Zibby is joined by Wendy Francis to discuss her latest novel which is all about love in the summertime— but with a twist!! Inspired by the real Wentworth By the Sea hotel, Wendy weaves together multiple storylines to create wonderfully thrilling love stories.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Wendy. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Summertime Guests.

Wendy Francis: Thank you so much for having me, Zibby. I’m so happy to be here.

Zibby: Just the image of this is making me happy, the image of the cover and the multicolored umbrellas and laying out by the beach. That would be so nice.

Wendy: I’m glad you like it. I don’t know how it went with your cover, but I feel like you usually see lots of different incarnations of them. This one, the publisher got just right the first time. They nailed it.

Zibby: When I started reading this book, I was like, is she talking about the Ocean House?

Wendy: I know.

Zibby: Then you were like, the porch — maybe, but then of course, fictious.

Wendy: It’s set in Boston. That could definitely have been a model for it. In my mind, I was thinking of this place called Wentworth by the Sea, which is in New Hampshire, which is equally lovely and has its own storied history of presidents coming to visit, and dignitaries. I started imagining that hotel transplanted in Boston by the Boston Harbor.

Zibby: I saw your note at the end of the book, which was so interesting, about what made you write this story and how you actually tell the reader how you thought of the idea and all of that. Can you share that story now with us live, or whatever?

Wendy: Sure, I’d love to. I think authors have lots of different ideas percolating in their minds. Would this be a story? Might I combine these two things together? I knew in my mind that I wanted to write a story about the different stages of love and marriages and different iterations. I thought I wanted to have a young couple newly in love or engaged. I wanted to have a married couple who just had a baby and are exhausted all the time and trying to figure that out again. What does this mean for our marriage? Then I wanted to have a more rocky, volatile relationship, maybe two people who are very passionate about each other but aren’t quite sure if they’re made to be together for life. Then Claire, who’s the protagonist of the book, has been married. I wanted to examine a life of someone who had been married for a long time and raised a couple of kids. She’s now widowed. She’s always kind of wondered about the one that got away, which is one of the reasons why she comes to Boston. Those love stories were in my mind. Then I stumbled upon the Seaport District, which is this new, up-and-coming neighborhood in Boston that they’d remodeled. It was basically empty, abandoned parking lots. Suddenly, it’s been transformed into this hip place with all these trendy restaurants and hotels and condos. It’s the place to be. My family and I were taking a walk there one day. I thought, how cool would it be if we had actually had this grand old hotel set on the water way back in the day that had its own sense of history? Why couldn’t I set my love stories there and have them all be guests — in one case, one of them’s the manager of the hotel — and set it there? That’s how those storylines collided.

Zibby: Yet saying it like that makes it seem like this is an intertwining love story. Really, in the opening scene, there’s a death. Literally, I was sitting reading. I hadn’t read the back flap in months since I decided to cover it. I started reading and I was like, oh, was there an earthquake? body. What? Then I flipped it over again. I was like, I better read what this is about. Is it a thriller? What did I miss here?

Wendy: I know. You’re absolutely right. It’s a little bit of a mystery. I’m not a mystery writer, but this one starts off with a death right in the first chapter. A woman plumets to her death from a hotel balcony. It seemed like a good way to bring all the storylines together. All these guests are here for a long weekend at this hotel, a summer weekend. They’re in various places in the hotel and in their relationship when this woman falls, jumps, is pushed, we don’t know, to her death in the opening chapter. That kind of propels the storyline along.

Zibby: It definitely had me sitting up in my seat.

Wendy: Good.

Zibby: That was great. You did it so early.

Wendy: Yeah, this is one of the first books where I’ve — people always ask me, do you know the ending? Do you plot it out? This one, I knew the ending as far as I knew that a woman died. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t actually a mystery at the beginning. At the beginning, you actually knew who the woman was. In various revisions, I went back and revised it so she could be at least a couple of different people.

Zibby: I was really interested in the way you played with time. It’s such a key component to making really interesting fiction, when people play with chronology and all of that. Yours was spelled out: a little before, a little after, the week before. I was like, where are we? Tell me about your decision and how it was to write that way. How did you keep all that —

Wendy: — Back and forth, yes, copious notes and lots of back and forth with my editor and my copy editor. Even up until the last minute, I was making changes in the page proofs because my copy editor caught a scene that was on the television. The hotel manager’s in two different TV interviews. In one, he’s standing off to the side. The other, he’s actually at the front saying something. Then it gets watched by one of the characters in the book, and he’s in the wrong place in the one that they were watching. I was like, oh, my gosh, you’re right. Just tons of going back and making sure this matches this. When did this scene happen? I’ve got to make sure he’s wearing the same clothes, all of those kinds of strange little details that you don’t think about at the beginning. I’m bad enough at having someone who has blond hair then has brown hair by the end of the book. Trying to get it right in the timeframe was challenging, for sure. My inclination is to not spell things out quite so clearly, but I think both my editor and copy editor gave me good advice. You’ve just got to ground the reader so we know. Is this a week earlier? Where are we in the timeline? Even though the story takes place over one long weekend, there are a lot of flashbacks to, especially for Claire, what her life was like before her husband died, and for all the characters trying to understand how they’ve gotten to where they are. That took a lot of rewrites to get it right. I’m sure there’s still a few in there that need to be revised, but hopefully not too many.

