By Locke Hughes
Although Jasmine Guillory has authored four novels, the former-lawyer still hesitates to call herself a “writer.”
While it may have taken some time to “officially” identify with the job title, Jasmine has never shied away from claiming her avid-reader status. Books have played a starring role in her life since she first learned how to read at age three, and she grew up in a house full of them. Still, up until ten years ago, the thought of writing fiction never really occurred to her. “I’m not sure why I never made the leap to writing my stories down; I think that just felt too scary to me.”
Her fans (and soon-to-be fans) everywhere are lucky Jasmine finally put pen to paper. Her four novels, The Wedding Date, The Proposal (available via Book of the Month!), The Wedding Party, and Royal Holiday, are romance novels in the finest form — full of charming characters, humorous situations, and of course, good, old-fashioned love stories. We sat down with the Oakland-based writer and reader to learn more about her favorite books, reading routines, and how she practices self-care (books in the bathtub included).
You’re a lawyer-turned-writer. What inspired the career shift?
Even though I’ve loved reading my whole life, I never really thought about writing for myself until about ten years ago. I realized I had no creative outlet, and that I wanted to learn something new, so I pulled together the courage and started writing. After a few weeks, I realized that I loved it — I looked forward to coming home from work and writing for a few hours on my couch. For a very long time (until earlier this year), I was still working full time as a lawyer as I wrote, which certainly took a lot of balance.
Your book, The Proposal, was chosen as a Book of the Month last November. What was the impact BOTM had on the book’s success?
It’s such a great community. People were introduced to my work that way, and since then have read my other books. A year later, there are still lots of people who bring the BOTM edition of The Proposal to book signings! I’ve also discovered a number of authors through seeing their work on BOTM, such as Queenie — I first read about it through the writeup someone did on BOTM. I also like reading the reasons why people love a book — not just the plot synopsis.
Why do you write?
I write because I love it. Sometimes that’s hard to remember now, when writing is work for me instead of a hobby, and I have deadlines and responsibilities and whole teams of people depending on me. But there’s always a moment (usually many moments) when I realize how to fix a plot point or fall in love with a character or start to understand something I didn’t understand before. Those moments make me so happy they help carry me through all of the hard stuff.
What types of books do you connect with personally?
So many: romance, literary fiction, mysteries, young adult, middle grade, biographies, history, essays. I read pretty widely, though I tend to go on reading binges and read a ton of mysteries for months, then a ton of romance, then a bunch of biographies, etc. I don’t read a lot of thrillers or suspense, though, because they stress me out too much (and often give me nightmares).
Why do you read?
For me, reading is almost my default state. I read every single day, even if it’s only for 10 or 15 minutes before I fall asleep. Reading relaxes me. It makes me happy. It teaches me. It introduces me to new worlds. It lets me dive into problems and places and lives that are very different from mine, and also ones that are very similar to mine.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading a few books right now – Jami Attenberg’s newest, All This Can Be Yours, Camryn Garett’s debut, Full Disclosure, and I’m rereading Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel.
How did you come up with the idea for your most recent book, Royal Holiday? [The novel follows Vivian Forest’s trip to England where she strikes up a romance with a private secretary who works for the Queen.]
I got the idea from a friend’s tweet. It was around this time last year as I was finishing up the manuscript for The Wedding Party. She shared a news story about how the Queen had invited Meghan Markle’s mom to the royal palace for Christmas, and said that we needed a romantic comedy to be made about Meghan Markle’s mom! I tweeted back, “I volunteer as tribute” — but as a joke. Then I realized it could be a great story for Vivian, a character who’d been introduced in The Wedding Party. I emailed my agent and she loved the idea.
What does it mean to you to write about black women as the main characters in romance novels?
There are lots of books like that out there, but the publishing industry doesn’t do a good job in promoting them. They always seem to think it’s easier to promote books about trauma or something bad happening to black women. But I’ve always loved reading romance novels and young adult books — with black women being happy and successful. So I’ve loved being able to write — and read — books that are about our joy and not our trauma.
How have books influenced your life?
