Hello, Dames Nation!
Dame Margaret is running things solo this week as Dame Sophie is being a grown-up about her migraines and treating herself to some preventative care.
Her experience was lamentably less glamorous than this gif, but this level of luxury is what someone of her calibre deserved.
Instead of her links and commentary, we have some bits and bobs from cherished members of Dames Nation. If you want to make believe you spent last weekend in New York being Very Cultured with us, you’re in luck!
The Pop Culture Powerhouses panel we attended (featuring the 100% #Damesfav lineup of Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Linda Holmes, Emily Nussbaum, and Jia Tolentino) has been posted in its entirety to YouTube.
If that’s not enough, you can listen to this episode of Fresh Air with Terry Gross wherein actress and playwright Heidi Schreck discuss her Pulitzer-prize winning play/one woman show What the Constitution Means to Me and gain some insight into a theatrical experience that left both of us wrecked in the best way!
You can grab Fleishman is in Trouble, Evvie Drake Starts Over, and I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution, the books whose publication led to this momentous panel and which we have obviously been reading all week.
Extra lastly, if you live in the Boston area, you can also see me and Linda discuss Evvie Drake on Monday, July 8th in Cambridge. Sophie and I got to meet so many lovely Dames Nationals at the Pop Culture Powerhouses panel— I hope I will get to meet even more of you at this event.
Dame Margaret’s Shockingly Athletic Links
A man and his truest love.
I have had the New York Times story “Stephen Curry Has a Popcorn Problem” open in my tabs for WEEKS now, I finally read it, and it was everything I hoped and more. It also inspired me to revisit three old, similarly delightful pieces:
This ESPN magazine oral history of how peanut butter & jelly sandwiches became the go-to pre-game snack for the NBA
Joel Embiid expounding on his love for Shirley Temples
And my own list of moral reasons to pick which sports team to root for should a rooting interest not be innate
Significantly more on brand, I loved Jenna Wortham’s piece on the joy of queer parties for The New York Times Magazine.
Vox recently published two fantastic, first-person essays about undergoing gender transition.
The first, from Vox’s chief TV critic Emily VanDerWerff, intertwines Emily’s growing understanding of her gender identity so beautifully with her critical perspective on Season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale that it nearly persuaded me to give that show another chance.
The second, by freelance writer Katelyn Barnes, made me cry over DRESS BARN of all places. It also made me resolve to take care, when sharing clothing recommendations here and on Twitter, to highlight stores and brands that work well with trans and NB bodies.
And finally, this piece on the way handwriting and class insected in Colonial America was absolutely fascinating.
Bossy Book Club with Jasmine Guillory
On July 16th, two very important things are happening: I am seeing Carly Rae Jepsen live in concert, and The Wedding Party, Jasmine Guillory’s latest contemporary romance novel, is FINALLY coming out. In the great tradition of interconnected romance novels, this one features two (terrific) supporting characters from an earlier novel (Jasmine’s debut, The Wedding Date) finally getting over themselves and falling in love: Maddie, Alexa’s master stylist best friend, and Theo, Alexa’s policy wonk work husband from the Berkeley mayor’s office. While this book absolutely works as a standalone, it’s even more satisfying if you’ve read The Wedding Date which, coincidentally, you have plenty of time to do in the next two weeks. To whet your appetite, Jasmine was kind enough to swing by and answer some questions about the new book and how she manages to be so dang nice.
While The Proposal centers on one character from your previous book, The Wedding Party is your first book to show two characters we've met before falling in love. When you introduced Maddie and Theo in The Wedding Date, did you hope they would get their own book? And how does working with two established characters change the process of writing a love story?
The funny thing is, early in the process of writing The Wedding Date, I thought Maddie and Carlos might make a pair. But as soon as I wrote the Theo's birthday party scene in The Wedding Date and had Maddie and Theo interact with one another, I knew those two would hook up later that night. That same scene (but from Maddie and Theo's perspectives, instead of Alexa and Drew's) is now the first scene in The Wedding Party.
And oh boy, yes, working with two established characters absolutely changes the process of writing a love story! There were things I already knew about each of their characters going into drafting the book, which I thought would make it easier, and it partly did, but it was also challenging, because I had less freedom. But it was also really fun to play with the difference between their public personas (which is what you see of them in The Wedding Date) and their inner voices.
Maddie and Theo are your only couple (so far) to follow the storied Hate Each Other So Much They Secretly Love Each Other arc beloved of rom-coms everywhere. How hard was it to write scenes with asshole behavior that initially justified their mutual antagonism but, from a different perspective, could be shown to be understandable?
It was SO HARD. It was one of the two hardest things about writing this book (the other was the timeline) (okay make that three, the third was my anxiety). One of the reasons that it was so hard was that I usually don't like enemies to lovers books exactly for that reason— it makes me sad when they're being so mean to one another! So for me, I had to figure out exactly why they didn't like each other from the beginning, and why each of them was justified in that dislike...but also wrong about the other person. When I was midway through the first draft, I went back and wrote the scene from the night when they met (which is years before the book starts); I didn't include it in the book, but writing it helped me a lot. And in the midst of all of the sniping at each other, I also had to weave in fun moments for the two of them together, so it wasn't all animosity — partly for story reasons because I wanted them to actually enjoy being together, despite how they felt about each other, and partly for my own sake!
