Jasmine Guillory, PARTY OF TWO

Jasmine Guillory, PARTY OF TWO

Zibby Owens: I had a really great time talking to Jasmine Guillory about her latest novel called Party of Two. Jasmine Guillory is the New York Times best-selling author of five romance novels including The Wedding Date and The Proposal, which was a Reese’s Book Club pick. Her work has appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, and Cosmopolitan. She currently lives in Oakland, California.

Welcome, Jasmine. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Jasmine Guillory: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Zibby: I have to say, I listened to your book, which I don’t always do. I’ve been getting more into audiobooks. I was going on a run. I was listening to all these descriptions of desserts and pies and cakes. I was like, oh, my god, I don’t even think I should run anymore. I wanted to just go right to the nearest bakery and forget the exercise.

Jasmine: Both things are great.

Zibby: My most important question that I have to start this with, was there actually a bakery in LA that had a cake that was this good that you had in mind when you wrote this? If so, I have to get there.

Jasmine: No, but there are a lot of cakes that I have had in mind that are that good. I based all of my cake knowledge of cakes that I’ve either baked or had in my life. I put those in the book.

Zibby: I was ready to text you, not that I have your — and be like, I have to get to this bakery.

Jasmine: The pie place in LA is real, though.

Zibby: It is?

Jasmine: Yes.

Zibby: My favorites cakes in LA are from SusieCakes. Have you had those cakes?

Jasmine: Yes. They have them in the Bay Area as well. Those are great.

Zibby: Anyway, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way. Congrats. At the time of our talking, your book just came out the day before yesterday. That’s really exciting.

Jasmine: Yes, very exciting.

Zibby: Would you mind just telling listeners what this book is about, please?

Jasmine: It’s called Party of Two. It’s a romance. It’s about Olivia Monroe who moves to LA at the very beginning of the book. She’s just left New York. She’s starting her own law practice in Los Angeles with one of her best friends. At the hotel bar early in her time in LA, she gets into a conversation with a charming stranger. She’s a little suspicious of him because he’s maybe a little too charming. They chat for a while. She goes back to her room. She turns on the news and realizes that the guy that she’d been talking to was a senator from California. Then they run into each other again a few weeks later. Max, who is the senator, has been thinking about Olivia the whole time and is really excited to see her again. He starts wooing her by sending her a cake. They start a little relationship.

Zibby: Love it. There’s one scene right at the beginning after they first met when she goes back to the hotel room. You talk about it and you say, “She turned on the TV, but she took out her contacts.” I was like, oh, no, she’s going to hear, but she’s not going to know. They’re going to keep missing each other. Only we’re going to know. I’m going to have to live with that knowledge that I know and she doesn’t. Thank you for not doing that. That would’ve been torture.

Jasmine: Don’t worry.

Zibby: I know this is book five in your whole series of dating books and all the rest. How did this whole thing come about? Did you have an idea for all of these stories at once? Did you see them all as a series? Was one the first idea? How did this whole thing happen?

Jasmine: I definitely didn’t see them all at first. I wrote The Wedding Date, which is my first book. That book is about Olivia’s sister, Alexa. Olivia appears in that book. There are a number of characters who first appear in one book that I enjoy writing and think, maybe someday I could write their book too. It sometimes takes a while to either figure out what their story is or to work up the ability for me to really write that story and give it justice. With Olivia’s story, I actually had the germ of an idea early on. Maybe Olivia will date a politician. I think I needed a lot more time both in writing and just figuring out really what that story would be, what struggles she would go through and what struggles he would go through, and how they would come together. It was really fun to come back to Olivia and get to write her story this time.

Zibby: How did you get the background information about Max and even the loneliness of being a senator and his relationship with Wes and how senators are just people too? How did you research that? Did you know a senator, or it’s imagination, or what?

