Emily Wibberly and Austin Siegemund-Broka (Sue Grubman)

Arts and Entertainment

When art imitates life: Austin Siegemund-Broka and Emily Wibberly write from the heart

Authors and high school sweethearts write novels detailing the joys and fears of romance in early adulthood.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/sofiawilliams1/" target="_self">Sofia Williams</a>

Sofia Williams

May 3, 2023

Authors Emily Wibberly and Austin Siegemund-Broka are the kind of couple you love to hate: Seemingly idyllic relationship, enviable careers, a home in Hermosa Beach, Calif., and a cute dog eager to go on walks at the beach. But they’re just so funny and kind, it’s hard to believe anyone is immune to their charms. Their heartfelt connection is reflected in their novels, which they have written together for the last six years.

Siegemund-Broka and Wibberly have been writing young adult and romance novels together for six years, and are continuing to explore today’s literary trends and their own creative muses through their work.

Siegemund-Broka and Wibberly met during their sophomore year English class at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, Calif. Wibberly cites the “Twilight” series, which had recently been released, as particularly influential in shaping her love for young adult fiction.

“Being in high school surrounded by other people who loved to read, that was what we talked about. We went to high school in the ‘Twilight’ era,”  Wibberly said. “Everyone was talking about ‘Twilight’, and I never grew out of that. I was always talking to friends about the best book I read last night.”

Not only has Wibberly and Siegemund-Broka’s shared love for young adult literature served as a creative platform for their writing, but their relationship with one another has provided them with the foundation for their writing career. According to Siegemund-Broka, the most important part of their high school experience was their connection with one another. When they attended college—Siegemund-Broka at Harvard University and Wibberly at Princeton University—their relationship, as partners in both writing and life, continued to grow.

“The most important part of our high school career was each other,”  Siegemund-Broka said. “That’s where we started our love story, and it remains a foundation and a set of memories that we will cherish forever. Writing books that re-create some of those scenarios and more specifically those feelings—the love, the enthusiasm, the hope, the looking toward the future—is intuitive for us because that’s how we felt at the time.”

Wibberly and Siegemund-Broka both developed a penchant for writing through the example set by their families, who emphasized the importance of storytelling and cultivated an appreciation for literature in their children. Wibberly’s parents, screenwriting duo Cormac and Marianne Wibberly, and grandfather, author Leonard Wibberly, served as inspiration for her love of literature. However, Wibberly was initially disinterested in pursuing a career in writing, as she was hesitant to follow in her family’s footsteps.

“In college, I was majoring in psychology and I realized I was more interested in writing,” Wibberly said. “I grew up saying that I wasn’t going to [pursue writing] because everyone else [in my family] has done it, but my parents told me that if I like writing, I shouldn’t let family hold me back.”

According to Siegemund-Broka, when Wibberly started to write creatively, the duo began to share ideas for novels, a relationship which grew until they became full-time collaborators.

“Emily and I both love storytelling and we love sharing it,” Siegemund-Broka said. “[Our partnership] came together quite naturally when Emily started to do writing of her own. We started discussing ideas more and more, and this became sort of an exchange of inspirations and of things we wanted to work on together. Emily was the one who asked me if I wanted to be a full time collaborator. I felt like I’d been waiting for that chance for so long, and it was a thrill to say yes.”

Siegemund-Broka and Wibberly collaborate to determine the premises of their novels, with each person typically introducing the overall idea of the novel and the other determining how those ideas fit into the plot of a novel. According to Wibberly, it takes her and Siegemund Broka’s collaboration to combine all the parts of a complete book idea.

“In our first book, “Always Never Yours”, I thought it would be interesting to write a story based on Rosaline in Romeo and Juliet,” said Wibberly. “I thought it would be interesting to take that girl and put her in a contemporary setting, and explore the character of someone who feels like they’re always the girl before the big love story. And Austin said, what if we put her in a production of Romeo and Juliet and make her play Juliet? That was the actual plot of the book, and mine was the idea of the book. When those came together, we had a complete book idea. All of those pieces on their own are not a book idea.”

After the publication of “Always Never Yours”, Wibberly and Siegemund-Broka’s writing process changed due to the contract they obtained. According to Wibberly, writing in collaboration with an editor and publisher can prove difficult, as it changes the manner and time frame in which the duo produces their books.

“We were suddenly writing under contract, and because of that we were writing with feedback from the beginning,” said Wibberly. “Before we were published, we would just come up with an idea together, and we would be inspired and just write. Looking back on it, I feel kind of nostalgic for when we just followed our hearts in terms of our writing. When we got an agent and an editor, they are fantastic, but they absolutely have input.”

After Wibberly and Siegemund-Broka receive feedback from their editor or agent to improve the marketability of their book idea, Wibberly works on a detailed outline of the novel. After the outline is finished, they collaborate to discuss the outline and workshop each sentence. According to Siegemund-Broka, writing a novel requires the mastery of multiple different skills, which he and Wibberly divide between them based on their individual strengths.

