Emily Henry joined Zibby for an Instagram Live to discuss her latest novel, People We Meet on Vacation— one of her two books currently on the New York Times bestsellers list! The two had a wide-ranging and fun conversation about everything from expensing vacations to their favorite rom-com, and why it’s so hard for them to pick out book recommendations.


Zibby Owens: Hi, everybody. How are you doing? I hope everybody had a great weekend. I am really excited to be here today with Emily Henry, the best-selling author of People We Meet on Vacation. This is my Book of the Month copy, by the way, because yes, I am a member there too. I am really excited to talk about People We Meet on Vacation. I already interviewed Emily about Beach Read. If you haven’t listened to my podcast on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” with Emily for that, you can go back and do that. Now we’re going to talk about her latest book. a best seller — she had multiple books on the best-seller list, which is so cool — and also included me in the acknowledgements, which was so sweet. Hey, good morning.

Emily Henry: Good morning. I’m great. How are you?

Zibby: I’m great. Thank you for putting me in your acknowledgments. That made my day. I showed my kids. They were hugging me. They thought it was the coolest thing.

Emily: I would imagine that happens all the time because you really are sort of the fairy godmother, I think is what I called you, or something, guardian angel, whatever, of the book world. Once you’ve had the pleasure of doing a Zibby Owens interview, you will never forget it. You will always feel like friends. Of course, you were in my acknowledgments. All that to say, of course.

Zibby: Aw, thank you. It meant a lot. I feel that same way. Not every single person, but I would say most people, once I get to know them really well, it’s hard not to want to be friends. You feel like you get to know them. Then I find myself totally rooting for everybody. It’s great.

Emily: Then everybody’s rooting for you, which is the circle of life.

Zibby: Thank you. That’s very sweet. I thought we could do a mini podcast, if you will, live about your latest book. Congratulations on People We Meet on Vacation, so much success. Are you blown away again? You’re a superstar. This is great.

Emily: I am blown away. I have an email chain. I have a lot of email chain publishing team. Every single time that an email comes into it, all of us are like, okay, more great news. How are we going to keep celebrating this for this long? Now it’s been out for seven or eight weeks. It’s been seven or eight weeks of celebration. I think when you’re setting out to publish, it’s sort of the scenario you imagined for yourself. Then once you’ve done it a couple of times, you’re like, oh, that doesn’t happen. That’s the exception. That doesn’t happen. I’m like, what? It happened when I stopped expecting it.

Zibby: There you go. It’s like dating, as soon as you stop looking. I had this year of my life where I was really trying hard to meet someone. I was always getting dressed up and going out every weekend and being like, maybe he’s at this party. Maybe he’s at that party. Then the second I get into business school and I was like, great, I don’t have to worry, I’ll meet someone at business school, then I met someone the next day.

Emily: Oh, my gosh, wow, the next day you meet is always a — that’s what happens. That’s such a common story where immediately, you just meet someone out of the gate. I guess it is the same, and the thing is publishing. It’s always best to let the universe do its own thing.

Zibby: Totally, as much as control freaks like myself don’t like that, but yes, it’s probably true. For anyone who might not know what this book is about, would you mind giving a little synopsis of People We Meet on Vacation?

Emily: I would love to. People We Meet on Vacation is the story of Alex and Poppy, who are best friends. They meet in college. They don’t think that they will be friends. They have nothing in common. Poppy is this wild, chaotic, a little bit of a party girl, just wants to meet people and see the world. Alex is this very buttoned-up academic who just wants to go to school forever, which is me kind of dividing my personality into two people. I’m both of those things. Against all odds, they form this friendship. Over the years, the way that they stay in touch as their lives carry them off in different directions is that they take a summer trip. The book starts two years after their last summer trip. You know there’s been this rift. They’re not really speaking. You don’t know exactly what happened. Poppy is in this huge rut at work and in her personal life. She just decides that the thing that’s missing and the thing that will fix everything is having Alex back in her life. She convinces him to take one more summer trip to see if they can fix their friendship. The book follows that trip in the present, but then it’s also interspersed with all of their previous ten summer trips. You get to go back and see them getting to know each other. I think it’s a lot of fun. If you haven’t read it yet, I hope you do too.

