Interviews 'Call Me Maybe' Embraces the Particular Joy of a Long-Distance Meet-Cute Awarded Audible's best romance of 2020, Cara Bastone's 'Call Me Maybe' intimately portrays the depths of the audio experience in this story about two people who fall in love over the phone. By Michael Collina stop mute max volume 00:00 16:32 repeat Update Required To play the media you will need to either update your browser to a recent version or update your Flash plugin. Note: Text has been edited and may not match audio exactly.Michael Collina: Hi, this is your Audible editor, Michael Collina. And today I'm here with romance author Cara Bastone. Welcome, Cara.Cara Bastone: Hi, thank you so much for having me.MC: Of course. Cara is the author of the new Audible Original Call Me Maybe. It's a feel-good rom-com told through a woman's phone calls and messages with a customer service rep. And as the story unfolds, we get to hear this IT support turn into a friendship with a dash of flirting with a man on the other end of the phone.Call Me Maybe is told almost entirely through phone calls, texts, and DMs with a customer service rep. It's a really interesting setup for a love story. So I just had to ask what inspired it. Was it a really great customer service experience of your own?CB: I wish. I feel like I've always tried to be sparky and get something going with the customer service person. I'm happily married, so not something romantic going, but I feel like it very rarely happens because they're at work. The idea behind this series originally came from my editor, Allison Carroll, who I’d worked with before.She reached out to me one day and said, "Have you ever thought about doing an audio epistolary?" And no, I hadn't. But as soon as she said it, my wheels started going. With an epistolary there's very little narrative, and of course there ends up being narrative in this book, because it was just the way it ended up working. But I thought to myself, "Well, they'd have to be on the phone for a really, really, really long time."And the times I've been on the phone for a really, really, really long time have often been customer service phone calls. So that's where it came from.MC: That makes total sense. You mentioned, it's a really unique setup and it's clearly written with audio in mind. So I also wanted to ask, is this the first time you've written specifically for the audio format?CB: Definitely. Yeah. And it was very thrilling. It brought up a lot of conundrums. When I first started, I thought the whole thing was going to be dialogue. I'm going to bring it from page one to the very end, just one big conversation or maybe a couple of different conversations, but I did run into some issues where I didn't want to include narrative, but then the dialogue was becoming way too narrative-y.Pulling from my relationship with my husband, I’ve definitely realized over the years that in my mind, truly the most romantic thing is communication. And in all its messiness and in all its ordinariness, that is really what makes romance work and believable.Like, okay, "I'm now lifting my glass to my mouth," you know what I mean? Just too cheesy. I realized that I was going to have to add some narrative in there. But being able to write while completely trusting the sound design team to integrate whatever they were going to have to integrate, to make the background noises understandable without having the characters having to narrate them, it was so freeing and so fun.And it led me down a bunch of different creative paths in the moment, because I realized, "Oh, this noise could happen here, and that could signify this, and so I won't have to talk about it yet." And it just led down a series of dominoes that made it a very different book than I've ever written in anything else.MC: Yeah. I'd imagine it's pretty tough having to keep all of that in mind as you're writing. Just because you have to think of like, what's going to be in the background and how is that going to affect the plot and what's being said and how it's being said? But it's done so well.CB: Thank you. I mean, it's absolutely a team effort. And my first draft of it was just written... It looks just like a bunch of dialogue on a page. And then Allison, my editor, and I, we went through and went through and went through and added in all that sound design. And I've also written the second and the third in the series already. And those were written with the understanding of how to include the sound design from the beginning.And it looks almost like a script. That was also interesting to understand the power of what the sound design team could do and be able to integrate that right from the beginning. It was really cool.MC: It really adds this great extra layer to the story. And I'm so glad to hear there are two more stories to look forward to in this series.CB: There are.MC: That's so exciting. So I've always found that romance in particular has just really felt so much more intimate in audio than in print or in e-book. What input did you have in selecting the performers and what kind