In her new novel, The Wedding Party, Oakland writer Jasmine Guillory continues her best-selling, Bay Area-centric series of modern romances.
Guillory's tales of love temporarily thwarted feature a diverse cast of multicultural characters, witty observations on the serious and the silly aspects of weddings, a deep appreciation of food and sex, and a healthy approach to mutual consent. Once an attorney, she now writes full-time, with two books scheduled to be published within the next four months.
Guillory grew up in Berkeley and later moved to Oakland. A voracious reader from a young age, Guillory spent a lot of time at the Berkeley Public Library, reading books like Anne of Green Gables and Harriet the Spy.
"They didn't publish a lot of children's books by or about people of color at that time," she said. "I'm really glad to see how many more there are now."
Guillory graduated from Oakland's Bishop O'Dowd, Wellesley College and Stanford School of Law. After clerking for a federal judge, she joined a law firm, before eventually moving to a non-profit.
"I didn't start writing until after I was working for a law firm. I can't imagine where I would have found the time."
When she first tried her hand at writing, Guillory worked on two young-adult romances. When those didn't sell or progress to completion, Guillory turned her attention to adult characters negotiating love, sex, and wedding planning in the contemporary Bay Area.
"I've been in a lot of weddings, so I have endless stories of things that happen at them," Guillory said. "Weddings are such a fun thing to explore, because bringing together so many different people from your life can get a little weird. People have such heightened emotions."
Guillory's The Wedding Party is a sequel to her debut novel, The Wedding Date, (no relation to the movie of the same name). Party chronicles the romantic misadventures of an African-American couple: Maddie, a freelance fashion stylist, and Theo, who works for the mayor of Berkeley. Both are super-close, super-protective friends of Alexa, the bride-to-be, and neither can stand the other. Maddie considers Theo uptight and pretentious, while he sees her as shallow and "bitchy."
"As I wrote the scene where Maddie and Theo get together for the first time, I realized, 'Oh, these two will have something going on.' But I didn't get to publish that book for three years."
Guillory's second novel, The Proposal, about the dangers of expressing one's deepest emotions on a JumboTron, caught the attention of Reese Witherspoon. The novel was selected in February 2018 as a Reese's Book Club pick on the Hello Sunshine website.
"It led to a lot of sales, obviously, because she has a really big platform," Guillory said. "It gave me a lot of new fans, whom I'm hoping will like my new books."
Romance novels play by certain rules, favorite tropes that lend a feeling of comfortable familiarity to the reading experience. The Wedding Date employs the "fake dating" gambit, a favorite of Guillory's, where the couple initially only pretend to be interested in each other.
"The Wedding Party is very much an 'enemies-to-lovers' romance," Guillory said.
Maddie and Theo are initially antagonists, but somehow they keep falling into bed with each other, a secret they keep from all friends and family members, even though they are both in Alexa and Drew's wedding party.
Although written as stand-alone novels, Guillory's books hint at a wider "Guillory-verse," with certain characters and settings appearing in various installments.
One thing readers appreciate about Guillory's approach to fiction is the prominence of people of color in her work. Guillory said the diversity of her characters is not a conscious effort.
"When I write, I tend to reflect the world that I live in," she said. "I've lived in the Bay Area most of my life. My world is a diverse one. I'm glad to see that my readers seem to really appreciate that diversity."
Another aspect of her work that gets noticed by readers is how the characters respect each other's boundaries. No ripped bodices here.
"The sex scenes will often show clear consent between the couple," Guillory said. "I spend a lot of time working on that, because I want it to feel natural. ... There are so many ways that that happens in real life, where people ask, 'Is this OK?' or 'Do you like this?' or 'Should I stop?'"
Guillory said she tries to depict such intimate behavior as a part of the normal way that adults communicate with each other.
"I think it shows people who aren't used to those kinds of conversations that it's OK to have them."
After becoming a full-time writer, Guillory discovered that she doesn't have to write only after dark. She's able to work in bursts throughout the day.
"Being able to set my own schedule is both great and terrifying."
The strategy has paid off. She has a fourth novel, Royal Holiday, waiting in the wings, ready to be published in October, with further books under contract.
Guillory will appear at East Bay Booksellers on Monday, July 15 at 7 p.m. Visit EBBookSellers.com for more information.