Author Interview: Debbie Rigaud on Simone Breaks All the Rules

Debbie Rigaud author photoDebbie Rigaud’s debut novel featured a swoon-worthy couple reminiscent of everyone’s favorite royals if they were teens: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, of course. Her latest contemporary YA Simone Breaks All the Rules features one of the funniest protagonists you’re going to meet in 2021, new friends, an end-of-high-school bucket list, and lots of prom goodness. I’m so happy to have Debbie here to answer some questions.

Miss Print: Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Debbie Rigaud: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I remember being a toddler scribbling gibberish on paper to mimic my eldest sister’s neat handwriting. Though I was an early reader, writing was my jam. I kept journals—one of bad poetry—as a tween and wrote sketches and short scripts for my cousins to perform. I continued journaling through high school and beyond, and wrote for the school paper in college. My first job after graduation was an editorial internship at Time Inc. in NYC. I worked at several magazines, and because I’d been staffed at teen magazines like Seventeen and loved for writing for young readers, I was approached to contribute a novella to a YA anthology published by KimaniTru. From there, I got an opportunity to write a Simon Pulse Romantic Comedy. Though this was followed by a gap of years before I published any fiction, it was these earlier works that led to the TRULY MADLY ROYALLY and HOPE series book deals. Thanks to TMR, I was able to pitch SIMONE BREAKS ALL THE RULES, which feels like my debut because this is my first work of non-assigned fiction. It’s my conception and it’s a story I’ve wanted to write for at least a decade.

Miss Print: What was the inspiration for Simone Breaks All the Rules?

Debbie: Like Simone, I am a child of Haitian immigrants who grew up in a strict but loving household, and I longed to read joyful and humorous stories about this experience. Yes, tossed in there are bitter feelings about all the many rules I grew up with, I was careful not to vilify strict parents or paint them with flat, broad brushstrokes. This was an opportunity to highlight the nuances, the complications, the backstories and, yes, the hilarity of growing up with overprotective immigrant parents. When I thought of the relatives who had had their proms arranged irl, I had my angle to writing such a story.

Miss Print: The story really gets started as Simone connects with Amita and Kira when the girls make their senior playlist of all the things they want to do before high school ends. Their list includes things like traveling to New York City, going dancing, and Simone’s number one item: choosing her own prom date. What kind of things would have made it onto your own senior year bucket list?

Debbie: Going to the college of my choice—I was obsessed with NYU. I got in but could not attend because the tuition was too steep for my family. My second choice, which I was also very passionate about, was FIT. Yes, once upon a time, I fancied myself an aspiring fashion designer. I have zero talent in that area, so it seems wild that I could even consider a career in fashion. But I had the sketch book with wonky illustrations as evidence of that time. Also, like Simone, I really wanted to go away for college, but—deep sigh—alas, I commuted instead.

Miss Print: Without getting into spoilers, a lot of Simone Breaks All the Rules is focused on Simone’s plans for prom (especially compared to her mother’s plans for prom). So, of course, I have to ask: Can you tell readers anything about your own prom experience?

Debbie: I went to two proms—when I was a junior I was a senior boy’s prom date. And that boy then accompanied me to my senior prom the following year. Yes, this was a sort-of boyfriend. But by my senior year, he was not my boyfriend, but kept his promise to accompany me. Let’s just say, I could’ve done without him accompanying me to my prom. I remember hanging more with my friends than with him that night. Womp, womp.

Miss Print: We’re living in a strange time with the pandemic as we all continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, and work together to stop the spread of Covid-19. How would Simone and your other characters be handling the pandemic?

Debbie: Being house-bound is Simone’s area of expertise. She and her crew of late bloomer friends are called HomeGirls for a reason. You’d be surprised how industrious you can be when confined to your home and its environs. For this reason, I am great at lots of parlor games and curbside activities, like Double Dutch, dancing, creative arts, chatting on the phone. Everything but cooking and baking, it seems. I think Simone would handle the lockdown with relative ease. And her mom, who is a worrywart would be pleased that her kids are some place safe where she can keep an eye on them. As we’ve all been coming out of lockdown, it feels like we’re all breaking out of our protective cocoons and being social butterflies, a la Simone!

Miss Print: Simone is such a fun character and, in a lot of ways, it feels like her story is just getting started. Will readers be seeing more from you about Simone–or her cousin Gabby–in the future?

