Linda Holmes has garnered a well-deserved following as a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of the podcast “Pop Culture Happy Hour,” so we wanted to hear her thoughts on publishing her debut, loving rom-coms, watching baseball and handling critics.
In addition to adding “author” to your resume, you are also the host of a successful entertainment and culture podcast on NPR, previously edited NPR’s pop culture blog and cut your teeth writing online by recapping television shows. When did you first have the idea to write a novel? In what ways did writing a work of fiction challenge you?
I have wanted to write a novel . . . always. I can’t remember when I didn’t think that would be the absolute greatest thing I could do. But I would start things, write a few pages and just get intimidated that I couldn’t keep going. I played around with writing fiction for many years and got a little more serious in 2012, when I decided to devote some time to this story. But again, I worked on it for a while, then left it alone. I didn’t pick it up again until sometime in the fall of 2016.
Everything is challenging, of course, but I think this was challenging in that you’re just entirely driving the thing yourself. There’s nothing to react to; there’s no structure that comes from the outside, like there is when you’re recapping a television show and you go scene by scene. The blank slate is wonderful but also intimidating.
Having spent so much time professionally critiquing and analyzing the artistic output of others, how does it feel to now be on the other side? Is it daunting or liberating knowing that once the book is published and in the hands of readers, it will take on a life of its own?
What’s funny is that I’ve been on the receiving end of criticism always. The pieces I’ve written are their own work, and they come in for plenty of positive and negative feedback. So it’s nothing new to have people share their opinions of what I’m doing and whether it’s any good. I think that helped me be prepared for this experience, although I’m sure some part of me will find it painful in a new way when somebody inevitably says something strangely devastating. It’s awful, in a way, to have no control over what happens—that you send the book out into the world, and then it just does whatever it does, and people like it or they don’t. But it’s invigorating, too. There comes a moment when you have to say that you’ve done everything you can to write a book you’re really proud of, and that has to be enough. Everything else is gravy.
A few years ago, everyone was talking about how the romantic comedy was dead. Now, everyone is talking about how romantic comedies are back and hotter than ever. Why do you think the rom-com has recently rebounded, and do you think the newfound respect and popularity we’re seeing for the genre over in films is translating to the book world as well?
I don’t think books ever really stepped away from romantic comedy. A lot of contemporary romances are, in effect, romantic comedies. I think it’s less that romantic comedies ever went away and more that they became elements of other things. For instance, there are romantic comedy elements even in a movie like Return of the Jedi. So sometimes we go through a phase in which romantic comedy is floating on its own, like during the ’90s boom. And then sometimes we go through a phase in which we see romantic comedy as part of action movies or part of other comedies we wouldn’t classify as rom-coms. But romantic comedy never dies. Somebody you’re attracted to making you laugh is very intoxicating, so I’m never worried about the genre as a whole.
One of Evvie’s biggest self-care strategies following the death of her husband is reading copiously. Do you have a particular go-to comfort read (or author or genre) that you turn to during trying times?
For sure. I think reading contemporary romance, appropriately enough, has always been that way for me. Anything that offers me some optimism, which love stories usually do. Start with Lucy Parker’s behind-the-scenes London theater stories.
Evvie’s roommate and love interest, Dean, is a retired professional baseball player, who is infamous for flaming out after developing a career-ending case of the yips. You obviously did a lot of research into this phenomenon, but what about it initially sparked your interest?
I remember seeing a video of Mackey Sasser, who was a catcher for the Mets who got the yips and couldn’t toss back to the pitcher. It’s so bizarre and baffling, seeing someone who’s worked to develop a skill his whole life and just suddenly can’t do it and doesn’t know why. It’s still largely an unsolved mystery why exactly this happens and how it can be solved, and it has profound impacts. That made it very compelling.
What’s one romance trope that you wish would disappear from all books and movies henceforth?
I could do without the makeover sequence. Usually, if somebody has to see you in a particular dress to see you in a romantic context, they’re not quite seeing you in a romantic context—at least not a romantic context I would envision. They’re seeing you in a wish-fulfillment context, or an image-building context.
Like your protagonists Evvie and Dean, you have quite a bit of experience with starting over: Many years ago, you worked as an attorney before transitioning into writing online and to your current position as a podcast host and event moderator/interviewer (and now author!). What’s one piece of advice you would give someone whose life has zigged when they expected it to zag?
If you’re lucky enough, as I was, to have the ability to make some of those unexpected swerves, don’t be worried that it’s too late or that you can’t do something new after 30, or 40, or whenever. There’s time, there really is. Everyone has obligations, and of course you have to keep in mind which ones it’s important for you to accommodate. But the desire to try things doesn’t naturally expire.
What’s your best comeback to people who argue that baseball is boring?
Baseball isn’t boring; it’s rhythmic. It’s meant to often be a little more quiet than a lot of other sports, punctuated by action. If you looked at a baseball game, it would look like small stitches in a piece of fabric. A series of little dots of action, surrounded by this wonderful atmosphere of relaxation and, just, blue sky—ideally. I think the sky is important to baseball, as much as I respect domes.
Putting a twist on the desert island question, if you were stuck on a desert island and could only access one of the following mediums—radio/podcasts, television/movies, music or books—which would you pick and why?
Oh wow. That would be a very sad island. I think I would probably choose books. And then I’d probably write in them. It’s very hard for me to imagine being isolated from the ability to write. That’s a scary thing. So you have to give me a pen. And then I’ll just write in the margin of the books after I read them.
What’s one question no one has asked you about your book that you really wish they would (and how would you answer it!)?
Nobody has asked me whether Evvie’s best friend, Andy, is meant to be possibly somebody she could have dated—nobody has really asked me about whether there’s meant to be romantic tension between them. That surprises me a little, but perhaps it shouldn’t. Because the answer is no, and maybe the fact that people don’t ask means I successfully got that across.
How do you plan to celebrate Evvie Drake’s publication day, and what’s next for you?
I plan to celebrate by being really busy all day, but I also hope to have dinner with friends and maybe take a deep breath and think about how long I’ve wanted this for myself. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in worrying about it, in how the book will be received. Somebody I’m friendly with told me it’s very important to try to take a moment to enjoy it. So I’m going to try to do that. And then it’s back to work at my regular job—and back to writing another book. I can’t talk about it yet, but I’m pretty excited about some of the ideas I’m working on.
Author photo by Tim Coburn