A simple online search to buy a piece of jewelry for herself pushed Hannah Orenstein down a digital spiral that led to the idea for her second novel, “Love at First Like.” A fun follow-up to last summer’s “Playing with Matches,” Orenstein’s second novel centers around a millennial jeweler and Instagram influencer Eliza, who dupes her followers into thinking she’s engaged. Only, she needs a fiance to pull off the stunt. amNewYork chatted with the Brooklyn-based author and editor about her writing process, including New York in her books, and the third novel she’ll be releasing next summer.
Where did the idea for “Love at First Like” originate?
I was looking to purchase a piece for myself and I noticed that there were jewelry influencers who had hundreds of thousands of followers. I started thinking about what their lives would be like, and if these people were single, and how frustrating it must be to have your life revolve around selling engagement rings, this commodified idea of happiness, to couples getting married, when you’re not that happy with your own love life. I was really interested in writing about social media and wedding culture and increasing pressure that I think a lot of us feel to perform our relationships online. While I was brainstorming the concept for the book, [fake heiress] Anna Delvey’s story broke in the media, and there was a lot of interest in scammers and grifters and people not really representing themselves honestly.
Why does New York make the perfect setting to tell this story?
My first book, “Playing with Matches,” is set primarily in Stuy Town, which is where I was living when I wrote it. I got a lot of feedback from New York readers saying no one really lives around there, those characters should be living in Brooklyn. That resonated with me, for sure. When I wrote “Love at First Like,” I was living on the Upper East Side and my boyfriend was living in Williamsburg, and through him I got to know the neighborhood and fell in love with it. It felt like a really natural place to set this character. Williamsburg was the neighborhood Eliza would naturally gravitate toward. After finishing the book, I actually moved to Williamsburg with my boyfriend, so the book was very helpful to me in figuring out where I wanted to live.
Many of your scenes take place at local businesses rather than fictionalized locations. Why did you decide to keep it real?
It’s more fun to me. New York has so much to offer. It has such a rich culture of restaurants and bars and places to meet, so why not honor that and celebrate that. I chose places I liked and places I thought would be fun to write about. In my research, I’d seen photos of weddings at the Wythe Hotel and thought it would be a really fun place to set a lot of the action. A lot of locations on the Upper East Side like Dorian’s and Brandy’s Piano Bar are places I’ve been many, many times and truly love. The location for Eliza’s store is across from the bar Golden Years, which is right by where my boyfriend lived at the time. I did a huge walking tour of Williamsburg looking for dive bars for the scenes, and at the end of the tour, I got back to his apartment and realized, “Oh this is the bar, this is perfect.” I set a lot of the action there. There’s an empty lot across the street, and in an alternate universe, that could be Eliza’s store.
Where do you like to write?
I mostly do my writing at home, which I know is kind of boring, but I do typically go out to grab coffee or food. I’ll run over to Devocion to get their banana bread and some coffee before I sit down to write.
What are you working on now?
I have a third novel coming out next summer. It’s set in the world of elite gymnastics and it will launch around the same time as the Summer Olympics. I’m excited about it because I was a gymnast for 15 years and grew up in the same hometown as Aly Raisman. I’ve thought about it for a long time and I’m really excited to finally be able to write it. I write on weekends and purposefully chose to have an editing job, because I figured that if you’re writing all day for work, it’s really hard to come home and write more. Editing uses a different muscle in your brain, it’s proven helpful.