What is the classic rom-com trope you haven't featured yet that you're MOST excited to work into a future book?
I love the whole reformed rake trope from rom-coms and historical romances. That guy, who dates a different woman every week, who never thinks he wants to settle down, and then BAM, falls head over heels...oh, it's so fun.
One of my favorite things about your romances is the central importance your heroines' jobs play in their stories, and I think Maddie's arc in this book might be your strongest example of that work yet. How did you develop that story? Did you go in knowing where you'd end up, or did aspects of it unfold as you wrote?
I always go in knowing sort of where I'll end up, but a lot of things change as I write. Maddie is a stylist, and I always knew that in this book she’d be doing something to help style women who need extra help getting back on their feet, but I went through a few versions of the story as I wrote the first draft. I really only figured it out as I got towards the end of the first draft, which is often how it happens for me. But going in knowing at least partly what that part of the story would be about, and figuring out why helping these women was so important to Maddie led me to develop the relationship between Maddie and her mom Vivian. And Vivian, as you know, ended up getting her own book!
Of the three heroes you've written so far, which would you most want to date yourself: Drew, Carlos, or Theo? Me, I'm (both) a Theo girl (and a Nikole girl).
It’s a tie for me between Drew and Theo. I love Carlos with my whole heart, but he and I are too much alike; we are far too bossy to date or another, and neither of us would want to be sous chef. Carlos and I would be excellent friends, though. I love what a softie Drew is, and I love what a nerd Theo is; I can't choose between them!
This is a personal question, but as someone whose professional life depends, to a certain degree, on being charming on cue and almost overwhelmingly nice, how do you marshall your resources on tour and in book promotion?
Doing events and meeting readers and other writers is one of the best parts of this job for me, and honestly, the people who come to my book events make it easy, because they're so uniformly great! But in the year and a half or so that I've been doing this, I've figured out a few things about how to take care of myself as I do things like four nights of events back to back to back to back (usually with a flight or two in the middle there). I've learned to not overschedule myself during my non event times, and to save up my energy for the events and meetings where I know I'll need it. Extroverts need downtime too! Sometimes this makes me feel bad, especially when I'm in a city where I have friends, and I don't make plans to see them. This is totally against my inclination— I love socializing and seeing people, and I genuinely want to do breakfast with one friend and lunch with another and a post event dinner with a whole crowd, but I can't tire myself out like that. The same goes for sightseeing — when I go to a new city for an event, I want to get to actually see it (and also to eat the most delicious foods it contains). Just a few weeks ago in New York, I missed out on seeing two adorable babies of friends of mine, and anyone who knows me knows I LOVE babies. But I’ve realized I have to stop myself from doing as much as I want to so I can reserve my energy. There are days when I'm in a city for less than 24 hours and have an early flight the day after an event, and I know I need to give myself plenty of time to relax, and also give my voice a break (I've gotten very close to losing my voice at least four times in the past year!). It helps to remember that even though this is a ton of fun, this is my job, and I need to do what I can to be best at it. But I do have a new tradition with another writer friend, Nicole Chung— when we're both at the same book festival, we try our best to get rooms next door to each other and then do room service breakfast together in our pajamas at least one morning. It's so cozy and relaxing.
You mentioned above that Vivian, Maddie’s mom, is going to be getting her own book next. [Places chin in hands to telegraph maximum attentiveness] Can you tell us all about it?
As you KNOW, I have you to thank for Royal Holiday! Your tweet came along just at the right time— I was literally days away from sending the draft of The Wedding Party to my editor, and I'd already been tossing around the idea of writing a story about Vivian, but I had no idea if anyone would want a book about a black woman in her fifties finding love. And even then, when I responded to your tweet, I was totally joking, but I kept thinking about how perfect that kind of story would be for Vivian, and how damn much fun I would have writing it, and I emailed my agent, like "Soooo, there was this tweet..." And I did indeed have just as much fun writing it as I thought I would. It has royals and scones and horses and tiaras and a chocolately voiced British man, and a love story that I hope will resonate with a lot of people, and it's out October 1st!
If this has piqued your interest, you may be in luck! Jasmine has a slew of upcoming events for The Wedding Party!
Monday, July 15, East Bay Booksellers, Oakland CA,
Tuesday, July 16, Books Inc, San Francisco CA (with Nicole Cliffe!)
Wednesday, July 17, Vroman's, Pasadena, CA (with the Fug Girls!)
Thursday, July 18, The Ripped Bodice, Culver City, CA (with Sonali Dev!)
Saturday, July 20, Changing Hands, Phoenix, CA (with Jessica Pryde!)
Sunday, July 21, Tattered Cover, Denver, CO (with Alexa Martin!)
Tuesday, July 23rd, Subtext, St. Paul, MN (with Amy E. Reichert!)
Wednesday, July 24, American Writer's Museum, Chicago, IL (with Diamond Sharpe!)
