Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka, THE ROUGHEST DRAFT

Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka, THE ROUGHEST DRAFT

Zibby is joined by high school sweethearts and writing duo Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka to talk about their first adult romance novel, The Roughest Draft. The two tell Zibby about how they got their start writing YA books together, what real life moments in their relationship found their way into this story, and which authors are their biggest inspirations.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Austin and Emily. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss The Roughest Draft.

Emily Wibberley: Thanks for having us.

Austin Siegemund-Broka: Thank you so much for having us.

Zibby: Introduce yourselves. Obviously, one of you is a man and a woman. Just in case, introduce yourselves, and we’ll jump right into it.

Emily: I’m Emily Wibberley.

Austin: I’m Austin Siegemund-Broka.

Zibby: How did you two pair up? Why did you decide to write this book? What are we doing here? Tell me the whole story.

Austin: This book is a long time coming. This is the culmination of a long journey. We’ve been writing together for six, seven years, which is most of our adult lives. It started with Emily.

Emily: We should say that we are married. We have been together since we were in high school. We met sometime in middle school or high school. It’s unclear. We’ve been dating since we were seventeen. Then we went to college. I decided I wanted to write. I was always kind of bouncing ideas off of Austin and brainstorming with him. One day, I was like, “Why don’t you just take a look at this and add to it?” Then that is how the partnership began.

Austin: I was thrilled to join on. I’ve always loved story and books and literature as well. It was always a real point of mutual interest for us. As a couple, there are things you talk about more than others. You got to have some mutual interests and things in common. We loved reading, writing, story, breaking down movies, TV, whatever we were reading. The jump to applying those conversations to things we were working on ourselves felt very natural. Our writing began partnership there and took off. Inspired by, perhaps, our own high school romance, we started in the young adult space and have written there for some time. The Roughest Draft was our jump to adult romance, which I think was inspired as much by the market and by this idea we were really excited to have as by the fact that we ourselves are growing up, in a phrase, and wanted to work with characters who were dealing with some of the logistical and existential pressures that we are now looking into.

Zibby: Wow. I have to say, I was sort of surprised that your characters were as young as they were, maybe because, as a forty-five-year-old woman, I just assume every protagonist is me or something like that. As I was reading it, you don’t reveal the ages until a little bit into it. Then I was like, oh, what? They’re thirty-one and twenty-eight or something like that?

Austin: Yes.

Zibby: I’m like, oh, wow, but they seem so wise. They seem to have gone through so much at this point. She’s already become a best-seller. You open it up when — I’m really bad with names, especially character names. Tell me your character names again.

Emily: Katrina and Nathan.

Zibby: Katrina, right. Katrina’s in the bookstore. Somebody’s trying to sell her her own book, which is such a great scene. To have it in a book, the whole thing is so meta. I love it. At first, I thought, oh, this is a white-haired, older lady who’s wandering in for her successful book. Then I’m like, what? No, it’s this really cool, younger woman who has already been so weathered by the book-writing process, basically.

Austin: That was important to us. The publishing process, years are made up of days. Sometimes the days are very long and very confusing. We wanted to write characters who were closer to our own age, but also characters who felt like they’d already achieved and won and lost so much. The stretch of life before them was now long and confusing.

Zibby: How old are you guys? Can I even ask that?

Emily: I’m thirty. I just turned thirty.

Austin: I am just twenty-nine. I’m dating an older woman.

Zibby: I’m married to a younger man, if it makes . Wow, and you’ve already done so much. Oh, my gosh, this is humbling for everybody listening. You’re really good writers. This is a really great book. I am serious. You immediately show us who the characters are on an emotional, deep level, what they’re thinking and feeling and all of that. With alternating narratives and all that, the plot itself is propulsive. You’re like, what is going to happen? I want to be in this Key West house myself right now. How do I get into this house?

Austin: We felt the same.

Zibby: Right? This is dream house. Do you go on Zillow and pretend to have your characters live in houses?

Austin: Totally.

Emily: When we were coming up with the idea and pitching it, we were like, we’ll totally do this. When we sell the book, we will totally go and rent a house for a couple weeks and write some of the book, do method writing with Katrina and Nathan. Then of course, the pandemic. We sold it in March of 2020, so that was not really — our deadline did not line up with being able to travel.

Austin: Still haven’t made that Florida trip.