Zibby: I read it. I hope you’re talking to other people watching.

Emily: Oh, yeah, I’m talking to other people. I know you’re an old pro. That’s, again, what I’m saying. You’re the best host. You can kind of tell when you show up and you’re like, you haven’t read my book. These questions just aren’t quite right. That has not happened with you, obviously.

Zibby: Thanks. I can’t read every word of everything, but I do my best. I really do my best. This was so great because I feel like anybody who gives up a trip to Santorini immediately should get a medal.

Emily: I totally agree. That was really fun to write because that was basically based on my desire to go to Santorini. I haven’t been yet. I was like, I don’t want to write Santorini based on Google searches. I think that would be excruciating. I thought that that’s the way to slip in a couple of the places that I want to go but not actually send them there. I have some other moments in the book where I did that where it’s like, these are trips I will take eventually, but I haven’t. This way, I’m not writing a book from Google, which I’m not as good at as some people are.

Zibby: I have not been to Santorini either. I would love to go there. Let me know when you’re going.

Emily: We’ll go to Santorini. Now we’re so close, we’re so close we can taste it, to all of that international travel again.

Zibby: Yes. There was a whole feature, I don’t know if you saw it, in The New York Times over the weekend. It was all about the latest hotels to open in Mykonos. I just was holding it like, ah, this looks so beautiful. Every one looks more beautiful than the next.

Emily: It really is the place in pictures that you’re like, is this photoshopped? Every single time I see a picture of somebody in Santorini, I’m like, there’s no way, or anywhere in Greece, really.

Zibby: Yeah, pretty much. I have been to Mykonos. It’s insanely amazing. Dream to go back, ever. This book was so amazing because I didn’t realize as I started reading it that you were flashing back. Not flashing back, but the way that you had structured the chapters was one chapter in the present, and then you were going back from ten years until it caught up with everything. Each one was based on a trip. I guess I should’ve researched it first, but I just read it anyway.

Emily: No, it’s fun to go in blind.

Zibby: It’s more fun. I loved doing that so you could see the progression. Then it was all making sense to where you were in the present. How did you come up with that structure for this book?

Emily: It happened really organically. I knew I wanted to play with structure. That’s not something I’d actually ever done before. My books have always just been very chronological. I write and figure it out as I’m going along. I really specifically wanted to play with structure in some way. I didn’t have any ideas for that. My editor and I kicked around a couple of different ways to build the book thinking they would feed into the plot. We just did not have anything. We’re like, we don’t have characters. We don’t have a plot. We don’t have a structure. We’ll figure it out. What ended up happening was I was trying to think of settings for the book. I knew I wanted it to feel very summery and a little bit aspirational and just kind of scratch all of those escapist itches. I made this list of locations that could be the setting for the book. I realized that all of them pretty much were places that I had traveled but not places that I had lived. Again, knowing that there are people who are so good at research, this is no shade at them, but I thought, I’m not sure I could write any of these places convincingly as a local. I could set a book in New Orleans, but they’re basically just going to go to Bourbon Street. Anyone from New Orleans is going to be like, these people do not live here. They’re just doing things.

I realized it was all of these vacation destinations that I had been to. I, at that point, was like, oh, what if I just wrote from the perspective of a traveler? Then instantly, the structure just completely came to me. It was like, oh, I’ll set it over the course of these vacations. I don’t really know how I then figured out to do the dual timelines with the present-day storyline with the other trips interspersed. I think that that was just that I knew that would be easier to build tension if there was something that it was building toward versus just telling it in chronological order. It’s sneaking this little mystery in. The mystery itself is not going to shock anyone, blow anyone away. The getting there and understanding why it was so important, why what happened really rocked their friendship and everything that led up to it, it’s not really like this one thing pulled them apart, but more of, their whole journey was building and building. Then they had nowhere to go. It’s just the magic experience. I don’t know if you had that magic experience when you’re writing. You can just tell. Sometimes you’re carving something from sheer rock. Then sometimes you’re like, oh, and then this could happen. This makes sense because of this. It’s like, how are these two things that are the same job — how is this writing a book, and this is writing a book?

