Jasmine Guillory, WHILE WE WERE DATING

Jasmine Guillory, WHILE WE WERE DATING

New York Times bestselling author Jasmine Guillory returns to talk about her latest novel, While We Were Dating. Jasmine tells Zibby about how her characters often appear to her fully formed, the effects writing during the pandemic has had on both this story and her next project, and why she made sure to portray her celebrity protagonist as a star just like us. The two also discuss if Jasmine casts her romantic characters in her mind and what readers can expect from her upcoming contemporary retelling of Beauty and the Beast.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Jasmine. Thank you so much for coming back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” for a second time for While We Were Dating.

Jasmine Guillory: Thank you so much for having me. It’s so fun to talk to you.

Zibby: I loved this book. You have such a way of getting people right into your stories. Immediately, I was like, okay, who is Ben? When can I meet him? I have a picture in my head. He’s so charming, and then Anna, of course. Your characters just come to life right away. It’s really amazing. It draws you right in.

Jasmine: Thank you so much. It’s so funny because usually when I’m writing, I kind of know immediately who the woman is, but it takes me a little while to get into the character of the man. It was the opposite this time. Ben jumped into my head full-formed. I knew exactly who he was from the very beginning. He was a lot of fun to write.

Zibby: Do you ever wonder if these characters are — this is going to sound so ridiculous. I can’t believe I’m saying this out loud. Do you ever wonder if these are actual people living somewhere? How do they come so clear to the minds of novelists? It’s amazing. Who are these people?

Jasmine: It doesn’t sound weird. I think about that all the time, actually. I really do think about it all the time, especially with this book because I knew who he was right away. Often, when I start with a character, I start with a germ of something from someone else or from myself or whatever. This time, it was just, I knew the whole person. I do sort of think about, is this a person living somewhere? Then I , no. Someday, I will meet them and be like, you, you are Ben.

Zibby: Exactly. What if he’s out there? Maybe he speaks a different language or something. Who knows where he is? I know when I was reading — I still am reading a lot of fiction, but sometime last year, I was like, okay, this girl in this book has to meet this girl in this book. I want to put them in touch. I got in touch with the two authors.

Jasmine: They would be such good friends.

Zibby: Ben, he’d love this guy I just met and had a call with. So funny. Wait, go back. For people listening — sorry, as I jump into my own conversation with you.

Jasmine: I digress.

Zibby: I digress. Could you give a little plot synopsis of While We Were Dating, please?

Jasmine: Yes. While We Were Dating is about Ben and Anna. Ben is an advertising executive. Anna is a Hollywood star. She is starring in a new ad campaign that he’s doing. Then they’re immediately attracted to each other, but they’re not going to do anything about it because they’re working together. Then he kind of rescues her and helps her with a family emergency. Things get more interesting from there.

Zibby: The way you set up that sexual tension, though, even when he was putting on the microphone, the lavalier or whatever in the photoshoot, and touching her back, oh, my gosh, you could just feel it. He’s like, oh, you have to go here? No flights? Okay, I’m just going to drive you. I’m like, oh, okay. Do you have a dream guy who would play him? I’m only asking because this is such a visual thing. It’s all about film, the advertising, and her being famous and all of that.

Jasmine: Do you know what’s so funny? I get that question a lot for my book.

Zibby: I know. Sorry.

Jasmine: No, it’s okay. I never have a good answer for it because I envision a person who’s —

Zibby: — Somebody else.

Jasmine: Yeah. I have a very clear picture in my mind of who Ben is, but he’s not — I know authors who see someone and think of a character based on that. I kind of am the opposite. Sometimes I will see someone after the fact and think, oh, you would make a great Ben, but it’s never the other way around. I will say for this book, I did see — it was after I had turned in the manuscript but before the book came out. I saw a press shot from a movie that and — I forget her name; I will remember it — did together. I saw the picture. I was like, oh, that’s Ben and Anna right there. Part of it was just their chemistry together. Sometimes it is more about the vibe that someone gives off than exactly how they look.

