Tia Williams began her career as a beauty editor, working at such magazines as YM, Elle, Glamour, Lucky, Teen People, and Essence. Since 2004, she’s written novels for adults and young adults and co-written a memoir with Iman. Her latest novel, Seven Days in June (Grand Central Publishing, June 8), follows two intense teen lovers who meet many years later as successful adults, both authors. Kirkus called it “a hugely satisfying romance that is electrifying and alive,” and it claimed a spot on our list of the Best Fiction of 2021. Williams answered some questions by email.

What was the original inspiration—a character, a scene, an image—that started you writing the novel?

The idea for Seven Days in June popped into my head one Saturday night while watching Romeo + Juliet—the one with Leo and Claire, obviously! I thought to myself, what if they hadn’t died at the end? What if those wild, lovesick teens went their separate ways and then ran into each other as grown-ups? Does true love have an expiration date? And how many functional-seeming, got-it-all-together adults are walking around with hidden pasts and tortured secrets? Eva and Shane were born out of these questions. And since writing about what you know is, in fact, a great idea, Eva and I have a lot in common. (Full disclosure: I’m the mom of a 12-year-old living in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with lifelong, debilitating migraines and a mother who is Black Creole.) Shane is pure fiction, however. I loved dreaming up a man who carefully constructs his life so that he has no ties whatsoever—and watching it all unravel as love creeps in.

What was more challenging to write—the scenes with adult Shane and Eva or the ones featuring their teenage selves?

Eva’s and Shane’s teenage stories were so tough to write. I really tried to imbue their stories with dignity and grace and absolutely zero trauma porn. In order to convincingly write about kids with no guidance or safety, who self-medicate in dangerous ways, you need to turn on all your empath sensors—which are hard to turn off! Teen Shane and teen Eva still show up in my dreams.

Who is the ideal reader for your book, and where would they be reading it?

It’s funny, I thought I knew exactly who my reader was. But when this book launched, I was flooded with DMs from straight men who read their girlfriend’s or wife’s copy, loved it, and decided they were Shane. I was so delighted! As a Black woman, I write for Black women. Specifically, and intentionally, I write these stories as an escapist fantasy for us. But I’m thrilled with whomever else comes to the party.

What was it like having a book come out in 2021? How did you connect with readers in this socially distanced year?

I was actually petrified to release a book during the pandemic, but it ended up being the best launch I’d ever had! In the before times, I’d get maybe 40 or 50 people at a book signing (if I was lucky). But that’s a tiny fraction of the amount of people you can reach through a virtual event. You can tour from your couch! I spoke to readers all over the globe, in real time, which exposed the book to people who may not have found it otherwise.

What work of fiction most dazzled you this year?

I really enjoyed The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris, which features the experiences of two Black women working in the very White publishing industry—and all is not what it seems. It was such a clever read, and I loved that it straddled the line between thriller and social commentary.