December 31, 2019

Kate Clayborn

The fine print
Interview by

We talked to Kate Clayborn about her hand-lettering heroine, why she only wrote from one character’s perspective and why it’s important to fight the right way.

Share this Article:

Kate Clayborn’s Luck of the Draw series enchanted romance fans with its subtle mix of gentle humor and complicated, emotional love stories. With her print debut, Love Lettering, Clayborn casts a similar spell with an NYC-set romance that’s somehow both utterly magical and absolutely real. We talked to Clayborn about her hand-lettering heroine, why she only wrote from one character’s perspective and why it’s important to fight the right way.

When did you first become aware that being a hand-letterer was an actual job, and what led you to make your latest heroine one?
Well, first I should say, I’ve always been a little fascinated by handwriting and calligraphy, and my mom used to do quite a bit of calligraphy when I was growing up—I remember her addressing wedding invitations and doing some framed quotes for friends of hers. But a few years ago, I started bullet journaling, and anyone who has found their way down that internet rabbit hole knows that there are some amazingly talented people designing gorgeous planners. I keep mine pretty minimal (and tidy!), but I really loved watching people create such beautiful things that served such a practical purpose, and so that’s one of the things that inspired me. And because letters and words mean so much to me personally, something just clicked for me as a writer: What would it be like to tell a story about someone who tried to express herself through the letters and words that she designs, that she makes beautiful?

Extremely important question: What is your favorite font?
You must mean extremely excellent question! So, this answer is going to seem very on the nose for anyone who has read the book, but it’s true. When I’m at my day job, I prefer a sans serif font (I don’t even mind Helvetica!). But when I’m writing, it’s usually one of two serifs—Georgia or sometimes Palatino.

"I don’t know what other people’s experience of creative burnout is, but when I’m stuck it feels so desperately isolating."

When the story starts, Meg is in the middle of a wicked bout of creative burnout. Have you experienced something similar, and do you have any strategies to overcome it?
I certainly have—and I deeply envy any artist who hasn’t! But the truth is, writing about creative block in Love Lettering was really personal, and often very difficult for me. I don’t know what other people’s experience of creative burnout is, but when I’m stuck it really feels so desperately isolating, and of course Meg too experiences isolation in a very particular way at the start of the book. As for overcoming it, I certainly think it helps when I reach out to writer friends who know what it’s like. But also, some really basic stuff that is all too easy to forget when I’m in the thick of a block or burnout: making sure I sleep and eat well/enough, making sure I get outside, making sure I give myself time to read and watch things I love, making sure I spend time with people I love.

Why did you choose to write only from Meg’s perspective, and did that choice change the story at all for you?
This is the first time I’ve written only in one character’s point of view, and it was important to me for two reasons. One, I really wanted the whole book to be focused on how Meg interprets the world, because part of her journey over the course of the story is about how she has often misinterpreted that world, and how she has to learn to see it differently. Letters, words, signs—I wanted to show how Meg’s relationship to these things changes over time, and so I wanted to be deeply in her point of view throughout. Two, it’s really important to the story overall that the reader learns about Reid through Meg—her initial interpretation of him (which she realizes is, again, a misinterpretation), the new ways she learns to “read” him as they spend more time together.

Honestly, it’s a cliché at this point to call a book a love letter to New York City but I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway, since Love Lettering is such a wonderful one. Have you lived in NYC and if so, did you base parts of this on your own history with the city? Or was this aspect of the book based on another city that you love?
I have never lived in New York City, but it’s a place I love a lot. When I first got the idea for this book, I spent a lot of time in the city—walking, walking, walking. And something I realized on those walks is something Meg says to Reid early on in the book—she says signs in New York helped her organize her experience in such a vast, chaotic place. I feel a lot like this when I’m in the city, or really any new place. I’m always looking for a way to move through it with a touchstone in mind. Walking through New York with my eyes up, looking for these old signs, gave me such a new experience of the city. So, yeah, this book is a love letter, because I do feel in love when I’m there. It’s a place that forces me to see my surroundings in a new way.

"Conflict can be really scary for many of us who navigate a world where we’re encouraged to smile, to be nice, to not make too many waves."

Meg learns how to fight the right way over the course of this book, which was an arc that struck me as particularly relevant for a lot of women. When did that thread of the story emerge for you, and did you learn anything about your own approach to conflict through it?
Meg feels really threatened by conflict—arguments to her always feel like they’re going to result in loss or instability. That’s partly because of what you learn about her over the course of the book, but I definitely agree that conflict can be really scary for many of us who navigate a world where we’re encouraged to smile, to be nice, to not make too many waves. I knew I wanted Meg’s creative block to be tied to an emotional block, and the fact that she hides things in her work is a symptom of all the things she struggles to say in her day-to-day life. It was inspiring to write about Meg pushing through this emotional block to become a more honest, courageous fighter—and so yeah, I think I carry a bit of her with me now, always. I try to remember that her emotional honesty made her feel more complete and more creative.

What was the easiest part of this book to write? What was the hardest?
I try to say it loud and often: I think writing is hard, generally! So there were lots of hard parts, but the trickiest bits were where I had to show just enough of Reid while also holding him at a distance from the reader—chapter 11 was particularly challenging in this regard. I love writing scenes where women are interacting with each other, and there’s lots of that in this book. Those were fun, especially scenes in the paperie/stationery shop.

You’re also a NaNoWriMo coach. How would you counsel someone who was considering taking on the NaNoWriMo challenge, but not sure if they could do it or if it was right for them?
One thing I tried to emphasize as a coach was that the notion of “winning” NaNo—getting to 50K—is great, but more importantly, the exercise is great. Getting words down every day teaches you a lot about yourself as a writer, but it also teaches you a lot about your story. Most of the time, I really can’t write every day; I work full time and sometimes have to bring work home with me. But the ethic of NaNo translates really well to all kinds of writing practice, because it’s about establishing routine. I think that’s so valuable, and I’d tell anyone who was thinking about it to give it a try, and to think about it as a really immersive learning experience.

What’s next for you?
I’m working on a new standalone contemporary romance now, something I’m very excited about. I’m hoping we’ll have a blurb for it soon, but it’s early days still!


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of Love Lettering.

Image courtesy of the author.

Get the Book

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our enewsletters to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.

Trending Interviews

Sign Up

Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres!