Lawyer and co-host of The View Sunny Hostin joins Zibby to discuss her debut novel, Summer on the Bluffs. Sunny reveals how she set up a writers room of friends to help workshop the book, why she chose to feature this specific house on the cover, and the ways in which her own battle with infertility inspired elements of her story.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Sunny. Thank you so much for coming to discuss Summer on the Bluffs, your novel.

Sunny Hostin: Thank you for having me. Thank you.

Zibby: I have loved this book. It’s so fun. It’s so engaging. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I just loved it. It was so great. As you know, I’ve already recommended it lots of places. It’s a very smart, modern-day relationship book. I know beach read is something they say that’s disparaging, almost, but it’s great.

Sunny: Thank you. I wanted to write something that I wanted to read. I do like escapism. I like beach reads, but I don’t like them, if I’m being honest, to be too frivolous and just to be too light, if that makes sense. I wrote what I like to read, something that isn’t dark and dreary, but has some heft to it. That was what I planned to do. I’m glad you got it.

Zibby: Totally. Infertility, grief, sexuality, you got all the things, gender, race. What else have we not touched in this book? It’s amazing. It sort of speaks to — not that I don’t love your cover. I love your cover. It’s great, but it’s so hard to convey everything just from the outside of a package. You know what I mean? How do you know sometimes?

Sunny: The funny thing about the packaging is the cover art, the picture actually comes from this house. It’s a real house that I walk past every day. I do this seven-mile walk along the water in Oak Bluffs on East Chop Drive. There’s this house that I look at all the time. I’m like, if someone were to decide to just give that house to me — I walk by it. Maybe they see me staring at it lovingly. Maybe they decide, I’m going to give that person this house. I literally just stare at it all the time. I took a photograph of it. I sent it to my editor Carrie. I said, “This is Ama’s house, just so you know.” She was like, “Well, that’s the cover then.” That’s where it comes from. Then when I got the cover art with the house and the pink and the blue, I was like, wow, I don’t know if that’s what I was thinking of, in all honesty. The thought was, well, it is a beach read. You don’t really want to turn people off, but it doesn’t really reflect the depth of what’s inside. At least it doesn’t turn people away from it, I think.

Zibby: Exactly, I think so. Do the people who own this house know that not only do you stalk them, but you’ve put it on the cover of your book?

Sunny: They don’t know that I thirst for their house. They don’t know that.

Zibby: It’s just a subtle hint. I did something similar. I was in Rhode Island. I saw this house. I was like, oh, my gosh, this is my dream house. Next thing you know, I was like, “Can someone find out if I can talk to the owner and try to buy it even though it’s not on the market?” Why I would need a house in Rhode Island is beyond me. My husband’s like, “What are you doing? What if they say yes?” I was like, “I don’t know. I just have to ask.”

Sunny: I’ve looked at it for years. I know it’s not for sale because they seem to be enjoying it.

Zibby: I’m like, who are these people in the backyard of my house? Oh, my gosh. I thought one of the really beautiful, interesting parts of this book was how you dealt with loss and grief with this thirty-three-year-long marriage between Omar and Amelia and how it took her three years to go through the mourning, which I found so interesting. Tell me a little bit about that. You even had something I loved. Here, wait, let me try to find this quote that I thought was so beautiful. When you talked about his passing away, you said, “She had mourned him with the patience that had been the hallmark of their marriage. In the first months, she’d carefully edited then digitized all their photo albums. She wanted her girls and the children they would have someday to know what black love looked like in the twentieth century when the world was changing so fast and so slow at the same damn time.”

Sunny: Yes, yes. I’ve been married for over twenty years. My husband is a very old-fashioned guy. Omar, in many respects, is sort of based off of my husband Manny. He’s quiet and a man of few words like Omar. I often think, and it’s a little bit macabre, but what would life look like without him? I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t want to know what it looks like, but I don’t know what it looks like. When we first started dating, he would write me letters. He was born in Spain. His mom is Spanish. He’d write me letters when he would visit Spain. Now it’s a lot of text messages and that sort of thing, but I’ve saved the letters. I’ve often thought that’s something that I eventually will show my children. The story, it’s fictional, of course, but a lot of it is based on our patient relationship. The other thing that I based part of their love story on is one of my best friends. She lost her husband at a very young age when she was pregnant with my godson. It was a long illness. It was CTE related. She sort of watched him die. One of the things that she said to me was that she kept his shirt. It smelled of him. I thought, wow, it’s so poetic. I asked her permission to borrow that. I think that is such an interesting sign of not only loss, but longing and affection and love. I write about that in the book, about his turtleneck. That’s that description of what I believe marriage is and what loss would look like.

