"I almost said no," the former Bachelorette reveals. "I was looking for nos."
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What if Rachel Lindsay had never accepted ABC's rose?

There are crossroads in our life that will always make us wonder what would've happened if we made a different choice. For Lindsay, that has long been her decision to join the cast of The Bachelor (and subsequent choice to go on to become the franchise's first Black Bachelorette).

"I almost said no," Lindsay tells EW of her choice. "I was looking for nos, and all I kept getting were yes-es. I always think what my life would have been like had I said no to The Bachelor."

Now that supposition becomes a reality in Lindsay's debut novel, Real Love, hitting shelves March 7. The novel follows Maya Johnson, a career-woman with a life plan to dominate in her industry and marry her college sweetheart. So when Maya is approached to become the new star of dating reality series Real Love, she passes on the opportunity — only to see her best friend, Delilah, take the chance and be whisked into a thrilling new adventure.

When Maya's free-spirited sister Ella breezes into town, she upends Maya's life, making her wonder if maybe there's something to taking risks and not living life according to the dictates of a checklist.

The book is Lindsay's opportunity to explore what saying no to dating on television might have looked like, and the ways in which sometimes disrupting our lives in spectacular fashion is the best thing that can happen to us.

We talked to Lindsay ahead of the book's publication to get all the details on branching out into creative writing, why she wanted to ponder the road not taken, and why she thinks so many lawyers write romance fiction.

Real Love: A Novel Paperback – March 7, 2023 by Rachel Lindsay ; NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - AUGUST 28: Rachel Lindsay attends the 2022 MTV VMAs at Prudential Center on August 28, 2022 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)
Rachel Lindsay, author of 'Real Love'
| Credit: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images; Dell

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you first start thinking about writing a book and what inspired you to write this story?

RACHEL LINDSAY: When I was approached to do the non-fiction book of essays, Miss Me With That, at the same time, I was like, "I have this idea that I've been thinking about for a while." Pretty much ever since I said yes to doing The Bachelor because my life changed so much, so quickly. I always used to ground myself by going back to the moment that I said yes because I almost said no. But thinking of the place that I was in — I was in a relationship that wasn't going anywhere. My career was plateauing, and it wasn't fulfilling to me, and I felt very empty. Even though I was doing all the things that I was going to do.

I was with the person that checked all the boxes on my list. I didn't feel fulfilled. I wanted to explore that in a fictional way and tell that story because that's very relatable to a lot of people where you wonder what if I had said no instead of yes, or what if I had said yes instead of no? Because don't we all do that? We do that so often in our heads. And I've always wanted to do a novel. I've always wanted to do fiction. I used to do creative writing in high school. Even as much as I love being a lawyer, I feel like it was stifling my creativity. This was an opportunity to be able to do that.

Writing this, was there any part of you in exploring this other path that then wished you had said no?

No. No, definitely not. Saying yes was the best decision ever. And not even because of everything that came after. Obviously, I found love, and I'm passionate about the career that I'm doing, and I've met so many amazing people along the way. I'm building the life I feel like I always wanted. Saying yes was also a way for me to step outside of the box that I was living in. That yes was powerful in so many other ways, not just the material thing. It was a big moment for me. It was empowering for me, and the first time I was doing what I wasn't "supposed to do." I am so glad I said yes.

And that's what Maya as a protagonist in the book goes through as well. She stays in the box where in real life, I stepped outside of it. But so often fear holds us back. And so we stay where we're comfortable, what's easy, with what we know. You see her explore that throughout this book.

Delilah, who does say yes to Real Love is not Black. As such, she doesn't necessarily have to deal with the same level of pressure that you faced as The Bachelorette. Did you think about whether that was something you wanted to include?

It was definitely a thought, but I didn't want to make it too much like that. Because I wanted it to be a little bit lighter. And Maya was the one who we were focusing on. That's really what I wanted to be the focal point of the book, and not necessarily Delilah's story in that sense. These are Easter eggs of my life in the book. But the reality show is enough. I didn't want to make her a woman of color because we all know that they need to do more of that, not just make it Black and white. I've spoken about this before, but they need to do more of that. There are plenty of other ethnicities to explore when it comes to having a lead of a reality show.

You have two sisters. How much did that shape how you portray Maya and Ella's relationship? How much have your own relationships with your sisters shaped your life?

I have two sisters. I'm a middle child, very proud of that. Originally it was written with two sisters, and it was a little bit too much to explore both of those relationships. We decided on Ella. Ella is a mixture of all of us, me and my sisters. But I would say maybe more me and my younger sister more than the older. The relationship between sisters is so important. Even if there's a little jealousy sometimes because you wish you could do what the other one was doing.

You see Maya think that she resents Ella for certain things, but it's a jealousy. I've seen that in my relationships with my own sisters as well. I still go through my ups and downs with my own sisters. I'm close to both of my sisters, and I wanted the reader to see the love that they have for each other — to see that they don't always get along, but at the end of the day, they're family and they support each other through everything.

So, I don't know if you're aware, but something like 38 percent of romance novelists are recovering lawyers.

No!

Well, you are too, so what do you think the through line is there? Why do so many lawyers end up writing romance fiction?

I did not know that statistic, but my guess would be, and I'm speaking from personal experience and you see Maya go through this in the book, even though she's not an attorney, is that you put your career before everything else. I did that. I was putting my career before my relationship, sometimes before my friendships, and sometimes even before my family. Especially in the legal career where it's male-dominated, you feel like you have to be a certain way and love or romance gets in the way of you doing the things that you want to and the goal that you want to achieve in your career.