Zibby: I’m sure not. I also loved getting to know the French hotel manager, Jean Pierre, and Marie and his baby and his wife. Whenever I go to a hotel, I sort of watch in amazement. How does someone manage something this complex? I am planning this retreat in November. The amount of stuff I’ve already had to deal with is insane. I’m not even running the hotel.

Wendy: It’s like your own little mini wedding reception again and again and again.

Zibby: Behind the scenes, what’s it like to be a manager at one of these amazing hotels? Tell me about that character. Did you do any research? Tell me about it.

Wendy: I’m so glad that he struck a chord with you because he’s one of my favorites too just from the perspective of, he’s trying so hard to hold it all together for the hotel. He’s got this death on the premises. He’s trying to manage the day-to-day stuff. Then he has his wife at home who’s transplanted from their beloved Paris and is now trying to survive at home alone with a new baby. I could really empathize with him and the fact he’s trying to do everything right. In his wife’s eyes, he’s not, they are not. It’s hard to please everyone. From the characters’ perspective, it was fun to write his point of view. I don’t often — sometimes, I guess — write from a man’s point of view, but I found that he was a very empathetic, easy-to-identify character, to identify with. In terms of research, I had a friend of a friend, her husband has managed various hotels. He was gracious enough to talk to me a couple of times and then answer endless emails and things right up to the pub date. Would this have happened? How would you treat this?

Even though he hadn’t had an event that had happened like this at his hotel, he could tell me enough stories of things he had heard and people he had talked to. He knew the business and the ins and outs in your morning meeting and who you meet with and who you check in with, then the circle the rounds of the hotel just to make sure in the morning. It’s just a non-stop job. He said to me, and I think it’s in the book, “A hotel never sleeps.” I never thought of it that way. The hotel manager goes home maybe at eight o’clock at night, but even while he’s sleeping, there’s usually a night manager on or assistant manager who’s making sure that people aren’t partying or nothing crazy is going on. There’s always something that you have to be thinking about, whether it’s stocking, making sure the kitchen has everything, making sure that the hotel is in pristine condition. You’re dealing with customer complaints. It’s endless. I think you really have to be a great people person to be a hotel manager. I don’t think I would manage it very well. I think I would get tired of people complaining to me and say, look, you’re in this gorgeous place. How bad can it be?

Zibby: Right? I know. It’s funny because I’ve been thinking that too. I think that people put so much pressure on the experience because vacations are so limited, and really splurging in terms of price, but also in terms of time. You want it to be perfect. That’s why when flights get cancelled, it’s like, I had one day that I planned, or two days. I feel like people might complain more even though it makes no sense.

Wendy: They’re not necessarily their true selves in those settings either. The guests might be more demanding because it had to be the perfect weekend getaway. One of the characters in the book has planned this birthday getaway for her boyfriend. She wants everything to go splendidly. I think there is a heightened pressure. You’re not seeing people in their real environment, so you’re not maybe seeing their true personalities. We love to be spoiled. I love to be spoiled. I want to go sit by the pool on the cover and drink a margarita with my husband or my girlfriends.

Zibby: Seriously, let’s do it.

Wendy: November will be a little cool, probably, for an outdoor patio. It is a place where you just want to indulge yourself. Somehow, hotels manage to do it and then some, put up with people’s demands. That was a fun part of it for me, trying to figure that world out.

Zibby: Then the role of the police chief coming in and questioning people and everything — there was this golf club where I spent some time in the summertime. I wasn’t a part of this, but there was this horrible thing where somebody ended up killing themselves on the golf course one day.

Wendy: Oh, my gosh, that’s awful.

Zibby: I know. It’s terrible. Actually, the person was a guest, which I feel like is so rude. There were a lot of things, a lot of components to it. I remember hearing from other people who were there, they wouldn’t let anyone on the golf course leave until everyone was questioned. Even if you had to leave and pick up a kid — actually, it sounds like a novel. I should write it. Now that I interview so many authors, everything that happens in life, I’m like, someone should write this novel.

Wendy: You should.

Zibby: I don’t want to write it, no. It’s interesting because it had the same sort of feel as this where you’re in a beautiful place and everything should be great.

Wendy: Then tragedy strikes.

Zibby: The point of it is leisure and relaxation. Yet all of a sudden, this gorgeous spot is overrun by police and investigators trying to solve what actually happened. Was anyone at fault? It just reminded me of that.

