Sally Thorne's Latest Rom-Com Leaves a Lasting Impression

Posted by Sharon on April 1, 2021
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Sally Thorne, author of The Hating Game and 99 Percent Mine, explores what it means to take risks for love, and for yourself, in her newest romance novel, Second First Impressions.
Twenty-five-year-old Ruthie Midona has worked at—and lived in—the Providence Retirement Villa as an office assistant for years. She’s dedicated her life to caring for the residents and tortoises around the Villa, forgetting about her own dating life. Until she meets the tattooed, long-haired, couch-surfing son of the new property developer, Teddy.
After he mistakes her for a little old lady, she’s determined to get back at him and offers him up for an assistant position with the Parlonis—90-year-old women at the villa whose assistants never last more than a week. But Teddy excels, much to Ruthie and his father’s surprise. But when his father makes it clear that he wants to fix up the retirement home and sell it, Ruthie wonders what will become of her life, and what will become of her and Teddy’s budding relationship.
Second First Impressions is a novel of overcoming fears and breaking out of shells. Thorne talked to Goodreads contributor Arriel Vinson about prioritizing love over jobs, being 25, and how our parents shape us. This conversation has been edited.
Goodreads: It was so interesting that Ruthie worked and lived in a retirement home. Where did you get the inspiration for this novel?

Sally Thorne: Well, my first book, The Hating Game, was written as a gift for a friend, and I've realized now that Second First Impressions is also a gift for another friend. So, two out of my three books are gifts. This book was inspired by a terrible office job that I had, the same one that I was working when I wrote The Hating Game and I had a best work friend. Have you ever had a best work friend and it's like, you would die for that person? And if they're not in the office, you cannot carry on?

We used to tell each other by email, because we always looked like we were working, but we were silently emailing, that when we were very, very old and when our husbands had died, we were going to be very rich, and we were going to be roommates in a retirement villa, and hire gorgeous young men who would be our personal assistants and do whatever we wanted them to. If I drop my Chanel key purse on the ground and it gets a scuff on it, I'm sending him out to get me a new one.

So we used to just email backwards and forwards, just these little snippets of daydreams and things we would get these boys to do for us. He would cut our Big Macs up for us and plate them up like a Michelin chef's, and we would live our lives. We would eat pizza for every meal, and we'd do everything that we wanted to do whenever we wanted to do it. So that’s what Second First Impressions is. It was always just a daydream, and I've been thinking about it for ten years now, and I feel really lucky that I got to write out my workplace daydream.

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GR: I loved reading about all of the different characters. We have the temp, Melanie, and her Sasaki method, the Parlonis, and, of course, the love interest Teddy. What was it like writing so many different characters?

ST: It was difficult for me. If you've read either of my first two books, you'll realize that this third one's got a few more characters. I'm a learner writer, really, and writing a lot of people on one page is hard to balance and keep on track while also keeping the focus on what the reader is most interested in: the romance. You really have to make sure you keep that strong romance throughline.

When it came to writing the summary for this book, I found it challenging because it's got a few different components. The back of the book doesn't even really mention Melanie's Sasaki method, but that was the framework that I used to move the story along. And we also have Teddy working for the old ladies, and then Ruthie's personal journey. I tried my best to create a little family, a little world. All of my books are like little worlds.

GR: You mentioned the romance, of course, between Ruthie and Teddy and it was so tender. They saw things in each other that others didn't see in them. What was it like writing that romance and bringing those two characters together?

ST: I'm known best for my hate-to-love books, of course. I kind of picked out a trope when I started to write. I didn't have an outline, but I knew my trope and thought, "This is the time to write a friends-to-lovers."

I'm a pretty slow writer, but as I got further and further into it and COVID started, I felt like I wanted to write something comforting for people. That's my ultimate goal for this book. I want this book to be like a warm blanket fresh out of the dryer that you can just enfold yourself in. It's very cottagecore—I recently learned that [term]. It's very Taylor Swift, small cottage up in a wooded hillside–type feel.

I loved writing a friends-to-lovers, but it was incredibly challenging. It's probably harder to write than hate-to-love, especially with a character like Teddy. Teddy is a friendly golden retriever of a human being, and it's really hard for someone like Ruthie to understand, "Is this guy for real? Is he just like this with everyone?" So that's incredibly hard to write—a guy who is this friendly and flirty and lovely to everyone.

One of her main fears is that he does this to anyone who has a cozy couch and then he's going to leave because it's what he's always done, and she's going to be left behind picking up the pieces. But I think it's fairly clear in the book that he just adores her, and she has to begin to adore herself and trust that, yeah, why not? Why shouldn't this be real?

