Jennifer Hennessy on her adult rom-com debut, Degrees of Engagement

"For a YA audience intimacy is much more about feelings versus physical sensation, so I had to make that distinction deliberately as I wrote."


A must read for fans of fake-dating and academia romances, Degrees of Engagement, the adult debut from Jennifer Hennessy, is filled with passion, smarts and wit. With its classic rom-com movie vibes (we’re now craving a 27 Dresses rewatch), Degrees of Engagement is a story you’ll have so much fun falling in love with and to celebrate its release, we had the chance to chat with Jennifer all about it.

Hi Jennifer! It’s so lovely to have you on the site today to celebrate the release of your new rom-com, Degrees of Engagement. For readers who may just be learning of the book, how would you best describe it to entice them to pick up a copy?

Thank you so much for having me back! For any readers who wants to know what DEGREES is about, I’d say it’s for everyone who has ever shown up for their friends when it mattered the most, but whose achievements were overlooked or unacknowledged because they didn’t fit into the partner to wedding to baby traditional pathway. There are so many women doing incredible things in this world, but we don’t celebrate those things the same way and we should!

Can you tell us a little about the inspirations behind the book?

It was definitely a combination of factors. Part of it was that I was in my late 30s and I was burned out on the constant cycle of attending bridal showers and bachelorette parties, destination weddings, baby showers and sprinkles and first birthday parties and post-divorce benders. It’s not that I didn’t want to celebrate those things for my friends and family, it was that it was constant and practically speaking, so expensive, especially when because I’ve never been married or had kids, it felt almost entirely unreciprocated. I remember talking about it to a friend and saying that for my 40th birthday, I was going to send everyone I knew a bill for $500 for not making them do all those things for me and that they were probably going to get off cheap that way!

Now obviously that was just a moment of frustration, but it led me to thinking about how that frustration is legitimate and what might happen when someone tries to celebrate something that isn’t one of the more traditional milestones we choose to honor, particularly for women. And from there, DEGREES was born.

Degrees of Engagement is your debut adult novel, having previous written for young adults. What inspired you to make this audience shift with your work?

For me, the story I want to tell always comes first and Bianca and Xavier’s story was truly the one that was in my head begging to come out. When I pitched it to my agent, who up until that point had only ever done YA and children’s books before and she gave me and extremely enthusiastic go ahead to try, it felt like it was the right project at the right moment. I was also feeling a little bit in a rut in the young adult space, after releasing two books in the middle of a pandemic and my editor leaving the industry, it just felt like the perfect time for a change. I will be back to YA one day, though. I know that for sure.


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Did you find that writing for an adult audience changed your writing process or journey at all? Did the change bring up any challenges or surprises?

Honestly, I found the change pretty natural. It was simply a matter of focusing on the bigger picture, which we tend to do as grownups, rather than the more immediate wants and needs of a teenage character. There was also the challenge of deciding the heat level of the spicy scenes which was distinctly not something I had to consider with my YA books. For a YA audience intimacy is much more about feelings versus physical sensation, so I had to make that distinction deliberately as I wrote.

Your YA novels were all sports romances. What was it like switching your focus from sports to academia?

I hadn’t really thought about this before, but similar to the shift from a YA perspective to Adult, this felt relatively natural and I think that’s because this is also the path my actual life took, from someone who almost entirely identified as an athlete, to someone whose life was firmly rooted in the academic world and publishing. I didn’t do this on purpose, but it makes sense!

We’re pretty big into our music here at United By Pop. With that in mind, I’d love to know what song you think would make the soundtrack to Bianca and Xavier’s love story?

It’s a bit of an oldie, but one of the songs I played on repeat when I was writing was Leather and Lace, the duet by Stevie Nicks and Don Henley. I feel like they really captured the vibe of Bianca and Xavier’s situation and, particularly the line, “stay with me stay” which is something they both want from each other, but are afraid to ask for! And I hate to be cliché, but another one is Taylor Swift’s Lover. I particularly like the line, “this our place, we make the rules” because their relationship very much follows their rules and not the rules we as a society tend to impose on couples and what they want from relationships.

Finally, are you currently working on anything new and if so, is there anything you can share with us?

I am working on something new and it’s so very exciting because it’s another adult novel, but this one sort of unites the old me and the new. It’s a baseball romance, a story I’ve wanted to write for a very long time. For anyone who reads DEGREES, you’ve met the main character, Francesca Sullivan, who works for a major league team as their director of analytics and while you haven’t met her love interest, you definitely heard about her annoyance with him! It’s a quick mention, but I’m so excited to bring their story to life while they try to build a contending baseball team while also contending with the feelings they definitely don’t have for each other.

Get your copy of Degrees of Engagement by Jennifer Hennessy here.

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