How One Writer Found His Happily Whatever After

Stewart Lewis on rom-com writing, publishing during the pandemic, and why escapist reads are more important than ever.

How One Writer Found His Happily Whatever After

A novelist, singer-songwriter, nonfiction essayist—and occasional dog walker—Stewart Lewis wears many hats.  A gay man and father, his journey to parenthood was anything but traditional, as he wrote about in this piece for Narratively in 2018.

A year and a half and a pandemic later, his newest book Happily Whatever After will be released on July 28th. In this romantic comedy, 30-something Page leaves NYC in favor of DC after she gets dumped and fired in the same week. Just as she feels her life has hit rock bottom, she finds unlikely refuge at a dog park in the nation’s capital, where the pups have just as much personality as their owners. Stewart talked to us about promoting and publishing the book during a global crisis, managing different projects, and how his writing has changed with fatherhood.

Narratively: Let’s start by talking about your new book coming out in July. Given this strange time, how are you preparing for this release? 

Stewart Lewis: It is a strange time for authors with books coming out, but I think it’s also a good time, especially for the genre that my book is in. I think a lot of people are looking for what I would call “escapist reads. ” It’s definitely light, fun, there’s a lot of laughter—hopefully, a few tears. People are looking for that piece of entertainment that’s gonna wash over them and feel good.

The problem is it feels tone-deaf to self-promote in this time. But you know, you work really hard on a book, you want to be able to say “hey, it’s coming out, read it if you want.”

Narratively: “Happily Whatever After” is about this 30-something, recently single woman who loses her job and moves to a new city. How do you get into the headspace of writing from the perspective of a character who’s very different from you? 

Stewart Lewis: So I always had this character in mind. I’m obviously a very small minority being a male writing in this genre, there’s not very many. But, I am a gay male, so that kind of changes things a little bit!

It’s sort of an amalgamation of five or six of my female friends. They’re all a little sarcastic, a little dark, smart, and funny, and, of course, there’s some element of me in there too. But I acknowledge “my girls,” I call them—my five best friends forever are all women.

Narratively: In your Narratively piece you mentioned very briefly working at a spa. What’s the role of part-time jobs for a creative person?

Stewart Lewis: It’s funny that you say that because one of the first things I published was a story about working in that spa. Not only is it sort of good for your sense of being humble, but additionally you can get a lot of material from it.  I remember when I went to the job interview, she asked me where my parents went to college. I thought “this is the weirdest thing,” but right there I was like “wow, this woman is a total character.”

I worked in restaurants for 10 years on and off, and I sold my first book during that time. As an artist or a writer or a singer you never know what’s gonna happen, I’ve always had that plan to keep something going on the side.

Even right now I’m actually working for Rover! I love dogs, and it’s not necessarily that I need the money, but if I’m working on a book or something, I can’t work on it all day. So it gets me out of the house.

Narratively: Moving back to your Narratively piece, tell us what’s happened with your family since then.

Stewart Lewis: I’ve moved a couple of times since Rowan has been getting older so I’m farther and farther away from her, but we still make the time to see each other. So, for example, she’s coming to Nantucket for the month of July, so I get long periods of quality time.

The everyday is basically handled by her mom who is wonderful. So it’s just one of those things where it’s a nonconventional family situation. But it works really well, and I’ve been consistent with her since the day she was born, and she’s 14 now.

I always said to Kat, my “baby mama” if you will, that as long as our daughter is surrounded by love, that’s the most important thing. It might not be a conventional situation, but she’s been loved and she will be forever.

Narratively: Has having a daughter changed the stories you want to tell?

Stewart Lewis: Yeah, it does, it’s kind of a little scary being a parent in this day and age, and having someone who’s coming of age right now. I’ve always written women characters who are strong for her. One day I want her to read them and think “this is cool, my dad is writing characters, that are pushing the envelope and not putting characters in a box.” 

Narratively: You’re also a musician. How do you balance all of these different facets of your life? 

Stewart Lewis:  A lot of young people think they have to do something and just focus on that. It sounds kind of esoteric, but ride the wave of your life and see where it takes you, versus saying “this is my life and this is what I’ll do.”

So for me to have that versatility is great, cause if I get sick of writing or editing, I’ll go work on some music or book some shows. I can go back and forth and feel like I’m not just tied to one thing.

This interview has been condensed for clarity

To spotlight all the exciting book projects out there by Narratively contributors, including Stewart Lewis’ engaging novel Happily Whatever After, we created The Narratively Bookshop. When you buy any book from the Narratively Bookshop, 10% of the purchase price goes to Narratively, helping us publish lots more great stories, and another 10% goes to supporting independent bookstores.

If you live outside of the United States, you can purchase Happily Whatever After on Amazon or Target.