Carley Fortune, MEET ME AT THE LAKE

Carley Fortune, MEET ME AT THE LAKE

Zibby is joined by Carley Fortune, the New York Times bestselling author of Meet Me at the Lake, a stunning summer read about love and loss. Zibby reads a passage that brims with a distinctive sense of voice. Carley then discusses her difficult writing and revision process during her emotional postpartum months, as well as her struggles with self-doubt. She contrasts the immediacy of journalism, her previous career, with the slow pace of book publishing. The episode concludes with a discussion of Carley’s life outside of writing and some remarks on fashion and mood.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Carley. Thanks for coming back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Meet Me at the Lake, which has the most gorgeous cover. For those who cannot see Carley right now, she is wearing a dress the exact same colors as her cover. It is really beautiful. There you go.

Carley Fortune: Thank you. Thank you for having me back.

Zibby: I really loved this book. I loved Every Summer After too, but there is something about this I particularly related to with the loss angle as well and different paths your lives can go. I don’t know. It had this extra layer of meaning. Not to compare. They’re both different. Anyway, I loved it, is all I’m trying to say.

Carley: Thank you so, so much. That means the world to me. Right now when we’re talking, we’re three weeks from the book coming out. I am so nervous about it because the book, I’m so proud of it. It means so much to me. I’m so happy to hear that you liked it.

Zibby: It’s really, really good. It’s really good. Also, you had a long note at the end about how hard it was for you to write this, which came as a surprise because reading it, you would not be able to tell that.

Carley: Thank goodness.

Zibby: It’s true. It all makes sense. Not that there’s a book I could read that I’m like, oh, she must have had a hard time with that one.

Carley: She worked on that one. Yikes.

Zibby: I don’t know what that would even look like. Tell me about why it was hard. Also, just explain the whole story to listeners.

Carley: The book is about Fern and Will, who meet in their early twenties just as they’re launching into the world. They’ve just finished school. They have this chance encounter that leads to them spending an entire day together in the city and wandering around and talking and making plans for the future. They have a very strong connection. They make a pact to meet one year later at the resort where Fern grew up. Fern shows up, and Will doesn’t. She never hears from him again until ten years in the future. She’s back home running her mom’s resort, the place where she grew up, the place where she absolutely did not want to come back to and run. It’s in a pretty bad state. Her ex-boyfriend’s the manager. In walks Will with an offer to help her out. It’s been ten years since she’s seen him. He’s extraordinarily different from the guy that she met ten years ago. She’s not really sure if she can trust him. She feels like he’s kind of keeping a secret. Something’s a little shifty. Like Every Summer After, it goes back and forth between the past, where they spend these twenty-four hours together, and the present, where they’re together at the resort in the summer. That’s Meet Me at the Lake in a nutshell.

Zibby: The voice is so great too. I know that’s the plot. Can I read a passage or two or something?

Carley: Oh, my goodness, yes. Sure.

Zibby: This is starting, “Running from Will Baxter is exhausting.” I’m going to read two paragraphs. Is that okay?

Carley: Yes.

Zibby: “Running with Will Baxter is exhausting. I know because I’ve spent nine years barreling down this trail. It was supposed to lead far away from him through a kind of magical mist and enchanted forest to a land of forgetting. I’ve fled from the feeling of his finger linked with mine, from the hurt. It used to burn hot and sharp, like a lance through the sternum. Over time, it faded to a dull ache, but tonight, there is no escape. I dart down the flagstone steps in front of the lodge. As soon as I land on the path, my high heels sink into the gravel, and I stumble. I shift my weight onto the balls of my feet, but I can only shuffle a few inches at a time. I left my Birkenstocks in the office. Swearing, I pull off the shoes and grit my teeth against the bite of pebbles. I’ve been living in the city too long. Whitney and I used to scamper around the property in bare feet all summer. I get three strides farther when I hear footsteps hurrying down the stairs behind me. ‘Fern, wait,’ but I don’t wait. I pick up my pace, trip, and go soaring forward. The humiliation hits before the stinging in my palms and knees. ‘Are you okay?’ Will asks above me. I rue the day he was born. I rue the people who held each other close nine months before that. I do a lot of rue-ing as I lie there. I press my forehead against the ground and dig my fingers into the stones. Maybe I can burrow my way out of this.”

