Jasmine Guillory is an unassailably fabulous romance writer, and her newest, The Wedding Party, brings back two familiar faces from her smash hit, The Proposal. When we see Maddie and Theo again, their commonalities are summed up neatly: Alexa is their best friend, and they hate each other.
But following a night best summed up as “oops, we made a mistake!”, they can’t stop thinking about each other, a tricky entanglement made even more so by their bridal party responsibilities for Alexa’s wedding—and the fact that this simmering attraction doesn’t seem to be fading. Yet when Alexa’s wedding is surprisingly pushed up, the two find themselves regretting the fact that their expiration date as a secret couple is almost up.
Digging into the question of whether two people so different can possibly have a connection other than the purely physical, The Wedding Party reminds us that as with any engagement with a nemesis, there are unspoken rules that must be abided by. First and foremost, don’t fall in love.
Recently, Jasmine spoke with Read It Forward’s Abbe Wright, delving into the thrill of being one of Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club picks, how she stewards agency in her characters, and what makes a truly modern romance novel.
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READ IT FORWARD: Jasmine, you are coming off quite a busy few months. Tell us what it was like to have The Proposal chosen as one of Reese’s Book Club Picks.
JASMINE GUILLORY: It was so exciting. I think it was also pretty unexpected, because The Proposal had come out in October and then she picked it as her February pick, so it almost came out of nowhere. I was so delighted when my editor called to tell me. Reese has embraced the book so much, and her community has really embraced the book, and it’s really been great to see The Proposal get so much love from so many different people.
RIF: So, she chooses a lot of fiction and you write incredibly approachable romance. Do you think she would have picked the romance standard that we’re used to thinking about?
JG: You know, I’m not sure. I think her picks have been really focused on stories about women, and so I hope that this means that she’ll start picking more romance. I hope it’s maybe the Reese gateway into more romance, because I think so many romances are focused on women’s stories. Not just them getting their happy ending, though I obviously really believe in women getting their happy ending, but women having agency and purpose, and deciding what they want to do with their lives and how to figure things out. I think Reese really likes books about that, at least from what I’ve seen of her previous picks, many of which I’ve read and loved. And so, I hope that this means that she picks more romance.
RIF: You write romance that aren’t the Fabio covers. They’re modern. Why are you drawn to this genre?
JG: You know, I just think that it’s so exciting to read books about women having their story told, having their happy ending really focused on them, and what they want to do with their lives in their work lives, and their emotional lives, and their social lives. Romance does that so well, and it’s really fun to write happy stories about women, especially happy stories about women of color. I feel like so often, the stories that get told and get more attention about women of color, especially black women, are the stories of being a maid, or a waitress, or a slave, or being beaten down in some way. I think it’s a lot of fun to both read and write stories about us being happy.
RIF: One thing I’ve seen recently, which I am obsessed with, is this spate of awesome romance reads that have diverse protagonists, and are written by diverse authors. Your books especially have really body positive characters, as do Jenny Hahn and her books. What is this “new” trend in romance books, and why is it so needed for readers?
JG: I don’t think that the trend is particularly new, but I think people are paying a lot more attention to it now, which is great, and publishers are pushing them now, which is even better. I think readers have been dying for stories like this. People are so happy to read books about women who aren’t your typical model-type woman, about women who look like them and sound like them, or their friends who have jobs like they might either have or want to have, that feel I guess aspirational, but in a manageable way. The reception from readers has really shown that these are stories that women want, and will keep wanting, and we’ll keep buying and reading.
RIF: Totally. I love your protagonists, and sometimes I picture you writing them, and one line that I read recently in The Proposal is like, “I can’t wear this jacket. I’ll be too sweaty.” And I’m like, yeah, what woman hasn’t thought that about a leather jacket on a warm day? How much of yourself do you imbue into your characters and your writing?
JG: There is a lot of me in all of my characters, but sometimes there are bigger pieces and sometimes it’s smaller ones. It was actually funny, because someone asked me a question about Carlos, the main hero in The Proposal. He’s kind of a dominating older brother, and someone asked me a question like was I trying to make a point about toxic masculinity there? And I was like, “So, no, I was making a point about how I’m an older sibling, and how I do a lot of the things that Carlos does.” My younger sister would recognize me in Carlos in a lot of things.
I think those are the little parts of me that come out in a lot of characters that aren’t necessarily people who look like me or sound like me in many ways, but I think there is a little bit from me and my friends. There are a few things about a friend in The Wedding Party, which comes out in July, that maybe three of us would recognize, but my friend read an early copy and she was like, “You were talking to me here,” and I said, “Yes, I was.”
