Zibby is joined by debut author and Bustle Digital Group chief content officer Emma Rosenblum to discuss Bad Summer People, a whip-smart, stylish, propulsive, and darkly comedic beach community satire that brings infidelity, backstabbing, and murderous intrigue to Fire Island. Emma talks about her fascinating cast of characters and Signal, the perfect app for cheaters! She describes how much she loved writing fiction–an escape from her career in magazine writing–and explains how she went from rough draft to a two-book deal and Hollywood interest.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Emma. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Bad Summer People: A Novel.

Emma Rosenblum: Thank you for having me. I am thrilled to be here.

Zibby: It’s wonderful to have you. This book was utterly delicious. I don’t know how else to say it. The fact that you jump from everyone’s points of view so that we have this whole 360 view of everything going on in Salcombe — is that how you pronounce it? Salcombe?

Emma: Yes. No B. Sal-com.

Zibby: Is so wonderful, and all the different relationships. I didn’t want to put it down.

Emma: Thank you. I appreciate it.

Zibby: Why don’t you give a better synopsis of what the book is about?

Emma: Bad Summer People is set in this small town in Fire Island. It follows two main couples and then also a singleton and a tennis pro as they have drama throughout the whole summer. It starts with someone having died, and you don’t know who that person is, and then rewinds to the beginning of the summer where you meet everybody and figure out the relationships. Then by the end, obviously, you find out what’s happened and how it’s happened and how this summer was so combustible as to lead to someone actually dying.

Zibby: Amazing. I have to say, my husband is a former tennis pro. That’s part of our story. Now I really want him to read this book too. Is the audiobook coming out? Obviously, it must be.

Emma: It is. It’s coming out. It’s narrated by January LaVoy. It’s very amazing. She does the voices so well. I would love for tennis pros to read it and give me feedback as to whether they think it’s actually accurately depicting a tennis pro. I actually haven’t had a tennis pro read it yet, so I would really love for your husband to do that for me.

Zibby: He would love to do that. He’s actually out playing tennis right now. He did this for twelve years. He’s a producer now. He knows people everywhere. He’s tapped into the whole community. I’ve learned a lot about it from him. Reading this from the tennis pro’s point of view was very funny. Loved that. Of course, there was just so much Upper East Side — well, New York in general — specific references and so much society observation, almost like a Jill Kargman style. Maybe not as much of a roasting.

Emma: It was not a roasting. I feel like sometimes it’s better to let people hang themselves with the way that they speak. It’s very much a straight-on look at a certain kind of life and crowd and the type of person that lives on the Upper East Side and/or owns a second home in the Hamptons or in Fire Island. I just wanted it to be funny. It’s really just more of a satire than a roast.

Zibby: That’s a better way to say it. You even have the nanny, Silvia, being upset that now she has to be with this family in Fire Island, and how much nicer it was in the Hamptons. There, she got her own wing. Why does tennis practice end at noon anyway? Why does she have to work so hard? Very funny.

Emma: That’s also why I did it from different perspectives. Obviously, in any sort of small town or any kind of enclosed environment, everybody is the star of their own story, and so they’re seeing things in a different way than other people. I thought it’d be interesting to add in the nanny’s perspective, to add in some of the peripheral characters’ perspectives to see how everybody else thinks about everybody else in this town where everybody knows everybody, and everybody’s known everybody forever.

Zibby: Another thing that was interesting is your portrait of the relationship between Sam and Jason and some of the intricacies of their complicated friendship and how it had gone on for so long and how sometimes the people you think are the closest, you can’t really stand, just all the backstory. It’s all these hidden undercurrent among relationships. You do such a good job of teasing them out, even among men, which I feel like a lot of books kind of ignore. They don’t delve into that as much, focusing only on female-to-female friendships, female-to-male. I like how there was that as well.

Emma: Particularly in a place where people have known each other for so long, you do see men who have been friends for a very long time. I’m interested in that dynamic because I don’t know it quite as well as I do female friendships. I thought it’d be fun to have a friendship where one of the parties in the friendship is just totally devoted and thinks that they’re completely okay, and the other one has been harboring this jealousy for basically his entire life, and how that plays out publicly but also privately and how that also then leads to the events that set off this dramatic summer.

