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Author Emily Henry balances joy, pain of life

NEW YORK — “Nothing forces you to face your demons like falling in love.”

And it’s almost always worth it, Emily Henry said during a recent interview ahead of Tuesday’s release of her latest novel, “Funny Story.” She would know, having churned out a new bestselling romance read every year since 2020.

“You find out so much about yourself by how you react to the complicated feelings of falling in love, and that can lead into something very toxic and exhausting,” she said. “But it also can lead into something so beautiful and life changing.”

Henry talked with The Associated Press about her journey to becoming a novelist, why people shouldn’t feel shame about reading romance and how her personal mental health journey influences her characters. She also dives into whether books are better than movies, with a few insights into the film adaptions of her books in the works.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

  • Before you started writing the books that became bestsellers, you were in a bit of a life rut, which anyone can relate to. What advice do you have for people who are also stuck?

You could try writing a book. That’s only halfway a joke, because I really do feel like “Beach Read” was the most meta thing I’d ever done.

There’s a reason that most of my books have ended with one or both characters going to therapy. For a happy ending to be sustained, for a relationship to continue growing and changing, you probably need some help.

Also getting on medicine was huge for me. I thought I was doing more or less OK until I found out what it felt like to be OK.

  • You write a lot about the complexities and vulnerabilities of love. What’s your favorite stage of a relationship?

Because I’m in a steady, stable relationship, it’s really easy to romanticize those early phases. But then when I’m talking to my single friends, I’m like, “Oh yeah, it is hell.” I feel like I have such affection for that phase when you don’t know for sure how the other person feels. It’s like a feeling you don’t get from many other things in life.

  • There were a lot of different things that used to happen in romance novels that aren’t happening as much anymore, or authors are reversing them. What do you think about where we are now?

Contemporary romance has tried to move toward something that’s a little bit more grounded and more realistic, with a focus on the health of a relationship and the positivity of it.

It’s interesting that it has been treated as a guilty pleasure for so long. There’s a wide variety of romance and erotica that leaves room for people to have their fantasies, and that’s separate from the real world.

  • For people who are not aware of all the ins and outs of the publishing industry, what do you think is something that people might misunderstand about it?

Try to enjoy writing before you publish, because it is really strange how much it changes once it belongs to the world.

It’s sort of like you have to appreciate your single days if you’re trying to wind up in a serious partnership. It can be horrible and terrible, but when it’s fun, try to live that up, because that also is an experience you’re someday probably not going to have again.

  • Speaking of trying new things, three of your novels are being adapted. How involved in that process are you?

I am very close with two of the directors who’ve been formally announced for “People We Meet on Vacation” and “Beach Read.” I feel really lucky that they want to know what the readers care about.

  • Any casting things you can leak or share?

No, you know how it is. They’re all still in early-ish phases of development. So hopefully more soon.

  • In my opinion, books are almost always better than the adaptions. Why do you think that is, and how are you feeling about giving your work to that world?

What’s cool about film is the exact thing that also makes it tricky for adaptation, which is it’s no longer the reader and the writer collaborating.

The books will always be the books. I have started to think about the adaptations more along the lines of a Broadway show or a “Batman” franchise. Batman is Batman, but there are a lot of different Batmans.

The movies are all going to be something very special. And I think that they’ll have the heart of the books, hopefully.

  • There’s the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but what do you want people to take away from yours?

Primarily joy. I’m always trying to balance the joy of life and the pain of life. I want it to feel like this is the book you want to buy at the airport and read on the plane or on the beach.

I think it is successful at that. Before I read “Beach Read,” one of my friends was like, “Hey, trigger warning. It focuses on a character whose dad died,” and my dad had just died. I appreciated the warning and also felt very seen by the nuanced take of the narrative in the book.

Every book I do is taking the hardest parts of life and not trying to justify them, but trying to balance them against the best parts of life and leave the reader with the feeling that the hard shit that you’re going through is worth it for the experience of getting to love and be loved. Not necessarily romantically — any kind of love.

You cannot love anyone without accepting that there’s a real chance of grief, whether that’s a breakup or a loss. They go hand in hand.