Zibby: Interesting. In addition to the whole chemistry, sexual whatever going on with them and how that develops over time and the things that she asks him to do and where this is going and all of that, you also have a whole family element, too, to the story, so Ben and his brother Theo and then — can I say about finding out — that happened pretty early on.

Jasmine: It happens kind of at the beginning.

Zibby: How he was reached out to out of the blue once and again by a woman who claims to be his half-sister and where that whole plotline progresses. I saw even in your discussion questions how you were like, what would you do if you got an email like that? I started to think, hmm, what would I do? What would you do if you found out something like that?

Jasmine: It’s funny because I have known a number of people who have gotten — that’s where I had the idea — who have gotten emails like that, either siblings or distant family who they’ve found out through these online ancestry things. It makes you really think about the nature of family. I feel like it would be impossible not to want to meet the person and see. Sometimes it also depends on your relationship with that side of the family. Do you really want to? Do you care? I think it really does bring up a lot of interesting character elements.

Zibby: Totally. Even whether or not to tell your other siblings is a big question. Why keep it a secret? I feel like if I got the email, I’d probably tell everybody I’ve ever met. I’d probably post it the next day or something terrible, which would be the wrong thing to do, but I would do it anyway. That’s really funny. You also have the whole element of fame and the downside of fame and how fame and mental health are sort of inversely related, negative mental health. Talk a little bit about that.

Jasmine: First, on the mental health element, I was writing this book during the spring and summer of 2020. Everybody I knew was thinking and talking about mental health, and so it just felt natural to bring that element into the book because I used to think about it so much. I knew long before I started writing the book that Anna was going to be an actress, and so that felt so natural to bring those things together. Part of it is her ambition. She really wants this. She loves her job. Yet difficult things come along with that. It felt natural to tell those stories all together.

Zibby: It was really nice to see a movie star who was acting so normal, in a way, seeing her with her family and having people with the gentle ribbing that parents do, keeping people grounded. Nobody cares, right?

Jasmine: Yeah, nobody cares. That’s just your kid.

Zibby: Did you talk to any celebrities or do any research? Was this more imagination based on Us Weekly?

Jasmine: I read a lot of celebrity memoirs. Then I also talked to — no celebrities, but I talked to friends who have worked with celebrities to see some of the behind-the-scenes stuff. That part was really interesting.

Zibby: Recently, I’ve met a few celebrities. Until I started meeting a few celebrities, honestly for this podcast, I just really didn’t even think about them like people. I really didn’t. I know that sounds ridiculous. Obviously, we are all just people. I was like, oh, they’re just so different. Not really.

Jasmine: It was funny because last month, I was on the Today Show, and I was there on a day when Jenna Bush Hager was — they were talking about Sex and the City. Jenna Bush Hager had a Carrie dress on and stuff. I was texting with my publicist about it afterwards. She said, “Jenna looked great.” I was like, “Oh, yeah, she was so self-conscious about wearing that.” My publicist said, “I can’t think of a celebrity being self-conscious.” She was really like, “I never wear shoes like this.” It was very interesting to see that behind-the-scenes thing.

Zibby: I was trying to get somewhere with my kids the other day holding like a thousand bags, just one of these mom moments where I was so bedraggled. I think I was probably in my pajamas in a hotel lobby or something terrible. I’m like, do you think Reese Witherspoon does this? How do I get myself into these situations? No. I can’t imagine anybody — do you think Jennifer Garner is doing this right now? Who knows? Maybe they are. It was really nice getting to know this actress, Anna, and the inside of her and her emotional life and feeling like now I have a friend who’s gone through this. It must have been really fun to write.

Jasmine: It was fun to write. It was a really fun book to write. Because I was writing it in those first six months of the pandemic, it was, in many ways, my escape from the hardest stuff. That August in California, there were a lot of fires that month. It was a really scary month. It was the pandemic and fires and everything else. It was really like, I am going to ignore everything else that’s going on in the world and just hide inside this story. That was my real joy in the pandemic, was writing this book.

Zibby: It’s so great to be able to transport yourself just like you transport the readers. When we can’t do anything or go anywhere or whatever, you just open a book. That sounds so overly simplistic, but it’s like magic every time. It’s really cool to do. It’s so interesting to me to be interviewing people now and seeing all the different things that came out of that time. It’s like a science experiment. How did you get through? Then there’s another book that focuses entirely on the pandemic. People go in every different way in how they handle it.

