By Anna Yesilevskiy
Today we’re pleased to welcome Marisa Kanter to the WNDB blog to discuss As If on Cue, out September 21, 2021.
A pair of fierce foes are forced to work together to save the arts at their school in this swoony YA enemies-to-lovers romance that fans of Jenny Han and Morgan Matson are sure to adore.
Lifelong rivals Natalie and Reid have never been on the same team. So when their school’s art budget faces cutbacks, of course Natalie finds herself up against her nemesis once more. She’s fighting to direct the school’s first ever student-written play, but for her small production to get funding, the school’s award-winning band will have to lose it. Reid’s band. And he’s got no intention of letting the show go on.
But when their rivalry turns into an all-out prank war that goes too far, Natalie and Reid have to face the music, resulting in the worst compromise: writing and directing a musical. Together. At least if they deliver a sold-out show, the school board will reconsider next year’s band and theater budget. Everyone could win.
Except Natalie and Reid.
Because after spending their entire lives in competition, they have absolutely no idea how to be co-anything. And they certainly don’t know how to deal with the feelings that are inexplicably, weirdly, definitely developing between them…
What was the inspiration behind As If on Cue?
My favorite musicals were the soundtrack of my adolescence. As If on Cue is a love letter to theater, inspired by my own love of musical theater and experiences at a high school with a small but mighty theater program. Natalie and Henry co-writing a play to save a dying club? That is based on a true story! Junior year, after a series of circumstances left my school’s drama club without an advisor, my friends and I decided to take matters into our own hands by co-writing and co-directing an original play—a historical satire that we definitely thought was more profound than it was. After our script was approved, we found advisors, cast the show, ran rehearsals, put together a set, thrifted costumes—the entire process was truly student-led. To be clear, all of the events in As If on Cue are fictional. There was no enemies-to-lovers romance happening! But the issue of budget cuts coming for arts programs is a real one, with real impacts on the affected students. I wanted to write about the dedication and tenacity of theater kids in struggling programs, drawing from my brief stint as a playwright/director. It was the first time I collaborated on a creative project and such a unique experience that I always thought would be such a fun premise for a book!
Your debut novel was a friends-to-lovers romance story whereas your sophomore novel is an enemies-to-lovers romance story. Why did you decide to make your sophomore novel an enemies-to-lovers romance story?
It never felt like a decision, to be honest! Enemies-to-lovers is one of my favorite romance tropes, and I knew it was only a matter of time until I wrote one! In my writing process, often the plot/premise dictates the tropes. What I Like About You couldn’t not be friends-to-lovers, because the entire premise is based on the question of what would happen if someone with social anxiety met their internet best friend in person? As If on Cue was unique in the sense that first and foremost, I wanted to write a satisfying enemies-to-lovers arc between two characters with long and complex history. So, the trope came first, then the plot!
Did the shift from a friends-to-lovers romance story to an enemies-to-lovers romance story change the writing process? If it did, how so?
With romance, authors must hit certain beats (the meet-cute, the first kiss, etc.) to fulfill readers’ expectations, so the process didn’t change in that sense. In both books, the romance is slow burn because my favorite scenes are almost always in the lead-up to that first kiss, where the characters are deepening their emotional connection and when readers are (hopefully!) screaming, just kiss already! In friends-to-lovers, I find that the slow burn is what drives the romantic tension, whereas enemies-to-lovers it’s all banter and pranks and showing the small things in between (the chai lattes!) that make it so clear to everyone except the characters that they do not hate each other. I actually found enemies-to-lovers to be easier! Working on a new project now, I’m like, but what is romantic tension if the characters don’t think they hate each other?
What advice do you have for new writers, especially for those who write YA?
Write! Get words on the page! Accept that you will write a bad first draft. Everyone writes a bad first draft! It’s part of the process. Also, immerse yourself in the current landscape of YA. Read recent comp titles. YA is still a relatively new category, one that has evolved so much in the past decade alone. It is important to understand the market. On a craft level, you can learn so much about writing by studying your favorite authors and immersing yourself in a wide spectrum of YA voices.
