Linda Holmes on Novel ‘Flying Solo’ + Writing Love Stories
When you’ve spent the majority of your adult life single, sometimes the last thing you want to do is read yet another book with a traditional happy ending—or write one, for that matter. But that doesn’t mean it can’t still be a romance novel.
Linda Holmes’ endearing new book Solo FlyingTo be published June 14th, ‘The Unwritten Rules of Relationships’ will challenge many traditional views. Laurie Sassalyn just called off her wedding and is about to turn 40 when her great aunt Dot dies, so she jumps on a plane back home to coastal Maine to clean out Dot’s estate. While there, Laurie discovers a mysterious wooden duck decoy and—determined to honor the life of a beloved, adventurous woman who never married and didn’t have any children—embarks on a lively quest to figure out its origins.
Laurie makes new friends along the way. And she begins to come to terms with what happiness might look like for her as someone who doesn’t want to share a bed or a closet or probably even a house with another person. The novel is a refreshing—and validating—reminder that there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all relationship, and that wanting a life full of love doesn’t mean needing to meet other people’s expectations for what that looks like.
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Holmes, a NPR correspondent and host of the podcast Pop Culture Happy HourWith her debut novel in 2019,, a breakthrough as an author Evvie Drake Moves On, about a recently widowed woman who falls for a professional baseball player who’s struggling with the yips. It is set in the same Maine village as The Novel. Solo FlyingNew Yorker,?, Times Selection of bestsellers and Read With Jenna books club.
Holmes spoke to TIME about writing the book she’d like to read, the unique pressures that accompany a second novel, and how she got interested in duck decoys.
In Solo Flying, Laurie, isn’t sure she wants to share her space or ever get married. What made her so important to you?
As a person who has been mostly single as an adult, I really felt like—especially when I got to be in my late 30s—if I met a really awesome person right now, I don’t know if I’d actually want to live with them. Because of how attached I was to my life. I would think to myself, I wonder if it’s realistic to have commitment and support and love, and yet maintain a different place. There are models for that—queer people tend to be a little more familiar with different relationships because you don’t grow up with that one enforced model the way that some straight people do.
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Laurie’s problem is her traditional upbringing that didn’t work the way romance novels would have you believe. She also had the pleasure of knowing women who were independent and lived their own lives. She’s trying to figure out what kind of life she wants.
Laurie also has an interesting relationship with her hometown: she’s fond of it, but she has no desire to move back.
It’s different from what you often see in a hometown story—part of the arc will be that you’re following a woman who’s figuring out that she doesn’t want what she thought she wanted. You might think, “I made my own life, but what I really want is to come back home and live with my boyfriend.” That’s a very common trope, and I wanted to be able to recognize that you can love and embrace your past, the community where you grew up, and the people who loved you when you were young, and still say, But I also love the life that I made for myself.
You briefly mention in the book that Laurie is a size 18, but it’s not a plot point. It feels deliberate. Did it feel intentional?
One of the things that people noticed about my first book was I’m not really big on physical description of characters, and part of the reason is that I like to believe the person could look a number of different ways. One person may have many bodies, and have many hairstyles. To me, it just didn’t seem important.
This is Laurie’s physical description. I don’t really have a specific reason, except that I’m always trying to write the book that I haven’t read. And I wanted to acknowledge some places in which it affected her life, but it’s not a big story point. It’s not something she dwells on.
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It’s so much fun to see the wooden duck in this book. Are you a fan of decoys since childhood?
During the pandemic I watched a lot. Antiques RoadshowI was captivated by the concept of loved objects and objects with amazing stories. I started to throw around this idea of a special object that’s left behind and discovered, and then somebody trying to investigate the history of it. My friend is an antiques man who goes to flea market and has a great knowledge of collectibles. I described what kind of object I was looking for to him, and I said, “I don’t want jewelry, I don’t want art. I want a real functional thing that would also be beautiful, and not something people have read 400 books about.” And he said duck decoys.
Solo FlyingIs based in Maine’s coastal town. That is a unique area?
In the summers of 10-14 years ago, my family vacationed in Maine right where the book was set. My family returned to Maine for the second time as an adult. We stayed at the cabin that we rented back when I was little. We were able to rediscover it—and that was 20 years ago, but that was the visit where I thought, Hey, I would love to write something set here someday.
Romance novel, your first book Evvie Drake Moves OnWhen it was first published in 2019,, it became a huge summer hit. That created extra pressure when you were working on your new novel.
Second books have a reputation for being really hard, and I think that’s because they AreIt was really difficult. When I was writing the first book, there were no stakes—I didn’t have any reason to think I was necessarily even going to finish it, let alone publish it. It was a very slow, laid back, ‘just see what happens’ kind of experience.
The second book was totally different. There’s a part of you that thinks the first book did well, so I don’t want the second book to not do well. Even in figuring out what the second book would be, you go through a little bit of, Do I want it to be similar to the first book, because I’ve had success doing that? Do I want it to be different, because I don’t want to pigeonhole myself? This was definitely an difficult decision.
It seems strange that you would be an expert on pop culture and offer criticisms? Is fiction writing different from journalism?
Fiction is intimate. It is very personal. But you know, it’s the same idea, which is you have to learn what you can from whatever feedback you get without internalizing it too much. You still need to do what is right.
The following interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
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