Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Monday, November 8, 2021

Monday, November 8, 2021: Maximum Shelf: In a New York Minute

Forever: In a New York Minute by Kate Spencer

Forever: In a New York Minute by Kate Spencer

Forever: In a New York Minute by Kate Spencer

Forever: In a New York Minute by Kate Spencer

In a New York Minute

by Kate Spencer

Kate Spencer's debut novel, In a New York Minute, is a heartfelt love letter to New York City, friendship and love itself tucked into an effervescent rom-com envelope. Franny meets Hayes on one of the worst days of her life. She has just been laid off from her job at a design start-up, and as she heads back to her apartment with the sad box of things from her desk, disaster strikes. The back of her dress is caught in the doors of the packed Q train she's boarded, and it rips all the way down. Hayes would be the first to say he's not a hero, but he comes to Franny's rescue by giving her his suit jacket and sparing her the horror of a walk home half naked. Unfortunately, a fellow passenger with a smartphone captures the whole thing and soon the "Subway QTs" have gone viral.

This story is familiar by now: two people are having an interaction that someone else deems romantic and, thanks to the sensationalist nature of social media, their words, body language and personal lives are soon dissected for mass consumption. Spencer tells In a New York Minute in alternating points of view and takes care to depict the range of Franny and Hayes's emotions and the impacts this attention has on their mental health and careers. She doesn't linger on the humiliation, however, choosing instead to give her characters warm, loving friendships--Franny's best friends support her through her job loss, helping her turn her Internet humiliation into an opportunity to launch her own interior design business. Hayes is similarly blessed with a business partner and a cousin who force him out of the routine he's fallen into since a divorce several years earlier.

Spencer balances the story with several subplots that range from silly to heart wrenching. Franny and her friends decide to use at-home DNA testing kits, prompting a connection with relatives of the father she never knew. Hayes's environmental finance company is expanding into a new office space and Franny ends up designing it for them. Their closest friends start dating. Franny and Hayes have distinct character arcs of their own, and Spencer builds the romantic arc in parallel, somehow ending up with a Happily Ever After that feels unlikely but inevitable.

In true rom-com style, Franny and Hayes meet in a series of chance encounters--and some not-so-secretly arranged by their friends--but In a New York Minute is self-aware enough that readers will be laughing with the characters and not at the plot devices. Spencer's references to the city and to romance classics never feel heavy-handed but are seamlessly woven into conversation. She invites readers to love New York City, but the way she writes about connecting with a place, with the smells and sounds, the small joys and irritations and of finding wonder again by experiencing that place with a new person, is universal:

"God, I love this stupid city." I leaned my head back, connecting to him with the smallest touch, though it felt like plugging into a socket.

"Same," he said with a nod.

"Are we doing that thing?" I asked him, pulling my knees into my chest. "Are we being tourists in our own city?"

"I mean, sure," he mused. "But I think it's good to look up and not take all this for granted once in a while." He gestured with his free hand, waving it like a magician at the city and the river and the skyline stretching out in front of us. I knew exactly what he meant--New York could be overwhelming and all-encompassing, but sometimes--often--you moved through it without really seeing it.

Spencer employs several classic rom-com tropes and subverts others. Franny is introduced to readers and to her future love interest on a day so awful it's funny, and her next meeting with Hayes, on a morning talk show to discuss the Subway QTs video, is a stilted disaster full of awkward moments and unintentional slights. There's physical humor, longing glances and late nights at work. But there's also a plot in which Hayes goes on a few dates with another woman; Spencer refreshingly chooses not to portray her negatively. That short-lived relationship is a great example of the careful character work Spencer employs--the pair decide after a couple of dates that it's not working and they respectfully move on. Both of them are decent people and there's no need for jealousy or theatrics to provide the conflict necessary to the novel's central romantic arc.

In a New York Minute reads like a classic Nora Ephron romantic comedy, updated for 2022. Readers looking for a joyful read in which two lost, big-hearted people find each other will finish this book with the warm, hopeful feeling a great romance novel delivers. --Suzanne Krohn

Forever, $26, hardcover, 320p., 9781538737620, March 15, 2022

Forever: In a New York Minute by Kate Spencer

Kate Spencer: Love, Laughs and the Magic of New York

(photo: Diana Ragland) 

Kate Spencer is the co-host of the award-winning podcast Forever35 and author of the memoir The Dead Moms Club. She worked previously as a senior editor and producer at VH1 and now writes a bimonthly column for InStyle and has contributed to a range of outlets including the Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Esquire and Cosmopolitan. Forever will publish her first novel, In a New York Minute, on March 15, 2022.