Zibby: I love that he wears turtlenecks and jeans only in Paris. What is that? Okay, cool.

Sunny: It’s really a character that he puts on.

Zibby: Yeah, I love it. Why not? That image of his closet and that she could keep the door closed and keep the smell sort of trapped as if trying to freeze time, oh, my gosh, it was just very poignant, really beautiful. Speaking of the letters, you had a whole section in here about, you were like, how can people even fall in love these days with emails and texts and dating apps?

Sunny: I don’t get it. I have some of my friends that are dating. One guy broke up with her by text. I was like, romance is dead. It’s so dead with this swipe right, swipe left. I’m in pain for my children. I have an eighteen-year-old and a fifteen-year-old. What is that experience like? I don’t know what that looks like. How do they find that? Everything is so urgent and disposable. I definitely wanted to address that. Things aren’t disposable. Love has to be very patient. Relationships have to be very patient. I try to put myself in the place of a twentysomething and in the place of sixty-year-old. I try to have that span for women, for the life of a woman, because we’re so complex. We’re so complicated. Our relationships are so complicated. Our friendships, especially, are so complicated. Our choices are complicated. We have to own those choices as the characters in the book do. Dating today, I’m so happy I’m not dating. I’m so happy.

Zibby: I know. I have four kids. My oldest are twins. They’re almost fourteen. I’m like, this is not going to work. They can’t even spell. How are they going to be texting and professing their love to each other? Oh, my gosh, no.

Sunny: They can’t write in script. It’s horrible.

Zibby: It’s so true. I also thought it was so great that you showed love at a young age, but then this second stage of hot and heavy. For an older woman — how old was she supposed to be? Sixty-something, right? Omar was seventy-three when he passed away, something like that. How often do we not read about relationships that are particularly passionate things that happen in later life? How great.

Sunny: It’s funny. I work with women on The View of different ages. That was Barbara Walters’ dream, a woman from every decade. We really have that on our show: thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, and seventies. The person that talks about sex the most is in her seventies on the show. She needles me all the time because I’m like a Catholic schoolgirl, really. I’m Catholic. Like many Catholics, I don’t talk about sex. In writing about that, I thought, I don’t understand why women in their fifties or forties are put out to pasture like we no longer have a love life and we no longer have desire. I was like, I want to break that mold. While I want to write about this coming of age and career and all the crap that women have to go through, there is life after forty. There is life after fifty. Especially, I’ve seen it with some of my older friends. Their kids go off to college. Man, they are reborn. I don’t recognize these women. They are hot to trot. They are happy. They’re going on these self-discovery missions. It’s really terrific. The women that have read it, especially those that are in their sixties, they’re like, thank you, there’s hope for me. I think that the love story between Ama and Carter, especially, is probably the sexiest out of all the relationships. Who doesn’t want Carter in her life?

Zibby: I also want Carter’s photos, please. Could I buy those somewhere? Where are those?

Sunny: You want his photos. You want his boat. You want his bohemian lifestyle. You want this freedom which should come at that age when you know yourself and you’re grown. His character I enjoyed writing more than anything, actually. Ama and Carter, I just thought that was pretty cool.

Zibby: I agree. That super cool. It was hot. I started cohosting this other podcast lately called “Moms Don’t Have Time to Have Sex.” I am like you. I don’t talk about this stuff. I am so shy and whatever. I do it with this sex expert who’s fifty-nine years old. She’s British, so everything’s hilarious. She’ll share all this stuff about her life and women later. It’s just so funny. It sort of has opened up my eyes to the unending nature of this. When I was younger, I was like, I’m sure old people don’t have sex.