of sound design was incorporated?CB: Well, for performers I was just given a list of people that would be interested in the project. When we were first conceiving of this story, it was before COVID had hit. And so there was a very different selection of people because we were thinking that it would be New York-based people. I'm in New York and the studios are in New Jersey. So I guess East Coast people who'd be able to come and record in person.And they eventually ended up being able to record, not in person, but they recorded this story live over the phone. So the chemistry is very rat-a-tat, it's very there, the two of them really talking. So the original cast of people that I might've been able to choose from kind of changed. And I listened to so many audiobooks with so many narrators, but when I heard Cal and Vera in the voices of these narrators [Lucy Christian and Neil Hellegers], I thought, "That is them."And luckily they were interested and able to do the project. I was just so thrilled. I think they're so brilliant. And they have such a different skill set from anything I could ever do. I just was absolutely blown away when I first heard them. And in terms of the sound design, honestly the sound design team is so incredible that they were like... They had to just keep saying, "Seriously, if you can imagine it, we can do it. No, there's no limits just imagine it and we'll do it."And after a few times of being like, "Well, could you maybe...," and every single time the answer is, "Yes, of course we can." So after that, the sky was just the limit.MC: That's so great to hear. Yeah, and going back to the performance, Call Me Maybe is performed by Lucy Christian and Neil Hellegers. And I agree. I think they did a fantastic job. It’s so easy to listen to, it's so feel-good. I didn't want to stop listening once I started.CB: Absolutely. I didn't want to stop writing. I was writing it at the very beginning of COVID too. And so I really was lonely and missing my friends and missing interactions with strangers. And I was writing it thinking, "This has got to feel good. This has got to feel good to receive." And it felt good to write and I really wanted it to feel good to receive.MC: Yeah. I think it's exactly what folks need right now in this moment in time. It's a welcome escape from the realities of our day-to-days. So you touched on this a little bit earlier, but you mentioned that you've listened to a lot of audiobooks yourself. Are you an avid listener?CB: I am. Like with everything, it comes and goes in stages. But I'm currently in a huge audio renaissance. I started with those big CD booklets that you'd get from the library and listen to in the car on long car rides. Did a lot of murder mysteries with my mom. And when Audible was starting to become really popular, I remember thinking, "Do they make audiobooks for books that aren't murder mysteries?"I was so confused that there are people out there listening to all genres. But yeah, since then, big audiobook fan.MC: I love to hear that. Do you have any particularly favorite narrators or performers that you find yourself going back to time and time again?CB: Well, honestly, Neil Hellegers, who I ended up choosing for Cal is just... I think he's just brilliant and Lucy, of course. Actually, I don't know if I can spill the beans on this. I'm not going to spill the beans on this because I'm not sure I can. But the two narrators I chose for book two are perfect and absolutely two of my favorites.MC: I'm so excited to find out who they are. This is something to look forward to. So jumping back to the plot of Call Me Maybe, our heroine, Vera, feels incredibly real and relatable throughout this entire story, but in a really humorous way. And that humor always manages to feel really natural. It's always tapping into the absurdities of our daily lives and just little mistakes and miscommunications that I think we're all guilty of a lot of times. So I wanted to ask, what did you like best about writing a rom-com filled with this kind of humor?CB: Oh man, probably just making myself laugh. Like I said, I wrote it at the... Or I was in the middle of writing it when COVID hit and I needed the joy of it. And I think one of my hardest, my shake-your-fist-at the-sky-why moments in romance novels are the misunderstandings that could be solved by communication. And of course they're often very necessary for the plot.And so I wanted to soothe the blow of those miscommunications with joy and fun and genuine humor. And I think that she's a very fun, interesting character who... Because of who she is, has fine-tuned her humor to be the social lubricant she needs in any given situation.MC: I definitely agree with that. I mean, Vera is just such a lovable and enjoyable character, I think. So did you have a favorite part of writing her or writing her dialogue in particular?CB: There is a moment toward the end where the penny drops for Vera, and a lot of things all cascade into place, and she understands a bunch at once. And that moment was so fun for me to write because she's