In the Event of Love + The Charm Offensive + Never Been Kissed = Romantic Comedies Inspired by the Silver Screen
by Courtney Kae
Hi, All! It’s Courtney Kae (she/they)! I’m so happy to chat with a couple of my favorite authors and wonderful friends Alison Cochrun (she/her) and Timothy Janovsky (he/him) about their amazing books THE CHARM OFFENSIVE and NEVER BEEN KISSED! Something that stood out to me about our debut novels is that each one was inspired by a desire to see LGBTQIA+ representation in our favorite shows and films. Both of their books played like movies in my mind, and I’m so excited to go behind the scenes with them!
Courtney: Hi, Alison and Tim! Both of you have created such cinematic, immersive reads, and I’m so happy to explore the inspiration behind them! ITEOL was born out of my desire to see more queer representation in cozy, joyful holiday stories, like the Hallmark and Lifetime movies that brought me comfort. Were there specific shows or films that inspired TCO and NBK?
Alison: With The Charm Offensive, it has a pretty direct inspiration. I based on the fictional show Ever After on the Bachelor franchise, and even though I was inspired by other reality dating shows as well, most of the references and nods are to The Bachelor and its myriad spin-off shows.
Timothy: Wren sees the world through his favorite movies and learns over the course of Never Been Kissed that because these movies all centered on straight-presenting couples, he doesn’t exactly know what his own love story is “supposed to” look like. I borrowed my favorite tropes from films like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and You’ve Got Mail (among others), dropped them into a blender, and out came Never Been Kissed.
Courtney: While conceptualizing and drafting ITEOL, I binged Hallmark and Lifetime movies to absorb the structure, looked up tree farms, and learned about species of pine trees specific to California mountain ranges. What kind of research went into creating TCO and NBK, respectively?
Alison: Unfortunately, I did not need to binge The Bachelor because I was already intimately familiar with the show. I have a long-standing, complex love-hate relationship with reality dating shows, so I didn’t do much initial research; in many ways, TCO is just a practical use for my compendium of Bachelor knowledge. But once I started the revising process, I did more deep dives into interviews, podcasts, and other accounts from contestants who’d been on the show. I also have a friend who worked as a production assistant who helped me flesh out some of the details.
Timothy: Never Been Kissed takes place mostly at the fictional drive-in movie theater, Wiley’s Drive-In. I spent a significant amount of time visiting different drive-ins in eastern Pennsylvania, taking notes on their layouts and absorbing the vibes. Not only did I get to see some incredible movies (can you believe I’d never seen A League of their Own?!), but I also got to glimpse into concession stands, projection booths, and got to see first-hand how important these community spaces are to the people who congregate there.
Courtney: One of my favorite things to interject into ITEOL was the holiday tropes! Snowball fights, the “slip and be caught in flannel-clad arms”, endless warm drinks and baked confections, small town stands against big corporation, found family, reconciliation with loved ones, etc. What were some of your favorite tropes that you were able to translate from the screen to your stories?
Alison: When I wrote the first draft of The Charm Offensive, I wasn’t really thinking about romance tropes, but I clearly internalized them from my extensive romance reading, because after the fact, I realized the book is full of classic tropes: workplace romance, friends-to-lovers, only one bed, forced proximity, forbidden love. I was far more intentional with how I incorporated the tropes of a reality dating show, because those were the tropes I wanted to subvert.
Timothy: Some of my favorite on-screen tropes I got to put into Never Been Kissed were: second-chance romance (Wren and Derick had a high-school history), small town charm (Willow Valley, Pennsylvania), and found family (Wren’s drive-in crew). It also has a small town stands against big corporation element just like ITEOL!
Courtney: In recreating a type of movie-watching experience in book form, I tried to implement certain craft tools to give the reader that experience like keeping Morgan’s voice punchy, feeding descriptions in concise yet specific ways, and tying in backstory as memories were triggered in-the-moment. Were there specific tools you used to make your books so vividly cinematic?
