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Go Off Script with The Sway

June 14 Join The Sway for a behind-the-scenes perspective on this summer’s hot beach read, Nora Goes off Script, via an off-script chat with author Annabel Monaghan during an exclusive night at 195 Restaurant.

You’ll get a front-row-seat to a chat between Annabel and Kimberly Taws, the manager of The Country Bookshop who’s interviewed everyone from Nicolas Sparks to James Patterson. We’ll sip on a flight of tequila cocktails, inspired by the characters of Nora Goes off Script, while hearing more about each character and Annabel’s creative process. Ticket holders will be able to submit questions ahead of time! The book will be released June 7. Get Tix here.

Synopsis: In NORA GOES OFF SCRIPT, Nora Hamilton knows the formula for love better than anyone. As a romance-channel screenwriter, it’s her job. But when her too-good-to-work husband leaves her and their two kids, Nora turns her marriage’s collapse into cash and writes the best script of her life. No one is more surprised than her when it’s picked up for the big screen and set to film on location at her 100-year-old-home. When a former Sexiest Man Alive, Leo Vance, is cast as her ne’er-do-well husband, Nora’s life will never be the same. The morning after shooting wraps and the crew leaves, Nora finds Leo on her porch with a half-empty bottle of tequila and a proposition. He’ll pay a thousand dollars a day to stay for a week. The extra seven grand would give Nora breathing room, but it’s the need in his eyes that makes her say yes. Seven days: it’s the blink of an eye or an eternity, depending on how you look at it. Enough time to fall in love. Enough time to break your heart. Filled with warmth, wit, and wisdom, NORA GOES OFF SCRIPT is the best kind of love story—the real kind, in which love is complicated by work, kids and the emotional baggage that comes with life. For Nora and Leo, this kind of love is bigger than the big screen.

Q & A

Annabel Monagan, Contributed

Q. What inspired you to write this novel? I was recovering from surgery when I got hooked on the Hallmark Channel. In two-hour increments, I dwelled in the hardware stores and bakeries of adorable small towns, watching romances unfold with subtly different storylines. The idea for Nora Goes Off Script started to bubble as I found myself unable to look away from the very specific female fantasy that these movies were selling. Every one ofthese women turns her fun hobby into a lucrative career—Cupcake Magnate! Party Planner to the Stars! Custom Wreath Designer! She has easy, lifelong friendships, and she’s widely adored in her community for all the ways she gives back. A slightly-too-handsome man falls in love with her because of, not in spite of, her most off-putting quirk. Her parents are usually healthy, self-supporting,and nonjudgmental. Otherwise, they’re dead.After about a week, I became preoccupied by the people who wrote these movies. I wondered if they were wild romantics, with their offices decorated with dried prom corsages and posters of Peaches &Herb. Or if they were bots just plotting out the same recycled love story, reverse-engineered to climax at minute 108. This is where Nora Hamilton came from, my imagined writer for my imagined Romance Channel, who has spent a decade supporting her horrible husband by writing these movies.

Q. Nora is such a courageous, funny, and intelligent woman embarking on a new chapter in her life. How did you crafther character? Nora came to me in pieces. My mom was a single mother, so she was my point of reference when it came to Nora’s self-reliance and sense of duty to her kids. I clearly remember what it was like to seemy mom manage work and home all on her own. As hard as it all was, I had the sense that she liked calling all the shots and getting in bed at night alone with her crossword puzzle. I gave Nora my schedule—wake, kids, run, write, kids, dinner, Wheel of Fortune, wine, bed—so that I could inhabit her day. And then I sort of set her free in the story to see how she’d react. I was delighted by her resilience and her sense of humor, and in the end, I was proud of how she stepped up in her own life.