Emily: One day.

Zibby: I love this bullying agent character too. Tell me about him and how he came to be.

Austin: He’s really the only true villain we’ve written in our whole career. If we had somebody that Katrina was with out of a sense of needing some stability and some security in her life, we really needed him to be somebody the audience would root for her to pull back from. We kind of invested in him, every publishing cliché and every male cliché.

Emily: One of our agent’s early notes was like, “Can you make him more of a Hollywood agent so that it’s more believable that he’s so –“

Austin: — That he’s so wicked.

Emily: We were like, “For sure. It’s not a reflection of you, our lovely agent.” Nothing like him.

Austin: He was fun to write, to be honest, somebody who embodied so many manipulative, so many nasty traits that professional spheres in all industries sort of occupy.

Zibby: I love how Nathan gets so inspired by Katrina’s conversation with the agent who’s also her long-standing fiancé and is like, oh, this is great. Then he just starts writing the as it is. All the body language, he reads into all of it, how she’s sitting, how she’s — because he knows Katrina so well from writing the previous . You know what? I should’ve backed up and asked you guys to describe this book. I’m not supposed to say “you guys” anymore, right? Isn’t that something you’re not supposed to say? Could the two of you please explain the plot a little better now that I’ve been chitchatting with you about it?

Austin: Yes, we would be glad to.

Emily: The Roughest Draft is about two authors who have written a best-selling novel together but split under mysterious, unknown circumstances. Years later, they have another book under contract. For different professional or personal reasons, they both agree that they will return to a house together to write this one last book and sort of face what has happened between them.

Zibby: I love how they even argue about how they’re going to do it. When Nathan’s like, all right — was it Nathan? No. Katrina, at first, was like, we’ll do parts, and then we’ll trade off sections. He was like, no, no, no, we’re not doing that. We have to do it together. How do you two do it? You’re like Nathan and Katrina here. I’m in the real book right now.

Austin: Let me tell you, we have debated over how and what logistical means we will actually get the writing done. Our process is pretty similar to theirs, although with some key differences. We write just about everything together in the same room. It is not a trading-chapters situation where one person takes one perspective and the other person takes another. We basically try to write every line on every page together. What this commonly looks like is Emily sitting across the room with the outline she has thoroughly crafted explaining what has to happen next in the paragraph, in the sentence and me offering solutions on how to spin it into prose. Then we talk about those. What finally works goes in the book. Sometimes we sit next to each other and pass the computer, but we try not to make a habit of it.

Zibby: Wow. Do you fight?

Emily: Oh, constantly.

Austin: All the time.

Emily: A lot of moments in The Roughest Draft, we wanted to get that across, that there is a lot of conflict from writing. There is a scene in the book where Nathan and Katrina have a long-standing feud over a certain word. The word is always. That is real. We just put that in because it was a fun little joke for ourselves. Austin doesn’t like the word always. I’m always trying to fight to get it into the book because I like the word. That was just a bit of fun we had.

Austin: We’ll be honest. Most of the writing disagreements and issues over pacing or how much to describe or where to start or word choice, most of those are exactly real. Obviously, the emotional angle for these characters is what we have invented completely, but the nuts and bolts are pretty authentic.

Emily: We fight, and then when the workday is over, we put it away. We are able to go back to being a married couple with just regular conflict and not screaming about a certain word.

Zibby: I would feel like it would be very hard to shut off the work stuff given that you’re living and breathing the novels and all of that. How do you separate it?

Emily: We probably don’t. We talk about work a lot over meals and stuff. In fact, The Roughest Draft was an idea that we had while on our honeymoon.

Zibby: Oh, really?

Austin: Yes.

Emily: We got the idea on our honeymoon. I kept trying to brainstorm it while we’re walking around Italy. Austin’s like, “No, no, no. We’re on our honeymoon. We are not going to work right now.” Those issues do come up.

Austin: We were, honestly, just chatting over the breakfast table in Florence. Emily remarked that, having recently gotten married, our agent and editor must be relieved, reassured that we weren’t going to break up now. Our writing partnership will continue and continue to flourish. We looked at each other and realized, what if we did? What would that look like, authors who were bound to continue this career together despite wanting nothing to do with each other, despite having a storied past themselves? The idea was born. Then it percolated. We did not brainstorm for it for the whole day, except we kind of did.

