IN CONVERSATION: Ana Hartnett & Anna Larner
Anna Larner: Many congratulations on your new release, Coasting and Crashing. I'm really enjoying reading it. You have me totally immersed from the get go in Emma Wilson's heart and head. It's the last in your Alder Series set in Alder University, and this has got me wondering about how you found writing a series and how it feels now that you have completed it?
Ana Hartnett: Thank you so much! I know Emma Wilson is a bit chaotic, but she definitely has heart, and I loved writing her love story with Lake. Coasting and Crashing is the final installment of the Alder Series. It is senior year, and all of my main characters from the past books in the series are graduating! (Proud mom moment over here.) The series spanned four books, and each year of college featured a different love story. All of the main characters are the same graduating class, so there are a few storylines that span the series, and the characters all graduate together.
I adored writing this series. Four books set in the same small college setting really allowed me to immerse myself in Alder University and the characters. Toward the end of the series, it almost felt like I was walking those uneven cobblestone paths with my characters. Also, writing it as a series allowed me to show the relationships of past books and where they're at now, so the reader can keep tabs on their favorite couples. It felt poignant to wrap up the Alder Series. I'm ready to move on to other projects, but it was also more emotional than I anticipated to say good-bye to these characters and to Alder, itself. There was champagne and tears. And I feel like that's the best way I can describe it.
Anna Larner: In your chat with Morgan Lee Miller in 2019 (for those of you who haven't caught it yet, check it out on YouTube) you mention that you had no thought of being a writer until you began writing for BSB. I'm intrigued—can you tell me a bit more about the writing spark that lit for you?
Ana Hartnett: This is very true. I had no aspirations of being a writer, nor did I write for fun—or for work—and I absolutely abhorred any written assignments in school. So the fact that I ended up becoming a romance writer is shocking to me. I am a big dreamer and schemer, though, so when presented with the idea of writing a book, I kind of just went for it. The thing that presented this idea was a calendar in my friend's house. It had New Year's advice for each zodiac sign. It was January, and I'm a Capricorn. Its advice for me was to explore my creativity through writing, and I thought...yeah...why not? And that's when I started Changing Majors. I fell in love with writing and never looked back.
Anna Larner: I start my day by sharpening my pencil (no, really I do), and then I unfold my side table that I inherited from my grandma, lay out my research papers, and then all is well with the world and I am ready to write. Having shared that quirky fact with you, I'm now hoping that you also have a writing tick or routine that helps you get into the writing frame of mind. You can say no, btw.
Ana Hartnett: Oh my...are you a write-by-hand person? My hand hurts just thinking about that! I wouldn't say I have anything so particular as that in my writing routine. I like to write in the morning before the world around me wakes. I try to be writing by 5:30 in the morning. I have my coffee, a cozy blanket, and all the lights off. Hopefully it's not too bad for my eyes to write in the dark, but it's my favorite. I feel completely secluded in my dream world, and I love it.
Anna Larner: The people in our lives or in the world around us are important. I wonder—do you have a hero or someone who inspires you, either with your writing or in life more generally?
Ana Hartnett: I am super lucky to be surrounded by amazing veteran authors who have been so generous with their knowledge and support. Kris Bryant, Georgia Beers, and Melissa Brayden, in particular, have always taken the time to give me advice or just to welcome me into the sapphic author community. They are a huge inspiration to me because, as you well know Anna, they are our author siblings under Bold Strokes Books. Knowing that we write for the same publisher gives me hope that maybe one day I can build even a fraction of their readership and success. And besides writing, they're all just lovely, badass women whom I admire in general.
Anna Larner: I noticed on your website that you have a new work coming out next summer, Comes in Waves. Can you tell me about that?
Ana Hartnett: Yes! Comes in Waves is a small town second chance romance that spans almost fifteen years. My main character, Tanya Brees (AKA Breezy), grows up in Coral Bay, a small fishing town on the Florida coast. Every year, more high-rises creep up the coastline, threatening Coral Bay's small town vibe and Breezy's way of life. When Breezy is a teenager working at the local restaurant, she meets Juliette Peralta who is on a trip with her parents. Juliette and Breezy are immediately drawn to one another, but Juliette's parents are real estate developers who want to build up Coral Bay into a posh resort town. Though this keeps the Peraltas visiting Coral Bay regularly, it also causes tension between the two women. Especially when Juliette joins the family business and stops talking to Breezy for over a decade.
