Plus, see EW's exclusive reveal of the cover for The Roughest Draft.

By Maureen Lee Lenker
May 26, 2021 at 09:00 AM EDT
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They say the couple that plays together stays together, but what about couples who write together?

Married couple Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka have been channeling their romantic happiness into a successful writing partnership since 2018's Always Never Yours. But while previously they've teamed up to deliver frothy, delightful YA rom-coms, now they're turning their collective pen to an adult romance and their most personal book yet.

The Roughest Draft, which EW can exclusively reveal the cover for, follows Katrina Freeling and Nathan Van Huysen — previously literary darlings as a writing team who saw everything fall apart when they ended both of their partnerships on bad terms.

But when they're forced back together after three years to complete the final book on their contract, they hole up in the tiny Florida town where they wrote their last book. There, they struggle to work through misunderstandings and mutual loathing, all while trying to write a romantic novel.

We called up Wibberly and Siegemund-Broka to find out what inspired this seemingly ripped from life tale, how much of themselves they put in the story, and who prefers writing by hand. Read more after the cover below. The Roughest Draft hits shelves Jan. 25, 2022.

The Roughest Draft
Credit: Penguin

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This is your first "adult" romance. What made you want to make the jump from YA?

AUSTIN SIEGEMUND-BROKA: Part of it was this story. We actually came up with this basically on accident on our honeymoon. We were sitting at breakfast in Florence, and Emily joked that our agent and publisher must be thrilled that we had finally put a ring on our writing partnership and weren't just going to break up. We looked at each other and realized that the idea of the partnership who had broken up just like that, amidst much acrimony and spite was a pretty fun place to start a story. It's the kind of idea that needed to have several years behind those characters lives and some history and some professional stature. And so, it only fit in adult.

EMILY WIBBERLEY: Also, since we had got married, we were now thinking about those more adult themes and wanting to explore that.

What were the challenges and the joys of making that leap?

WIBBERLEY: We're so excited to join this genre and market. We love women's fiction and romance. We've been huge fans of the genre for as long as we've been writing. It feels so exciting to have books next to the books that we're such huge fans of.

SIEGEMUND-BROKA: I think that writing characters who are a little bit closer to our own age and to our own professional and personal tensions and concerns and joys as you say, it's been a very visceral experience. It's been a lot more personal. That is a dual-edged sword. On the one hand, it flows out of you a little bit more because you're writing from ideas and issues very intimately connected to your own life.

WIBBERLEY: The drawback is when we're talking about stuff we're going through right now with each other, who we're going through it with as well, it gets very tangled. And meta.

Well, that feeds into my next question, which is what made you want to tell a story about the intricacies of this relationship and being both writing and life partners?

WIBBERLEY: We talked about it amongst ourselves long before we started writing this book, how there's just a lot to unpack there. We have to put up boundaries about certain things and make certain things very clear. Like, just the other day, we were describing the clothing of a character. Austin suggested an article of clothing that he wears quite often, a polo, and I said, "No, I don't want it to be a polo." And then he got very defensive about this and thought I did not like his clothing. These kinds of things had come up constantly while writing.

SIEGEMUND-BROKA: That's exactly the kind of stuff we're saying that it's both fun to write because we are writing characters who are navigating exactly the same tricky lines we do. And very difficult because this stuff is very personal. In a lot of ways, writing this couple, especially in the position they find themselves, who've split up, it was like writing the worst nightmare version of ourselves. That is both tense and sad at times. But also kind of gorily, deliciously fun to imagine people whose partnership has taken a very different turn, and who then, over the course of the story, rediscover the fun and the joy, and ultimately, the love that we on our best of days have as co-writers.

Would you say this is your most personal book?

SIEGEMUND-BROKA: Yes. Absolutely.

WIBBERLEY: And it made it both easy and difficult to write. We really had to do very little research for this book, right? We were just in our house writing a book about characters in a house writing a book. Very, very easy to draw from, but then also very difficult to draw from.

SIEGEMUND-BROKA: Very intimate.

Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka
Co-writers and real-life couple Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka.
| Credit: Sue Grubman

Did it bring up any interesting or challenging conversations between you both?

SIEGEMUND-BROKA: It has brought up conversations that we have since had. Because [while writing YA], we had the distance of these characters being younger and dealing with issues that are different from our own. Writing The Roughest Draft, we've had to rehash this issue a few times, but the things you're writing for these characters are not necessarily your own opinions, not necessarily your own feelings.

WIBBERLEY: It's very difficult because part of The Roughest Draft is we have our characters saying to each other, "Hey, we're not trying to speak to each other through these characters. They're just the characters." And the big lie of the book is that it's not true. They are speaking to each other through their characters. So are Austin and I speaking to each other through our characters? Probably, but we have to pretend we're not.

