Camille Perri had a goal in mind for her second novel, When Katie Met Cassidy: “queer the romantic comedy.” But doing so didn’t mean writing a queer book directed only to a queer audience. “I knew right off the bat that I wanted this to be equally relatable to a straight audience,” she says. “This is why I wanted to offer alternating points of view, so two readers coming at the book from different experiences and sexual identities can experience the book in their own way.”
Katie, a twenty-something lawyer fresh off a breakup, first meets Cassidy in a high-stress meeting when she mistakes her for a man. To Katie’s surprise, the clean cut, confident person before her is indeed a woman. And while Cassidy commands the room filled with male executives, Katie’s feelings toward her leap unsteadily from confusion to fascination to honest-to-god attraction. Cassidy notices Katie, too. But Katie is the kind of girl who could really get under her skin.
Katie’s in-the-moment reaction to meeting Cassidy explores attraction in a way that can’t be explained by any set of black-and-white terms. Perri’s inspiration for the scene happened in a bar while watching the women’s soccer World Cup championship.“I overheard a young woman turn to her boyfriend after looking at the screen at Abby Wambach and she’s saying, ‘Wait a second. She’s hot. Like how I think a guy is hot.’ And I was cracking up because this girl’s head is exploding in this moment,” Perri laughs. “It was the exact thing I wanted to capture, that moment of recognition that, ‘Oh, this can be hot too.’ ”
There is undoubtedly a humorous side to this run-in, which sets the tone for the encounters that follow. “Part of the reason I like books that are funny is that they allow you to address topics that are sensitive or vulnerable from an arm’s length of distance,” Perri says. “But I wanted to humanize both of these characters in a way that you can understand both of their intentions and the things driving them.”
Katie, a Christian-raised Kentucky girl, steps further outside of her comfort zone the closer she gets to Cassidy. “In a way, they lightly represent the divide of our country right now. There are very different ideas in terms of red-state and blue-state America...of what our country’s values should be,” Perri says. “I hope that readers will take some of that away from Katie’s inner struggle because she’s getting pulled from both sides. From her family, whom she loves and respects, and the ideas that Cassidy brings into her life.”
And while this romance is partially about opening up to new possibilities, Perri is quick to reaffirm this is not about disrespecting anyone’s opinions. “Everyone’s opinion is valid,” she says. But maybe Katie’s re-examination of herself is “a way of thinking about the roots of her behavior in a way she hasn’t before.” How does society react to “nontraditional behavior,” as Perri puts it, when women do not follow the social expectations placed on them? It’s a theme also explored in her first novel, The Assistants. “This is something that comes out in my personality—I like characters who go against the grain.”
But this is a romantic comedy after all—and the vibe is especially fun when Katie and Cassidy hang at Cassidy’s second home, the Metropolis. The women at this bar are Cassidy’s family, and they embrace Katie in her time of exploration as well. Representing the queer community in this way was important to Perri: “Your friends can become your family in a way that I think is really unique.” Having a place where Katie and Cassidy can let loose helps keep the tone of this story lighthearted and—not to forget—sexy.
“If I ever found myself getting too didactic on the page, I would just throw that out,” Perri admits. “So much queer subject matter is tragic. I didn’t want this to be that,” she says. “I feel like we just all need something that is light and happy and brings us joy even if it has a deeper heart.” It’s a story that anyone can identify with—who hasn’t found themselves attracted to someone that doesn’t fit your usual type and catches you by surprise?
Chelsea Langford lives, writes, and hangs with her dog in Brooklyn.