We spoke with new adult author Colleen Hoover about why she hates writing sex scenes, how she unknowingly helped form a new genre, and why her new book, November 9, is out Nov. 10. Oh, and most importantly, how the incredibly sexy Nick Bateman (one of our favorite men of 2015) came to star in the upcoming film adaption of Ugly Love. Read what she had to say below!
Image Source: Jen Sterling
POPSUGAR: Can you tell me a little bit about your "Cinderella story"?
Colleen Hoover: I got married when I was 20. I've been with my husband since I was 16. We were kind of high school sweethearts, but we didn't go to the same school, and he was a little bit older than me. I went to college, and we ended up getting married, then I got pregnant with my first kid. I was majoring in journalism, and it was just really hard to keep up with because I worked full time and I had a kid. I couldn't do things at the drop of the hat, which you kind of have to do. I ended up getting a degree in social work and working for Child Protective Services for several years. Went back to school, got a degree in teaching, and I hated that. I'm just not very good with other people's kids. I think I just like my own. Did that for several years, and just never really wrote. I wrote a lot in high school and wanted to make a career out of it, but I knew that writers didn't make a lot of money; I had a family, so it just kind of went in a different direction. Then when I was 31, I picked up a laptop and started writing and never expected any of this to happen. I just did it for fun. So it's just been a whirlwind. That was exactly four years ago this October, and I think I've just published my thirteenth book.
PS: How do you get the inspiration for all of the different book ideas?
CH: I'm not really sure because my life is really boring. I've never had my heart broken. My husband and I have been together since I was 16. He's such a good guy; we'll be together forever. I've never experienced anything I write about. I think it helps that I'm an empathetic person, and I kind of put myself in other people's shoes and imagine what it would feel like. I just don't take anything from real life, because if I did, my books would be about watching TV. [Laughing] I don't know! It's all about imagination.
PS: You are considered a "new adult" author. Could you explain what this genre means?
CH: You know I'm not the best spokesperson for new adult because I don't really understand it myself. When I self-published my first book, Slammed, I had never read a romance novel before. I didn't even know I wrote a romance novel. I uploaded it to Amazon, and the categories I chose were drama and poetry. Then all these people were calling it a romance book. And I was, like, what? That's a romance novel? Because in my head, romance was like the Harlequin Romances that my mom used to read. Then, like, a year later on Wikipedia, they had this "new adult" term and they had me as one of the founders, and I was, like, that was an accident.
It's mostly about people in their formative years, and we all like to read about falling in love for the first time, being on our own for the first time, going to college, and it just kind of brings everyone back to how they felt when they were going through that. I think that's why it appeals to such a large audience. I recently posted on my author page that I received some letters in the mail from readers, and two of them just really got to me. One of them was a girl, she was 24, just graduated with a degree, and read Finding Cinderella, and it just really inspired her to write. She wrote her first book and was really excited and was just thanking me. And the other one was from an 80-year-old woman. It was just interesting seeing the difference in the people who read this genre.
PS: What would you say to other readers who don't read romance on why they would be interested in November 9?
CH: I feel like romance is an element in all of my books, but it's not all the book is about. There's always other things at play, there's always a big plot twist, and it never really has to do with the romance. It's a book that has romantic elements — it's very easy for everyone to place it in a romance genre — but you don't necessarily have to be a fan of romance. There's no way I could sit down and read a typical romance book like that my mother grew up reading. I would laugh. They're really just about life. It resembles what everyone goes through. Love is a part of everyone's lives. I think the contemporary fiction novels are definitely something people should try.
PS: So I'm curious. Is there a story behind why November 9 is coming out on Nov. 10?
CH: Publishers only publish on a Tuesday! I actually outlined this book a couple of years ago, and I had planned on releasing it on Nov. 9 of last year, but I ended up selling it to the publisher, and they release on Tuesdays. It's funny, it's gotten a little bit of attention because of the weird date, so I don't mind it so much.
PS: We recently posted a piece that suggests books based on your favorite romantic comedies. Is there a movie that, if people like it, then they'll like November 9?
CH: A lot of people have compared it to Sleepless in Seattle and One Day because of the date that they meet up every year. Both movies have similar elements. It's funny because the character in November 9 actually brings that up in a conversation and talks about those two movies.
PS: Who would you envision playing Fallon and Ben in a movie version of the book?
CH: It's really hard for me to say because I never give my characters faces when I write them. I'm trying to think. I love Zac Efron. I'd love for him to play every role from my books.
PS: You told us last year about your love of Zac Efron, so I was wondering if he was still your go-to.
CH: Oh yeah, it still hasn't changed. I'm not obsessed with him, and that's what's weird, I just kind of see his physical characteristics as probably playing a good-looking, young guy. But as far a girl . . . My favorite actress is Jane Levy, so I would put her in every role, too. It's hard because I don't see people when I write. I just kind of picture their personalities. I don't spend a lot of time on physical description because I feel it's important to let readers put what they like. Everyone has different preferences, and if the author describes someone too much, to me, then it's hard for me to imagine them how I want to imagine them.
PS: Do you have a favorite romantic couple either in a book or in a movie?
CH: This is a weird answer, but I don't know if you've ever seen the movie Forces of Nature — it came out in the early '90s with Ben Affleck and Sandra Bullock. I love that movie because the ending kind of pissed a lot of people off. I love the dynamic, and I love that it didn't end how everyone thought it would.
