How far would you go to find the perfect husband? All the way back to the 1950s? Those are the questions Meri Newberg finds herself asking in Husband Auditions (Kregel Publications/August 17, 2021), the latest release from award-winning author Angela Ruth Strong.
For Meri, it seems the world is full of happily-ever-after love, or maybe it’s only because she’s just gotten home from the wedding of her now-former roommate. As of now, Meri is the only one left in her friend group who is still single, so she inherits “the list” from a 1950s magazine that has been passed from friend to friend. The list outlines “101 Ways to Get a Husband,” and out of desperation, Meri decides there’s nothing to lose and she might as well try some of them out. After all, she can’t get any more single than she already is, can she?
Q: Please introduce us to your new book, Husband Auditions. Where did the inspiration for “the list” come from?
Husband Auditions tells the story of Meri Newberg who is the last single woman among her friend group. At the latest wedding, she’s handed a strange present—a 1950s magazine article with a list of “ways to get a husband.” She starts thinking about trying out a few of them because it sure couldn’t hurt.
Her brother’s roommate, Kai Kamaka, sees the whole thing as a great opportunity to jumpstart his career as a cameraman. He talks Meri into letting him film every silly husband-catching attempt for a new online show in the hopes of it going viral.
I got the idea for Husband Auditions from a real article “129 Ways to Get a Husband” that was published in McCall’s magazine in the 1950s. (You may have seen it online when it was floating around Facebook a couple of years ago like I did.) Some of the suggestions were quite outlandish (ex: stand on a street corner with a lasso), and I imagined what would happen if a modern-day woman tried them out.
Q: You wrote your own list for the sake of the book. Can you share what some of your favorite activities from the list were?
While a lot of the ideas from Meri’s list were definitely inspired by the original, I did set out to create my own. I went to my reader group on Facebook for inspiration. I’m so thankful for the help in coming up with some of these. I had so much fun with them all!
Here are just a few:
- Wear a bandage in public and have a tale of daring to go with it.
- Create suspense like Alfred Hitchcock by buying a convertible to go with your headscarf and cat-eye glasses.
- Faint in front of him. Seeing a woman’s weakness awakens a man’s nature to take care of her.
- Let your date do the ordering. Never directly ask the waiter for anything.
Q: What piece of advice from the list comes up again and again, making it almost a theme of the book?
When brainstorming the book at a writing conference, my friend and historical author Peter Leavell was intrigued by the idea of Meri carrying around a hatbox. I laughed and said, “Only you, Peter.” So, I had to stick him in the novel. He’s the character who gives better advice than anything on Meri’s list. He says, “A gentleman always chooses what he wants most over what he wants in the moment.”
This is what gets to Kai. At first Kai is content in not being a gentleman. Because being a gentleman would take work. And sacrifice. And patience. But the advice haunts him, and he has to ask himself what he really wants. He still tries to take a shortcut to getting what he wants, but Meri has also learned this lesson, and she’s not going to settle for a relationship with a man who chooses not to be a gentleman just so she can be in a relationship.
This line about choosing what you want most in life over what you want in the moment fits both character arcs. I also felt it perfectly blended the classy 1950s era with our modern day entitled society.
Q: Husband Auditions is told from both the perspectives of Meri and Kai. Did that make the plotting out and writing of the book more difficult?
I love playing with point of view. Being that this book is primarily for women, most readers will relate more to Meri’s POV, but Meri is such a character that it was fun having Kai’s perspective on her.
They are complete opposites so readers go from the end of one chapter where they see her thinking this is the worst thing that could ever happen to her to the beginning of another chapter in Kai’s head where he’s enjoying every minute of it. I also wanted to have chapters from Kai’s point of view because he doesn’t say everything he’s thinking the way Meri does. The reader needs to understand where he’s coming from so they can better root for Meri.
Q: Tell us more about Meri and Kai. Is theirs a case of opposites attract?
Meri is a nurse who planned her whole career around what would be the best way to raise a family. She is a planner who wants nothing more than to be a wife and mother, but everyone in her friend group has gotten married except for her. She’s at the point in her life where her friends are starting to get divorced, and she’s realizing that there’s more to happily-ever-after than just walking down the aisle.
Kai doesn’t want to get married, and he tries to avoid responsibility. He works the night shift job that started out as a college internship, and he hates planning because he’s been disappointed one too many times. Sometimes he itches for more, but he’s afraid to scratch that itch—especially where Meri is involved because he cares too much for her to ever want to let her down. His mom thinks he’ll outgrow this phase like a pair of old shoes, but if he doesn’t, he’ll never be able to go the distance.
I recently read a book about dysfunctional relationships and it listed seven different heart issues. One of them was laziness, which is said to be the most frustrating for a woman to have to deal with, and it seems to be common in the younger generations. I wanted to explore the idea of a lazy but likable hero and what it would take for him to have to grow. I gave Meri the heart issue of fear because the fear of being alone could trap her into a relationship with a man who was just going to sponge off her. I believe many women choose bad love over no love at all, and I want to encourage them to invite their significant other into the light rather than join him in the dark.