Alison: Honestly, not really! Making the book feel cinematic wasn’t a goal I had going into the project. If my book feels cinematic, I think that largely comes from the conceit of the book itself: it’s about a television show, and the story is literally being produced and filmed. Of course, it’s also very over-the-top and dramatic, and ends with a huge grand gesture, but otherwise, it’s like you said in the beginning. My main goal was to create space for queerness in reality dating shows, where it often doesn’t exist.
Timothy: I used the craft book Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need in my first revision of Never Been Kissed to distill my favorite scenes into a classic screenplay structure. I liked the duality of Wren wishing his life were like a rom-com movie and not knowing he is literally existing inside one. This allowed me to break the book into a three-act structure, build up my mentor character (the curmudgeonly, retired film-director, Alice Kelly), and keep the momentum going toward Wren’s dreamed-about perfect kiss-before-the-credits with Derick. I also focused on short scenes, witty banter a la Nora Ephron, and social-media posts as interstitial chapters to make the book feel more visual.
Courtney: I am so thrilled that you both have your sophomore novels releasing this year and will be joining me to make the holidays holiGAY! Can you tell us more about your upcoming holiday romcoms and where we can pre-order them?
Alison: My second book is a sapphic Christmas romcom called Kiss Her Once for Me, and you can preorder it absolutely anywhere, but if you want a signed copy, you can get it from my local independent bookstore, Vintage Books, in Vancouver, Washington. I like to describe Kiss Her Once for Me as Sandra Bullock’s While You Were Sleeping meets Sandra Bullock’s The Proposal. It’s a twist on a fake-dating trope, in which a desperate woman agrees to fake an engagement, only to end up falling in love with her fake-fiance’s sister when she goes to his family’s cabin for Christmas.
Timothy: You’re a Mean One, Matthew Prince is a forced-proximity, enemies-to-lovers holiday rom-com. It tells the story of Matthew Prince, the rich, spoiled son of an American power-couple, who gets sent to stay with his grandparents for the holidays after a near PR disaster. There, he meets an attractive local college student, Hector Martinez, who’s fallen under financial hardship. They are sharing a room for the time being (can you say: only-one-bunk-bed?!) and planning a charity gala together. What could go wrong? *winkie face emoji* Think Schitt’s Creek meets Home for the Holidays with a dash of spice and mental health rep for good measure. Visit timothyjanovsky.com/youre-a-mean-one-matthew-prince for pre-order links. Bonus points if you order from my favorite local indie, Let’s Play Books!
Courtney: Thank you for celebrating this Pride month with us by chatting about queer stories! Before we go, I’d love to hear what Pride means to you and what advice you would give to queer writers in the trenches?
Alison: In the broadest sense, I guess Pride is a celebration of queer joy, and that’s what I love most about both your book and Tim’s. They’re about queer people finding happiness and love. In a more personal sense, as someone who came out later in life, Pride is about feeling comfortable in living as my most authentic self. As for advice to queer writers in the trenches, just know that someone out there needs your story more than you even know, and whatever hardship you face in your publishing journey, it will be worth it when your book gets into the hands of the right person. So keep telling your story. Keep using your voice.
Timothy: To me, Pride means letting your unique light shine through every day. It means living authentically and loving as openly as you desire. For queer writers in the trenches: Write from the heart. The rest will follow.
Thank you, Tim and Alison, and thank you so much to you all for joining us!
Alison Cochrun is a high school English teacher living outside Portland, Oregon. When she’s not reading and writing queer love stories, you can find her torturing teenagers with Shakespeare, crafting perfect travel itineraries, hate-watching reality dating shows, and searching for the best happy hour nachos. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @alisoncochrun.
Timothy Janovsky is a queer, multidisciplinary storyteller from New Jersey. He holds a Bachelor’s degree from Muhlenberg College and a self-appointed certificate in rom-com studies (accreditation pending). When he’s not daydreaming about young Hugh Grant, he’s telling jokes, playing characters, and writing books. Never Been Kissed is his first novel.
Courtney Kae writes the sweet and steamy happily ever afters that give her bi little heart great joy. She lives in Southern California with her husband, child, and growing hoard of plants. Some of her favorite things include: movie nights, mountain air, and pretending she doesn’t have a coffee “problem”. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @court_kae and online at www.courtneykaebooks.com. In the Event of Love is her first novel.
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