All Pleasure, No Guilt with Jasmine Guillory
It’s episode 69, y’all—and that means we’re getting steamy. Author Jasmine Guillory joins us for a look at the world of romance novels: why they’re important, what people get wrong about them, and what it’s really like to write them for a living.
Jasmine is the New York Times bestselling author of The Wedding Date, The Proposal, and a new book, The Wedding Party, which just came out in July. Her hugely popular romance novels have earned fans from Reese Withersppoon to Roxane Gay to, well, us!
We loved hearing Jasmine talk about why she centers black women in her books, how she writes about bodies in inclusive ways, and why romance novels aren’t guilty pleasures—but rather a sweet (and sexy!) comfort in tough times.
People of color have always embraced stories that weren’t about us, so we have known that everybody else out there can do it… These are stories that everybody wants to see.—Jasmine Guillory, author of The Wedding Party
We chat about:
- Jasmine’s latest book, The Wedding Party. It’s about Maddie and Theo, who share a best friend and a mutual hatred—till they end up in the same wedding party, and keep “accidentally sleeping together.”
- Why so many of us (ahem, Sara) are biased against romance novels. “There’s so much misogyny out there in the world, both external and internalized, that people kind of think that books that treat women as whole people…there must be something wrong with them.”
- How pizza and tacos are central to a steamy plot. “I want more women especially to stop thinking of foods as ‘bad’ or ‘good’—to stop thinking of themselves as ‘bad’ or ‘good’ based on what they eat that day.”
- Why Jasmine’s sex scenes get super-sexy—without focusing on characters’ body parts. “I wanted them to feel like no matter what they looked like in comparison to the character, there are certain things about your body that will still attract people.”
- Writing consent into the storyline. “If you’re writing a story where a heterosexual relationship is at the center of it, the power dynamics between the two people are important and you have to analyze that.”
- Jasmine on Twitter and Instagram
- The Wedding Party
- How to Write Consent in Romance Novels by Hannah Giorgis for The Atlantic
- Self-optimization culture is a tool of hyper-capitalist patriarchy, pass it on
- Getting your nails done and watching goofy TV is fine, ty
- This is now a Jia Tolentino stan podcast. Don’t miss Athleisure, Barre, and Kale: The Tyranny of the Ideal Woman and Trick Mirror
- Finding optimism for the fight against gun violence with last weekend’s Presidential Gun Sense Forum and the upcoming Recess Rallies with Moms Demand Action
This episode of Strong Feelings is brought to you by:
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Sara Wachter-Boettcher More than 50,00 businesses trust Harvest for time-tracking, invoicing, and keeping their projects healthy. Maybe you should too! It’s really easy to use, which I love, and it’s super affordable for my small consulting business. If you’ve got a big team, no problem! Harvest can grow with you. Try it free at GetHarvest.com/StrongFeelings and when you sign up for a paid account, you’ll get 50% off your first month. That’s only at GetHarvest.com/StrongFeelings. [theme music plays for 11 seconds and then fades out] Hey, everyone, I’m Sara!
Katel LeDu And I’m Katel.
SWB And this is Strong Feelings! A podcast about work, friendship, and feminism—and what happens when you bring them all together.
KL So, Sara, I didn’t get to join today’s interview. What do we have?
SWB Well, it is a treat. I got to chat with Jasmine Guillory! For those of you who don’t know yet, Jasmine is the New York Times bestselling author of The Wedding Date, The Proposal, and The Wedding Party. And something I loved about our conversation was when we talked about “guilty pleasures.” So, I want to start there!
KL Uhhh yes please. I am so pumped that you got to talk to Jasmine!
SWB I know, she was really cool! So, she talks about how women are really quick to categorize things that they do for enjoyment as being “guilty pleasures”—like her books, which are romance novels, or things like rom coms. And no one labels a superhero movie a guilty pleasure! [KL laughs] Maybe they should.
SWB But what Jasmine’s take is is basically a) if you enjoy it, it’s fine! You don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying something! You don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying something even if it’s light and not serious. And I love that. But then b) she says romance novels are wonderful because they take women’s lives and women’s experiences and desires seriously. And so much media doesn’t, so much of the world doesn’t. And she’s like, “why should we feel bad about enjoying that?” So, I thought a lot about that first one, but that second one—I don’t think I’d really considered before.