Sunny: I know. It’s so not true.

Zibby: It’s so not true.

Sunny: Love and lust, you’re sort of untethered at that age, which is really cool. Especially if you have two people that are rediscovering themselves and each other, not themselves really, rediscovering each other, and they’re financially secure, it’s like, wow, that’s true freedom.

Zibby: This whole “life is short,” when you’re in your seventies, why not? If not now, when? I love that. You totally captured that with their characters. It was so real. It was awesome. Then you have this whole other dimension with infertility struggles. You’ve tapped every woman of every age. Somebody can relate to everything. I don’t want to give things away or whatever, but when one of the characters thought that her boyfriend was cheating and the other girl was pregnant, the issue was more that she was pregnant. That was the biggest thing. She didn’t want someone else to be pregnant.

Sunny: I went through years of infertility. I wrote about it in my memoir. My memoir was extensive. The most feedback that I got, hundreds of emails, was about that particular chapter. I called it Motherhood. It just reminded me that people still suffer in silence about infertility. It’s almost shame based, for some reason, when so many women suffer through it. I just remember that when I talked about it, people were like, okay, okay, enough, enough. I was like, enough, enough? We should be talking about it. I’m kind of a blabbermouth in that sense. I thought, that’s something that I’m definitely going to write about because I know that women are going through this. I remember my best friend, I nicknamed her in my mind, not to her. Well, she’ll know it now. I nicknamed her Fertile Myrtle. You just look at her, and she got pregnant. I was struggling with it. It was a little unnerving. Every time I turned around, she was pregnant, and complaining about being pregnant. I was like, what I would give to be pregnant. That was where that came from. I would imagine that’s what would upset me the most if my spouse or my partner cheated on me. It would be that someone else got pregnant. Then I think I would project this sort of notion that, oh, my goodness, it’s me, there’s something wrong with me, especially if you’re a type A personality like this character is.

Zibby: This character.

Sunny: It’s all fiction. Certainly, I plucked a little bit of that from my life because I know so many women go through that. I just know. You do question yourself. You question your femininity. It’s like, why me? It’s why a lot of people. A lot of people are going through that.

Zibby: Just because a lot of people go through something hard doesn’t mean the people going through it can’t say, why me? If everybody broke their arm or something, they’d still be like, ugh, why’d I break my arm?

Sunny: It’s okay to feel sorry for yourself. That’s another thing that I learned. It’s okay that you feel this way. That’s something that this character kind of needs to learn. It’s okay. It’s okay that you feel this way.

Zibby: Now I have to go back and read your memoir. I was sad I didn’t read it before this. Now I’ll read it this summer. That’s great. By the way, I heard you have a whole series of Summer on Sag. What else? What’s the third one going to be?

Sunny: Summer on Highland Beach, which is in Maryland. The way I thought of it is — my good friend Larry Graham, he passed away recently, but he wrote Our Kind of People. It’s a wonderful book about the history of African Americans and really the bourgeoise in particular. He’s written a lot of books. That history include discrimination, of course, against African Americans, but the places where the black bourgeoise was able and permitted to buy beachfront property. I thought, wow, I’ve been to all of those places. One was Oak Bluffs where black folks have been vacationing since before the Harlem Renaissance, and Sag Harbor in the Hamptons and then Highland Beach in Maryland. That’s how I pitched it. HarperCollins was like, “This is not one book. This is three books.” I hadn’t written a word yet. I was like, “Yeah, it is three books.” I’m actually right in the middle of writing Summer on Sag now. What was fantastic is what I also wanted to explore was — I’m biracial, so I wanted to explore interracial relationships. I wanted to explore relationships between black women and white women. In all of those places, these were communities that were extremely welcoming to black people. I thought, that’s a wonderful, especially given today’s day, wonderful time and place to explore this welcoming community, especially between Olivia and Ama. I have a lot of friendships like that. I thought that sisterhood was very, very special in those places. You see that again in Summer on Sag because you’ll see Olivia and Anderson and the uniqueness of their relationship in Sag Harbor.

Zibby: Oh, good. Then are more characters from this set going to be in the Highland Park too?