GR: Fear is one of the main themes of Second First Impressions. Ruthie fears leaving Providence, and Teddy is afraid of his own goals. Why did you choose fear as a way to move through this novel?

ST: Well, I guess the theme of the book is someone who’s trying to break out of this shell. And I did that really subtly by putting tortoises, literally, all over the entire property. It was a light hand that I used. [Laughs.]

It's helpful to start characters off in a place where they're not secure and they're unhappy and they're stressed, so that you can bring them towards their happily ever after. It's a book for anyone who’s ever felt like they were falling behind in some way. Maybe they're a bit further back in their career or in their personal life than they thought they would be, compared to other people. And that's OK. I can imagine that a lot of people do feel a lot of fear when they compare themselves to other people and where they should be. That's what I wanted to do with Ruthie.

GR: Ruthie and Teddy's parents doubt them. Ruthie, because of her previous relationship. And Teddy, because of his patterns and habits. What made you explore mistrust in Second First Impressions as well?

ST: They have to have a reason for why they are the way they are, and for a lot of young people, it's connected to family. They haven't been out in the world long enough for life to completely scar them. They're both just people who are trying to find out what they want to do with their lives. And they're just trying to overcome the baggage and the beliefs that they carry around of themselves. It's interesting to start to challenge some of the beliefs you have about yourself and those patterns of self-talk that you have and realize you can be whoever you want to be if you believe in yourself.

GR: I am also 25, like Ruthie, so it was interesting to see their journeys. And I was like, "Wow, are we really a mess like this?"

ST: It just adds to the hurt and the humiliation and the comedy. When she first steps out at the beginning, she thinks, "You know what? I might give this dating thing a try" and she's wearing her cool cardigan, the first thing that happens to her is she's mistaken for a little old lady. It's such a setback for her confidence, but she just really wants to stick the knife into him and make him feel as humiliated as she felt. Of course, she has the perfect role for him at the retirement village and can get a little bit of payback and watch him squirm. So, that was fun.

GR: Poor Teddy, I didn't think he was going to make it, but of course he did.

ST: If you have no shame or pride, then you're unfireable and will never quit because nothing is going to bother you. He's like, "Sure. Whatever. What else?”

GR: There’s a ticking clock in the novel. Ruthie keeps asking herself if she'll be at Providence forever, and Teddy just wants to open a tattoo shop. Can you tell me more about how work interferes with dating in this world or even makes dating easier in some ways in this world?

ST: The two goals the characters have for themselves are a source of conflict. She knows—and he's very upfront with the fact—that he's only here for a short time, to save up enough money to open up his own tattoo store location far enough away. She knows what they're building will not survive a long-distance relationship, and she has basically committed herself completely and wholeheartedly to her work as one of the office assistants at Providence.

The way that I have placed them in their careers causes doubt for Ruthie that this could ever be anything, because why would someone like him want to live in a retirement village? She's really stuck and trapped. I've been in jobs like that myself—that office job I was telling you about—I didn't think I would ever get out of that. You become so numb and comfortable, and it's like you're a lobster in a saucepan and someone is slowly turning the temperature up, but you just can't get out. I've done that job.

When she was younger, she always imagined she'd be a vet and she lives out that daydream in the best way she can, by looking after all of the tortoises in her retirement villa. So she's kept the dream alive but didn't realize that she had. In terms of whether their jobs impact their ability to interact with each other in the book, I wouldn't say so. I'd say, in fact, it throws them together even more.

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GR: What romances are you reading now or which ones have you read recently that you'd recommend?

ST: The last book that I finished was Alisha Rai’s First Comes Like. That was great, and that’s the third book in her Modern Love series. I always read Christina Lauren, whenever they're released. I usually get an advanced copy because we're at the same agency. So In a Holidaze, I read before Christmas time and I loved that one. And I'm just about to start Emily Henry's new one, People We Meet on Vacation.

Who else do I love? I love Tessa Bailey. I will read anything by Tessa Bailey. I would recommend Fix Her Up. She's got a series, the Beach Kingdom, which was really great as well. I think that she's one of the best in the game of writing really sexy, intense moments with really great dialogue. She's known as the queen of dirty talk!

GR: Who are your romance influences? Maybe the writers you read before you started writing or maybe they're not even romance authors at all.

ST: I was around in the first rom-com wave, so I read Marian Keyes and Helen Fielding, who wrote Bridget Jones's Diary. A lot of that older rom-com stuff, I really ate up. I'm also influenced by fan fiction and started writing fan fiction in the Twilight fan universe around 2008, 2009. I forgot about writing and reading for many years, and Twilight got me back into reading. I met heaps of really good friends through fan fiction, and a lot of them are well-known published authors today. That's how I met Christina Lauren. E.L. James was writing fan fiction at that time, too.