KL Yeah, I definitely hadn’t thought about it…and I absolutely categorize things I do and enjoy as quote unquote “guilty pleasures.” And I want to stop thinking about it that way!
SWB Okay, so I think we should start doing that right now. So, what’s one thing you love that people might call a guilty pleasure that you want to not feel guilty about?
KL Okay. Well, you know I love getting a manicure.
SWB I do know that. [KL laughs]
KL I started getting them when I lived in New York City because it was really easy to get them. I got them done really frequently. And I still get my nails done probably once a week. And…why do I feel so guilty saying that out loud? I actually remember you and I talking about this once. I think you asked me, “how often do you get your nails done?” And I said, “weekly, but oh it’s because it helps me avoid biting my nails, etcetera.” And you were like, “you also like it, right? You like getting a manicure?” And I was like, “yes, I do! It feels good and makes me happy.” Why can’t I just say that?
SWB Yeah, why can’t you just say that? [KL laughs] Why does it make you feel guilty?
SWB You just like it!
KL Yeah! I do!
SWB Okay. So, I think mine would be…daytime TV.
SWB And actually not daytime TV, [KL laughs] that makes it sound totally different. [KL laughs] I don’t actually watch Sally Jesse Raphael.
KL Oh man.
SWB I don’t think she’s still on the air, is she? [laughs]
KL Yeah. God bless. [laughs]
SWB Judge Judy? Is she on daytime TV? That’s a daytime show.
SWB Man, I guess I actually would watch—that’s a whole other tangent—but I would watch some Judge Judy—
KL I would too.
SWB —if I had the time in my schedule. But what I’ve started doing just a little bit is letting myself watch a TV show during the day on a Sunday afternoon.
SWB I don’t usually do that, but it’s kind of good. So, the show I’ve been watching is also something that some people might call a guilty pleasure. I was in Arizona a whole bunch this summer helping my mom with stuff and she had just started watching Jane the Virgin, which—
SWB Which has been on for like five years—
KL Yeah, I haven’t watched it.
SWB —but it’s new to me. So, I started watching it with her. And it’s [laughing] really fun. [KL laughs] It’s ridiculous. It’s as ridiculous as scandal, where there’s just constantly this huge drama where somebody is kidnapped and somebody is murdered or whatever.
KL Oh yeah.
SWB But it’s also really light, and it’s also really sweet, and it’s also all done in the style of but kind of as a satire of a telenovela.
KL Oh my god, sounds really good.
SWB It’s really fun! So, I started watching it at her house and then I just kept watching it. And it’s great because there are a ton of seasons available—
SWB —since, like I said, it’s five years old. So, sometimes I’m just letting myself chill out a little bit and watch some of that weekend afternoon TV. Watch a couple episodes of Jane the Virgin and just…be.
SWB And not feel bad about it, not telling myself that I should be doing something quote unquote “productive” and not something quote unquote “frivolous.”
KL Yeah. Okay, well I love TV. There, I said it. I don’t always feel guilty about watching my favorite shows because some of them I just really dig. But I definitely catch myself thinking I should be doing something else. And the more I think about what I consider a guilty pleasure, I realize that most of my guilt comes from lack of productivity, like you just said, rather than feeling embarrassed or guilty about the thing itself.
SWB Mhmm! But I think those things are all sort of tied together. There’s this constant judgement about how we spend time and there’s this push to constantly be optimizing our lives—that you need to get done with whatever task you’re doing more quickly and more efficiently, that you should be doing ten different things before breakfast, all of those kinds of messages. And that the goal is to optimize your day so that you can what? Answer more email?
SWB So, you paid that hyper-capitalist push toward optimization with matriarchy and misogyny—
SWB —which tells us that women’s interests are inherently less valuable and less important. And what you get is this really strong message of shame. You should feel bad for liking what you like and you should feel bad for spending time on something that is pleasurable instead of something that produces incremental value for capitalism.
KL Ughh, yes. That reminds me of that Jia Tolentino essay that’s been going around about “Athleisure, Barre, and Kale: the Tyranny of the Ideal Woman” It is…wow.
