Chris Harrison has been presiding over ABC’s reality love competition The Bachelor for the past 13 years. During his tenure, he’s learned a thing or two about what women want when it comes to romance—and escapist TV. He’s also handled more red roses than a street vendor.
Now, Harrison has channelled this expertise into a romance novel. The Perfect Letter, on shelves now, centres on the romantic travails of NYC book editor/bachelorette Leigh Merrill. Leigh is living the lonely gal’s fantasy: she’s caught between two great men, oh-so-perfect New Yorker Joseph and oh-so-sexy Southern-hunk-from-her-scandalous-past Jake.
Read on for the lowdown on why Harrison turned his hand to romance novels and how his ex helped shape the sex scenes (!), plus a Bachelorette teaser.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes and no. It was never my goal or aspiration growing up. Television was always my first love and still is, but I always loved to write and have been writing for several years—blogging and other stuff. It’s something that I’ve always enjoyed. So now I’m taking all the joy out of it and making it a job!
How long did it take to write the book?
The better part of two years. It was probably three years really if you go back to the inspiration for the book, which was meeting Nicholas Sparks one evening at an event. We started talking and realized that we had a very similar fan base.
So what exactly did you and Sparks talk about?
It was really just a long conversation about what each of us does for a living. I’ve always been a fan of his and appreciated what he’s done, and again, I think we do have similar paths and we try to reach people in the same way. It’s escapism. Mine is based in reality TV and his is based in fiction, but it’s escapism; it’s a bit of a soap opera. That in and of itself didn’t really light the fire, but for several years my team has been talking about writing a book. A tell-all was suggested, which I’m not going to do, nor did I want to do a dating book. The more I thought about writing a book, the more I looked back to that Nicholas Sparks conversation and I thought, “You know what? What a great extension of my brand.” That’s really how I felt about it. It’s not changing jobs or trying something different but really just reaching the same people I’m trying to please on The Bachelor and extending that branch and giving them a little something more. The book itself is very much a departure from The Bachelor. There are no references, there are no stories; I mention roses once in the book.
You call yourself a romantic, but there can be a lot of unhappy endings on the show. How do you keep the rose-tinted glasses on?
It’s hard sometimes. But I liken it to the real world and the way relationships go. Sometimes you get really down on love and you feel like there’s no hope—things are too hard, people suck, and then all of a sudden you have that moment, that Sean and Catherine thing, or you have even Andi and Josh from last season, or Chris and Whitney. Andi and Josh broke up but they had this amazing thing… Everything seemed perfect but again what happened in their relationship is real life. Every now and then there are those moments that bring it all back, and all of a sudden you think This is all worthwhile, and I do think it’s like that in dating. You’re down and things are rough and then you have a date or meet that someone and you’re like, “It’s all good now.”
The romantic hero’s name is Jake and he’s a Texan. Is this a wink to The Bachelor’s Jake Pavelka or am I reaching?
You may be reaching a little bit. I honestly didn’t have Jake Pavelka in mind. It was just a good strong Texas name. The only name in the book that meant something to me—with everyone else the names were changed to protect the guilty—is the lead character, Leigh Merrill. I’m the host of Miss America and have been five or six times, and there’s a former Miss America named Lee Meriwether, she was the original Catwoman, and to me she’s just the epitome of grace and beauty and love and she’s this amazing woman I’ve gotten to be friends with over the years. When I was trying to think of this character I was trying to describe her to myself and asking who is she and the first thing that popped into my head was Lee Meriwether: strong, smart, beautiful, elegant and has this way about her and I just thought, that’s her. So a bit of a tip of the cap to Lee Meriwether is Leigh Merrill.
Bachelor couples don’t always have a happy ending, but in your book you could control the outcome. Do you feel like a happy ending is essential to a romance novel?
When I’m at a movie or reading a book—and this is just me—I like to feel good when it’s over… This new wave of movies and books that leave you saying, “What was that? What just happened? Did I just read that or watch two hours of a movie and that’s how you’re leaving me?”—I don’t like that feeling myself so I didn’t want that in my book. Our lives are hard enough and people are picking up books and going to movies or watching The Bachelor to escape, to get away. I don’t want to make your life worse or more difficult by reading a book.
Any Bachelor breakups that you wish you could have rewritten as happy endings?
There’s a lot of them… And there’s some that I can’t believe lasted as long as they did.
I’ve read a lot of romance novels, and there’s always a line for the sex scenes. People either go tasteful or romantic or something really uncomfortably graphic. You achieved a nice middle ground. How did you approach the sex scenes?
It is a very difficult thing and I thought long and hard about them. I wanted them to be love scenes and I wanted them to mean something. I didn’t want them to be sex scenes. It’s not 50 Shades of Grey. It’s not Nicholas Sparks; it’s definitely that middle ground. It’s really into reality. You’ve got to have moments in that escape to really capture the raw emotion of their love… I actually relied a lot on my ex-wife Gwen [in writing the love scenes.] She’s a huge romance novel reader, she reads a book a week, so I would write a scene and I would send it to her. I bounced a lot off her. I’d say, “What do you think? Is this too much or too little?”
Any intel on the Bachelorette premiere?
That first episode is pretty wild because it’s just unlike anything we’ve ever done before, obviously, with two Bachelorettes, Britt and Kaitlyn. You’d think things might have been contentious [between them] but they’ve really kind of bonded… I think they did themselves really well by coming together rather than going after one another. But it is a wild season. It’s a wild ride. It may be the basis for the next book!
Your favourite Bachelor recapper is back! Read Sharleen Joynt’s take on the first episode of The Bachelorette.