Zibby: The bartender — Micah? Is that his name? He was a fabulous character as well.

Emma: I know. It’s funny. That was really the main note that I got from my editor, Megan Lynch at Flatiron, who’s amazing. She did not have many edits for the book. The one thing she wanted was more from Micah. I really only had him, at first, as a single chapter. Then the second draft of the book was very much just incorporating him more throughout. It was such a fun thing to do as a writer because I loved him also. I was like, oh, that’s easy. I’ll plug him in here. I’ll plug him in there. He also provided that kind of insider/outsider perspective because he’s younger than the rest of the characters. He’s not quite as ruined by life as the rest of the characters. For him to witness what grown-ups are doing in a way that’s disturbing to him was fun to write as well.

Zibby: It’s so great. Then of course, you have infidelity coursing throughout.

Emma: Everyone’s cheating.

Zibby: Did you make up the Signal app, or is that a real thing?

Emma: Signal’s real. It’s an app that actually — my full-time job is not being a fiction writer. I work in media. I’m a chief content officer of a digital media company called Bustle Digital Group. We use Signal to communicate amongst ourselves on our executive team. A lot of companies do this now because it disappears. There’s never a record of what you’re saying to each other. Whatever lawsuit comes up, they cannot bring up what you’ve said on Signal. Not that we say anything bad, but just, again, for protective purposes. I thought it was very funny to then put it in the context of personal use to be like, actually, if you’re having an affair, this is the app that you would use because it completely disappears after a minute of reading it. It’s kind of the Snapchat of communications. It’s completely encrypted also, so they can never bring it up. Nobody can ever find out what you’ve ever said.

Zibby: Wow. Can you screenshot it, though?

Emma: Yes, you can. You’re not supposed to do that.

Zibby: They need to do an app like that but that screenshots don’t work.

Emma: You’re not supposed to screenshot it, but you can. I’m not sure if that technology exists. I’ll have to look into it.

Zibby: Sometimes with screeners, like movies you watch ahead of time, you can’t screenshot.

Emma: I know.

Zibby: They must have a way.

Emma: They must have a way.

Zibby: We’ll have to dig into this.

Emma: Some of the communication amongst a couple that’s having an affair takes place on this app, which I thought was funny.

Zibby: Then you have Rachel, who lives and dies by this community. It’s so funny. It could be this. It could be a teenager whose whole life is sleepaway camp. There are all these scenarios where your main life is not your favorite part of life. What happens when the rest of it is not as good and you have to wait only for summer or only for vacation or whatever where the community you feel most at home actually is operating?

Emma: That’s an interesting point about Rachel that I hadn’t necessarily thought about in the context of a sleepaway camp kind of person. I actually do think there’s types of women, particularly, who thrive in some places, and then that’s not their whole self. That’s Rachel, for sure. She is very important in this community, particularly in the social aspect of the community. She’s always throwing parties. She knows what’s happening with everybody. Then when you back away and get into her New York City life, she’s very unhappy there. She’s not married. She has no children. To her, those two things really signify that she hasn’t succeeded in life. Not that they should signify that, but to her, it does signify that. She feels very dissatisfied in that way. She stirs up trouble because she feels so unhappy herself. I’ve been guilty of doing that too. When you’re most unhappy, you’re like, how am I going to ruin someone else’s life? I feel horrible. That’s the character Rachel. She was a very interesting and fun character to write as well for that reason. We as women, as we get older, know certain people who feel like they haven’t checked all those boxes. She, to me, was that kind of person who — again, it doesn’t mean anything, really, that she hadn’t, but to her, it’s very embarrassing. It makes her feel lesser than. Poor Rachel.

Zibby: Emma, I’m starting to worry about you. You’re Signal. You’re trying to get back at people. You wrote a whole book about bad people. What should we know about you?

