Love Country: Erin Hahn's latest romance novel is humorous, songful, and lyrical
Nothing burns like unrequited love or miscommunication.
The two characters in Erin Hahn’s aptly named new romance novel, Friends Don’t Fall in Love, prove the title either right or wrong by the end of the book. This novel is the spicy second addition to Hahn’s trilogy that started with Built to Last.
Friends Don’t Fall in Love takes place in Nashville, and things are already complicated given that character Lorelai Jones rents the other half of her friend—and crush—Craig “Huckleberry” Boseman’s duplex. The plot presents humor, missteps, sex, music, romance, and the potential for redemption.
The cards are not exactly stacked for these two. Craig and Lorelai are both navigating their thorny profession—and pasts. Craig is growing his indie record label and songwriting prowess after separating from the popular but toxic lead singer, Drake Colter. Lorelai is taking baby steps to rebuild her career after getting kicked out of the spotlight—a choice she made at her last concert—and having that same singer, Drake, break off their engagement.
Despite the setbacks, Craig and Lorelai are both in it for the love of music. Craig reflects on his connection to songs:
Clichéd as it may sound, I’ve always used music to get in touch with my emotions. I don’t have a name for something until I hear it. The more I listen, the more feelings I have. The more feelings I have, the better songwriter I become.
This genuine appreciation for music—and the natural songwriting and singing talent of Craig and Lorelai, respectively—distinguishes them in this cutthroat industry. As Lorelai reveals, “Even after I was canceled from country music, I never actually believed that was it for me. That I was done. In my heart, I knew I had more to give and I’d be back, and things would eventually right themselves once more.” Lorelai has to determine if she can make a comeback.
The other thing that heats up is the chemistry between Craig and Lorelai. They knew each other when Lorelai was dating Drake and Craig was in Drake’s band, but neither of them can admit their feelings for the other. Still, they can’t stop thinking about their one-night stand years ago on the night when Drake dumped Lorelai and Craig rescued Lorelai from drowning in her sorrows.
Fast forward to present day when Lorelai is at the wedding of her friends Shelby and Cameron (stars of Built to Last). She narrates her thoughts on Craig: “I’m still drunk off the what-ifs. I’m thinking about this way too much for someone who isn’t willing to act on it. He’s my sort-of boss. And landlord. And one of my oldest, dearest friends.” It goes without saying that things are complicated. Whether Lorelai, or Craig, will give voice to their affection is an ongoing question of the novel.
Like Hahn’s other books, Friends Don’t Fall in Love is a dual point-of-view romance in which chapters alternate between the two main characters. The style lends itself to rom-com style interactions and misunderstandings that are so painful—but so good at the same time. With music as a theme of this novel, each chapter also reinforces the feelings and romance through a subtitle that is a song name, such as “If I Was a Cowboy,” “Mercy,” and “Not Ready to Make Nice.”
Hahn lives outside Ann Arbor, Michigan, and writes both adult romances and young adult novels, including the forthcoming Even If It Breaks Your Heart, about which she will be in conversation with Rebecca Mix at the Ann Arbor District Library's Downtown location on Friday, February 9, at 6:30 p.m.
Hahn will appear with fellow local authors Lisa Peers and Tana Jenkins at "Romance Trope Bingo," hosted by Alana Oxford, at Booksweet on Friday, February 2, at 7 pm.
I interviewed Hahn about Friends Don’t Fall in Love.
Q: It has been about a year since we last talked, and now it’s 2024. How did 2023 treated you?
A: 2023 was a year for waiting! I’d been so productive through the pandemic, creatively speaking, that I’ve been a bit ahead of the game. Particularly due to printing issues, a lot of book schedules pushed out. Therefore, Friends Don’t Fall in Love released at the end of 2023, and then I have two releases happening in 2024. I spent the majority of last year in anticipation for the busyness this year would bring! So much of that “hurry up and wait” magic at work, but it felt good to come up for air from the writing trenches and just be present in my real life for a while.
Q: Your new romance novel is the second in a three-part series that began with Built to Last. Tell us about Friends Don’t Fall in Love.
A: Friends Don’t Fall in Love features Lorelai—who we meet as a side character in Built to Last—scorned former country music starlet as she endeavors to rebuild her career after an industry-wide cancellation five years or so before the book begins. Think The Chicks after Natalie Maines spoke out about President Bush in the early 2000s. At the time, Lorelai lost her fiancé, her recording contract, and her tour. She returns to Nashville half a decade later to work with Craig Boseman, an up and coming indie record producer, lyricist, and dear friend. As the two attempt the impossible—a second big break?—in an industry that doesn’t often embrace change, they fight the growing feelings they have for each other and have to decide if falling in love with your best friend is worth the risk.
Q: When we talked about Built to Last earlier, you mentioned that the main characters “have got gobs of charisma.” The leads in Friends Don’t Fall in Love, Lorelai Jones and Craig “Huckleberry” Boseman, likewise have charisma but for a different reason—they are country music stars. What is unique about Lorelai and Craig?
A: Lorelai and Craig are probably the most down to earth country music stars you’ll ever “meet.” Both fought tooth and nail for their careers and then walked away either by their own choice or fate, only to return years later to try again all for the love of the music and words. They’ve faced the worst the industry had to offer them and came back even stronger. It’s a real underdog story and honestly, who is more charismatic than an underdog who chooses to face a giant and comes out on top?
