When legendary Hollywood showrunner Jo Jones walks the SAG Awards red carpet with assistant Emma Kaplan, romance rumors spread like wildfire. But love takes time in Meryl Wilsner’s Something To Talk About (Berkley, May 26); our reviewer called it “a sparkling debut with vibrant characters, a compelling Hollywood studio setting, and a sweet slow-burn romance.”

Wilsner’s standout novel marks the first time Berkley Publishing will print a queer female romance. Kirkus spoke with the author by phone about that distinction, writing romance, and much more. The interview has been edited and condensed.

What inspired the romance between Emma and Jo in Something To Talk About?

I came up with the idea of two people who everyone thought were dating, when they weren’t, before I came up with the characters, which seems funny to say, because now I’m completely obsessed with these characters. When I get an idea, I have a tendency to yell at my friends about my idea for a long time before I do any writing. And so, for a while, I was yelling at my friends about “Boss Lady” and “Assistant Lady”—I didn't even know what the setting would be, what business they were in. That led to wondering, in what situation would everyone decide they were together when they weren’t? And Hollywood came naturally from that.

I admire the choice of setting, because it further complicates the will they/won’t they, should they/shouldn’t they. Now each has to contend with this highly public power differential along with the fact that they’ve never discussed sexual identity.

Something that plays out in a lot of my writing is the complexity of queer desire. When it comes to that, you don’t know how a person feels, or if they think of you as an option at all, when you don’t know how someone identifies. That just makes it even harder, when you have a crush on somebody, to figure out how to deal with your feelings. That was especially important for me to explore.

Do you identify as a romance writer?

Absolutely, I identify as a romance writer. I grew up with all the stereotypes about the genre—“bodice-rippers,” “trashy,” “guilty pleasure,” “[something to] write on the side while I’m working on my great American novel”—and I’m so thankful to have expanded and grown out of that literary elitism. For anyone who still thinks they’ll write romance on the side for money while working on a different novel, it’s a lot harder than you think. It’s not some easy, trashy thing you can just throw bad writing at and succeed. The community’s absolutely fantastic, and the books are not worth any less because they’re about love or have sex in them. Really, they’re worth more—for the themes and situations that aren’t explored in a lot of fiction, aren’t explored or even paid attention to, often, in life. Desire, consent, power dynamics—romance, within an individual book, tackles so many big issues in ways that you’d never know about unless you’re a part of the community. If you look at a cover and think it’s just about two people falling in love or whatever, then you don’t see how much bigger a story about two people falling in love really is. It can be revolutionary, I think.

Speaking of revolutionary, this is Berkley’s first queer female romance in print.

I’m thrilled to be the author, that’s wonderful, I’m very excited about it. At the same time, you know, it's 2020. How did it take this long? Also, it’s been very important to me throughout this experience that I don’t act like I’ve invented something new. Just because it’s [Berkeley’s] first queer female romance in print does not mean that there haven’t been queer authors doing this for longer than I’ve been alive. I wouldn’t be in this position without so many people who came before me, and I’m very grateful to them for making space in publishing and proving to publishing that people want these stories.

Who did you write this book for?

This is for queer readers. That’s who I want to find. Obviously, I don’t think that it's a book that is only for queer readers. But what’s most important to me is that queer folks get their hands on it and get to see their own happy endings.

Megan Labrise is the editor at large and host of the Fully Booked podcast.