Alexis Daria’s New Romance Pays Homage to Telenovelas

Posted by Sharon on August 1, 2020
Pitched for fans of Jane the Virgin and The Kiss Quotient, Alexis Daria’s newest novel, You Had Me at Hola, goes behind the scenes of a fictional television rom-com.

Soap opera actress Jasmine Lin Rodriguez and telenovela megastar Ashton Suárez both need Carmen in Charge to be their big breakout hit with mainstream American audiences. But between an awkward first encounter (Seriously, what do you call the opposite of a meet-cute?), invasive media scrutiny, and an explosive secret that Ashton’s keeping close to his—admittedly hunky—chest, off-screen drama threatens to end their show before it even starts. Can these two salvage their season with some extra rehearsals to fan the flames of their simmering chemistry?

Daria is no stranger to writing about the glittering world of television (and its often less-than-glittering realities). Her debut novel, 2017’s Take the Lead, is set on the stage of a televised dance competition (think Strictly Come Dancing or Dancing With the Stars). Take the Lead was nominated for two RITA Awards (the romance world’s equivalent of the Oscars) and won for Best First Book, which Daria got to accept from the hands of her hero, romance legend Beverly Jenkins. (We know! Straight out of a telenovela, right?!)

Daria spoke with Goodreads about the hard work of creating romance novels and soap operas, on-screen intimacy in the age of #MeToo, and the telenovela trope she always wished would happen to her.

Goodreads: Can you tell us a little bit about how the idea for this book came to you?

Alexis Daria: The idea for You Had Me at Hola originated with the plan to write about three cousins from a big Puerto Rican family in the Bronx. I envisioned them getting together for dinner or drinks after one of them had just returned to the city after a breakup, and one of the cousins would be involved in a workplace romance. I wish I could remember how I got from “she moves from California to NYC” to “she’s a soap opera actress and he’s her grandma’s favorite telenovela star,” but at the time it seemed like the obvious reason for why someone would make that move.

GR: Like the romance genre within the book world, telenovelas and soap operas are sometimes seen as a less serious or award-worthy form of television. Your book points out the amount of hard work that goes into creating compelling soaps and celebrates how telenovelas are designed around big emotions. Were you thinking of the parallels with romance novels when you were writing?

AD: I think people are drawn to romance novels for many of the same reasons they’re drawn to soap operas, telenovelas, K-dramas, and more⁠—outrageous plots, intense emotional arcs, high stakes, and larger-than-life characters, along with the quieter romantic moments, which are all the more satisfying when paired with deep internal and external conflict. These forms of storytelling involve a tremendous amount of work, and despite being hugely popular, they often don’t get enough credit for the deep level of craft involved in creating such emotionally compelling stories.
I grew up watching soaps, and my early writing (when I was like, 12) was heavily influenced by the drama and plot twists of adult shows like The Young and the Restless and teen soaps like Swans Crossing. (Swans Crossing starred a young Sarah Michelle Gellar, and I used to wake up early to watch it before school.) My grandmother was a telenovela fan—she watched every single night—so I was also aware of the power of those stories, even though she used to kick me out of the living room before they came on.

GR: One big theme in the book is how Jasmine learns to have more confidence in herself by channeling Carmen, the badass boss character that shes playing, in real-life situations. Do you ever find yourself channeling one of your characters? Out of the various characters in your books, whose personality traits would you want to steal for yourself?

AD: I would say I channel my characters every time I write their scenes. I try to get in touch with their main character traits, like Jasmine’s insecurity and compassion, or Ashton’s bravado and ambition. Jasmine’s cousin Michelle has a lot of confidence in herself and her abilities, which is something I wouldn’t mind more of! I’m currently writing Michelle’s book, so she’s very much on my mind right now.

GR: For Jasmine and Ashton’s filmed love scenes, their showrunner hires an intimacy coordinator to help make sure they are both comfortable and consenting. Can you tell us more about deciding to include that character? Is this a real job on some film sets?

AD: An intimacy coordinator is indeed a real job! This character wasn’t in the original plan for the story, but after brainstorming with a friend who worked in theater, I did more research and spoke with some people in the industry.

It’s a fairly new role that started in theater but is now being used more in TV and film to ensure the actors are being taken care of. With all the #MeToo stories being revealed by actors in the last few years, the industry professionals I spoke with advised me that Ashton and Jasmine would be very careful not to do something like the classic “let’s secretly practice kissing” romance trope, so I wanted to put an unexpected twist on that by involving the intimacy coordinator in those scenes.

GR: The book also highlights some of the downsides of celebrity culture—stalkers, having your personal life turned into tabloid fodder, and so on. What led you to want to explore the darker aspects of fame?

