By Maureen Lee Lenker
May 29, 2019 at 09:00 AM EDT
Penguin Random House

Since The Wedding Date first hit shelves almost a year and a half ago, Jasmine Guillory has become one of romance’s brightest new voices.

Her second book, The Proposal, was selected for Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine book club in February and spent more than a month on The New York Times‘ best-seller list. Now readers are invited to The Wedding Party, which introduces Maddie and Theo — best friends of Date’s heroine, Alexa. The pair hate each other when they first meet, but sparks fly after a one-night stand. Their fling continues, but each agrees to an expiration date: Alexa’s wedding.

Guillory has dedicated her first three novels to wedding adjacent material, whether it be Alexa serving as Drew’s impromptu date in The Wedding Date, the botched proposal of The Proposal, or the wedding readers have been waiting for in the pages of The Wedding Party. So it should come as no surprise that the author is a big fan of happy couples’ big day.

“I’ve always loved weddings,” she says. “You’re bringing together all these people to announce this is the person you want for the rest of your life. I just feel like weddings have so much natural drama and hilarity and fun in them that it was just entertaining for me to think about all of that.”

But weddings, like Guillory’s stories, also center on the power and beauty of female friendship. “Brides pick their [best friends] as bridesmaids. That’s one of the great things about a wedding,” she explains. “It celebrates the other women in your life.”

And celebrating is something Guillory’s books deserve a lot of — in advance of the July 16 release of her third novel The Wedding Party, the author spoke to EW about her love of all things bridal (particularly when cost is no object on the page), what she’s proudest of over this last whirlwind 18 months, and how writing a story with an enemies-to-lovers trope was particularly challenging.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This last year and a half since your debut has come with a lot of big moments, from the New York Times best-seller list to Reese Witherspoon’s book club and more — what has this last year plus been like? A whirlwind? Have you really been able to take a step back and enjoy it?
JASMINE GUILLORY: Absolutely not. It’s been a dream in almost every way. It’s also been really overwhelming in some ways. When people ask me for advice, I’m like, “But I’m brand new at this, I barely know what I’m doing!” So, all of that has been a lot to get used to. So much of it has just been so wonderful — meeting other authors, having authors who I’ve loved for years say they liked my book blows my mind, and just meeting so many readers.

Since we’re getting Alexa and Drew’s wedding, does it feel like closing a chapter?
You know I haven’t really had time to think about it like that. It has felt like that a little bit, especially when I wrote the last chapter. Because the last chapter of the book, this is not really spoiling anything, is Alexa and Drew’s wedding and so that does feel like a good sort of endpoint to that first group of books. But in a lovely way.

Did you always know you would end this first trio of books on your initial deal with Alexa and Drew’s wedding, taking it back to where it all began?
When I started this book I was pretty sure it would end with Alexa and Drew’s wedding. But I didn’t really know before I sat down to really start working on this book, so I certainly didn’t know when I wrote The Wedding Date. The first scene in The Wedding Party is a scene in The Wedding Date and when I wrote that scene was when I realized that I wanted to write a book about Maddie and Theo. But I didn’t really know what anything in their book would be other than that scene would be in it.

Both Carlos and Nik in The Proposal, and Alexa and Drew in The Wedding Date, started off in a very loving place. Maddie and Theo do not, in spite of their sexual attraction. What made you go with enemies to lovers here?
It’s funny because at first that part of their relationship was really hard for me to write. Enemies to lovers is often really hard for me because I’m thinking, “But they’re being so mean to each other!” I had to stop and think about, “Why don’t they like each other?” I loved the idea of Alexa’s two best friends, who have never really liked each other and then have this spark, but I had to go back in my mind and in their history and think, “Why have they never really liked each other? What is the thing that inspires them to be mean to each other?” And then how do they get past that? Figuring out how they get past it, and what the wrong way they viewed each other from the beginning was, was helpful for me in making them mean to each other but in a way that I enjoy reading and writing. 

