Debut Romance ‘One to Watch’ Tackles Reality TV, Fame, and Fatphobia

Posted by Sharon on July 1, 2020
Kate Stayman-London has watched the reality dating show The Bachelor (and its eventual Bachelorette spin-off) since it first started airing in 2002. So in addition to seeing a lot of clothing trends and bad hairstyles come and go, she’s also witnessed a lot of people try—and sometimes succeed!—to find true love on television.

Those unconventional journeys to real romantic relationships inform the plot of Stayman-London’s debut novel, One to Watch, in which plus-size fashion blogger Bea is recruited to be the lead on a Bachelorette-esque show. Bea is savvy enough in the ways of TV ratings to stipulate that under no circumstances will she actually be falling in love, since she suspects all her would-be suitors are competing more for fame than for a chance to win her heart. She’s there to subvert harmful beauty narratives, represent career women, and—OK, fine—all the free travel doesn’t hurt either. But as she gets to know the men and grows to learn more about herself, Bea discovers that opening herself up to the possibility of love might be the most courageous choice of all.

Stayman-London spoke with Goodreads about finding escapist joy in writing, tackling fatphobia, and the reality TV moments that have made her laugh and brought her to tears. 
 


Goodreads: First of all, how are you? What has launching a book in the middle of a pandemic been like?

Kate Stayman-London: I’m OK! It’s been crazy, a lot of rolling with the punches and letting go of plans, especially since this is my debut novel—no in-person events, no party with friends and family, and I’ll have to save that special bottle of Champagne I brought home from France to share with my editor on pub day.

But everyone at Dial and Random House has been brilliant in figuring out creative ways to get this book to readers, and I’m especially grateful to the Goodreads community. You all have been so excited and passionate about One to Watch, and that’s meant the absolute world to me, especially in the middle of all this.
 
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GR: Please tell us a bit about the premise of One to Watch and your protagonist, Bea Schumacher.

KSL: Sure! Bea Schumacher is a fabulous plus-size fashion blogger who’s trying to get over a massively broken heart when she gets an intriguing proposal: The producers of her favorite reality show, Main Squeeze (which is a lot like The Bachelor), want her to be their next star, with 25 men competing for her affection. Bea says yes, on one condition: All the romance on the show needs to be faked for television, because Bea absolutely refuses to fall in love.

But once filming begins, and Bea starts forming connections with the men who’ve been handpicked to woo her, she has to decide whether it’s worth confronting her own insecurities and fears (in front of an audience of millions!) for a chance at happily ever after.

GR: Your professional background is as a political strategist. What led you to writing fiction, and romance in particular? How did the idea for this book come to you?

KSL: I’ve always been interested in the arts and politics, all the way back to high school when I was president of the theater club and the Model UN club (as you can imagine, I was *very* popular). In 2015, I took a job writing for Hillary Clinton, and I had an idea that after the campaign, I would write a novel about my experience—a “Bridget Jones on the campaign trail” kind of romantic comedy.

But in 2017, when I tried to write about the campaign, it just made me too sad. I couldn’t do it. I was thinking about a lot of different ideas to pursue instead, until the night when I sat down to watch the finale of Nick Viall’s season of The Bachelor. The idea for One to Watch really hit me like a bolt of lightning that night, and spending time in that world and with those characters just made me so happy.

It was the escapist joy I really needed in 2017—and I know a lot of us are feeling that same need right now.

GR: One way that this book is really different from a lot of other rom-coms is that Bea starts out with 25 suitors. We’re kept in a lot of suspense about which of the men are actually “there for the right reasons” and which one Bea will (or should) choose. Was it tough writing a bunch of possible love interests? Did you ever change your mind about who she’d end up with?

KSL: Ha, oh my gosh, it was SO hard! I have a whole new level of respect for The Bachelor producers now; it was really intricate plotting out all the different romances and who would get dates during which episode and keeping the relationships progressing at a (somewhat) equal pace without giving the ending away.

I always knew what I wanted that ending to be, but what surprised me was how my own feelings changed about the different men throughout the writing process. There was one man who I intended to write as a pure villain, but I got very attached to him during drafting, so he became a much more nuanced character. And one man who I thought was a total hero, the better I got to know him, the more I understood how flawed he was and how his flaws might lead him to break Bea’s heart.

