By Sarah Gill.
We are very happy to welcome Denise Willaims to The Reading Corner to discuss her upcoming release “Do You Take This Man”, out September 6th!
Divorce attorney RJ would never describe herself as romantic. But when she ends up officiating an unplanned wedding for a newly engaged couple in a park, her life is turned upside down. The video of the ceremony goes viral, and she finds herself in the unlikely position of being a sought-after local wedding officiant. Spending her free time overseeing “I dos” isn’t her most strategic career move, but she enjoys it, except for the type A dude-bro wedding planner she’s forced to work with.
Former pro-football event manager Lear is a people person, but after his longtime girlfriend betrayed him, he isn’t looking for love. He knows how to execute events and likes being in control, so working with an opinionated and inflexible officiant who can’t stand him is not high on his list. He’s never had trouble winning people over, but RJ seems immune to his charms.
Surrounded by love at every turn, their physical attraction pulls them together despite their best efforts to stay an arm’s length apart. Lear refuses to get hurt again. RJ refuses to let herself be vulnerable to anyone. But when it comes to happily ever after, their clients might not be the only ones saying “I do.”
Hi Denise! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. I want to start off by congratulating you on writing such a great book, it was the perfect read to take on holiday with me. The split perspective worked really well and built up the characterisation effortlessly.
Thank you, Sarah! I really appreciate you reading and for inviting me to chat!
Do You Take This Man? centres around Lear and RJ, two characters whose personalities were easily identifiable to me. Where do you find inspiration for your characterisation and what is important to consider when trying to create characters that feel human?
I’ve always loved reading characters whose disdain for one another feeds right into their affection for one another and I always knew I wanted two characters whose sweet, caramel centers were hidden under layers of touch chocolate. I enjoy creating characters who feel real to me with flaws and insecurities, but also with goals and experiences outside the romantic relationship. By the end of drafting, I feel like I’ve known them my whole life…instead of just their whole life!
RJ references some struggles she faces as a black woman in a predominantly (white) male industry. The one that hit me most was the impossibility of the contradictions involved in not being able to “look soft” as a lawyer. RJ “had to seem intimidating to co-counsel, but not to the judge or jury; [she] had to convey not only competence but unassailable ruthlessness on behalf of [her] clients.” These are issues women, particularly black women, face everywhere they go in order to gain the respect of others. How important was it to you to address these issues, even in a romance novel where a certain lightheartedness is often expected.
I am a firm believer that sometimes our identities and the experiences tied to them are the story and sometimes they are part of the character and with RJ, it’s the latter. This isn’t a story about racism or sexism in the workplace, but it comes up and, for me, seeing those touches of reality help ground me in writing who could be a real person. W.E.B. Du Bois said “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others,” and in many professional settings, that can be the reality for Black women and many other BIPOC people. In my non-writer job, I work in diversity, equity, and inclusion at a university and thinking about these issues is a large part of my work.
There’s a lot of back-and-forth, will-they-won’t-they energy in this book, which is based around past relationship trauma. I found while it could be a little frustrating to read (because you just want them to get together!), it’s also what makes the book exciting, unpredictable and even steamy. Did you set out to achieve this experience for the reader or was there another reason you decided to do this?
I definitely set out to do this (sorry!). Early on, I liked the idea of a book where the physical intimacy was early but the relationship building was a slow burn. My previous book, THE FASTEST WAY TO FALL, was the opposite balance. For so many of us, trusting someone takes work and may of us have had past relationships that made us more cautious, more wary of being vulnerable, or just more hesitant to be hurt again. I love the moment in the story when the character chooses to risk it anyway, especially when they’ve held themselves back for a long time.
RJ’s trauma when it comes to relationships is explained at the beginning of the story and helps set her up as a character; when Lear is introduced, you do the same. Was it important to you that the reason RJ and Lear’s relationship is so unpredictable was due to trauma, or did it just make sense for it to be this way when you decided who these characters would be?
When I think about each character, they’ve certainly been touched by past relationships that left each of them guarded, but I think what really made them unpredicticable as a couple was how each of them internalized that past heartbreak and, deep down, attributed their broken heart to their own character failing. So, while each had external reasons for shying away from relationships, both deep down had decided they were just hard to love. When they realize they’ve lovable to the right person, that their worthy of love, that’s the moment I felt like their characters were really developed.
Was it important to you to allow RJ to have friends who are polar opposites of her when it comes to love?
Definitely! Britta, Kat, and Del, RJ’s best friends and group chat members were introduced in THE FASTEST WAY TO FALL and I absolutely love writing friend groups that allow a reader to see other sides of a character. RJ is still tough and to-the-point with her friends but the reader sees her softer side with them and her humor before Lear gets to see it. I also liked that RJ had to think about her own thoughts on love in the presence of Kat and Britta who are much more romantically inclined.
RJ and Lear bond over a fierce love of competition coupled with some moments of genuine tenderness. Was this something you planned to ease them into the next phase of their relationship after the very rocky beginning?
Yes. I think these aren’t two characters who would ever reach “I love you” after a quiet candle lit dinner together where they stared into each others’ eyes. RJ shares at one point that Lear likes her competitiveness and sarcasm, and Lear admits how he loves how RJ challenges him and keeps him on his toes. Their competition allows them to appreciate each other and for those moments of tenderness to happen.
There are events that happen to Lear that all make more sense when the big thing he doesn’t want to talk about is revealed towards the end of the novel. Do you see him ever being able to move past this?
Yes. Without giving away too much, I think even before the book ends, he’s beginning to come to terms with it and figure out how to move past it. I think atleast one of my characters ends up realizing how great therapy could be for them by the end of the book, and I like to think Lear does!
Both ‘RJ’ and ‘Lear’ are nicknames the pair have adopted in order to keep aspects of their identities hidden. I really loved that the dynamic of their relationship changed when these nicknames were decoded, as if they’d both let down a wall they had built up. I think we all have our own walls in one way or another. Have you learnt anything about yourself from RJ and Lear in the process of writing them?
I had a lot of fun writing RJ and Lear’s story—it’s a lighter, steamier book than my previous stories but writing it did affirm for me that, even when it’s hard to see, it’s important to remember none of us are hard to love, we just have to find the right person.
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I hope readers take that same message away with them, along with a strong urge to eat wedding cake and curiosity about what a Fun-Yun fountain might look like!
Are there any books within the genre or with similar messages to Do You Take This Man? that you would recommend?
There re so many wonderful wedding-based romance novels! A few I think folks would like along with Do You Take This Man include The Worst Best Man and The Wedding Crasher by Mia Sosa. I think Priscilla Oliveras’ Island Affair has a wonderful connection to how we view ourselves as lovable, too!
And lastly, where can people get their hands on this fabulous book?
Do You Take This Man is on sale September 6 in paperback, ebook, and audio in the US, Canada, and the UK from all major retailers and I have links to all sites on my website at www.denisewilliamswrites.com/books where I also include a summary of heat level and content warnings for this book and all my other books.
Denise Williams wrote her first book in the 2nd grade. I Hate You and its sequel, I Still Hate You, featured a tough, funny heroine, a quirky hero, witty banter, and a dragon. Minus the dragons, these are still the books she likes to write. After penning those early works, she finished second grade and eventually earned a PhD. After growing up a military brat around the world and across the country, Denise now lives in Iowa with her husband, son, and two ornery shih-tzus who think they own the house. How to Fail at Flirting was her debut novel and she can usually be found reading, writing, or thinking about love stories.
Denise’s Instagram: @nicwillwrites
Denise’s Website: http://www.denisewilliamswrites.com
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