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Meet Me at the Lake: Q&A with alumni Carley Fortune, a New York Times bestselling author

By: Sahara Mehdi
May 22, 2023
Book cover page of two people sitting at the end of a dock with a pink sunset on a lake and headshot of author Carley Fortune.

Carley Fortune is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Globe and Mail, Chatelaine, Toronto Life, and Refinery29 Canada. She graduated from Toronto Metropolitan University’s journalism program in 2006. Her first novel, Every Summer After, published in 2022  became a New York Times bestseller. Her next novel Meet Me at the Lake will be released on May 2, 2023.

The book is set in both Toronto and a fictional Muskoka resort -- both settings play an important role in the story. Why did you choose to set the story in these two places?

Setting is really important to me as a writer… I find that writing is kind of like reading in that you, as an author, are transported to the place where you are setting your book and it feels like you're hanging out with your characters. So I asked myself where I wanted it to be and I saw it right away. I wanted to be at a lakeside resort in Ontario, an old-school style place with a big lodge and the cabins like in Dirty Dancing, but in Ontario. At that same moment, I pictured Fern, who would be going back home to run the place after her mother died.

I really wanted to explore how the way we think our life is going to be and our life doesn't really turn out the way we expect it always. It made sense to have the characters having just finished university and be launching into their adult lives. My editor was like, ‘What if, instead of spending a day together at the lake, they spend a day together in a city?’ As soon as she said that, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I know exactly what it's going to be, it's going to be the Toronto of 10 years ago. I know exactly where I want them to go.’ 

Over the course of a weekend I sketched out what I wanted their Toronto journey to be and it was the most fun I had writing. I just love Toronto so much and I wanted to capture how magical the city can feel, especially when you're looking at it as a tourist.

Unlike many romance novels, this book also discusses more serious topics like mental health. Why was it important for you to write characters, especially male characters, that experienced these things openly?

I want my books to feel very real. They’re romances, so if you’re picking it up as a romance reader, you know that you're gonna get a happy ending. You're gonna be taken on a journey, but you're gonna be safe at the end. There's gonna be a happy ending. Everything's gonna be okay. But I really want my books to feel like you're snooping on real people. You're getting a peek inside somebody's real life, even though the situation's may be more fantastic than what we experience. I want my characters to be flawed. I want them to go on a journey that is outside of the romantic relationship. Romance is central, but I also want them to be dealing with other aspects of their lives and mental health is a huge part of that.

Are there any skills that you learned while at TMU that you found yourself using while writing these books?

I learned how to write. When I was there, the journalism program was streamed and I was in the magazine stream. Long-form feature writing was the first time that I really studied writing as craft and art. So much of my awakening as a writer happened at school.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.