Friday Night Drinks with… Lauren Emily Whalen

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Tonight’s guest comes from one of my favourite cities in the USA and, since I am currently missing my annual trips to the States, I am very much looking forward to our chat and imagining I am there with her. Please welcome to the blog for Friday Night Drinks, author… Lauren Emily Whalen.

Lauren Emily Whalen author shot by Greg Inda

Thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

It’s August in Chicago, so I’m having a frosé!

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I have never heard of those, or had one but it looks delicious! If the US ever decide to let us back in again and I can return to Chicago, I will have to try one. If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

Definitely to my favorite neighborhood dive bar for karaoke. I pick “Mr. Jones” by the Counting Crows. Get enough drinks in me and we’ll also do some Joan Jett and probably Taylor Swift (I’m a new-ish fan).

If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

Definitely Chris O’Dowd (of Bridesmaids and The IT Crowd fame) as I have a major crush on him, plus he’s Irish like me and we’re all fun to drink with!

Also, Margaret Cho – I recently interviewed her and she had me laughing the whole time, even when we were talking about serious topics!

As my partner is Irish, I can personally attest to them as fun drinking companions! So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

I’m the author of four books for teens and young adults—the third, Two Winters, will be available September 14, wherever books are sold. It’s a contemporary queer YA reimagining of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, and I think adult readers will dig it too. The first half is set in 1997 at a small-town Catholic high school, and the second half is set in Chicago in 2014. It’s about birth, death, improv comedy, making clocks and finding your truth while letting time heal you and those around you. There’s also a lot of alternative rock—every one of my books has its own soundtrack, and you can find Two Winters’s here.

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

My proudest moment and biggest challenge are the same, and actually center around Two Winters! The book was acquired by a publisher in December 2019, shortly after it went on sub, and was scheduled to be published last February. In August 2020 (also the day of my first-ever COVID test, and the day a tornado touched down in Chicago—you can’t make this stuff up!), I got a call that the publisher was shutting down, effective pretty much immediately. Did I mention it was also the day before the book was supposed to go on preorder?

After testing negative for COVID, weathering the literal storm and ordering a lot of pizza, I started shopping the manuscript around again—by this time, it was fully edited and ready to go to the printers. And like the first time it was on sub, I got my share of rejections, which are never fun. Four offers later, I signed with Bold Strokes Books, a publisher that focuses on LGBTQ+ stories, which was really important to me considering both protagonists in Two Winters are bi, and there are several other queer and trans characters and storylines in the book. 

Basically, finding out your book—where you’ve poured your blood, sweat and tears for months, sometimes years—won’t be published after all sucks. When there’s a global pandemic happening, it sucks all the worse. I’m proud that I was able to dust myself off and try again—and find success!

What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, its just us talking after all!

I would love for one of my novels to be adapted into a TV series. I think any and all of them would be perfect for the small-screen treatment and provide solid, juicy roles for young actors, as well as addictive viewing for anyone who loves a good story. (Netflix, are you reading this? Call me!)

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

Two Winters is what I call “the book that almost wasn’t,” so I’m over the moon that it will be in readers’ hands very, very soon! I’ll be part of a digital promotion with Bold Strokes Books on August 28, so keep an eye on their social media for more information!

I’m also excited for my fourth book, Take Her Down, which will be released March 15 (the Ides of March), 2022. I started writing it shortly after quarantine kicked off in April 2020, and the upside of having one book delayed is that you sometimes get two books coming out in less than a year!

Take Her Down is a contemporary queer YA reimagining of another Shakespeare play, Julius Caesar. Instead of Rome, the setting is a cutthroat magnet school where two ex-best friends are fighting for power—and student body president—in the wake of a devastating U.S. Presidential election. (I’ll let you guess where that idea came from!) You can see the cover and find preorder links here.

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

Stateside, I’d have to say Hilton Head, South Carolina. My family and I just got back from our seventh trip there—we’ve been going since I was 14! It’s a very relaxed beach town and just beautiful in the summers. Basically, all we do is swim and go out to eat. I also read a book or more a day when I’m in Hilton Head!

Bucket list is definitely Iceland, which is so Disney-gorgeous in pictures it almost doesn’t look real. Also Vienna, thanks in large part to an episode of Richard Ayoade’s show Travel Man that guest-starred…my man Chris O’Dowd!

Two from my own bucket list there, and one of my favourite European cities. Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

The one hobby I have is circus/aerial arts! My fave apparatuses are sling (basically a big loop of fabric suspended in the air) and lyra (metal hoop—you do NOT want to hit your head on that thing!). I’m not very good, but it’s an awesome workout, a great fit for my dance background, and the perfect way to get out of my head. I’ve even come up with new ideas while in the air!

Lauren Emily Whalen - aerial with book - shot by Chicago Aerial Arts

Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

I recently devoured Joyce Maynard’s latest Count the Ways, a beautiful family story set in New England. She’s one of my main inspirations as a writer. If you haven’t read any of her work, I would start with At Home in the World, her memoir that also chronicles her year-long relationship with J.D. Salinger when she was 19 and he was in his fifties. It’s a stunning book that I reread at least once a year.

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In 1972, Joyce Maynard, an undergraduate at Yale, wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine called ‘An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back on Life’. Among the hundreds of letters she received as a result, one expressed deep affection for her writing, and concern at the exploitation that she might be subjected to. The writer was J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye and famous recluse.

Their correspondence led first to friendship, and then to love, and after a few months she dropped out of college to live with him. In spite of the thirty-five year difference in their ages, she believed they would be together always – but after a year, he sent her away.

Courageous, beautifully written and affecting, this book is destined to become a classic memoir of a modern woman’s life.

So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

Two Advil/Tylenol/whatever you have for pain, basically, and a glass of water before bed. 

When the hangover does hit, protein! I like egg sandwiches. Also coffee, and lots of water.

After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

I can’t party like I used to (oh, who am I kidding? I could never party that well!), so I would lie around with my cat Versace, reading and watching Dateline. Keith Morrison and I share a birth date and I have nicknamed him “Bae.” He just doesn’t know yet.

I love the name of your cat! Thank you so much for joining me, I have had a great evening and wish you great success with the new book.

Lauren Emily Whalen’s latest book Two Winters will be published on 14 September and can be pre-ordered here. 

Lauren Emily Whalen is the author of three books for young adults, including TWO WINTERS, a queer YA reimagining of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, available everywhere September 14. Lauren is a freelance writer, professional performer, and very amateur aerialist who is an unabashed devotee of the Bard. She lives in Chicago with her cat, Versace, and an apartment full of books.

You can connect further with Lauren Emily via her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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