There are challenging premises for a romance novel (like a less-than-popular time period), and there are premises that can derail the entire book if not handled well (say, a character recovering from abuse). And then there is Roni Loren’s latest series, The Ones Who Got Away, where the central characters are the adult survivors of a school shooting. In the hands of a less talented author, this could have superficial at best, exploitative at worst. But the first book in the series was a critically acclaimed success. And Loren’s detailed, multifaceted depictions of trauma, as well as her empathy for even minor and antagonistic characters, are on full display in its sequel, The One You Can’t Forget. We talked to Loren about what prompted her to take on such a heavy topic in a romance, how she writes emotionally raw conversations and more.
I have to say, I was dubious about this series at first, given its subject matter, but you completely won me over. What made you decide to write a romance with such an emotionally tricky, potentially alienating premise?
Thank you! I’m so glad to hear it won you over. I knew when I got the initial series idea that it could be a hard sell. Not just for readers but for a publishing house. I had to find an editor who believed that this premise could work in a romance. But the idea came to me with such strength that I couldn’t let it go. I needed to tell these stories. When we see tragedies like this happen in the news, we see the victims for a few moments on the screen and then we move on. However, those victims have to go on with their lives, carrying the weight of that grief and trauma with them. I wanted to draw attention to that, how these things have long-term ripple effects on all involved. I chose to tell the stories in a romance because I wanted to give people who have been through so much their happy endings.
The gun violence debate in this country is extremely prominent at the moment, but we’ve been here many times before without much significant change. Do you think this time is any different? Do you see any change in policy or outlook coming?
I want to say yes, that I always have hope, but honestly, it’s hard to come by lately. I was in college when Columbine happened, and I remember how horrified and shocked I was. I had never once walked into my high school wondering if someone would bring a gun to school and hurt me. Now we have school shootings happening every few weeks and kids have this new terrifying reality to face. Things need to change. That much is obvious. But will they? I don’t know. I won’t give up hope. I’ll send my money to the organizations that are working to make things better and will vote for the people who I think can make changes, but it’s going to be a long haul journey.
What about Rebecca made you want to write her love story? Did you always know she would have a book of her own, or did you come to that decision while writing her in The Ones Who Got Away?
From the beginning, I knew I wanted to tell each of the four women’s stories. I didn’t, however, know whose story should be next. I don’t plot ahead, so I leave myself open to see which characters will step forward while I’m writing. Originally, I thought it would be a different character, but Rebecca kept nudging her way into scenes and making me want to know more about her. (I know that sounds weird since I created her, but uncovering a character is like uncovering a fossil. I only get little glimpses at first.) I needed to know why Rebecca was such a workaholic and why she avoided getting emotionally involved with others. What was she running from? She was a hopeless romantic as a kid and now was an unsentimental divorce attorney. So many questions meant she had a big story to tell.
Something I really loved about The One You Can’t Forget was its wealth of compelling side characters. How did you make figures like Rebecca’s father, Wes’ brother Marco and Rebecca’s client Anthony pop off the page?
Thank you! I’m a character-driven writer, so creating side characters is a lot of fun for me. Everyone has a story even if they’re only on the page for a few moments, so I try to think about that when creating a side character. What’s their history? Why are they how they are? (This may come from the fact that I was a therapist in my former career. I need to know everyone’s secrets.) This also gets me in trouble because if a side character gets too interesting for me then I want to write them a book! I may already have plans for Marco. But I also want to make sure no one is a caricature. Like Rebecca’s father was at risk for that. Even though he’s an antagonist, I didn’t want him to be a “bad guy” because he’s not. He thinks differently from his daughter and goes about things in ways that he shouldn’t, but he absolutely loves her.
Since you used to be a therapist, what advice would you give Wes and Rebecca if they were your patients?
Depends on if they were in my office at the beginning of the book or at the end, lol. I’d have a lot of advice for them at the beginning. They are both white-knuckling their lives at the start of the book and not working through a lot of things they need to face.
Wes and Rebecca are both dealing with difficult emotional issues and the fallout from their respective pasts. How did you approach writing the conversations where they try to unpack those experiences together?
I try to write those heavy conversations in a way that shows the growth in the relationship. Both Wes and Rebecca tend to isolate themselves instead of opening up to anyone. Wes can be broody and pushes people away when they try to dig into emotional stuff (like when his brother pushes him on a few things). Rebecca can be the grin-and-bear-it type who doesn’t let anyone see her flinch. So when Wes and Rebecca open up to each other about their pasts and what they’re going through, it shows that their connection is becoming something special and different from the other relationships in their lives. That’s a big part of what falling in love is—showing the other person the ugly stuff and being accepted as you are. So when I’m writing these conversations, I do it in doses depending on where they are at in their relationship development.
I may or may not have stalked your website to prep for this interview, and was delighted by your fantastic book recommendations! What books are currently at the top of your TBR?
Yay, thanks! I love telling everyone what to read, lol. Right now, I’m reading Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover and listening to the audiobook of The Art of Screen Time by Anya Kamenetz. Next, I’ll probably be picking from The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah MacLean or The Handsome Girl and Her Beautiful Boy by B.T. Gottfred. I’m such a mood reader, though, so it will depend how I’m feeling when I finish reading the current book. My TBR pile has hundreds of books in it.
In honor of Wes’ profession and the many moments of food porn in The One You Can’t Forget, what is the most romantic meal someone could make for you?
I’m originally from New Orleans, so food from home would be a special treat since it’s harder to find here in Dallas. Boiled crabs. A shrimp po’boy. A really great gumbo. But really, just having a meal made for me would be a romantic gesture, since I’m the cook in the house, lol.
What’s next for you?
Next up is Taryn’s book, The One You Fight For, which will come out in January. Her story was a big challenge to write because of who her hero is. I can’t say more than that yet, but details should be available soon. And I’ll be starting Kincaid’s book in the next month or so to wrap up the series.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of The One You Can’t Forget.
Author photo by Charm Me Photography.