The idea for Sally Thorne’s latest romance sprang from a joke she and a close friend used to make about the hijinks they planned on getting up to when the day comes for them to move to a retirement home. And Thorne clearly has a blast portraying the lovable residents and charming quirks of her fictional Providence Luxury Retirement Villa in her latest novel, Second First Impressions, which blossoms into a moving tale of self-love, liberation and second chances.
All three of your romances have been standalones. Why do you love writing a standalone novel as opposed to writing within a series? Have any of the worlds of your books tempted you to return to them? And if you were to write a series, what would it be?
The challenge with writing a series is that if the reader has not read the first book, they are unlikely to dip into that world partway through. A standalone can be picked up by anyone, and they are satisfying to write because I get to create one great big happily-ever-after-forever. As more readers get to know my writing style, and hopefully decide I’m a one-click author for them, I think I’ll have more scope to try writing a series. They’ll trust that the journey will be worth it.
In my second book, 99 Percent Mine, there are sparks between the main character’s twin brother and her best friend, and I did want to write a standalone book for them. If I had carte blanche to write a series following a large group of characters, I’d do something unexpected, dark, sexy and gritty, like a motorcycle club.
Your books have also all been entirely told in the point of view of your female main character. Why do you think you gravitate towards this way of telling a love story? Have you ever thought about writing from the perspective of both halves of a central couple?
I like writing from one point of view to give the reader an intense experience of falling in love that the protagonist often doesn’t understand. It takes a lot of skill to be able to balance both perspectives and conflicts of a romantic couple when alternating chapters—it's a challenge I haven’t tried yet, but maybe one day!
"One of my top requests from readers is to have 'The Hating Game' rewritten from Joshua Templeman’s perspective. I would sell a lot of copies of that, and even my mum wants me to do it."
If you could choose the perspective of one of your male love interests to write from, which would it be?
One of my top requests from readers is to have The Hating Game rewritten from Joshua Templeman’s perspective. I would sell a lot of copies of that, and even my mum wants me to do it, but I don’t think I could do justice to the Joshua my readers hold dear in their imaginations. If you knew what he was thinking the entire time, your experience of rereading the original book would be changed.
If I could pick one of my characters, I’d go back to Jamie from 99 Percent Mine. I’d love to tell the story from the perspective of an arrogant overachiever who enthusiastically hits the dance floor at weddings, falling in love with his sister’s homebody best friend.
Speaking of perspectives, there is a lot going on in Ruthie's head during Second First Impressions. How did you get into her headspace? How do you write a character who is often shying away from bad memories or hard truths?
Ruthie’s humor and observations are very dry, and hopefully she is a fun narrator for this book. No character comes to me fully formed, and writing Ruthie required many drafts of adding layers to her. She has a trauma from her past that she processes this in the book. It’s a balancing act of what to reveal, and how to creatively “show” rather than “tell” the impacts that this has had on her, and especially difficult to do in a book that is essentially a comedy. I hope I did it.
". . . he [gives] Ruthie the open-hearted affection and love she has craved all her life."
The Providence retirement community was such an enjoyable setting. What was fun about that for you? Where did you get the idea to set a romance in a retirement community?
A friend and I used to joke that when we were old and wealthy, we would share a room in a luxury retirement villa and hire a handsome young man as our personal assistant. That’s pretty much the plot of Second First Impressions—but it’s told from the perspective of office manager Ruthie, who supervises the hijinks of her wealthiest residents, the Parloni Sisters. They try to break Teddy’s spirit, Ruthie tries to resist his gorgeous hair and a good time is guaranteed.
Which of Renata's incredible outfits would you most like to own?
Renata Parloni was a fashion editor for a (fictional!) magazine called Hot or Not, and she still walks around at 91 years old dripping in labels and jewels. I am a sucker for Chanel, so that’s the tag I’d be searching for when ransacking her closets. I’d wear a pink tweed skirt suit, a matching quilted flap bag, a beret and about 10 pearl necklaces. Then I’d go have a fancy lunch.
The question of who is the "taker" and who is the "giver," and whether someone can be solely one or the other, is constantly hovering over Ruthie and Teddy's interactions. When did this question become clear to you in the writing process and what drew you to explore it?
Someone once told me their theory that every relationship has a giver and a taker, or an adorer and adore-ee, and that was something I wanted to explore. At the beginning of the book, Ruthie has decided to attempt dating after six years of barely leaving the retirement village. Then she meets Teddy, who literally has “give” and “take” tattooed across his knuckles. He sure gives the first impression as a taker—he even borrows her shampoo.
Teddy is hired in a caregiving capacity to be at the beck and call of his employers, which makes for some of the most tender moments in the book as he also gives Ruthie the open-hearted affection and love she has craved all her life. It’s equally enjoyable seeing Ruthie begin to take things for herself.
As someone who has used many, many TV shows as comfort objects, I felt uncomfortably seen in Ruthie's obsession with the fictional TV show "Heaven Sent." Why do you think Ruthie is devoted to this show in particular? Have you had similar relationships with media in your own life?
“Heaven Sent” is inspired by “Seventh Heaven,” and it is Ruthie’s comfort show because she grew up in a religious household and this show became her weekly touchstone, grounding her and providing stability. Now, she runs a forum dedicated to keeping this show alive.
When I’m living in a luxury retirement villa one day, you will find me binge-watching “Party of Five,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Veronica Mars,” “Degrassi,” “Gavin and Stacey” and “30 Rock.” I assume I’ll either be watching these via a chip inserted into my skull, or high-tech 5D glasses. My young assistant will work it out for me.
I loved Ruthie's coworker Melanie so much. What type of person do you think she'll eventually end up with? Or will the genius behind the Sasaki Method ironically end up happily and contentedly single?
Melanie Sasaki, matchmaker extraordinaire, developed a return-to-dating plan for Ruthie called The Sasaki Method (patent pending): a program of worksheets, checklists, a makeover and (eep!) an eventual date with a human man. She warns Ruthie most ardently to not fall for the first man she meets. Ruthie disobeys.
I like to imagine Melanie as a version of Jane Austen’s Emma, and I think she would end up with a dry no-nonsense Knightley; perhaps a guy she’s known all her life.
What's next for you?
I am looking forward to The Hating Game movie finding a distributor and hopefully making its way to a screen (large or small) near you soon. It finished shooting just before Christmas in 2020, in what was a very challenging year to make a movie, and it stars Lucy Hale and Austin Stowell. It’s utterly fabulous and I’m very happy with it.
I am also working on my next book, which is still a work in progress and a mystery even to my publisher. I will do my best to create heart-flutters in readers for many books to come!
Author photo © Katie Saarikko.