Katherine Center, THE ROM-COMERS

Katherine Center, THE ROM-COMERS

New York Times bestselling author Katherine Center returns to the podcast, this time to discuss her charming new book, THE ROM-COMMERS. The novel follows two screenwriters who co-write a romantic comedy… and fall madly in love with each other. Katherine delves into her writing process, touching on how she builds romantic tension and characters with depth. She also talks about how her happy marriage influences her writing and then reveals what she is working on next!


Zibby: Welcome, Katherine. Thank you so much for coming on Mom's No Time to Read Books again to talk about your latest book, The Rom Commers. Congratulations. Thank you. So exciting. Actually, listeners, you can't see this, but Katherine has a scarf that totally matches the bright pink awesomeness and orange and green and blue of the cover and also somehow has coordinated her entire wall behind her to match the cover as well, which is really pulling off a great feat.

Anyway. Okay, Katherine, tell us about the romcommers and what it's about. Please. 

Katherine: Oh my gosh. So the Rom Commerce is a romantic comedy about writing a romantic comedy. So it's a story about two screenwriters who are writing a romantic comedy together and they fall madly in love with each other. And that's not a spoiler.

That's just something to look forward to. My big sister is a huge reader and she's always like, no, spoilers. And I'm like, no, no, no. With a love story, it's not a spoiler. It's like a gift. It's a gift that you know they're going to get together. He's written a romantic comedy screenplay and it's terrible.

And she gets hired to come in and fix it as a ghostwriter. And he doesn't. want her there. He's actually pretty successful on his own, but he writes mafia movies, and monster movies, and shark movies, and stuff, and he's never tried to do a rom com before, which is a rather special category. So he doesn't know what he's doing and she comes in and teaches him a few things.

And of course, like a good man, he falls madly in love with her for all of her feistiness and smarts and, you know, goodness. And then, you know, that's really the story. I mean, each of the characters has a lot of things that they need to sort of overcome. There's a lot of growth and healing that happens in the story.

But at its heart, it's a, it's a love story. It's a rom com. 

Zibby: Amazing. And it's set up by her ex boyfriend, right? 

Katherine: Yes. Yes. 

Zibby: Which is a crazy twist in and of itself. 

Katherine: Yeah. 

Zibby: Like, I don't know that I would trust those recommendations. I mean, you never know. Would you trust a recommendation for a job from an ex boyfriend?

Katherine: Uh, I might depend on the ex boyfriend, but yeah, they've kind of become friends over the years. Like, it's from high school. And, you know, the ex boyfriend After high school, his life got better and better and better and her life got worse and worse and worse, you know, she had a family tragedy and then she had to spend the next 10 years like dealing with the family tragedy.

Zibby: Yes. 

Katherine: So she is a person who had a lot of potential that has not been realized. And I think, The boyfriend who, the ex boyfriend who cares about her, it bothers him that she never got to reach her potential. So he kind of just wants to help her. He's just a good person, but his way of doing that is a little bonkers.

That's true. 

Zibby: Yes. And she did have a sister who like stepped up to the plate finally, right? 

Katherine: Yes. Yes, she has a little sister who she, after their mom died, she wound up sort of looking after her little sister and being like a surrogate mom and sort of, and she's 10 years older than her little sister. So she, she kind of became the mom of the family.

And at the start of the story, the little sister has just graduated college and she comes back over and sort of takes over all the things that need to be taken care of at home. It just lets our main character, Emma, go off and, you know, take a stab at her dreams, which is kind of where the story starts, you know.

Zibby: Yes, which is amazing. And then, of course, we get to the banter and the guy, what's it, Kevin, not being like the nicest at first and, you know, all of that. It's so fun and like feisty how you write the characters. How do you figure out who they are? Do they, does it come to you, like, did you know what they would be like?

Like, just tell me more about that. 

Katherine: Yeah, I always I think I what I start with with characters is just kind of trying to figure out like what are they struggling with, you know, because I think our struggles sort of guide our lives and all these sort of funny ways. And so what is it that they need to overcome?

