Her debut novel, The Wedding, features Alexa, who is black, making her a rare person of color in the overwhelmingly white world of romance novels.
Jasmine Guillory didn’t think she’d write a romance novel. Sure, she wrote all the time in her job as a lawyer, but that was different — briefs and letters to judges and clients. But a few years ago, while working an exhausting job, she realized she needed a creative outlet. It took her some time to adjust to writing fiction.
“There are definitely times when I’ve had to turn off certain things about being a lawyer. I always want to footnote things,” she said with a laugh. But after a while, she had written a book. And over the next few years, she wrote a few more. Her nights and lunches spent writing paid off, and her debut novel, The Wedding Date, was scheduled to come out mid-January. The charming novel tells the story of Alexa, the Berkeley mayor’s chief of staff, who gets stuck in an elevator at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco with Drew, a handsome Los Angeles doctor in town for an ex’s wedding. The two flirt, and when the elevator starts working again, Drew asks Alexa for a favor: Will she pretend to be his girlfriend for the wedding?
The novel is the story of how Alexa’s and Drew’s fake relationship transforms into a real romance, but it’s also a celebration of the Bay Area. Guillory grew up in Oakland, as did several generations of her family (“I know all of the librarians in the Berkeley and Oakland public library systems because I grew up going to all of them,” she said), and her book lovingly references several locations around the Bay Area: Alexa and Drew banter over burritos at La Taqueria, spend time at Alexa’s house off Telegraph Avenue, and have a touching moment at a Berkeley City Council meeting.
“The East Bay is my home. Both Berkeley and Oakland are cities that I just love so much,” she said. “It’s a place where people work and grow up and live. They’re such wonderful warm, diverse, exciting communities that I wanted to set it here.”
It was also important to Guillory to reflect that diversity in her book. Alexa is black, making her a rare person of color in the overwhelmingly white world of romance novels. There’s a scene, before the characters enter the rehearsal dinner, where Alexa pulls Drew aside to ask a question: Will she be the only black person there? It’s a small moment, but Guillory says she has already heard from several black women how much they appreciate the inclusion of such a relatable exchange.
“I want[ed] more books about people like me,” Guillory said. “People who aren’t white but also people who have diverse lives, who live in cities and have friends of different ethnicities. It just felt false to me to read books that were just about white people.
“Especially this year , I think as a black woman, when you see the president over and over again choosing black women to attack, it just feels so wonderful to read a book and see black women getting a happy ending,” she continued. “Like, ‘these are good things that are happening to women like me.’ Especially as a break from all of the terrible things that are happening in the world, it is wonderful to read stories about people having happy endings, having successes with their jobs, and successes with love. Those are stories that are so frequently not told about black women. I want to read books where we are front and center, the stars of the story, and getting the good things happening to us, which is so rare in most media.”