Emma: You know, that’s a funny point. Listen, I’m certainly not having an affair with anybody. I haven’t killed anyone. I’m quite lovely. Again, my background is in media, magazines. I’ve written for magazines for my entire career. Only nonfiction. This is the first time that I tried fiction. It was so fun to switch from nonfiction to fiction for that reason. Not to be bad, but to allow your “what people are really thinking” impulses to come to the world, the meaner side of women’s friendships, when people are having affairs and ruin their marriages. That’s not necessarily something that in nonfiction you get to just explore because you’re very much writing the facts. You’re writing quotes, what people say. I loved writing fictional dialogue because I could just make it up. A lot of times when you’re writing a magazine article, you’re like, oh, man, if they had said this quote, I would’ve ended with it, and the story would’ve been perfect. They didn’t say it, so you can’t put it in. You don’t have a great kicker. In fiction, you get to put the words in their mouths. That was a really fun thing. Someone once said to me, in fiction, you can be mean because it’s not you. That’s not something that you actually get to really indulge in in your real life. Again, not mean, necessarily, but also, funny mean. That was a fun thing. I’m not any of these characters.

Zibby: I didn’t think that you are. I was just kind of playing with it. You can say all the things you might want to say in fiction.

Emma: This is another thing where I feel that women are not — we’re taught very early to be very nice to people’s faces, to be completely polite. Then you get alone with your best friend, and what do you do? You talk shit about all the other people that you were just talking to. You’re saying, this person was a bitch to me. This person… That’s how, publicly, women function. I thought it was fun, also, to go behind that curtain and actually go in someone’s mind, someone who is not necessarily a great person — I’m calling them all bad people — and to see what they’re actually thinking versus what they’re saying to the larger world or to somebody else and the way that they’re acting in the world versus their interior.

Zibby: You even had a line about Rachel where she literally was like — maybe I didn’t underline it. You said something like, she could feel she was losing Lauren’s attention, and so she knew it was time she had to put in a new piece of gossip. She feels it. She knows that’s her currency. That is the value add of her.

Emma: She does know herself. Again, it was just so fun to write something that was so, as you called it, delicious, frothy. That kind of thing, to me, it just felt like a real escape from my other job and my life.

Zibby: Let’s go back to you and your job and your life and all of that. How did you get started even in the magazine world? Did you want to be a writer? Where did you grow up? What’s your whole story?

Emma: I grew up in Westchester outside of New York City, so I’m certainly a New York person for my entire life, which made it pretty easy to write a book that was set in this world. In college, I majored in English. I always thought I wanted to be a writer. It was the easiest thing for me in school. I was good at it, so I was like, I’ll do that. I’m not going to be a lawyer. That sounds boring. At the time in college, I was able to get an internship at New York Magazine the summer before my senior year. It was a slightly different time. That was the coolest job you could get in the world, was to work at New York Magazine in 2003 or whenever I was graduating college. I started there. I ended up transitioning from an intern to an editorial assistant. I was at New York Magazine for about eight years really learning how to write and edit for magazines and working with the smartest people I’d ever met. It was really exciting and fun. Then from there, I decided I wanted to try women’s magazines. I became an editor at Glamour. Then I went to Business Week doing all of their lifestyle, non-business news for that magazine. Then I was at Elle magazine as the executive editor for two years, after which I transitioned to my now job, which is at Bustle Digital Group, which was actually my first all-digital job.

I just worked my way up and have been in this industry for a while and at a certain point, stopped writing so much. When I was younger, I would write lots of profiles of actresses and actors and do a lot of Q&As and a lot of news — I just was writing all the time, and also editing. Then as I grew in my career, I got farther away from the writing just because my job became more managerial and more about budgets and head count and less about the creative side, which is what I really got into it for. At a certain point, I thought, maybe I want to write a nonfiction book. I want to write something. I just really missed it. I kept thinking to myself, that’s what I’m actually good at. Media is one of these industries where the higher up you get, the farther away you get from the thing that you really are talented at. I can run an organization. Sure. I’m a competent person who’s able to deal with P&Ls, but is that really my skill? No. I’m a funny writer. I’m good at headlines. How can I use that in a side project? Over COVID, about two summers ago now, the summer of ’21, I just decided, I was like, you know what, I’m going to try to write a chapter of fiction and see if maybe that could scratch the itch that I have right now for something creative to do while also doing my other job.