“People think of writing as just the skill of writing,” Siegemund-Broka said. “It’s not that. There’s the skill of ingenuity, there’s the skill of structure, there’s the skill of prose, there’s the skill of editing—of making words efficient and clear, and removing stuff you wish you hadn’t said. We divide these duties as we go, and we work through them in sequence. Only once we’ve done all of them do we get to something that’s a finished book.”

Siegemund-Broka’s full-time job as a lawyer at the firm of Kirkland & Ellis means that it is crucial for he and Wibberly to keep to their writing deadlines, according to Wibberly. The duo typically finishes a novel over the span of 14 to 17 months. They aim to write 500 words on weekdays and 1,500 words per day on the weekends, for a total of 5,000 words per week. According to Wibberly, sticking to deadlines is important to the duo’s writing process because their timely completion of the book ensures that publishing deadlines remain consistent, they get paid for their book, and they are able to plan their writing schedule several months in advance.

“You can’t come up with more ideas unless there’s food on the table, so we want to hit those deadlines,” Wibberly said. “That means we have to be very strict about how we do that, especially working around a day job, so we have a schedule where we try to write 5,000 words a week. If we stay to that schedule, we’ll know exactly when we’ll finish the book. We love to have that motivating date on the calendar.”

Wibberly and Siegemund-Broka’s novels are inspired by their lived experience. While the novels don’t center around circumstances specific to Wibberly and Siegemund-Broka’s lives, the emotions that characters experience in the duo’s novels are drawn from personal experience. According to Wibberly, the inspiration for many of their novels is derived from experiences that the two have gone through that aren’t commonly written about in the romance genre.

“Our most recent young adult novel [With and Without You] was about a long-distance relationship, which was something we had experienced but hadn’t read much about,” Wibberly said.“Those characters’ long-distance relationship was not our long-distance relationship, but because we lived a long-distance relationship while we were in college, we were inspired to tell that story and notice that gap in the market.” 

While Siegemund-Broka and Wibberly began their writing career with young adult novels, they decided to explore the genre of adult fiction as they gained more experience in both the personal and professional realms. Wibberly and Siegemund-Broka released their first adult novel, “The Roughest Draft”, on January 25, 2022, and are releasing a second, entitled “Do I Know You?” on January 24, 2023.

According to Siegemund-Broka, their interest in writing novels for adults came from the desire to explore not only first love, as in most young adult novels, but the process of reckoning with past decisions and reliving experiences for the second or third time, rather than the first. 

“[Our interest in writing adult fiction] came from a shift in stage of life,” Siegemund-Broka said. “We remember very keenly the fears as well as the joys of being in the young adult stage of life. As we grew up and we got married, we dealt with college and first jobs, and we started to have new experiences.”

It became very inspiring to write characters who are dealing with those same questions, who aren’t experiencing things for the first time, but are experiencing things for the second or third time as we are, or are dealing with how they feel now about things they experienced for the first time four or five years ago.”

Siegemund-Broka and Wibberly’s upcoming novel, “Do I Know You?”, centers around a married couple who has lost the spark in their relationship. When they go on their five-year anniversary trip to Big Sur, California, they pretend to be strangers to one another and begin to learn more about one another and fall in love for a second time.

According to Wibberly, the aspect of role-playing present in the novel, where the characters pretend to be different versions of themselves, reflects the immersion into their characters that the duo experiences while writing.

“While we write books together, in a way it’s like we take on these characters that we are writing,” Wibberly said. “We take them on, and for those hours while we’re writing, we’re getting in the headspace of different characters, and we’re crafting a love story between them. We thought of this idea of people who have lost the spark in their marriage reinvigorating it by pretending to be different people because it’s like what we do every single night while writing.”

“Do I Know You?” was a product of the time that Wibberly and Siegemund-Broka spent together during the pandemic, according to Siegemund-Broka. In a similar manner to how Eliza and Graham, the main characters in “Do I Know You?”, get to know one another better through their time spent together, Wibberly and Siegemund-Broka value the ways in which they can continue to learn more about each other.

“The inspiration came from a figment of emotional resonance, which we turned into a situation that’s completely different from one we share. In this instance, the figment of resonance was that we are married,” Siegemund-Broka said. “Over the pandemic, we were the only people we saw for a lot of the time. We spent time getting to know each other really well, getting really familiar with each other, and spending time with each other more and more.”

One of the challenges that Siegemund-Broka and Wibberly faced while writing their novel, “Do I Know You?”, was the pressures associated with the release of their second adult novel. According to Siegemund-Broka, “The Roughest Draft”, the duo’s first adult novel, was somewhat free of expectation because it was their debut novel in the adult fiction genre. On the other hand, according to Wibberly, the publication of the duo’s second adult novel has challenged them to balance honoring their creative muse and evaluating the marketability of their ideas.

“We want to grow our readership, but we also want to keep our [existing] readers happy,” Wibberly said. “Balancing those things with what we want to write and with what our publishing team wants from us becomes an equation that we didn’t run in our heads when we wrote our first [adult] book. With “The Roughest Draft”, we were just chasing a muse. But with our second book, we are balancing.”

Siegemund-Broka and Wibberly’s newest novel, “Do I Know You?”, is currently available on Amazon, Indiebound, and Barnes & Noble.