Maureen Lee Lenker talks her romance debut, the genre and more

It Happened One Fight. Image courtesy Sourcebooks Casablanca
It Happened One Fight. Image courtesy Sourcebooks Casablanca /

Maureen Lee Lenker is a name a lot of journalists are familiar with, myself included. She’s written for some amazing publications including Entertainment Weekly and The Hollywood Reporter.

Lenker has recently branched out in her writing journey by publishing a romance with Sourcebooks Casablanca. It Happened One Fight is set in Old Hollywood and is a battle of wills between two unlikely yet accidentally married co-stars.

That’s why I was so excited to be able to chat with her as she’s someone I really look up to as a journalist and just as a person. I mean the book was inspired by her interview with Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder so I mean that’s pretty freaking amazing and something I haven’t stopped thinking about.

Lenker is also a massive supporter of the romance genre and romance books so this interview was a dream come true for me. With that being said, I won’t waste any more time and we can get into the interview.

Maureen Lee Lenker talks about her new release, the romance genre, and more.

Culturess: You’ve been a long-time entertainment writer so with a book like It Happened One Fight, it seems your work bleeds into your writing. Did you always intend for your book to focus on Hollywood?

Maureen Lee Lenker: Yes because my love of cinema and Old Hollywood predates my life as a journalist by quite a lot. I’ve been obsessed with the Golden Age of Hollywood since I was around 11 or 12 (thanks TCM!), and I was a film major in college (and all of my upper level courses I concentrated on films of the 30s to 60s). So I’ve always wanted to write a story set in this world because my life is basically one long quest to spend as much time interacting with Old Hollywood as possible.

Culturess: Speaking of writing, I think it’s so cool that you were inspired by Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder. How was it, looking back at that interview and shaping your idea based on it?

Maureen Lee Lenker: It’s such a great example of how inspiration can come from anywhere. I knew the moment Winona said it that a) this news story was going to break the internet and b) it was an amazing nugget to spin a story off of. It feels practically made for a romance novel — two actors getting accidentally married on set. Like, what? How is that even remotely a real thing? I’m still frankly in disbelief that Winona said that to me and Keanu ran with it. It was surreal to say the least. But I’m grateful to them for both boosting my visibility as an entertainment journalist and giving me the core of the idea for the book.

Culturess: I know you’re a fan of the romance genre so who are some romance authors you took inspiration from when writing your book?

Maureen Lee Lenker: Definitely the first romance author I ever loved was Meg Cabot and her YA books. When I was first taking a stab at writing fiction (so many unfinished projects) in high school, I was basically trying to outright copy her voice. Because it felt so fresh and relatable and funny. But some people I took inspiration from when writing this story in particular include: Sarah MacLean, whose books have showed me how feminist and fun you can be while still remaining true to the historical record; Alyssa Cole, who was the first author I read that was writing historical fiction outside of the Regency/Victorian England space; Kate Alcott, who writes women’s fiction set in Hollywood’s Golden Age and whose books were the first to make me realize it was okay to write in an era I otherwise considered hallowed ground; and Adriana Herrera, who has also been paving the way for historicals that shake up the sub-genre. I could list probably a bazillion more because I love so many authors but those are the first that came to mind.

Culturess: Without getting into too much detail, I will say that I was surprised you chose the “villain” of the story that you did. Was that always the plan or did you have another idea in mind?

Maureen Lee Lenker: Ha! A lot of people have commented on this with surprise. I have to say I never thought of it as any commentary on my career or my profession. But it was always the plan. The character is based on two very famous gossip reporters of the era — Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper. Hopper, in particular, took glee in outright ruining people’s lives, including Charlie Chaplin (who she helped get blacklisted from the United States during the Red Scare). I knew that the juicy, scandalous nature of Old Hollywood gossip combined with the very real power Parsons and Hopper touted via the things they printed (often outright lies) about movie stars was the perfect genesis for a villain.

Culturess: As a romance reader, I must ask if you have any books you’d recommend that give the same feeling as It Happened One Fight?

Maureen Lee Lenker: Ooo, this is a good question. I’ll start by cheating and say that I wrote It Happened One Fight with the hope that reading it would feel like sitting down with a classic screwball comedy such as It Happened One Night, Bringing Up Baby, The Philadelphia Story, etc. So, I’d recommend that for sure. Books wise, I would definitely recommend new release Follow the Sun by Liz Locke. It’s not zany like IHOF, but it’s also set in a glittering world of the rich and famous (this time in the 1960s) and about a woman figuring out how to fight for love and her identity on her own terms. The novels of Brianne Gillen are also classic Hollywood romance romps. And I hope my books feel like those of Taylor Jenkins Reid, lushly romantic and steeped in another time with complex female protagonists.

Culturess: Would you consider writing a sequel or companion to It Happened One Fight? Of course, I’m only asking since I’d love to see Arlene’s romance! If not, do you have any romance releases planned?

Maureen Lee Lenker: You must be psychic! Book 2 is definitely in the works and is set to come out next summer. Its title is HIS GIRL HOLLYWOOD, and you are getting your wish. It’s Arlene’s love story! She will be making her directorial debut, making a musical, and her leading man is the boy-next-door from her adolescence, who she was in love with and who left her behind for the allure of Broadway and New York City.

I’d like to thank Maureen Lee Lenker for her time and Sourcebooks Casablanca for setting this up as I had so much fun. I truly can’t wait to read His Girl Hollywood and continue to see where Maureen’s career takes her.

It Happened One Fight by Maureen Lee Lenker is out now where books are sold. 

Next. It Happened One Fight is a sweeping Old Hollywood romance. dark