so unladylike. Just absolutely loses it and is hysterical in the true sense of the word, and is filled with every emotion under the sun.And that for me is something that I really wanted to accurately put on the page because it's something I've felt over the course of my life. But it's usually a very private moment. And so being able to have it, of course, be private for Vera in her world and be able to make it... And so viscerally real, because it was going to be narrated and acted. And Lucy does it so well, it's just an amazing moment in the book.But when I was writing it, I was really just giggling to myself thinking, "What is this voice actor going to do with this moment?" And she knocked it out of the park.MC: Yeah, she really did. I listened to that particular part a couple times just because I was like, "This is perfectly done. I absolutely understand this feeling." Yeah. So now that we've spoken about Vera a little bit, I also want to talk about Cal, our hero.Your bio says that you like writing ordinary men who aren’t crippled by their own masculinity, which I absolutely loved. Would you mind telling us a little bit more about that?CB: Yes, absolutely. Pulling from my relationship with my husband, I’ve definitely realized over the years that in my mind, truly the most romantic thing is communication. And in all its messiness and in all its ordinariness, that is really what makes romance work and believable. As the writer, that's what makes two people believably fall in love, is when they're actually communicating.That's when it changes from lust to love, I guess. I've gotten very sick of reading alpha billionaire characters. Some writers just do them perfect, and I've read some very good ones, but for the most part, I'm much more interested in vulnerable male characters who aren't creating problems because they're unwilling to see beyond gender confines, or their own masculinity, or what the world is expecting them to be at any given moment.And sometimes you can write that journey and that's really interesting, but I also, with Cal like I said, I was writing it in a hard time and I just wanted him to be evolved on the spot. Let me just write a character who isn't starting from square one. He just is a nice man who knows who he is and doesn't need to prove it to anybody.What he wants is to connect with Vera, not prove who he is or how much of a man or a hunk he is, he just wants to be there with her. And the fastest way to get there was to write a character who was already most of the way there.MC: Yeah. A hero who's already done a lot of that hard work and soul searching for himself.CB: Off page. MC: I love that. So you briefly mentioned this before actually, but I feel like we're in a moment right now in romance where we're by and large moving away from alpha heroes and these really strong pushy men who aren't necessarily the guys we would want to know in our real lives. What do you think that says about where romance is heading?CB: Well, I'm sure we'll swing back to the alphas. Alphas are too good to just leave in the dust, but hopefully we will be finding some more evolved alphas in the ultimate destination. But I've seen so many trends come and go in romance. You know, I remember probably early '90s, mid-'90s, romance heroes were very buff.And then Nora Roberts ushered in this, or what I perceived to be Nora Roberts, ushered in this very lean lanky hero. And then it went back to super buff again. These things they all just... They're a cycle. But I definitely agree that I think today is the age of the beta hero. I think he's back, he's having his heyday.MC: Yeah. I love a good beta hero.CB: Oh my God, me too.MC: So you've been pretty open about how you started your career writing as a ghostwriter. Would you mind telling us a little bit about your journey as an author?CB: Yeah, absolutely. I've held all sorts of jobs in New York City. Like you do in New York City, often many jobs at a time. At the time I was a receptionist and I had just gotten done doing some part of the job I didn't enjoy doing, which was everyone's dishes. And I sat down, back down at the desk and I literally Googled the phrase "how to make money using your creative writing degree." Because at the time all I had was the student debt. And this menial job and rent. It was all piling up. And the Google search immediately brought me to Upwork, which is a freelancing site. And I was shocked by the number of people who were wanting words. They wanted books of all kinds and really quick turnaround and so many different genres and so many different styles. And I made a profile and within, like, I don't know, eight hours or something I had my first client. I think today is the age of the beta hero. And from there I was able to grow my ghostwriting business and had lots of regular clients. I still have a few regular clients. It was two full-time jobs. I was doing the receptionist gig, and then on... Even on the train, on the way home and on the way to work, I was writing in my Google Docs app on my phone and I would get home and I would