Zibby: It’s also like reading books, the fact that they all are even the same shape and words when they’re so different, when you can open one up and travel around the world. One minute, I’m in a contentious meeting with the boss of the travel blog. The next minute, I’m crying about — I just interviewed Martha Beck this morning about the sexual abuse she had as a child. You don’t know what you’re going to get when you open it up. That’s why when people are reading this, reading this, I’m like, it’s not even one thing. It’s a thousand things.

Emily: That’s why it also is really like traveling. There’s just something about story. It takes you out of your own life. It lets you briefly have this other entire life. It’s interesting that not everybody really craves that. Book people and I guess film people, whatever, some of us just really crave that. We’re like, one life is not enough. I need to see it. I need to feel everything. I need to be everyone.

Zibby: I never thought of it as one life is not enough. That is a funny way to look at it. I guess you’re right. I don’t know. I mean, I’m satisfied with my own life, but my life is so enriched by all the characters and experiences that I don’t actually live myself.

Emily: It changes you to read. It’s a really beautiful experience.

Zibby: This book, I felt like it was so similar in a way to When Harry Met Sally, which is, PS, my favorite movie of all time, with the college-age meetup where you think you’re never going to see this person again. You don’t really like them. Then they become one of these central characters in your life.

Emily: I feel like every time I write a book, there’s just this, almost a Ferris wheel of things that I’m thinking about. My brain is reaching out and grabbing them and seeing what fits together. The When Harry Met Sally dynamic was something early on that I knew I wanted to try. I actually was not convinced I could do it because I hadn’t written a friendship that evolved into something more, I don’t think ever, really, or not over the course of years, at least. The thing that I love about When Harry Met Sally — I think I said this in the Behind the Book essay. I love that every time it starts, I kind of have this thing of, am I mis-remembering and I don’t actually like this movie as much as I think? Harry just drives me so batty in the beginning. I think he’s so obnoxious up front. I just have trouble seeing Billy Crystal become the romantic lead. Then every single time, they really get me. They really get me. I fall in love with Harry again. I watch Sally fall in love with him. It’s so rewarding to see these people who — it’s not like the things that were annoying about them went away. It’s just, they were young. They took their first impressions at face value. Getting to know someone really can change every experience you had with them in your memory. I wanted to create that dynamic, except I wanted Poppy to be a little bit of the abrasive one instead of Alex. I wanted Alex to be a little bit more staid and in control and thinking about his decisions, whereas Poppy’s a little bit more like, eh.

Zibby: Now I’m sort of annoyed because I did not know that you wrote a whole Behind the Book essay about it. I thought that was just my own perception.

Emily: That’s a better compliment to me. That’s a much better compliment to me. Anytime you just whisper Nora Ephron’s name within , that’s a compliment. At least that I’ve discovered, I don’t think anyone has done, really, what Nora Ephron could do, especially in just two hours. How?

Zibby: I love how you take us to all different places. Yet the modern-day story is not the best. That’s what my kids say, “this was not the best,” when they mean something is terrible.

Emily: That’s so great.

Zibby: How many people out there have had horrific Airbnb experiences and hotel rooms that they hate? How they’re in this one bed with the back spasm and he’s on the floor, you’re like, oh, my gosh, because of this studio. It doesn’t look like you want it. That whole being led astray thing, which happens to all of us, and yet there’s really not much we can do about it.

Emily: Nothing. It is so funny because I feel like that can make or break a trip, obviously. Also, who you’re with matters so much. Those things can be really horrible, but when you’re traveling with the right person, after even a few minutes sometimes, you’re already laughing about it. Even while it’s happening, you’re like, this is the worst, but here we are. Someday, this will be really funny. When I set out to write it, like I said, I kind of had this idea that it was going to be glossy and aspirational and whatever. Then I started writing it and realized I just wanted to put them into horrible travel nightmare scenarios. Then I realized the reason really was because when I think back on my favorite trips, there are the moments with this beautiful sheen where things just went better than you could’ve expected. You wandered into a restaurant and had the best meal of your life and all of that. Alongside those, you really do remember those days that were just unbelievably bad and things went so wrong. Especially if you were with someone who you have a good time with, maybe you were even at each other’s throats in the moment, but now you laugh and joke about it. You recall those memories. Every couple years, you take them out and talk about them. The stories kind of grow and become outright lies, gradually. I found that that was what I was excited about writing. I realized that’s how we would get to know Poppy and Alex over years, was showing them in these really nice situations where they’re just having a good time and things are going right, but also, how are they under duress? What does that bring out of them? How are they when they’re in conflict?

