20 Questions With Nina LaCour (3/21/22)

Today we have the absolute pleasure of chatting with author Nina LaCour as she answers 20 questions about herself and her stunning adult debut, YERBA BUENA.

Before we hear from Nina, let’s take a quick dive into YERBA BUENA. This tender yet unflinching love story follows two women on a star-crossed journey toward each other. Sara is an enigmatic bartender hiding a traumatic past. Emilie is a floral arranger and chronic drifter, unsure what she wants in life. When Sara catches sight of Emilie one morning at Yerba Buena, the restaurant where they both work, their connection is immediate. But the baggage both women carry pulls them apart, forcing them to decide whether they will go their separate ways or fight for the love blooming between them.

By turns painfully and transcendently beautiful, devastating and ultimately hopeful, YERBA BUENA is an epic love story that is just as much about what Sara and Emilie need to heal independently as it is about their romance. This is the perfect book for readers who enjoyed WRITERS AND LOVERS and adult fans of Nina LaCour’s YA fiction.

NOW LET’S HEAR FROM NINA!


1. How are you doing today?

I’m doing pretty well, all things in the world considered. I’m feeling very grateful for what I have.

2. What’s something that made you smile today?

My morning commute to my new office, which consists of a fifteen minute walk through my beautiful San Francisco neighborhood.

3. What are you currently reading?

TELL ME HOW LONG THE TRAIN’S BEEN GONE by James Baldwin. I’ve read a lot of Baldwin’s shorter works but this is my first time reading this novel and I’m totally swept up in it so far.

4. What’s your favorite writing snack/drink/cocktail?

Coffee with cream in the mornings, herbal tea in the afternoons, and a Vieux Carré in the evenings.

5. What’s next on your TBR pile?

It is so tall, but OLGA DIES DREAMING by Xochitl Gonzalez and FOUR TREASURES OF THE SKY by Jenny Tinghui Zhang are really calling to me right now.

6. Do you have any “comfort” books that you like to reread?

I love rereading MRS. DALLOWAY by Virginia Woolf. It’s probably my favorite novel and it challenges me every time. 

7. Where do you like to write?

Well, as I mentioned I just rented myself an office a little less than a mile from my home. It was a huge step for me because I already had a space to write in my apartment, but it just wasn’t working for me–I wasn’t able to disconnect from home and family stuff–so I took the plunge and signed a lease. It’s my first week using this new space, which overlooks a bustling street and has a lot of city noise but is totally perfect for me. I feel a part of the world, but also removed from it–and there are no dishes to be done here!

8. What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not writing?

Going out to dinner with people I love on a Friday night, sitting at a patio table, having a great conversation and eating and drinking incredible things. Walks are a close second–through city neighborhoods or forests or along the beach. I love it all.

9. You’ve said that YERBA BUENA has been many years in the making. How are you feeling now that it’s going to be published? 

Incredibly nervous, like I’m wearing my heart on my sleeve. And also very excited.

10. What has been your favorite part of your journey publishing YERBA BUENA?

Honestly, it’s been working with the team at Flatiron. They make everything so positive, so exciting, so professional and warm at the same time. They are an incredible group of people and I feel really fortunate to be on their list.

11. How was writing YERBA BUENA different from writing your YA novels?

I felt a lot less responsibility to protect my readers emotionally. I don’t shy away from difficulty or trauma in my YA work, but I’m really careful in how I portray the things that happen to my characters, and I’m always conscious of how what I write might impact a young reader. I strive to be honest but also gentle. But in YERBA BUENA I felt like I could just dive in. Wherever the story took me, I could go there. I asked myself if what I was writing felt true, and if I was telling a satisfying story, and I didn’t worry so much about softening or protecting my reader because I knew I was writing for adults.

12. Let’s say a librarian wanted to put YERBA BUENA on a shelf with similar-feeling books. What books would you like to see on that shelf?

