After a career of writing about others’ works, Emma Rosenblum has found herself in the interviewee chair, as a first-time novelist. Rosenblum, who is the chief content officer at Bustle Digital Group, overseeing Nylon, Bustle, Elite Daily and other media brands, has published “Bad Summer People” about a set of wealthy New Yorkers who summer on Fire Island and fill their days with the usual gossip — until a dead body is discovered.
The source material came easily to Rosenblum, who has lived in New York her whole life, grew up spending summers on Fire Island and has “a lot of experience with the wealthy communities in this place,” she says. During the pandemic, she was struck by how quickly “The White Lotus” consumed the masses and connected the HBO show’s popularity to the moment in time.
“I remember watching it and thinking to myself, ‘This is really fun. It’s really frothy. Clearly people are responding to the idea of just watching kind of rich people train wrecks,’” Rosenblum says. “I was like, ‘I know these people, too. I could write something in the same genre.’”
“Bad Summer People” began two summers ago, when Rosenblum and her family spent the summer on Fire Island, the first time she’d been back for a full summer season as an adult. Working from her parents’ home there, she found herself wanting to fill the chunks of time between Zoom meetings with something creative.
“My job now is pretty managerial. I oversee our editorial and creative and fashion teams, but I’m not really in the creative nitty-gritty like I used to be,” she says. “I was an editor at various places, so I decided to try fiction. I was like, ‘Why not? Sounds easier than nonfiction.’”
She followed the age-old wisdom to write what you know and turned to the beach community of Fire Island, where she’s been coming for years.
“It’s such a closed, funny, insular, beautiful community. I did some research and there were no books set there at the time. I thought, ‘Well, let’s do a murder mystery here,’” she says. “I just started with that idea and went from there, and I wrote a chapter and I was like, ‘I could write this.’ It just kept going.”
She finished the book within four months, and the TV rights sold prior to it hitting shelves last week. Throughout the process of bringing the book to life, Rosenblum says the demands of her day job kept her from getting too wrapped up in the book’s journey.
“Because I have a day job, a real intensive thing that I’m concentrating on during the day, I was not necessarily putting pressure on this process in a way that possibly novelists do,” she says. “I remember when I got the call that Flatiron was going to make an offer, I was in the middle of something at Bustle, very busy. We were going through some structural changes, and I said to my agent, ‘OK, but I’m on this other call.’ She was like, ‘This is the call people wait their lives for.’”
Her background as a journalist came in handy in other ways too: having written numerous celebrity profiles, writing fiction suddenly felt like “getting to make it the best version of the kind of interview that you do every day, where someone is saying the perfect kicker — because in real life, that doesn’t necessarily happen, but in fiction it can,” she says.
“Then also, the quickness with which I write. I’ve always been on deadline and it’s just something where if you have a deadline, you have to meet it in media. I think people, particularly novelists, can go on forever without finishing. I just finished it and I was like, ‘Well, that’s done. Send it off.’”