Sunny: Right now, I’m not sure. I have no idea. I know that so far Ama, of course, is sort of a guiding light. Olivia looks up to her, so Ama has made an appearance. Carter is pretty integral right now to Summer on Sag. Olivia has found sort of a father figure in Bill Pickens Winningham. They have a really pretty relationship. Then I have some really cool women that she meets, some new summer sisters, including a really cool sommelier and a real estate agent and a couple of cool women. I’m having fun with that.

Zibby: That is awesome. If you ever want a book party in the Hamptons, let me know.

Sunny: Definitely.

Zibby: Sounds like that could be fun. You hadn’t written a novel before, at least not that I know of. How do you just start doing it after one meeting with HarperCollins? You did a really good job. I read a trillion books. It doesn’t feel like a debut novel.

Sunny: You’re very kind. Thank you. I was very lucky. I reached out to Veronica Chambers who’s someone who doesn’t really write novels, actually. She’s just a wonderful guide. I reached out to her. She had never been to the vineyard, so I was like, oh, no. I invited her to join me and gave her the storyline. I have this idea. This is the house. These are the women. This is what I’m thinking of. How do I tell this kind of story, this multilayered story? We just went back and forth. I did it much in the way that I did the memoir in terms of dictating it. Then she would shape it. She would send it to me. Then I’m kind of a crazy editor. My editor Carrie is like, “You’re taking my job from me.” I edit, edit, edit. It was very difficult for me to give her pages. We’d go back and forth like that. She just taught me how to show and not tell, which was really difficult for me.

One example that she used was instead of saying, “He was walking on a cold night,” I would instead have to write, “As he walked along the grass and the leaves crunched under his shoes, he had to zip up his jacket as he was shivering,” that kind of thing. I had to learn how to do that. Then ultimately, because I still was nervous, we held these writers’ rooms. Veronica had written on Girlfriends, a television show. I invited people like Linsey Davis, who’s an anchor of World News Tonight on the weekends, and some of my girlfriends. I was like, “Does this sound real? Does this sound authentic? What do you think?” I invited men too. “Does this sound accurate?” Some of my male friends were like, “It sounds too accurate. That sounds like me. That sounds like the night that I did this.” Some of the women were like, “This is me. I know that story. Please take it out.” That’s sort of how it came it to be. By the end of the process, I was just able to write. It was cool. I was a journalism major. I had written things before, short stories. This was definitely different. Without Veronica, I would not have been able to make it.

Zibby: It’s interesting what you say about showing not telling. Essentially, what you’re doing is changing it to what could be a stage direction or something. You could say in a movie, have the guy zip up his coat. Have the sound editors bump up the leaves crunching.

Sunny: Yes. It’s very hard. It’s definitely a skill. I started dreaming the characters. They felt very real to me. I called my editor Carrie and I said, “Am I crazy? I can see these people. I feel like they’re talking to me. I’m getting up in the middle of the night and I’m writing what they are saying to each other.” She’s like, “No, it just makes you a novelist. It’s fine. I do this all the time.” That’s when I knew I had it. Towards the end of the book, I could hear Billy. I could hear . I love to cook. I’m part owner at a restaurant, so that stuff came easy, the dishes and all of that. The artwork, I collect art, that came easy. It was just the putting it together that Veronica, she was really helpful.

Zibby: I did love all the art references, especially with all the girls’ rooms in the house and Frida Kahlo. I’m like, this is quite a range of art in this house.

Sunny: I love art.

Zibby: It’s amazing. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Sunny: I think that you should write about what you love. I think that’s really important, and what intrigues you. I’m also writing this other thing that my agent is like, “Send it to me.” I’m intrigued by witchcraft and magic and creating those kinds of worlds. I love fantasy. I just started writing something. He’s like, “I love it.” I think you write about what you love, what you want to read. That’s what you write about. Even Toni Morrison said that. If there’s a book that you want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. I think that’s best advice possible. That would be my advice to any author. If you want to read it, then you write it.

