How Nora Ephron and social media inspired Forever35 host Kate Spencer's debut romance novel
In a New York minute, everything can change…
It's the catchy chorus of a Don Henley song, but also an eternal truth and the idea at the heart of Kate Spencer's forthcoming rom-com.
Spencer — author the memoir The Dead Moms Club and cohost of the beloved podcast Forever35 — is making her fiction debut with In a New York Minute. The book is an encapsulation of all the things she loves, including Nora Ephron and the Big Apple.
"Living in New York changed my life, and it's still what I consider my core home," Spencer tells EW. "What resonates with my writing is just this longing for New York City. And I feel like that's evident in Nora Ephron's films. She clearly loves it in a really organic way."
As you might have guessed, In a New York Minute is set in NYC; it follows Franny Doyle in the midst of a total crisis. After being laid off from her interior design job, she gets her silk dress stuck in a subway door, exposing her back half to a substantial portion of Lower Manhattan. She's saved by a hot stranger, Hayes Montgomery III, who offers her his suit jacket to cover up, but the guy cannot get away from her fast enough.
They nevertheless become a trending topic, with all of New York shipping #SubwayQTs. The two of them have nothing in common: Franny is a vibrant, talkative artist, while Hayes is serious, shy, and obsessed with numbers. So it should be no problem to avoid each other until the viral media frenzy calms down, but they keep ending up in each other's orbit and start to wonder why they wanted to ever go their separate ways.
Spencer recently chatted with EW about transitioning to writing fiction, why romance has been a constant balm in her life, and the eye-catching cover for In a New York Minute (designed by Holly Ovenden and illustrated by Ana San José), which you can see exclusively below. Read on for more from the author.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You've written about grief from a really personal space before. What made you want to branch into fiction and a rom-com?
KATE SPENCER: Honestly, I have wanted to write — and have been working on many discarded drafts of — romantic fiction for almost a decade, maybe a little bit longer. It's my favorite genre to read. It has always been connected to grief. When I lost my mom when I was 27, the romance books that I read were essentially all I could read at the time, and they were a real salve for my grief. So in addition to really loving the genre as a reader, I feel a real deep sense of gratitude for the way in which a great romance or especially a great romantic comedy can make you feel, because it really saved me. I value that so much as a reader that it has always driven me to want to write that as well. I do come from a comedy background, so humor is just part of the way in which I approach my writing, but romance was my love. There's nothing like it. It's my favorite.
Did you find it easy to transition your voice from one to the other, and do you think your readers will find a familiarity there?
I do. I think I have a very conversational style of writing. I suspect that there will be a natural flow from the memoir writing I've done to my characters in this book. As much as you try to change your style of writing or shift things, you can't remove yourself from yourself. Your voice is always the same across whatever it is that you're writing.
How much did having your own podcast hone your voice as a writer?
Our show has been around for about three and a half years and I've been attempting fiction writing since like 2010, so I don't know if it's helped me shape my voice as a writer per se as much as it has been an outlet for processing a lot of the fear and anxiety and insecurity that comes along with writing. Because it is a place where we talk about the ways in which we care for ourselves, or the struggles we have doing so. A lot of that has aligned with finding my own voice and my own confidence as a writer. We have such an amazing podcast community, so if anything I've just felt this immense world of support from our podcast and from our listeners. But we also think our podcast is a very authentic place where we talk about almost anything, and that is something I strive for as a writer as well. Doing the podcast is an amazing gift to just really say whatever, and there are those moments in my fiction writing too. So I'm sure there is some sort of magical alignment there.
You've also really found a comedic sweet spot on social media. How much did that play into your voice or the story?
One of the most interesting things for me has always been watching storytelling on social media. That is where the idea for this book first just formed in my brain, because it's so interesting to me the way we all use social media to tell our own stories, but then also the way we just take ownership of other people's stories, especially strangers, and we match stories to them when we don't even really know what's going on. I find that to be terrifying and fascinating, and it can be slightly violating, so watching that unravel, whether it was on Twitter or on Instagram and now TikTok too, has always fascinated me. It really hit its peak a few years ago, which was when the idea of the story started brewing in my brain.
Well, we've all seen this viral moments where we assume two strangers are having a meet-cute, but then we're also invading their privacy. Why was that a subject you wanted to explore?
Honestly, I had a friend who had an incident on the subway in New York where he accidentally kicked a woman's shoe onto the subway track, and then they both tweeted about it, and then they somehow found each other and ended up on TV together and the MTA got the shoe. It wasn't like a national viral story, but it happened to my friend and as I was watching it happen, I was like, "Oh my God, this is the dream meet-cute for the rom-coms that I love," but then also my friend had a girlfriend and this wasn't actually romantic at all. It was very awkward and very weird, and it didn't feel sexy or romantic. But from the outside, you can imagine how it could be. My brain wanted to romanticize the whole thing, where it started making me want to explore what happens when you have something that everyone assumes is romantic but actually it's very unsexy and it's out of your hands. I find that to be one of the most interesting parts of social media today.
The setting and the description and the warmth of it all feels very Nora Ephron to me. Would you say she was an inspiration?
I mean, When Harry Met Sally is my favorite movie. In no way was I like, "Let me try to emulate Nora Ephron," because she is an icon and a master of not just romantic comedy, but of human observation, in the most brilliant way. I've read a lot of her work and I love her films. Of course I'm inspired 1 million percent by her work, and especially the way in which New York is really woven into the stories of her films and the backdrop inspires the setting and the characters' motivation. That feeds my soul as a former New Yorker, and I've always connected with that, and that also came out as I was writing. She's a massive influence and a hero and everything I would ever want to be.
The cover is so eye-catching. Can you tell us more about the concept or your wishlist for it and how you arrived at this?
As a person who works in audio and writing. I'm the least visual person ever, so I was just along for the ride. I'm so obsessed with how it looks and how it turned out.
I love the title, such a great Don Henley song, why'd you choose that?
I had a really crappy draft title that I'd been using for the two years that I was working on it, and when it came time to hand it off to my agent to go out on submission, I knew I needed something. This is what popped into my brain after having written a million drafts, and it was a real fluke, just a moment of like, "Oh, this totally works, I'm going to call it this." It really summed up succinctly what the book is about, which is magic. I too identify with the Don Henley song. I grew up with a dad who loves Don Henley. But I believe it is a phrase that existed before Don Henley's song.
It did, but every time I look at the cover I hear that song.
I feel like you're not alone. I'm just going to have to lean into that song.