Debut Queer Romance Offers a Hollywood Happily-Ever-After

Posted by Sharon on May 1, 2020
Author Meryl Wilsner describes their work as "love stories about women who take so long to kiss you want to fling yourself into the sun." 

That's an apt blurb for their debut novel, Something to Talk About, in which Hollywood showrunner Jo Jones and her assistant Emma accidentally find themselves at the center of a showbiz media scandal. The catalyst? A celebrity gossip site runs a red carpet picture of the two and claims that they are dating. This mistake leads to awkward times at the office and a slow-burn romance as they navigate power, consent, and their growing attraction to each other.

Wilsner spoke with Goodreads about the mentor who changed their life, the actor who'd play them in a movie, and the importance of writing happy endings for queer people.

Goodreads: Have you always been a romance reader? What inspired you to start writing love stories of your own?

Meryl Wilsner: I’ve always been a romance reader, but I didn’t always know it. Unfortunately, I was taught literary elitism as I was growing up and learned to view the romance genre as somehow lesser than other genres. And yet, my favorite stories—to read and to write—have always been romances. I got my fill from the fan fiction community. (If anyone doesn’t know, fan fiction involves taking characters and/or a world that already exists and writing your own story from there.) I read and wrote hundreds of thousands of words of romantic fan fiction while still somehow believing the lies of book snobs about the genre.
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I finally realized the importance of romance around the same time I became fed up with the lack of happy endings for queer characters in media. That’s when I shifted my focus from fan fiction to original stories, with the goal of creating queer stories with happy endings. So while it took me a while to recognize this is the genre for me, I’ve been reading and writing romance since before I had my own first kiss.

GR: Fake dating is a beloved trope of romance. In Jo and Emma's case, however, there are very real potential consequences if people think they're romantically involved with each other. What gave you the idea to examine that trope from a different angle?

MW: First off, I want to say that I adore the fake dating trope. It’s one of my favorites, which is probably why I thought about it so much, I decided to tweak it to mistaken-for-dating in my book.

In fake dating, you have characters doing things they’d like to do but pretending they’re just acting. With mistaken-for-dating, the characters end up second-guessing everything. Am I standing too close? Why did our fingers touch when she handed me coffee? Is something here that we don’t realize?
In juxtaposition to them questioning their own actions, they become so insistent there is nothing between them that they don’t recognize it when it slaps them in the face. As someone who took a long time to figure out if my now-wife was flirting or was just a really nice person, I loved giving Jo and Emma an excuse for not figuring their feelings out earlier.

GR: Power and the imbalance of power are big themes in this book. Jo is not only famous and quite a bit older than Emma, she's also Emma's boss. How did you approach writing the development of their romantic relationship while navigating tricky issues of consent and the workplace?

MW: As a queer woman of color with decades of experience in Hollywood, Jo is very aware of power dynamics—whether between her and the network her TV show airs on or her and Emma. The power imbalance between them means it takes a long time for either woman to even consider a romantic relationship as a possibility, much less something they might be interested in.
I love reading about relationships that involve “we really shouldn’t, but we want each other so much we’re going to anyway,” but I’m never looking for a story without consent. Something to Talk About features my favorite kind of relationship with a power imbalance—one where the person with all the power ends up being powerless in the face of the other one’s smile.

GR: There's a subplot in the book about sexual harassment in Hollywood that is extremely relevant to the #MeToo movement and the Times Up organization. Did you have those events in mind when you were writing, or was this an instance of life imitating art?

MW: I actually wrote that subplot prior to the #MeToo movement blowing up the way it did in 2017. Though, in fact, the first use of “me too” in its current context was by Tarana Burke back in 2006. So while I wasn’t thinking of those specific events, obviously sexual harassment in Hollywood and the workplace in general has always been an issue.

GR: Another thread that runs through Something to Talk About is how important the right mentor at the right time can be, both personally and professionally. In your journey to publication, did you have any key mentors who championed your writing?

MW: A mentor was instrumental during my journey to publication. In 2018, I submitted to a mentorship program called Pitch Wars. If you’re chosen, you spend months revising a manuscript under the mentorship of an experienced author or industry professional.

Farah Heron chose me as a Pitch Wars mentee and quite honestly changed my life. After one video call with her, I paced around my apartment raving about how what she had taught me was going to make every book I wrote from then on out better—and that was just one call! She taught me so much, made me feel more secure in my writing, and helped get my manuscript in shape.