SWB Yes! [laughs] Oh my gosh, I read that essay and I loved that essay! She talks about this cultural moment we’re in of $12 Sweetgreen salads and $40 barre classes and $100 leggings and how all of that is supposed to combine into this you being this optimal woman who looks good and eats the right thing and can answer emails for 16 hours a day.
KL [laughing] Yeah.
SWB And then you’re this optimal woman and this optimal worker, and that’s what personal success looks like.
KL Ugh. I think I’ve read that article three times now; it just hits so close to home.
SWB Same. I just bought her essay collection too, Trick Mirror—
SWB —which I’m really excited about. It just came out. But she’s just such an incredible voice. If you haven’t read this essay and you don’t know what we’re talking about, it came out in the Guardian last week. And if you just google “Jia Tolentino barre kale”, I’m sure it’ll come right up.
KL [laughing] Yeah. I mean, it made me think so much about how the things I think are guilty pleasures—like getting mani pedis—have to be the right ones. And then it’s the very thing that I’m supposed to like doing—like getting pampered or spending money on expensive makeup for myself, or even going to yoga—are the things I’m also clearly supposed to be ashamed of doing, buying, and liking.
SWB Right. It’s like, “this is what you’re supposed to like, you dumb bitch. [KL laughs] And also… you’re a dumb bitch for liking that.”
KL [laughing] Yes! So unfair.
SWB So, the concept of “guilty pleasures” I think tends to make us think about what we do in our free time and not what we do in our professional lives, but I actually feel like there’s a big work parallel here too, which is the same cycle of policing women and then devaluing how women spend their time is happening there. Women are trained that they have to be really good at soft skills. You have to make people comfortable, you have to anticipate people’s emotions, you’ve got to manage their feelings.
KL Yeah. I mean, [coughs] I’m the CEO of a company and I’m still routinely asked and expected to schedule meetings, and take notes, and send follow-up recaps from conference calls.
SWB Right! Yes! And, of course, not all women are actually great at this, but there’s a lot of pressure for us to be good at these things and we’re just expected to excel at them, expected to take them on without anybody asking, expected to sort of make them part of our identify no matter where we are in our careers. There’s always going to be someone who assumes you’re the chief google calendar officer.
KL [laughing] Yes!
SWB So, that stuff—like the party planning, the note taking—becomes default women’s tasks, women’s labor. And then we are policed about performing them; you have to do them. And then, the same as with a guilty pleasure hobby or thing you would do for entertainment, there’s this devaluing that happens. You have to do these things to be seen as the optimal woman, but also you’ll be told over and over again that those skills are not valuable skills, they’re not important skills, they’re not worth anything. You’ll definitely be told that in your paycheck—that those skills are not valuable.
KL Right, right.
SWB Which is bullshit because those skills are super hard and projects and businesses actually crumble without them.
KL Oh my god, they are hard and they are skills! And you’re right—I think if we just stopped or if we went against those expectations, the whole system would grind to a halt.
SWB Right? So, that brings me back to Jia’s article. She closes out that article by talking about this need to be quote “disloyal” to the system—
SWB —and I really love that concept, that concept of being disloyal. I mean, that’s probably not a surprise, I love being disloyal. [KL laughs]
KL I love that you love that. [laughs]
SWB And I think in some ways, that’s what Jasmine talks about too when it comes to romance novels—that reading and enjoying a romance novel where women are whole and where their desires are important is in a lot of ways an act of disloyalty to the system.
KL And…it’s also just kind of hot! [SWB laughs]
SWB Let’s talk to Jasmine. [short transition music plays]
Interview: Jasmine Guillory
SWB Jasmine Guillory is the New York Times bestselling author of The Wedding Date, The Proposal, and a new book, The Wedding Party, which just came out in July. Yep, they are romance novels and they are loved by everyone from Reese Witherspoon to Roxane Gay. I am so excited to talk with her today about why they should be on your list too. Jasmine, welcome to Strong Feelings!
Jasmine Guillory Thank you for having me!
SWB Okay, so first up, we’ve never had a romance novelist on the show, and I’ve got to tell you that your episode just randomly happened to be episode 69…I think it’s great.
JG Ohhh that’s perfect! [both laugh]
SWB In the parlance of the internet, “nice.”
JG Nice. Exactly. [laughs]
SWB Tell us, what’s The Wedding Party about?