Carley: Thank you so much. You know what’s funny about that particular part of the book? There are two sections in just what you read that I considered cutting.

Zibby: No.

Carley: Yes, the part that begins it, about her running away through the mist and forest, and the rue-ing.

Zibby: I love the rue-ing.

Carley: I did too. I feel like it was close to being cut. I was like, is the running away from him part too overwrought? I really went back and forth on those parts. I’m so glad that you liked them.

Zibby: I particularly loved the rue-ing. That’s so funny.

Carley: I love it too. Sometimes when you love something, you’re like, am I just feeling myself? Is this bad? I don’t even know.

Zibby: It’s good. It just is. It’s funny. It’s relatable. Yet it’s different. Being in a difficult situation and not only wishing the person weren’t there or that you weren’t, but then being upset with that person’s parents for getting together, that’s pretty good. I’ve never reached that far back. Now maybe I will.

Carley: Fern is quite bitter.

Zibby: Even, also, how Fern talks about losing her mom — I don’t have to share how she died. Basically, she died in an accident caused because she was trying to do everything for everyone, as she always did, running this resort, not delegating, and wanting the customer experience always to be perfect. In the end, that’s what ended up being her downfall, not on purpose, but in a more cosmic way. I feel like that’s also this larger metaphor, if you will, for what a lot of women are doing when they’re running things and being moms even of older kids, trying to do everything for everyone, not let anyone down, and being like, I’m just going to do it. Maybe this is just because I can relate to this.

Carley: I know. You’re so right. Fern’s mom, Maggie, is also — I’m not sure how much of this is really in the book, but I saw her as someone who never quite felt she was doing enough, as a mom, as a business owner, and therefore, probably ended up doing way more than she ought to have.

Zibby: And yet was so beloved. The people at the resort love her. You could tell that she had this really special quality and could connect.

Carley: Yes, a lot of charisma.

Zibby: A lot of charisma. The place was all her. Then when she was gone, it’s more than just a loss of the person. It’s the loss of a piece of the place as well.

Carley: Absolutely.

Zibby: Then of course, the love. It’s just so good. Go back to why this was hard to write.

Carley: I wrote Every Summer After in the summer and fall of 2020. I did it early mornings before work and before my kid was awake. It took me about four months to write. In under a year, I had a two-book deal. Edits on Every Summer After took two weeks. It was a very speedy, easy, magical kind of process, from writing the book to the book published. Then the reception for the book was just mind-blowing. Writing the book was really, really joyful and smooth for me. I was pregnant while I wrote Every Summer After. When I was writing Meet Me at the Lake, I was two months postpartum. My mental health really sucks in my postpartum period, for both pregnancies. For one, I had, a couple months earlier, got a two-book deal. I was like, oh, my gosh, but that means I have to write a second book, which I, of course, wanted to. I love doing this. It was really intimidating, the idea of, now I had an editor and an agent and a publishing team who loved Every Summer After, and I really didn’t want to disappoint them.

Every day I sat down to write the draft of Meet Me at the Lake — I worked on it every day for eight months. My husband took paternity leave to look after the baby. I would spend hours telling myself how much I sucked. Every Summer After was a fluke. You can’t do this again. Nobody’s going to read Every Summer After, and therefore, you’re already going to fail. This book’s going to be a flop. You can’t do it. I looked back at my notebook that I kept for Every Summer After before I started writing Meet Me at the Lake. I was like, how did I even write a book? I don’t even know how I wrote a book. It felt like magic. That first draft was really hard to write. I literally fought with myself every day. That was before Every Summer After came out. There wasn’t even any kind of reader reception for Every Summer After yet. I had filed two drafts of Meet Me at the Lake before Every Summer After came out. Then I got my first editing letter back on the first draft of Meet Me at the Lake, and it was a really long letter, and so smart. My editors are absolutely brilliant. There was this little line in there at the end that was like, “What if we changed the past timeline so that the characters are a different age and it’s a different setting?”