Franny and Hayes meet in an uncomfortable situation and, after an onlooker posts about it, the Internet brands them the "Subway QTs." You must have been inspired by some of these real-life situations, but how did you decide on the path your characters would take?

I was very inspired by the "Plane Baes" viral story from a few years ago, and just the shareable content culture of social media in general. I knew I wanted these two characters to eventually fall in love, because this is a romance. But I also wanted it to feel realistically awkward, uncomfortable, irritating and invasive, as I imagine these situations must be. Ultimately with that "Plane Baes" story--a couple switched seats with two people on a plane and then essentially documented what they believed was a love connection happening between them in real time--the "romance" that went viral didn't even exist. And so I wanted to make sure to honor what it would be like realistically to be in that situation, and then of course add a Happily Ever After onto it.

Your first book, The Dead Moms Club, is a memoir about grief and loss. What was it like to write a romantic comedy this time around?

Reading really saved me in the immediate aftermath of my mom's death, specifically romance books. I don't think I can ever fully express the gratitude I have to the writers whose work I read during that time (some was published, some was fan fiction, all of it was a comfort). Romantic comedy has truly been my pop culture salvation since the beginning of my time here on Earth, and I have many discarded drafts on my hard drive of various romantic comedies I've tried to write. Despite the struggles that come with any challenging creative process, it was such a joy to create and shape this world and play around with the idea of romantic love, self-love and friendship. It was definitely way more enjoyable to write about two people running through a summer rainstorm in Brooklyn than watching my mom's health deteriorate due to pancreatic cancer. There was a lot less crying while writing this book!

Hayes co-founded a company in the field of environmental finance, a type of investing focused on ethical and sustainable projects. How did you settle on this career for him?

When I first started imagining Hayes, he was this kind of stereotypical finance bro. But early on in my first draft I changed the company to have a more compassionate focus as a way to show he, too, was a compassionate person, even if it wasn't always evident in his demeanor. And then it just became way more fun to write about this made-up company whose mission I really believe in! There's been a real push to thoughtfully consider where our money goes as consumers, and it turns out that the same philosophy applies to investing. Hayes has an analytic mind and a heart of gold, and so socially responsible investing just seemed like the perfect career fit for him. 

In a New York Minute is something of a love letter to New York City. Out of all the places you could choose, what makes New York the perfect setting for this rom-com?

New York is magic. I've never experienced another place like it (apologies to other places). I lived there for 10 years and I still miss it daily. It's obviously a beautiful city just aesthetically speaking, and there's so much going on at all hours of the day and night that you really can set your characters up to be doing anything, anywhere, at any time. I also think New York is truly a place where communities--both people and places--become like family; whether that's your neighborhood bodega, your building super, work colleagues, the people you volunteer with, or that certain spot in the park you always frequent. And ultimately I think--and hope--that's at the core of In a New York Minute.

Forever35, the podcast you co-host with Doree Shafrir, has really taken off since you launched in 2018. It's described as "a podcast about the things we do to take care of ourselves." What does that mean to you and how does it inform your writing process?

This is such an interesting question, because my thinking on self-care has evolved and expanded thanks to doing a podcast where we get to discuss it every week. For me, it is as simple as the small things we do for respite or joy--one example in my own life is setting my coffee pot to make coffee at 6 a.m., so I wake up to the smell of fresh coffee brewing. But it's also the less "fun" stuff--caring for your mental health, your finances, scheduling your doctor's appointments. Getting to examine these things regularly has really made me much more aware of the privilege--and specifically my own privilege--that self-care entails. I've tried to do a lot of learning on community care, both in understanding how larger systems of oppression influence access to basic human needs, let alone self-care, as well as doing work in my own community to change that.

As for my writing process, my co-host is also a writer, so there is a lot of empathy and support in our partnership. We've each sent those "I'm on a book deadline can you please handle this!" e-mails more than once. But truthfully, I don't inject a lot of self-care into my writing habits. I try to set boundaries when I'm working (turning off e-mail and not checking social media, for example) but often my writing process is a hot mess.

What are you currently working on? And romance readers will be dying to know--will Franny's best friends Cleo and Lola get their own books?

I am drafting what I hope will be my next book, but it's in that very messy stage where it's still developing and growing into itself. Book puberty, is maybe what we can call it. And I would love to dig deeper into Cleo and Lola's lives, that would be a dream. I'll do what Cleo would tell me to do and put it on my vision board! --Suzanne Krohn

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