JG So, The Wedding Party is about Maddie and Theo, who have the same best friend, Alexa, who is the main character of The Wedding Date, my first book. And they are both in Alexa’s wedding party, they have never liked each other, and now they’re being thrown together a lot and keep accidentally sleeping together.
SWB Yes. Oops! [JG laughs] So, I read the whole book this weekend and I will tell you something I’m sure you’ve heard before, which is I don’t necessarily see myself as a romance fan—quote unquote. As I’m sure you’ve also heard before, once I picked up the book, I couldn’t put it down. [JG laughs]
JG Well, thank you.
SWB So, I’m really curious—what is it that made you fall in love with this as a genre, and also why are so many people like me biased against it?
JG So, I fell in love with romance when—I started picking them up when I was going through a really difficult time in my life. And romance was the perfect genre to dive into because you know going in no one is going to die in this book, everything is going to sort of end up okay. But just knowing that doesn’t mean that you know the whole story! There are so many ups and downs, there are so many interesting things that can happen throughout a romance novel. And I just fell headfirst into a pool of romance novels and it made me really realize how much diversity of all different kinds are in these books, how much they talk about society, what it’s like to be a woman. How romance novels take women and their lives, and experiences, and desires seriously in a way that so much other—not just literature, but so much else of the world doesn’t. And that’s what really made me love romance. And I think that’s actually also why so many people are biased against it—because there’s so much misogyny out there in the world, both external and internalized, that people kind of think that books that treat women as whole people… there must be something wrong with them. And I think romances out there tell you, “no, women are whole people. Get a move on.” And that’s one of the things I love about them the most.
SWB This is absolutely making me rethink everything I’ve ever thought about them. And I think that it really speaks to something I’ve heard you talk about before, which is that you hate it when people call romance a guilty pleasure. And I’m wondering if we can talk about that. Why should we stop feeling guilty about enjoying a good romance?
JG Yeah! I mean, I just hate the term ‘guilty pleasure’ in general because I think unless your favorite thing is to go out there and kill people, you should not feel guilty about your pleasures. There’s nothing to feel guilty about in romance; they are wonderful stories. If you’re enjoying yourself, dive in, have fun with it, see what you like about the genre, see the kind of stories that you like, see what makes you happy. I think there’s so many difficult things out there in the world right now, we should make ourselves happy anytime we can.
SWB Yeah! So, speaking of guilty pleasures, that makes me think about something else that I really notice in your books, which is there’s also a lot of food in them and people eating. And as a parallel to the idea of a book as a guilty pleasure, I think a lot of women—well, I know a lot of women—are really trained to think of themselves as engaging in a guilty pleasure if they eat something like a piece of pizza. And in your books, women hang out together and eat together without talking about how bad they feel about what they’re eating or how they have to work off the calories, women un-subconsciously eat in front of men, [laughs] people get takeout together and then have really good sex, and none of it is treated in this shameful way that I think food so often is. And I’m curious—it was really refreshing for me to read, was that an intentional choice?
JG Part of it was intentional, part of it wasn’t. I think about food all the time, so it made sense for me to have my characters think about food all the time. But I also really hate the idea that so many people out there, from just women naturally to the whole wellness and diet world, think of certain foods as “bad” or certain foods as “good.” The whole “clean eating” thing implies that other foods are dirty. Food is the way that we get calories to live in the world. I hate it when people make moral judgements about different foods. I love vegetables and I also love pizza and tacos and that’s okay, and I want more women especially to stop thinking of foods as “bad” or “good,” to stop thinking of themselves as “bad” or “good” based on what they eat that day.
SWB Yes, absolutely. And the thing is, I think going back to our conversation about people being biased against romance or treating it as a less important genre, using romance as a space to do that I think is so powerful. So, I want to talk a little bit about some of the other ways it seems like your work seems like it’s subverting some of what people might expect from romance. And an obvious one there is race. You have mostly and brown characters, and they’re definitely central to the story. And in romance you oftentimes get such limited portrayals of black and brown people in stereotypical ways like the, I don’t know, sable colored skin kind of descriptions. And I’m curious—why did that matter so much to you in the story that you wanted to tell? And how does that centering of black and brown voices in the book change the nature of the story that you’re telling?