I started with this chapter of Lauren coming out on the ferry. I was in Fire Island at the time when I wrote it, so it was pretty easy to be inspired by the setting. I’d always gone out there every summer of my life, basically. My parents have a house out there. Then from there, it was pretty quick in terms of being able — I knew, also, someone had to die. I was like, okay, someone’s dead. I have this character. She’s definitely married. Then I just went from there. I wrote it over the course of that summer, again, while also doing my current job. I kind of did it in between Zooms. I would pull it up whenever and mess with it. You’ve read it. It’s not the kind of book where I — it’s very much a plot-driven book. Also, to go back to your question about what I did and how I got here, I have learned how to write really fast because I’ve worked at weekly magazines my whole life. I’ve always been on deadlines. I’ve been taught not to be super precious about the words, to just get out the story, the story, the story. It was pretty easy for me to get through once I knew that I had an end, to find my way to the end. Then I had a draft. It was pretty quick. It was four months. I was like, I think I wrote a book. I don’t know what this is. It’s a very long Word document. I wrote that. That’s a very long answer to your question of, who are you and where are you from?

Zibby: It’s supposed to be a long answer. The whole point is, use the time so people can get to know you. I love it. I think it really helps to know people’s backstory. You can put everything kind of in context. I think it’s really helpful. Then when you read the book, you know a little bit more. Where’s this coming from? Personally, I think it always gives a lot more meaning to the book, which is why I do this podcast.

Emma: Totally. I love listening about authors’ lives as well. It’s super interesting to me too.

Zibby: What happened after you wrote the book? Then you went out and found an agent? What happened?

Emma: I had a different person I’d been speaking to at a different company than I ended up with about, possibly, a nonfiction project. Again, I didn’t really know what to do with this. This is not my world, fiction. I didn’t really know if it was anything, honestly. I kept saying to my husband, I was like, “If someone buys this for a hundred dollars, I’d be so thrilled. I would take us out to lunch in New York City. I’d be like, yay, someone’s going to read it.” I didn’t have any hopes higher than that. One company read it and was a little bit like, “It’s kind of in between genres. It’s not really for us.” I didn’t do the research that writers do, which is find the agent that’s really aligned with the kind of book this is. Again, I was busy. I sent it to literally one person who was like, “Not sure.” I was like, well, whatever. I tried that. Then I reread it at some point after I had gotten that kind of tepid response. I was like, you know what? I’m a professional editor. This is not bad. This is not the best book I’ve ever read in my life, but this could be published. I just knew that it could. I then did a little research into the kinds of mass commercial fiction books that possibly could align with this kind of book. Then I found my now agent just by sending her — I was like, oh, she represents Kevin Kwan and Lucy Foley. This feels right. I sent it to her. She immediately liked it and was like, “We can sell this,” and sold it in a week. It was more about just finding the right amazing agent. Again, it was my stupid — I should’ve just done that initially. Until the past two months, this book has not been my main focus. This month, it is. It was very much a side thing that I was doing. I was super happy with how that all panned out. It was bought by Flatiron. I love my editor. She’s super smart. They bought another book, so I have another book coming from them. It’s been a really fun, unexpected twist in my career.

Zibby: That’s awesome. What’s your next book about? Have you started it?

Emma: I have a draft.

Zibby: You have a draft. Good for you. That’s awesome.

Emma: That’s the other thing. I need stuff to do. I’m pretty efficient with my time. Once Bad Summer People was done, essentially, I wanted something else to mess with. I had this idea about an executive team. It’s not connected to Bad Summer People at all, but it definitely takes place in the same kind of — it’s the same genre. An executive team of a tech company — not a media company, but I certainly have experience working on executive teams. This tech company is on the verge of being sold to a huge company, like a Google or whatever. They go down to Miami for a team-building retreat and have a large drunken celebration to celebrate that they’re all going to become rich beyond their wildest dreams. The next morning, one of them has disappeared. You don’t know where she’s gone. What does this mean for the company? The action stems from that. Stuff is revealed. It’s also a funny satire of the world of tech wealth. The CEO is a crazy, quirky, Adam Neumann-esque figure. That is the next book.

Zibby: Wow. Does that have a title yet?

Emma: Yes. Billion-Dollar Babies.

Zibby: Ooh, love it.

Emma: That’s the working title, but everyone seems to like it.

Zibby: Amazing. Was this the title all along for Bad Summer People?

