For This 'Party Of Two', Distance Isn't The Only Bump On The Road | KUNC

For This 'Party Of Two', Distance Isn't The Only Bump On The Road

Jun 21, 2020

Olivia Monroe has just moved to Los Angeles to open her own law firm.

Max Powell is a U.S. Senator who usually spends his weeks in D.C.

After a meet-cute at a hotel bar, they begin a casual, weekends-only long-distance fling. Or is it more? That's the setup for novelist Jasmine Guillory's new romance Party of Two. And it has some timely themes — Olivia is black, Max is white.

"Race plays out in their relationship in the different ways they view the world and the different ways the world has impacted them," Guillory says. "Max has a very kind of happy-go-lucky attitude towards life, which is easy for him because he grew up wealthy. He's a white man. He's sort of had — everything he's touched turned to gold in many ways. And while he recognizes very well all of the struggles that other people go through, those have never been his struggles. Whereas Olivia has fought for everything that she's ever gotten. And so they just have very different attitudes towards how to get through the world."


Interview Highlights

On Max's blind spots — particularly around Olivia's teenage arrest.

In an academic way, he gets that. He used to be a prosecutor and he kind of had a big change of perspective. When he was a prosecutor and recognized what happened to kids who were arrested, he tried to reform within the office. He is now a senator and is trying to reform that way. But it's nothing that he's ever had to go through. And so he doesn't understand viscerally what she went through.

On why it's important for her to portray interracial couples

It's very difficult for me, and I know for other people, to write a book about people falling in love, and getting to know one another, without talking about something that is core to their identity. - Jasmine Guillory

It's very difficult for me, and I know for other people, to write a book about people falling in love, and getting to know one another, without talking about something that is core to their identity. I have never had a relationship, whether it's a romantic relationship or a good friendship, where we didn't talk about race. My close friends and I talk about race all the time, you know, especially right now in all of the conversations we're having about race. I mean, I've had a number of conversations about race with my white friends in the past few weeks that have not felt stressful or fraught, because I've talked to them about that before.

You know, I don't think that you can have a real relationship with a person without having those conversations and knowing where you stand. And I feel like my characters feel a lot the same way. And so I wanted them to have those conversations — not in a big deal way every time, but just so that they keep referring to it, and know that they're on the same page for everything.

On a less serious note — the importance of dessert

I think a lot of times when I'm reading books, I kind of wonder, like, did they stop for lunch? But, you know, partly that's just logistically, you know, when I'm watching movies and they have this long action sequence, I think they they must be real tired and hungry after that. Maybe they need a snack. And so there's definitely a lot of snacking in this book.

On reckoning with racism both in romance and publishing just as the country is doing the same

These are issues that I have been dealing with and reckoning with in every industry I've worked in. You know, when I was a lawyer, I distinctly remember there was a survey that said 100% of black women lawyers leave their first law firm. And then I thought about all of the black women lawyers I knew, who I had known at the firm, who were all gone. And I was like, yeah, OK, that makes sense. The legal industry is very racist. The publishing industry is very racist, like, name an industry and you'll say that. And that's what systemic racism means.

... what I try to do is lift up other black writers, give them advice, because I think a lot of publishing is kind of a whisper network. If you don't get those whispers, then you don't know who to avoid, or what's happening, or what you should ask for. - Jasmine Guillory

And so all — what I try to do is lift up other black writers, give them advice, because I think a lot of publishing is kind of a whisper network. If you don't get those whispers, then you don't know who to avoid, or what's happening, or what you should ask for. And so that's what I try to do. Sometimes it feels like that isn't enough. But the whole industry is above me. And so I'm just trying to, you know, fight as hard as I can.

On whether this moment feels different

You know, it does really feel different. It has heartened me to see places like publishing houses, making commitments to saying that they are going to, you know, do an audit of their staff and the books that they put out. So that's a first start. And then what are they gonna do? What's the recruitment gonna be? What's the retention going to be? That thing I said, about 100% of black women lawyers leave their first law firm — it wasn't that they couldn't get jobs ... they left because the atmosphere there was too hard and difficult, and they didn't get mentors and they didn't get sponsors. And that's what people need who work in publishing, is they need people to have their backs, they need to not be the only black person in the room when they're trying to fight for a book by another black person. You know, I'll be checking back in in a few months, and then a few years and see if there's been progress.

This story was edited for radio by Samantha Balaban and Barrie Hardymon, and adapted for the Web by Petra Mayer.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

* Olivia Monroe has just moved to Los Angeles to open her own law firm. Max Powell is a U.S. senator who spends weeks in D.C. After a meet-cute at a hotel bar, they begin a casual, weekends-only long-distance fling. Or is it more? "Party Of Two" is the latest romance novel by Jasmine Guillory, who joins me now.

