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Author Carley Fortune.Handout

In those first tense of weeks of the pandemic back in March, 2020, when so much about the future was unknown, Canadian magazine editor Carley Fortune was feeling nostalgic for the past. She decided to dig out her old teenage journals. There were 13 of them, stored in two shoeboxes. She had never actually read them before.

Stuffed within the pages were notes passed in class, a letter she wrote to a crush but never sent, a message from a best friend breaking up with her. She was struck by the complicated relationship dynamics, how she and her friends struggled to communicate – and, most of all, the deep desire she had had for a real connection with someone who truly understood her. The journals were a time machine back to her adolescence, spent in the tiny cottage town of Barry’s Bay, Ont.

That May, Fortune packed her young family into the car and made the 3½-hour drive northeast from Toronto to stay with her parents. She’d lived away for nearly two decades, but Barry’s Bay always felt like home.

It was there, in her hometown, with the stories from her journals still on her mind, that she found inspiration for her debut novel, Every Summer After, which is shaping up to be one of the biggest books of this summer.

The novel is set in Barry’s Bay and traces the love story of Percy and Sam, flipping back and forth between one present-day weekend, and six summers from their youth. Percy is a girl from Toronto whose family buys a cottage on Kamaniskeg Lake next door to Sam. The two become inseparable, until something tears them apart. For more than 10 years they don’t speak, but when a funeral brings Percy back to Barry’s Bay, the pair are handed a second chance – if they can confront the mistakes of their past.

Carley, before signing your book deal, you were the executive editor of Refinery29 Canada. You’d previously been the editor-in-chief of Chatelaine magazine, and an editor in various roles and publications, including here at The Globe and Mail. And now you’ve quit your day job to become a romance novelist.

I did, [though] I would say it’s both romance and women’s fiction. In a romance there are two things: a happily ever after and the story is centred on the romantic journey of the two characters. In women’s fiction, it’s the journey of a woman making her way through the world. There can be romance, but it can be about anything. In my book, I definitely wanted to tell this love story, but it’s also about Percy’s journey as a person.

So tell me about your journey to becoming a full-time author.

It was the beginning of the pandemic. I was feeling raw. We had also decided to have another baby. One day, I was at the cottage and I had a very upsetting work call. I hung up the phone and thought: I’m going to write a book. I didn’t have anything in mind, but I’d always wanted to write one. Creative writing was my first love. And I hadn’t done anything for myself creatively as an adult – ever. In the summer of 2020, it felt urgent to do that. I figured out that a typical manuscript for women’s fiction/romance was 80,000 words. I set myself a goal to finish it by the end of the year, which meant I had to do 388 words per day. I mostly wrote between 5 and 8 a.m., before work. In December, I sent it to some agents whose names I saw in the acknowledgments of books I was reading. Through some kind of luck my dream agent – Taylor Haggerty with Root Literary in Los Angeles – read it and I ended up signing with her in January. Everything happened really fast after that. Four of the big five publishers in the United States were interested. There was an auction and multiple rounds of bidding. We sold it to Penguin Random House as part of a two-book deal.

This book takes place in your hometown. How much of Every Summer After is your own story?

It’s not about me, although I did draw a lot from my childhood and teenage years. I grew up down a dirt road in the bush on the lake. The house was originally our family cottage and this is where the book is set. I spent my summers in a bathing suit, 24/7. … When I got older, I worked at night at my family’s restaurant. In the book, Sam is from Barry’s Bay and his mom has a restaurant. Percy lives in Toronto but her parents buy a cottage next door to Sam. They’re both about to start Grade 8.

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I love that you found inspiration in your teenage journals. How did they help you write this book?

In my journals, something that was very clear was just how bad we were at communicating. Communication can always be an issue in a relationship but, as teenagers, we bottle so much up. That really comes up in the book. The characters, as their relationship becomes romantic, they are not very elegant at dealing with that, so the journals really helped with the voice – just getting into the head of a young person. And then as they age, the voice ages up, too. In the journals, one of the other things that really struck me was the very real desire to have someone who was your person, who understood you, both romantically but also as a friend. Percy and Sam are that to each other. She was experiencing bullying from school so that’s part of the reason her parents bought this cottage, as an escape. But her real escape was this friend.

Percy goes to Barry’s Bay to find an escape; you went to Barry’s Bay to find an escape back in 2020, and I think all of us right now are just looking for that – a break from this very intense time that we’re in.

Just look at the success of [the Netflix series] Bridgerton. The appeal – other than how glorious the costuming and sets are – is the combination of crazy tension between the characters and then a big payoff. I think that’s the appeal of romance in general. One of the things that was really top-of-mind for me in plotting my book was building up tension. In both the past and present, there’s a will-they-or-won’t-they and then there’s also a mystery of what caused them to split apart. You’re rooting for them in both timelines. And a happy ending was really important to me. I don’t have the capacity right now for sad endings. I want to feel optimistic about humanity, and my book is very much about forgiveness and empathy. I wanted to wrap it up in a way that soothes your heart.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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