Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka are the co-authors of two acclaimed YA romances: Always Never Yours (2018) and the forthcoming novel If I'm Being Honest, out in April. Wibberley and Siegemund-Broka met in high school and have been together ever since. Here, they ask each other 29 questions about their relationship (both personal and professional).
We’re high-school sweethearts. It’s a major reason we write YA novels — high school is where we fell in love, just like the characters we write. We’d been best friends for years, bonded over our love of nerdy books and movies and having nearly every class together. The friendship often tilted in flirtatious directions, like pretending we were dating to prank our teachers or writing innuendo-heavy Facebook wall posts for our friends’ enjoyment. Dating felt inevitable, yet exhilarating.
When we went to different colleges, while the distance made us nervous, we were committed to and expected to stay together. We weren’t going in with the “we’ll see how long-distance works out” mindset. We stayed together, like we expected, and moved to Los Angeles, just like we expected.
What we never expected, until the idea occurred out of nowhere in mid-2015, was co-writing young adult novels. Emily was the YA reader in the relationship; Austin a journalist. We had independent aspirations of writing fiction, which we combined into the idea of cowriting. Unlike with college, we were consciously jumping off a cliff into cowriting, deciding we’d give it a go as long as we could, regardless of our inexperience collaborating or of the complications it could introduce in our romantic relationship. We’ve written multiple novels, and our relationship remains intact. In fact, we’re getting married in August, months after the release of our upcoming novel If I’m Being Honest.
1. Austin: What was your first impression of me?
Emily: You were smart, but you were loud about it. I remember when you gave a lecture in our AP European History class and you were really cocky about it, but you didn’t do an awful job. I guess I noticed you then.
2. Emily: What was your first impression of me?
Austin: I remember having no powerful impression of you when we first met. I remember feeling distinctly surprised when I found out you had really specific cultural tastes, and you had a quirky, wry, kind of indescribable sense of humor.
3. Emily: So you’re saying you didn’t notice me. What changed?
Austin: People compare love to being struck by lightning. I’m one of those people. I remember the moment distinctly, turning in my chair to exchange a glance over something a classmate said, and feeling like I was seeing a completely new person. You were beautiful, and it was like every funny moment we’d had, every homework problem we’d worked on, every movie reference, every recommendation, suddenly fit together into this picture of a person I knew I needed to be with.
4. Austin: When in our relationship did you feel like you were in love?
Emily: Since we started dating.
Austin: For real?
5. Emily: What surprised you about me when we started dating, or in our relationship overall?
Austin: You have your preferences and your ideas — strict bedtimes, schedules, the paramount importance of a movie’s rewatch value — and you hold onto them unwaveringly. It’s not something you learn from casual, friendly conversation with a person.
6. Austin: What was the first book we connected over?
Emily: I think we had a good discussion of Paradise Lost in honors English.
7. Emily: When did you feel like I was “The One”?
Austin: When we were heading to college, I, for whatever reason, equated long-distance commitment with probable marriage. I asked myself honestly if I felt good about that commitment, and I did.
8. Austin: What’s something small I do that you like? And what’s something I do that irritates you?
Emily: I like when you agree to jump into the things I’m interested in. YA novels, video games. Pet peeve is when you leave your dishes out.
9. Emily: What’s the most YA moment of our high-school relationship?
Austin: During our school’s college fair, before we started dating, we stepped outside, and we ended up on this hill just joking together. It’s honestly laughable how good the symbolism was — stepping back from the questions of college to be together, just the two of us, under this night full of stars.
10. Emily: What’s something you do or you’ve done and never would’ve if you weren’t with me?
Austin: Go to bed before 11:30.
11. Austin: Am I a morning or a night person?
Emily: You’re definitely a night person. You’re a post-shower person, you just don’t really function until you’ve had your morning shower.
12. Emily: What would I be doing if I weren’t doing this interview?
Austin: You would be watching TV to wind down for the night. Schitt’s Creek or, if you were spending time with your parents, the Survivor episodes you haven’t caught up on. Was I right? What would you be doing?
