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Bestselling author Carley Fortune studied what makes a good romance novel

Written by on May 6, 2024

TORONTO — Carley Fortune’s books are written with an editor’s eye for detail.

The romance novelist, one of the most successful to come out of Canada in recent memory, fell in love with the genre when she was working in journalism, steering the Canadian division of an online publication for young women and editing articles every day.

As she plowed through dozens of romance novels, she said, she noticed patterns — the things that make them work, that make them good.

“They were love stories, but they were also about women and our journey in the world,” Fortune said by phone from her Toronto home.

“It was a love story but they were also books about our relationship to our careers, our relationship to our family. They looked at a love story, a romance, not in isolation, because our relationships don’t exist in isolation. They exist in our big, busy lives.”

Fortune was armed with those patterns as she began her second career writing love stories.

She continues to wield them in her third novel, “This Summer Will Be Different,” published Tuesday by Viking.

Its heroine, Lucy, is a 20-something with a full life, who’s still figuring out what she wants. She’s living in Toronto, dealing with burnout, grief and a complicated family dynamic. She has a community and passions that don’t revolve around her love interest.

But she does have a love interest, Felix, her best friend’s younger brother who lives on Prince Edward Island. 

Like Fortune’s previous two books, which have sold more than a million copies, Lucy and Felix’s love story plays out over the course of years rather than weeks or months, as is more common in romance novels.

In her first book, “Every Summer After,” Fortune said she wanted to write about people who grew together through their teenage years, and then reunited over a short time in adulthood. In the followup, “Meet Me at the Lake,” she did the reverse — two young adults form a deep bond over a short time and reconnect over a longer period a decade later.

This time around, Fortune said she wanted to tell a story that took place mostly in the present. But flashback chapters give readers a chance to see how the characters have grown and changed over a five-year period and how that growth allows their relationship to work in the present, when it may not have in the past.

Another throughline for Fortune is death. In each of her three books, one of the two main characters is grieving the recent loss of a parental figure.

“As an editor…I had such difficulty getting people to read stories about mental health. And it’s understandable because we’re not always in a place where we want to engage in tough stuff,” she said.

“With a romance, a reader is going into it knowing…there’s going to be a happy ending, so you can take them on a journey that includes some of life’s more difficult moments. But they know in the end that they are going to walk away feeling better about the world, feeling better about our capacity to love as humans.”

But she is quick to point out romance is not simply a spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. The sugar can be a medicine in its own right, a lesson she learned as soon as she started reading the genre.

“What I loved…was the escape, knowing there was going to be a happy ending,” Fortune said.

“Because I was so stressed in my professional life and so overwhelmed as a parent, I really craved that.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2024.

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press