“Thinking About Idris Elba”: Getting to Know Jasmine Guillory

Jasmine Guillory is delightful. You probably already know this if you follow her on Twitter, subscribe to her newsletter, or, I dunno, have read her books. Her debut, The Wedding Date, was a runaway hit and has spawned a small but growing universe of novels about a group of friends and relations in California, each of whom gets their own happy ending. The newest book in the series, Royal Holiday, is in stores now. The series has spawned a large and still growing fan base, and possibly been the catalyst for Barnes & Noble going all-in on romance. I had the opportunity recently to ask Jasmine a few questions over email about romance novels, baking, her dream cast for the (imaginary, for now) adaptations of her books, and more.

Jasmine Guillory’s Gateway Romance Reads

For many newer readers of romance, Jasmine’s books are the gateway to the genre, so I asked her what books got her started reading romance. Like many people, she’d read romance here and there over the years, including Georgette Heyer’s books, but she says “Tessa Dare, Courtney Milan, and Lisa Kleypas’s books were the ones that made me dive head first into the genre. I never looked back!” (In non-romance—though it has an amazing meet cute—we both gushed about mutual pal Amy Spalding’s next novel, We Used To Be Friends. In Jasmine’s words, “SO GOOD.”)

Jasmine Guillory on Illustrated Covers

We touched on the illustrated cover trend, and I asked what her favorites are. She was effusive. “I am OBSESSED with the cover for Alexa Martin’s Intercepted! I remember when I first saw it when she revealed the cover, and I couldn’t get over it—I was drawn in right away to that woman on the cover. It’s bright and fun and confident, and I love how well it tells the story of the book.” She mentioned, too, that the cover for The Bride Test made her want to read the book right away, and named Christina Lauren’s The Unhoneymooners and Sonali Dev’s Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors as covers that set the tone for the books “so well.”

She loves her own covers, which are beautifully illustrated; when I asked how she imagined they would look if they were not illustrated, she said, “They would definitely have black women on the covers, which is something I knew I wanted from the very beginning, and I’m so glad that that’s been the case for all of my books.” 

Fan Casting The Wedding Date and More

Of course I asked her about her dream casting for the characters she created, and her answers made me wish I had a Netflix executive’s direct line. SOMEBODY MAKE THIS SERIES IMMEDIATELY. 

Alexa: “Obviously I want Lizzo to either be Alexa, or to at least be in the background of one scene playing her flute.”

Drew: “Chris Evans is simply perfect.” (Author’s note: I AGREE.)

Maddie: “Tessa Thompson would be a fantastic Maddie.”

Theo: “William Jackson Harper is a dream Theo—he plays Chidi in The Good Place, and I had a number of friends independently cast him after reading The Wedding Party.”

Vivian: “I don’t have a great idea for Vivian, so I’d love to hear what others think!” (Author’s note: Vivica A. Fox gets my vote!)

Malcolm: “Look, you can’t write a romance with an older British black man as the hero without thinking about Idris Elba from time to time, okay?”

She didn’t fan cast (is it fan casting when you wrote the characters?) Nik and Carlos, so I would like to humbly submit Haneefah Wood and Diego Luna.

Queer Characters in Jasmine Guillory Books

And speaking of The Proposal, I mentioned Dana, and asked Jasmine what the chances are that we’ll see another queer hero(ine) in one of her books. Her answer intrigues: “Pretty big! Stay tuned! I love how much people liked Dana; I hope I get to check back in with her and Natalie someday.”

Jasmine Guillory on Sex and Friendship

One of the things that I have found most interesting in reading Jasmine’s books is the variety of heat levels; that is to say, some sex scenes are explicit while others fade to black. I asked how she made the decision for each book and each scene, and her answer proved as thoughtful as her approaches to consent and the varying ways people fall in love: “It always feels tied to the characters and what feels right for their relationship. There have been some scenes that when I drafted them initially, they were a higher heat level and I toned them down later on, and the reverse has also happened—I have to look at the scenes in context with the rest of the book and what’s going on with their relationship, what the next scene will be, how it works with the pacing, and how it all combines for the entire narrative.”

Perhaps the most appealing thing in Jasmine’s books, to me at least, is the friendships. While this isn’t unusual in romance, she’s really centered it. I asked her to talk a little about why that’s important to her, and she responded: “My friendships are so important to me, so it felt natural to me to make friendships important to my characters. I think for many women I know, our friends are like family to us; we take care of each other, we celebrate victories, we mourn losses, and we lift each other up whenever we need it. I wanted my characters to be surrounded by that same support and love.”

Baking with Jasmine Guillory

Jasmine and I are both fans of Marian Burros’s plum torte (I’ve baked literally hundreds of them, with all different fruit toppings). I asked her favorite fruit to make it with. She replied, “Ooh this is a fun question—I have experimented with a bunch of different fruits for the plum torte, and I really love it with nectarines! This is sort of cheating, because I love baking almost anything with nectarines, but they work so well in this torte. Now I’m sad that nectarine season is almost over.” Me too! I’ve only made one with nectarines this year.

We kept talking about baking, as you do, and I suggested this scenario: You’re throwing an impromptu party. Your house is sparkling clean, you have a beautiful dress, and your lipstick is perfect; you just need something to serve your guests. What is your absolute go-to cake (or other) recipe? She came back with a better scenario: “Nigella Lawson’s Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake! You have to make it in advance, because it needs plenty of time to cool (so in this scenario, I would have made it the night before, and that’s why I’m having the party in the first place), but it’s a really delicious chocolate cake, and is great for a party, because there’s no frosting, so it’s easy to eat while standing up and walking around.” She also suggested a savory (and quicker) option: “I love Dorie Greenspan’s Cheese Cocktail Cookies, which are cheese and crackers all in one and are both delicious and super easy to make.”

Jasmine always includes a recipe in her newsletter (which is how I knew she loved the plum torte), so I asked her what she’d call her cookbook if she wrote one, and who her dream co-author would be. She had the perfect name: The Perfect Snack. And she said, “I’d include the above recipes, and so many more, and obviously anyone’s dream co-author is Samin Nosrat (if she’d have me)!” DREAM TEAM.

Romance Recs from Jasmine Guillory

I will leave you with Jasmine’s favorite contemporary romances, in case you need a book or five to tide you over until her next novel.

“I adore Ruby Lang’s Practice Perfect series, and her new series (which starts with Playing House) is also so great. I loved The Key To Happily Ever After by Tif Marcelo, and I can’t wait for her next one. Rafe, by Rebekah Weatherspoon was so much fun. Ayesha at Last, by Uzma Jalaluddin, was incredible. I also love all of Alexa Martin’s books (I just got an advance copy of her next one, Blitzed, and I can’t wait to dive in), Alisha Rai’s books, Farrah Rochon’s books, Kwana Jackson’s books, Christina Lauren’s books and of course, Helen Hoang’s books! And I’m really looking forward to Talia Hibbert’s next one, Get a Life, Chloe Brown!”

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