So while the plotting of the story never really changed, the way I felt about the characters—and therefore the way Bea reacted to them—changed a lot.

GR: The book intersperses the plot with tweets, blog posts, podcast transcripts, and more to show the outside audience’s reaction to Bea’s story. Tell us a bit about the choice to include those snippets. Did your background working in digital media help with writing those interludes?

KSL: I’ve been a fan of The Bachelor franchise for almost 20 years now (since before social media even EXISTED!), and it’s incredible to see this whole commentary cottage industry that’s risen up around the show. For me, texting with my friends and listening to podcasts and reading blog posts are all essential parts of my viewing experience; it makes watching the show so much more fun to feel like I’m a part of a big community of people experiencing it together.

So it was really important to me to replicate that feeling for readers in One to Watchobviously, I want readers to see themselves in Bea, but I also wanted this more literal feeling that you’re just one member of a giant audience watching this story unfold—and I think it’s fascinating to examine the way a public narrative about someone’s life can be really different from their actual experience of the same events.

And yes, my background in digital strategy definitely helped with writing those pieces! It was so much fun to take the kind of writing I’ve done for really serious issues and campaigns and write about a pretend reality show instead.

GR: You don’t shy away from harder topics in this book, particularly the fatphobia that Bea has to confront as a public figure. Were those parts hard to write? What do you hope readers take away from Bea’s story?

KSL: Absolutely, that was some of the most difficult stuff for me to write. It makes me furious to see the way people attack women online—particularly the way men feel they can reduce women’s power by insulting our appearances.

I listened to an interview once where New York Times terrorism reporter Rukmini Callimachi talked about being fat-shamed by members of ISIS (literal members of ISIS!!!), and my jaw just dropped. It was such an eye-opening moment for me: This problem is so universal, it’s so misogynist, it is an absolute tool of oppression to minimize women’s voices, our intellect, our power—and it’s especially geared toward fat women, trans women, and BIPOC women.

So I wanted to be honest about the kinds of disgusting rhetoric Bea would face if she gained national attention, and more than that, I wanted to illustrate the impact it would have on her, the way it would make her question her own beauty and worth. Because it’s easy to say, “Oh, they’re just trolls,” but it’s harder to believe it.

I hope that readers will take from Bea’s story that it’s good to take up space. That you don’t have to be small, or conform to a certain ridiculous beauty standard, to be worthy of love and attention and having your voice heard and affirmed. You deserve all those things, exactly as you are.

GR: Reality dating shows, particularly the Bachelor franchise, are television staples these days. Why do you think these shows are so fascinating to watch?

KSL: You know, much has been made about all the editing and manipulation that happens on these shows, but for me, the thing that makes them so compelling is that sometimes, you really and truly get to watch two people fall in love.

During quarantine, I’ve been watching old seasons of Love Island UK (if you haven’t watched, it’s AMAZING), and I grew very attached to this one particular woman from Season 3. She had such a rough time on the show, she fell for this guy who was just terrible to her, but then she met a literal Calvin Klein model who loved all the same books she did. I was like, come on, the producers must have planted this guy, this can’t be real. But when I finished watching, I went to her Instagram, and they’re still together! (They’re actually expecting their first child right now!) And I swear to you, I burst into tears. I just couldn’t believe it.

Every so often, despite all the absurdity of these shows, people find the loves of their lives. That’s what keeps me watching after all these years—and it’s what I wanted to explore in One to Watch.

GR: Do you have a favorite Bachelor or Bachelorette lead? What about a favorite moment from the franchise?

KSL: Oh my God, SO MANY! Most of my favorites are Bachelorettes—I loved Kaitlyn Bristowe because she was so funny, so dramatic, and just did what she wanted. (Who could forget the midseason sex with Nick?!) Ashley Hebert was probably the Bachelorette whose journey was most influential in writing Bea’s story, because she was forced to confront a lot of her own insecurities on the show.