What is it that they need to figure out what wrong assumptions do they have in their lives about what really matters and who they are, that they maybe need to rethink that maybe the story can help them with is kind of where it starts. And so I, I always do have a sense of like, there's something for both main characters in a rom com because I always have a, I always write them in the first person and the sort of woman in the story is always kind of my main narrating point of view character, but I try to treat both of the people in the story in this little love story that's going to develop as equally meaningful.

You know, three dimensional and everybody has an arc that they need to go through, right? So I kind of figure out for both of those people and for the side characters too, what are the things that they need to figure out and what are the ideas that they need to challenge? And then I put, and then, and then somewhere in there, and it's different for every book, but somewhere in there, I wind up with some kind of a situation that they're going to be in together.

And then from then on, it's like, once I know what the situation is, and once I know like the sort of very basics about those two characters. Then it's like you just put them in that arena and you kind of see what happens. For me, that is kind of how it goes. So I sort of get to know them the way that you get to know real people in life by just kind of seeing the things that they do and hearing the things that they say.

And, you know, as you go along, you're like, Oh, so that's your thing. Like, Oh, getting that now. So yeah, it's very, like for me, it's kind of organic. I don't always know everything at the beginning. I have ideas and I have kind of a list of what I want to see happen. And I know that there will be at least a happy love ending by the end, but exactly what, how I'm going to torture them on the way to getting there.

Zibby: Do you feel like we can ever run out of characters? I mean, what number is this for you? What number book is this?

Katherine: This is 11. I'm starting to lose count myself. I'm not a math person, so it's daunting for me now. Yeah, it's, it's, uh, do I feel like we've run out of character? No, no, not for me. I have a big long list of stories that I would love to write if I ever had the time, you know, and I'm kind of a one book a year kind of a person.

And I also kind of write realistic fiction in the sense that, you know, all my stories take place in a world that is very much our world. I mean, there's no aliens, right? There's no time travel. But I have all these stories that come to me that do have aliens and time travel. Oh, okay. But I have them on a separate list of like, you know, maybe someday, you know, when all my children are long grown and I am, you know, bored and looking for things to fill the time, maybe I'll write these other stories that are kind of outside of my.


Zibby: So who knew? 

Katherine: Who knew? Yeah. 

Zibby: Or the alien novelist waiting to come out. The sci fi. 

Katherine: Maybe not alien. Maybe not alien. Actually, as I think about it, it's really more like time travel, I have lots of time travel stories. You know, I feel like a lot of fantasy writers have so much to work with plot wise. Like I feel very jealous that they're not strained by reality.

I mean, you could play with all kinds of things and, you know, and twist people into all kinds of fun pretzels. If you have magic. in your menu of options. Actually, it's, you know, I throw out aliens as the most kind of nutty idea that I could possibly mention, but I don't know that I have an actual alien idea, but who knows?

Life is long. 

Zibby: Do you read Romanticy? 

Like, it's now, you know, taking off. What do you think about that? 

Katherine: Um, some, yeah. I mean, oh my gosh, I read, uh, Fourth Wing last fall and, like, lost my mind. Crazy, like, barn burner, page turner, fun story that was. I read Divine Rivals last year, which is, you know, it's like a love story, but with magic.

Like, with a magic typewriter, which is, like, totally a sweet spot for me. So I do some of it, and I like it, you know. Also, um, I watch a lot of K dramas. And dramas have a lot of, like, magic and past lives and fun things going on that sort of mix it all up and give you great fun. So yeah, I mean, yes, I'm aware of this other world, but the, but the actual books that I write kind of, you know, just have to, like, people have to go to the grocery store and do stuff.

Yeah, all the things. How to make that exciting. I mean, that's a good challenge. How to make that exciting. 

Zibby: That's like a writing class exercise. Okay. Have this trip to the grocery store. Have meaning and intrigue and move the plot along. Oh my gosh. 

Katherine: Actually in the rom commers, Charlie and Emma go to the grocery store sometimes.

