Welcome back, readers!
Today on my Fave Summer Reads series, I’ll be featuring Part Two of my conversation with author, actress, and producer, Robinne Lee. Robinne’s book, The Idea Of You, is a swoony, beautiful, and emotion-filled read, that has kept me thinking about its characters ever since. While I didn’t read this book when it first released, I believe that this book came to me when I needed it most–during Covid Lockdown, when I was turning 50. It’s a real gem!
In the last post, Robinne and I discussed the inspiration for the story, as well as the rationale for how much of it was written. A link to that post is here.
**A note about the heat level: The love scenes in Idea Of You are steamy. Really steamy. Incredibly steamy.
For this post, we’ll dig in to the relationship between her amazing characters, Solene and Hayes, and what makes their journey such a beautiful, emotion-filled adventure. We’ll also get a glimpse into Robinne’s personal experience and connection to Hayes and Solene’s characters. My heart…Get ready…Here we go…
Writer’s Block: I am so glad to be able to continue our discussion with my readers today. Something I had on my list of notes for you was about the relationship of Solene and Hayes. It’s so multifaceted to me. It’s beautiful, imperfect, emotion filled. There are so many layers to their relationship all the way through to the very end. The end, by the way, nearly broke me. But, you know, for that reason, for all those different facets, I feel like the story really appeals to, and resonates with, so many people. I was curious what it must have been like for you, as the writer of all of these characters and all of these feelings that they were going through. What was that experience like?
Robinne Lee: It was a psychological and emotional rollercoaster, the likes of which I’d never experienced, up until that point and have not experienced since. It was very intense and intimate, and overwhelming. I felt that I was walking around constantly with different voices in my head, like his voice, her voice and my own voice. Like their thoughts would enter my head constantly, No matter what I was doing. It was very bizarre to have access to these people in a way that I don’t remember ever having before, as a writer. I don’t feel like any of my characters have ever been that intrusive. I was like, “You guys. I’d like for you to come to me when I’m sitting down to write.” I felt like they were there all the time. It was a little overwhelming and a little scary. And I remember thinking, oh my gosh, I’m gonna need therapy. I have these people living in my head, and they’re so loud that it doesn’t feel normal. I should probably talk to someone about it. (laughs). But I mean, I would cry a lot. Yeah, it was, it was scary. But then I was afraid that if I talk to someone, and I was “fixed”, then the voices would go away. And I wouldn’t be able to write.
Writer’s Block: Right? Wow, I hadn’t even thought of that. That’s a really powerful reaction.
Robinne Lee: I remember thinking, hopefully I can make it through. And I did. And it took a long time to come down, and to separate from it. There was a lot of crying at the end, particularly, the last two or three months of writing, partially because of what I was writing and partially because I knew I was coming to the end of my time with these people. And I enjoyed it, as insane as I felt. I still enjoyed having them around at times. And so, just separating was really difficult. I finished the book in February, 2016, and it sold in March 2016. It came out in June 2017. I wouldn’t say I really finally started separating from it until fall of 2017. It took me that long to separate. And then the book came out. And then I got this overwhelming demand for sequel.
Writer’s Block: Goodness! I don’t know what to say. I can only imagine. Here’s a funny story, well, I can laugh about it now… I was in the car, and I was listening to the audiobook at that time, and I had my headphones in. My husband was driving. The last part of the book was playing out, and I just started shouting in the car, “No! No, Hayes! You can’t !” It was just happening, and my husband was looking at me like, “What’s going on?” I was so emotional about that ending! And I just thought to myself, there has to be more, there has to be more. So I can understand the desire for a sequel. But if it was so emotional for me as a reader, I just couldn’t imagine as the person writing it. I just couldn’t imagine what that was like.
Robinne Lee: Yeah. Like I said, I’ve never experienced anything like that. Extraordinary.
Writer’s Block: Another question I had for you. So much about Solene and Hayes’s relationship felt like it was supposed to be taboo, right? I’m thinking about their age difference and gender expectations. I’m way closer to Solene’s age than I am to Hayes’, and yet as their story and romance grew. Somehow, I just felt like their relationship could possibly work. You know, it could possibly last forever. They connected together on so many levels. So, as the author, did you grapple with the expectation that a 40 year old guy could easily date a 20 year old woman, but the reverse is often frowned upon?
Robinne Lee: Yes. So, I’m gonna say I’ve always been attracted to younger guys. You know, when I was a sophomore in college, I dated a freshman. Then in another relationship, I was 25, and he was 20. And it was pretty intense. I got a lot of slack from my friends and family like, ‘This baby’s still in college’, and I was out of college living in the real world. To me, he was incredibly mature and sophisticated for 20. He traveled the world, he lived a little, he was really smart and well read and loved poetry. I felt like many things about him were just wonderful and mature. So much of Hayes’s character came out of that relationship. And, by the way, that relationship was the inspiration for the book that I spent six years writing prior but I could not sell. So, when I was writing Hayes’ character, I knew he was going to be this kind of precious age. There’s something really special to me about a 20 year old guy; they’re still boyish in many ways, but they’re, like, men physically. But, I feel like, internally, they’re going back and forth. The beauty of them, I think, is that most of them have not been completely destroyed (laughs); their hopes and dreams. And so, there’s this kind of optimism and hopefulness and energy, that you will not find in a 30, or 40 year old man, or a 60 year old man for sure. There’s something that’s really kind of beautiful; they’re not jaded in the relationship. Their eyes are still wide open. It’s such a great age to capture.
Writer’s Block: Yes.
