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  • Writer's pictureElnora Gunter

Era of Love: Ana Holguin

"I just didn't love this enough."

"You need someone enthusiastic and in love."

"My like never turned into a passionate love."

"I didn't love this character, plot, (insert whatever literary element)."

"Unfortunately, you didn't make me piss myself and run laps around the parking lot. Sorry just didn't love it."

Love, love, love, love gaw-diddly-damn, when did the pursuit of publishing turn into speed dating (or wham bam damn that was good cum again thank ya, ma'am, if ya nasty?)

Reading is a subjective experience. Scroll through Goodreads or Amazon and you'll see what one reader loves and another doesn't and vice versa. It's abstract and more of a feeling. And that in itself can drive you mad. Like really mad. Slowly but surely developing a seething resentment that you can never write your way into a gatekeeper's love.

But what if their love isn't what you need? What if their love is really irrelevant in the grand scheme of things?

What? Huh? Explain, please.

YOUR love is what you need. Love for your words, your stories, your characters, and whatever else you craft. Because all good stories start YOU and when you dig into that...the rest will shine through.

Keep on reading for author Ana Holguin's Era of Love!

1. Welp, the first question is the one all in the writing community love to know! What’s the story of your writing journey?

If I’m really going to be honest here, my first real creative writing efforts started on the fanfiction forums in middle school. I was an isolated kid on a horse ranch who grew up in the era of the Twilight books and the original YA fantasy boom in which all the book covers featured girls in dramatic dresses. It was a joyous outlet when the internet was still a lawless, wild place. I loved it, but eventually it fell by the wayside as I got older and entered high school. Writing was always my strong suit in school, so I was able to flex those muscles through papers and various creative writing projects (but please do not ask me to do math). I even worked as a ghostwriter while in college, but all of that creative energy came to an abrupt halt when I graduated and got slapped in the face by the grind of a full-time job.

In many ways, my writing journey is closely entwined with my reading journey. I read a ton growing up and in all stages of school–thus the fanfic efforts and various collegiate projects–but there’s nothing like a full-time job and bills to break that spirit. For a long time after graduating, I read 3-4 books per year, usually the buzzy ones, the kind that hit lists and got film adaptations. But then Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn came out, and suddenly I remembered how much I loved genre fiction. I read all of her books, then barreled through every thriller I could find, and eventually I started dabbling in my own creative projects. It was whatever I felt like doing at the time–things like an obituary for a beloved dive bar that was closing, short stories, a truly terrible half-finished novel about nothing, etc. It was fun and fulfilling, but there was still something missing for me.

Romance was my missing piece. My first ever romance novel was The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary and I never looked back. At the time, I was commuting two hours to/from work every day, so I was able to blow through books on the train. All subgenres of romance, all heat levels, trad pub, indie pub, self-pub–I read all of it, and it was like a whole new world unlocked for me. I started to get that itch to create again, to write the kind of stories that I loved so much, and then March 2020 hit. Abruptly I became a WFH employee with 2+ extra hours in each day now that I wasn’t commuting, and nowhere to go during lockdown. I had some ideas for stories, so I chased them. I devoured craft books (On Writing by Stephen King, Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, among others) and listened to book podcasts (Fated Mates is top-tier romance learning material).

My contemporary romance idea would go on to become the manuscript I queried and eventually sold to a Big 5 publisher with the help of my agent. As for that specific journey, it’s pretty standard–I was a query slush pile success story, and I went on sub like everyone else. What made my situation unique is that I was on sub with two books in similar genres for a while. Fortunately my publisher ended up wanting both. :)

2. Seeing double! You’ve got a two-book deal and will be gracing audiences with a double duo of rom-coms: The Upside to Being Wrong (2025) and Music People (2026) Can you tell us a little about each? Are they more rom or more com? Or would you say an even mixture of both?

The Upside to Being Wrong is a dual POV rom-com about a famous fitness professional (think Peloton or SoulCycle instructor) and a skeptical journalist hoping to dig up dirt on her rise to fame. To no one’s surprise, this is my pandemic idea–I spent a lot of time thinking about parasocial relationships when I was stuck inside, and what we think we know about the people we interact with online in our daily lives. I think this book leans more into the “com” in romcom, which leads me to my second book!

Music People is a single POV romance/women’s fic blend about a struggling music composer who gets the chance to break into the film industry by scoring an upcoming TV show, but she has to work with her old music school rival. On a personal level, I love film scores so much, so I started to wonder how I could write a romance in that space. This idea came from a real issue in the entertainment industry; the vast majority of working film or TV composers are men. Despite the setting, the heart of this story is going after your dreams–which is something many people can relate to. :)

With both books, you’ll get a Latinx female lead (of different cultural backgrounds), and my wry, goofy, authorial voice.

3. Sometimes there are heated discussions in romancelandia that some books marketed as rom-coms are not necessarily such and would perhaps be better sold to a reader as romance or regular fiction. Do you think there’s a certain “duty to the reader” when writing a rom com?

What an excellent question! To me, the tricky part about defining a “romcom” is that humor is subjective. What I find funny, others may not, and so when I write something that I intend to be funny, I’m really just hoping it’ll land with readers. The reality is that it will not work for everyone, and that’s okay!

