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An illustration for Backstory Serial, the Substack home for Mary Trump, E. Jean Carroll and Jennifer Taub's romance project The Italian Lesson. / James Lake

Mary Trump said she's never read a romance novel before, much less written one.

"I am coming at this without any preexisting notions of what the conventions are," Trump told NPR in an interview on video chat.

The psychologist and political commentator is best known as an outspoken critic of her uncle, former President Donald Trump, and not so much as an author of love stories. But that might change now that she's coming out with The Italian Lesson, her first romance novel.

Trump said her lack of knowledge of the romance genre drives her two main collaborators on the project — E. Jean Carroll and Jennifer Taub — up the wall.

"Sometimes, she'll take my advice," said legal scholar and non-fiction book author Taub, who was on the video call with Trump, and serves as the project's editor. "Sometimes she'll ignore it."

With nearly three decades of experience dispensing relationship advice in her regular Ask E. Jean advice column for Elle Magazine, Carroll said she is well qualified to help the rookie romance author get hip to the rules of the genre. "If Mary ever goes off the rails, I call her horrified and say, 'A heroine can't act like that!' " said Carroll, who also joined the the video call.

The three women have all been under the spotlight in recent years for their strong words and actions, especially concerning Donald Trump.

Carroll, of course, is known for having recently won a civil lawsuit against the former president for sexual abuse and defamation. And both Mary Trump's family memoir Too Much and Never Enough, and Taub's book about white collar crime Big Dirty Money, are hyper-critical of Donald Trump.

Mary Trump said her decision to pen a romance grew out of a conversation among friends she met through an online knitting group she joined in 2021.

That group happens to include Carroll and Taub.

Knitters and <em>The Italian Lesson</em> collaborators E. Jean Carroll, Mary Trump and Jennifer Taub

Knitters and The Italian Lesson collaborators E. Jean Carroll, Mary Trump and Jennifer Taub / Mary Trump

"Somebody out of nowhere said, 'Why don't we write a script for a Hallmark movie?' " said Trump. "I thought: Why not? That'll be fun."

Trump said nothing came of that initial idea. But during a bout of writer's block she experienced about five months ago, the idea morphed into a novel.

So far, Trump said she has only written a few chapters. She plans to self-publish new installments of the book twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays over the coming year for subscribers on the Substack content sharing platform. (Readers can get the first three weeks of content for free, but they'll have to pay $60 a year or $6 a month to access the rest.)

Despite Trump's lack of knowledge of the genre, her book's premise follows familiar romance patterns.

"An American woman goes to a hill town in Tuscany, opens a café, meets this hunk," Trump said.

She added that she, Carroll and Taub were relieved to have a project about pure escapism.

"This is a politics free zone," Trump said.

Author and romance critic Sarah Wendell is the co-founder of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (also known as, one of the longest-running online romance communities.

She says this isn't the first time that someone with a famous name has written romance: "Is the fact that they're famous a selling point? Well, it gets attention and that is the whole point of marketing a book."

But the romance maven questions the notion that this book could ever be non-political: "Everything about this concept is political, from the names on the cover to the fact that it's a romance, because romance is political: Who gets to have a happy ending? Whose marriage is legally recognized? Who can be themselves safely?"

Despite her reservations, Wendell said she admires the author and her collaborators for their innovative spirit. Substack is becoming a common enough place to find romance-oriented newsletters and reviews. But Wendell said not too many authors are publishing entire books there yet.

"As a newish platform for building a direct audience, that's a brilliant choice for romance authors and for readers," Wendell said.

Trump said she has received pushback against her foray into romance from members of her own circle; they worry it might undermine her reputation as a serious political commentator. But she brushes it off, adding that romance isn't fluff, and that it can be transformational.

"If the thing that's going to bring me down is writing a romance novel, so be it," Trump said.

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