When I got that note, first of all, I felt like I needed to vomit. I spent two days feeling like I needed to puke. I was like, I absolutely have to rewrite half a book and therefore, change the rest of the book. That is absolutely the right thing to do. I have done a really bad job. I have failed. In hindsight, I’m like, no, that is just the process of how a book is actually put out. You don’t usually spend two weeks doing edits on a book before it is sent to copyediting. Once I kind of got my head around that and I started working on the second draft, I outlined it over a weekend. Then it was like, okay, they’re going to be a bit older. It’s going to be in Toronto. I had so much fun. I was like, I’ve already failed. I had two months to file my second draft. It was so fun. Now having come through that, and I’m working on my third book, I’m like, I can do anything. It may not be great at the end of it, but I can do it, at least. It was tremendously hard, the first draft.

Zibby: Explain what was different, then.

Carley: With the second draft?

Zibby: In the first draft of Meet Me at the Lake, were they at the resort the whole time?

Carley: Yes.

Zibby: Oh, okay. So there was never a coffee shop subplot at all?

Carley: There was never a coffee shop. There was no day in Toronto. There was a canoe trip and a storm. They were younger. The book was always about where we think we’re going to end up and where we actually do and how those things align or don’t align and the unexpected curves that life inevitably throws at us. They were on their way to college in the first draft instead of having completed it. Those are two very different life stages. The second life stage was a much better place to examine what I wanted to examine. I wrote Every Summer After, and I was like, okay, so what I do is write about lakes. Everything will be at the lake. I felt like that’s what I had to do. Then when my editor suggested a day in the city, I was like, that’s so much more fun. Let me write about something new. I love Toronto very much. I got to have so much fun exploring Toronto of ten years ago, which was a really good time in the city. It has a lot of similarities, I would say, to Every Summer After, but changing that past timeline really helps distinguish them.

Zibby: Totally. Wow. Of course, we hung out in Toronto. That was fun.

Carley: Yes, we did. It was fun.

Zibby: By the way — this is so random. There was this amazing wallpaper in the bookstore that we did our event in. I don’t know if you remember.

Carley: There was? I don’t remember.

Zibby: I took a picture of it at some point. Then I saw the wallpaper somewhere else. For two months, my brain could not help me remember. I could not place where I had seen it before. I was like, I know I’ve seen this before. I love it so much. Where? It ended up being in that bookstore with you.

Carley: Queen Books.

Zibby: Yeah, Queen Books. There we go.

Carley: I’m going to have to go look at their Instagram afterwards and see what the wallpaper is.

Zibby: I finally saw it in a picture that I had taken that day. I was like, oh, my gosh, that was it. It was a Farrow & Ball. I’m obsessed with wallpaper. Always cataloging where I find stuff. That’s so interesting. It’s so cool that your characters — that you can have them be so defined, that someone could say, “Why don’t they be a little older?” and you could be like, obviously, I know exactly who they are and what they’re going to be like when they’re older. You had to do all that work before to even get to know who they were.

Carley: Yes. I think it made it so much easier to write the second draft because I knew the characters. I was like, I know what they did as teenagers. I know so much now that I didn’t know before. It made it so that I could really concentrate on just having fun. I didn’t have to worry my way through the story like I did with my first draft. It was very difficult to press delete on that. I kind of mentally sent them off in a canoe and said farewell and grieved them as teenagers and then turned my attention to them as twenty-two-year-olds, which was wonderful.

Zibby: You should release that. You could do it as an original audio. You could do it as a special insert for booksellers or something.

Carley: I’ve thought about it. I’m like, do I want that in the world? I don’t know. It’s fun. Jamie is in it, who is Fern’s ex. He’s in it. In that draft, he is not a love interest at all. He became an ex later, I think in the second draft, maybe. It’s got a nice scene with Fern’s mom.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, I would want to read it. I think you should do something with it. Why not? Otherwise, it’s just in a file.

Carley: I know.

Zibby: You’re giving people more of an inside look into the characters. I also think people would go crazy for the deleted chapter.

Carley: What if people read it and they’re like, “This is really sucky”? It might be sucky.

Zibby: It might, but it might not. Maybe they’re not reading it with that lens. They’re just saying, I want more of these people. Tell me more.

Carley: I’m working on this fun little bonus something for Meet Me at the Lake. As I’m writing it, I’m like, I think this is fun, but also, maybe it’s terrible. I think that’s just writing, for me anyway.

