On this week’s episode of Working, June Thomas spoke with romance novelist Jasmine Guillory, whose latest book, Party of Two, was published last week. They talked about Guillory’s career shift from attorney to full-time writer, how she structures her novels, and how she approaches the task of writing sex scenes. This partial transcript of their conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
June Thomas: I read a piece in which you talked about receiving a lot of rejections for your earliest fiction submissions. What kept you writing and submitting?
Jasmine Guillory: I started writing fiction pretty late in life. I didn’t start until I was in my 30s, and I just had so much fun with it. I really loved it. I looked forward to coming home from work every night and working on my book. So, while I definitely went through periods of feeling I was not going to go anywhere with this, I just kept coming back to it because I had so much fun with it. That was the thing that kept me coming back, enjoying getting out of my own head for a while.
You were working as a lawyer when you first started writing. The legal profession isn’t known for its light days. What did you do to stay focused on your writing after a full day’s work in a demanding profession?
There’s a lot of discussion in the writing world about whether, in order to be a writer, you have to write every day. I don’t think that’s necessarily true, but I know that for me, writing every day is important, mostly because it keeps me on schedule. Before the day is done, I have to have written something, because otherwise the next day it’s too easy to say, Oh, I didn’t write yesterday, I can wait until tomorrow, and just keep pushing it out.
I make spreadsheets and check in with myself every day on my word count. Not to prove anything to anyone else, but so I can keep myself on track. It’s also nice because when you’re writing a book, it feels so overwhelming at first. Sometimes I go and scroll back through my spreadsheet and think, OK, even though I only wrote 500 or 300 or 1,000 words on those days, look how it all added up.
There’s a formula for romance novels, which feels like a strength of the genre. When you are outlining, are you outlining where the characters are going to go, or are you thinking where the beats of the romance genre, between meet cute and happy ending, are going to fall?
I agree that there is a formula for romance and I also don’t say that in a negative way. Romance readers come into a book wanting certain things, and the biggest one is the happy ending. But in order to write that happy ending and to have it resonate, there’s a lot of work you have to do early on in the book.
So, when I write an outline, I know I’m always going to have a happy ending. But I need to know how these two people come together, what their struggle is, what their conflict is with one another, and then that ending will work and make people care about them. I need to build the chemistry between them. The hardest thing for me in figuring out a book is figuring out who the characters are. I need to figure out why does this person fall in love with that person and vice versa. Why do they care about each other? Why do they have this connection? Why would people root for them?
Writing romances involves writing sex scenes. How do you approach that particular task?
People always ask about writing sex scenes, but it seems to me to be something that grows out of the relationship. I think, who are these two people? What are they like? What’s the reason they’re having sex today? Each sex scene is different. It’s not something you can cut and paste.
I felt slightly embarrassed even bringing that up, even though it is a part of the genre, and there’s nothing wrong with it. So, I wonder, is it awkward for you too?
It’s funny, because it’s not at all awkward for me to write them. But whenever I read them back, I’m always blushing a little.