Hello.

JASMINE GUILLORY: Hello. How are you?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I am very well. I got to say - this is a romance story with a lot of pretty timely themes. Olivia is Black. Max is white. How does race play out in their relationship?

GUILLORY: You know, race plays out in their relationship in the different ways they view the world and the different ways the world has impacted them. Max has a very kind of happy-go-lucky attitude towards life, which is easy for him because he grew up wealthy. He's a white man. He's sort of had - everything he's touched turned to gold in many ways. And while he recognizes very well a lot of the struggles that other people go through, those have never been his struggles, whereas Olivia has fought for everything that she's ever gotten. And so they just have very different attitudes towards how to get through the world.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Max is well-meaning, but he has some blind spots. For example, he doesn't understand what it means for Olivia that she was arrested as a teenager.

GUILLORY: In an academic way, he gets it. He used to be a prosecutor, and he kind of had a big change of perspective when he was a prosecutor and recognized what happens to kids who were arrested. He tried to reform within the office. He is now a senator and is trying to reform that way. But it's nothing that he's ever had to go through, and so he doesn't understand, viscerally, what she went through.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You have interracial couples in your other books as well, not just "Party Of Two." Why is it important to sort of touch on these conversations in your fiction?

GUILLORY: It's very difficult for me, and I know for other people, to write a book about people falling in love and getting to know one another without talking about something that is core to their identity. I've never had a relationship, whether it's a romantic relationship or a good friendship, where we didn't talk about race. My close friends and I talk about race all the time, you know, especially right now in all of the conversations we're having about race. I mean, I've had a number of conversations about race with my white friends in the past few weeks that have not felt stressful or fraught because I've talked to them about that before.

You know, I don't think that you can have a real relationship with a person without having those conversations and knowing where you stand. And I feel like my characters feel a lot the same way. And so I wanted them to have those conversations not in a big-deal way every time, but just so that they keep referring to it and know that they're on the same page for everything.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. On a less serious note, I want to ask about the third main character in this book, which is dessert.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Max woos Olivia initially with a cake delivery. There is a ton of food in all your books, and it didn't really occur to me until after I'd read this book that you don't often get a lot of eating in romance novels. But I feel like Max and Olivia eat almost as much as they have sex.

(LAUGHTER)

GUILLORY: Maybe more (laughter). I think, like, a lot of times when I'm reading books, I kind of wonder, like, did they stop for lunch? You know, like, I...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) Did they eat? Yeah.

GUILLORY: I mean, partly, that's just logistically. You know, when I'm watching movies and they have this long action sequence, I think, they must be real tired and hungry after that. Like, maybe they need a snack. And so there's definitely a lot of snacking in this book.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to end by asking you about this moment in our country because, as you've mentioned, we're in the midst of these conversations about race and justice. And there has been a lot of attention recently on the publishing industry and how much it pays Black authors. And earlier this year, there was a huge scandal in the Romance Writers Association after one author, Courtney Milan, called out racism in another author's book.

You had already left the RWA some time ago because of racism. How do you deal with these issues within your industry at the same time that the whole country is reckoning with them on this huge scale?

GUILLORY: These are issues that I have been dealing with and reckoning with in every industry I've worked in. You know, when I was a lawyer, I distinctly remember there was a survey that said 100% of Black women lawyers leave their first law firm. And then I thought about all of the Black women lawyers I knew who I'd known at the firm who were all gone, and I was like, yeah, OK, that makes sense. The legal industry is very racist. The publishing industry is very racist. Like, name an industry, and you'll say that. And that's what systemic racism means.

And so all, you know - what I try to do is lift up other Black writers, give them advice because I think a lot of publishing is kind of a whisper network. If you don't get those whispers, then you don't know who to avoid or what's happening or what you should ask for. And so that's what I try to do. I - sometimes it feels like that isn't enough. But the whole industry is above me, and so I'm just trying to, you know, fight as hard as I can.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Does this moment feel different to you?

GUILLORY: You know, it does really feel different. It has heartened me to see places like publishing houses making commitments to saying that they are going to, you know, do an audit of their staff and the books that they put out. So that's the first start. And then what are they going to do? What's the recruitment going to be? What's the retention going to be?

The thing I said about a hundred percent of Black women lawyers leave their first law firm - it wasn't that they couldn't get jobs. It was because - they left because the atmosphere there was too hard and difficult. And they didn't get mentors, and they didn't get sponsors.

And that's what people need who work in publishing - is they need people to have their backs. Like, they need to not be the only Black person in a room when they're trying to fight for a book by another Black person, you know? I'll be checking back in in a few months and then in a few years and see if there's been progress.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jasmine Guillory - her new book is "Party Of Two."

Thank you very much.

GUILLORY: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.