Zibby: By the way, at the end, not to give away any ending, but there was this, perhaps this will become People We Meet in New York. Is that going to happen?

Emily: I don’t know. We’ll see. I love so much when people are excited enough about my characters that they would like to read a sequel. I also really would want to make sure — I think the story would have to come to me first. I don’t think that I would sit down and say, okay, I’m going to write a sequel. I’m going to figure out what they’re doing in New York. I think that maybe I would have a dream or just be daydreaming and think, oh, this is what would happen next with Alex and Poppy. Then maybe I would write that. It’s so tempting to stay in that story and to stay with those characters. I also don’t want to just shoehorn them into situations that don’t feel right. I don’t want to disappoint people who really, really loved them. Sometimes you read a book, and characters continue, or read a series. You pick up the next book, and you’re like, these don’t even feel like the same characters. The author’s mind kind of removed itself from that world. Then they tried to get back in. As a reader, you’re just sort of like, I don’t know, would they do that? It seems like we’re missing a lot in between. We’ll see. All that to say, we’ll see.

Zibby: I don’t know, I think there’s a lot of potential that you could do there. They also don’t have to be in New York all the time. You could just have them based there. As a New York mom, you could also fast-forward and do a little New York mom scene action. I’m just saying. I don’t know.

Emily: That’s sort of where my mind went when we were just talking. The next big hurdle for them would be having kids, especially having kids in the city. How are you guys going to make this work? Can you do it?

Zibby: Happy to give you any research tips you need. Gosh, that would be so fun to see Alex and Poppy as parents, I have to say.

Emily: This is not related to books, really. Well, it is kind of because there’s some — I can’t talk too much about my next book, but there’s a whole little section that’s just about New York mom — I don’t know if got edited out — about the New York mom and the New York kids’ experience. I briefly lived there for a residency. I was there with other people. We’d be on the train or whatever, on the sidewalk. They’d see a mom with her kids and be like, I can’t imagine raising kids here. I, every time, was just like, there is no better place that I can imagine raising your kids. I would just love seeing the kids get onto the train in their school uniforms and going to The Met and seeing field trips to The Met. There was a whole thing in my next book where I was talking about that specific thing of the New York mom, so maybe that will happen.

Zibby: See, it’s perfect because now you can cut it out of this book and save it for this one. You’re already in it. Wait, you must be able to say something about the one you’re working on now, a little bit.

Emily: I can say a tiny bit. I don’t know that anybody reading this would pick up on it, but in my mind, it is my homage to You’ve Got Mail, which is my second-favorite rom-com.

Zibby: I don’t know, what about Sleepless in Seattle? I feel like we could go through all the — that was one of my favorites.

Emily: Yeah, anything with Meg Ryan. Honestly, Sandra Bullock has a couple of my favorites too. I always think about While You Were Sleeping, is probably my favorite Christmas movie. They’re all so good.

Zibby: Interesting. How deep into this next book are you?

Emily: I am so deep. I am neck deep. I actually am about to emerge, I would say. I just turned in my final real edit. We’ll be going to copyedits and proofreads next. Hopefully, we won’t notice that we did anything really — the characters don’t change their names halfway through and have totally different backstories. Right now, the plan is for it to come out next summer as long as nothing weird happens. We were on a tight deadline. My editor is coming up on maternity leave, and so we were just like, okay, we have to finish this. The baby is going to be here. I’ve been just fully immersed in that book since last fall. I’m going to take a little time off. Then I’m going to write another book.

Zibby: Amazing. Are you trying to — no, that’s not going to add up to one every summer, right? Is it every summer?

Emily: It is every summer. That’s the goal, but we’ll see. Life stuff can happen. Sometimes there are years where it’s like, oh, I wrote four books this year. Then there are years where it was like pulling teeth to write half of one. It’ll all just depends on what my brain does. Every fall, I get this burst. I think my agent knows to expect it now where I send an email and I’m like, one book a year is not enough for me. I need to be doing a lot more. I just get this burst of creative energy and become sort of manic and am like, I can write three more books before the end of the year. Then by spring every year, I’m like, oh, god, have a year off. We’ll see.