JG I mean, to say that it’s important to me is true, but I was always going to write a book about black women or black girls. When I started writing, part of the reason that I wanted to write books is I wanted to write some of the stories that I never got when I was growing up as a black girl. So, yes it’s important to me, but it also just felt completely natural to me to write those kinds of books and to centre the people that I know the best and that I care about the most. So, having our stories out there and being celebrated is something that’s really wonderful for me to see, and I think it’s important for so many other people to see. These are stories that are people care about, and these are stories that I can write. I want other people out there to think, “oh, people want to see those stories out there, well I will keep writing them.” Because when I started writing, I knew that I wanted these stories, but I also didn’t know will the publishing industry want them? Will someone want to publish them? Will I get enough readers? So, I hope that people now see all of the answers to that are yes and so they should keep writing and write their stories too.
SWB I think what’s very telling is also that your books are not only being read by black and brown people. You might be centering them in the stories, you might be writing them for those audiences, and I’m sure those audiences are reading them, but you’re getting such a huge readership, it’s clear that people want to hear these stories even if they’re not necessarily being represented in the stories. And I think that that’s an assumption that pretty much every industry has had. Like, “oh, if this is not about white people, then it must only be for a niche audience.” And I think that changing that perception is so hugely important and it just seems like such a massive shift that is underway that you’re part of here.
JG I mean, I certainly hope that that is a shift. I think that people of color have always embraced stories that weren’t about us, so we have known that everybody else out there can do it! And I’m glad that there has been a rise in popular books that are about non-white people and that they have gotten lots of readership. And, you know, movies that have been big hits that are about black and brown people. And I hope that has shown everybody else out there in world, both consuming media and producing it, that these are stories that everybody wants to see.
SWB I’m curious then—as you were going out and trying to work with publishers and trying to get an agent and a book deal, did you have to fight against that stereotype? Was that something that seemed like it got in the way?
JG I fought against it kind of internally because there were a lot of times where I wasn’t sure if my book would go anywhere or if anyone would care. So, luckily, it all turned out well, but I think that took a lot of internal pushing myself and keeping myself going and just keep reaching out—emailing other agents, check in with my agent to see how it’s going, all of that stuff. And I’m really glad that it turned out how it did, but it is hard as a black person going out there in the world with something that you have made because you don’t know how people are going to react, you don’t know what they’re going to say about your characters. If they’re going to say, “I couldn’t relate to them,” which is something that I think a lot of people have gotten as responses from agents and publishers. And I just hope that more people keep going out there with their stories even though it’s really hard.
SWB Your story is really interesting because you spent many years working on your books while still working a day job as a lawyer, right? And it took you a while before you broke through…but here we are, your third book just came out. I think you have a fourth one on the horizon too?
JG I do, yes. [laughs]
SWB And they are absolutely going wild out there in the market—people want them. So, do you feel like you’re seeing a little bit of a shift in the industry as stories like yours start to come out? Where it’s like, “oh, no no no, this can sell, you just have to choose to sell it.”
JG One of the things that blew my mind early on was a different agent told me at an industry party that they were using The Wedding Date as a comp title to sell books from their clients. So, that was wild to me, but also so heartening knowing that because it has been a successful book, that other people think, “I can use this to sell other books by black women.” That has really made me so happy and I hope that continues.
SWB Yeah. And I want to come back around to something else in the books that I think may also take some people by surprise when reading your novels compared to other romance, and may also may them feel more compelling or more relevant to pretty much anyone—at least it did to me. And that is the way that you talk about bodies. So, romance necessarily gets descriptive as it gets sexy, and a lot of those descriptions that I’ve seen tend to get very specific around body shapes, cup sizes, sizes of people, or precisely how somebody looks. And you do something that I think is a little bit different, which is that you’ve got these incredibly sensual descriptions, but you describe almost more the way that the other character feels when they look at somebody they find sexy, as opposed to the literal description of the person. And there’s a lot more openness I think to imagining how somebody actually looks. And I’m curious if that’s something that you do intentionally, that you perceive of as being different, or is that something that I was just picking up on?
