Hannah Mayfield and Andie J. Christopher have a couple things in common: Neither are a fan of dating apps, but they do like French bulldogs.
Except Hannah is fictional and Christopher, who created Hannah, is very much real.
On a January mid-morning coffee run at the LINE DC Hotel, Christopher has brought her new puppy, a French bulldog named Archie who excitedly crawls around her lap, to talk about her latest romance novel Not the Girl You Marry, released in November.
It follows Hannah Mayfield, a successful but tough event planner in Chicago determined to plan weddings, the hottest happenings at her company. However, her boss thinks she lacks the experience in romance to do so, and challenges her to find a date to their upcoming Halloween party. Enter Jack Nolan, a journalist at a men’s magazine determined to break into political journalism—but not without first proving to his editor he can take on a tough assignment: how to lose a girl. You can guess what happens next.
It’s hard not to see Christopher in Hannah. If Archie the French bulldog isn’t a dead giveaway for Hannah’s own dog, Gus, Hannah’s discussion about her identify certainly is.
In the novel, Hannah, who is half black and half white, frequently mulls over the conflicts with her identity she faces. In one scene, she tells a former flame, a black man, that she feels as though he dumped her because she wasn’t black enough for him.
“I spent my whole life trying to be as white as possible—so I could be like the rest of my family,” Hannah says.
Christopher discusses this dilemma in an author’s note at the front of the book. Is Christopher black enough? Does saying she’s biracial mean she’s not proud of being black? For Christopher, these questions came to a head when a 6-year-old student she was mentoring while in college at the University of Notre Dame asked her, “You’re not white, but you’re not black. What are you?”
Christopher’s answer was the same as Hannah’s in the book: “mixed.”
Her willingness to insert her own questions about her identity, as well as her own feelings and fears about the dating world, into her romance novels has garnered her the admiration of her fellow romance authors at a time when the genre grapples with what—and who—the future of romance novels looks like.
Not the Girl You Marry isn’t Christopher’s first published book; she has three others self-published on Amazon, as well as six at Lyrical Press, an imprint of Kensington Publishing. However, it is her first at Berkley Random House, giving her an entire marketing team and a contract for more books, including one, Not That Kind of Guy, about a high-powered state attorney looking for a date to her brother’s upcoming wedding, coming out this April. All of her published books have been romance novels.
By day, Christopher is an attorney for a federal agency who lives near Adams Morgan, but by night, she’s a successful romance novelist. Or rather, by morning.
“When I write in the morning, I’ll get up at 5 a.m.,” she says. “The one thing about being a lawyer is you have to type a lot of words really fast. So when I’m drafting, I can get 1,000 words in the morning and then I feel like I’ve accomplished something for the day and then go to work.”
Her infatuation with love stories began at age 12, when she started reading her grandmother’s romance novels.
“I tried to write a romance novel on my first Mac computer,” she says, laughing. “I got through the meet-cute and then kind of lost interest.” She’d later go on to graduate from the University of Notre Dame and Stanford Law School. But when she moved to D.C. in September 2010, she got the boost to start writing from a therapist who told her to find a creative outlet.
In 2014, Christopher took her first writing class at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda. There, she wrote her first romance novel called Stroke of Midnight—pun intended. It was also there that she found a group of women who would meet every Friday to discuss and critique their writing. Later, she joined the Romance Writers of America and eventually met her future agent Courtney Miller-Callihan at one of the group’s conferences.
Miller-Callihan was instantly drawn to Christopher. “She is an absolute powerhouse,” she says. “That is just a constant delight for me. I can see very clearly how she has had such a successful life in two different careers.”
But, in early January, as Christopher patted Archie in her lap and talked up her romance novel, a huge part of the romance writing world was exploding.
The Romance Writers of America had punished a writer for speaking up about racial stereotypes used by another romance novelist. The fallout led to the cancellation of the Romance Writers’ annual awards and the resignation of several board members earlier this year, according to CNN.
Nisha Sharma, another romance novelist and lawyer based in New Jersey who met and befriended Christopher via Twitter, says romance novelists are leaving RWA and pushing to see more inclusive novels in the romance space.
And for the most part, Sharma says, much of the community has responded positively to the challenge. “How can we fix this? Let’s work together,” she says. “That really speaks to romance authors and the community today.”
Sharma and other novelists are turning to Christopher to pave the way.
Arlington’s One More Page Books hosted Christopher in November for the launch of Not the Girl You Marry and is no stranger to the romance world as a bookstore with a robust romance section and a staff who reads it.
“Despite being one of the most profitable genres in the industry, there is an ongoing stigma against romance, even among booksellers,” says One More Page Books events coordinator Amber Taylor.
Miller-Callihan concurs. “For the most part, romance is a very female-oriented genre,” she says. “I think misogyny in our culture leads us to dismiss things that appeal more to women than to men.”
One of the challenges romance novelists face is getting people to take them seriously and to see the themes, beyond sex, present in their novels.
But Taylor says when Christopher came to the store to talk about her book, a dedicated crowd came excited to see her.
“As a woman of color, Andie is writing about her own experiences, contributing to the further diversification of voices in the genre,” Taylor says.
Christopher’s first series of books takes place in Miami, where she has spent a lot of time, and features Latinx protagonists, much like her father, who was Afro-Latino.
Her willingness to be vulnerable and personal in her writing is something Miller-Callihan admires.
“She has an authenticity in her work that isn’t present in all romance,” she says. “There is something very real and very fresh. She puts a lot of herself in her writing.”
Sharma says Christopher is adept at creating complex, savvy characters. Christopher is open about her desire to explore new areas of romance, from fear of commitment to sexy priests (yes, they exist outside of Fleabag and certainly will in Christopher’s upcoming novels, she says) to including awkward, relatable moments.
Christopher’s publicist, Jessica Brock, calls her characters witty, “but at the same time her characters would totally say ‘Thanks, you too’ to a waiter who just told them to enjoy their meal.”
One area Christopher wants to explore in her next novel, Not That Kind of Guy, is ambivalence toward marriage and long-term relationships, something she herself has battled. She’s even quit dating apps.
“I felt like these guys were demanding my attention and demanding sort of like emotional labor from me,” she says. Now, she’s asking how self-sufficient, professional women are doing with long-term relationships in their lives. “I want to explore what it is about real intimacy that feeds us and how to find that in a world that doesn’t foster real connection,” she says.
When asked about the future of romance novels, Christopher is humble, pointing to other romance novelists, particularly writers of color, who paved the way for her: Kennedy Ryan, Adriana Herrera, LaQuette, and Farrah Rochon, to name a few.
But she also has her own vision for the future.
“I think the future of romance is black and brown,” she says. “It’s sex-positive and body-positive. It’s going to explore concepts of gender and power.”
And, of course, it will involve a happily-ever-after.
“Romance novels are the only kind of books that have the aim of making the reader happy,” she says. “I think the future of the romance novel is giving that book joy to everyone.”
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