Friday, July 26, Joseph-Beth, Cincinnati, OH (with Kerry Winfrey!).
Lesser-Known Pop Deities to Watch with Devin!
After sputtering with annoyance over Taylor Swift’s new “gay” “pride” “anthem” for… two weeks, I decided to call in the big guns for this week’s newsletter. I asked my beloved friend Devin— the funniest man on Twitter, my favorite amateur drummer, and the only professional mathematician with whom I care to associate— just what he thought about it.
The YouTube series “Disappointing Gay Best Friend” is not a *perfect* representation of Margaret and Devin’s relationship, but it certainly captures… aspects of it.
The resulting list of Lesser-Known Pop Deities to appreciate is a thing of beauty and a joy forever, and I am presenting it to you without further comment.
We stand in the twilight of Pride month. Maybe you attended a Pride celebration; maybe, like me, you had to travel for you job during that weekend (homophobic scheduling!) so you’ve mostly just experienced it through the internet. Regardless, it’s difficult ot avoid the feeling that the salient feature of the past four weeks has been the exhausting competition among brands to produce the most elaborate empty gesture toward the queer community. This is probably the most sensible context in which to consider Taylor Swift’s recent Pride Single™, the egregious "You Need To Calm Down" and its accompanying video. Maybe you heard about it?
We notionally open to the message of your Bi Pride hair, Taylor. But we don’t love your song!
Reader, I am a man of numbers. As such, I’m not able to give you a dissection of the manifold ways in which “You Need To Calm Down” is well-meaning and probably technically Good but ultimately clumsy and a bit insulting; quite a few exist, and I suspect you don’t need any others (aside from these two tweets, which are the actual funniest thing anyone has done about YNTCD?). Rather, as we enter the final days of Pride month— as the eponymous calm comes over us— it seems that what we need is to move forward.
But no so fast! There are still a few hours of Pride month left, and if the music you’re listening to can be described as anything less than nominally queer I will come over there and cancel you myself (well within my legal and ethical rights through June 30th, 11:59pm local time). But I’m not trying to set you up to fail - you can only listen to the new Carly Rae Jepsen album so many times. Instead, I want to provide you with a small pride-themed list of some pop and pop-adjacent girls with whom you may not be familiar and who, in my estimation, are killing it (not thrilled about being a man referring to women as “girls”, just quoting the song ok!!!).
Let's address the important part first: the kindest and perhaps bravest thing you can say about "You Need To Calm Down" is that it is, lyrical content aside, a pretty solid pop song. Luckily, the instrumentation bears a strong resemblance to a good deal of recent work by Tove Styrke, one of our lesser known pop Toves. (The credit for this incredibly astute connection goes to my friend Dylan, who I am not linking to since he has decided to eschew maintaining an active social media presence, ostensibly in favor of pursuits that might actually improve his life or make him happy.) Extraordinary mainstream recognition has so far eluded Tove Styrke— whether that's connected to her most recent album's sonic palette seemingly being built around synths that sound like instruments the Blue Man Group might play, I couldn't speculate— but that shouldn't stop any of us from enjoying, for example, "Sway", an utter bop with all of the staccato bass of "You Need To Calm Down" and none of the condescension. This is also to say nothing of the music video, which spends 0% of its time presenting caricatures of Appalachians and the majority of its time presenting queer skateboarder romance.
To pick only one Kelela song to talk up in your friend's successful newsletter is to know true agony. But I have to land on "Rewind", as it's a natural entry point into Kelela's experimental R&B sound, and because, with respect, I don’t know you; I can’t be confident that you’re ready for some of her more adventurous or Sims-centric work. But just as importantly, "Rewind" is also the subject of a truly outstanding episode of Song Exploder, in which she talks about the measured and scientific process of crafting the song (Kelela is an R&B scientist! #kelelaisascientist!), as well as the story that inspired the lyrics, which does haunt me to this day.
If you're not won over by leikeli47's genre whirlwind Tiny Desk concert with the (heart eyes emoji-inducing) TSA Band, I'm truly not sure what to say. Keep trying? There's isn't anything explicitly queer in the lyrics to "Girl Blunt", but on the other hand, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything resmbling heterosexuality in the video. And regardless, on the topic of this list, it’s true that, metaphysically, this shit is a girl blunt, and we should all follow leikeli47’s lead to only smoke girl blunts.
Evidence suggests that, for prolific and undervalued women in entertainment over the age of 40, there's no wrong way to say gay rights, so Roisin Murphy has nothing to worry about. But if I had to describe some ways in which one might best say gay rights to me specifically, taking the opportunity of pride month to release an eight minute house song that wonders aloud about one's own capacity to experience love would be near the top of the list. (Other effective ways of saying gay rights include self-directing a music video that appears to be a 60% goofy, 40% serious exploration of the intersection of the themes “municipal transit construction” and “first time using Photo Booth effects”.)
To get sincere for a moment, Palehound released an album a few weeks ago with this song on it, and I love it a lot. It’s partly about loving a partner through their transition, and is more generally about having a physical form, which can be a real drag, and love, which makes it alright.
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