Emma: No. At first, it was We’ll All Be Back Next Year, which is a reference to a song that they sing in the town. Then my agent, Alexandra, did not love that one. I didn’t really love it either. She had me come up with a list of forty titles, which was actually a fun exercise for a person that writes headlines for a living. We still weren’t really hitting it. Then my mom said to me — I said, “I can’t figure out a title for this manuscript.” She was like, “It’s just about beach brats, Emma.” I’m like, hmm, beach brats. Then I took beach brats and iterated on that and came up with Bad Summer People. My agent loved it, and so we submitted it with that title. It’s had that title since we sold it.

Zibby: Beach brats, that’s funny. So great. Do you feel like when you go back to Fire Island this summer, people are going to — how are people going to respond?

Emma: Last summer, we had a bit of a kerfuffle in Fire Island because while the book is obviously super fictional and not based on any actual residents of the town of Saltaire, which is where my parents have a home, certainly, there are stock characters that I’ve built on with personalities that I just made up and backstories that I made up that, possibly, you would think could be someone from the town. Last summer, the manuscript, which was completely unedited and had placeholder names, which was my mistake, of real people in town — there are so many characters in this book, as you know if you’ve read it. People would ride by on their bike in front of our house, and I would literally input their names in the manuscript as I was going, not to a character related to them, but just as a placeholder. I used my best friend from college’s name. I had my husband’s name in there. There’s a lot of names that you have to make up, which is something you don’t think about before you’re writing a book. You’re like, I have to think of these names. That version of the manuscript, which is the one we sold, which is the one my agent had sent out, had gone to a number of places in Hollywood to sell the option rights, a lot of places because I guess they send it out wide. It did end up getting sold, but that’s a different story.

That version found its way to someone’s desk in a production company whose stepmother is a resident of Saltaire. She sent it to her stepmother, who sent it around. Everybody in the town last summer had my unedited manuscript with placeholder names of real people. It was a big drama and ended up as an article in Business Insider and in the Daily Mail as, “Media exec exposes town secrets in an unpublished manuscript.” It was so embarrassing. I learned my lesson to never use anybody’s real name, even as a placeholder. It was slightly annoying, too, because it was obviously a version of the book that I didn’t want people to read because it hadn’t been edited. There were typos. It hadn’t gone through any copy. It hadn’t gone through anything. I’m hoping that last summer was the summer where the drama occurred and that this summer, everybody’s going to laugh about it and be excited. My mom is hosting a book party for me at Saltaire Yacht Club to be like, we’re celebrating with the town. It’s certainly inspired by the town. I just thought it would be fun for everybody to see their town reflected in a fictional book, but you never know how people are going to react.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. I’m sorry that happened last summer.

Emma: It’s fine. All press is good.

Zibby: Wait, what’s the news about the screen adaptation?

Emma: It hasn’t been announced publicly, but that’s okay. We sold the option rights to Amazon Prime. It has a writer attached. There’s a script. It’s fingers crossed, obviously, for anything like this. It’s the kind of book that people in Hollywood were excited to potentially adapt because it’s obviously got that kind of rich person, Big Little Lies-esque, White Lotus-y vibe. That was an interesting process to go through, to have people read the manuscript and talk through what their vision would be for the TV show, and what their vision would be. The hope is that it gets made. Again, I’m just happy to be along for the ride and be excited that there’s even the potential of that. As you know, those projects can die at any moment.

Zibby: This would be such a wonderful — you write it as if it’s a movie. I can see it all playing out in my head. I feel like it’s such a natural for the screen. This will be on everybody’s beach blankets this summer. I can just see it. It’s wonderful. It’s also great for a flight when you’re worried you’re going to pick a book that won’t get you all the way through. This is going to get you all the way there on the flight.

Emma: Even if you don’t even like it, you’re going to finish it.

Zibby: No. What’s not to like? It’s great. It’s really delicious.

Emma: It’s just supposed to be fun and beachy and juicy, an antidote to anything, if you’re feeling depressed. If you feel you’ve been reading books that are more homework-y, you can this book as a palate cleanser.

Zibby: Yes. Love it. Emma, congratulations. Really exciting. I can’t wait to watch all of the success as it comes out and all that.

Emma: I appreciate it. Thank you so much for your support.

Zibby: Of course. Take care.

Emma: Bye, Zibby.

Zibby: Buh-bye.


BAD SUMMER PEOPLE by Emma Rosenblum

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