What was the process of writing As If on Cue like?
From first page to print, As If on Cue’s journey was over three years long! I wrote the earliest draft in 2018, while my debut was on submission! That draft poured out of me in a matter of three months—and it was the best and most fun drafting experience I had to date. I read scripts of plays and re-watched my favorite musicals and wrote the most indulgent first draft. When it was time to pitch the second book in my contract a year later, I already had a manuscript I loved! And fortunately, my editor loved too! So, I avoided second book syndrome in the classic sense. But I spent pretty much the entirety of 2020 in revision passes—and revising a book during the early months of global pandemic was one of the most challenging experiences, creatively speaking. It wasn’t until the second or third pass that I was able to immerse myself in the world of my story and let myself enjoy it, to embrace my characters who are living in an alternate reality with live events and Broadway shows and bat mitzvahs and all the small interactions that we were missing so much. I am proud of this book’s journey and the end result—I hope readers love it as much as I do!
The main characters of your books are Jewish. What YA books with Jewish characters would you recommend?
I love this question! I love how many books come to mind compared to when I started writing my debut! Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon, The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli, and Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler are three Jewish YA romances that made me feel so seen in various ways! I love anything by Laura Silverman and Katherine Locke, as well as the anthology they co-edited, It’s a Whole Spiel. Then there’s Color Me In by Natasha Diaz, Camp by Lev Rosen, Sick Kids in Love by Hannah Moskowitz, and In the Neighborhood of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton. By no means is this an exhaustive list! Also, I am woefully behind on reading but so excited to dive into The Summer of Lost Letters by Hannah Reynolds and The Last Words We Said by Leah Scheier.
The arts are a major theme throughout the novel. What YA books where the arts are a major theme throughout the novel would you recommend?
It has been a great year for theater books! Kate in Waiting by Becky Albertalli and Take Me Home Tonight by Morgan Matson are both recent releases that deliver all the theater feelings. Also, I adore Always Never Yours by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka and Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills.
What advice do you have for kids and teens who are into the arts?
As a teen, I wrote for myself. Because I loved it. Because it was fun. I’m not sure that this is advice, but I do want to say that I hope teen artists who read As If on Cue take away that their art is valid—regardless of how “serious” they are about it! Each person’s relationship to their art is unique and personal to them. Pursuing art is valid. Creating art for the sake of art is valid. There is no singular way to art, but there are so many paths to keep art in your life, should you choose to do so!
What plays do you think readers of As If on Cue would enjoy?
Some of Natalie’s favorite plays (and mine!) include: Macbeth, The Play That Goes Wrong, A Doll’s House, Part 2, Top Girls, and Fleabag.
As If on Cue is a YA novel. What adult books would you recommend for readers who enjoyed As If on Cue and want to read something similar?
Another opening to recommend some of my favorite books! For more enemies-to-lovers excellence, check out The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren, The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa, Well Met by Jen DeLuca, Written In The Stars By Alexandra Bellefleur, and To Love and to Loathe by Martha Waters.
Marisa Kanter is a young adult author, amateur baker, and reality television enthusiast. She is the author of What I Like About You and As If On Cue. Born and raised in the suburbs of Boston, her obsession with books led her to New York City, where she worked in the publishing industry to help books find their perfect readers. She currently lives in Los Angeles, writing love stories by day and searching for the perfect slice of pizza by night. Follow her at MarisaKanter.com.
Anna Yesilevskiy has a graduate certificate from NYU’s summer publishing institute, an M.S.Ed in Education Policy from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and a BA in Psychology with double minors in Creative Writing and Women and Gender Studies and currently works as a K-12 tutor and as a legal writer. Anna is also the host of a YA book club at a Brooklyn Public Library branch and is from Brooklyn, New York. You can find her @annielikestoreadandwatchtv where she talks about books and TV shows.