A Q&A With Abby Jimenez, Author of April Indie Next List Top Pick “Yours Truly”

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Abby Jimenez, author of "Yours Truly"Independent booksellers across the country have chosen Abby Jimenez’s Yours Truly (Forever) as their top pick for the April 2023 Indie Next List.

Yours Truly follows Dr. Briana Ortiz as she finalizes her divorce, awaits a kidney donor to save her brother, and competes with the new (and surpisingly funny and likeable) Dr. Jacob Maddox for a promotion.

Yours Truly embodies humor and humanity. Readers will laugh hysterically while simultaneously sobbing from Jimenez’s page-turning plot,” said Amber Reinhart of Adventures By the Book in San Diego, California. “From pen pals to partners, the protagonists’ undeniable chemistry brings this story to life.”

Here, Jimenez discusses her writing process with Bookselling This Week.

Bookselling This WeekIn your Author’s Note, you wrote that the themes of Yours Truly are a lot more personal. You shared, “All my books are mosaics of me and my life experiences pieced together with touches of fiction. To entertain you. To help you escape. To educate and hopefully change the way you see the world and what you put into it.” Can you talk more about how you combined personal experiences with fiction in Yours Truly?

Abby Jimenez: I deal with anxiety — it runs in my family, so I deeply understand it. I don't have it at Jacob’s level, but I very, very much understand, so he was a really easy character for me to write. The kidney donor aspect of the book was based on my own experience with chronic kidney disease in 2020. If it had progressed, I would have been looking at needing a kidney donor myself within the next three to five years. I don't think that there's enough discussion around living donation. I wanted to write a book that demystified it and sort of normalized it, and to use my platform for good and to educate people. 

I also wanted to write the kind of hero that I (almost) needed. Jacob’s such a giving, good man. He’s the kind of person that if you were to see him on paper, he might not be the guy that you immediately go for. He’s extremely introverted. He’s not the guy that's going to be flirty, and he’s not going to be charming and charismatic and grab you right out of the gate. He’s a quiet hero, and that was just such a natural thing for him to do in this book.

BTW: I related to Jacob, with his social anxiety and how journaling and writing letters help him express himself better. He says, referring to Briana’s approach to life, “Wouldn’t it be amazing to live like that…To not feel constantly overwhelmed and overstimulated and second-guess every little thing.” What was your approach to writing his character — through his own perspective chapters and from Briana’s point of view?

AJ: I thought a lot of people with anxiety would find this book hard to read. It’s actually the opposite — so many people with anxiety read this book and feel seen. A lot of people read this book and see their partners [in it] and are like, “Oh my god, this is how it is; is this all I have to do to make you feel better?” It’s been really rewarding for me to see people respond to Jacob’s anxiety in that way. 

In terms of approaching his character…I have been married for twenty years this year, and my husband and I have this fairy tale relationship. We’re a very close couple. For the longest time, he really wanted to do this big vow renewal ceremony for our 20th anniversary. And I’m trying to tell him that is not my idea of a good time, having everybody stare at me. He asked, why don’t you want to renew your vows? It’s not that I don’t want to renew my vows, it’s because I don’t want to do it in front of everybody! It's so common for people with partners who experience anxiety to not understand the way that their brain works. Even people with anxiety feel like something is wrong with them because they don’t want the things that extroverts want. 

It was so easy for me to write Jacob because I completely get him. I completely get  why he wouldn't want to eat in the cafeteria with everybody looking at him. Even in the doctors’ lounge, when nobody has been nice to him and he doesn’t feel comfortable there, I get why he’d want to sneak off and eat his truck or in the supply closet where he can decompress. Getting Jacob on paper was like writing my lived experience.

BTW: I love that you also included not just Benny's experience having to have that operation but then Briana as his sister and Briana's best friend, how all these different folks that are impacted by it and how you are supported and rely on other people throughout that whole experience.

AJ: When I was sick in 2020, my husband was such a rock for me, and I saw how much that took out of him. It's not just the person it's happening to, it’s everybody around them that feels and experiences the patient’s trauma in a different way. I couldn't have written this book two years ago because it was too raw for me at the time. Now that I'm through it, and I'm on the other end of it, I was able to sit down and write it.  Being medically vulnerable is so hard, and it’s hard on everybody around you. When Jacob gave Benny that gift, it didn’t just fix Benny — it fixed Briana. She had the relief of knowing that her brother was going to have a future and a life.

BTWThere are so many fun rom-com tropes in Yours Truly, some of which Briana jokes about happening early on. What are your favorite tropes to write about for your characters?

AJ: My favorite trope is enemies to lovers, but I write cinnamon rolls so I can’t ever write that! I can't reasonably write a guy who’s so mean that they genuinely hate each other. It's sad! I’m too in love with my sensitive boys. I love forced proximity, that is super fun. When I write tropes, I really like taking a trope and flipping it on its head, and making it feel like it's something that can happen in real life. There's times [in rom-coms] where tropes are really exaggerated, or you very much know that you're reading a rom-com, and it's meant to be over the top. I like to write tropes into my books in a way that feels like this actually could be happening to someone you know.

BTW: I laughed out loud throughout the novel! From the one-liners, passive aggressive comebacks, and the situations Briana and Jacob find themselves in, you strike a wonderful balance between real issues and humor. Can you talk more about this approach to storytelling?

AJ: I very much write books the way I would experience these things. You can have a really crappy situation and still have a sense of humor about it, or see humorous things within it. That's always how I write my books. It's kind of become my brand, to touch on these very serious topics and still make it funny. 

Every time I pitch my editor a new book, I go: Okay, so the girl might have a fatal illness. And the guy is this workaholic, and he hates his life, and his mom just took his grandmother and moved her out of the state. His grandma has dementia and can’t remember him — but it's fun! At this point, she believes me. Even when I'm pitching it, I can't even imagine how I’m going to make it funny, but I can. I do. And it's because I look at it [as if] I were in the same circumstances. There’s all sorts of really sad and difficult things going on in Yours Truly, but Briana is still Briana. She's still going to have lighthearted moments.

BTW: You’re about to begin your book tour! How have independent bookstores played a role in your life?

AJ: I grew up going to libraries and independent bookstores. Independent bookstores have always been a part of my book journey along with libraries — I love libraries because I think they make books accessible when not everybody has access to books. And I love indie bookstores because they’re so unique. Every single one is its own little universe with its own personality, and I have so much fun visiting indies. Whenever I go out of town, even if I'm not on tour, I will always make it a point to search whatever indie is local and pop in and see if they have my books and sign it and promote them. I own a cupcake shop with three locations, and I love supporting small businesses. I write a lot of small businesses into my books for the purpose of giving them exposure that they might not have.

BTW: Anything else you would like to add?

AJ: I'm so excited that everybody gets to meet Briana, and particularly Jacob. I think that he's going to make so many people feel seen. He's going to help relationships; if you don't have anxiety and you see Jacob in this book and how Briana caters to his needs, I think it’ll help people understand their partners better. I love that this book is about to come out into the universe. I think it’s going to make such a difference. Even if only one person ends up donating a kidney or any organ because of it, I will feel like the book has achieved so much more than I ever could have hoped for.