AD: I love celebrity gossip. Who doesn’t, right? But I also feel a little guilty about consuming it. It makes me wonder about who these tabloid darlings are in real life, and how this invasive media culture affects their lives and their choices. I researched some of the worst celebrity stalker cases and came across some really disturbing stories.

What happens in the book is nowhere close to some of the true stories I read. I also try to think about the fact that many of these celebs started out as regular people, struggling to make it with their craft, and then at some point their whole lives changed. I’m fascinated by the ways fame changes a person, or how they deal with that shift. There’s a huge trade-off that comes with fame, and it really has the potential to change someone’s life on a deep, and sometimes dark, level.

GR: In the book, some of the scenes are told from the perspective of the characters Jasmine and Ashton play on their TV show, Carmen in Charge. How was it different writing those scenes from the rest of the story?

AD: Writing the acting scenes required a lot of planning up front, but once I decided how I was going to handle the show-within-a-show aspect, I had a lot of fun writing the Carmen in Charge scenes. I wanted them to be more entertaining than technical (having the 1st AD yelling “cut!” all the time would have gotten old fast), and I wanted to make them different from how I wrote the dance numbers in my previous books.

The solution was to write the scenes from the perspective of Jasmine and Ashton in character as Carmen and Victor, with little cracks in the metaphorical fourth wall where their own thoughts and feelings come through. I had a great time writing those scenes and creating a sort of romance-with-the-romance.

GR: With the dedication to Rita Moreno and the way that Jasmine and Ashton want to succeed not only for themselves but also to create opportunities for other Latinx actors, the book puts a lot of emphasis on the importance of role models and trailblazers who will open doors for others. Are there role models and door openers in the world of romance who you look up to?

AD: I dedicated the book to Rita Moreno because not only is she an EGOT winner with a career spanning more than 70 years, but she is a visible and influential Puerto Rican actress and this is a book about Puerto Rican actors. I grew up watching her in West Side Story, and I met her briefly when I was 16. It would have been impossible for me to write this story and not think about her and the impact she’s had on the film and television industry.
I’ve been lucky to know some wonderful authors in the romance genre. The very first time I met Beverly Jenkins, she told me, “If there’s ever anything I can do to help, just ask.” She had no idea who I was, but I believed that she truly meant it. I was still unpublished then, and her generosity and kindness meant the world to me.
Flash-forward three years to 2018. The night I won the RITA Award, I was sitting with my boyfriend and his mom (they flew in for the day just to attend the ceremony), my agent, and my good friend Priscilla Oliveras (who was also a RITA finalist). I can’t remember now who else was at the table—most of the night was a blur. But when Ms. Bev took the stage to announce the final award, I do remember thinking that if I won and Ms. Bev handed me that statue, I was going to lose it. That the moment would mean so much more because she’d been part of it. She’s such a bright, shining light in this community and I’m so grateful to know her.

GR: For fans of your work, which other books and authors would you like to put on their radar?

AD: There are lots of other Latinx romance authors out there who I think my readers will love. In contemporary romance, check out Adriana Herrera, Priscilla Oliveras, Mia Sosa, and Sabrina Sol. In historical romance, there’s Lydia San Andres, and Diana Muñoz Stewart writes romantic suspense. In YA, Elizabeth Acevedo, Zoraida Córdova, and Nina Moreno are writing beautiful stories that I wish I’d had when I was a teen. I’d also recommend Alisha Rai, Alyssa Cole, and Ruby Lang.

GR: Do you have a favorite telenovela trope that you wish would happen to you?

AD: I always wanted a secret twin! I read a lot of Sweet Valley Twins books in the ’90s—the Wakefields were total telenovela material—and I watched The Parent Trap (the original) and its sequels many times, and of course, the classic sitcom Sister, Sister, so I thought it would be so cool to discover that I had a secret twin. But not an evil one! Just one who could switch places with me whenever I had to take a test at school.

GR: What are some books youve read and loved recently? Any titles you cant stop recommending to your friends and family?

AD: I’m mostly doing audiobooks these days, and my number one top audiobook recommendation right now is The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. It’s an amazing book, and the audio is made all the better for Elizabeth’s narration and spoken-word sections.

My best book of 2020 is The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa. It’s a true rom-com, delivering on both humor and heat. I also recommend Adriana Herrera’s Dreamers series, My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma, The Rakess by Scarlett Peckham, and Jessie Mihalik’s Consortium Rebellion series. I also recently listened to Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid and wow, was that engrossing.

Next up on my audiobook TBR: Daring and the Duke by Sarah MacLean, Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson, and The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon.


Alexis Daria’s You Had Me at Hola will be available in the U.S. on August 4. 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 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by Mairy (new)

Mairy Currently reading it and enjoying it. Loving the hot sex scenes!

Annemarie McNamara Congrats Alexis wishing you the best can’t wait to start your book

message 3: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Ludgarda Me encanta.

message 4: by TMR (new)

TMR I love this collection.

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