Emily: Yeah. I mean, I’m extremely routine-based. It’s not a very hard question.
13. Austin: What Jane Austen character am I?
Emily: You’re Captain Wentworth from Persuasion. He’s a self-made man, and he’s a romantic with an ego.
14. Emily: Do we draw on our love story when writing other love stories?
Austin: I think we do. I think it colors the kinds of characters we write falling in love, who often connect over nerdy interests. Then I think there’s the way in which everything we write is underpinned by the conviction and the joy of high school being a place where you can find real love.
15. Austin: How do we divide up the writing process?
Emily: We come up with our ideas collaboratively, and then we brainstorm. Then I do a really long outline, and then we write it together. We’re in one room, I have the computer, and you pitch out ideas, and we discuss which ones go in.
16. Emily: Does writing romance ever feel flirtatious to you?
Austin: The funny thing is, no. Writing other things — particularly comedy — feels flirtatious, like we’re riffing off each other. Writing about other people’s romance just feels inexplicably indelicate and awkward.
17. Austin: What do you feel you contribute to the writing process?
Emily: I think I contribute plotting, the structure of the story, and the sense of pacing in a story. And some good jokes. What do you think I contribute?
Austin: I completely agree. I would eagerly announce to a crowded room, and have done, that you have an unparalleled knowledge of and intuition for plot structure. You also ensure we finish our projects and hit our deadlines.
18. Emily: Did you have reservations heading into our writing relationship?
Austin: No. I did know I was in uncharted territory in a number of ways. I felt that. But I wasn’t nervous or hesitant.
19. Austin: Does being a good writing partner require different skills from being a good romantic partner?
Emily: I find myself asking whether the book is more important or the relationship is more important. When you’re being a good writing partner, it includes the qualities of being a good romantic partner. It’s like being in the office. You have to work well, but you have to play nice with people, too.
20. Austin: Would our writing relationship work if we weren't together?
Emily: No. I don’t know how people who aren’t together do it. I think I would get sick of any other person, having to spend that much time with them. I think I would have a lot of anxiety about hurting someone’s feelings. I have no anxiety about hurting your feelings.
21. Austin: Do you ever get sick of me?
Emily: Not really. I think sometimes I really don’t want to work together more that day, but I think that might just be not wanting to work anymore, with or without you. I think it’s good we can switch gears and move onto other things, and it’s like a reset.
22. Emily: How do we separate work and leisure?
Austin: We’re very organized and explicit with daily and weekly goals. While it often feels rigorous, what it means is, once we’ve met the goal for the day or week, the rest of our life is open.
23. Austin: Has our creative partnership helped or hurt our relationship, on the whole?
Emily: Ultimately, it’s helped, but it’s not an uninterrupted upward trajectory. I think it’s really great to share our accomplishments with equal excitement and pride, and with the amount of networking and events we do, if we weren’t working together we wouldn’t have seen each other. However, we definitely fight more than we would otherwise. While sometimes we feel like we fight a lot, it’s because we work a lot.
24. Emily: Why do we work well as writing partners?
Austin: Having different strengths. For instance, knowing I can rely on you for plotting, I have more creative energy to devote to language, setting, et cetera.
25. Austin: What do I get wrong writing female characters?
Emily: Clothes. You know shockingly little about the clothes you see every day. Not knowing how to describe even the simplest outfit.
26. Emily: Do you ever feel threatened by the characters we write? Like, romantically?
Austin: No, but I will say, there’s a lot a guy can learn from studying the characters women find appealing.
27. Austin: What's your favorite part of the writing process?
Emily: Coming up with new ideas together. It’s fun, it’s the part where we’re the best at being collaborative—and it requires the smallest amount of work. We can just do it over dinner.
28. Emily: Have we improved since our first book together?
Austin: I think. I hope. I think we’re learning from each other.
29. Austin: Is writing like wedding planning?
Emily: I don’t know if it’s like wedding planning, but when we got engaged, people told us planning a wedding is a test of a relationship. I will say, they have not written a book together. Wedding planning is very easy in comparison.