JG In reading other romance novels, that always makes me care more about the sex scenes when it’s about someone’s emotions or someone’s feelings or why they’re attracted to the other person, as opposed to just a blatant description of what their body looks like. Just seeing a body aside from anything connected to that person doesn’t really interest me that much. It’s more about why this person is attractive, what about their body attracts the other person. So, that’s some of the reasons that I think that I have done it that way, but I appreciate you saying that because I think that’s something that a lot of people haven’t noticed and that I have done partly on purpose, but partly unconsciously. And also because I think so many descriptions of especially women’s bodies in books are just about how perky their breasts are, how small they are in other places, and that kind of thing I think can feel very alienating to women who don’t look like that and women who don’t have that shape, and it can kind of take you out of the book. So, I didn’t want that for women reading my book, I wanted them to feel like no matter what they looked like in comparison to the character, there are certain things about your body that will still attract people, whoever they are. So, that was something I really wanted my readers to feel.
SWB Yes. And it definitely shone through. It was one of those things that I didn’t realize was happening at first, and then it clicked. I was like, “oh, I see what’s happening here!” It’s not describing, like you said, perk breasts or somebody’s size, but it’s more like he couldn’t stop thinking about the way she looked in that particular dress. It would be sensual and it would be descriptive, but it was this subtle shift that I hadn’t been anticipating that really did keep you in it and not create that kind of alienation. I really appreciated that because I felt like what that did is it also really broadened out who it felt like this was for. So, in terms of being able to identify with it and stay in the story, it was a really wonderful way of doing that. And I’m also curious if part of that is coming back to what you talked about earlier around wanting to make sure that this is something that would resonate with women’s actual lives, and black women’s actual lives, and if you find that there’s often a disconnect in romance when it comes to talking about women of color and their bodies?
JG Yeah, absolutely. I was just talking to another black romance writer the other day about how we have both read books by white people with heroines of color and the things that they have gotten wrong that just take you out of the story. She was talking about one where it described her pink nipples, and it was like, “that’s not going to be the case if she’s black!” [laughs] So, it’s really great to see other romance writers of color doing that well and I hope that I have done it well also.
SWB Something else that I think really comes up when we talk about romance, especially heterosexual romance stories—there’s a lot at play when it comes to things like power dynamics, consent, and how we write about sexual experience. And I read this piece that Hannah Giorgis just wrote in The Atlantic last fall about The Proposal, where she talks about it as a subtle entitlement of manipulative patterns in courtship [laughs] and not just a love story. Which I think is really interesting—to think about a romance novel as also upending manipulative courtship patterns. And I’m curious about how you think about consent and how you think about making consent part of something that’s totally sexy in the work that you do.
JG It’s impossible to write about relationships and sex and not think about consent, and not think about issues of power dynamics between men and women. If you’re writing a story where a heterosexual relationship is at the center of it, the power dynamics between the two people are important and you have to analyze that, and you have to think about that—at least, I certainly do. So, I do think about consent all the time as I’m writing. Consent plays a role in so many different things that we do throughout our lives. Whether it’s when you’re talking to a little kid and saying, “can I have a hug?” as opposed to just hugging them without asking. That’s a first way to start conversations of consent. It’s not about sex, but it’s just about people touching each other’s bodies if you don’t want to or asking to touch someone’s body before you do. Those are things that I think keep going throughout our lives and throughout stories of relationships between people. So, when people are starting to get together in sex scenes, I want to make sure that both people are fully in and engaged and care about the other person and whether they’re engaged or not. So, stop and check in or a lot of times, the question about getting a condom is part of the conversation about consent. That tells you “are we going to do this? Okay, we are. It’s time to get a condom.” So, things like that—there are so many different levels of consent throughout our lives and we’re not always overt about it. It’s not always, “can I kiss you?” Although, sometimes it is! But it is thinking when you first touch someone, do they pull away? Or asking, “can we hold hands?” All sorts of different things that happen. Paying attention to body language—if someone moves closer to you, then that says, “okay then, I can put my arm around her. Great! We’re here now.” So, I think that conversations of consent can sometimes make it seem like there’s only one question there, but there’s so many questions that lead up to everything that we do.
SWB Yeah, consent is sort of this constant giving and receiving of information; [laughs] it’s an ongoing thing that happens throughout. And I think there’s a lot of times people who are sort of reluctant to explicitly ask for consent or will insist that “oh gosh, it’ll just be this clunky thing that ruins the mood.” What you’re able to do is talk about it in a way that makes it clear that there’s nothing necessarily unsexy about consent.
