A paranormal romantic comedy at the (possible) end of the world.
All Callie wanted was a quiet weekend with her best friend. She promised her mom she could handle running her family’s escape room business while her mom is out of town. Instead a Satanic cult shows up, claiming that the prop spell book in one of the rooms is the real deal, and they need it to summon the right hand of the devil. Naturally they take Callie and her friend, Mag, along with them. But when the summoning reveals a handsome demon in a leather jacket named Luke who offers to help Callie stop the cult from destroying the world, her night goes from weird to completely strange.
As the group tries to stay one step ahead of the cult, Callie finds herself drawn to the annoying (and annoyingly handsome) Luke. But what Callie doesn’t know is that Luke is none other than Luke Morningstar, Prince of Hell and son of the Devil himself. Callie never had time for love, and with the apocalypse coming closer, is there room for romance when all hell’s about to break loose?
From New York Times bestselling author Gwenda Bond, Not Your Average Hot Guy is a hilarious romantic comedy about two people falling in love, while the fate of the world rests on their shoulders.
Sometimes you have to get away from your desk.
Not Your Average Hot Guy has what I think is an interesting origin story. Winters are not my favorite. All those gray days just drag me down, and every year it seems worse (yes, I have the SAD light!). So I was already looking forward to just getting out of the house and driving down to Tennessee for a book festival by March–in this case the Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival (SE-YA for short), organized by the Four Librarians of the Apocalypse (this should’ve been my first hint). I wanted to do stuff with my friends! Fun things! So I switched into activities director mode, which I’m occasionally wont to do.
For instance, one night we went to play ski-ball at Chuck E. Cheese. I noticed there was an escape room business in the strip mall bordering the hotel we were all at. Over drinks that night, I found a group willing to give it a try and booked us a reservation. Which booked wrong! I panicked and called in the morning. They were supposed to be closing early for a wedding, but the lovely people at the business agreed they could make it work during the late afternoon for us. Whew, without that escape room trip, this book probably would never have existed.
We did a Baker Street/Sherlock Holmes-themed room with great effects. It was the perfect mix of people and we escaped within the allotted time. There was even a wonderful dog hanging out behind the desk.
On the drive back home, my brain spun out almost this entire book. I love writing about family businesses, and I wondered what it would be like if your family ran an escape room. And what if you accidentally put a real grimoire in a room? And also, what if it summoned a devil, and what if instead of the usual it was the devil’s son and that’s a whole different kind of family business…. AND what if it was a rom-com? When I got home, I sat back down at my desk and tweeted this, and then wrote what would stay the first few pages. Beginnings are usually impossibly hard for me. Sometimes you need to have a little adventure.
When you’re truly excited about an idea, ignore the reasons you shouldn’t write it.
On paper, in 2017, absolutely no one would’ve suggested I write this book. A rom-com with paranormal elements? Paranormal was dead, they said (which is never true, by the way; all genres are undead and everything in publishing cycles). Certainly, on paper, paranormal romance would be a hard sell. Also? A book with all these good vs. evil elements? A rom-com set during a (possible) apocalypse? I kept it to myself for awhile, but it fell out of my brain onto the page. I was having so much fun writing it, even while it was a difficult challenge for reasons I’ll discuss later in the list. I wasn’t initially sure if it was YA or for adults (it’s for adults, but has been deemed crossover, as the characters are early 20s).
When I showed a portion to my agent, I expected her to love it too, and she did! But she had a lot of questions. And advised that I needed to write the whole thing, not just a proposal. She was most certainly correct, but later admitted that she usually hates these kind of god/devil sorts of books. But she ended up loving this one when it was done, which is why she made that admission (whew). Still, I had to keep putting it aside to write other things, but then I’d come back to it. I was not at all confident anyone would like this book, let alone want to buy it.
But I decided not to care. And I kept coming back to the page. There’s a lot of me in this book, especially my sense of humor. I’ve never been the sort of writer who makes decisions based on anything other than the story that feels like I want to tell it and which is the most me. Even when I’m writing IP (intellectual property), like Stranger Things or Lois Lane, it has to be a good fit that I can put my voice into and feel like I’m bringing something with me.
Responses to this book on submission were almost universally positive, but a lot of people didn’t know what to do with it. I was convinced all along I’d have to make it less weird. I’m so happy it found first Tiffany Shelton, and then Jennie Conway, at St. Martin’s, who have supported this book like whoa, along with everyone else who worked on it there (you know who you are, but I’m going to shout you out anyway, because you don’t get enough recognition–Kerri Resnick for the cover direction and design, Mary Moates and Natalie Figueroa from publicity, Erica Martirano and Kejana Ayala on the marketing side). And during a pandemic.
I could’ve easily talked myself or let myself be talked out of writing this book–there’s a risk as you get further in a writing career to believe you somehow understand publishing and think maybe if you just did this, you’d get where you want to go. But publishing will always be unpredictable. That is the only predictable thing. Sure, be strategic, but your voice and what interests you, the weird way you combine all the art that made you, the you part of your books, all that is the only thing no one else can bring to the table. You have to trust it.
Comedy is hard.
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” It’s so good, it’s no wonder it’s an iconic quote, despite the fact its origin and wording are difficult to source. I think one of the reasons besides other work the first draft of this took so long to complete is because it is a comedic novel. Yes, it’s right there in the rom-com part, and I wanted to make sure the book was funny… But comedy is hard. It’s delicate and intricate and must feel organic and it’s also extremely personal. I’ll explain.
