By Maureen Lee Lenker
October 17, 2019 at 10:00 AM EDT
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Courtesy Alexis Daria

Telenovelas are bursting with juicy details — from secret babies to clandestine affairs and more, there’s no shortage of soapy, delicious drama in the beloved television format.

That’s why it was a natural source of inspiration for romance author Alexis Daria. The RITA-award-winning author is launching a new series next summer about three Puerto Rican cousins, and the first book delves into the world of streaming TV and the telenovela. Daria is no stranger to the world of behind-the-scenes television; her first series, The Dance Off, which earned a place on EW’s 2017 Best Romance list, took readers into the world of a dancing reality TV series in the vein of Dancing With the Stars.

Now, Daria jumps into the world of prestige streaming TV with You Had Me at Holawhich chronicles the romance between a former soap opera star and a hunky telenovela actor as they embark on filming a bilingual rom-com for one of the nation’s top streaming services. EW is thrilled to debut the striking cover below, designed by Bo Feng Lin.

The heroine, soap star Jasmine Lin Rodriguez, is recovering from a messy public breakup that found her name splashed across the tabloids when she returns home to New York City to star in a promising rom-com and implement her new “Leading Lady Plan” designed to kickstart a new chapter in her career. But that might just get derailed when it’s announced that telenovela star Ashton Suarez is her leading man, especially when all that “just for rehearsal” kissing begins to develop into a showmance worthy of a soap opera itself.

Though Daria is thrilled readers connect to the delicious behind-the-scenes aspects of her work, she tells EW she was actually more inspired by family and TV series like the reboot of One Day at a Time when it came to her new series. “My heroines are inspired by the women that I know who are Latina, especially some of my cousins. I have a lot of cousins, including some who I’m really close to. We text all the time,” she explains. “That was the bond I was going for. It doesn’t come out so much in the blurb because it focuses more on the romance, but the cousin bond was what I wanted to build up, so as Jasmine is going through her day on set and dealing with the romance, her cousins are a constant presence in her life via text messages or meeting up with her.”

For more on her myriad of inspirations, including Jane the Virgin and Broadway musicals, we called up Daria to talk her stunning cover design, that punny rom-com inspired title, and much more. You Had Me at Hola hits shelves July 7, 2020. Read on below the cover.

William Morrow

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your last series took place in the world of dancing reality television. This one is taking us into the world of telenovelas and streaming television. Where did this idea come from?
ALEXIS DARIA: I first got the idea to write about three cousins. I wasn’t sure what that was going to look like. But I wanted to write about three Puerto Rican cousins, who are either in California or New York, and I thought, “What if one of them just came back from California, what would that look like?” That’s how I ended up with Jasmine as this actress who comes back home to her hometown. Because for some of us, New York City is a hometown. She’s here to film a show, but she’s also at this rough time in her life and isn’t sure if she’s going to stay or not. In terms of television, I have always been interested not just in TV shows, but behind the scenes, how they get made, what the gossip is, what actors are thinking as they go into their roles. I was watching One Day at a Time on Netflix, and I was also thinking about other shows that I loved and how they show the family element on the show, like Ugly Betty or Jane the Virgin. Those are the parts that stay with me. So I wanted something that had that celebrity aspect but [was] also very grounded in family.

It seems like instructive or rehearsal kissing is a big inciting incident here – is that a favorite trope of yours? Or what inspired that particular story line?
That’s one of my favorite tropes. It’s the backstage romance – oh, we’re just acting, our characters are into each other and then it becomes something more. 

You have entered this Hollywood world where tabloid drama is a big part of the conflict. Did you do a lot of research in that regard or were you inspired by certain real-life stars?
There’s definitely a lot of real-life inspiration there. I did do a lot of research on this when I was working on The Dance Off series. It’s one of those things that fascinates me. For example, with reality TV, the thing I find fascinating is how much of it is guided by the producers. When I watch reality shows now, I really look to see where the producers hands can be seen in the story lines. In terms of celebrity gossip, I think it’s the same. Maybe there’s a kernel of truth in some of this stuff, but how much is just an offhand comment being twisted and then blown out of proportion? Stars are regular people who are suddenly thrust into the spotlight, and how do you deal with something like that? Being on this huge stage like that for something you don’t want to be out there? That was a big inspiration.

