I’m a sucker for a good love story, so when I had the chance to read fellow 2021 Debuts author Casey Dembowski‘s When We’re Thirty, I jumped at the chance and fell in love with the story and Casey’s characters. And I’m not the only one. Meredith Schorr wrote, “This delightful contemporary romance stole my heart in the first chapter and didn’t let it go until the utterly romantic last page,” while Kimmery Martin calls the story “a charming and engaging romp through an unconventional contemporary romance.” That’s no surprise, as Casey herself says she enjoys writing “love stories and stories that focus on the intricacies of relationships—whether they be romantic, familial or friendship.” Of course, there’s more to come: Casey just signed for her second novel with Red Adept Publishing. In addition to writing and working (in marketing communications), Casey is a mom as well, so I’m super lucky she took the time to answer a few questions.
Christina: When We’re Thirty features Hannah and Will, two friends who agree that if they’re not married by the time they’re thirty, they will marry each other. The marriage pact is a classic romance trope. What drew you to using it, and how did you make it your own?
Casey: When I was getting ready to start what became When We’re Thirty, I was really looking to try my hand at a high concept novel. I really love reading tropes and examining how authors twist them into something original. So it was really fun to get to dive into this idea. I picked a marriage of convenience/marriage pact trope because it felt fun and young. I loved the idea that these two people who haven’t spoken in so many years were coming together and following through on this pact in under a week. Will and Hannah are familiar strangers when they meet at the beginning of the novel, and it was a thrill to watch them get to know each other again and then fall in love.
Christina: Hannah and Will are fully fleshed out characters, and as a reader, I sometimes felt like I was intruding on their conversations (which is good, by the way). Do you use character sketches when you write? How did you make these two come alive?
Casey: I don’t use character sketches. This may make me sound a bit out there, but my characters talk to me. They tell me their story. They do things I don’t like. So for Will and Hannah getting to know them is about listening, but also knowing their friends and family. I like to start a character in a real moment to get to know them. So Hannah is in her element at work and then she’s with her best friend. And Will is a romantic and spontaneous, so when we meet him he’s proposing and when we first go into his voice, he’s trying to get dressed at two in the morning to run to Hannah’s house. In putting the characters in their element, I’m able to get to know them before digging into what needs to be done for the plot.
Christina: What did you edit out of When We’re Thirty, and was it difficult to do? Was it your idea to edit that portion out or someone else’s?
Casey: In the original draft, there were two subplots that I ended up writing out. One was about an ex of Hannah’s and how she hurt her knee. The other was the back third of the novel and involved Kate and Patrick. I ended up writing that out and keeping the motivations at the end of the book related to Will and Hannah and their marriage. It takes me almost a year to draft a novel, but once I know what edit I’m implementing I can do a rewrite/revision pretty quickly since I’ve spent so long in the world of the novel and with the characters. I can see what needs to be changed to make a revision work well. Removing both subplots was feedback I received from other people, but both were great ideas that helped keep the story focused on the main relationship.
Christina: Baking is an interest of yours. If you had the ability to craft a wedding cake for Hannah and Will, what would it look like? How many tiers? What sort of frosting? Decorations? The sky is the limit in this answer!
Casey: Well, since any wedding reception Will and Hannah would have would most likely be large, I’d say the cake would be four asymmetrical, square tiers with purple and silver accents, white frosting carnations and a fondant Binx peeking out of one of the layers. Their cake topper would be fun—probably custom made to look like them and the couple would be pinky promising.
Christina: A while ago, you worked for a tri-county newspaper, and you currently work in marketing. How do those experiences inform your writing or your writing process?
Casey: Journalism teaches you how to write tight. Article length is measured in inches not words. And the marketing communications work I do now is all about messaging and voice. So both those skills tie into my writing and my writing experience ties back into them. Working for the newspaper was an amazing experience, and I was in my MFA program almost the whole time I worked there. I wrote my thesis between covering track meets or traveling to volleyball tournaments. So, in a way, my jobs have helped me hone my writing process to be done in the in between.
Christina: Balancing a day job, a writing career, and a home life (that includes a husband and child) takes a lot of time and energy. What do you do to help center yourself? Do you have any tips for the rest of us?
Casey: For a long time after I finished my MFA, I didn’t write, but when it came back to me, it never left. I’ve been pretty much working on one novel or another since 2016. I don’t buy into the mom guilt, and I think that’s what centers me. I write when I can, when I want to, and usually in thirty minute increments. So at night after a day of work and getting my little one ready for bed or early in the morning before everyone wakes up or at nap time or on my lunch break. If I want to take a walk or read a book or watch my favorite shows on repeat, I don’t feel guilty. I just go back to it the next day or the day after. It’s important to remember that whatever you’re doing, it’s enough.
Thanks to Casey for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an author who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.