Zibby: I think we have to focus on how to get you over all of the self-doubt that is going on in your head.

Carley: Yes, I would love that. I do have a therapist, just so you know. Writing the third book, I didn’t deal with that at all. A little bit. Definitely, questioning a little bit. I didn’t feel as saddled with self-doubt. I decided it was going to be a mess and that I was okay with it being a mess. Whereas when I wrote Meet Me at the Lake, I was like, this is going to be a mess, but in the back of my head, I was like, but it needs to be perfect. I hope that I’ve come past that. I hope I can approach writing in the future a bit more healthfully.

Zibby: It’s nice to hear you talk about it, though. It does mess with your mind because that’s all you’re doing. It’s like why I can’t play golf. There’s too much pressure. You have to do it. You have to do it right. It’s only you and the page or you and the golf ball or whatever it is. Such a crazy analogy. I’m like, no, I’m not going to play golf. I can’t get over myself. It’s too much in my head. Writing is different, too, obviously, because the end product is all of our subconsciouses and random memories and feelings and thoughts. You have to swirl it all up like some crazy stew and then splatter it on the page. It’s amazing anything ever comes out making any sense.

Carley: It is. I feel like I sound kind of ungrateful. I love what I’m doing so, so, so much. Even though that was really difficult, that first draft, it is the thing I love most in this world, writing, as hard as it can be. It just makes me so, so happy. We probably talked about this the last time I was on. I was a journalist for sixteen years. I was at a point in my career where I didn’t know what I was going to do next. I felt like my career was over. I had worked so hard. To not know what I was meant to do anymore was really hard. When I wrote Every Summer After, it was like, oh, my gosh, I am in my late thirties, and I am now just discovering what it is I am meant to do. That is how I feel. I am so grateful and happy, despite the angst.

Zibby: I do know that. Unlike golf, which I actually don’t particularly like, I also like writing. I think everybody who writes really loves it. It’s just hard. You can love something, and it can be hard, like parenting. I love my kids, but it is really hard. It’s the same thing, right?

Carley: It is so hard.

Zibby: I just interviewed Disha Bose before you. Have you read Dirty Laundry? It’s the new GMA Book Club pick.

Carley: I haven’t.

Zibby: It’s right here because literally, that was half an hour ago. On her first page, the main character’s daughter is being really difficult. She has all this dialogue. The line after her daughter says something rude, she’s like, “And then I wanted to take her outside and toss her on the curb and never pick her up,” just something that we’re not supposed to say. It was so funny. It just spoke to how hard parenting can be at times even though you love your kids more than anything. It’s the same with writing. You love what you do, of course, but it’s just hard. It can be really hard.

Carley: I think there’s a lot of parallels between writing and publishing and parenting, for sure.

Zibby: True, yes. Birthing a book and all that, that’s true.

Carley: Yes, and comparing books. What book do you love more? I love them both differently.

Zibby: What is the third book about? Tell me about that one.

Carley: I can’t say much about the third book yet. It is a summery love story. I am wildly excited about it. It’s funny. I both never want Meet Me at the Lake to come out because I’m nervous, but I also want it to come out right now. I also want my third book to come out right now. I’m not the most patient person. We’re still editing it. I think I’ll get my edit back next week. I just have had so much fun writing it. I love it. I love it so, so much. Meet Me at the Lake has a strong mother-daughter storyline in it. This book has a strong best friend, female friendship storyline in it that I’ve been really working on in addition to the love story. I can’t wait to talk about it more. I’m just so excited about it.

Zibby: Isn’t it annoying that the book can’t just come out right now? It’s annoying.

Carley: Yes. I understand it from a business perspective. It’s not finished yet. Also, I just want it to come out.

Zibby: I know, all this long lead time. Maybe it’s not worth it. Maybe there’s a different way. I don’t know.

Carley: I don’t know. I think this is good for me, this book-a-year pace that I’m on. Journalism is really fast paced. I worked at newspapers. I worked in digital publishing. It was too fast. I’m good at fast. I’m good at deadlines. I have to be forced to slow down. I think that’s ultimately probably for the best.

Zibby: Interesting. I totally relate to the immediacy. It’s this compulsion. Okay, let’s go. Let’s just do it.