Q. Is there any significance to the tea house where Nora writes? Do you have a workspace like that? You’d think that writing a love story about the Sexiest Man Alive would have been just the escape I was looking for during the beginnings of the 2020 quarantine. While this is partly true, at that particular moment, I had all three of my sons and my husband home, and I wasn’t exactly fantasizing about extra male company. What I dreamed of was a little space. In fact, I would have given up a long weekend with Paul Rudd for a place where I could write in peace. As the months went on and I stole moments in quiet corners of my house to be alone with my novel, the tea house became more and more real to me. Nora ended up with the real escapeI was looking for—a one-room structure behind her home, complete with a working fireplace, a writing desk,and a daybed for naps. I think this is what Virginia Woolf wanted for all of us.

Q. Nora and Leo’s love story feels so relatable, transformative, and just a joy to watch unfold.What aspects of their dynamic did you feel were important to highlight? What do you think is special about their relationship? Sigh. In a sense, they are opposites—Leo’s life is fast and glitzy and all about him, while Nora’s life is slow and routined and all about her kids. We often fall in love because we see something that we want in another person, and I think that’s what happenedhere. I think they are both made better by the relationship: Leo is grounded by the simpler pleasures, and Nora comes to see herself as worthy of the limelight. What I think is particularly special is how Nora falls for Leo for who he is, not because of his celebrity, and how Leo falls for Nora in part because of her kids, not in spite of them.

Q. Motherhood plays an important role in Nora’s life. Why did you choose to make Nora a mother? My husband likes to say, “If you’ve got kids, you don’t have anything else.” I think he’s referring to the big dent in the front of the car and the red Gatorade stain on the living-room rug. He makes a good point. I’ve found that being a mother permeates every area of my life—my writing, my marriage, my hopes for the future.In fact, sometimes when I am daydreaming about the future, I notice I am daydreaming about my kids’ futures instead of my own. Nora’s being a mother adds this dimension to the story—it’s one thing to have a thrilling affair; it’s quite another to watch it impact your children. Nora moves through this story bearing the risk of having three hearts break, not just one.

Q. Who was your favorite character to write, and why? It’s probably Leo, because he’s so foreign to me. I’ve never been famous, no one waits on me, and it’s been decades since I could luxuriate in my own schedule. It was fun to get inside his head and be sort of entitled and casual and then lead him down a different path and show him the things that mean a lot to me. I liked taking the Sexiest Man Alive to the Stop n’Save just to see what would happen.

Q. Nora Goes Off Script has such an entertaining take on Hollywood glamour throughout the read. Was there any research you needed to perform when writing scenes centered around the film industry? I grew up in Los Angeles, where the Academy Awards is pretty much the biggest thing that happens all year. My earliest memories are of dressing up and eating fancy food in front of the TV on Oscar night. We critiqued the gowns, the actors’ dexterity for climbing the stage stairs, and the acceptance speeches. My mom would make ballots for each category so that we could vote. And we were all able to vote with confidence because each year we saw nearly every movie that came out. So yes, I did fifty years of research.

Q. Did you always know how the story would end? I always knew whether or not Nora and Leo would end up together. But I didn’t know how or why it would all unfold untilI was pretty deep into the book. I am not the kind of writer who starts with an outline, though I think that sounds like a great idea. I sort of use The Force and feel my way through a book. The ending to this one came to me during a walk in the woods. You wouldn’t believe how many problems I’ve solved by walking in the woods.

Q. What do you want readers to take away from Nora Goes Off Script? The world tells us that after thirty,a woman’s value starts to fade. She’s seen some life, maybe she’s had some kids,and, yikes, men should really turn their eyes to something fresher. To me, that line of thinking is dismissive of both women and men. What if your life experiences made you a stronger partner? What if being a mother increased your capacity to be brave? What if all the things you’ve learned about forgiveness and heart break made you more desirable than a starlet? With my whole heart, I believe this to be true.

Q. What’s next for you? I am working on a novel about a woman named Sam who brings her fiancé to her family beach house to plan their wedding and is surprised to find her high school boyfriend staying next door. There’s a lot of history to wade through before she can move forward. And he has a guitar.

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