Zibby: I watched a bunch of your interviews about the book before we did this. I was like, okay, I really want to talk to her about stuff that I didn’t already just learn in all these other interviews. You say that quote in a lot of them. I was like, I hope I can get her to talk about stuff that’s not just that quote. Oh, look, now here’s the quote. Oh, no. It’s amazing. It’s the best quote ever.

Sunny: That’s what you write about. You write about what you want to read, what you dream about. I like fantasy. I’m going to write fantasy. I hadn’t seen beach reads centered on women of color. I didn’t find it. I read all there was out there. I had read Waiting to Exhale. I read Dorothy West. I read Crazy Rich Asians. I’ve read all that. I was like, well, I’ll write something. That’s my best advice. The reception that this book has gotten, I’m kind of overwhelmed. It’s sold out on Amazon. I was shocked by that. I would never have believed in a million years that there would be a thirst for it the way I thirsted for it. That goes to show you that if you want to read it, someone else probably does too.

Zibby: As I was saying with all the different storylines and characters and everything, almost any woman can find something in there that they are like, oh, yeah, that happened to me. I relate to that. That’s the recipe for success.

Sunny: That’s what I wanted. I wanted everyone to see something in it that spoke to them. The best thing that came out of it is that men are reading it. I would’ve never imagined that in a million years. Matthew Yates does my hair Monday through Thursday. I have this guy, Derick Monroe, who does my hair on Friday. He does Whoopi’s hair Monday through Thursday. I had the book here. I would’ve never said, “Oh, Matthew, read the book.” He’s like, “Can I have a copy?” I said, “Really? Sure.” He came to me. He’s like, “I’m on chapter six.” This is after one night. He’s like, “I love it. I love this about it. I love that about it. I love this about it.” My father read it. He read it in three days. My husband listened to the Audible. They’re asking questions about it. They’re seeing themselves in the male characters, which is unbelievable. Women of all ages are seeing themselves in it. It’s especially resonating with the twentysomethings and the sixty-somethings. I’m definitely seeing that from the emails that I’m getting on my website. They’re saying, oh, my gosh, I’m going through this now in my career. I wish I had an Ama. Then I’m seeing women talking about, can I find a Carter in my life? That stuff has been really encouraging, that people are relating to it.

Zibby: I do feel that your male characters are very well-developed too. Maybe that’s why they’re seeing that. Is there going to be a movie? There must be, right?

Sunny: Yes. Right now, the plan is to make it into a series. I’m kind of shocked at that. I gave the book to Octavia Spencer. It was almost like I was giving it to her out of my car trunk. I was kind of embarrassed. It wasn’t even bound or anything. It was a first draft.

Zibby: Here are my pages, catch. Loose-leaf.

Sunny: It had a binder clip on tacky of me. I had just moderated a panel. I knew her, kind of. I met her a couple of times. I literally was like, “I just wrote this book. I would love for you to just read it.” I didn’t want much. I wanted like an Instagram post, if I’m being honest. I just wanted her approval. I don’t know what I wanted. She read it and literally called me, got my phone number from my agent, and said, “You’re going to have a lot of interest. There are going to be a lot of people that want to partner with you. Let me explain to you why I would be a good partner.” Octavia the incredibly talented Spencer is pitching me on why this Oscar winner should do a project with me. I thought it was a joke. I was like, is she serious? I did, I had other people come to me about it, but who wouldn’t want to work with her? She’s so lovely. She’s so girl power. She made sure that I got appropriately compensated. She kind of tied her deal to mine, which was something she said Jessica Chastain did for her. She’s amazing. I’m in partnership with Octavia, her producing partner Brian, also ABC Studios. Hopefully, it’ll be streaming.

Zibby: That is so cool. I’m sorry I went a little over. I was so enthusiastic about it. Congratulations on the book. Best of luck with everything. I’m not kidding about Sag Harbor if you want a Hamptons soiree of any kind.

Sunny: Yes, definitely. We’re hoping it will be out by next summer if I get my pages in. I’m perseverating over it right now. I’m trying to show not tell.

Zibby: All right, 2022, summer, here we come. Buh-bye, Sunny.

Sunny: Take care.

Zibby: Thanks. Buh-bye.

Sunny: Buh-bye.



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