Q: Kai seems to understand Meri pretty well, but there are some things that it seems Meri misunderstands about Kai. Why didn’t Kai ever just explain himself (such as with the car)?
Ironically, Kai prides himself on not having selfish ambition. Plus explaining himself to Meri takes work. He’d rather keep other people’s expectations of him low. He’s been let down before, and the risk of wanting more just doesn’t seem worth it to him. As Kai’s writer roommate tells Meri, he has a good backstory. Unfortunately, it could keep him from seeing his own flaws and growing…unless Meri points them out for him the way he likes to do for her.
Meri is all about growth. She’s action oriented and not afraid to go after what she wants. She hates when Kai points out that in all her haste to start a family, she might have missed out on the life God had for her along the way.
Q: What does Meri get wrong about her idealistic views of marriage?
Meri believes that if God had the right man for her from the beginning, then she would just have to wait for God to bring him along. It scares her when she sees relationships that she’d once envied start to fall apart. She’d put so many dreams and desires on hold to become the perfect candidate for matrimony, but what if she were to finally have the perfect wedding, but the marriage didn’t last?
She realizes marriage doesn’t offer the guarantee of happiness that she’d been hoping for, and she starts pursuing her dreams again. Rather than trying to become the kind of woman a man would want to spend his life with, she’s going to be the kind of woman she would want to spend her life with. The kind of woman who can choose to be part of a healthy relationship and do the hard work it will require to keep it healthy because she’s not expecting her significant other to make her happy.
Q: One Sunday there is a sermon on marriage at church that opens both Meri and Kai’s eyes. How do each see themselves in the context of that sermon?
When the pastor starts his sermon about marriage, Meri is poised with pen and paper to take lots of notes while Kai is ready to tune out for the next twenty minutes. Neither quite expected to have their beliefs rocked by the sermon.
The passage their pastor focuses on comes from Jesus, and I used the Message translation because I love how it words the passage. In Matthew 19:12 He says, “If you are capable of growing into the largeness of marriage, do it.” But before that, he says, “Marriage isn’t for everyone.” And Jesus lists the kinds of people who don’t get married. Meri sees herself as someone who “never gets asked.” Kai sees himself as someone who “from birth seemingly never give marriage a thought.” Key word: Seemingly.
Q: What advice would you give to single women about the desire to find love and their dreams for marriage?
The best advice I ever got was this: When two people are in a relationship, they have to be relatively close in emotional health. When one person starts to grow, it creates tension in the relationship like a rubber band stretched between two fingers. With such tension, one of three things has to happen. Either the less healthy person chooses to grow, the more healthy person has to regress, or the less healthy person leaves. In all your relationships, choose to grow. If the person you want to be in a relationship with chooses NOT to grow, you are going to be healthier without them. Don’t ever choose “bad love” over no love at all. You are worth much more than that. And you are already loved more than you can even imagine. Let Jesus be your enough, and as you run towards Him, look for a man who wants to run by your side.
Q: Why do women think they can change something about a man once they are in a relationship? Does that ever turn out well?
Codependency says, “I control you, you control me.” So when you are trying to change someone, you are saying, “I will make you who I want you to be so I can be happy.”
In a healthy relationship, you say, “I control me, you control you.” In that situation, you can invite them to make better choices, but you’re going to be happy either way. Like I mentioned above, this creates tension. It’s soooo hard.
In my relationship, my husband will sometimes ask, “What can I do better?” I’ll answer, and he’ll try, but he doesn’t always succeed. And vice versa. We’ve created a relationship where we try to please each other but there is also grace when we fail.
Q: How does each character grow spiritually as the story progresses?
Meri learns to pursue the purpose God has given her that she’d shied away from for fear of having to pursue it alone. She goes from feeling like a failure for being the last single woman in her group of friends to believing she is whole even without a husband. She sees the way she was holding herself back and allows herself to be true to who she was created to be.
Kai, on the other hand, realizes that there is a lot more to scripture than the “thou shall nots.” He’s really good at the shall nots but has to learn that “whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” For the first time, he sees his laziness as a sin. He steps out of his comfort zone to win Meri with a grand gesture, but he learns the hard way that genuine change takes time, and it has to happen in his relationship with God no matter what happened between him and Meri. It couldn’t be her job to grow him.
Q: Why is this book special to you as the author?
I absolutely loved writing this book. I’d finished it, and my agent was shopping it when I got breast cancer. Through cancer, I didn’t have the energy to write. I didn’t have energy to do anything but lie on the couch and stare off into space. As I stared, I relived this book in my mind. I played it like a movie in my head. And I looked forward to this day—to the day I could share it with you. It kept me going through five months of chemo and a double mastectomy. No other book will ever hold this place in my heart.
Q: Do you think readers will get to read more about Meri and Kai in the future? What can readers look forward to next?
I’d considered writing romances for Meri’s brother and roommate, but I prefer standalone novels. My next rom/com is called Football is My Boyfriend. It’s about a woman who unexpectedly finds herself single and in possession of four college football season tickets. She invites her mom, sister, and a friend to join her at the games, not realizing she’ll see her ex at the stadium. As the women cheer together, she learns enough about teamwork to make a relationship work…but it’s going to take a Hail Mary to win her boyfriend back.