Author Elise Bryant has one of the most captivating Instagram feeds, complete with pastel, desserts, and of course, books! I squealed when I saw the cover of her debut YA novel, Happily Ever Afters, and even though I don’t read half as much YA as I used to, I knew I had to read this one. In this interview, I talk to Elise about the similarities between her and Tessa, her novel’s heroine, family, friendships, writer’s block, her next YA novel, and of course, sweets! Enjoy.
Interview with Author Elise Bryant
Hi Elise! Let me just say: I LOVE your Instagram page and you’re so stylish! I enjoyed reading Happily Ever Afters and I have to say, you’ve written a unique young adult novel. Congratulations! And that cover, wow! Who designed and illustrated it?
Oh, thank you! You’re so kind. And yes – I’m so in love with the cover! It was designed by Jessie Gang with art by Michelle D’Urbano. I think they captured Tessa perfectly.
I couldn’t help but notice several similarities between you and Tessa. What are some similarities you both share, and some differences between both of you?
So much of what she thinks and experiences is based on my teenage years. Just like Tessa, I am a biracial Black girl, and I have anxiety. I also grew up loving romance novels (and still do!), but I also longed to see myself reflected in the pages of those pink-covered, swoony books I devoured. So, I wrote myself into the stories I wanted to see – mostly fan fiction and short stories. But while there is definitely a lot of me in Tessa, she isn’t me exactly. She learns a lot of lessons over the course of the novel that I didn’t figure out until much later in life.
I loved meeting Miles, and the sensitive way you explore Tessa’s complicated emotions about the way her brother’s disabilities sometimes affect her life and their family’s balance. Why was that important to portray in this story?
Thank you! It’s so wonderful to hear this because I put a lot of care and thought into the character of Miles, and I so hope that I got it right. Miles is very similar to my older brother, and I took inspiration from our relationship when writing Miles and Tessa’s relationship.
Growing up, my parents and teachers gave me books to help me navigate our relationship. But in so many of these books, the sibling with a disability is used as a plot device for the character development of the other sibling, and that bothered me so much. So, I really wanted to show that Tessa sometimes has messy feelings towards her brother. She thinks and says things that she later regrets, and we see how her anxiety surrounding appearances fuels a lot of this. But we also see the two of them laugh and dance to boy band music, fight and make fun of each other, hang out with her friends…and ultimately, his disability is not at the center of their relationship – their fierce love for each other is.
Caroline and Tessa have a sweet friendship, but they run into a snag in their relationship. Did you ever have any unfortunate friend breakups in your teens?
Yes, I’ve had many over the years, and I think they hurt so much more than any romantic breakup because often you’re so much more vulnerable with friends. Happily Ever Afters is a love story, and for me that meant exploring all the types of love that a teenage girl experiences – family, friends, romantic, and self-love. Tessa and Caroline have their own relationship arc, and it’s just as important to Tessa as her happily ever after with a boy.
I’m so obviously Team Sam, but I’m so curious about a male love interest who bakes! For me, it’s pretty uncommon. Would you say you have a sweet tooth? Why did you decide to create such a sweet love interest?
Oh, yes! I definitely have a sweet tooth! I have dessert after lunch, dinner and sometimes breakfast! I decided to make Sam a baker because that just felt like the ultimate love interest – someone that can bring you treats! And he has a sweet, cinnamon roll personality to match.
Tessa develops a bad case of writer’s block under the weight of her own great expectations and anxiety. Have you ever experienced the same thing? Or are you more of a pre-writer’s block Tessa when it comes to your writing?
I have experienced the same thing! Just like Tessa, I went to an arts high school when I was a teenager. And while I loved to write and did it everyday before starting there, once I was there, I froze. I felt like the things I was writing – love songs, romantic short stories – didn’t measure up to the “serious literature” my classmates wrote. I didn’t think I was good enough. But it took me much longer to develop the confidence that Tessa eventually does – I didn’t try writing again until I was almost 30. I wish I had learned earlier that writing a great love story is just as difficult, just as valid, as literary fiction. Instead, I lost the joy of writing from my life for so long.
I know you used to be a teacher. But now, raising two beautiful girls, being a wife, and just a human — how do you make time to write?
I really don’t know sometimes. And when I’m starting a new project, it feels impossible that I’ll ever be able to do it again. But when it comes down to it, writing is something that brings me joy, so I’ll always make space for it in my life. And I’ve learned to be flexible! Sometimes writing is sitting at my desk for hours; sometimes it’s typing something in the Notes app on my phone really quick when I’m in my minivan. As long as a character’s voice is calling to me, I’ll make it work.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love to bake! I’m not as skilled as Sam, but it’s something that calms my anxiety and makes me feel peaceful. I also love to do yoga, read, shop online for dresses, and do crafts with my kids.
Which middle-grade and young adult books have you read and loved recently?
Two of my favorite books of 2020 are The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed and The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert. I also just finished an ARC of Kate in Waiting by Becky Albertalli, and it was such a joy! I’m such a Becky superfan, and I’ll read anything she writes. Like, seriously – give me her grocery list!
Can you tell us ANYTHING about your next project?
I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say just yet, but it takes place in the same world of Happily Ever Afters, with a character that you already know and (hopefully!) love. It will be out in early 2022!
Thank you so much for doing this, Elise! I hope readers enjoy meeting Tessa, Sam, Caroline, Miles, and the rest of the crew.
Buy Happily Ever Afters
Meet Elise Bryant
Elise Bryant was born and raised in Southern California. She earned her BA in Africana studies from California State University, Long Beach, and her MA in special education from Loyola Marymount University. For many years, Elise had the joy of working as a special education teacher in South Los Angeles, and she is also a National Board Certified Teacher. Elise now lives with her husband and two daughters in Long Beach, where she spends her days reading, writing, and eating dessert. Happily Ever Afters is her debut novel.
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