Jasmine: It’s a little combination of everything. I used to work on Capitol Hill a long time ago, so a little bit comes from that, but also doing research. It’s funny because a lot of senators and members of the house are roommates. They have to have two different places. A lot of them don’t want to spend a lot of money on a place in DC, so they shack up in apartments and in houses together. So learning that, talking to friends who have also worked on the Hill and worked in politics. A lot of that background came from reading articles and then just talking to people about what that kind of life is like, especially as a new senator or as a new politician because it’s very different than people who have been there for a long time.

Zibby: How did you get from Capitol Hill to here?

Jasmine: That’s a long story. In between those times, I went to law school and was a lawyer for a number of years and then started writing. For a while, I was both a lawyer and writer at the same time. At first, I was just writing for fun and to learn something new and to give myself something to do after work. Then it became a passion for me and then a career. I managed to do both for a while. Now I’m mostly concentrating on writing.

Zibby: Your first novel, was that actually the one that got published? Did you have a few you tried that never sold? How did it work?

Jasmine: I had one and a half that I tried and never sold. The first one I wrote was actually not a romance. Well, it was a young adult romance, so kind of different. I wrote that one. Then I worked on another book that I wrote the first half of over and over again. Working on that taught me a lot about what I need and who I am as a writer. I really loved both of those books and working of them. Working on them both taught me a lot. I learned so much from them.

Zibby: What is your process like now? Do you show people as you go? How did you just teach yourself how to write great romance novels? By the way, when I was looking for this book, I was looking in the fiction section. In the bookstore I went to, it was in the romance section with only like two other books, to be honest. They’re slim pickings these days in the bookstores. I was sort of surprised to see it there because I had already listened to it. I was like, what’s the difference? Why was it in that? There’s so many books that are fiction that also have romance as a theme. What’s the differentiating factor?

Jasmine: Sometimes it can be a little vague. Really, a romance, the key story is about the romance and is about the couple. A lot of romances can blend over and go back and forth. It honestly really depends on how bookstores shelve things, to see what section I’m in or who I’m next to in a bookstore. You had another question before that.

Zibby: No, that’s okay. I don’t remember. We’ll go with that one. Tell me about how much you love writing about food. I love reading about food. I love eating food. I know that that was probably the best part for me, was going through all these different discussions about food in LA versus food in New York and just so many different food conversations, which I could have all day long myself. Did that just happen on its own? You just love food? You just writing about food?

Jasmine: I just love food, and I love writing about it. Also, I’m always curious as to what people are eating. If I’m watching a TV show and they go out to dinner, I want to know what they’re ordering. I’m interested in that. I want to know where they go or if someone’s a picky eater or not. Do they like to share or don’t they? I think all of that is interesting and tells me something about a character and just builds on that. I tend to have even a lot more about food in my first drafts. Then I have to edit stuff out because I just find all of that endlessly fascinating when I’m writing characters and when I’m writing stories. A lot of times, I feel like that’s ignored. Sometimes I’ll be reading books and see them doing things from morning to night, and I think, did they stop to eat? Wouldn’t you be hungry? I’d be hungry.

Zibby: The show 24, I used to be obsessed with that show for a period of time in my life, I think before I had kids. I remember thinking, how did he not eat in twenty-four hours? I couldn’t go twenty-four hours without eating. Where is the food in this TV show?

Jasmine: Don’t you just even need a PowerBar or something?

Zibby: Right? Insane. I feel like food is such a through line. In second grade, my mom tells me I called everybody in the class and asked them what they had for dinner. So anyway, I am with you. It tells a lot about people. They always say in fiction, show don’t tell. I feel like what people eat and the way they eat, it says a lot. That’s why when you go on a date at a restaurant, you get a lot of information.

Jasmine: Exactly.

Zibby: So funny. Did you ever have something where you had a big disagreement over how to eat, or sharing, not sharing? I know that was a question in the book. Do you like to do family style or not? Anything like that?

Jasmine: It’s funny because I have some very good friends who are not sharers. I am very much a sharer. As long as we establish that at the beginning, it’s fine. Sometimes people are anxious about saying how they feel about one or the other. I think just communication is the most important part of all of that, and talking about it and talking it through.