Robinne Lee: I knew I wanted to make Solene old enough that their relationship was going to be a bit scandalous. I was 40 when I was writing this book, and I was going through a lot. I’d been an actor at that point for, like, 20 years, and suddenly, there was a shift in the kind of roles that I was seeing at auditions. Suddenly, you’re not the “Ingenue”, you’re not the “Leading lady”. You’re the part of the “mom”, or, you know, the DA, the police detective that comes in. Unfortunately, a lot of those roles were not very multidimensional. They were kind of like peripheral characters, and they just served the purpose of getting the story moved forward. They weren’t seeing the internal life of what it was like to be these women. And I kind of felt like, you really become a shell at 40.
Writer’s Block: Wow…
Robinne Lee: And then I thought, I’m black and a woman in this industry, and there are so few parts anyway. But now I’m black and a woman and over 40, and there’s nothing here. And I was also really angry at the fact that women were being portrayed so two dimensionally. I felt like I was put in a box. And I did have a moment, that was a literal box. I was sitting in a casting directors office. When you’re there, their assistants are calling agents about using this person for this part. And you’re hearing all this, and you’re supposed to be focusing on your role and in tune with what you’re going to do in the room, but you’re hearing all these conversations. In the waiting room, they’ve got lines of boxes of how to place their actors; where they put their headshots.
Writer’s Block: Oh…
Robinne Lee: It was kind of like “Children under 18” in this one, and here’s an “Ingenue”. And then it said, “Leading lady”. (Laughs) And those are broken down: “Leading lady-white”, “Leading lady-ethnic” and “Non-ethnic” or whatever it was. And then it was “Over 40”.
Writer’s Block: Oh, goodness…
Robinne Lee: At home that day, I had this epiphany that I’m now in the same box as Cicely Tyson. I couldn’t stop thinking about that for the longest time. I had this idea when I was writing stuff. I was like, that’s it! Solene’s not living in a box. She’s not. She’s not just a divorced women of a 12 year old. She’s gonna do everything. She’s gonna be an incredible mom, as well as you can be. She’s got an incredible friend, she’s gonna run this business and she’s gonna have like, this incredible sex life and have the love affair to end a love affairs. She doesn’t want to be placed in a box like, “You’re just a mom now. And that’s all you can do.” Sorry, this is very long. So many things were spinning in me during that time.
Writer’s Block: No, no, I get it. And I think that that’s what resonated so much with me in your book. Yes. Hayes’s the swooniest guy, you know, he is, and Solene, at 40, is this artist, traveling the world, on the arm of her swoony boy-band pop star. And that’s awesome! But, I was in my upper 40s when I read this, and I thought, “You know what? I’m almost 50… I’m not dead! (laughs) I can still be awesome!” So, I was glad that you tackled that age dynamic in the story, because it mattered to me, you know, it just mattered to me to be able to see it, and feel it. It helped me to see that I am not defined by any one thing, no matter what age I am. It’s just great that you tackled that notion. Thank you.
Robinne Lee: I mean, (laughs) it was necessary to put all my my own baggage in there. If I’m going through this and other woman turning 40 are going through this, I don’t see our stories out there, in this way. When you have these hot and sexy love stories, it’s usually somewhere in the mid 20s, like discovering it for the first time.
Writer’s Block: My gosh, well, thank you. This has been a terrific conversation. I just have a couple other questions. Did I hear there’s going to be in a movie adaptation of The Idea Of You? And if so, are there any details to share?
Robinne Lee: I don’t have any real details to share other than what’s been put out there in the trades.
Writer’s Block: Okay. That’s alright. Question: Are you working on any new books at this time? Or do you have any new projects, acting or otherwise going on?
Robinne Lee: I am working on a new book, but this one is not a sequel. That’s not to say I might not do a sequel eventually down the line, but not right now. I wanted to do something else before I returned to Hayes and Solene, I still need space from them. And that is coming along. It’s taking longer than I’d like, but it’s coming. And, yes, I’ve been working as an actor. I’ve got a couple of projects in the works. I’ve got something right now on a streamer called All Black, which is part of AMC. And it’s titled A La Carte. That’s available now. And then, I’ve got a project coming on Netflix, the limited series called Jigsaw. I don’t know the details yet about the release. I saw a rumor that it was coming in the fall. I’ve also heard it might be up here into the winter. Jigsaw stars Giancarlo Esposito and Rufus Sewell, and I had an amazing time working on it. I’m looking forward to seeing it. It’s got a really, really great premise and structure. I can’t say anything about it, but I think people will really, really enjoy it. And I’m so excited about that.
Writer’s Block: Finally, if there were one takeaway you would like my readers to consider, what would it be?
Robinne Lee: I wish I could say there was one specific thing readers should take away from reading my book — but there isn’t. I filled it with messages about female empowerment and sexuality and agency and sexism and feminism and motherhood and happiness and celebrity and fandoms and the toxicity of social media and so much more. So, if you plow through it quickly just focusing on the love story — you might miss it. Take your time.
Writer’s Block: That’s an awesome “Takeaway”: Take your time. It’s perfect. Robinne, I wish you all the success with everything. Thank you so much for your time. This interview has been probably one of the highlights of my life. When I get into a book as much as I did your book, it just feel this feels like a fantasy to me to actually get to speak to you, the author. And I just really appreciate your time. And I don’t even know what else to say, but thank you. I hope to have you on again when your new book is out.
Robinne Lee: Well, thank you. That’s so very kind of you. Thank you very much.
And that concludes my interview with Robinne Lee. Her book, The Idea Of You, is available in print, ebook, and audiobook. As a reminder, Robinne Lee, herself, narrates the audiobook, and it is FABULOUS!
Buy The Idea Of You here!
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Check out Robinne Lee on her website: robinnelee.com