I honestly don’t think I’d have been brave enough to write straight-up comedy until this point in my writing journey. In person, I like to think I’m funny (oh god, no one who thinks that is funny, but let’s set that aside–let’s say, I like to laugh, and I like to make other people laugh, and I think life is generally absurd and, even when it’s actually horrible, I tend to deal with it with humor, which is something my family always did too). In fact, one of my early mentors in grad school when I decided to start writing novels said, “This character pushes people away with humor right before things get real.” And I was like, “THIS ATTACK ON ME IS UNWARRANTED. But possibly accurate.” The thing is, though, humor is actually incredibly revealing and personal.
To put what you think is funny on the page is a different kind of vulnerability. Because senses of humor are very particular and personal. While, in general, people not liking your books sucks, but doesn’t equal a rejection of you, people rejecting your sense of humor…well, it kind of does feel that way. So, even more than on a craft level, which is incredibly tricky, it’s also nerve-wracking to write funny. As much or more so than entering a new, much-beloved genre…
You will end up writing the thing you don’t think you’ll ever write or have an interesting take on.
Almost anyone who knows me well will tell you I’ve long been obsessed with comedy and particularly the classic screwball rom-coms of the 1930s and ‘40s, but also modern rom-com. Much as I used to be obsessed with circus novels and the circus itself, but never thought I’d write a circus book, because what new did I have to add? Then I started Girl on a Wire, and then it became a whole circus series. So, yes, I’ve written romantic novels with humor in them–certainly the Lois Lane books fit–but I never really thought I’d get to write rom-coms. Particularly not with a kind of classic screwball sensibility mashed up with all the mythological and/or supernatural/occult stuff I love and romance.
And then, of course, just like with Girl on a Wire, I got hit by that lightning idea and it was happening.
Truth is, most of us have genres or things we’re low-key or major-key obsessed with, and often it’s those that will mug you. They’re deep in your subconscious. I love so many things about romantic comedy. Banter. Lightning wit. Two people who challenge and make each other better versions of themselves. Sheer absurd situations, and moments that will change the characters’ lives, and laughter. Some of my favorite comedic writing ever can be found in Preston Sturges’ scripts. When Christopher, my husband and sometime writing partner, and I first met and started dating, he got me a shooting script for The Palm Beach Story for my birthday (along with a fancy copy of the play Medea–I CONTAIN MULTITUDES). I’m obsessed with the books of Connie Willis, particularly the comedies. And with so many rom-coms I can’t begin to list them.
But I never thought I’d write an honest-to-god rom-com…. Because writer brain reasons. And yet, now that I have and still am, I have so many ideas for more. I love this genre deeply, and all the things it lets us explore. I love how science fiction and fantasy (and romance itself) allows us to replicate the constraints in fiction that made all the classic rom-coms with their class dynamics and other-reasons-not-to-be-together classic rom-coms. I used to argue with people about how SFF could be uniquely positioned to do this in a certain way, and, duh, now I’m writing them and hopefully the books make the argument better than I ever could
Romance is a genre for joy.
We have this persistent myth in our culture that things that are tragic or depressing or even just serious or cynical or whatever are somehow wiser and more important and more difficult to pull off. That they are more intrinsically valuable, and have more to say about life. Same problem often shows up with shows or stories that explore the complications of good people–Ted Lasso and Superman haters, I’m looking at you.
I read all over the map, and reading romance specifically has been a master class for me as a writer on emotional vulnerability and arcs. I snuck plenty of romance as a teen, but I started reading romance in a real way about ten years ago, though I’d already been reading urban fantasy with heavy romantic threads before that, and it quickly became a part of my reading diet. During the pandemic, it’s what kept me going. I wanted to laugh. I wanted the safe space of a book that ends with the closure of a happy for now or happy ever after. Those borders can allow you to take any emotional journey that exists. Romance is as varied as any other genre, in terms of mood and types of stories, and quality of writing. But there is always that sense that the author cares about you and your experience while reading. There is the sense that the book is a gift for you, the reader.
That’s very much how I approached writing this book. It’s the apocalypse, but it’s a fun apocalypse. I think we’ve all had enough of the other kind in reality at the moment (not that I don’t love a good fraught post-apocalyptic–like my host’s Wanderers, for instance).
But romance is–like YA–still much-maligned and looked down on because of its perceived status as being primarily for and about women, and, by extension, somehow disposable and frivolous. Imagine that. There are still people who act like romance and romance writers and readers have cooties. Guess what? COOTIES ARE FAKE. And romance readers and writers are smart as fuck.
Which is what makes it such a joy to write for them, for you. I hope you all dig this book, and its sequel, out next spring! I hope that they bring you joy. Many thanks to Chuck for letting me blather about all this here.
Gwenda Bond is the New York Times bestselling author of many novels, including the first official Stranger Things novel, Suspicious Minds. She also clearly escaped from a classic screwball romantic comedy. Not Your Average Hot Guy (out now!) and The Date from Hell (April 2022!) are her first rom-coms for adults. She lives in a hundred-year-old house in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband, author Christopher Rowe, and a veritable zoo of adorable doggos and queenly cats. Visit her online at www.gwendabond.com or @gwenda on Twitter.