Since she released her debut novel The Wedding Date, Jasmine Guillory has carved out a space for herself as a powerhouse romance writer. Now she’s taking on one of the most beloved Disney movies of all-time in her new story By the Book. Continuing Disney’s “Meant to Be” series, the novel reimagines Beauty and the Beast. Our hero is Izzy, a young Black woman in publishing. Overworked and underpaid, it’s hardly living up to the dreams she had in college. So when her boss needs someone to wrangle a beastly author at his secluded Santa Barbara mansion, Izzy jumps at the chance. To celebrate the release we chatted to Guillory about Beauty and the Beast, reimagining a classic tale, and creating romance that feels real and achievable.
Nerdist: What was your personal connection to Beauty and the Beast prior to writing By the Book? Were you already a fan? Do you have a favorite memory of the film?
Jasmine Guillory: Oh, I watched the movie over and over with my sister and cousins. I’ve always loved Disney princess movies, and it was so exciting to have a princess like Belle, who loved books as much as I always have.
Beauty and the Beast is such an iconic and beloved movie. What was it like to reimagine it?
Exciting and a little scary! It felt like a lot of pressure—I know that Belle is so many people’s favorite princess, and it was an honor to be able to reimagine her story, but also kind of terrifying to take on a role like that! When I sat down to write, I had to just forget about all of the history and figure out who Isabelle would be—and who her beast would be too!
How much fun was it to build in all the references and Easter eggs to the original film?
That was SO much fun. There are a few lines that still make me giggle because I got them in there in just the right way.
I adored seeing a Black woman at the heart of this story. Could you talk about creating Izzy? What made her your perfect lead?
It meant so much to me to be able to write a Black Disney princess. I thought a lot about who Izzy would be—what drove her, what she loved about her life and what she didn’t, what she struggled with, and why she would end up knocking on this beastly guy’s front door. She used to be idealistic, and she got her dream job, and now she’s disillusioned with it, and is trying to figure out her place in the world. I wanted her to find some of that magic again, and it was fun to make that happen for her.
Were there any challenges in recontextualizing the story in a contemporary setting?
Yes and no—yes because the story itself has some elements I really wanted to avoid (like the whole The Beast locks Belle up to keep her in his house part), but also there’s a lot about this kind of story that’s timeless. People who slowly fall for one another as they learn more about each other, and about how the other person isn’t what they seemed to be at first is the kind of story that we’ve all seen—and maybe even experienced—forever and ever. I wanted this story to feel new and fresh and relevant, and I hope I accomplished that.
This—like your other amazing romance novels—makes the prospect of true love and connection feel so achievable and real. How important is that to you when you’re writing?
Thank you so much for saying that, and that’s so important to me. My characters always feel so real to me, and I want them to feel like real people to the readers as well; people who have struggles and joys and faults and who make those kinds of connections with each other that make our hearts flutter, in that way they flutter when we make those kinds of connections ourselves.
Is there anything you’re hoping for readers to take away or get from By the Book once they’ve finished reading?
Isabelle and Beau have both been through a lot, and I really wanted them to be able to believe in themselves by the end of the book, just like I want readers to be able to believe in themselves. It’s really hard sometimes—I have to work on this myself every day, and I often don’t succeed!—but doing that work is so valuable. If you need a pep talk, Izzy and I are right there, cheering you on!
Featured Image: Hyperion Avenue/Disney