Texas Book Festival 2018: Real Romance: Alyssa Cole and Jasmine Guillory

The two on what makes their contemporary love stories sparkle

There was an air of conspiratorial camaraderie from the moment moderator Patricia Hayes and authors Alyssa Cole and Jasmine Guillory entered the room. Maybe it was predestined.

(l-r) Alyssa Cole, Jasmine Guillory, and Patricia Hayes (Photo by Rosalind Faires)

Guillory and Cole came familiar with each other’s work – they run in the same Twitter circles and toward the end of the session, Guillory credited Cole’s books, “where black women are getting their happy endings,” as an inspiration for her own work. Then there was Hayes’ gleeful enthusiasm for both books being discussed – Cole’s A Duke by Default and Guillory’s The Wedding Date – which became immediately evident when she held up her lovingly tabbed copies, with all “LOL and ‘Wow!’ moments marked." To top it all off was the crowd, medium-sized but outsized in attention and devotion. There were audience questions in almost all the Book Festival sessions I attended, but the questions for this panel were singular in their quantity and the way they revealed a passionate, thoughtful readership eagerly following the careers of both writers.

If romance is often perceived as a genre defined by flights of fancy, it was all the more interesting to hear that Cole and Guillory drew inspiration for their novels from real life. A Duke by Default, the second in Cole’s Reluctant Royals series, has its heroine, Portia, travel to Scotland to participate in a sword-making apprenticeship (“It’s contemporary!,” she insisted to the audience, laughing) and was the result of happening upon an ad for a Scottish sword-making apprenticeship and talking with the sword-maker to see what the process would entail. The Wedding Date’s meet-cute in a broken elevator in the Fairmont Hotel came to Guillory when she was getting drinks with a friend (who was in town for a wedding) at that very place. The substance of both books was also personal: Cole described realizing that she has ADHD while writing about Portia discovering the same thing about herself in A Duke by Default, while Guillory shared the gut-check question she always goes back to when writing conflict: “Is that the way a real person would react?”

Are these books, with their guaranteed happy endings, important at this moment in history? Guillory acknowledged the tension that persists around female wish fulfillment, but said she always comes back to the healing power of stories where black women are heroes. For bleak moments, Cole recommended always having on hand a few “break-glass-in-case-of-emergency books” – ones you haven’t read yet but know you’ll love. If you haven’t been delighted by them already, A Duke by Default and The Wedding Date are certainly worth of that designation.

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Texas Book Festival, Texas Book Festival 2018, Jasmine Guillory, Alyssa Cole, romance novels

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