Annabel Monaghan on Romance, Writing, and Rye

The setting in her latest book, “Summer Romance,” which comes out June 3, is set in the fictional town of Beechwood, a town on the Long Island Sound that bears a strong resemblance to another town on the Long Island Sound — the one where Monaghan has lived for 20 years.

Puppy Love: Monaghan’s new novel includes a “meet cute” at a Dog Park very similar to the one in Rye Town Park. Photo Alison Rodilosso
Published May 23, 2024 1:24 PM
5 min read


Novelist Annabel Monaghan loves living in Rye. But she does not like the dog park.

“It’s very stressful,” said Monaghan. “You have a lot of dogs and they’re all running around off leash, and there’s no fence. It’s surrounded by traffic and it’s totally uncontained so the dogs could just run, like forever! People have weird conversations in the dog park and people are oversharing about things, and well, it’s just not my thing.”

And yet, that very dog park, the one that Monaghan disdains, has become the setting for the “meet cute” in her latest book, “Summer Romance,” which comes out June 3 and is set in the fictional town of Beechwood, a town on the Long Island Sound that bears a strong resemblance to another town on the Long Island Sound — the one where Monaghan has lived for 20 years.

“Summer Romance” is her third adult novel (and has already been named June’s Indie Next Pick by the American Booksellers Association). Her first, “Nora Goes Off Script,” imagined what it would be like for a suburban mom to fall in love with a movie star who was in town to make a film. It became a best seller for her publisher, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, which invited her to write another, “SameTimeNextSummer.”

Also a romance, that story took place on Long Island. Monaghan, who admits that she’s a sucker for a good love story, set “Summer Romance” closer to home.

“It’s so beautiful here,” she said. “I just liked the setting for this story.” And once she had the setting, she had to figure out where Ali, her heroine — an about-to-be- divorced mom of three — would meet her new love interest.

“I just kind of imagined her going to the dog park because she has this dog,” Monaghan said. “They meet when her dog goes over and pees on him. And that happened to me the first and only time that I went to the dog park; my dog enthusiastically ran over to this lady in flip flops and peed on her feet.”

The victim of Monaghan’s pup was not nearly as charming as Ethan, the heartthrob of “Summer Romance.” But imagining “what ifs” is what keeps Monaghan writing. She grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from Duke University, then earned an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania (where she met her husband Tom). She worked on Wall Street, then had her kids (Dain, 25; Tommy, 23; and Quinn, 18). She always dreamed of telling stories, she said, but thought that she’d make more money in finance. So, she put her dream aside.

But life in Rye intervened. Monaghan began writing a column for The Rye Record in 2012, which ran for 10 years. That experience, she said, changed her view of her own writing.

“I would easily credit our town for any success I’ve had just in terms of building me up,” Monaghan said. “My first article was about sending my kid to get a haircut by himself, and I literally went to Midland School pick up, and was terrified to get out of the car because I just didn’t know how anybody was going to respond. But everybody just came up to me and said, ‘Hey, I liked your article.’ I can’t even tell you the difference that made. Just the encouragement. It was like a decade of people coming up to me and saying, ‘Hey, I liked your article.’ And every week, I’d think, ‘Maybe I could do this.’”

The community’s support has shocked her. “I say, ‘I’m going to do this thing at the library.’ And then I think, ‘Will anybody come?’ And then everyone comes. It’s like a miracle. It’s made all the difference for me.”

Monaghan is so well-known around town that people often refer to her only by her first name. Is she OK with being the Beyonce of Rye? “Oh, I really wanted to be Cher,” Monaghan joked. That humor characterizes all of Monaghan’s writing. Before “Nora Goes Off Script,” she published a collection of her essays and wrote two Young Adult novels: “A Girl Named Digit” and its sequel, “Double Digit.” But in romance books, Monaghan found her voice, and a publishing niche. Her next book, due out in 2025, is just about finished, and she has a deal for 2026 and 2027 releases.

“I’ve always loved a love story,” Monaghan said. “I really do. And not just for its own sake. Beyond the, oh, I hope they end up together, I always love to see the way people change as a result of each other and the growth that happens when they fall in love.”

Although Monaghan herself is happily married, her characters are often women who’ve been wronged in love. To create them, she said, she calls on her memories as the daughter of a divorced mother and her having “just been paying attention for 54 years.”

“Marriage is really complicated, and I am always interested in the subtle ways that people speak to each other, and the ways that people can put each other down,” she said.

When she’s writing, Monaghan rises at 5 a.m. to sit in her mother’s armchair in the front room of her house. Wearing her pajamas, she sits at her computer with a cup of coffee and a glass of water by her side.

“Early in the morning is better for writing because the logical side of my brain hasn’t quite kicked in and I feel more creative,” she said. Her “logical” brain, she added, tells her things like, “You probably can’t do this,” and “You haven’t done laundry in two weeks; you should probably stop writing and do the laundry.”

But she pushes on, creating a story that “has no particular arc but which usually has an ending where everything’s probably going to work out.” Then, she said, “I make a mess — I just write a really messy thing, and then I spend the rest of the time cleaning up the mess. By the time I get to the end, I think, ‘Well that’s interesting because the way this ended up has noth- ing to do with the way the story started.’”

Along the way, Monaghan also researches things like skateboarding, a hobby that features prominently (and becomes a theme) in “Summer Romance,” or home organizing, which she said she learned about when she hired a local woman to help her organize her own home. Writing, she said, is a little like home organizing. “I think that writing is certainly a form of sorting. Sometimes I have just a jumble of thoughts in my head and it’s interesting to untangle them.”

Monaghan hopes to just keep untangling in the years ahead. She’s not aiming to win literary awards or become a household name. “I just really want to keep enjoying what I’m doing and writing books that, you know, people say make them feel good. I mean, to me, that’s plenty.”

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