Montclair’s Great Good Place for Books to host author Reid on Sept. 14
By Lou Fancher
Five professional women of ambition — a tennis pro coming out of retirement for one last victory; an entrepreneur establishing her acumen as co-owner of a Napa Valley vineyard; two authors cranking out best-selling novels; and a fiercely devoted book hound and owner of an independent bookstore — will come together Sept. 14 at Montclair Presbyterian Church.
Hosted by the beloved bookstore A Great Good Place for Books (GGPB) in Oakland’s Montclair district, the in-person event will spotlight Taylor Jenkins Reid, a New York Times bestselling author of eight novels, discussing her new book, “Carrie Soto is Back,” with author Jasmine Guillory (visit ggpbooks.com/event/TJR online for details).
Oakland-based Guillory arrives with equally impressive credentials: Guillory is also a bestselling novelist (“The Wedding Date,” “The Proposal” and others) whose work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Cosmopolitan, Time magazine and more. The book launch of Guillory’s newest novel, “Drunk on Love,” is set for Sept. 20.
The tennis pro and the Napa vintner? They’re Carrie Soto and Margot Noble, the female protagonists featured in Reid’s and Guillory’s new novels, respectively. The bookstore owner? That’s GGPB’s real-life owner, Kathleen Caldwell, who said in a recent interview that hosting large author events for the first time since March 2020 is “a bit nerve-wracking.” Sounding rather like a tennis pro or someone whose livelihood is dependent on unpredictable weather conditions, Caldwell answered questions about being tested and what has been required to maintain a business during the pandemic.
“The ever-changing landscape of the past two years has certainly kept us nimble, and it feels good to leave the Zoom room. We’re excited to welcome Taylor Jenkins Reid back in the Bay Area. ‘Carrie Soto is Back’ is Taylor Jenkins Reid at the top of her game. We are hugely grateful to Oakland’s own Jasmine Guillory for supporting us in live events in September. She’s a Bay Area gem.”
Guillory was born in Berkeley and despite falling in love with books at age 4 — if not before — chose to become a lawyer and practiced full-time for 15 years. Writing happened on the fringes of her work life until at last landing an agent and gradually, book contracts, after which she emerged from her legal-industry chrysalis as a fiction writer.
“I’m interested in exploring, in my writing and books I read, the relationships between people with longstanding histories, like families, friends, workplace relationships. What do those do to your self-identity and your relationships with the rest of the world? In my new book, (I explore the question of) how do workplace relationships make you see yourself differently?”
Guillory mentioned the idea of co-workers referred to as work wives or husbands.
“You lead very different lives, but It’s someone who might see you for 10 hours a day for months or years. You have close connections and conversations different than those you have with anyone else in your life (including family). How do you express yourself differently at work? How do people see you differently? What ambitions do you hide or show?”
The topic finds its way into both writers’ novels, with Reid delving into daughter-father dynamics and Guillory opening the double folds of sister-brother and boss-employee relationships. Love floods the game and passions of professional tennis player Carrie Soto — and love yanks hearts in the sibling tug-of-war and romantic workplace temptations in Guillory’s novel.
Although the disciplines and practices of the legal world might influence her writing process, Guillory said being a voracious fiction reader has had a great and liberating impact for her on all fronts.
“Reading has made me think of people from every side. Law makes you view someone from one angle. Reading has made me a better lawyer in that I stop and see someone for what they might do in good times or bad. As a writer, reading has taught me about people who have real emotions. Anyone reading fiction about people different than they are is great.”
While never completely abandoning characters developed in prior books (“They’re forever in my head,” she said) Guillory introduces new characters in her latest novel.
“The setting came to me first. Once I knew it was set in Napa and a small winery, I thought about the owners. Once I knew who Margot was and her relationship with her brother, I thought about what it would be like to suddenly own half a winery with a sibling. How had she grown up? That came in too.”
Margot was a fun character to get to know and, like other favorite writing experiences, the narrative took Guillory down unexpected paths.
“I always start with an outline and know certain things, but learning who a character is and where they’ll take me is part of the fun of writing a novel. First drafts are messy, and I impose the structure in later drafts as I understand what I want to emphasize.”
Reid’s most recent books feature women aligned with fame. Guillory says the Carrie Soto character’s urge to “go back and fight one last battle” is fascinating.
“I love that she (Reid) plunges you into a story. I can’t start her books when I have anything else to do. Once I start, I don’t want to do anything other than read. Her (book) ‘Daisy Jones and the Six?’ I opened it on a long flight and didn’t stop reading until just as that flight ended.”
Asked what techniques or skills Reid brings to characters that hit home and stick, Guillory said, “Some of that, I think is magic. But she also does intense research, has a setting that gets you into it, paints a picture so you feel you’re there. She knows every detail, gets deep into (characters’) heads. Once you do that, other people feel they know them. They aren’t flat; they’re people who might sit next to you on a bus or airplane.”
In conversation with Reid, Guillory is likely to use topics relevant to a writer’s body of work as launching pads, then follow the stream. They might discuss a historical era, gender, race and societal oppression addressed by women writers, the arc and origins of their career, research, rewrites and other processes of the writing craft.
“My role is less about guiding the conversation than about following their paths. I’m not the star here. And I’m always interested in what the audience has to say as well.”