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Adriana Herrera
Credit: Courtesy Adriana Herrera

With her American Dreamers series, Adriana Herrera brought a fresh new voice to romance — and now she's taking her storytelling to the world of department stores.

Herrera's next novel Here to Stay, which we can exclusively reveal the cover for below, follows enemies turned lovers in an upscale Dallas department store. Julia del Mar Ortiz moved to Dallas with her boyfriend only to be promptly dumped, but she's trying to make good on her cross-country move with her new gig running the charitable foundation of a high-fashion department store. Things get complicated when another New Yorker, Rocco Quinn, decides Julia's job and the company's efforts are necessary guts for preparing a leaner version of the company before taking it public.

The two struggle to understand each other's point of view, with Julia determined to showcase the value of the programs she oversees, but they might just find each other impossible to resist.

The book hits shelves Aug. 25, launching a new series for Herrera. We called her up to get all the details on her sunny cover, why she decided to move her storytelling to Texas, and what real-life department store proved a source of inspiration. Read more below the cover.

Here to stay

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You set this novel in the world of a department store. What inspired that setting and is it based on any particular store or group of stores?

ADRIANA HERRERA: The department store is actually inspired by Neiman Marcus, which was founded in and the headquarters were in Dallas, Tex. I read a history of Texas a couple of years ago, and I read that the owner of Neiman Marcus was very involved in the civil rights movement. He was more or less the first retailer that integrated in the south. He was one of the first ones that hired general managers that were people of color and also helped people of color run for office. I had no idea that [Neiman Marcus] had such a robust involvement in the civil rights movement in the south. It was just really fascinating. Stanley Marcus was also a huge patron of the arts and promoted a ton of artists that were creating very political pieces. He bought a ton of it.

So the idea is that it is New Yorkers, who are working in different areas of the department store, and they do a meet-up called the Gotham Exiles Club. The first story is Julia Ortiz, who works for the foundation. I always have to have a social justice piece to the story. With the department store in my story, the owners are very similar to Neiman Marcus, dedicated to social justice and doing a lot of work in their communities. Julia was hired to basically create a program that works with after-school children for immigrant families. Rocco, who is also a New Yorker, is hired to take the company public. Part of the IPO is cutting the charity part of the company, so they're at odds. Because his job is to cut as much as possible, and her job is to keep this program going and basically show him they can't shut down the program because of the work they're doing in the community.

Previously, your novels have all been set in New York City predominantly. What appealed to you about Dallas as a setting and have you spent much time there?

My partner grew up in Dallas. He was born in California, but when he was in elementary school, the family moved to Dallas. His family is still there. We've been together for almost 15 years so I've been going to Dallas for a long time. We know the area well; my daughter was born there, so I have a connection to it.

Within that, your novels never shy away from tackling issues like racism, and when it comes to the American South that can certainly be fraught. Did the shift in setting alter how that crops up in the book?

I try to be intentional in the ways that I tackle these things. I don't want to always burden the people of color with unpacking the issues. So I wanted to do it in a way where the onus wasn't just on Julia, who is the director for the program. That's why I tried to make it about it being the culture of the company. The culture of the department store was that they were very involved in social justice and that their brand was very much connected to their social justice. Rocco, the hero, becomes more and more invested in what a corporation could be like if they were a corporation that cared about their employees, that really cared about serving their community. What if they were thinking about the bigger picture — our brand is so connected to social justice and it makes us really appealing to millennials. I try to make it so I'm not just preaching at people. I like to layer it a little bit more, so it feels like people aren't getting lectured, but understanding these things are truly complex and beautiful.

Can you tell me a little more about your research into Neiman Marcus and how they inspired you?

I actually went to Dallas in January, so I went to the original Neiman Marcus flagship store, which is still in downtown Dallas and they have a ton of information. They have a ton of literature there about the original store and the founders. I read a biography of one of the owners, and I did some other research from that book that I read, God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State by Lawrence Wright. I tried to do a lot of research from that bibliography.

When you're deciding how to do the layering and what social justice issue you want to address, how do you hone in on your subject?

I started to think about this story when we were starting to separate families at the border. I always have to have something that pertains to social justice in my book, just because I feel like that is where my voice really does what it needs to do. That's why I decided to locate the story in Dallas. Texas being where a lot of the stuff was happening, it felt like it made sense and it was something that I wanted to speak to. I had finished my Masters of Social Work, and I was working at the International Rescue Committee. So I was working specifically with undocumented school-age children, doing advocacy, and providing services for them in the schools in New York City. I was really steeped in that experience with children, who are coming over from the border on their own and arriving in New York City to be with foster parents or guardians or family members. I was spending most of my day taking them to get their vaccination shots, visiting them at school to give them their one-on-one therapy. I needed to shine a light on those little kids; they're trying to go to school. Some of them are not little, some of them are teenagers, but these children are coming in and trying to integrate into the U.S. as best they can. I always like to imagine in my books the ideal nonprofit situation. Like a program where we have no budget and we can just do yoga and give them like amazing food and have an immigration lawyer and all these things. It's my way of doing my own social work fantasy.

This cover is so sunny and warm. Can you tell me more about how you arrived at it?

I was like, I want a heroine that looks Afro-Latina, and when you see her, I want her to be smiling. I want something fun, warm, and they just came up with something perfect on the first try. I wanted people smiling. I wanted people that look excited to be where they were. Julia arrives in Dallas with her boyfriend, and he breaks up with her right after they arrive, so she's kind of stuck there with a new job. She doesn't want to do a walk of shame back to New York City. So the feeling we wanted to have in the cover was she had arrived at a place where she was happy to be there and that was her new home.

There's always a lot of talk, especially on Twitter, about the value of illustrated covers versus photographed covers. Especially when the main characters are people of color because of a lack of stock images, models, etc. Did you come up against any of those challenges in your process?

No, not so far. Part of what people connect to in my books is how prominent the exploration of my culture is, how it's at the center of my stories. I like to be able to have a cover with an image or a photograph of someone that looks like the people that I'm writing about and then it's fully clear: make no mistake you're going to be reading about a woman of color. Carina, my publisher, has been super great about finding something that works for me. They've been really, really excellent about it.

This cover does just have a bit more levity than the Dreamers covers. Was that a distinction you wanted to make?

I feel like my Dreamers series was, "I am going to put this stake in the ground, of Afro-Latinx centered romance." I've done that, so now I'm having more fun with it. I can explore things like the setting in a department store; it's kind of a different feel. I don't know if I could write a rom-com if I tried, but it's definitely funnier. It's a little lighter and there's a lot of talk about fashion. I like fashion a lot, so there's a lot of designers and descriptions of the clothes that they're wearing. One of the side characters is an Instagram influencer. So, I talk a lot about photos he's trying to take. It's a very different feel to the Dreamers series. But again it's found family, a group of Afro-Caribbean friends and their connections and their relationships. They're all in a different town, so they also all feel like ex-pats from New York City. It's a different type of thing because they're all getting acclimated to their new home.

Given the setting, do you have a personal favorite department store?

When I was little and when I would come from the Dominican Republic to visit my aunties — I had three aunts who lived in the Bronx in New York City — they would take me to Macy's, and they would let me buy whatever I wanted from the candy store there. That's my favorite memory of a New York City department store. There was nothing like Macy's in the D.R. growing up. Everything was so pretty and beautiful. That's a great memory for me, but I really like Bergdorf's to feel super fancy.

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