By Aleah Gornbein
Today we’re pleased to welcome Rachel Lynn Solomon to the WNDB blog to discuss her young adult novel We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This, out June 1, 2021!
A wedding harpist disillusioned with love and a hopeless romantic cater-waiter flirt and fight their way through a summer of weddings in this effervescent romantic comedy from the acclaimed author of Today Tonight Tomorrow.
Quinn Berkowitz and Tarek Mansour’s families have been in business together for years: Quinn’s parents are wedding planners, and Tarek’s own a catering company. At the end of last summer, Quinn confessed her crush on him in the form of a rambling email—and then he left for college without a response.
Quinn has been dreading seeing him again almost as much as she dreads another summer playing the harp for her parents’ weddings. When he shows up at the first wedding of the summer, looking cuter than ever after a year apart, they clash immediately. Tarek’s always loved the grand gestures in weddings—the flashier, the better—while Quinn can’t see them as anything but fake. Even as they can’t seem to have one civil conversation, Quinn’s thrown together with Tarek wedding after wedding, from performing a daring cake rescue to filling in for a missing bridesmaid and groomsman.
Quinn can’t deny her feelings for him are still there, especially after she learns the truth about his silence, opens up about her own fears, and begins learning the art of harp-making from an enigmatic teacher.
Maybe love isn’t the enemy after all—and maybe allowing herself to fall is the most honest thing Quinn’s ever done.
What was your experience like writing We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This? Did you follow that same routine for this book or surprise yourself?
Writing this book was probably the most unusual process I’ve encountered so far. In the middle of drafting, I fractured my elbow, and in the middle of revising, the US went into lockdown. As a result, I had more starts and stops than other books, and I scrapped a lot more than I had in the past. It was a challenge, too, to write a romantic comedy when everything around me (both personally and then globally) was so terrifying and uncertain. Once I found my footing, I was glad to be able to escape into Quinn’s world. Still, it’s not a coincidence that mental health became a somewhat significant part of the book.
The main character, Quinn hates grand romantic gestures, and the love interest, Tarek loves them, which is a source of tension in their relationship. What was it like writing their banter and how do you come up with such swoon-worthy lines? And more generally, what makes the perfect love interest in a romcom?
Thank you! Sometimes it feels like a gamble, dropping two characters into a Word document and hoping they have chemistry, hoping they spark in that way that makes me turn pages as a reader. Banter happens in one of two ways for me: Either something comes to me immediately (usually at an inopportune time, like when I’m walking my dog or about to fall asleep), or it’s something I leave blank until the end of a revision because I can quite figure out the right wording.
I absolutely love a beta male love interest—someone sweet and sensitive and a little awkward. Communication is also hugely important, and I find that it’s something my female protagonists are often struggling with more than their love interests, mainly because I love the process of two people figuring out together how to best communicate with each other.
What prompted you to want to write a book set in the wedding planning business? What kind of research into the wedding and catering industries did you conduct to bring this story to life?
This book was inspired by a couple of things. First, I’d always wanted to write something in the vein of the TV show Party Down, a canceled-too-soon comedy about a group of caterers in LA, with each episode centering on a different event they’re catering. (Highly recommend! It’s hilarious.) Then, while I was doing research for my aspiring romance novelist main character in Today Tonight Tomorrow, I read Nora Roberts’ Bride Quartet series, about four friends who run a wedding planning business. Those two ideas collided and WCKMLT emerged!
My in-person research was cut short because of the pandemic, but I did get the chance to attend a wedding expo in Seattle, which I loved, and only partly because of all the free cake. I talked with a lot of the vendors there, including caterers, and it really helped me visualize aspects of Quinn and Tarek’s family businesses.
Quinn describes her family as “high holiday Jews” and it’s clear that her Jewish identity is important to her and the story. There are references to BBYO, doing a mitzvah, keeping kosher, Jewish guilt, etc. How did you decide how much Jewish tradition and culture to include and what context to give, if any?
While all my protagonists are Jewish, they each have a different relationship with their religion. Some are more observant, some are less, and what I’m always hoping will come across is that every Jewish experience is valid. With each book I write, I find that I’m often giving my characters a different piece of my own relationship with Judaism. It’s something that goes into character development while I’m outlining and also throughout the drafting and revision process as I try to make my characters feel as full and complex as possible.
When I’m writing about Jewish culture or including Hebrew words, as I’ve done in some of my other books, I want it to be clear from context what the characters are talking about without having to pause the narrative to explain it to the reader. If I’ve done my job as the author, that kind of explanation would feel superfluous.