PS: I watched the teaser trailer for Ugly Love, and it's really good. We are big fans of Nick Bateman over here, so I'm just wondering, how did that all come to be?
CH: That's a really interesting story. I had never heard of him, and after Ugly Love released, like, almost immediately, people were tagging him in all these photos as Miles, and I was, like, who is this guy? Is he real? Does he look like that in real life? I didn't think anything of it. I saw him on Instagram, so I started following him because everyone was posting all these pictures of him.
A few weeks later, I got an email from a producer that works with him, and the producer was asking if the movie rights were available. They were looking to find a role for him. It just so happened I was about to go on tour then, and Nick and the producer both live in Toronto, and I was going to be in Toronto the following week, so we all agreed to meet up and talk about it. And I really liked him. I liked the producer a lot; Nick was just awesome, and he read the book, and that was really impressive. He could actually have conversations about what he thought of the book and the character and why he wanted to play the character. So we made a deal, and I decided to go with him, and it's been awesome. People don't realize that the book just came out a little over a year ago, and it seems a lot longer than that. Then it took us several months to do an option for the movie rights, so it hasn't been that long since I've had it. People are getting really impatient, but you know it takes a couple of years for the process to get to the point of where they start filming. Hopefully that'll happen this coming Summer — that's their goal.
PS: Some people have compared it to Fifty Shades of Grey. How is it different?
CH: The only similarity that I see is that they have sex, and that's pretty much in every book that has a romance in it. I think because Fifty Shades is a big thing a lot of people compare any book that gave them that same reaction and that same emotional feeling to Fifty Shades. Honestly, I don't think that there are any elements besides, you know, romance and sex.
PS: How do you feel about Fifty Shades of Grey and how it's impacted the world of erotic literature?
CH: I don't write erotica, but most of my readers say that they didn't read books before Fifty Shades became popular. They read Fifty Shades, and then they picked up something else, and picked up something else. Whether people like the book or not, whether it's their cup of tea or not, it created a whole new genre of readers. It was a gateway for all these authors to have an audience to get their books in their hands, so I think it's one of the best things to happen to literature in a long time. I realize that some people think it's controversial, but I actually know E L James and she is amazing. She is a wonderful, selfless person. As an author, she is probably my biggest role model.
PS: What's the sexiest book you've ever read?
CH: There were so many scenes in this book called Mud Vein that elicited a certain reaction from me. But it's not your typical book — I don't think you'd even consider it a romance or an erotica book. It wasn't even detailed: maybe there was one sex scene that the author didn't even go into, but just the feeling you get reading it and wanting that connection to have between the two characters, I think is what makes it look sexy.
PS: What's the best part about writing sex scenes?
CH: Nothing. [Laughing]
PS: You don't like it?
CH: I don't. It's really awkward for me, and my books don't really focus on sex. Ugly Love kind of did, but I don't even go into the language. I feel weird using the word nipple, or anything like that. I try to avoid it as much as I can. It's pretty awkward for me having to write them; it's probably my least favorite part of the whole book.
What are your go-to words to try to not be as specific?
CH: I think it's just the way I describe it and the actions. You know what happens during sex, you know what's going on, you don't have to know which part down there he's touching — you don't need the detail. You can just say something like, "He touched me gently . . . " I don't know. See, I can't even talk about it!
PS: What's the biggest challenge in writing about relationships?
CH: For me, it's knowing that something is going to happen that tears them apart in the book. When I'm writing, I tend to take on the mood of the part of the story that I'm writing. So just knowing that's coming up, that someone is going to get their heart broken, or someone is going to cry, or someone is going to experience this great loss, I have to hurry up and write that scene and then write something happy. You find a lot of humor in my books especially in places you don't think there would be humor because I have to end it on a good note that day. If I end it really sad and the characters are really sad and there's not a funny line, then I kind of take on that mood. I feel bad for my husband.
PS: How do you balance the line between cheesy and romantic?
CH: It just depends mostly on how you write dialogue. When I read, that's the one thing that really stands out to me is dialogue — if it's not realistic, if it's not something you would say. I think a lot of authors need to read their pages out loud after they write them and act like you're actually having conversations. Sometimes I make my husband do that with me, be the other character. You can really sense that that's something natural and something he would say in real life — it helps to act out the scene for me.
PS: Do you have any advice for aspiring romance writers or just writers in general?
CH: Google everything and don't have expectations. I realize 99 percent of my success was based on timing and good luck. I see a lot of writers get really frustrated when it doesn't happen to them like it happened for me, and that's rarely the case. Sometimes writers write years and years and write great books, and nothing ever comes of it. The most important thing is to not have expectations and to go into it wanting to write the book because you want to write the book, not because you want to make it a career or make money off of it. Then google everything. I learned everything from googling every question. I went to message boards, forums — there's a lot to learn about this industry, and you can't expect to latch onto someone and hope they carry you along. It's very important that you spend probably more time learning about the industry than you do actually writing.
PS: What are you currently reading?
CH: I just finished a book last night. Caroline Kepnes, who wrote You, sent me Hidden Bodies, which is her second book. And I read You and I loved it. Oh my God, I sat down, and this book is really thick and long, and I sat down at 7 last night and I went to bed at 4 this morning. I read the entire thing without breaking. It was so good. I loved it a thousand times more than the first, and I loved the first one. I'm really excited about that one coming out next year.
PS: I'm going to have to check it out. I really liked You.
CH: I usually only read contemporary romance now, so it's not even the genre that I normally read, but last night she became my new favorite writer. She's incredible.