"I always have crumbs at the bottom of all of my purses."
Love has its ups and downs, but in Jasmine Guillory's debut novel The Wedding Date, that takes on a literal layer. Alexa, a petite, curvy, black lawyer who works as a mayor's chief of staff, and Drew, a tall, tight-abbed, white doctor who works with kids, meet cute in a stalled elevator when he's in town for his ex-girlfriend's wedding. He's cute enough that Alexa is willing to share her stash of purse snacks with him while they await rescue, but both of them are a little more guarded when it comes to their hearts.
It's a warm, delicious (seriously—there is so much food in this book), engaging story that doesn't shy away from issues of body image, race, and justice. Guillory, a longtime fan of the romance genre, is a lawyer, herself, and she made time on her packed docket to talk with Extra Crispy about career balance, writing realistic characters, and the importance of really good toast.
Extra Crispy: Congratulations on your first book! That's an incredible accomplishment, especially considering that you have a full-fledged other career. How did you make the time for writing, and did you have any rituals?
Jasmine Guillory: I have a full-time job so I usually write at night from 9 to 11. Sometimes on the weekends I'll do afternoons. I can wake up early in the morning to do business-related stuff, but I just don't have fiction in my mind in the morning.
I usually don't eat snacks while I write because I am too messy for that and I would get things all over my computer. Honestly I know this is terrible for my posture, but I usually write in bed. I don't want to get snacks all over my bed. I often eat snacks after I've finished writing because I write about food a lot and I make myself hungry.
One of the many things that I love about this book is that it's so snacks-forward.
There is definitely a lot of snacking truth in there, but the main character of my book, Alexa, has much more of a sweet tooth than I do. I love baking and making sweets but I'm satisfied very quickly. I can take a few bites of something and be totally happy that I had it and then not have that anymore. Whereas like a box of Cheez-Its is just gone in a day. I'm much more of like a savory snacker than she is.
Have you always been a fan of the romance genre?
When I was a teenager I went through a period of reading romances, but I hadn't read any romance novels for probably at least ten years. Then I had a pretty big surgery and during the recovery I started reading a bunch of romance novels. My gateway drug was Georgette Heyer's Regency books. Then I moved into current historical romances, still set in that time period. I was reading them obsessively. A few years before that I started writing fiction, but mostly young adult. So I was reading all these romances and thinking love reading them but I could never write one. Then I started reading more contemporary books. Then I was like maybe I could write one.
In those Regency books, there is an overwhelming whiteness. One of the best and most real things about your book is that you talk very matter-of-factly about race. The two lead characters are of different races, and Alexa, a black woman, opens up the eyes of Drew, a white man, about her lived experience—especially around groups of strangers.
It didn't feel real to me to not have race be an element of their life. When you're writing stories in present day and about people of color, race is always part of life. You live life going to a party and wondering "Am I the only black person here?" Especially if it's people you don't know. Or just assholes saying random things occasionally. Because you live life that way, they aren't a big deal because it's something you get used to. But it's also something that it would not feel real for me to write a story and ignore that.
Like most of us, Alexa has a complex relationship with her body and constantly critiques it, but because this book alternates between the two lead characters' points of view, we also see that Drew is all: "Hi. She's so pretty. Boobs." How did you decide on that structure?
It is hard to grow up as a woman and not criticize your body internally no matter what you look like. One thing that drives me crazy in some books is when the women look at themselves in the mirror, constantly praising their bodies. I'm sure those women exist. Obviously I don't think women should criticize their bodies. But it is a thing that we do. We compare ourselves to our friends or the other women that we see. And I don't want women to criticize themselves for the amount that we criticize. But I think there's just a lot of wistfulness sometimes like, "I wish I could wear that dress. I wish my boobs looked as good in something like that. I wish I could walk around without a bra."
One thing that wasn't in question is that they're both really good at what they do professionally. She's a lawyer who is highly placed in the mayor's office. He's a doctor. There's a meeting of power, rather than her being swept away by the billionaire, as happens in so many romances.
One of the things that made me start thinking about writing a book is that most of them didn't reflect the reality I see. My friends who are in relationships have careers that they care about and they are dating people with careers that they care about. It's not that one person has some sort of thing that they don't care about and then they're swept away by the rich person. Both people have a vocation and that's something I wanted to see reflected in more books.
You also bring in an interesting perspective because you are a person with a big job, yourself. How did you balance that—or at least try to?
I have a second book coming out sometime at the end of next year. There was definitely a lot that just fell by the wayside in my life. I would come home and write at night every night and then as I got toward my deadline, I had a lot of friends who I was like, "I cannot to out to dinner, I'm working!" My apartment got messy. I ordered in a lot of takeout. I sent all of my laundry out.
But then I take breaks after the draft is done or I send something in. Those breaks are really important to me as a creative person and just as a human being.
Let's talk about the weird stuff that happens at weddings. Nobody's psychologically correct at a wedding and everybody's working out their issues.
Nobody's themselves at a wedding—sometimes in a good way. There's something weird about an event where so many people from different parts of your life are together. At a wedding it's your family, people you went to elementary school with, people you've worked in five different jobs with. They wouldn't normally interact and mostly everyone is all dressed up. Usually there's something weird they make you do.
Everyone's parents expect something different. Society tells you that you have to do it like this or that or the other. You assume that you have to because the magazine says so. You have to put these forks there. There's so much weird stuff that goes into a wedding. Including plenty of alcohol and gossip.
By law, I have to ask you breakfast questions now. What would be the ideal first breakfast for someone who, like your characters, was surprised to find themselves having company in the morning?
Bacon and toast. I love eggs, but I like my eggs very specific and I find that room service eggs are often not that good. If you're at home cooking, eggs over-easy are the ideal.
What is your platonic ideal of breakfast?
Eggs over-easy with bacon, crispy potatoes—home fries usually. Sometimes hash browns but they're usually not crispy enough for me. I like them like a latke. And then really good toast. I love coffee so I sometimes want something tiny and sweet along with my coffee, but usually I want nothing sweet on my breakfast plate.
What does really good toast mean to you?
I am a white bread person. Sometimes sourdough but it can be a little too sour. Pain de mie is the perfect kind of bread for toast but you can only get that certain places. Challah toast is amazing.
What's on the toast?
Butter. Sometimes salted butter or butter with a little salt sprinkled on top.
I have a question that I ask all authors because it turns out people are really polarized about this. Where do you stand on oatmeal?
Oh, I hate oatmeal. I am not a picky eater but my only major food dislikes are textural so I don't really like things that are jiggly or gloppy. I can take a few spoonfuls and be like OK where is something that I can chew? I feel like in order to make oatmeal taste good you have to put a lot butter and sugar in there. And I'd rather just happily eat an oatmeal cookie.
What would be the ideal purse snack for two hot strangers to share in an elevator?
My two ideal purse snacks are like pepperoni sticks and cheese stacks although the problem is that you can only have them in your purse for so long, which I have learned to my detriment. Cheez-Its, too, but then I get crumbs all over the bottom of my purse. I always have crumbs at the bottom of all of my purses.