Author Interview, Blog

Learning How to Flirt During Hanukkah with Hannah Reynolds

Hannah Reynolds

In the novel Eight Nights of Flirting by Hannah Reynolds, Shira enlists her “nemesis/former crush” to teach her how to flirt. Shira is 16 years old and determined to get a boyfriend during Hanukkah. But during their snowed-in time together, Shira learns there is more to Tyler than she thought. She learns to trust her heart and her instincts.

In my interview with Hannah Reynolds, I asked her about learning how to flirt as a teenager, the inspiration for using pop culture in her books, and how Hanukkah grounds this story.

[Book content warning: underage drinking]

What is your definition of feminism?

To me, feminism is about equal rights, equal respect, and equal treatment. It’s about valuing the importance of different kinds of work and interests, about lifting each other up instead of creating a hierarchy and pushing other people down. It’s about intersectionality — supporting and uplifting the voices of other marginalized groups and working together to undo the systemic pressures woven into our society.

What elements of flirting did you want to write about, especially with Shira learning as a teenager?

When I was a teen, flirting seemed so scary. I wanted to write a character who started off terrified of flirting, and then learned to shift her mindset so that flirting — and communicating, overall — seemed doable and even fun. I think it’s a good lesson to learn, and one I definitely learned on the later side. If I can impart to teens how helpful good communication is earlier, I would consider that a job well done.

Also, I wanted to write about how big everything feels: the first time you lock gazes, the first time you hold hands, the first time you kiss. How scary it can seem before it happens, but how wonderful it can be and how it gets easier with time and practice. Experiencing all those firsts can feel absolutely overwhelming, and so I wanted to write about Shira going through all of them and learning to handle it. Also, of course, I loved
sticking Shira and the boy teaching her to flirt — Tyler — in situations where they had to keep their gazes locked, or touch their shoulders, or compliment each other, because it’s a great way to slowly build tension.

What inspired you to include pop culture references to tell the story?

Pop culture references can tell you a lot about a character. Sometimes it’s their generation. Early on, Shira notes “a nor’easter had swept the Eastern Seaboard with the reckless speed of Elsa icing Arendelle.” Shira would have been a little kid when Frozen came out; it would have been one of the formative movies of her childhood.

References also showcase hints of personality. Tyler references My Fair Lady both as a shoutout to the theme of Eight Nights of Flirting, but also to allude to Tyler’s softer side, which he doesn’t always show people… how he spends a lot of time with his moms watching old musicals.

Many of the references and jokes also highlight Jewish culture, since I wanted Shira’s Judaism to feel casual and lived in, like when she makes a joke about welcoming strangers and Passover. And while I’m pretty sure all the references to Morpheus and Caravaggio and the like don’t count as pop, I spent too many years reading about art history and the classics to be able to resist them.

Shira and her grandmother have a loving relationship. Friendship is also a cornerstone of the story. Why did you want friendship and family to thrive along with experiencing romance?

For Eight Nights, in particular, part of Shira’s character development is tied to discovering how to form better relationships. While she starts off focused on romantic relationships, aka learning how to flirt, she also wants to get better at forming and sustaining friendships. My own friendships mean the world to me, so I wanted to depict how beautiful those relationships can be.

I love romance, but I don’t think life should be centered around it. There are so many other rich and important relationships to think about! No matter how wonderful your partner is, you don’t need to get everything you need from one person; it’s important and healthy to have other strong relationships. I always write stories with strong friendships and family ties because I think those are so pivotal to a happy life.

What details did you want when writing the men in the story, particularly Tyler?

Book cover for Eight Nights of Flirting by Hannah Reynolds

It was very important to me that all the characters be fully rounded, especially Tyler, the love interest. It’s easy to understand Shira’s development as we’re in her head, but I had to take special care to show Tyler’s since we only see him as observed by Shira.

On the outside, Tyler looks like the most popular boy in the room: extroverted, handsome, laughing, glowing. But I wanted to dig into how everyone is more than they appear. Tyler is actually very private — he keeps everyone at arm’s length and is private about his own interests since he’s been made fun of for them in the past.

When writing a love story, I also work hard to make the two characters complement each other. In this case, both characters have emotional walls. Shira’s make her seem icy and cold, while most people don’t even realize Tyler is projecting his golden facade.
Both of them need to learn to let those walls down before they can form a real connection, and that was part of the fun of writing Eight Nights of Flirting.

As for the other men — from Shira’s dad and uncles, who make pancakes and remember surprising details, to her snarky cousin David and her exuberant cousin Ethan — I wanted to show that everyone has their own interests and personalities. I wanted to show positive relationships between the boys and men, since displaying affection and love is something I want to encourage.

How does Hanukkah ground this story and the characters? 

Eight Nights of Flirting starts on the first night of Hanukkah and carries through the first few days of the new year. While Hanukkah isn’t a major holiday, it’s often a great time to get together with friends and family, especially if it aligns with winter break. The Jewish calendar is lunisolar, and I based the dates in this novel on the 2022 calendar, which means Hanukkah starts on December 18 and ends on the 26! This gave me the ability to bring all of Shira’s family together for the holiday because they had a school vacation.

I gave Shira and her large, boisterous family all the love for Hanukkah I have for the holidays. Celebrating Hanukkah is such a wonderful experience, filled with family and food and songs, and I wanted to bring that to life and depict a part of my own identity that I rarely see in fiction.

Your writing is delicate, aromatic, and reflective. How are you developing your voice as a storyteller?

Thank you! I think a lot about the five senses when I write a story. After I finish a manuscript, I go back through and ask myself: Did I describe the feeling of sand between their toes, the taste of cool applesauce on hot latkes, the smell of snow and ice and the night? I want my books to feel firmly rooted in the world so readers can experience what the narrator is going through, and that means bringing all of our senses into the story.

I also want readers to be right there with my heroine as she’s experiencing all these big, crucial discoveries about romance or family or uncovering a 19th-century whaling mystery. I like to dwell in strong emotions — whether of joy or fear or surprise — in order to really impart feelings to the reader.

What organization would you amplify to our audience?

I love We Need Diverse Books, a grassroots organization that supports diversity in children’s literature and aims to make sure every child and teen can see themselves represented in stories. It’s so important that kids see their own lives reflected in fiction. It helps them know their self-worth and realize their stories are important. We Need Diverse Books has resources for readers and educators, and they also sponsor writers from marginalized backgrounds and work to diversify the publishing industry as a whole.

You can follow Hannah on her website, on Instagram, and on Twitter.

Ashley Paul is a traveler, runner, and baker. She is an Everlasting Bookworm and Culture Maven. She is passionate about supporting high school juniors and seniors to write compelling stories for their post-secondary careers. She loves stories with social commentary, atmospheric writing, and compelling characters.