Wendy: Goosebumps. Tragically, there are a lot of stories like that. At the time I was writing this, there were some news stories about people who had jumped from parking lots and things like that. I’m also deathly — deathly is the wrong word. I’m really afraid of heights. The thought of someone falling, jumping, being pushed from a balcony is my worst nightmare. In some ways, I got to confront that on the page and think, how would this work? How would this happen? What would possess someone to push someone or to jump or to fall? How would this happen? Out of my bailiwick because I’m much more a writer about friendships and relationships and marriages and things like that. It was interesting. For me, it was my usual summertime fare, but with a bit of a twist. I definitely had to do more research for this one, but it made it interesting.

Zibby: You still had the whole wedding planning element and the mother-in-law figure. There’s still all that stuff.

Wendy: So many people have commented on the mother-in-law. My poor mother-in-law watched my opening launch virtual event. There was lots of discussion about the mother-in-law. Right afterwards, she called and said, “Great talk, but boy, there was a lot about the mother-in-law in there, wasn’t there? I hope that wasn’t me.” I said, “Oh, no. She’s completely different.” She’s nothing like my — I think a lot of people have had that experience or know somebody who has had that experience with this overbearing mother-in-law who wants to relive her wedding day through her own child’s wedding. Riley really couldn’t — I shouldn’t say she couldn’t care less. She wants a charming little wedding with her closest friends and family, but nothing like this big to-do that her mother-in-law is hoping for and hoping to plan at the Seafarer Hotel. Those were fun to write. It’s curious to me how many people have responded to that. “Oh, I can totally identify with Riley,” I’ve heard so many times.

Zibby: How long did it take for you to write the book?

Wendy: I’m trying to think. Overall, probably about a year and a half. I wrote a first draft that was not very good. I sent it to my editor. She had a baby in the meantime, so it took her a little while to get back to me, understandably. When she did, she had some really good comments on Claire’s character, the protagonist. It’s funny to me because when I’ve had a few months and I put the manuscript aside and I go back with my editor’s comments — I’ve been away from it. I intentionally don’t look it until I get it back from my editor. You do see stuff that you wouldn’t have noticed before because you’re so close to it. I don’t know, maybe you felt the same way when you were putting together your anthology. You feel like this made sense five months ago or whatever, but now, what was I thinking? You do kind of get to be the editor of your own stuff when you have — I appreciate having that kind of time gap in between writing the first draft and then the next revision because you do realize, oh, this really is not a good scene or this isn’t working. I would say about a year and a half, roughly.

Zibby: What are you working on now?

Wendy: Another summer book, but this one is set is Hull. It’s a little peninsula outside of Boston again. It’s much more working class, an old fisherman’s town or fishing town. It used to be known, actually, back in the day, I want to say in the fifties maybe, forties, it was the Coney Island of New England. They had rides, Ferris wheels. It was the place you would go. Kids would go there for school field trips. This was the exciting, fun place to go. Then eventually, a lot of — I’m not sure of the exact families yet, so I won’t name names, but a lot of wealthy people summered there in Hull. You had a neat juxtaposition of some of the really wealthy and the working class. All a long way to say, my setting is always a character as much as my characters. It’s about three women who come together in Hull for different reasons. I’m still ironing out the plotline. I don’t want to give too much away. That’s what I’m working on now.

Zibby: It sounds good. What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Wendy: Boy, that’s a good question. I feel like everyone answers this question so eloquently when they get it. I never have anything that’s original to say. Having been a book editor before I became a writer I think gave me a little bit of an insight into two things. Publishing isn’t just about your book and what you write. Once you get into a publishing house, it’s about the marketing and the publicity and the sales. There are all these different departments. Your relationship with your editor is key. It’s also so important to understand that it’s a whole machine that makes your book come to fruition. I don’t think I would’ve appreciated that as much if I hadn’t been in the business and seen how that worked. Be grateful. Listen. Appreciate that there are gifted artists who are working on your cover design. There are gifted people in marketing and sales who have all these creative ideas that would never occur to you. Just to realize that it is this whole team working on your book, that’s what makes it so great and so exciting when it does finally come out.

Then just in terms of writing, I would say revise, revise, revise. That’s my biggest piece of advice. It’s never going to be perfect, but you have to allow yourself to write your first draft, which often is not good but at least is close enough to good that you’re willing to share it with your editor or your first or second readers. Then just know that you’re going to get there. You will eventually get there. It might take three drafts. It might take five or seven. Who knows? That’s okay. That’s part of the process. And to not get hooked up on, I better revise this chapter one until it’s perfect before going on to two, three, and four. You just need to get it out there on the page to get to the book that you want it to be. That would be my most important piece of advice. Allow yourself to write something that isn’t great to get to the great stuff. Does that make sense?

Zibby: Yes, and put some really colorful, inviting umbrellas on your cover.

Wendy: Yes, that’s always helpful. That’s what I mean. We have to have a great design department who understands your book and puts a gorgeous cover on it.

Zibby: Wendy, thank you so much. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Thanks for this great read. Excited to talk to you.

Wendy: Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you for all that you’re doing for authors. It’s really phenomenal. Thank you for being the champion for us.

Zibby: My pleasure. Take care. Buh-bye.

Wendy: Thank you. See you later. Buh-bye.



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