I mean, I didn't say that on purpose, but I then realized like it does actually happen in this book. And they cook together. I mean, they just do some ordinary, but, but because they have such a Like a spark with each other. And because there's so much like sexual tension and energy between them, it makes even these sort of ordinary things kind of sparkle a little bit.

Zibby: That's true. That's true. Well, I feel like I remember like going to the grocery for the first time with like someone you're starting out a relationship with. And it's like the most exciting thing because it has so much promise, right? Are we about to have a lifetime of grocery shopping? Like it feels so like domestic.

I don't know. It, I don't know. I, I it's a great point of energy. 

Katherine: I, I totally agree with you. And I think that there is something so magical about falling in love that it sort of makes the whole world just kind of shimmer with possibility in this way that it doesn't ordinarily. And so when I'm writing love stories, I'm always trying to capture that shimmer.

Like that's a, that's a really beautiful special thing. And it, you know, it doesn't happen all the time. So when it does, I wanna just like jump for joy and celebrate it. 

Zibby: Does writing love stories, like, help your own marriage? Ooh, that's a good question. 

Katherine: I think my own marriage is already pretty great. So I don't know.

I mean, we've been together a long time. We met the year after I graduated from college, and that was in the 90s. And, uh, we, I don't know, I just kind of thank my lucky stars every day that I wound up with this particular person because he's the funniest person I've ever met. His name is Gordon. He's a middle school teacher.

He wears crazy pants. to school to teach every day. He's got pants with flamingos on them and pants covered in flowers, pants with sharks. And, uh, you know, he's kind of like that teacher that all the kids. love because he's a goofball, but he's also very good at getting them to do their stuff. He's kind of, my husband is like, if Jimmy Stewart and Bill Murray were like combined in one person, that would kind of husband.

So, yeah. So I feel like I kind of like won the husband lottery or something with him. And so, yeah, we have a lot of fun and actually like, I credit like a lot of the banter in the books that I write. With the fact that basically for Gordon and me, there's like the Venn diagram of our interests is like kind of two separate circles in a lot of ways, but they touch right at comedy.

Like we are both funny and we both love to joke around and that's our main activity with each other. People are like, you should take up golf together. I'm like, mm. We're just going to joke around. So we, we drink coffee in the mornings, almost every morning that we possibly can. And we just crack each other up.

Like that's the whole goal of the morning is to make each other laugh as much as possible. And so I think my, he keeps my comedy chops very sharp and he, um, and the bantering that happens in the story, doesn't like whatever those neurons are, they're very strong for me because that stuff is constantly exercised.

Like, you know, I'm not really, I'm going for walks or working out, but I am exercising my, my bantering abilities. So yeah, we have a lot of fun. 

Zibby: That's awesome. 

Katherine: Does that answer the question? 

Zibby: Yeah, that was great. Thank you for the peek inside your marriage. Now that I feel like creepy that I'm like, tell me about your marriage, but I love it.

I mean, I think it's so nice to hear about successful marriages and what the secret sauce is. I mean, that's what we all want, right? To be happy. So

Katherine: I have thoughts on that, actually. Um, go ahead. Well, I, so my nephew asked me to perform his wedding last year, two years ago. And I, so I got certified online as a reverend for 35.

And then I went to Colorado and I married this young couple to each other. And I had to do some thinking about it, but I decided that, like, I think, I really think the trick to it all is, and this isn't me, I didn't come up with this. This came from John Gottman, the psychologist, John Gottman, but it's to create that culture of appreciation that he talks about, where you just like notice what your person is getting right, you know, because there's so much that anybody who's not you will be getting wrong all the time, right?

From loading the dishwasher to, you know, I don't know, pushing in their chair the wrong way. I mean, who knows what it is, but this is kind of how we raised our kids too, was like noticing when people were getting things right and like calling their attention to it. I actually think Gordon's a great middle school teacher and I think part of the reason that he is, is because he's able to kind of mirror back to the kids.

what they're getting right. Like, whatever it is that's awesome about that particular kid, he sees it and he notices it and he appreciates it and he kind of mirrors it back to them and makes them aware of it. And there's something so encouraging about that and so positive about that. And, uh, so he does that to the kids he's teaching, but he does it to me too.