Zibby: Is there anything you’re going to do creatively, essentially, with the locations from this book? I wanted to start a Moms Don’t Have Time — well, I did start, I guess I should say. I had started this Moms Don’t Have Time to Travel little community and Instagram. I sort of have it on hold because I can’t do everything I want to do anymore. I feel like there’s so much potential with travel and branding that’s not being done yet. I feel like this book could — you could send people on tours. You could organize them. You could create the blog. I can’t remember, what was it called? Rest and Relaxation or something? Are you going to start something?

Emily: Oh, my gosh, I hadn’t gotten that far. I hadn’t gotten that far in my thoughts. I think the biggest takeaway that I had — this is such a boring adult sentence that would’ve meant nothing to me ten years ago, but the farthest that I had gotten is just being like, oh, yeah, I can write off my vacations. That’s about as far as I’ve gotten. I can travel and just choose places I want to go and go stay for a month and write a book about it. That’s all I really learned from Poppy. I learned some other things from Poppy, but from that book, I think it was this big realization of, I do want to be seeing more and traveling more. It’s just a great excuse to do that and to research. When we were trying to plan publicity, I do remember we talked about all these fun things of writing some fictional blog posts. Of course, then I was just on deadline forever. I was like, I am sorry, I will not be promoting this book. I hope that that’s okay. My team is incredible. They did a fantastic job. I think maybe you just are a little bit more of a big-picture thinker than I am.

Zibby: I think it would actually be really neat if you almost crowdsourced it so you didn’t have to do it all yourself. You have like eight million fans. I just made that up. You have a zillion fans for this book now who are really passionate about it and who travel a lot. Travel is coming back. You could do this blog. You could have everybody do a little write-up of it. Then it becomes a — I don’t know. Anyway, whatever. You have enough on your plate.

Emily: No, I love that. The idea of somebody telling me what to read in a certain location would be really fun too, being like, go here and read this book while you’re there. Somebody’s planning your trip for you. That sounds great.

Zibby: That’s true. I should do an article, what to read in different places, actually. Maybe I’ll do that later today.

Emily: Yeah, tell me what to read in Mykonos. That’s what we’ll do.

Zibby: I could tell you what I read when I was in Mykonos. What did I read? Was it two years ago or three years ago that I went there? I took pictures of my huge stack of books that I brought. I’m going to have to remember. That was just like, read every book that’s fun. I always have like eight books I’m reading a week, so it’s whatever happened then. So where do you write? Where is your go-to spot? What’s your process like? Do you write all day? Tell me how you’re managing this.

Emily: When I’m drafting, I think I’m giving myself a million kinds of arthritis and carpel tunnel because I draft, usually, lying flat on the couch with my head kind of crooked up and my laptop on my tummy. Every time my husband walks through, he’s like, “Are you okay? What is this?” I’ll move around throughout the day. I’ve got an elevated desk that I’ll use. I just move around whenever I get stuck. I don’t know if you’ve found this with your writing too, but I feel like sometimes a change in location will just jog something loose. When I’m drafting, I like to wake up and not do anything before I write, if possible. As soon as I start answering emails or doing phone calls or whatever, it just uses the little bit of my willpower. I have a daily word goal of two thousand words. I write until I get that. Sometimes if it’s going really well, I might write twice as much. Sometimes I might be a one hundred words under. The other thing is, sometimes that takes me an hour and a half, and sometimes it takes me nine hours depending on what my headspace is and what I have figured out so far.

I’m so, so, so lucky to be able to work that way and to be able to have this be my full-time job. It is funny because I used to have a different full-time job. I kind of feel like, do I get any more done than I did when I had a full-time job? I’m definitely happier, but do I get any more done? I don’t really know. It’s just the way that I have figured out works for me is having that word goal and not letting myself off the hook. Again, if it’s going really well, I could be done with that in an hour and a half and have a full day ahead of me. When that happens, I actually tend to burn myself out on accident because I think, well, it’s only been an hour and a half, might as well keep working until five PM. Then by the next day, I’m just like a desiccated sponge. The best feeling in the world for me is when I do want to write for a full day. It doesn’t happen all that often that I feel I watch the sun go down and the sky and realize I haven’t gotten up to turn on the lights in my office or whatever. It’s the best feeling when you just get lost.