Jasmine: It’s also funny because — my next book comes out in a few months. It’s called By the Book. It’s a Beauty and the Beast retelling.

Zibby: Yes, I just heard about that.

Jasmine: It is funny because I also wrote that during the pandemic. I didn’t do it on purpose, but as I was doing my final read of the book a few weeks ago, I was like, wow, I was definitely going through the pandemic emotions as I wrote this book. It doesn’t make any reference to the pandemic, but it is very much a book written during the pandemic. Those are things that you can really — at least I can identify. I’m sure readers will be able to.

Zibby: Tell me more about By the Book. It’s for adults, still, though? It’s not YA?

Jasmine: Yeah, it’s for adults. Disney is doing this series of contemporary retellings of princess stories. The first one was Cinderella that came out this past summer called If the Shoe Fits by Julie Murphy. Mine is a Belle story. It is about a woman, Isabelle. She works in publishing. She has a bottom-of-the-rung job in publishing. She has to go to Santa Barbara to try to get this celebrity to finish his memoir. She ends up living in his enormous house with him to push him to write the memoir for the next few months. It’s all their story and how that happens.

Zibby: I like it. Awesome. I have a book coming out in July called Bookends: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Literature. We should do a virtual event or something about book-themed books or something, something like that.

Jasmine: Oh, how fun. I can’t wait to read it.

Zibby: Have you already written another book, then, since then? You’re cranking them out.

Jasmine: I am in the midst of it.

Zibby: What’s that one?

Jasmine: I’m not ready to start talking about that one yet, but you’ll know as soon as I can. I never like to talk about a book until it’s turned in and done because you never know when things can change. There are things that I told my editor about the book that I’m like, oh, actually, that’s not happening anymore.

Zibby: Have you thought about doing more continuations? I’m looking at Party of Two behind you. I’m like, oh, I wonder how they’re doing.

Jasmine: Actually, the next one is going to be a brand-new beginning, so I hope people like it.

Zibby: All right, I’ll leave it alone. Amazing. What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Jasmine: I have two really big pieces of advice. One, read a lot, especially in the genre that you want to write in, but lots of other books too. I get so many ideas from reading other books. From reading books in your genre, you kind of think about the patterns and how people write and what readers expect and what you like and don’t like. There are books that I read that I didn’t like that really helped me think, why didn’t I like this book? I don’t want to do it this way or that way. That is as helpful as reading books you do like. I think rereading really helps. When I first started writing, there were certain things I was good at and certain things I wasn’t. Dialogue, I was kind of iffy at. I would reread books that I knew did it well. I thought about, why does this work? How can I make my writing work in the way that theirs works? It’s not like copying because you’re reading a lot of different people and thinking about how it works and then translating that to your own work. That was very helpful for me. Then just write a lot. Keep practicing. When you see a book published, it is usually the — for me, it’s the ninth or tenth draft. Writing a first draft and thinking, oh, that’s terrible — my first drafts are always terrible. Keep working at it. Keep going because there’s so many things — something won’t work, and I just keep going. Finally, it does, but it really takes a while. That’s okay. Be patient with yourself, but keep going back to the work.

Zibby: It sounds great. If you had to do a “Where is Ben today?” what do you think he’d be doing?

Jasmine: I feel like right now in the midst of the pandemic, he’d be holed up in Anna’s house with her.

Zibby: And pretty happy.

Jasmine: while she’s out filming a movie.

Zibby: Holding down the fort. Awesome. Jasmine, thank you so much. This was really fun. Your book was really fun. Fun, for me, is a very positive word. My husband, whenever we’re shopping for something or I’m like, “That’s fun,” he’s like, “You can’t call a carpet fun.” He’s like, “Now I’ve realized that fun means good.” I thought the book was really fun.

Jasmine: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Zibby: Have a great day. Bye.

Jasmine Guillory, WHILE WE WERE DATING

WHILE WE WERE DATING by Jasmine Guillory

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