I would argue that in this specific subgenre of romance, the most important “duty to reader” is still the foundation of romance as a whole: the book must end in an HEA, or at least a Happy For Now. If it doesn’t, it isn’t a romcom or a romance. I’ve read a number of books that were marketed as romcoms and had B plots or story beats that tackled serious subject matters, but the stories still had their funny bright spots. Personally, I think you can classify these types of books as romcoms. They made me laugh, some made me cry, and they delivered on the promise of the premise with an HEA/HFN.

4. How would you say writing under contract differs from writing when hoping to query or go on submission with a novel? Does anyone feel more free? What about more hopeful or stable? Or do fears and anxiety await you at all stages?

Working on revisions under contract feels different than the initial drafting stage because it’s now a collaborative process. It’s no longer just me and my ideas free-wheeling it; there’s now editorial guidance and suggestions and questions that make me think a little deeper about what I’m trying to accomplish with the story. So far, it feels great–I like to be pushed and challenged.

Since I’m still in the early stages of revisions for my first book, I’m feeling generally optimistic about the process. If you ask me this question again in copy edits when I question everything I thought I knew about the English language, my answer may change. There’s a part of me that misses the freedom of the first draft; I’m a chaotic discovery writer who does not plot or outline, and I love learning about the characters as they appear on page. But the stability of being under contract for two novels has helped me find more confidence in my writing in general. I’m writing another, totally unrelated manuscript since signing my two-book deal, and I find I’m braver with this one. I’m willing to take more risks now.

All that being said, I’m still anxious about all of it. Nerves and fear and worry await me in every step of this process, from wondering if my editor will like the changes I make, to if the book will flop when it’s released, to if readers will like my stories. Catastrophizing is a part-time job for me. Balancing the joy of creating with the related fears is constant work, but it’s worth it. :)

5. What are your tips for creating character chemistry? What about the steamy bits?

My favorite part of writing romance is what I call the “butterfly stage” of a relationship. This is usually at the beginning to middle of the relationship, when I’m really starting to layer in the chemistry between the love interests, and it’s all those little moments that give you the butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling. It’s the eye contact from across the room followed by a little zing in your heart rate, it’s the nervous touches and shy smiles and all the interiority around all those sensations. As a writer, I really try to dial in there. As a reader, in these parts I’m usually thinking oh my god are the characters going to kiss oh my god. These moments, coupled with dialogue and characters unveiling bits of themselves through their arc, are what make up that cocktail of chemistry for me. I love when books really let these moments simmer, and I try to do the same with my own!

Steamy bits, on the other hand, require a lot of practicality on my end. I have to do a “limb check” every few lines. Where are the characters’ hands? Whose lips are where? Who is facing which way? Can a person realistically have their head bent this way and their hands somewhere else? What are the reasonable limits of the human body in this situation? It took me a long time to realize that the steamy scenes came alive a lot more when I did a second (or third, or fourth) pass with them. That’s when I’m able to hone in on the emotional and sensory aspects of it because I’ve thoroughly thought through the literal parts in the first draft.

6. The best books you’ve read so far in 2023?

I have had such a great reading year! In no particular order, my favorites are: A Caribbean Heiress in Paris and An Island Princess Starts a Scandal by Adrianna Herrera, Ana María and the Fox by Liana de la Rosa, Just As You Are by Camille Kellogg, All the Right Notes by Dominic Lin, The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon, This Is Why They Hate Us by Aaron Aceves, Sinner’s Isle by Angela Montoya, You, With a View by Jessica Joyce, Forever Your Rogue by Erin Langston, The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas, Babel and Yellowface by RF Kuang, Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin.

I’m currently reading Pride and Protest by Nikki Payne and an ARC of Marry Me By Midnight by Felicia Grossman and both are excellent! As you can see, 90% of what I read is romance, though I occasionally deviate into a different category or genre.

7. Do you know when you’re at risk of burnout? What’s your form of self-care?

The honest answer to this question is that I have to go outside and touch grass (literally). When I’m overwhelmed by my various forms of work, I force myself to walk away from the screens and go outside for a while. Sometimes this is for twenty minutes, sometimes it’s for a few hours.

Aside from fresh air, I believe in the power of a scalding hot Everything Shower. This is the equivalent of a hard reset for my brain. If I feel myself edging that unique burnout despair, I can usually resolve it with some kind of movement, an Everything Shower, and a good night of sleep on clean sheets. Sleep hygiene is the ultimate form of self-care for me.

Ok, now it’s time for the ‘fun’ questions!

8. Who would you rather adapt your novel: Reese Weatherspoon, J. Lo, or Greta Gerwig

I’m going to cheat a little and say the dream is to be a Reese Witherspoon book club pick, which turns into a film option with her production company, which is then adapted and directed by Greta Gerwig, starring J. Lo. :)

9. Unpopular book or writing opinion?

Whew. I have a few, but I do love the look of a well-loved book. Break those spines, fold those pages, annotate and sticky tab your favorite bits all you want!

10. The cocktail that best describes your author brand is…

A paloma! Specifically made with Jarritos grapefruit soda. Refreshing, sweet, and tangy, but with a little bit of a bite from the tequila.

Bio: Ana Holguin is the author of the forthcoming THE UPSIDE TO BEING WRONG (2025, Forever) and MUSIC PEOPLE (2026, Forever). She grew up in the American Southwest and followed love to the other side of the Mississippi, where she landed in Chicago. She lives and writes in the City of Broad Shoulders.

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