Love is in the Air (and Online) on the Streets of New York

New York Times bestselling romance novelist Lauren Layne on her newest work — a contemporary spin on a classic rom-com set in the city

| 26 Jul 2021 | 10:15

Lauren Layne was always destined — or determined — to become a writer of romance novels. “I don’t know if it was just fate or if it’s my life’s calling, but I swear it happened at 8 when I knew,” she said. Whether it was “The Baby-Sitters Club” or “Nancy Drew,” from as early as she can remember, she always turned the pages the fastest whenever a romantic angle appeared.

The Hell’s Kitchen resident also assures us that she’s not your typical love story writer, since she does all the writing for her 40 books and counting in bed donning pajamas and a messy bun, and wouldn’t have it any other way. “So any images that people have of the sophisticated romance writer sitting at a desk with the manicured nails, definitely not me,” she said, laughing.

A Seattle-area native, she moved to Manhattan sight unseen in 2011 for her husband’s job and loves her newfound city so much that it plays a pivotal part in most of her stories. In fact, the inspiration for her newest work, “To Sir With Love,” is actually rooted in New York as well. A self-proclaimed lover of ‘90s rom-coms, she considers the book a modern-day version of “You’ve Got Mail,” since her characters fall in love twice — through messaging back and forth on a fictional “MysteryMate” dating app where you don’t see a photo of your match, and also by a meet-cute on a city street with an individual that has ties to her late father’s champagne shop she’s running — never knowing it’s the same person.

And although Layne herself has never been on a dating app since she married her high school sweetheart “a hundred years ago,” she did know she wanted the technology in the story to be the anti-Tinder. “That is so much about first impressions of looks,” she explained. “And I wanted something for people that were maybe sick of that particular model, that would be, essentially, the opposite of that.”

You moved to New York after your husband got a job here.

It was spontaneous ... We were living in downtown Seattle at the time and our lease was up and we were trying to figure out, “Do we want to move to the suburbs and do the kids thing, renew our lease,” and literally as we were discussing it, my husband gets this call from his employer who said, “We’re opening up a New York office. Would you be interested in doing two years there?”... We had never even been to New York, so a month later, loaded our stuff in the car and it was very much like the drive through the Lincoln Tunnel — and our apartment is right outside the Lincoln Tunnel, where we still live.

It was kind of one of those things where we thought we were gonna do two years. And after the two years, as planned, moved back to Seattle for a little bit less than a year. And the second we got out of the car, we were like, “Oh, this isn’t right. We should go back to New York.”

In your Author’s Note, you explained what you based “To Sir With Love” on.

It’s really pretty much as simple as “You’ve Got Mail.” I’ve always loved romance and I especially loved those ‘90s rom-coms. And being from Seattle, everybody’s favorite movie there is “Sleepless in Seattle” with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. But I was much more a fan of the “You’ve Got Mail” story. And I probably said this in the Author’s Note, this idea that people could fall in love two times — the fact that this happens to them twice makes it extra emotional. Plus, from a writer’s perspective, I’m always looking for plots that have built-in conflicts and there really is no better conflict than why can’t they be together in person, oh, because they’re also sort in love with someone that they haven’t met yet. It makes it very easy just to keep the tension throughout the novel, which is always the Holy Grail for me of a story idea.

The dating app part of the story is a little too real for me, unfortunately. I can relate to the part about hoping that the words match the person in real life. How did you research the dating app aspect?

I intentionally didn’t. So having married my high school sweetheart like a hundred years ago, I don’t have any experience with the dating apps, but I very much wanted to make sure it didn’t feel like any other app, just because sometimes that can kind of get you in trouble like, “Oh, that’s based on XYZ.” ... And honestly, dating apps, it was just because email is a little bit passé now, and obviously that was done in “You’ve Got Mail,” text messages I couldn’t figure out how they would randomly get each other’s phone numbers and not know each other.

What was the writing process for this book like? How long did it take? I read an interview with you where you said that you write from your bed.

I do; it’s very elegant. [Laughs] So not just in my bed, but hunched over, in my pajamas. And I have naturally curly hair that’s in this huge, messy bun on top of my head ... I have a desk and it’s just almost never used. I would say probably about four weeks to write the first draft, which is pretty average for me. But for this one, I did a lot more outlining than I usually do, just because there were so many elements, because I was essentially writing two romances — they had their offline one and their online one. And I had the subplot with the store closing and the subplot with the siblings, her friendships scenes, his parents a little bit. So I really have this master graph of all the scenes and elements and everything’s color-coded. And that alone probably took me two to three weeks to get together. And once I had that, I would say probably three to four weeks to write the first draft.

Tell us about your history with romance novels. I love that part in your bio where you talk about “The Baby-Sitter’s Club.”

In hindsight, I hadn’t even hit puberty when I started liking romance. But I was always a bookworm. It was books like “Baby-Sitter’s Club” and “Nancy Drew,” — books that are not about the romance at all — but if there was any sort of romantic element at all, I would latch on to that and turn the pages. And when it came to the series “Sweet Valley Twins,” anything that looked like it involved a boy, I would make sure I would read that one.

Like you, I also majored in political science and became a writer. I saw your favorite books to read are presidential bios.

[Laughs] I always get a little bit funny when my readers ask for book recommendations because I think their assumption is that if they like my books, that I must know other books that are like mine that I can recommend. Before I started writing, I did read a lot in the romantic-comedy space and I do still occasionally read it. But I would say probably 90 percent is nonfiction. I love biographies in general, but it’s my poli-sci background — I love anything presidential or government-structured or [about] the founding fathers.