Readers won’t see a lot of conventional rom-com tropes in debut author Addie Woolridge’s The Checklist (Montlake)—Woolridge’s heroine isn’t prone to tripping in too-tall heels or spilling coffee on her crush. Readers will see Dylan Delacroix, a complex protagonist who is used to being in charge, lose some control along the way and come out way better for it.

Woolridge spoke to PW about crafting original characters, defying and satisfying readers’ expectations, and drawing inspiration from her own “weird family on the block.”

Readers meet your protagonist amidst a lot of professional and personal upheaval. What inner strengths does she rely on to navigate it all?

What I like about Dylan, more than any other trait, is that she is, at heart, an optimist. No matter how rocky things get, she is always looking for a bright side, or a solution. To me, Dylan is also funny because her strength is her struggle. She is highly ordered and has developed a whole gang of rules and protocols to help her navigate challenges, including her family and childhood. The problem arises when she can’t readjust her rules fast enough for the challenges that life is throwing at her.

In some ways, it seems Dylan is attempting to define herself in contrast to her rather eccentric, chaotic family, which will be relatable to many readers. From your perspective, is it possible to ever really escape one’s upbringing?

I actually don’t think you can escape your upbringing, but you can square with it. No one has a perfect childhood, even those of us who grew up well-loved and happy. What I love about being an adult is that I get to decide what experiences I will keep close to me, what will guide me, and what I’m going to let go of. Then again, as I get older, I find myself subconsciously doing things that my parents do, so maybe I don’t have as much choice as I like to believe! I’ll know I am really done for when I start to buy my favorite pair of shoes in every available color...looking at you, mom!

The feud at the center of the story is great fun. Did you base the dynamics of said feud on anything from your own life?

Our family feuds weren’t nearly as epic as the ones in the book. That said, we were—and still are—the weird family on the block. In the book, Dylan’s parents constantly forget to turn off their outside speakers. This was pulled from my dad, who used to get up around 5 a.m. to work out to funk music and would forget to turn off the surround sound inside and outside. That meant that all of us got woken up by Bootsy Collins yelling “Bootzilla’s here!” from time to time.

Can you talk about the process of developing and writing the book’s secondary characters?

It was important to me to make sure that the diversity in my life is on the page. In terms of characters’ personalities, in some cases, I just handed out the things I love to different people. For example, I adore glitter and pink, so I sat there and thought, what would a glittery, pink person be like in real life? The answer was Stacy.

Brandt is literally plucked right off the streets of Seattle. That quiet, nerdy, pale person in a fleece is all over the place. In other cases, it was a little bit more complex, and I needed to take into consideration the kind of person who could deliver the feedback that Dylan needed to be able to grow as a person.

In what ways does your story upend conventions of traditional rom-coms? And in what ways does it uphold everything we love about them?

Often, there is a lot of physical comedy in rom-coms. For example, a story where the main character falls down the stairs and covers the love interest in coffee because they wanted to wear unwalkable designer shoes to a job they aren’t really qualified for. I’m not judging those stories. However, I didn’t want to do that with this book. Dylan is qualified, competent, and hard-working. She would totally practice walking in designer shoes, so there are fewer of the physical mishaps than readers may be used to seeing. Since she is a planner, I use a lot more absurd situational comedy, forcing Dylan into unexpected places with unpredictable people. That said, I love old school-style rom-coms. I hope readers will still see the characters second-guess themselves and cheer as they ultimately develop the confidence to be comfortable in their own skin. And of course, the magic of falling in love is still there!

Can you give us any hints about what comes next in the series?

Sure! I’m just putting the finishing touches on the second book, The Bounce Back, which centers on the story of Neale, Dylan’s spacey younger sister. Neale is such a sweetheart, but she is kind of a mess with her head in the clouds. After accidentally setting her performance art career on fire, she has to kind of figure herself out and really go after her dreams.