My writing style is heavily influenced by fan fiction, in terms of the way that fan fiction always lets you sit a bit longer in a moment and keeps that romantic bait going just one step further, trying to milk and juice all of the feeling out of a moment. I learned quickly when I wrote fan fiction that people like it when the two characters are on the same page at the same time. That's all they want. That's all I want, and that's what I think people are sometimes describing as an aspect of my writing that they like. A lot of the time, it's that fan-fictiony, shameless, no-one's-watching type feel. Sometimes I think my editor is reading page after page of eye contact and staring and feelings and hot flutterings, and she's like, "I think we can condense this down a little bit." That’s probably a good call.

Because when you write fan fiction, you don't have a word limit. You can write as long as you want. That's a challenge I have. I like to write really long books, but they can't always stay long.

GR: What are you working on now?

ST: I've got one more book under this contract, and I'm writing something the publisher hasn't read yet. It’s something a bit different, but I didn't really want to give any specifics. I'm just trying to outsmart myself because I'll give my editor a half-finished document and she'll be like, "Great. Oh, I love this. It started so well. I'll take the other half, please." And then I'll get writer's block instantly. As soon as I feel like someone's waiting and has an expectation, I just can't finish it.

This time around, I'm trying to write it like a present. That's my mindset. I have to write books like a gift. And it's a risk, but it will be me. I can only write what I write. So wish me luck.
Sally Thorne's Second First Impressions will be available in the U.S. on April 13. Don't forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf. Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews and get more great book recommendations.

Comments Showing 1-15 of 15 (15 new)

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message 1: by Nyah ☾ (new)

Nyah ☾ Im just so excited for this one!!

message 2: by Kehinde (new)

Kehinde Olawuyi Loved her previous books. I know I’ll love this one as well.

message 3: by Lara (new)

Lara wonderful interview!

message 4: by Jem (new)

Jem This book sounds like my life right now! Really looking forward to it

message 5: by Cal (new)

Cal (Cal's Reading Corner) Sally's influences are Bridget Jones' Diary AND Twilight????? I KNEW I could trust her taste!!! XD

It makes so much sense-- those are my faves too! <3

message 6: by Sky&#x1f352; (new)

Sky&#x1f352; Go Sally Go!!

message 7: by Cara (new)

Cara Jovanovich Loved reading this interview! I can't wait to get the book. I absolutely LOVED "The Hating Game" and I am thrilled it is being made into a movie!!

message 8: by Sharon (new)

Sharon Prima I am a huge FAN of "The Hating Game" and now I can't wait for this new book. Love the way you write, it's a page-turner for me. Looking forward to your new book Sally. Lots of Love.

message 9: by Cathy (new)

Cathy I'm anxiously awaiting. It's almost the 13th!
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne is my all time favorite and 99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne was another favorite.
I've read a lot of Tessa Bailey books, she's a great writer.
Keep on writing!

message 10: by TMR (new)

TMR So excited for it.

message 11: by Terri (new)

Terri I loved "The Hating Game" so much I read it twice, back to back. Literally, I got to the last page and read it all over again. I still snicker over that great line, "He drifted toward me like a vampire." I can't wait to read this new book!

message 12: by Liz (new)

Liz Literally screamed when I realized after reading (and loving!!) The Hating Game that I had followed and was a devoted fan of Sally from the Twific days. Wonderful writer and so deserving of success in her original fiction writing.❤️❤️❤️ Looking forward to reading Second First Impressions!

message 13: by Lauren (new)

Lauren I can't wait to get my hands on this! And bless her, from one fan fiction writer to another, be as shameless as you want Sally!! I will eat it up!!!

message 14: by Gen (new)

Gen Let’s read this as soon as I can!

message 15: by Aimee (new)

Aimee I can relate to so much of this - the trapped in a saucepan as a lobster feeling has been my life for awhile. Being brought back into reading as well as the moment something was assigned as reading or whenever someone has expectations about something - that squirmy feeling like a worm on a hook…and that’s when you get blocked creatively. And obviously I don’t do word limits either. Lol!

Also, I love that you’re living your dream…that’s amazingly awesome and I wish you the ultimate in success. You’ve earned it and impressed me for sure. I just got this latest book and once I finish my Tessa Bailey book, I can’t wait to read about Teddy and Ruthie. It will be a nice change to have a H who is akin to a golden retriever. Lord save me from all the plethora of alphaholes in this genre. Excellent interview!

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