RIF: “I was. Yes, I used you for inspiration.” One thing I love is in your bio, you talk about your love of cupcakes, and there is a great cupcake thread in The Proposal. I was like, “Oh yeah. This is true to life. This feels legit.” So, let’s talk about The Wedding Party a little bit. Can you tell us what it’s about?
JG: Yes, so The Wedding Party is about Maddie and Theo, who are two of Alexa’s best friends from The Wedding Date. They have never liked each other even though Alexa is a very good friend to both of them. And one night, they have a fling that both of them regrets afterward, and then it just keeps going and they have to figure out what they are doing while they were both in Alexa’s wedding party.
RIF: I love that frenemy trope. Who hasn’t hooked up with somebody that drives them crazy, but is also irresistible?
RIF: You write these novels that are interconnected through a side character. We’ve got Drew and Alexa that pop up in The Proposal. They’re Carlos’ friends and now, The Wedding Party takes us back to like Alexa’s world, but her best friend Maddie and Theo, they become the focus. Why did you choose to do this instead of either A.) focusing on the same characters over and over or, B.) starting totally fresh each time?
JG: Well, I mean they don’t want to tell the same story, the same characters over and over, because I feel like Alexa and Drew had their happy ending in The Wedding Date. I feel like in another book, I would have to break them up or have some bad thing happen to them, and I don’t want to do that to them. So, I do want to write new romances about new people, but every time I kind of write a side character I think, “Oh it would be fun to write about this person.” I don’t even really do it on purpose, I’ll write a friend or a sibling and then it’ll spark an idea in me for what the next thing could be.
RIF: I think it’s cool, ’cause it’s like when you hear a friend of a friend tell you a story about a mutual friend, you’re automatically invested already. Having these characters in the same orbit makes you hooked already but still feels fresh. So, what do you find the sexiest as you’re writing?
JG: You know, for me, I think it’s those little touches where people are sitting next to each other and accidentally on purpose touching knees or elbows, or pretending that they’re not, but they are. I love writing those scenes which are usually early on in the book. It was actually one of the things that was really fun for me about writing The Wedding Party, Maddie and Theo are keeping it a secret from Alexa the whole time and so there is a lot of being around Alexa, but pretending they still hate each other stuff that was all very fun to write.
RIF: I love that you vacillate between the point of view of both characters. You can say like, “Oh, her curly hair, I just want to reach out and touch it,” before they’ve gotten to that point. You can really see the attraction grow in each of them, and it’s almost like the reader is a third participant, “Just touch already.” At least that’s how I read them. So, do you ever make yourself blush as you’re writing?
JG: Oh my goodness, yes. All the time. All the time, which is why I often, especially when I’m editing, I can’t do that in public ‘cause I feel like, do people see what’s on my computer, can they tell what I’m doing right now?
RIF: Do you have a bunch of good girlfriends that you’ll call and say, “Okay, here’s this passage. Like, is this legit? Did you get a little hot behind the ears?”
JG: Yeah, absolutely. There are people who I will text out of the blue, “Do you have time to look at a paragraph right now?” And they will say yes and then I’ll email them a chunk from the bucket and ask them, what do they think, is this right? So yes, there are definitely people on my speed dial for things like that.
RIF: That’s awesome. You gotta have good friends just for that exact occasion. Okay, so one thing I always ask people is if you could push a book into everyone’s hands in the world what book would you say, “Hey, you’ve got to read this.”
JG: That is a great question. You know, look, I feel like it’s not like this book needs a lot more buzz but I’m going to do it anyway: Becoming. I loved it so much.
RIF: Ah, yes.
JG: And Michelle Obama is my hero, anyway. But the book itself, as I read it, I kept thinking I didn’t expect this book to be this good because it is such a really good story about her growing up. There are so many great lessons in there. Some of that stuff about things her parents did for her just made me cry, stories about how she and Barack Obama met and then sustained their relationship through so much was wonderful. All of my friends who are parents had so much like, “I didn’t expect this book to be so relatable,” but it really is, I think, for so many people. And I hope people keep buying it and reading it, ’cause I really loved it.
RIF: I love that, and did you catch, probably you did because of your line of work as a romance reader, that she talks about her first kiss with Barack and he asks if he can kiss her? And I’m like, “Yes, Barack. Getting her consent. I love it. Go.”
JG: I loved it so much.
RIF: I just felt like, “Oh my God, this is my friend telling me this story.”
JG: Right, absolutely. She had one passage about how when he was in the Senate or when he was in the state legislature, how she was doing all of the heavy lifting for the kids and she was still working full-time. So sometimes at lunchtime, she would just go sit in her car and eat her lunch and make some phone calls, and I have so many friends be like, “I do that too.” This book feels like a friend is calling me while we’re both sitting in our cars at lunchtime.