Like, like we're all just kind of blossoming under that sunshine. So for, so yeah, so for me, I think, You know, my parents are divorced. I did not come into, into marriage, like super optimistic about the whole prospect of it. You know, my vision of what that meant was not great, but he's so good at just like getting you and appreciating you and being grateful to you for like all the nutty sort of sweet things that you bring into the relationship.

And the more I've watched him do that for me, the more, the better I've gotten at doing that for him right back. And so it's just kind of been this weirdly uplifting sort of. process of things just getting better and better. We've been together for a long time now and we have much more fun now than we did when we started.

Deep thought. 

Zibby: No, I love it. Oh my gosh. It's awesome. And it's doable. You know what I mean? Like you didn't say, like, you have to, to keep your marriage alive, you've gotta climb Kilimanjaro, you know? Like, you have to notice, like, what, what it is you fell in love with, right? You have to, like, remember and, be nice about it.

Katherine: And joke around a lot. That's our other big thing. Like, there's a whole thing with um, I think in the literary world sometimes we really divide stories out into like tragedies and comedies, like as if they are at far opposite ends of the spectrum. But that's not my view of it at all. That's not been my life experience.

I think comedy is like a Coping mechanism that we humans developed because of tragedy, right, because life is hard like squirrels don't need comedy because they don't know they're going to get run over, but like we know we know exactly how hard life is and all the suffering we're gonna have to do and have done.

We remember it. We can anticipate it. And so for me, comedy is like a Primary coping mechanism. And so for like for a funny book to be sad or sad book to be funny makes a lot of sense to me. Those two things are very much interwoven in my actual life. And so, yeah, my books are both of those things. You know, they're funny and sad at the exact same time.

And I think when I first started 1000 years ago, writing You know, writing these novels back in 2007, there wasn't really a category for that. And I felt like people didn't really know what to do with it. Like, well, what kind of book is it? You know, and I think there's more and more, there seems to be a space for that in the, in the book world.

I'm grateful for it. Because to me, it makes total sense that a funny book would be sad or a sad book would be funny. 

Zibby: Totally. They're intertwined. 

Katherine: Yes. Yes. 

Zibby: Totally. Highlight each other very much. That's awesome. I love this notion that you have a secret, like, private Katherine Center Goodreads, like, only on your computer.

And by the way, thank you again. You were so nice about the last love note by Emma Gray. So I've seen what happens when you actually really love something. So that was really wonderful to be tangentially related to that. Why keep it for yourself? Like, why, why do it? Why? Why keep a list of, you said, like you have private reviews on your own computer.

Katherine: Why? Because I, because those, in those reviews, I'm really talking to myself. You know, I'm, I'm looking at the stories that I'm reading. Like every book that I read, I type a little paragraph or five or six about what I thought about it and like what I can learn from it really. And of course, you know, when you first start writing, it's very easy to focus on what you didn't like about what the writer's doing.

You know, you can. Like, of course, we all do that. It kind of makes us feel good about ourselves, right? We're like, uh, this person's dialogue was so wooden. And you can kind of enjoy that moment of feeling superior. But what I have found over many decades of doing this is that that's not particularly helpful.

You know, you're never going to show yourself the path that you want to walk along by looking at what not to do. 

So the older I have gotten, the less I pay attention to what's not working. There's always stuff that's not working in people's stories. So what I try to train myself to do is to focus on what is working.

Like even if I didn't like the book, right? Even if it was a C or whatever, for me, my experience of it, I'm always trying to But what was working? You know, what can, what can I find? What can I learn from this? Like, what were the parts that, that worked? Because there's always something that worked. So, for me, that's why I write little private reviews to myself, and it's because I want to be sure to notice what's working, and I want to, you know, Like pay attention to it and I want to study it sometimes or break it down.