write for four or five hours and just trying to get as much done as I possibly could.And then I was able to actually leave my receptionist job and write full time, which I never in a million years thought that could ever happen. And I'm so grateful for that time because it really honed my brain, my muscles, everything that I needed to be able to sit down and write. Which is, of course, maybe the most important part of being a writer is being able to make yourself sit down and write. And ghostwriting truly taught me how to do that across all sorts of genres, but specifically in romance as well.MC: I'm so glad that that set you down this path that has you writing under your own name now, because I just love this story so much. And like I said, I can't wait for what's to come next. But compared to your ghostwriting days, has it felt different writing under your own name?CB: Yes, definitely. I would say when you're writing, when you're ghostwriting, I'd always want it to be good and more than good. I'd always want it to be great, to protect the integrity of my business. But also just my own personal integrity. I wasn't going to put something out there that I didn't totally believe in. But you edit it, you click save, you email it to the client and then you're done, that's it.The whole job is done. And I did not realize when you become the author and when you become the face behind it, that there are years' worth of work with that manuscript afterwards. And that has been a really amazing journey for me over the last year because my debut book just came out this summer. It was called Just a Heartbeat Away.And I just didn't have any idea how much work and thought and heart it takes to really send something out in the world and then say over and over again, "Yes, this is mine. I wrote it, here's what I was thinking." And it's such a beautiful gift. It allows you to be with the characters and be with the story. They end up giving back to you because they're your partner on the whole journey.Whenever you're not sure how to promote or what to say next, they're there and they've done the work with you and they're helping you the whole way.MC: Yeah. I love that. That sounds amazing. So one more question. You've mentioned that you're based in the New York City area and Call Me Maybe is set in both New York City and New Jersey. And there's a lot of attention paid to that commute between the two. And I'm actually a New Jersey native myself. So I got a chuckle out of all of those quips at New Jersey and our probably infamous accent.So I wanted to ask, do you have any connection to New Jersey too, or maybe that New York–New Jersey commute that's mentioned so frequently?CB: I do actually through my husband. We've got a lot of family in New Jersey and we've done the drive a fair amount out to Highland Lakes, New Jersey. And it's this double-edged sword for me because I'm always so excited to go see our family. But it's through the most twisty... It's just like Car Sickness Avenue is what I refer to this drive as. I'm just so ill the whole time I'm there.So I wanted to infuse that part of the story with both my affection for that drive and my frustration for that drive, which Vera is balancing a lot of, both of those things for a lot of different reasons. But actually one of the people on the sound design team, she reached out to say, "By total coincidence, I live exactly where the whole first half of the book takes place. And you've gotten some things wrong, so let's fix them."And so we went back through and changed road names and made it so that it was actually possible that it could happen. But I thought, well, I think this is meant to be because she lives there and I kind of chose it at random, but here we are, serendipity.MC: Yeah. Fun fact. I actually grew up very close to where that’s set.CB: That's so weird. Wow.MC: As I was listening, I was like, "Wow, this is really accurate." So you nailed that, you really did.CB: Well, and I clearly had a lot of help with that. There was a team member once again.MC: Are there any other projects that you're currently working on that you can share with us? I know you've mentioned you have those two more in the series that are still coming, but anything else you can share?CB: Yeah. I have a series through HQN that two of the three are out. The first came out, Just a Heartbeat Away. The second came out in August, Can't Help Falling. And the third comes out in January, Flirting With Forever. And then there are two more in the Audible series. I think they are tentatively slated for March and May. I'm always cooking something else. There's more to come, don't worry. There's plenty more to come.MC: I am so happy to hear that. I mean, I'm excited for all of these.CB: Thank you.MC: So that wraps up all of my questions for today. Thank you so much for joining us, Cara. It was a pleasure talking to you.CB: Thank you for having me.MC: And for folks who haven't yet listened, Cara's Audible Original, Call Me Maybe, is available now on Audible. 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