Elena Armas has been deemed the Queen of Slow Burns when it comes to romance novels, and we're starting to see why. Her first novel, The Spanish Love Deception, debuted last year, took the internet by storm, and instantly became an overnight sensation on TikTok. Now, with the recent release of her second book, The American Roommate Experiment, Elena is finding her footing as a new author and learning to embrace this newfound success.
Armas's latest novel, The American Roommate Experience, follows Rosie Graham, a young woman who recently left her high-paying engineering job to pursue a career in romance writing and who is dealing with writer's block, and her lackluster dating history doesn't seem to bring her any inspiration. To top it off, the ceiling in her bedroom caved in. While her apartment is being repaired, Rosie decides to stay at her best friend Lina's place while she's on her honeymoon. But Rosie should've checked with Lina first, because Lina already promised her apartment to her cousin Lucas Martín — also known as the man Rosie has secretly been Insta-stalking for months. Rosie must figure out if living with her crush will be just the thing she needs to break her writer's block or if it will become the biggest mistake of her life.
I had the opportunity to chat with Armas via text for our Read Receipts interview series about developing her new book, her favorite type of male lead, BookTok, and more!
BuzzFeed: Hi Elena! This is Morgan Murrell from BuzzFeed. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. How are you?
Elena Armas: Hi Morgan! 🥰 Thank YOU for having me! It’s really my pleasure. I’m good — ready to chat your ear up, haha. How are you?
Believe me, the pleasure is all mine! I’m a big fan. I can’t wait to hear all about your journey, so let’s jump right into it!
That's so sweet, thanks! Let's do it!
Congratulations on your new book, The American Roommate Experiment! It was such a fun read. What inspired you to keep this book in the same universe as The Spanish Love Deception?
Thanks so much! I'm happy to hear you enjoyed reading about Rosie and Lucas's shenanigans. To be honest, I think a part of me always knew that I would write Rosie's HEA (Happily Ever After). So, when I saw that most people were having fun reading TSLD I just didn't think much of it, and threw myself at it. This, of course, happened months before TikTok changed things around.
I love that! Speaking of TikTok, your books are truly having a moment on TikTok (and beyond)! What has been your reaction to the global outpouring of love? When did you first realize the popularity of your books was beginning to grow?
I couldn't be happier about how TikTok has changed the book industry (and my life). As someone who was a book blogger for years before I ever decided to write or publish myself, I think I can say that this app has been a total game changer — for everyone, really, from readers to aspiring and published authors, to publishing houses. As for my reaction to the outpouring of love, I think I just started processing what happened. It really took me a whole year to come to terms with how much my life had changed in such a short period of time.
Looking back, I think there was a definite moment that kind of switched things around for me in terms of how popular my debut became. There was this one TikTok that showed a girl relating to the plot of The Spanish Love Deception as if it was her own life. Back then, I wasn't really active on the app, but I started getting tagged in this TikTok from the few hundreds of people who followed me. I remember smiling at how cute the video was. It made me so happy that she loved the story enough to create something like that. The following morning, that TikTok had millions of views, and my book had sneaked into the Top 100 on Amazon. It was like that first domino piece that fell and started everything.
Aww, that’s so special! Whether it’s a story we can relate to on an emotion level or a fictional boyfriend we wish was real, books truly have a way of changing our lives for the better.
They really do.
I was actually going to ask if there was a TikTok that stood out to you, but you beat me to the punch.
I have many, but that one definitely holds a special place in my heart.
Earlier you mentioned that you knew you wanted to focus on Rosie for your next book. What about Rosie gave you “main character energy”?
I think that her sweetness and selflessness would be the obvious answer, but it was actually the way she acted as the perfect contrast to Catalina's crazy while being just as vulnerable. I always saw Rosie as a character with potential for many hidden layers. You know, those little things we are more wary to show because we want to be strong for everybody else? That's how I saw her when I was writing The Spanish Love Deception, so I couldn't not explore that and give her that happy ending she deserved.
What was the most challenging and rewarding part about developing Rosie as a character?
Aww, I love that you felt that way about her!
I think the most challenging part to write was her journey as a writer. I was able to draw a lot from personal experience (minus the writer's block, luckily). Dissecting one's fears on the page is not as fun as it might seem. BUT after seeing so many readers relating to Rosie, I can firmly say that THAT is extremely rewarding. I really adore all the love she has been getting from readers everywhere, maybe because many of Rosie's insecurities are actually mine? Probably.
Does it ever scare you to draw inspiration from your personal life when it comes to things like that?
Oh, absolutely! To offer a clear visual, it can feel like walking out in the street naked: almost always terrifying, and depending on the day, possibly liberating.
Okay, now let’s get into everyone’s imaginary boyfriend in their head: Lucas Martín! Lucas had me hooked from the beginning. He’s so lovable and passionate. He always puts the needs of others before his own, which shows just how big his heart is. Tell us a little bit about how you crafted his storyline.
