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Katz prepares to release second "rom-traum-com"

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Rachel Katz — Patrick Wilson
Rachel Katz — Patrick Wilson

Rachel Katz has always been an avid reader, but her love affair with romance novels kicked into high gear during the pandemic. "I grew up reading. My parents would joke that a nuclear bomb would go off, and I wouldn't notice," she said.

"I always loved reading. I always wanted to write a book, but I didn't take that seriously. [In] early COVID, I started reading more romance. That was partially because the romance genre had started publishing more diverse titles. As I read a ton, I naturally came up with an idea, and I just started writing it."

That first book became Thank You for Sharing, a childhood friends-to-lovers romance featuring a Bisexual, Black, Jewish lead character. Readers loved Katz's leads, not just for being messy, BIPOC, and Jewish, but for their ability to convey the exhaustion of working through trauma as a twentysomething.

Katz sold Thank You for Sharing on a two-book deal. While writing it, she had plenty of time and energy to feel creative and enjoy the process. However, when it came time to submit her second novel, Whenever You're Ready, it was more necessary to stick to a rigid writing schedule. "It required a certain level of discipline that can take some of the fun out of it. I had this detailed outline, [while] my first book I just wrote. I figured out how to make it fun, but that part was difficult for me," she said in an interview with the SGN.

St. Martin's Griffin  

One of the ways she made writing Whenever You're Ready more fun was by leaning into tropes and situations that can play out differently for a Sapphic couple than a male/female pairing. "I love writing bits where people are in fights. I think it's fun," Katz revealed. "I think there's a little bit of what one of my early readers described as a 'Bisexual jealousy scene.' There's a lot of tension.

"That's the fun thing about writing a Sapphic romance. I can get the ick when a man is acting jealous — I know it's natural and can be written well — but for me, personally, sometimes I'll see that on the page and it's 'Yuck! Go away!' When it's a woman doing it, though, this is fun to play with."

Road-tripping through history and grief
A slow-burn friend-to-lovers, Whenever You're Ready is an emotional yet fun summer road-trip story about identity, heritage, and dealing with grief. The story was inspired by several experiences Katz faced in her twenties.

"It's set on a road trip. They go on a Southern Jewish history road trip... In the fall of 2019, I went on one — it was called 'Shalom Y'all,' and it was all Jews in their twenties," she said. "It was an interesting experience, because I was raised in the Pacific Northwest, and so it's a much newer part of the country, whereas Charleston and Savannah existed before [the United States] existed. In terms of anything that isn't Indigenous history, that's as old as it gets."

While touring the South, Katz encountered several Jewish places of worship that, unlike most synagogues in the north, were built by slaves. "I think it was interesting to me because it's not a part of Jewish history that's [often] focused on," she said.

When thinking about her second book, she wanted to revisit the idea of a conflicted heritage by exploring the story through the perspective of a character reexamining the dynamics of her ancestors.

The book also centers on grief, an experience Katz encountered early in her twenties. "This was supposed to be a road trip that [the character was] going to go on with their best friend, who passed away, and I lost my best friend to cancer when she was 20," she said. "I aged her up a bit in this book, but I wanted to explore grief over the death of a young person. It's such a specific thing. There are a lot of books about grief, but a lot of the romance books I've read that feature grief are either about a parent or a grandparent or a previous spouse who had died, but I wanted it to be a friend who was like family but...also super young."

Katz likes to describe her books as "rom-traum-coms." With a clever wit and a knack for breaking into the emotional heart of complex issues, Whenever You're Ready will have readers laughing, crying, and swooning all in one chapter.

"All of these things in real life are wrapped up in one another," she said. "I don't think that you can have your humor without your trauma informing it, and I don't think you can have love and happiness without sadness and pain."

Whenever You're Ready hits shelves on September 10, 2024. Until then, readers can check out Thank You for Sharing at Elliott Bay Book Company, Third Place Books, and Charlie's Queer Books.