A romance novel gives you the opportunity to explore some of that, that maybe you kept under wraps when you were pursuing your career. That's what I would say from my own personal experience. But I put my career before everything. And I even remember when I went on The Bachelor and I was having some of those important conversations, I said that I wasn't willing to sacrifice in my five year relationship and neither was he. I remember having those conversations of I'd never want to do that again. I never want to put my career first and I want somebody also who understands that and is willing to do the same.

Tell me more about your writing process. You have done podcasts, you've been on camera. I'm sure as a lawyer you had to do lots of different types of writing.

I've always very upfront that I had help. Shout out to Alexa Martin, the ghost writer who's not really a ghost. Cause I always name them. I don't want to make people think that I can do it all. Cause they're like, "How did you have time to do all this?" I had help. The writing process is really great. I love Alexa. When we were sitting down and talking and I was meeting her, we had a lot in common. She got the vision, she understood where I wanted to go with the characters. We really went back and forth in developing the story.

As I told you, there were two sisters at first. We toyed with the career that Maya was going to have, where she was going to live. There were actually more friends in the friend group, and we cut that back as well. It was a lot of working together, back and forth, to make sure that we captured the vision. Alexa's a huge fan of reality television, so she was really vocal about how we wanted this reality TV show to work. It was very collaborative, but it was also very fun. I can't stress how fun it is to explore characters in a fictionalized way. It was a quick process too, quicker than I thought. It took me a lot longer to write Miss Me With That because I was trying to decide which secrets of my life I was going to tell and how much information I wanted to give everyone.

How did you two decide the mechanics of Real Love? You give out glasses of champagne instead of roses, and there's a nod to bloggers like Reality Steve. Was there back and forth over what to nod to and what to reinvent?

It was actually more difficult than I thought because it's a fictionalized version of if. So, the show has a lot of similarities to The Bachelor, but you didn't want it to be The Bachelor. But I wanted to keep parts that were important. The champagne is something that we really do on The Bachelor, at the end of Rose Ceremonies, you always see the ladies holding up champagne. So it's a nod to the show, but then we're not giving out roses. Also, I have no more roses left to burn. We all remember that article. So, I didn't want to do flowers or a nod in that way.

Reality Stacy was Alexa's idea. That's something that came about later because we wanted to talk to the audience through the show, but not make the show the focal point of the book. It was really cool to be able to tell the story of the show without actually showing sitting down and watching it, because during the writing process there were more details about the show and them sitting down and having these watch parties and watching the show. We pulled back from that because it was a little too much of the show and decided to tell that story through Reality Stacy, which I thought was great. And it's a nod to reality TV lovers who follow their favorite blogger or TikTok or whoever it may be. That's such a big part of reality television now. So I thought that that was cool to incorporate.

Delilah starts to have some uncertainty about her choices based on feedback from her friends. Was that something you personally experienced?

No, because all my friends loved Bryan. I wasn't telling them who it was, but I'll never forget this. They said that from the moment that they saw my first interaction with Bryan on the show, they knew that's who I picked. And they loved watching Bryan on the show cause Bryan was no drama. People who knew me weren't questioning. Actually, I take that back — my friends weren't questioning me. My family was questioning me. You actually do see that on the show when Bryan comes and meets my family. My family was hesitant because my family had seen Bryan on Ellen and my sister was constantly looking on social media. She had all these questions about Bryan and was like, "Are you sure?" She was so tough. But I didn't even think about that as we were writing. Because Delilah was so sure about her choice, and we wanted to have a little bit of conflict with that.

Who inspired your hero, Kai? He's dreamy. Does he have a lot of Bryan in him?

I wanted the reader to be swept away when they met Kai because that's how it was for us in developing Kai. We wanted him to be dreamy. We wanted him to be charming, but also in a very quiet, sexy way. We didn't want him to be loud. We wanted his charm and his appeal to speak for himself without him having to do it. I was completely charmed by Bryan when I met him, and I would constantly say, "He's so charming." To the point where I was actually scared of it. And you see Momoa.

I wanted him to be opposite from Vaughn. Because it's so different from what she had spent ten years of her life with and someone she wouldn't necessarily see herself with because that is very much true to me. The relationship that I had before, the guy that I was dating is so different from Bryan physically, but also, on the inside. That was something that I actually went through and I questioned because I was so used to dating a particular type of guy, and so is Maya, but then she allows herself to fall and open herself up to Kai in a way that she never has before. She lets go. That's the theme of the book with her career, with her family, with love. And that's exactly what I went through in real life too.

Were you a big romance reader before embarking on this project?

No. This actually really speaks to the statistic of being a lawyer because I would read John Grisham and James Patterson and those were the type of books that I liked to read. Once you start becoming a lawyer, you have to read so much. You're just reading case law all the time and you don't really have time. You would think that I would be more into women's fiction and romantic novels because it was an escape, but there was no time for that. So no, I really wasn't. This really was that opportunity to do something new and to fulfill a desire that I always had.

Now that you've done it, do you want to do it again?

Yes. I don't have the idea yet, but this was such a fun process. I would totally want to do it again. When we were working on this together, I could see the characters, I could feel the characters and I hope that the reader does too. Now I want to see these characters out in real life. I want it to be a series or a movie or something like that, but then I want to explore more of that by writing more. I've just got to think of the idea.

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