Jasmine Guillory on being the first romance novelist chosen for Reese Witherspoon's book club
This month, Reese Witherspoon has selected a romance with a capital R, Jasmine Guillory’s The Proposal, for her Hello Sunshine book club.
The Proposal, which hit the New York Times best-seller list when it was released last fall, is Guillory’s second novel, following her February 2018 debut, The Wedding Date. Guillory is a rising star in the romance genre, and The Wedding Date was named one of EW’s top 10 romance novels of 2018 — but it’s her second novel that has caught Witherspoon’s eye.
While Witherspoon has selected plenty of romance-adjacent women’s fiction for her book club, this marks the first time she’s chosen a full-on romance novel — a major milestone for the genre that Guillory rejoices in.
The novel follows Nikole, a freelance journalist who finds her life in shambles after her boyfriend proposes to her on the video board at Dodger Stadium and she turns him down. Another fan, Carlos, and his sister help Nik escape from the stadium unscathed, and soon Nik is making an unexpected connection with Carlos against her better judgment.
“I may have blacked out,” Guillory recalls of receiving the news. “I was really excited. There’s so many things that an author wishes for, and that was something I would love to have happened, and then it just sort of came out of the blue. It’s wonderful. My editor was very excited and asked me if I was sitting down before [they] told me.”
EW caught up with Guillory to discuss why she’s thrilled that Witherspoon is calling attention to the romance genre, why it’s important for her to showcase female friendships and ambition in her work, and what’s in store for her third book in this series, The Wedding Party.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Reese picks such a wide range of novels, but this is her first true romance novel. What does that mean to you that she’s shining a light on the genre in that way?
JASMINE GUILLORY: It makes me so happy. I love romance so much, and I’m so glad that people are paying attention to all of the great things that romance can do. A lot of people defend romance [with] the “it’s a guilty pleasure” thing, and I hate that phrase. I’m glad that Reese and her book club are talking about a book in the context of all of the ways that a romance can be great and talk about important issues and still have a happy ending. I hope it makes people talk about all the romances that do that great kind of work.
The Proposal is only your second book, and you’ve had an incredible year since The Wedding Date first came out. Where does this fall on the scale of things with everything that’s happened?
It’s really been an incredible year. I really never would have thought last year at the time The Wedding Date came out that all this great stuff would happen. Especially with a second book, you never know what’s going to happen. I was worried people wouldn’t like Nik and wouldn’t respond to her. I definitely got some early comments about how she was unlikeable or how she has as an attitude. I’m so gratified that The Proposal is getting a wide audience, and people are seeing so many different kinds of women out there and black women out there in books.
Is it almost more gratifying that Reese chose this instead of The Wedding Date because it got so much love already, and sometimes with a second book it is harder?
Yeah, absolutely. I was much more nervous about the second book than I was about the first book. Because going into the first book, I didn’t know anything, and so everything that happened was all sorts of exciting things. I wasn’t anticipating anything, whereas with The Proposal you anticipate everything a month in advance. So it was especially exciting this happened after it had been out for a while because this was something that came out of the blue. I wasn’t expecting it at all, so it was really exciting to see people embracing this book, especially since I was really nervous about it and nervous about the kind of audience it would get and reception it would get.
For the article you wrote to go alongside the announcement, you chose to write about Nik’s friends and the power of female friendship in your own life. With so many rich subjects in the book to plumb, from friendship to public proposals and more, how did you decide you wanted to focus on that for this book club?
I’ve talked about public proposals a lot, especially because there were a number of them around when the book first came out, which was useful for me. It is February, Valentine’s Day is coming up, so there were a lot of other things I thought about. But really the core of that book is about friendships to me, and so when they wanted me to write an essay to go along with it, that was really the first thing that I thought about: how important my friendships are to me and how important they were throughout the book in helping Nik get through the world and figure out everything that she wanted.
Your books have such rich descriptions of food; why is that something you gravitate toward in your writing?
I love food, I love cooking. There’s a whole internet conversation about love languages, and definitely one of my love languages is cooking for people and sharing food with people. Some of my favorite moments in my life with friends and family and loved ones is sitting around a table with people eating and talking. Often when I’m thinking about stories and characters and how they’re going to have important conversations, I always think about them in the context of having them over food. I have to push myself away from that because it’s like, “They can’t have another meal, Jasmine, they just ate.” So that is something that is very personal to me. I love cooking and food, and I’m glad it has resonated with people reading my books because sometimes I’m like, “Am I talking about food too much?” But it does just really come naturally to me.
You have incredible female-led businesses in your story, from Nik’s freelancing to the cupcake shop to a female gym. Why is this something you want to show in your writing?
I just love the idea of women creating things for themselves. All of these businesses are basically passion projects. Something in fiction is to be able to let people have their passion projects, and one thing I definitely thought about for all of those things was, “How can they afford that?” Because it does drive me a little up the wall sometimes when I see people having their own shop with [no explanation of] where did the money come from for that. So I try to come up with backstories where they got the money to have their business. But it did make me happy to have women out there figuring out how to do something that made them happy and that they want to do, and then succeeding at it. I didn’t actually really even think about it in those terms, but that was something I really wanted women to be able to see — there is a way to do this.
Which one would you want to do if you weren’t writing?
I have always fantasized about the idea of having a bakery, so I think that was a little bit where that came in. I would definitely pick the cupcake shop. It was very fun for me, by the way, to come up with all of Courtney’s cupcakes. I spent a lot of time thinking of all the different cupcakes Courtney would have in her shop.
Part of the thing about the gym was I always really hated gyms. There’s nothing instinctually bad about a gym, it’s just the way that people often come up with them has made them so unfriendly to a lot of women and people who aren’t super-thin and all that kind of stuff. So I wanted to come up with “In your fantasy gym, what would it feel like?” And that’s really what Natalie’s gym was like for me.
What can you tell us about the third book in the series that’s still to come?
It’s called The Wedding Party. It’s about two of Alexa’s friends from The Wedding Date, Maddie and Theo, who have never liked each other. One night, they for some reason fall into bed together and promise that they’re never going to do it again. Then they’re both in Alexa’s wedding party when she and Drew are planning their wedding, and some sparks fly.
What’s your favorite Reese Witherspoon movie, and why?
Legally Blonde. That is a very easy answer for me. Especially since the book Legally Blonde was set at Stanford Law School, where I went to law school. There are a lot of different layers there. But I also adored the movie, and I distinctly remember the first time I saw it. I saw it with a bunch of my friends from law school, and we had a great time.
Of course, Reese also loves to make books into movies and TV shows. So, if it went that way, any dream casting ideas?
Oh my goodness, if it were to go that way, there’s so many great casting options, but for me, I try not to think about them because I don’t want to get wedded to one person or another. I’ve seen a lot of fans and people on Twitter giving me casting ideas, and I’ve loved seeing all of them. So, let’s hope someday that comes to fruition and we get to find out what a real cast for The Proposal would be.