But my number one has to be Rachel Lindsay—she has been so totally outspoken and fearless in confronting the show’s complicity with systemic racism. No matter what a moment demands of her, she always rises to the occasion with passion, grace, and self-awareness. I’ve learned so much from her, and I hope The Bachelor’s producers will learn from her as well—and make big changes accordingly.
 
As for favorite moments from the franchise, Rhonda’s meltdown after being eliminated in Season 1 is an iconic moment of reality television, and Andi Dorfman telling off Juan Pablo is still so delicious. Also who could forget the season of Bachelor in Paradise where a contestant had a secret affair with a producer and the producer JUMPED OFF THE CONTESTANT’S BALCONY to escape being found out, except then they BROKE THEIR ANKLE so everyone knew anyway.

Oh, which reminds me of Colton’s fence jump and Chris Harrison saying, “He jumped over the f—ing fence.” I crack up every time I think about it. What an amazing show.

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GR: Who are the writers (romance or otherwise) you admire?

KSL: There are so many writers whose talent and genius bowl me over: The way Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie weaves her analysis into her narrative is absolutely stunning, and I’m so grateful to be able to learn from her.

Leigh Bardugo’s creativity is just insane; I devour everything she writes. Her books are a real escape for me because she writes in such different genres than I do, so I’m never breaking down the story structure or writing choices, I’m just along for the ride, which is always a thrill for me.

And of course, my all-time hero is Nora Ephron. So many critics dismiss romantic comedies as unimportant or “fluff” because they’re primarily aimed at women, but Nora had the kind of ferocious intellect that really defied you not to take her seriously. Yet her sharpness never took away from the warmth and heart in her writing. That’s the balance I’m always aiming for in my writing—sharpness and humor and wit on the one hand, generosity and warmth and heart on the other.

GR: What books have you read recently that you really loved? What books are you recommending to your friends and family right now?

KSL: I absolutely tore through Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, could not put it down. I loved how subtle she was in breaking down the insidious ways racism creeps into the mentalities of supposedly well-meaning, liberal white folks—as with Adichie’s work, I thought the analysis was dead-on, yet only served to enhance the story, which is so difficult to pull off.
 
I’ve also been getting into audiobooks for the first time during social distancing! Kristen Sieh narrates the audiobook of One to Watch, and I think she’s a genius performer, we were so lucky to get her. So I’ve been listening to all her stuff—she narrated Emma Straub’s The Vacationers, which was such a great story and such a fun escape from my apartment to the hills of Mallorca.

GR: Finally, your Twitter bio states that you were once cited on French national news as a Taylor Swift expert. Please tell us how that happened!

KSL: Hahaha happily!! I’m a *huge* Taylor Swift fan—I’ve seen her on tour all over the country, I listen to her songs incessantly, I might even have a secret Tumblr blog in the online fandom. In 2018, when she made her first political endorsement, I wrote a Twitter thread about her previous activism that went a little bit viral, and then Elle asked me to write an essay about it. After that, a few reporters reached out to ask me to comment, including one from the French national news service, which was basically the apex of my life as a Francophile Taylor Swift superfan who works in politics. Everything else is just gravy.


 

Kate Stayman-London’s One to Watch will be available in the U.S. on July 7. Don’t forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf. Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews and get more great book recommendations.

Comments Showing 1-15 of 15 (15 new)

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message 1: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Clay One to Watch was my first Book of the Month book subscription box choice, and let me tell you I was not disappointed! I really related to Bea, and hearing the author talk and read this article was amazing!


message 2: by TMR (new)

TMR Love this interview.


message 3: by Mairy (new)

Mairy This interview very well reflects the mood of One To Watch; pure smart F-U-N!!! I read it last weekend and loved it. Rated it a 5-stars <3


kittykat (Jo Tortitude) This interview has sold the book to me, I was not interested in it before.

Liam wrote: "What Goodreads are really saying: Book has obese character, so buy it. This is RELEVANT, PEOPLE."

