How Gwenda Bond Spun the Ultimate Paranormal Romance in New Book Not Your Average Hot Guy
What do you get when a pure-hearted young woman running her family's escape room is forced to team up with a smoking hot demon to save the world from destruction? A fantasy rom-com for the ages.
That's the premise behind Gwenda Bond's new book Not Your Average Hot Guy (out today, Oct. 5), which masterfully mixes escape room shenanigans with devilish summoning, international puzzle-solving, apocalypse-stopping and literal trips to Hell, while somehow managing to forge a heartfelt romance between its two leads, Callie and Luke. And did we mention that Luke is secretly the son of the devil himself?
We adored the book, and we got the chance to ask Gwenda all about the inspiration behind the story, what makes her protagonists tick and who should play Callie and Luke if the book is ever brought to the big screen.
Sweety High: You mention in the acknowledgments that the first spark of this story came from a real escape room experience with friends. Was that your first escape room, or was there one thing particularly riveting about that room that inspired you?
Gwenda Bond: That was my very first one! It was a blast, partly because we had the perfect team and the group was such a fun one. But also, the production values of the business were extremely high. We did a Sherlock Holmes, Baker Street-themed room, and the business itself was run by a family, who were heading out to a wedding after we finished. They even had a cute dog snoozing behind the desk. So I completely credit that experience with inspiring the novel. The whole idea put itself together in my head on the drive home, and Callie and Luke were there almost from the jump.
SH: From there, how much research (and escape room-ing) did you have to do to write the book?
GB: I did do some research on the different ways escape rooms run because I wanted that to feel accurate. And also to have a sense of the kind of things Callie might have learned or known from being part of that world. And I actually did a fair amount of research on Hell, as a locale. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the conceptions of what Hell is like have changed wildly over the centuries. All the texts about demonology mentioned in the book are real, and thankfully many of them have been scanned in and are available online. But a lot of my research was done so I could put my own twist and spin on this; I think a good Heaven/Hell story needs the quirks that are unique to it too.
SH: In this book, opposites definitely attract when sparks fly between Callie and Luke. Is it tough to strike that balance as a writer when developing that kind of enemies-to-lovers romance? What were the most important things for you to nail so that the two would butt heads but still have enough common ground to build a powerful relationship on?
GB: Oh, this is a great question. I think Callie and Luke don't fully understand themselves—especially at the beginning—and that the journey they go on allows them to see that they're alike in some important ways. While, at the same time, Luke drives Callie up the wall and legitimately can't be trusted for much of the book. The fun is watching them be forced to stay together and through their experiences develop real feelings. And, this is key: the journey helps them each become better versions of themselves. To me, that's crucial in a rom-com. But, of course, we end just with them getting started!
SH: Why did Callie/Callisto feel like the perfect name for your protagonist? Do you see a lot of yourself in Callie?
GB: I knew she was named Callie and obsessed with occult lore and books from the beginning. Callisto felt like the kind of mythological name her mom would choose, and there's a little subtext because the original Callisto gets embroiled in intrigue with the gods, not of choice. The closest things to me in this book are that the dog Bosch is very much based on Izzy the Dog, who I'd just adopted not too long before starting it, and that I'm fiercely loyal to my friends. There are always bits and pieces of me in different characters in books. I love a good spooky piece of supernatural lore. And, like Luke, I enjoy a good practical joke and a leather jacket.
SH: What was the most fun aspect of getting to build these realms for your characters to travel through? What was the most challenging part of it?
GB: I never truly thought of myself as a world-builder, but that ended up being such a big part of this one. It was truly fun. My husband (also an author) is a much more natural world-builder than me, and so I knew I was on to something when I showed him the first couple chapters in a draft and he was into the Gray Keep. I think the challenging part is definitely keeping up the romantic comedy tone in, well, Hell. I wanted there to be big emotional moments, but I never wanted the book to lose the rom-com heart of itself.
SH: We don't want to say too much, but the end of the book definitely teases more exciting things to come. Is this planned as a series? Is there anything we can look forward to from future books?
GB: There's a sequel, The Date From Hell, which is already written, and will be out in April next year. So you won't have to wait too long! My editors and I felt like there was more of Callie and Luke's story to tell, and I can't wait, honestly. This next book sees them on another big adventure and challenge, while also trying to figure out what their relationship will look like going forward. It brings back old characters and introduces some new ones, and generally enlarges the world.
SH: If the book were to make the transition to the big screen, would you have any actors in mind that you'd love as the two main leads?
GB: Oooh, I hope it does! I always love it when unknowns get cast, but I must admit that I think Cobra Kai's Tanner Buchanan would make a fantastic Luke. And I'm obsessed with Florence Pugh and Millie Bobbie Brown in everything they do, so I could absolutely see either of them as Callie.
SH: What are you most excited for readers to discover within the pages of Not Your Average Hot Guy?
GB: I'm so excited to have finally written a book firmly in one of my favorite genres, fantasy-flavored romantic comedy, and I just hope people find joy and fun in it.
SH: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
GB: I've got several projects in the hopper, some secret, so people should definitely hit up my website and sign up for my newsletter if they want to stay on top of things and hear me ramble about life and writing and see even more pet photos.
Curious about more insights from the author? Click HERE to read our interview with Gwenda on her Stranger Things book, Suspicious Minds.