What's in a Page: Emily Henry's Beach Read was built on yogurt and good lighting
Let's get meta for a second. Emily Henry's latest novel is a beach read, about a beach read, and it's called Beach Read.
In more detail, the tome follows a romance writer who finds herself in a beach house down the street from a "serious" writer of literary fiction. They're both at the end of their creative ropes — and in a bit of a career rut — so they embark on a challenge designed to pull them both out of the holes they've dug for themselves.
Henry is the latest subject of EW's author questionnaire, wherein she tells us about her big post-book deal purchase and all the work it took to get there.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What is the first thing — ever — that you remember writing?
EMILY HENRY: In third grade, we had to write a story. Most kids wrote a few sentences. I showed up with 27 pages about a submarine-driving toad who discovers an underwater city. The teacher broke us up into groups so we could read our stories aloud to each other. Several kids in my group fell asleep during my turn. That’s how you know you’ve made it — when you hear snoring.
What is the last book that made you cry?
East Coast Girls by Kerry Kletter. It’s a book that strikes that perfect balance of heart-wrenching and soul-healing. Kletter’s writing is gorgeous and poignant, and her characters are incredibly complex. It’s a perfect summer read.
Which book is at the top of your current to-read list?
My to-read list isn’t so much an ordered list as a disorganized jumble spilling off every surface in my house. I’ve got my bedside books (rom-coms), my office books (women’s fiction and literary fiction), and the stack on my fireplace (sci-fi and fantasy). This wasn’t intentional; I just realized that’s how my book stacks are divided up while answering this question.
On the romance side of things, I’m so looking forward to Meryl Wilsner’s Something to Talk About. In women’s fiction, I can’t wait for Saumya Dave’s Well-Behaved Indian Women, and in fantasy, I’m eagerly awaiting Naomi Novik’s A Deadly Education.
Where do you write?
When I sold Beach Read, I celebrated by buying a green velvet sofa that’s perfect for either dramatically fainting onto or sitting curled up with a laptop. I jump between that sofa, the living room couch, and a chair in my sunroom, depending on the weather in real life and the mood of whatever I’m writing. I’m weirdly inspired by lighting, so whenever I can, I like to find a spot where the light in my workspace fits with the light in the scene I’m working on.
Which book made you a forever reader?
Lois Lowry’s The Giver. I was 8 or 9 years old when I read it, and it was the book that made me realize books could change the way we see the world forever. It felt like pure magic to be changed by something I’d read.
What is a snack you couldn’t write without?
If there’s a snack nearby while I’m writing, then I am absolutely not writing and am instead wholly devoted to snacking. Yogurt is my go-to burst of sugar and protein when I feel myself dipping but haven’t reached a good stopping point in my workday. That’s such a horrible, boring answer, but it’s true. I would, however, find it much harder to write without coffee. I do a lot of cold brew with oat milk, but I have a fairly obsessive personality, so eventually I will drink so much of it that I’ll hate it and have to find something new.
If you could change one thing about any of your books, what would it be?
Whoa, this isn’t a power I feel ready to be granted. I don’t reread my books once the editing process is finished (except if I’m specifically invited to do a reading), because I’ll never be satisfied with anything I write. A book can be “done” for a certain moment in time, but I won’t ever be that version of myself again, and so no book would ever feel finished for me if I didn’t just accept it at some point.
I cringe whenever I reread something I wrote more than a few months ago. It’s unbearable. I understand why so many actors say they don’t watch their own movies. We’re always growing and changing, and our tastes shift with time too, so the way I’d do something now is very unlikely to be the same way I would’ve done it even six months earlier.
Pick a GIF that you think, in this moment, best describes you:
What is your favorite part of this book?
On a broad, technical level, I love the dialogue. Dialogue is far and away the thing I enjoy writing most, and the one piece of the process that comes fairly easily to me. It’s fun to do, which (hopefully) translates to it being fun to read!
On a scene-specific level, I’d choose the Red, White, and Blue Book Club meeting. Again: super fun to write all those characters and their interactions, and I hope readers will love it as much as I do.
What was the hardest plot point or character to write in this book?
It was hard to write January’s anger. Anger’s a feeling I’ve spent a lot of my life avoiding. It’s only recently that I’ve started to internalize that anger isn’t innately bad, or something to be avoided at all costs. To let this character feel her anger was a real challenge, partly because I wanted readers to like and care about her. And I think we tend to be much harder on characters than we would be on people in our real lives, because we’re so often seeing their unfiltered and ugliest thoughts.
Emotional honesty is always important in writing, but especially because of the first-person narration and the fact of this being a love story, there was no way around hearing January’s most embarrassing, vulnerable, silly, cringey, angry, or steamy thoughts. I could’ve left any of those out, but it wouldn’t have felt authentic to me. I wanted her to feel all of her feelings, but I struggled with feeling concerned about how readers would react to some of her emotions and decisions.
My editor, Amanda Bergeron, and I worked hard to find ways to bring January’s anger to life, while also creating space for the reader to understand her on a deeper level — and see who she was before this big life-changing event that’s turned her into a more bitter, pessimistic version of herself.
Write a movie poster tag line for your book.
I can’t claim credit for it, but I love the tagline my publisher came up with: He writes literary fiction. She writes romance. Let the war of words begin.