Aside from the obvious, one of the biggest ways books have influenced my life is that I’ve made a lot of friends through books — actual friends, not just the characters in books! When I meet someone and we can bond over our favorite books, it’s an immediate connection. One of my best friends from college and I still text about books we’ve read and loved.
Can you describe your “reading routine”?
I read in the bathtub almost every night! Sometimes I’ll bring a book to a bar, or some afternoons when the sun is out I’ll take a break and go read outside, but no matter what, if I’m at home, I’ll read in the bathtub for anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour, depending on the book and how tired I am. I also always read in bed right before I go to sleep, but then it’s almost always a reread of something soothing to help me get to sleep – I try to avoid taking books I’m really into to bed with me because I know they’ll just keep me up reading, and I have to have my sleep!
What’s your writing routine like?
I spent years working full time and then writing at night, and now those hours from 8-10 still seem like writing time, even though I usually write during the day as well now. I’m trying to break myself of the habit and write in bigger chunks during the day, so I have my nights free, but it’s hard to change something I’m so used to!
For the most part I write at home, but I’ll go to a local coffee shop when I need to diversify my space a little and get out into the world — and also to protect myself from taking a nap in the afternoon. Plus, unlike many writers, I am an extrovert, so the hardest thing about being a writer for me is that I’m not around people a lot. I sometimes make a writing date with a friend.
Do you have any tips for people looking to create a routine or habit of reading more?
Try to find a specific time for it. For some people that’s right after you wake for 15 minutes, for some people that’s at lunchtime for 30 minutes, for some people that’s on your commute, for others like me it’s at night. If you’re a physical book person, open yourself up to ebooks and audiobooks. If you have a few ebooks on your phone, that ten minutes you spend in line at the post office is ten minutes reading. If you have audiobooks, that’s a thirty minute walk around your neighborhood, or drive to the store, etc. And if there are people in your life who try to interrupt your reading, hide from them when you read!
What’s your general philosophy about self-care? How have you been taking care of yourself lately?
Taking a bath every night to unwind and read, making sure I get adequate sleep, and doing yoga every day help me a lot. I started doing yoga every day two years ago on a whim. I wanted to get more active, so I committed to a 30 day challenge from Yoga With Adriene, and two years later, I’m still doing it daily. And I really didn’t realize how key taking a bath at night was to my stress level was until recently, when I’ve done a few book tours where I didn’t have bathtubs in my hotel rooms; I missed it so much!
For me, self care is seeing and talking to my friends regularly. I went through a period last year where I was stressed to the breaking point, and I realized that was partly because I was working constantly and alone too much, and since then I’ve made an effort to even just get a drink or coffee or have lunch with a friend at least once a week; it’s made my stress level go down so much.
The hardest part of self-care is forcing myself not to procrastinate and put off the things I know I want to do but don’t want to do, like cleaning (my newest thing is changing my sheets and making my bed right before I leave for a trip, it makes coming home so nice, but it’s so hard to make myself do it!), dealing with paperwork, medical appointments, etc. That reminds me, I need to call the dentist…
1. One book or multiple at a time?
Multiple! I’m always reading at least two books, sometimes more. Usually they’re all very different: a fiction, a nonfiction, and a reread most often.
2. E-book, audiobook, or hard copy?
Ebook and hard copy! Ebooks are easy and portable and hard copies are tactile, and I love both.
3. Favorite local bookstores?
East Bay Booksellers in Oakland and Books Inc. in San Francisco!
4. 3 to 5 favorite books you’ve read recently?
The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai; Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika and Maritza Moulite; Faker, by Sarah Smith
5. 4-5 books you’d recommend for the GNI audience this fall?
Full Disclosure, by Camryn Garett, Get a Life, Chloe Brown, by Talia Hibbert, Open House, by Ruby Lang, The Yellow House, by Sarah M. Broom, Not the Girl You Marry, by Andie J. Christopher
What are you reading this Bookish Girl Fall? Let us know in the comments, then try your first month of Book of the Month for just $9.99.
Photographed by Ingrid Hong