Talking to Harriet Reuter Hapgood, author of a new YA book being called the next ‘Hunger Games’

In March, we talked about how excited we were for Harriet Reuter Hapgood’s upcoming novel The Square Root of Summer, a “a contemporary YA romance with a time-travel twist” that sparked an all-out bidding war between eight book publishers, which resulted in Harriet signing a six-figure, two-book deal with Macmillan.

“Wait, YA romance AND time traveling, how does that work?” you ask. Check out the book description below:

Gottie H. Oppenheimer is a lot of things: Seventeen. Great at math. Tall. Half-German. Motherless. And she’s losing time. Literally.  

When the fabric of the universe surrounding her sleepy seaside town begins to fray, it sends Gottie through wormholes to her past: 

To last summer, when her grandfather Grey died.

To the afternoon she fell in love with Jason, who wouldn’t even hold her hand at the funeral. 

To the day her childhood best friend Thomas moved to Canada, leaving her behind with a scar on her hand and a black hole in her memory.  

Although Grey is still gone, Jason and Thomas are back, and Gottie’s summer – and life – are about to be  changed forever.

The book is set to hit stores on May 3, 2016. “But that’s so far awaaaaay” you whine. We know, we’re antsy as heck to get a copy in our hands too, but patience is a virtue. Still, we get it. We’ve all been so patient, we deserve a sneak peek. And that’s exactly what we’re getting right now- a cover reveal plus a rad Q&A with Harriet, who could ask for anything more?

So, without further ado, let’s hear a little bit from Harriet about the book we are all on pins and needles to read.

On the inspiration for The Square Root of Summer

There was no high-concept ‘Aha! Quantum-physics-time-travel-romance-grief’ lightbulb moment — it was a patchwork. I’d always wanted to write, but I didn’t have a story to tell. Then my granny died. It was a tornado of grief, and I began this book as a love letter to my family. Making my heroine a physicist was because of the last weekend I spent with Granny. We baked pflaumenkuchen and, for some reason, began talking about quantum physics. We spent hours going through my grandpa’s books (he’d been a mathematician), trying to understand it. I suppose this book is the answer to that conversation.

On how studying rom-coms (and writing her master’s thesis on Dawson’s Creek) helped shape the book

Plotting! The best rom-coms, the ones that feel so easy-breezy and delightful, are as intricately plotted and tightly structured as a murder mystery. Like in Bringing Up Baby, you’ve got TWO leopards, a dog, an intercostal clavicle, an heiress and a befuddled policeman and, clickbait style, you’ll never guess what happens next! I actually planned the book using screenplay structure. As for Dawson’s Creek, and the whole teen TV canon, it’s about unique romance that’s true to characters, rather than generic hearts-flowers-blah. The Creek’s defining moment, the ur-romance benchmark for a whole generation, is: PACEY BUYS JOEY A WALL. Brickwork! And it’s swoonapalooza! Because it’s so true to those two characters. You have to give your characters chemistry, reasons to kiss each other, context — there were reasons for that wall. And when Pacey paints ‘ask me to stay’ on it in the finale? Swoonageddon.

How to balance romance and physics while writing a romantic novel with a time-traveling twist

I went through so many drafts! The first one didn’t have any physics in at all. The draft that got me my agent, the incredible Gemma Cooper at The Bent Agency, was super-sciencey, but vague — I’m a fashion journalist, so it was all a bit wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey. The draft we submitted to publishers was practically a textbook — I read a LOT of science books. My two brilliant editors, Connie Hsu at Roaring Brook Press in New York and Rachel Petty at Macmillan Children’s Books in London, helped me ditch the long-winded explanations, and dial up the romance. But sometimes I’d be writing a kissing scene and the next thing on my to-do list would be, like, ‘explain black holes’.

On what it’s like to have EIGHT publishers fighting over you (and how to celebrate when you sign your big, fancy deal)

*deadpan*  Terrifying. No, really! It all happened SO fast – I finished the book on Friday, my agent sent it out on Monday, and we got our first offer on Wednesday, like a Craig David song. Suddenly, I was ducking away from my desk every half hour to have these intense whispered phone calls about offers and pre-empts and translation rights and a film agent. We did a fun-slash-bizarre process called the beauty parade (ugh, I know) where you swan around London in taxis meeting all your prospective editors and publishers in one day – there were props from the book, an actual wormhole, a life-size apple tree sculpture… Eating cake with your writing iced on it is a real ‘WTF?’ moment. In the evenings I was talking to New York editors on the phone, then calling my agent – I don’t think either of us slept for about two weeks. So to celebrate… I balled up and hibernated like a hamster. Ate way too much pizza, edited the book, didn’t go out. Eventually I threw a big party in a pub, and my BFF Rachael made me a cake to look like a book cover! It turns out the real cover, which I adore, is slightly different…

So, here’s the “cake cover” BFF Rachael made:

And here’s the REAL COVER!!!

We absolutely CAN’T WAIT for The Square Root of Summer. May 3rd, 2016, you can not come soon enough!

Filed Under