Jasmine Guillory’s By the Book—an inventive adaptation of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast—is the second title in the Meant to Be collection of novels from Hyperion Avenue (following Julie Murphy’s If the Shoe Fits), which reimagines Disney fairy tales.
In By the Book, Guillory transforms the story’s book-loving princess into Isabelle: she’s a jaded 25-year-old, Black editorial assistant working in the publishing field who spots a much-needed opportunity for professional advancement. It just means wrangling a long-overdue memoir manuscript from a former child star named Beau Towers (aka, "the Beast").
Guillory chatted with PW about putting her own twist on a beloved classic story.
It’s hard to overstate the nostalgia appeal of Disney movies for adult readers! From your perspective, how does the Meant to Be collection capture the magic of the original stories?
I loved Disney movies and everything princess as a kid—and as an adult, let’s be real. I came to this book wanting to reflect that joy and sparkle of Disney, while also writing a book that feels contemporary, and I hope I achieved that!
What sorts of fresh elements does the Meant to Be collection bring to Disney classics?
The Meant to Be collection is really about expanding our imaginations to embrace new versions of our familiar princesses, and that’s what I love about it. It was exciting to be able to write a story about a Black Belle, and also spend some time thinking about who the Belle of today would be, and why.
By the Book has such a delightful premise. Who would imagine a Beauty and the Beast restaging set against the backdrop of the publishing world?! How did you develop the idea?
I spent a lot of time talking to my editor about the concept before I started writing, but it felt so natural for Isabelle to be working in publishing. She’s always loved books, so of course she would want to devote her life to them. And I’m so grateful for everyone I’ve worked with so far in my publishing journey—they all played a role in helping me think through who Isabelle would be, what she would struggle with, and what her story would look like.
As you were writing, did you revisit Disney’s Beauty and the Beast? What about the original story and/or early renditions of the tale?
I rewatched the movie right before I started writing so it could give me a little magic for the book and also to get ideas for some fun Easter eggs for Beauty and the Beast fans! But that’s it. I’ve read many versions of the fairy tale and quite a few retellings, but I didn’t want to watch or read anything else while I was writing By the Book, because I wanted to make this my version of this story.
In many ways, Disney’s Belle is a smart and empowered character. How did you build on these characteristics as you were writing Isabelle?
One important thing for me going into this book was that I wanted Isabelle to have a lot more agency than Disney’s Belle did. Belle didn’t get a lot of choice, especially early in the story, and I wanted Izzy to make her own choices—both to go to see Beau, and also to stay in his house, without being imprisoned there. And I wanted her to go into her working relationship with Beau, and then her romantic relationship with him, willingly and enthusiastically.
What was most fun for you when it came to writing Beau’s character? What was most challenging?
It was fun—and new for me!—to write someone who was so beastly! Beau is very angry during the first third or so of the book, and even when he tries to be nice, he’s not great at it. It was fun thinking through what was going on with him and how he would act and react, and to just let him say whatever he wanted. But this was the first book I’ve written with a single point of view, and that was the most challenging about writing Beau’s character. I’m so used to writing books where I’m naturally thinking through both main characters and their motivations as I write from their points of view, but this book is all from Isabelle’s point of view. So, for Beau, I had to really take a step back and force myself to think What is he thinking here? Why is he saying what he’s saying? Why is he acting this way? in every scene. Once I realized that I had to do that, it helped me so much in figuring out Beau’s character.
In contemporary romance, happily-ever-afters have often become somewhat more nuanced than we might see in Disney classics. What does happiness look like for Beau and Isabelle?
Happiness for Isabelle and Beau is the two of them supporting each other, laughing with each other, talking through the hard times, and lots and lots of snacks!