Q: Both Lorelai and Craig’s connections to the country music industry are complicated owing to who they know and what they have done. What inspired you to have music, and specifically country music, as their passion?
A: Real life! Understand my stories are a thousand percent fiction, but I’m always gonna have a wrong that I need to rewrite as a right and in this story, it’s the plight of female artists. I absolutely thought of Natalie Maines and Taylor Swift and Maren Morris among others as I wrote this story, and I’m certain my feelings are layered within and woven throughout Lorelai and Craig’s romance. Outside of that, I’ve also been a student of song lyrics and composition my entire life and have always had the utmost respect for country music as a storytelling genre of music. This is my second book featuring country music and Nashville as a hub of creativity and I’m sure I’ll return again one day.
Q: Lorelai’s music career majorly suffers when she makes a statement against gun violence by singing Neil Young’s “Ohio” at a concert. Despite the backlash, Lorelai does not back down from her views. This issue continues to haunt schools and society. How did you pick this problem as the one that Lorelai advocates about?
A: It was an easy choice. Like Lorelai, I’m a teacher and I’m also a parent. I’ve worked in Ann Arbor Public Schools off and on for several years and have attended active shooter trainings and drills. I know what the sound of gunshots in a high school hallway sounds like. I’ve taught kindergarteners how to hide their little bodies and remain silent in the event of something truly horrific. That kind of thing leaves some pretty deep emotional scars. When I began writing Lorelai’s story, I knew I had set the premise back in Built to Last that she had been exiled from country music for something she said back in 2017. I simply put myself in her shoes, a former teacher, hearing about yet another terrible tragedy just before hitting the stage on her summer tour. What would she feel compelled to do? To say? How would her audience have reacted to her speaking out? Particularly as a female artist?
Q: Craig regularly posts to an anonymous—well, sort of—erotic poetry Instagram account. What a tease! Nevertheless, the account brings Lorelai and Craig closer together. Did you intend for the poetry account to do this, or did the context emerge as you wrote? Why a poetry account for Craig?
A: I read a lot of instapoetry and love how even the tiniest of teases of craft can pack such a huge punch. Online, social media in particular, is where an artist can remain anonymous but still reach an audience for near-instant gratification. I can see how that would appeal to a songwriter/poet like Craig who craved an outlet for his inner longings without the vulnerability. Or maybe with all of the vulnerability, but still safe, if that makes sense. I definitely intended for the poetry account to bring them together but I didn’t count on the fact that I would have to write all of Craig’s erotic poetry. I do this to myself a lot. I’ll claim my characters are wildly talented poets or songwriters and then realize I have to write their songs and poetry and make sure it’s believably good. It wasn’t until after Friends Don’t Fall in Love that it occurred to me that perhaps I am also a poet and lyricist, albeit an accidental one.
Q: In our last interview, we talked about dual point-of-view romances. In Friends Don’t Fall in Love, you effortlessly switch between Lorelai and Craig’s viewpoints. You also go back and forth in time, and you incorporate conversations over text. How do you organize the points of view? As you write, do you alternate between the characters like the experience while reading, or do you write one character all the way through to the end of the book and then weave in the other’s chapters?
A: First of all, thank you for saying I “effortlessly” switch back and forth. I might cry at that. Honestly, by the time I finish a chapter with one character’s perspective I’m ready to jump into the brain of the other. It’s always been a fascination of mine, to look at the same experience from multiple points of view. It’s painful for me to read single POV because I’m extremely distracted wondering what the other person is thinking the entire time. I definitely switch back and forth as I go, writing completely linearly and following along with my trusty playlist/soundtrack to keep myself on track with the character’s voice.
Q: This approach works well for the relationship between Lorelai and Craig because the reader is privy to each character’s inner dialogue. What is it about the misunderstandings and unrequited love that makes romance novels so compelling?
A: Gosh, I don’t know, but it’s why we both love and hate romance novels! I’m an outlier as an author because I tend to shy away from what we like to call the “third act breakup” in most of my books. I prefer my drama to be external, but in this case, these two idiots talked all day long without communicating their hearts. Which, by the way, for songwriters felt very authentic and annoying. They tried to let their physical attraction speak for itself, which was a terrible, awesome idea. I’ve had readers yell at me about how much they dislike the “miscommunication trope” to which I respond, “If everyone just communicated, this would be a very short, very boring story.”
Q: We are in the time over year when it is so cozy to just stay inside and read. What is on your stack to read this season?
A: I’m still catching up on my to-be-read from last year, so up next on my stack are Yellowface by R.F. Kuang and Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros. I know, I know, I’m a little behind.
Q: The third book in this adult romance series will be published later this year. Would you share about that book and what else is on the horizon for you?
A: So I am actually slipping back into my YA roots next month, releasing my fourth YA romance called Even If It Breaks Your Heart about a grieving bull rider named Case Michaels who follows a bucket list left by his late best friend all the way to Winnie Sutton, the prickly girl working at his father’s ranch. It’s about taking risks and chasing dreams even if they might break your heart in the process.
And then in October, my next adult romance, called Catch and Keep, will follow Lorelai and Shelby’s best friend Maren as she travels to a northern Wisconsin lake resort town to claim her rundown inheritance and fall head over fishing reel for her big brother’s best friend, a single dad resort owner named Josiah Cole.
Martha Stuit is a former reporter and current librarian.