You’ve had weddings and proposals play a major role in all of these books. Are you drawn to that because it’s a natural setting for/instigator for romance or for other reasons? 
I’ve always loved weddings. I have a big family, so I’ve been to lots of weddings in my life. I’ve also been in many weddings. I’ve been a bridesmaid, a brides or groomsmaid, in eight or nine [weddings] now and I have another one coming up this year.  I just love that public announcement of your love, but the people you pick are always sort of a weird group of people from your best friends from elementary school to this person you shared an office with two years ago. All of that stuff. And blending families; there’s always weird and funny conflicts.

Similarly, this is really the first of the three books where we get to see all the planning and prep for a wedding  — were you eager to dive into the nitty-gritty of that?
Oh, absolutely! I find wedding planning fascinating. I’ve actually always thought that in another life I would be a wedding planner because there’s so much technical planning that goes on, but also emotion and personal drama that plays a role in every choice that you make. I find that part of it so interesting. I think brides and bridezillas, they get a really bad rap partly because so many people are yelling at them about every choice that they make, and then it’s like, “Oh, well now you’re confused about why I’m stressed about this.” [Like] with so many things that are female-coded, weddings tend to be looked down on and I love them. There are so many weird little things that go into a wedding but there’s so much joy in them too. At their core, they’re about families and people planning a new life together. 

Does it give you a chance to indulge in crazy fantasies, i.e. things you would never do at a wedding or maybe outlandish things you love but a non-fictional human can’t really afford?
Oh yeah, certainly things like that. Things like picking a wedding dress. I did a lot of looking at wedding dresses online to see what Alexa’s dress would be like  — and all of that stuff is just a lot of fun. Especially when it’s fiction, so I’m not worried about how much things cost.

Weddings are clearly about love and two people making a promise to each other, but I think for many women they’re also a celebration of their female friendships as well in some ways — was that something you wanted to come through in Maddie and Theo’s relationship to Alexa?
Oh, yes, absolutely. Talking about picking wedding dresses, there’s a scene in the book where they go with Alexa to pick a wedding dress and what I really wanted in that scene was for the love of all of them, for Alexa and for each other, to come through. Alexa brought her best friends and her sister with her to pick a dress because she knew that those are the people who are her ride or dies, and that’s what I often feel like about weddings — people pick their bridesmaids because those are their best friends. Those are the people you know you can cry to about all of the small things going wrong or delight with about all of the exciting things in your life. Those are the people who will fly across the country at a moment’s notice if they’re needed.

Readers, myself included, love the role of food in your books, so if The Wedding Party was a meal, what would it be?
Oh, it would be pizza!

Now that these three books are going to be in the world and you maybe have a moment to reflect, is there something you’re proudest of in them or the process at large?
I’ve had other black women tell me they have seen themselves in these books, that they love the celebration of black women’s joy and them as a whole person, as someone who loves their job and their family and finds love. It’s made me so happy to get those comments from readers. And to hear from other black women who have said that my books have made them start writing, that they weren’t sure that anyone wanted to hear their story and now they want to tell their story. I’m so happy about that, and I hope more stories like this are always out there in the world.

Similarly, is there something readers have embraced or latched onto that caught you off-guard? 
It was definitely, your question about the food in the books — that really did sort of catch me off guard. I never did that on purpose; it’s just because I think about food a lot. Food plays a big role in my books because I’m always thinking about what would people be eating in the scene. But it has been funny to me have people talk about all of the food in my books and how it’s made them so hungry. It’s been fun to see sometimes book clubs have read my books and have made all the food from my books, and I just love that so much.

You’ve talked about your book covers before and the importance of having a black woman on it – but you’ve gone from a silhouette to just a woman’s face in profile to a woman’s entire body – do you feel that evolution of design is reflective at all of the journey you’ve been on as a writer? Or maybe indicative of something publishing is grappling with too?
I hadn’t actually really thought about it like that, but I think there is a real progression in the three covers and the shape of their bodies. I love all three of the covers. I’m delighted that The Wedding Party does have both of them on the cover and both of their bodies. I really do hope that this is a journey that publishing is taking in making it more clear that people want these stories. I hope at least that people will like the book and buy the book with a whole black woman on the cover and that that will show publishing that they can do that more and more.

For more Summer Books scoop, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands now, or buy your choice of two different Game of Thrones covers — Daenerys or the Starks — now. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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