Of course it's relevant, becuase bigger people DO actually exist.


message 5: by Tara (new)

Tara Can we all just recognize that there is a huge difference between mean trolls just calling people fat on the internet, and the legitimate scientific fact that obese people are at a much greater risk for health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, and even an early death? Why are we conflating those issues? I don't know if Bea is truly obese, or the fashion industry standard of "plus-size", which really just translates to normal sized women, but I do think there is a distinction there which is important. And I'm pretty sure if people want to read romance as escapism, they don't want to be lectured about being racist and fatphobic (whatever that is).


message 6: by Melanie (new)

Melanie Page Tara wrote: "Can we all just recognize that there is a huge difference between mean trolls just calling people fat on the internet, and the legitimate scientific fact that obese people are at a much greater ris..."

Can you just recognize that it's not your job to police the size and health of other people -- that you are being what is known as a "health" troll -- and that acknowledging racism and fatphobia affect people every day isn't "lecturing"?


message 7: by Tara (new)

Tara Melanie wrote: "Tara wrote: "Can we all just recognize that there is a huge difference between mean trolls just calling people fat on the internet, and the legitimate scientific fact that obese people are at a muc..."

I don't police anyone's size, and certainly wouldn't want others doing so to me either. But again, thats not the same thing as celebrating a lifestyle that is damaging to the person you are purporting to help and support with this attitude. A bruised ego is surely better than a trip to the hospital. And yes, calling people names or accusing them of holding "toxic" beliefs just because they disagree with your viewpoint is indeed lecturing them.


message 8: by Newsflash247 (new)

Newsflash247 I love this interview


Kate (Feathered Turtle Press) Tara wrote: "Can we all just recognize that there is a huge difference between mean trolls just calling people fat on the internet, and the legitimate scientific fact that obese people are at a much greater ris..."

And fat people want to exist and enjoy media without being lectured by people who know nothing about them or being turned into a joke--if they exist in the work at all. They really don't need every piece of media or every person they come into contact with to drop in a disclaimer of "By the way, being fat has health complications. Have you considered losing weight?" I guarantee that every fat person you come across knows they're fat and that there are health complications that come along with it. Fat people are more than their weight and are worthy of the same love and attention thin and average size people are. That's what the author means by "good to take up space"--to exist as you are without constantly trying more "palatable" for the masses.

I promise you, this book isn't going to kick off a five-patty burger trend. But god forbid fat people feel something besides guilt and shame for five minutes.


message 10: by Kimberly (last edited Jul 06, 2020 06:54PM) (new)

Kimberly La Honestly, I have so many feelings about this book. ONE TO WATCH is a book that perfectly captures all of the cringe of reality television, while also providing a pitch-perfect look at the behind-the-scenes manipulation of the reality TV industry, the way people view women's bodies, and what it means to be an empowered woman in a society filled with double-standards. This could have been a heinous, horrible book in the wrong hands, but in Stayman-London's hands, it became a new fave.

I keep seeing people referring to this as light, beach reading. But I felt that for me there were very heavy undertones. What struck me as the most real was Bea’s mix of confidence and self-doubt. How she both rails against size stereotypes and stigmas, while also, deep down, buying into them herself. Her hurtful thoughts about herself I have had every single one. I have questions why people love me. What is really there for them... Many times it became uncomfortable, in a good way. I found myself evaluating my own thoughts on myself, and relationships. My own feelings about being a "fat" girl. I had to put it down a couple of time and think. I really did.
I rooted for Bea and was so pleased with not only the outcome but how it came about. I will be rereading this.


message 11: by Virginia (new)

Virginia O'Malley Lovely interview. Looking forward to reading the book


message 12: by Peebee (new)

Peebee >> obese people are at a much greater risk for health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, and even an early death

And assholes are at much greater risk for death by strangulation. So be it.


message 13: by Susan (new)

Susan Fantastic interview, I really enjoyed it! I'm excited to read the book!


message 14: by Marjorie (new)

Marjorie Ingall What a delightful interview! I’m in. (And I love how a cat phobic concern troll showed up in the comments to prove the need for an escapist fantasy like this. “Can we all agree...” indeed.”) (No, we cannot.) Mazel tov to Kate and I’m looking forward to reading the book!


message 15: by Marjorie (new)

Marjorie Ingall FAT-phobic! Not cat-phobic! (Catphobia: Also tragic.) Ugggghhh Goodreads why can’t I edit my comment?


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