Zibby: It’s so true. My first date with my husband, he was like, “You want to just share everything?” I was like, no, no I don’t. This is not going to work out. I got over it. So what’s your writing process like when you sit down to start one of the books? Obviously, it must have changed over time now that you’ve become more of a pro at knowing what you like to write and everything. How long does each book take? Where do you like to write?

Jasmine: It has changed over time. Although, certain things have stayed the same. I’m not always successful at this, but I try to write every day when I’m working on a draft just to keep the universe in my head of who I’m writing, what the story is, who these people are. It helps me because then even when I’m not writing and I’m just going through my day or running errands or driving around the street, something will pop up and I’ll think about them and make a realization about the book. I tend to try to come up with the story in advance. Sometimes it’s a detailed outline. Sometimes it’s a very vague one. It just depends on what I think of at the beginning. I need a path in order to start something. A lot of times, it changes a lot on that path as I get through the book and as I figure out more and more about the characters. There’s sometimes certain things that — a scene I had in mind when I started a book, and when I get halfway through I realize, oh, these two people would never do that. Then I have to figure it out again and go back to the drawing board and think that through. It is always a little bit of a process. I usually don’t share it with anybody else at least until I’ve gotten a few drafts in, mostly because I’m still trying to figure stuff out. If I’m trying to figure out a certain plot point or something that happens, I’ll talk it through with other friends of mine and see, what would you do here? Should it be this or that? What do you think? That helps me work through things. A lot of times, there’s no point in me sharing something with someone too early because I already know it’s not working and I’m trying to fix it. Then once I’ve done as much as I can, then I share it with other people and think, all right, help me fix this word. What do you think? Does this work? Does it not? I know this doesn’t work, so help me figure out how to fix it, is a lot of the conversations that I have with other writer friends and my editor.

Zibby: That makes sense. For Olivia, so much of what made her so likable is all the interior monologue that you share. Is he telling the truth? Did he just stand me up? Should I trust him? What do you think? Is that something you relate to? Are those the thoughts that you would have, or is that all character? Do you relate more to different characters that you’ve created? Is that like, in those situations, that’s probably what you would be thinking?

Jasmine: Sometimes it’s one. Sometimes it’s another. I have a constant interior monologue for everything I’m doing. I try to think of, what would think character think through? What would she be anxious about? Would she not be anxious at all in this situation? Why? Would she be perfectly confident? Would she be excited about this or dreading it? Those are all the emotions that I’m trying to think through. Then I want to reflect those emotions in their interior monologue and then in what they say and what their body language shows to the other person.

Zibby: That’s why it’s good. What was the impact on your life on being a Reese’s Book Club pick? Did that change things? What did it feel like when you found out? Tell me about that experience.

Jasmine: That was really exciting. My editor called me. I freaked out. We all freaked out. It was really heartwarming to see all of the people who really came to embrace my book because of the Reese pick and to really join a community. All of her picks have been women. The Reese Book Club is really supportive of its authors. It’s really lovely to see. I’ve met a number of the other authors. They’re all so great. I love so many of the books. It’s really been an honor to be in that little sorority and to get to know so many of the other women who have written these books.

Zibby: That’s excellent. Do you feel like there’s more pressure now, like it’s harder to sit down and write? What if I can’t do it again? Does it just bolster you with more confidence?

Jasmine: It’s a little combination of the two. Obviously, there are times when I feel confident and then times when I feel like I can never do this again. For me, I started writing to see if I could find something that I enjoyed doing. I wanted some sort of creative outlet. I didn’t know if I would like writing. I started it. I loved it. For me, I always just try to come back to that love of writing. Even when I’m feeling stressed or anxious or unsure about my writing, I just want to find some joy there. That’s the thing that always keeps bolstering me and bringing me back.

Zibby: What are you working on now? Were you able to be productive during the quarantine time?

Jasmine: It is a really hard time to be creative and to be a writer. What I have tried to remind myself during this time is that writing is a practice. I have to just keep doing it in order to keep myself as a writer, to keep myself remembering how to do it. I am working on things, but I’m just trying to enjoy the process of writing. I’ll worry about if it’s going to be a book a little bit later.