Queue to happy sigh: Ah, Lucas! That fictional man really caught me by total surprise. When I first started crafting him, as you very well put, the only thing I knew was that he would be oh so flirty and a sunshine kind of hero. You know, all smiles. What I'd never imagined was that he would turn into that huge of a man. Lucas was a pleasant surprise for someone like me, who has always loved a grumpy hero over any other kind of hero. Thinking back, it's probably because he was the first male character's head I ever really got inside of? Unlike The Spanish Love Deception, The American Roommate Experiment is written in dual POV. That sort of forced me to dissect Lucas's traits and motivations in a different way. Not to give him more depth necessarily, but to connect more with all that depth, and that translated into me falling hopelessly in love with his character, AND creating what I see as the ultimate golden retriever man.
I realize now that my answer is NOT about the storyline, haha, sorry. I got carried away fangirling over him.
Haha honestly, your answer is perfect! You hit the nail on the head with the “ultimate golden retriever man” line.
I'll never get tired of saying that, as much as he has some (hidden) darkness to him.
You might’ve already answered this while getting “carried away” with my last question, but because you were used to writing about the grumpy hero (cue Aaron Blackford from The Spanish Love Deception), were you at all hesitant to create a male lead with such a different personality, after seeing how much fans fell for Aaron?
I was actually excited to do that. My reasoning really was: "I'm going to create the exact opposite to Aaron Blackford." When I started writing the first draft of TARE, it was before TSLD blew up, so my main goal was to explore my craft as a writer. It's also why I was set in giving the dual POV a try and using a very different dynamic to the "enemies to lovers" or the "he always loved her" tropes that we find in TSLD. Little did I know, though, that Aaron Blackford was about to become a...movement of sorts — at least in my DMs. He really is a movement in there.
You mentioned exploring different dynamics as your reasoning for writing from a dual POV for TARE. How did that evolve your writing experience as an author? And how are you hoping it increased the reader’s experience?
I think I wouldn't be able to say how it changed my writing, as that's something so hard to measure myself considering how new I am to writing and how much I have to learn about myself in that department. I can say, however, that I hope my readers take away something new from every book I write. Ideally, something that stood out to them and made them love a story, or a trope, or a character that perhaps they might have read about before. At the end of the day, the romance genre is not so much about making up things or reinventing, but about the journey to that happy ending, and the voice that takes you there. In my opinion, of course.
And what a journey it’s been! By the way, how did you come up with the book title TARE? And which titles came in at a close second?
Picking a title for TARE was actually easy because I needed to follow the lead of its predecessor. Coming up with The Spanish Love Deception's title, on the other hand...well that was a long a dreadful process, haha. I'll just say that the book was called Love in Spanish Is a Four Letter Word for a long time. I'm glad I changed it though; as much as TSLD is a mouthful, the other would have been a lot of hard work to fit into a cover.
I love that you keep your Spanish culture at the root of your books. Why was it important for you to incorporate that into your characters/stories?
As a reader, I've always thought that diversity and diverse stories should be the norm. Life and love are diverse in real life, so why would literature portray something else? As for the Spanish culture, as a Spaniard, I just felt like if I was going to write one single book in my life, it had to include all these things that represented me and would make me feel like I was being seen as a reader.
That’s beautiful! And as a Black bookworm, I couldn’t agree more!
I noticed both books also share a common theme in them: weddings. First, Lina needed to find a date for her cousin’s wedding, which is how Aaron Blackford entered the equation. And with the most recent book, Rosie was hoping to meet Lucas at Lina’s wedding, but he never showed up. Was that a coincidence, or is there some significance behind choosing a wedding as a focal point for each story?
That was a very lucky coincidence that made sense in terms of plot and connections between the two books. But I'll confess that the spark of the idea for TSLD came about with a wedding invitation, so it's kind of a beautiful homage to it, now that you mention it.
That’s so sweet! I swear I’ve been smiling this entire interview.
Aww, I have too! I am a rambler, and rambling about love and books is my fave kind of rambling.
I’ve enjoyed every minute of it!
Okay, your book dedications have always stood out to me, because I truly feel like you’re talking directly to the reader. If you could give your fans a dedication note right now, what would you say?
Ugh, that's a toughie! I think it would something like, "To all the girlies blasting Midnights on repeat, I SEE YOU!" It's exactly what I've been doing.
I haven’t had the chance to listen to the album in full…don’t judge me, LOL.
I would never! But OMG, I can't wait for you to pick which song represents you the most. I feel like that's what we've all been doing this last week.
Which song did you choose?
I think I've been "Lavender Haze" this week.
I’ll be on the lookout for that one.
Okay, we're nearing the end of our interview, and we always like to ask authors how they'd describe their work using emojis. So, if you could describe The American Roommate Experiment using three emojis, what would they be?
Lastly, I know your book is only a month old, but is there anything you’re working on that fans should know about?
As a matter of fact, I am. I'm currently working on novel number three. This one will not belong to the TSLD + TARE universe, but it will still be a rom-com with all the things I love in romance. For now, I can say that it revolves around the soccer world, it's set in a small town, and both our leads will be oh so grumpy! I'm not lying — I can confirm they spend the first quarter of the book glaring at each other. Which we all know is code for fire emoji.
I can't wait! Elena, thank you so much for chatting with me. It was truly the highlight of my day!
Thank YOU, Morgan! It was so much fun and the highlight of my week; I swear it's been such a lovely break from all the writing. Hope you'll have me back! 💜