SIEGEMUND-BROKA: It's a line we navigate every day and one that we put into the book because this is a notion that has interested us for a long time. It was thrilling and interesting to put that on the page and explore some of those concepts, both philosophical and personal, that we do navigate, and also sometimes a little close for comfort.

Do you feel like that's something to navigate with readers, where they just make assumptions that you're writing from life or things like that?

SIEGEMUND-BROKA: Yes, very much so. It's the caveat we often come into discussions of this book with. Nathan and Katrina, the main characters, they're not us. They come from different backgrounds, they have different priorities, they have different little preferences. The big similarities are there and are what we're talking about. They fight the same way; they deal with these issues of on text versus in life the same way.

WIBBERLEY: The idea of how it feels to write with someone else, and to find that person who is your artistic collaborator, that's really all our feelings. But we really tried to put up some guardrails in the characters themselves so that people don't think it's literally us.

SIEGEMUND-BROKA: These are different people.

That being said, did you infuse these two characters with any of your own writing quirks or techniques?

SIEGEMUND-BROKA: We absolutely did.

WIBBERLEY: It was a little bit of fun warfare. We have things we do not necessarily love about each other's preferences. And so, it was fun to put that into the book and rag on it a little bit.

SIEGEMUND-BROKA: There are good-natured jokes about word choice and philosophical preferences. We did a careful amount of remixing, so that the male character has the opposite proclivity to me and vice versa. But lots of these issues are in fact drawn from our own discussions. Despite cutting to the quick every now and then, that was a lot of fun to write because these are the little craft-related intimacies that we have discovered and had to deal with over four or five years of doing this together. They're these little bits of the trade that we finally got to sprinkle in as character details.

So looking at this cover, which one of you writes by hand and which prefers a laptop?

SIEGEMUND-BROKA: I'm much more of a by-hand outliner.

WIBBERLEY: I'm the laptop person.

What is the hardest or maybe the best part of being partners in both those senses?

WIBBERLEY: The hardest part is there's a lot of conflict. We do have to fight things out, and for better or worse, it is something we continue to work on. We are constantly trying to figure out better ways to resolve conflicts and debates between us. And it's really hard because it's really hard to write a book where you're with another person where you're choosing every single word of that book together.

SIEGEMUND-BROKA: It's tough. In fact, we wrote in the scene in the flashback where Nathan and Katrina fight over wording issues specifically because Emily came to me one day and was like, "Look, we need this part. We need this texture." And so we wrote that in there. It's tough. It's tough every week; it's tough every day.

WIBBERLEY: But we share so much. It's just an indescribable feeling to be able to share such success, highs and lows, with someone so intimately. We never feel alone. When we get good news or when we get bad news, it's really something that always brings us together.

SIEGEMUND-BROKA: It's a shared interest. It's something that we are both fascinated by and can talk about together. And it really does have a one plus one equals three model. We both inspire each other, we are both absolutely capable of picking up the slack where the other needs help. I couldn't imagine a partnership that doesn't work like that. People do it. But it's so inherent to the way we work together that I don't know what I would do without her.

The cover — why did you land on this pool — what were maybe some notes or direction you gave?

WIBBERLEY: They gave us some fantastic options. It was honestly incredibly difficult to choose. We chose this one, though, because we felt that it really captured the setting really well in Florida.

SIEGEMUND-BROKA: That is so delightful. We've spoken a lot about the mealy and fraught issues of word choice and interpersonal dynamics here. And honestly, one of our favorite things about writing this book was writing a book set in the gorgeous Florida Keys. It felt like being on vacation at a time when we really needed it. This cover blasts that beauty right in your face — the pink, the palm trees — it's like this is where we want to be.

WIBBERLEY: While also capturing the tension of the space between them, turning from each other.

SIEGEMUND-BROKA: The little exhibit of the drama between them with the computer and the paper in front of them. The idea of two people facing opposite each other in such a confrontational pose in the most bucolic pool you can imagine; there's an irony there we just found delicious.

Do you want to write more adult romance?

WIBBERLEY: Yes, we do have another book that we're writing right now. And we would love to continue in this as long as we can. Because it's very refreshing to be able to write characters who are going through what we're going through now. It's almost therapeutic sometimes. You get to work through stuff that you're going through. And you can't always put all that drama on a character.

SIEGEMUND-BROKA: They think about things differently. We love working in both worlds, both with characters who have a little bit more retrospective distance, a little bit more sense of the forms of their life, and also younger characters who are looking forward into it a little bit more. Going back and forth has been has been cool. And we absolutely would love to continue.

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