Carley: Give me all the fires, and I will put them out one by one. Then I will be really tired.

Zibby: What have you been up to when you’re not writing, marketing, editing, blah, blah, blah?

Carley: Honestly, this has been a great period of time creatively. It has been a terrible period of time personally. We have been sick in my house for eight months straight. I started counting how many illnesses we had, and then I stopped when it reached a dozen. We have had three healthy weeks since September. I got in a car accident at the beginning of the year. Every week, I’m like, okay, things are going to turn around. They just get worse. It’s been a really hard time personally for a lot of reasons. I’m doing very little, honestly. Reading and watching TV and then looking after sick people or being sick. It’s just been that kind of time. Now it’s spring. It was a really long winter here in Toronto. It’s just getting warm now. I’m like, I’m going to put on a colorful dress. I am going to, through fashion, try to will myself a happy spring. Right now, just in that prepublication jitters, anxiety, excitement, weird time. I think the two months before publication are the weirdest time to live through.

Zibby: Tough. I am so sorry that you have been going through all of that.

Carley: Thanks. I don’t want to bring people down.

Zibby: It’s not bringing people down. It’s real life.

Carley: It’s been really hard. It’s been a really hard one. It’s funny because people keep reaching out to see how things are going. It’s like, it’s not going good. It’s just not going good. Hopefully, the book will come out, and people will be excited to talk about the book. I’m going to do a little Canadian tour and a little tour in the US. I am really excited to get out of this house and talk to people and smile and get dressed. I’m like, this book is going to come out, and things are going to get better. That’s my hope, anyway.

Zibby: Maybe this whole thing is a turning point, like you said.

Carley: I hope so.

Zibby: I’m sorry. It’s a lot. Thanks for talking about it and being open.

Carley: Thank you. It is what it is.

Zibby: You need to put outfits for a better mood — can you do a little post about that? Have you done one and I didn’t notice or something?

Carley: I haven’t done one. Earlier this winter, I was experimenting with getting dressed every day because I usually work in sweats. I was like, no, you know what? I’m going to wear real clothes for a week. I miss wearing real clothes. Then after a few days, I was like, nah, I really just want elasticized waistbands. Now that it’s warmer, dresses are like — I basically feel like I’m wearing pajama, but it looks so happy.

Zibby: Most days, I wear elasticized-waist long skirts, which feel very similar to pajamas. They’re nice soft fabrics, or shiny or whatever. They feel good, but they look much better. I can throw on a sweater and a long skirt. I’m dressed, but I’m still super comfortable.

Carley: That’s a good strategy. I’m also a bit lazy. I try to exercise in the day. It’s like, do I just put on my exercise clothes when I wake up? Should I change in the day? Is that just too much effort? I don’t know.

Zibby: If you want, even for Zibby Mag, I would love to see top five outfits to turn your mood around. Will you do that, something like that? That could be fun.

Carley: I could try, yeah.

Zibby: Take some pictures. Go in your closet. Or don’t do it for us. Do it for you. Just do a video of you. I’m in a really bad mood. Today is terrible, but this pink and red dress from blah, blah, blah — here’s the link. Get an affiliate code so you can make money on it or whatever.

Carley: Zibby, I know you’re really busy, but I think you should come and be my social media marketer. I feel so bad at these things. I feel like you should just add this to your extremely long list of things that you already do and come give me help.

Zibby: Great, I’d love it. I’m in. You don’t need my help, but start with that. I would love to see that. I bet other people . Then all your bonus content, even a couple sentences. Not like you need my help. You’re this major star. I just feel like there’s all this opportunity. Carley, this was really fun. Thank you for being so open about all of your stuff because I bet everybody listening — I keep forgetting that they do when I’m having a heart-to-heart.

Carley: I know.

Zibby: The people who are eavesdropping on us today, I know it’s going to help them. Writing is hard. Life is hard. Sometimes you just have to put on a pretty dress and get through it.

Carley: Yes, I agree. Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I love talking to you.

Zibby: I love talking to you too. I hope that this week is better.

Carley: Thank you. Bye.

Zibby: Bye, Carley.

Carley Fortune, MEET ME AT THE LAKE

MEET ME AT THE LAKE by Carley Fortune

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