The showcase at the end of Pitch Wars is where I connected with my now-agent, Devin Ross. I like to think I would’ve eventually worked hard enough to get Something to Talk About published whether I got into Pitch Wars or not, but the program, and Farah specifically, definitely put me on the fast track.

GR: Do you have a favorite scene in the book? Or one that was the most fun to write?

MW: Oh gosh, I don’t think I can pick. I got art commissioned of one of my favorite scenes before I had actually written it. Another favorite wasn’t even written until I was doing edits for my editor at Berkley. I think it’s neat to both have a scene I loved before it fully existed and to love a scene that I hadn’t imagined in the book in many drafts. It fits my writing style well, too—I’m what they call a plantser: I do some plotting, but I also fly by the seat of my pants in sections in between scenes I have plotted.

GR: Since Something to Talk About is a book about Hollywood, we'd love to know—who would play you in a movie?

MW: I googled nonbinary actors in an effort to answer this question. I thought Ellie Desautels, who was on the NBC show Rise, would be a good fit. Then I asked my wife, whose immediate response was: “They’re kind of young!” I’ll have it known I’m only four years older than them!

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GR: Can you talk to us a bit about the importance of representation in fiction, particularly romance? What do you hope readers take away from this book?

MW: I talked a bit earlier about the lack of happy endings for queer people, and that’s definitely a driving force behind my writing. While I’m thrilled Something to Talk About is Berkley’s first queer female romance in print, there have definitely been people doing this long before I came around. I’m thankful for queer authors who have fought to carve out a place in mainstream publishing for people like me.

I especially remember reading Malinda Lo and realizing it was possible to write books about girls who liked girls. I would be honored if a writer read Something to Talk About and learned the same lesson.

To me, representation is incredibly important within romance because everyone deserves to see characters like them get a happy ending.

GR: Are there other romance authors you look up to or whose books you love?

MW: There are so many. Romance writers—and the romance community in general—is full of fantastic people.

I feel like everyone already knows Helen Hoang is amazing and so are her books, but I can’t not mention her.

Two of my favorite reads this year were Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert and Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn.

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And I have to mention Lyssa Kay Adams and Jen DeLuca, who not only write great books but are the kindest people, and Casey McQuiston, who makes me want to be a better writer and has helped me dream bigger.

Lastly, a shout-out to Ruby Barrett, who writes my favorite male characters in the world.

GR: Please share some books that you've read and loved recently or that you can't wait to read!

MW: My most recent read was Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen. It’s an outstanding YA that is queer and quiet and so important to me.

I Kissed Alice by Anna Birch is next in my TBR. It’s an f/f YA I was thrilled to share a pub date with, but hers got pushed back due to coronavirus.

I also was lucky enough to get to blurb The Roommate, an upcoming Berkley debut by Rosie Danan. It’s going to be the talk of the fall. And another Berkley debut I can’t wait for is How to Fail at Flirting by Denise Williams.

The 2020 debut class is filled with superstars!

GR: OK, we have to ask: Your bio states that you love the way giraffes run. Want to say more about that?

MW: I do love the way giraffes run! I studied abroad in Kenya and Tanzania when I was in college and got to see giraffes in the wild. Their legs are so long that even when they’re running, it looks very slow and graceful, but they can actually go almost 40 mph!


Meryl Wilsner's Something to Talk About will be available in the U.S. on May 26. Don't forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf. Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews to get more great book recommendations.

Comments Showing 1-8 of 8 (8 new)

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˗ˋˏ nikki ˎˊ˗ Great interview. Can't wait for this book to be released!!

message 2: by Olivia (new)

Olivia Goodreads has blessed us! Tell Berkeley to publish more queer stories!

message 3: by Rachel (new)

Rachel I am for sure going to buy this from the ripped bodice as soon as I can. It sounds so good and I'm interested in reading more books by nonbinary authors.

Mary Margaret Lol @shane you could try getting off the internet

message 5: by nitya (new)

nitya So excited to read this!!! 💖💖💖

@ Shane lololol someone is real fragile

message 6: by Raychel (new)

Raychel I got to read this early with NetGalley and I'm gonna let everyone know that this book is EXACTLY as incredible as it sounds

message 7: by Justlicia (new)

Justlicia I’m so excited to read this book!?! Great interview and recommendations ✨

message 8: by Holder.Sseo (new)

Holder.Sseo Tell Berkeley to publish more queer stories!

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