Zibby: Love it. Has the quarantine affected your baking? You referenced that you bake a lot too.

Jasmine: I’ve been baking so much. I’ve been baking a ton.

Zibby: Do you have any secret tips that you can share?

Jasmine: For me, I think the most important thing in baking, one of the things that I’ve really learned, is that you have to take your time with it. Be patient. Try not to bake something, especially not something new, in a rush because then you’ll realize that there’s a step that you missed. You’re supposed to refrigerate something for four hours that you didn’t know or you’ll misread something in the recipe or something like that. I try to just take a lot of time and think of it as kind of a meditative process and have fun with it. The times when I’ve been most successful in baking are when I have tried to not rush myself, to just chill out and relax and do this for fun. Then it is fun, and then it turns out great.

Zibby: That’s also a good metaphor for writing. Maybe not a metaphor, but it’s the same kind of thing. I feel like I’m so impatient when I bake that I find myself microwaving butter to soften, which just ruins the whole project. It’s like why do I even bother? If you can’t take the time to put the butter out in the morning, and the eggs, forget it. Just forget it. Do you have any advice to aspiring authors?

Jasmine: My biggest piece of advice is just to read a ton. Read lots of different genres. Then if there’s a book that you really like, reread it. Figure out what it was that drew you to that book. Why did you love it so much? Did they do the dialogue really well? What was it about that that worked for you? Take notes on that. Just keep reading because everything builds up in your mind and helps you learn how to tell a story. I think that’s huge. There’s lots of great writing books that I’ve read, but I’ve learned the most just from reading so many books.

Zibby: Do you have a genre you like the most? Is it your genre?

Jasmine: I love romance. I’ve read a ton of romance that I love. I also love young adult. I love middle grade books, literary fiction, mysteries. I read a lot of different kinds of stuff. I actually tend to read a lot of nonfiction when I’m deep into writing because it’s always harder for my brain to attach to fiction when I’m trying to tell my own story. Nonfiction is really great for me during those times.

Zibby: Has there been a time where you have felt like no matter what you did you just can’t focus on it and you had to put a project aside?

Jasmine: I’ve never really put anything — well, no, that’s not true. One of the books that I early on tried to write, working on that book taught me that I really need an outline first. I just started that one with an idea. Then I wrote the first half of that book three different times and then ended up putting it aside because I didn’t really know where I was going. I didn’t know what the ending of the book would be or really what it was about. I knew the vague beginnings of it, but not too much. I know that I need to think through a book now before I start writing. That process has really helped me. Even though I never ended up finishing that book, I learned a lot from working on it.

Zibby: Interesting. I know one of the themes of Party of Two is about interracial dating and the effect not just on the couple, but on everybody else and how people perceive that. What did you learn from writing this book about that?

Jasmine: From writing this book, I learned a lot about — for me, it was more about the public-private nature of relationships and of society. Max has a very public job. People are paying attention to him. Olivia doesn’t like that part of dating Max. They have to learn to negotiate that. That is a much bigger deal in their relationship than the interracial aspect of it. I really had to think about, what would be the things that she would care about in that part of the relationship that would worry her, that would make her anxious, and that he would see but not quite understand? Those are some of the biggest things that I really thought about and learned as I worked on this book.

Zibby: Do you think you’ll stay with the same type of book going forward? You have to give me a little more about what else is coming. Now I’m going to want to read your next book.

Jasmine: I’m not sure. Right now, we’re all figuring stuff out. I guess we’ll see.

Zibby: Awesome. Excellent. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Thank you for your totally amusing, entertaining, fabulous story that got me through a lot of workouts, which I really need to do. You’re the one keeping me going on the road there. Thank you.

Jasmine: Thank you so much for having me. This is fun.

Zibby: Thanks, Jasmine.

Jasmine: Thank you.

Zibby: Bye.

Jasmine Guillory, PARTY OF TWO