Zibby: Wow, that’s so fun. I had this idea yesterday when I was talking to an author about a book. I think an author recommended a book that I hadn’t heard of. I felt foolish not having heard of it, so I was kind of nodding along with it. Then I was thinking, wouldn’t it be funny if we invented some book that actually didn’t exist and started making it a success and try to get it on the best-seller list, but actually, there was no book? You want to write that for me? You guys write it because I’m not a novelist.

Austin: That’s a brilliant publishing satire. That’s like The Producers but a little different.

Zibby: Exactly. Have you read…? Then you have all these scenes where all these intellectual — everyone’s like, oh, my gosh, of course. It was so great. I read it here. I read the galley.

Austin: Great Buzz. I could see the title now.

Zibby: Ooh, Great Buzz, I love it. Will you please write it? I want to read it.

Austin: Absolutely. Top of queue.

Zibby: Put it on your list. If only I could make these projects just appear. The ideas are not the problem. It’s just the execution of —

Austin: — Tell me about it.

Zibby: You must have a bazillion ideas.

Austin: iPhone notes scrolls’ long of stuff where it’s like, yeah, it’d be cool to write that one day. I hope we get to it.

Zibby: What are you working on now?

Emily: We’re actually working on revising our second adult novel, which is set to come out next year.

Austin: We wish we could say more about it, but we’re very excited.

Zibby: You can’t say a word? Cagey.

Emily: A little bit.

Austin: A little bit, yeah. It’s a story about a marriage. It’s a story about a couple whose marriage isn’t in the place they want on their fifth anniversary. On an anniversary getaway, they stumble on an unusual situation that might make things better.

Zibby: Interesting. I like it. Not to keep going about your age, but there is this wisdom — I’m serious. There is this wisdom in the characters that feels mature and thoughtful. Are you two old souls? Is that what it is? Are you older siblings? Where is this all coming from?

Austin: I am. I am an older sibling.

Zibby: Did you have a tough childhood that you’re working through?

Austin: We certainly had a lot of ups and downs in publishing.

Emily: Definitely. I’m an only child. He’s an older sibling. We did get together at seventeen, so it kind of reflects — we sort of knew, this is it. We’re good now. I think that because we’ve had so much relationship behind us, it just made us think we were in a different part of our life when we were younger.

Austin: We really have had to negotiate a lot of logistical changes, a lot of life changes, a lot of those inflection points where you look at what you want to do and what you’re committed to and say, no, I have to hold onto this thing that I know is real. Very much true in our relationship. Very much true in publishing where there have been ups and downs and confusions and points like these characters. Honestly, many of our friends who are our age have encountered similar things. We’ve faced a couple choices now where you know that one way leads one way, and the other way leads another way. You have to think long and hard about how those will affect you. We loved writing these characters because we felt we got to explore that more than we ever have in our young adult where it’s all about making those choices for the first time. This was all about getting in touch with characters who had already made some of those choices and now were seeing the effects of those rippling across the years. It was a unique challenge for us. I think a lot of that went into the characters because we enjoyed doing it. It was a very new creative task.

Emily: As for the age thing, there are two of us, so our combined age is —

Austin: — It’s a very good point, like how business executives measure experience.

Emily: The benefit of having a coauthor is that it’s really a collaboration. We really get to take advantage of the other person’s brain, honestly.

Zibby: Which of you — was this now a high school breakup, the divorce?

Emily: We did not.

Zibby: No?

Emily: What is that from? It’s sort of a thought experiment about ourselves.

Austin: These were nightmares versions.

Zibby: I shouldn’t be saying everything in fiction has to come from reality at all.

Emily: That’s what the book is about.

Zibby: I’m just prying into your relationship, so excuse me.

Austin: This is exactly the thing we wanted to probe, though. To an extent, it does. It’s often difficult writing opposite your spouse, to slap those implicit disclaimers on certain things that you say. We have not had any sort of acrimonious breakup or any kind of acrimonious breakup at all. This was just the Fleetwood Mac version of what our career could have been in the interest of literary fun.

Zibby: Are you fans of Emily Henry? I know that Beach Read —

Emily: — Yes.

Austin: Long-time fans.