I mean, I'll type people's whole paragraphs of other people's work and then like do a little closer reading of like, why is this working so well? Like, what do I love about this? Like, how did this book hypnotize me in the way that it did? I mean, I do tend to spend much more time on books that I loved than on books that I didn't love.

But if there's a book that I didn't love and I'm like, rrrr, that book was terrible and I feel insulted, then I will give myself this project of like, okay, go in there and find something. That you can be excited about or something that you can learn from about it. So yeah, I mean, that's good advice for life in general.

You know, that's good advice for writers is like find what you love and pay attention to that because that's the thing that's going to guide you to being a better writer. But I also think that it is good advice in human life as well. Look for what's working, look for what you can get excited about, look for what's great in other people, and let that be the thing that guides you down the road.

I mean, I think it, it helps you live a better life in general. 

Zibby: And have a better marriage. All of it. See the good.

Katherine: For real, for real. And I am not naturally like perky or positive either. Like I've had to work on this stuff, and I think that's one of the reasons why I write about it and talk about it and think about it, because it didn't, like my husband just naturally like arrived on this earth cheerful and, and positive and hilarious.

Yes. I. That was not the case for me. I was sort of grumpy and bitter in lots of ways, but I'm working on it. You know, it's like a life project. It's a very fun life project. 

Zibby: Wow. Well, I, I think that your private, you know, assessment of the good and the bad and the ugly of, of books would be so instrumental in helping other writers.

Like, I think maybe at some point, if you get desperate for a project, you could use and do like a little writing manual or like, you know. Finding the good or put it on Substack or something because that's, that's helpful. Like I would like to see a breakdown of what's working in different books so I can copy it essentially.

Katherine: I mean, that's how you learn how to do things, right? It's not by looking at what you didn't like or what you can roll your eyes at. It's like, what, what does this person know that I don't know? That's how you get better. 

Zibby: What are you working on now? 

Katherine: Oh, I am. So my youngest child is about to graduate from high school in May.

Yeah, it's a weird feeling. And the very same week that that happens, I am turning in my 2025 book. So it's been a bit of a crazy spring for me. And, uh, it is a, it is a story about a woman filmmaker who has to write, uh, I mean, who has to make a movie about a Coast Guard rescue swimmer. And so those are the, like, the guys who jump out of helicopters with, like, fins on and land a ship in and rescue people.

So she gets this job to go and, um, do this documentary and you know, it's kind of a disaster, but it's a good disaster. That's my favorite kind of disaster is the good disaster. So I had to do a lot of research last fall with the Coast Guard. And I went and hung out at Ellington Field at Air Station Houston and I got to meet all these very intimidating rescue swimmers and pilots and, uh, I was quite terrified to go down there and they were all incredibly nice.

My husband has been teasing me about it so much, he's like, what kind of research are you doing exactly? Like, are you saying, could you cradle me against your six pack so I can see what that feels like? And I'm like, that's not quite the research, no, it's different research. But, um. You know, it's a world that I don't know very much about.

And so it's been really fun to kind of like take a deep dive in there. It also feels a little bit intimidating because I know I don't know very much about it. 

Zibby: Deep dive, no pun intended? 

Katherine: Yes, no, but well, or pun intended. 

Zibby: Maybe, maybe is that what it's called? Deep dive? 

Katherine: It is not called that. In fact, we, I keep changing the title.

I've been kind of undecided on what the title of it will be, but yeah, it's uh, it's gonna be, it's already very sweet and swoony. Part of me wants to call it good hearted man, but I don't know if that's really what it's gonna wind up being. 

Zibby: Well, if you want deep dive, I won't charge for it. 

Katherine: Thank you. 

Zibby: All right.

Well, Katherine, thank you so much. Congratulations on the rom commers. Well done. So exciting. I love your writing style so much. It's just awesome. And you're, you're just such a pro. And now we know why. So thank you. 

Katherine: Thank you so much. 

Zibby: All right. Keep laughing with Gordon. Bye.

Katherine Center, THE ROM-COMERS

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