SWB So, you wrote three books so far, three romance novels, all of which have been absolutely going wild. You’ve got a New York Times bestseller listing for your second book, you’ve got a fourth book in the work—all of this has been happening in the past year and a half, right?
JG Yeah, yeah. [laughs]
SWB How are you feeling? [laughs]
JG It’s been a big change in my life over the past year and a half, I will say. [laughs] But I love writing, I’m really excited to get to tell my stories and have them out there in the world. It still feels like a little bit of a dream, but a wonderful one. I hope people love The Wedding Party and I hope they love Royal Holiday, which comes in October.
SWB Yeah, so Royal Holiday, I wanted to ask about that one too. So, that will be your fourth book and it’s still within the same character universe, right?
JG Royal Holiday is about Maddie’s mom, Vivien, who you meet for the first time in The Wedding Party. Maddie and her mom have a really close relationship, and so in Royal Holiday, Maddie goes to England for Christmas to style a royal duchess. She brings her mom along with her because she wants to be with her mom at Christmastime. And Vivian has a little romance with the Queen’s private secretary while she’s there.
SWB Very private! Okay. So, I have a question about that. Is there a lot of romance written about older women?
JG There isn’t. When I had the idea for The Royal Holiday, I wasn’t sure if people would want a romance about a woman in her fifties. And when I talked to my editor about it, my editor was like, “yes, I want that! We always wish we had more of this, people are always asking for it.” So, I was excited to get to write it. I hope there are lots of people who like it and want more romances by women in their fifties.
SWB Yeah, that seems interesting to me because I imagine that a lot of the audience for romance is also women in their fifties?
JG Yeah, I’m sure there are! There’s lots of women in their fifties who read books about women in their twenties finding love, so I think they opposite can happen! The emotions around finding love, what you do when you find it, your interactions with other people—a lot of that is the same no matter how old you are.
SWB Yeah, absolutely. And going back to our earlier conversation, you don’t have to literally be the audience that is in the book in order to be an audience for the book. So, I mentioned before you used to be a lawyer, although I guess you’re eternally a lawyer once you’re a lawyer. When along the way did you turn your attention fully to writing? Have you fully left the lawyer work behind?
JG I have now, but it took a while. I think, first of all, my first three books I wrote all while I was working full time, but after a certain point there is a lot of other “author work” that you have to do in addition to your writing. So, there were about six months where it started to get a lot more difficult to do both. So, since January of this year, I have been writing full time, but it was an interesting transition. [laughs]
SWB Yeah! Well, how do you feel now that you’ve made that transition? Does it feel more natural to be like, “yep, I’m a writer, that’s what I do.” Because I read that you had kind of talked about almost struggling to call yourself a writer earlier on in your writing career?
JG Yeah, it does feel more natural now, but I still…every time I say it, I’m like, “is this real?” [laughs] Partly it’s so new, but partly it was a dream for a while and then it came true, so it does feel like maybe I made this all up. Sometimes people can get very weird when you say you write romance novels, so I think I might at some point have to go back to telling strangers that I am a lawyer just so I don’t have to deal with all of that. [laughs]
SWB Yeah, I think everybody needs to have a profession they can tell people they do if they’re talking to a random guy on a plane. You need an answer that requires no follow-up questions.
JG Yes! [laughs] Yes, exactly. [laughs]
SWB So, you mentioned that you spent many years writing on the side, and I’m curious—was there anything that helped you keep going, helped sort of psych yourself up and keep working at that?
JG You know, it was just because I loved writing. When I started writing The Wedding Date, I was having so much fun with it; I was so excited to keep writing the books! I have always been a big reader my whole life, and there are sometimes when I’m in the middle of reading a book, and I’m doing something else out in the world, and I’m so excited to get home and keep reading my book. And that’s how I felt about writing the book! I’m so excited to get home and see what happens next. And I was like, “wait…I’m the one who decides what happens next.” But that was really what kept me going—I loved it and I had so much fun with it that I just kept writing!
SWB Do you ever find yourself in a rut or feeling stuck? Just not feeling it in your work?