Without giving too much away, what were some of your favorite scenes to write in We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This?
There’s a boat wedding that was a blast to write because we get to see some intense (and intensely romantic) emotions from both Quinn and Tarek, along their first conversation about mental health. I also had a little too much fun with my characters playing a bachelorette party game I called Pin the Sweater on Chris Evans.
The harp is a large part of Quinn’s musical identity (she started playing young and her talent is part of her parents’ business)—how did you choose this instrument for her and why was it important for Quinn to have a mentor relationship with Maxine, a professional harp maker and harpist?
I love this question. Harpist Quinn grew out of a conversation with a friend whose parents are harpists and harp-makers! That friend would sometimes tell people that if they ever wanted to write about a harpist, they could interview her parents. My mom played the harp a bit, and I’ve always been fascinated by the instrument, so eventually, I took her up on the offer! And her parents were AMAZING. I didn’t even write the harp scenes before I went to their workshop because I knew no amount of research would compare to seeing it in real life.
Regarding Maxine, I’ve always been intrigued by mentor relationships with non-parent adults in YA, which are somewhat rare. I wanted to make Maxine this gruff, no-nonsense person who Quinn worries she’s imposing on when she starts helping out at the shop…before ultimately realizing that Maxine is lonely, and they’re both getting something out of Quinn’s visits.
Quinn had to have a hard conversation with her parents about pursuing different educational and professional interests than what they planned for her. Do you have any advice for young people deciding what to do after high school or what to study in college?
It’s impossible to know what might make us happy three, five, ten years from now. I’ll echo what I hope is one of the takeaways from this book: It’s okay not to know. It’s okay not to know after high school and it’s okay not to know in college. It’s also completely okay if it changes!
We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This is as much a story about romance, family, and friendship, as it is about mental health, and you very much normalized therapy and medication. Why did you choose to write about these topics and what did you want to convey by featuring a protagonist with OCD, a love interest with depression, and a friend with anxiety?
I’m so glad to hear that because that’s exactly what I wanted to do—normalize therapy and medication, and also talking about therapy and medication. The OCD, anxiety, and depression in WCKMLT were all drawn from my own experiences. I’ve been in therapy on and off for close to half my life at this point, and I was so ashamed of it as a teen. I couldn’t fathom talking to my friends about it. A lot of the time, I’m writing to undo these harmful mindsets I had as a teen because I know I wasn’t alone in feeling that way.
That said, getting help is much less stigmatized in 2021, and it felt realistic to me that Quinn would talk to her friends about her OCD. It was also important to me that no one’s mental illness becomes a plot point. Characters are in therapy and on meds, and they still struggle sometimes because there’s no magic cure, but they’re in a much better place than they were before. They’re able to thrive. Mental illness is part of who they are, but it’s not all they are.
What’s one question you wish you were asked more often (and the answer)?
What common themes run between your adult and YA novels?
While my adult main characters have more independence than my teen characters, yearning is a big theme in all my books. It’s my favorite emotion to write—whether it’s yearning for another person or a dream job, or just for your family to understand you a bit better. And even though my adult characters technically should have their lives figured out to some degree, they’re still trying to pinpoint where, exactly, they fit in the world. At their very core, who are they, and what do they value, and what does that say about them? In some way or another, I think all my protagonists are trying to puzzle that out.
Which books do you think We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This is in conversation with? And do you have any recommendations for recently published or forthcoming YA books?
A great book to read alongside We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This is Once Upon a Quinceañera by Monica Gomez-Hira, which features over-the-top quinceañera planning and a swoony second-chance romance. And I think Tarek, the love interest in WCKMLT, would have a lot to discuss with Sam, the baker love interest in Elise Bryant’s Happily Ever Afters, which I adored.
I can’t wait for readers to devour As If On Cue by Marisa Kanter, an enemies-to-lovers romantic comedy starring a playwright and clarinetist forced to put on a musical together. Both main characters are Jewish and it’s such a delight—out in September!
Thank you so much for having me!
Rachel Lynn Solomon is the bestselling author of romantic comedies for teens and adults, including The Ex Talk, Today Tonight Tomorrow, and We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This. Born and raised in Seattle, she’s currently navigating expat life in Amsterdam with her husband and tiny dog.
Aleah Gornbein currently works in publicity at Holiday House, the first American publisher founded with the intent of only publishing children’s books. She liked school so much she went back to get a Masters’s in Publishing a year after graduating college. As someone who has yet to read a story with all of her identities represented, her goal is to help put diverse books into the hands of kids. You can find her shouting about books on TikTok and Twitter (@