Oh, I love this question! I could see it next to NORMAL PEOPLE by Sally Rooney, THE MOTHERS by Brit Bennett, NORWEGIAN WOOD by Haruki Murakami, CANTORAS by Carolina de Robertis, MEMORIAL by Bryan Washington, and Michell Hart’s forthcoming WE DO WHAT WE DO IN THE DARK. In one way or another they all have to do with growing up and facing hardships and making mistakes but also making brave choices and taking risks for the things and the people we want to have in our lives. And they are all very emotional, each in its own way.

13. Sara, one of the main characters in YERBA BUENA, works as a bartender, and Emilie, the other main character, works at a florist before renovating houses. What drew you to those specific jobs for them?

My wife, Kristyn, makes beautiful cocktails. There’s such an art to it and I find it very sexy to watch her make a drink–how focused and precise she is. It’s a cool thing, to watch someone lose herself in the process of making something. And it’s such a generous, intimate thing, too, to make perfect drinks for other people to enjoy. Emilie isn’t nearly as singularly driven as Sara is–her path is more meandering–but she’s just as devoted to making things beautiful for other people. I chose floral arrangements for her at first because cut flowers are so lovely (I am a big fan!) but also just decorative, and as Emilie grows as a person she realizes that she’s wanting something bigger from her life than that. And I am such an admirer of houses, especially old houses with history and character, so I got to live vicariously through her when I wrote the home renovation sections.

14. Since the chapters in YERBA BUENA alternate between Sara and Emilie, whose POV did you enjoy writing more? Whose was easier?

It changed all the time. Sara felt less familiar to me, so at times it was difficult to write her sections. The work was often painstaking because such big and terrible things happen to her but she’s also so strong. I never wanted to tip into sentimentality, but I also wanted to honor the emotional impact of living through so much. Emilie’s sections flowed out of me much more naturally, but I doubted myself more. Her parts were challenging because her choices are messier and she feels things in a freer way than Sara does. Where Sara is stoic, Emilie is tender.

15. Sara’s signature Yerba Buena cocktail is meant to embody the restaurant’s atmosphere. If you had to come up with a cocktail to embody the atmosphere of YERBA BUENA, the book, what would it be? 

I would need to consult my wife! But off the top of my head, it would have amaro in it. It would be served in a coupe glass–a really delicate one–and it would be a beautiful, deep color.

16. You’ve mentioned that some of the elements in YERBA BUENA are from your own life. Did that make writing it easier or harder?

I’ve wanted to weave some of my family history into a novel for a long time, and it was such a pleasure to finally do it. Emilie’s grandparents’ journey is based on the journey of my own grandparents on my dad’s side, who moved from New Orleans to Los Angeles as part of the Great Migration. I grew up listening to their stories told in their beautiful Louisiana Creole accents, poring over their photographs, eating their gumbo and jambalaya. When I wrote about Emilie’s discoveries about her family it just poured out of me because they were my own discoveries and memories. I barely changed anything at all; I even included lines from real love letters that my grandfather wrote to my grandmother during WWII.

17. How do you practice self-care as a writer after you have to write a difficult or emotionally charged scene?

I take a walk. Sometimes I take a nap. I listen to good music or a podcast that fills me up. And sometimes the writing itself is therapeutic for me, even when the subject matter is rough. 

18. What are you hoping readers take away from YERBA BUENA?

I hope that readers feel seen and understood by it. I hope that I’ve captured some of what it is to be human, to be flawed, to be let down, and to be loved. It’s such a complicated thing to be an adult in the world, to love other people, to break old patterns, to build a life that you want, to even know what you want in the first place. At least it is for me. So I want to speak to other people through the book, remind ourselves that we’re in it together.

19. Do you have a favorite bookstore and/or library?

I have so many! I love the main branches of the San Francisco and Los Angeles libraries. There’s a gorgeous library in Mill Valley, CA that feels like something out of a fairy tale. And when it comes to bookstores I really love them all–the big ones to get lost in, the little ones with carefully curated selections. Any place that’s full of books is a good place to spend some time.

20. If you could write about anything in the world next, what would it be?

It would be what I’m already working on! But I’m not quite ready to talk about it yet.

YERBA BUENA by Nina LaCour; 9781250810465; 5/31/22.

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