JG Yeah, absolutely. I think a lot of other writers have kind of talked about the middle of the book where it starts to drag as you’re writing it, and it feels like you’ve been writing for so long, but you have so much more to go before you finish the book. And there was a part in The Wedding Party where that happened to me and I thought “I just need to write a scene that will probably not end up in the book, but just is about these characters sitting around, hanging out, and doing something fun that makes me remember why I love them and why I wanted to write this book in the first place.” So, there was this scene that I wrote that was that and then I loved it so much, I ended up finding a way to keep it in the book. [laughs] But yes! I have had to figure out how to keep myself going when those difficult times happen or when I’m stressed about the book or when I’m in a rut. Especially now I do have contracts and I have deadlines, I know I need to keep going, sometimes I do just take a break from it. But when I want to keep the story alive, I’ll just kind of write some fun bits and then see what happens with them.
SWB I love that. I am a non-fiction person, but I definitely know what you mean about the middle of the book where you’re like, “oh god, what was I thinking?”
JG Yes! [laughs]
SWB Well, we are just about out of time here, so before we go, I would love to just make sure that everybody knows what your work is and where to find it. So, you have talked about a few books today—_The Wedding Date_, The Proposal, The Wedding Party, and your new book coming out in October, Royal Holiday. That’s exciting! So, all of those books will be available literally everywhere and on all of the lists so everybody can definitely find them. But, Jasmine, where can people get more of you in their life?
JG On Twitter I am @thebestjasmine, on Instagram you can find me @jasminepics and on Facebook I am Jasmine Guillory Writer.
SWB Jasmine, you’re definitely the best Jasmine! [both laugh]
JG Thank you!
SWB Thank you for being here!
JG Thank you so much for having me! [short transition music plays]
Fuck Yeah of The Week
KL Alright, Sara. So, what is our Fuck Yeah of The Week?
SWB Okay, I’ve got a really important fuck yeah this week.
KL Tell me.
SWB Okay. I want to give a fuck yeah to Moms Demand Action. So, Moms Demand Action is a movement against gun violence founded by Shannon Watts, who is a mom. And last weekend they held a Gun Sense Forum in Iowa with the 2020 presidential candidates.
SWB So, I want to say fuck yeah to making sure that this issue is a priority, and that we don’t let politicians get away with any hopes and prayers.
KL Ughh, yes, I am so glad you brought this up. I think it is really easy to get mired in the horrific stuff that’s happened, so it’s great to look ahead.
SWB Right. So, in advance of the forum, Elizabeth Warren actually released her gun control platform, which is aggressive. And I don’t know if she would have come out with that specific of a platform if it weren’t for this forum, you know?
KL I mean, of course Warren has a plan.
SWB I know, right? [laughs] So, I think that her kind of coming out with a specific agenda—that also can really prompt or push other candidates to have one too. And I know that this stuff ends up being top of mind right after a mass shooting, but this is absolutely not really about just El Paso or Dayton. It isn’t to me. I mean, I don’t know if you saw this, Corey Booker was here in Philly last week to talk gun violence too because here we have an epidemic of gun deaths. And it’s mostly happening to poor black and brown people, often black and brown boys. But those lives obviously matter just as much.
KL Yeah. And we just don’t tend to hear about them.
SWB And we don’t hear about them because they’re just not prioritized.
SWB They’re not considered as tragic.
SWB And, of course, that should change. But that’s one of the things I do like about Moms Demand Action because they do talk about the need to end all gun violence, and a lot of the moms who lost kids in those kinds of shootings are activists there too and are sort of included in their platform. So, I know this is not the sunniest topic for a fuck yeah, but I want to say “fuck yeah” because I want to keep hopeful that change is actually happening and that change is going to come on this issue. So, if you want to check them out, they’re at momsdemandaction.org and they’ve got a ton of events coming up, including rallies this weekend—August 17th and 18th— across the country.
KL [Sighs] Fuck yeah.
SWB Fuck yeah! That’s it for us this week! Strong Feelings is recorded in Philadelphia and produced by Steph Colbourn from Edit Audio. Our theme music is “Deprogrammed” by Blowdryer. Check them out at blowdryer.bandcamp.com. Thank you to Jasmine Guillory for being our guest today, and thank you all for listening! If you like the show, please rate us and subscribe wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. And don’t forget to get some strong feelings in your inbox! Sign up for our newsletter at strongfeelings.co. Bye! [theme music plays for 15 seconds and fades out]