their 10-year anniversary and opened the letters. She was telling me about it and I was like, “Oh my God, that’s so beautiful. I want to write a book about that.” That’s really what started that. I knew it would have to center around a marriage that had been going on for several years. I was kind of excited about it because I do write about people who are falling in love for the first time. I usually end the book once they fall in love, so I was excited to delve into something further down the line in a relationship. My husband and I have been together since I was 16 and been married 18 years, so it was fun writing about a couple who had been together for awhile.

What made you want to do a then-and-now structure in this story?
Because I was writing about a marriage, but I also love seeing the couple fall in love. I like writing about when couples fall in love and when they meet for the first time, so I still wanted some of that so you could see that connection. I just felt like that fun love was missing, and we needed to see what made them fall in love and what makes it detrimental when marriages start to crumble. That’s why I did then-and-now, so you could move along with their relationship as it’s developing, and also, as it’s falling apart.

You grapple with issues a lot of women and couples face — infertility, miscarriage, and childlessness. What made you want to tackle those subjects?
When I start writing books, I don’t ever think I’m going to write about this subject or dive into this. I usually develop the characters first. I knew I wanted them to struggle with something in their marriage. That didn’t even start until a third of the way through. I almost have to develop the characters first, and then they tell me this is the issue we’re having. I know that’s weird, but it’s how my books work. I never sit down and think, “Okay, this is the issue I’m tackling.” It’s more like this story is going to be about these characters, and then let’s see what problems they’re going to face.

Quinn is an author, trying to get her first book published. Did you put a lot of your own experiences into her story?
Honestly, it was probably just coincidence. I put a little bit of myself into every character I write. Sometimes they like my favorite foods, or they’re a writer like me, or they have my personality or my sense of humor. I don’t think I do it intentionally, but when you’re developing people, it’s hard sometimes to not let a little bit of yourself bleed into the character.

You’ll have this book tour on your plate, but what’s next for you after that?
I actually got an idea for a psychological thriller a couple weeks ago that I cannot stop thinking about. I’ve never written anything remotely similar to a psychological thriller, so I’m really excited about it. It’s got romance aspects in it, but completely different from what I normally write.