That is until hurricane Sasha hits, and Jules is forced to return to Coral Bay to manage the repair of her family's assets. While living in Coral Bay for an extended amount of time, Jules is forced to cross paths with her childhood love, Breezy, whom she deserted so long ago. And maybe sparks fly again...
Anna Larner: If I was making myself a Christmas Cocktail, what would you recommend for me?
Ana Hartnett: Oh wow. I'm overwhelmed with possibilities! This will be polarizing, but I just don't care. I love eggnog, and I have a pretty good vegan recipe for thick eggnog that's coconut milk based. I would want to shake that up with either a nice rum or vanilla vodka and grate fresh nutmeg over the top. Nothing tastes more like Christmas to me than eggnog. So an eggnog martini it is!
Ana Hartnett: Anna, it seems you were always destined to become a writer. You’ve used your education and experience to create stories full of nuance and romance, which often reach into queer history. Is there a genre outside of contemporary romance you’re itching to write in? Maybe historical fiction?
Anna Larner: Whilst I never say never, I do not have a plan to write a purely historical story. Rather, I love using history to deepen contemporary stories and provide them with a context to give them agency and meaning. Sometimes, in the case of, say, the brooding Moira Burns in my age gap romance, Highland Fling, a main character’s history makes sense of them. Moira fell in love with Iris Campbell in the late 1980s—a time when being gay in the UK was incredibly hard—and it shaped Moira to become emotionally protective of herself and to make poor life choices. Sometimes, history in my stories can spur the modern characters into action. In Love’s Portrait, museum curator Molly Goode and her investment banker lover, Georgina Wright, have a fire in their bellies to correct the past injustices of hidden women's and LGBTQ histories. By interweaving the modern romance with a poignant love story set in the 1830s, the contemporary characters' relationship feels even more precious when compared with Edith and Josephine’s forbidden love.
Ana Hartnett: Having a degree in both literature and visual imagination, do you foresee yourself ever crossing into writing screenplays or diving into more forms of art and storytelling?
Anna Larner: I’d love to do that! It would be awesome to write a screenplay or even be involved in a theatrical production. Maybe even help to adapt one of my own stories! I’m a writer who loves to describe things, settings in particular. Be it a pub, like the Brewer’s Arms in Highland Fling and Highland Whirl, or the elegant regency houses of Love’s Portrait, or the camp energy of the drag king bar, The Banana Bar, of Invisible. I want the reader to feel they are actually stepping into my stories, to become totally immersed. Creating a visual landscape for the reader is the stuff of writerly magic.
Ana Hartnett: What are the things that inspire you the most? Tell me about your creative process.
Anna Larner: My Christmas release, Invisible, reveals a lot about my creative inspiration and the way I write a story. Or more accurately the way a story forms itself on the page from that which I have seen and felt most deeply in my life. For example, I could see the costume shop Unwin’s Emporium, the setting for Invisible, with its long rails of clothing and accessories. I knew instinctively it was a timeless place. I was inspired by those costume shops I had visited which were stuffed full of the bizarre and of those charity shops where the lives of those who owned the cracked teapot or the worn jacket or the scuffed shoes literally seeps into the space. A chocolate-coloured fur coat that my grandma stored in her dark wood Victorian wardrobe is a key feature in Invisible. From trying on the coat as a child I knew what my characters would experience as they slipped it on and transported themselves into the lives of those who had worn the jacket before. But perhaps what is most important to me about Invisible is the messaging of hope, of mustering courage from our heroines, and that it’s okay not to always feel okay. These are my feelings alive in my characters. The images and emotions developed as I wrote Invisible and the story became its own inevitable thing—made of me but uniquely itself.
Ana Hartnett: What are some sapphic pieces of art, novels or otherwise, that have had the biggest influence on you?
Anna Larner: If I need to feel an instant hit of creative impulse, I read Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art. It’s like her writing soul finds its way immediately to mine. Annie on my Mind by the late Nancy Garden will always be important to me as the first lesbian novel I read as a teenager, not to mention that I furtively ordered it through my local library, which was a scary but empowering thing to do. And I find the amazing imagination of Kirsty Logan in her short story collection The Rental Heart a source of incredible inspiration.
Ana Hartnett: Do you have a work in progress? Can you share what you have up and coming?
Anna Larner: Not at the moment. Although I’m pretty sure my overactive imagination won’t let me rest for too long.