Emily: Beach Read came out right when we finished writing the book. I remember I was like, okay, I got to read Beach Read and make sure that they are not the same book. I read it in a day right before we turned in the book. I was like, all right, they’re different books. It’s all good. Of course, we adore Emily Henry and People We Meet on Vacation as well. Absolutely, all her books.

Zibby: Who else do you love to read, both of you?

Austin: Taylor Jenkins Reid is another huge inspiration, both the richness of her contemporary storytelling, but also in stuff like Daisy Jones. It really gets at these creative relationships that are lifelong and sometimes life-torturing.

Emily: In romance, we love anything that’s meta, so The Bromance Book Club. Anything that kind of interacts with romance as a genre, we love a lot.

Austin: We adore the whole genre. It’s been a lot of fun to get into it, basically, learn this community and all of its nuances and make new friends, read great books, the things you hope for.

Zibby: I cannot wait until — I shouldn’t assume this either. Are kids in your future?

Emily: Yes. One day, they are.

Zibby: If and when that happens, I cannot wait to hear how you write about that.

Austin: I’m sure we’ll figure something out to embarrass the .

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, I am excited, very excited. Did you watch that movie with Diane Keaton a long time ago where she’s writing the novel in the Hamptons with Jack Nicholson? Something’s Gotta Give, is that what it’s called?

Emily: Yes, yes, yes.

Zibby: I feel like there’s something similar even though the characters are much younger, this beautiful setting, trying to write, very cinematic. Is there hopes of this being a film or on the screen in some way? Do you already have a deal and I didn’t know about it?

Emily: Certainly, hopes. We will see what happens. Film is such a —

Austin: — It’s a long process that has begun, but it’s a long process.

Emily: It’s never until you get across the finish line that something ever truly materializes. Fingers crossed we reach that finish line.

Austin: That’s right. From your mouth to Hollywood’s ear, Zibby. We’re hopeful the things that have started to materialize pan out.

Zibby: It could be neat to do a limited series, but they’re different couples, different writing partners.

Austin: Oh, man, sign us.

Zibby: Wouldn’t that be kind of neat? Collaborations, maybe that’s another title. Maybe we’ll do that next.

Emily: Yeah, there you go.

Austin: You got plenty of ideas cooking here. This is good.

Zibby: This is great. I want to just have a shared doc into your notes app or something.

Austin: In all seriousness, that’s kind of how our partnership began. I was like, oh, that’d be cool. Oh, yeah, that’d be good. Oh, that’s a good idea. Then there you are. Suddenly, you’re writing together six years later.

Zibby: Of course, being on this side, it’s like, it’s a good idea, but do I want to invest two to three years of my life writing about it and then marketing it?

Austin: You’ve got to really love them. Honestly, we’ve had those ideas where we’ve put a lot of time into it, and then it hasn’t gone anywhere. We’re like, you know what? It’s okay to let that one go. There are other things that we love more.

Zibby: What advice do you have to aspiring authors?

Emily: Absolutely, reading widely in the genre is super important, and to finish those ideas. It’s really tempting to — you come up with a great idea on a call with someone. Then you want to just start writing that one, and so you forget about the one that you are fifty percent of the way through and maybe doesn’t feel as fun and shiny anymore. To really just sit down and make yourself finish those projects that you know maybe right now you’re a little lost in them because you’re in the middle. In the beginning, you really believed in them. Find that again.

Austin: Even when it’s hard, keep going. I think that sometimes people, particularly writers starting out, expect that it will always be fun. It will always feel like you’re pouring your soul off the page. A lot of days, it doesn’t. A lot of days, it feels like you’re just translating something your soul thought three months ago. That’s a lot harder, more granular a job than it sometimes feels. We’ve always found that if you just kind of muscle through and do those parts that feel like work, when you get to the end and you read it back, you can have this wonderful moment of being like, oh, yeah, I do love this. I’m so glad I got this down. I’m so glad I got through this because it actually works.

Zibby: Amazing. Love it. I can’t wait to see what comes next for you. I’m such a fan. I’ll be following whatever you do. I’m really excited. Thank you for the escapist, fun, insider-y read that I totally have been enjoying and will continue to. Best of luck. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Austin: Thank you so much.

Emily: Thank you.

Zibby: Have a great day, guys. Not guys. Whatever. Oh, my gosh. Bye. You two, goodbye.

Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka, THE ROUGHEST DRAFT

THE ROUGHEST DRAFT by Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka

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