Debbie: You know, that’s not a bad idea. I’d have to plead—er, talk with my editor and agent. If the book continues to perform well, I’d have a case for this. So, here’s where I make an appeal to readers to please pick up Simone, request it at your library and ask a friend to do the same! :)

Miss Print: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

Debbie: I feel like I kicked my career off way behind the starting line because I didn’t have the full reading lives that most authors seem to have. I had reams and reams of journals, and even some bad fashion sketches, but I can’t ramble off a long list of influential classic books from childhood. Every author podcast interview I’ve listened to, there’s a lot of early voracious reading memories shared. At first, this made me feel mad inadequate during panel discussions. So what I say to aspiring authors is to start where they are. You can start here and now. Read what interests you, read what authors and readers you trust rave about, read in and out your genre. You can’t change the past, but appreciate all the influences that touched your journey and developed your writing. For me that was magazines, hip hop lyrics, TV, yes, books—though not many I recall by name—and, most especially, my family’s oral storytelling. Bottom line: so long as you make it count, it all counts and it all matters!

Thank you again to Debbie for these great answers! You can find out more about all of Debbie’s books on her website.

You can also read my review of Simone Breaks All the Rules here on the blog.

Simone Breaks All the Rules: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover for Simone Breaks All the Rules by Debbie RigaudThanks to her strict immigrant parents, Simone Thibodeaux’s life is 100% boy free. After three years with a curfew and doing everything that’s asked of her from her parents and her all-girl’s school, Simone is more than ready for a change.

College is supposed to be a fresh start but with her parents threatening to make her commute to Rutgers like her older sister, Simone knows it’s time for drastic action.

Enter new friends Amita and Kira and the trio’s senior playlist. All three girls are used to life on lockdown and they are sick of missing out. With one year left to cram in all the classic high school experiences they’ve missed the girls are ready to go dancing, skip class, and pick their own prom dates.

Simone thinks she has the perfect boy picked out. But what happens when the date her parents arranged for her years ago turns out to be better than she could have hoped? After a year of breaking rules, Simone will discover that sometimes you can’t plan for love (or heartbreak) in Simone Breaks All the Rules (2021) by Debbie Rigaud.

Find it on Bookshop.

Rigaud’s latest contemporary romance is an ode to high school nostalgia and small acts of rebellion. Simone’s narration is filled with funny quips and fun facts about teen activists she has researched for her senior project whom she draws from for inspiration throughout the story.

While readers might be quicker to recognize the OTP here than Simone herself, the journey to that discovery is well worth the wait. Simone and her new friends have instant chemistry and while they all pursue their own dates for prom, the real love story here is the lasting friendship they forge. Ben–Simone’s arranged prom date–is her perfect foil and their dialogue as they get to know each other adds a fun dimension to this story.

Simone Breaks All the Rules is a laugh-out-loud story about friendship, prom, and learning that sometimes you don’t have to look as far as you think to find yourself. Recommended for fans of stories with bucket lists, high school nostalgia, and witty banter.

Possible Pairings: Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, 10 Truths and a Dare by Ashley Elston, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, By the Book by Amanda Sellet, My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma

You can also read my exclusive interview with Debbie Rigaud here on the blog.

Truly Madly Royally: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Zora Emerson knows exactly who she is and she knows that she has everything she needs to make big changes in her part of the world. But even with all of her confidence, no one is more shocked than Zora by her immediate connection with Owen–the actual prince of an island off the coast of England.

Attending a prestigious summer program should give Zora all the skills she needs to grow her after school helper program to reach even more of her neighbors. But it’s hard to focus on her courses when thinking about Owen is taking up so much of her attention.

When Owen invites Zora to be his date at his older brother’s wedding, it’s a dream come true. But it also sets Zora up for more scrutiny (and criticism) from strangers than she ever imagined. Soon Zora has to decide if dating Owen is worth the media attention–and if she can still stay true to herself while dating an actual prince in Truly Madly Royally (2019) by Debbie Rigaud.

Find it on Bookshop.

Truly Madly Royally is a standalone contemporary perfect for anyone who can’t get enough royal romances.

Zora is a no-nonsense heroine. She is a practical, passionate Black girl and she is more than ready to speak her mind when the situation calls for it. She has immense pride in her hometown in New Jersey and a lot of affection for her family–even when it looks like her brother and her best friend might be making some questionable dating decisions.

Owen has a lot more whimsy and is the perfect counterpoint for Zora as the story focuses on their courtship and builds up to the big royal wedding (which is a clear and beautiful homage to Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s nuptials in 2018). Themes of civic engagement and initiating change when and where you see a need in your community are solid undercurrents throughout this frothy romance.

Truly Madly Royally is a funny, effervescent story sure to leave a smile on your face. Recommended for readers who like their romances filled with witty banter, strong friendships, and plenty of empowerment for the heroine.

Possible Pairings: Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo, Prince Charming by Rachel Hawkins, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Now a Major Motion Picture by Cori McCarthy, American Royals by Katharine McGee, My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma, Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith, Prince in Disguise by Stephanie Kate Strohm, Pride by Ibi Zoboi

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*