The Roughest Draft
Genre-hopping with authors you love.
I read an absurd number of books a year. And I wanted to create a space on my Substack to gush on and on and on about the stories I love. I’ll discuss old favorites and new books, and everything in between.
My usual reading space is contemporary YA; the sadder, the better. But I am stepping away from my comfort zone for this one—in fact, this story is also a departure for the authors. I fell in love with Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka’s contemporary YA fiction when I discovered it a couple years ago, to the point where I’ll buy anything with their names on it. So, when they made the leap to adult romance—a genre that I’m not as familiar with—I followed along.
The Roughest Draft is the story of Katrina Freeling and Nathan Van Huysen, two literary stars whose co-written novels have taken the world by storm. Their partnership ended on bad terms; the two freeze each other out of their lives for several years, until circumstance dictates that they fulfill their contract and write one more book together.
There is so much in this book that speaks to me. First off, the relationship between Kat and Nathan reminds me of some in my own life. But unlike me, these two are connected by their best-selling book, though, and remain a single unit in the public eye. So while the bridges are burned and the shoulders are cold, they are still connected in this very real, tangible way. But you can feel both the ache of the wound, and the desire to cut that person out of your life, as well as the magnetic pull toward them, to make things right. The end of their friendship felt so very real to me.
Particularly resonant is Katrina’s anxiety. After their relationship blew up, Kat stopped writing, and did everything she could to disconnect from the success. In her perspective we see a lot of the duality of her fear: not only of being insignificant, of not mattering; but also being afraid of having everything you want, of being in a position where you can disappoint the people who love and support you.
There was a passage in the book (I listen to the audio) where I had to go back over and over to type it out word-perfect, so I could share it on Twitter, just because it was so me. I felt so seen.
"I'm not unusual in what scares me. What frightens me frightens everyone. I'm scared of being nothing. Not becoming nothing, in the sense of dying. I mean the life and death of being no one special. Being nobody's person. Being worth nothing."
It’s a fear that stirs up in me with my own fiction writing, especially each time I have a rejection ding in. Like me, Katrina feels that writing is the singular thing that makes her special, the thing that makes her stand out. Her fear is a tightrope, stretched between being nothing, being nobody; and being somebody and disappointing everyone around her.
Anxiety aside, the heart of this story is the relationship between Kat and Nathan. It’s about mending love: not only romantic, but all of the different types of love—our love for ourselves, our love for the work we’re destined to do; our love for the friends we’ve hurt without meaning to; our love for the the people we’ve loved dearly and cruelly wounded in order to protect ourselves.
And yes, of course, there is the romantic love. Both Kat and Nathan are/were in relationships with other people. Nathan married to a woman he knew before he met Kat; Kat engaged to her (once their) literary agent, a man who’s already locked out the competition for the Biggest Fictional Douchebag of the Decade. (This is not an exaggeration.)
But for all that, the romantic tension was off the charts from page one, which created this gorgeous tension that ran like a live wire through the entire book, coloring their present (writing the new book) and their past (writing their best-seller, leading up to their falling-out). The dual timelines worked really well for me here, edging up that tension and leaving me screaming BUT WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?!?!
I had to keep reading.
These characters are so rich, so real, so wonderfully flawed. And it makes for such a compelling story, one that I will reread time and time again.
But, aside from the characters and the story, the sheer gorgeousness of the prose had me wanting to write; had me wanting to push myself to be a better writer. No jealousy, no shame, no wishing I was better like I sometimes feel. I wanted to be better. I wanted to write.
But I had to finish first.
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