Zibby: That’s awesome. You’ve been such a great literary citizen, as Courtney Maum calls it. I feel like you’ve been posing a lot more about different books that you loved reading. What have you read lately that you want to shout out about? Anything?

Emily: Do you get so daunted when people ask you this?

Zibby: I know, it’s the worst question. I usually just pick whatever’s on my desk right then.

Emily: That’s basically what I typically do. I am in a hotel room right now. One that I have right in front of me that I’m reading currently is On a Night Like This by Lindsey Kelk. It’s sort of women’s fiction, sort of a rom-com. There’s a very particular subgenre, I feel like, of British women’s fiction writers that are just my happiest place to be. I don’t know what unites them and makes it feel different than American women’s fiction writers. I guess maybe some of just the slang and whatever. There’s this kind of bouncy, jounce-y feeling. Lindsey Kelk is one of the ones that comes to mind, and Mhairi McFarlane and Paige Toon, a few people who make me happy. I also read, a few weeks ago, The Other Black Girl, which I thought was really good, really gripping. I also am a Book of the Month subscriber. I think one of my favorite things about them is that they always pick things that are paced really well. Almost anything you choose for the month, if you open it, you’re going to finish it within the next couple days. That is how I do a lot of narrowing the field. I read Laura Dave’s The Guest List. I loved that. I thought that was really fantastic. I’m not a big thriller, mystery reader, but I loved that. Coming out soon, Suzanne Park’s So We Meet Again, I think it’s her sophomore adult women’s fiction rom-com. It’s about a woman who leaves her Wall Street job and moves back to her Nashville, Korean church community with her parents and has to figure out what she’s doing next if she’s not going to be a banker. It’ll make you very hungry. It’s also just warm and nice. It’s very, very fun. I think that comes out in August, so we’re very close to that.

Zibby: Perfect. See, you did it. Excellent job.

Emily: I did it.

Zibby: Last question today. Any advice for aspiring authors?

Emily: I can’t remember now, so this might be the same thing I said when we did your podcast last year. There are a couple things that I think are really important. One, if you haven’t been able to finish a book and you want to be writing books, then I would say finish it no matter how bad it is. That’s how I use that word goal as my motivation. I’ll write two thousand words every day. Then I’ll have to cut fifteen thousand words of that later because nothing even happened, but I sat down and I committed myself to the time. I gave myself the space to figure it out. So I think finishing things. If you haven’t finished a book, you are capable. Just let it bad. That’s okay. You can fix it all later. Make yourself finish it no matter how horrible because it will feel really good. The other thing, I think it’s really important to write the thing that you really want to read. Everybody says that, but I think that sometimes people get in their heads trying to figure out what the market wants or what worked for other authors and what makes a successful book. When I wrote Beach Read, I didn’t think anybody would ever be reading that. Even when we went to sell it, we were like, okay, so it’s a rom-com, but also, there’s a grieving girl whose father has died. They’re researching a cult where everyone died in a fire. I didn’t really ever think that anyone else would want that book. I just knew I wanted it. Sometimes you write the book you wanted, and it sells a thousand copies. Then you get the email that they’re pulping it, which has also happened with one of my books. Then sometimes you write the book you want, and it’s a New York Times best seller. You just don’t have control over anything but the work, and so you should always make what you actually want to make because you cannot anticipate the market. You cannot control anything other than what you write.

Zibby: Awesome. Excellent advice. Very wise. Perfect.

Emily: Thank you.

Zibby: Great. Emily, congratulations. Keep writing. Instagram Live people have been, I love you, this is the best book ever. Just keep it up. This is fantastic. You got a good thing going here. Keep it up.

Emily: You too. Thanks so much for having me, Zibby. Someday, we will do this in person. I feel sure.

Zibby: Yeah, me too. Crazy. Have fun on your trip. Keep expensing your vacations.

Emily: Oh, I will.

Zibby: We’ll see where you go.

Emily: Thanks, everyone, for showing up. Bye.

Zibby: Thank you, everybody. Bye.



Purchase your copy on Amazon or Bookshop!

You can also listen to this episode on:

Apple Podcasts