The telenovela aspect of course brings to mind Jane the Virgin, which is mentioned in the book’s blurb. Are there parallels in their stories? 
The similarities that are there are that the characters in the book are filming a show that is a remake of a telenovela, one that I made up. I was talking about it with my agent and I was like, “What if it was like Jane the Virgin, but instead of the telenovela star being her dad it’s the love interest?” I drew the idea from that of showing them doing a telenovela on the page. Also, there was a show Eva Longoria did called Telenovela, which was behind the scenes of a telenovela that was hilarious. It was the family elements of Jane the Virgin that brought me to that too. And maybe some other things in terms of secrets.

You Had Me at Hola is such a fun, playful title – did you have that early on? 
No, not at all. I probably sent in about 100 titles as possibilities. Originally when I had put the proposal together, I just give my works in progress project names based on what the story’s about. So in all of my files, it’s Project Telenovela. When we [submitted it to publishing companies], my agent and I called it The Rebound. When Avon came to me and said, “We want something a little different,” I looked all over the place for inspiration. I always think of titles that have Spanish words in them, but I never think that a publisher’s going to go for it. In this case, my editor actually suggested it. We looked at song titles and movies and stuff and while I was doing research to brainstorm, I was looking at a list of famous quotes from rom-coms. Of course, “You had me at hello” is in there, and I was like everyone knows the world hola, that’s a pretty well-known word, so I pitched that one.

Can we expect other titles in the series to be twists on rom-com quotes?
I am certainly going to try. I’ve got a long list of ones that didn’t make it on for this one. Some others that are already in the works for book two. It’s going to be probably a similar titling convention.

For the TV production aspect, were there certain shows or books you turned to that had that behind-the-scenes vibe you wanted to capture?
I love Broadway musicals. There were a few shows that I saw this year that had a show within a show. Those kind of things really inspire me a lot. I saw Kiss Me Kate and Moulin Rouge! – just seeing how they handle the balance between the actual story and whatever show they’re producing within the story. How they express that to the audience was definitely something I looked at. I also did a ton of research about television production in New York City. Unfortunately, almost none of it made into the book – but it’s really fascinating stuff. If people want to look up the history of Kaufman Astoria studios in Queens. There were some shows I looked at just to get a sense of the show they’re on. I looked at Younger and The Bold Type, Ugly Betty, just to see how they show the workplace environment. But anything that has a show within a show is my jam.

This cover is also giving me life. It’s just so gorgeous. Can you walk me through the design process a bit more and what your musts were when design started on it?
So the illustrator of the cover is Bo Feng Lin, and he is someone I’ve been following on Instagram for a few years now. I just love his work. When I was working on this book and knowing we were hoping for it to be in trade paperback and that it would likely have an illustrated cover, this was one my one thing. I put it on my vision board. I wrote it down, and I was like “I want Bo Feng Lin to illustrate my cover.” That is what I want. I have degrees in fine art and graphic design. So I did my previous covers. So I wanted someone who was a better illustrator than I am. I made a PowerPoint presentation, it was probably 20 something slides, with exactly what I wanted for the cover – because this is the thing where I get a little control freak. Avon was really good about reaching out to the illustrator and booking him for it, and they asked him to do a bunch of different sketches, and most of them were just of Jasmine, but then he sent one with Jasmine and Ashton and it was just so great, that’s what we went with. That’s pretty close to how the final product came out. I’m over the moon about it. I love the cover so much.

Was the color scheme part of that PowerPoint presentation?
The color scheme was kind of in there. Originally, the background was red, but all of my branding has this magenta color and one of the variations had that in the background. So that was really where the tweaks came in, and trying to get the cover colors to match that background so it would fit into my whole Alexis Daria brand because I always love hot pink. What can I say? 

I know authors hate this question, but since you are set in the Hollywood world – do you have a dream cast or even just people on a Pinterest inspiration board should the book get adapted?
I pretty much always had Adam Rodriguez in mind with Ashton. And then for Jasmine, I had a lot of people on my board – people like Eva Longoria who did do soaps when she was younger like Jasmine does. And then Cierra Ramirez from the Freeform The Fosters and Good Trouble. I had them in mind. If I were casting, I think their age difference is probably a little too great. But in terms of the look that’s where I was.

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