Zibby is joined by author Meryl Wilsner to talk about their latest novel, Mistakes Were Made, which actually started as fanfiction. The two discuss the different sources of inspiration for the book’s characters, how Meryl found their way into writing queer romances (and writing in general), and what books they’re working on next.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Meryl. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Mistakes Were Made: A Novel.

Meryl Wilsner: Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here.

Zibby: This was the kind of book where I opened it up and I was like, okay, we’re going there. Oh, my gosh. I’m sitting reading with my glasses like, oh, okay. Very steamy beginning.

Meryl: As we like to say, we start off with a bang, quite literally. This book actually began long, long ago as fan fiction. It was just supposed to be a little steamy, one short — that first chapter was just the whole thing. That was all that was going to happen. Then I had friends poking me. Hey, what if other things happened in this? Suddenly, now I have a book.

Zibby: It’s great. Why don’t you tell listeners what your book is about?

Meryl: Let’s start there. Mistakes Were Made is about a college senior who has a one-night stand with an older stranger who she meets at a bar. The next morning, she goes to breakfast with her best friend and her best friend’s mom, who, it turns out, is the older stranger that she had the one-night stand with. Obviously, that should be the end of it, but what my friends poked me about to continue was, what if she goes home and visits over winter break? We continue from there. It’s definitely a high-heat romance. I think we’ve been calling it a raunch-com.

Zibby: I like it. I don’t know that I’ve read a raunch-com before, but maybe now I have to do this more often.

Meryl: I honestly think that Rosie Danan, the author of The Roommate, I think she sort of pioneered the term for The Roommate. It’s a rom-com, but sometimes when people hear rom-com they think low-key, just a cutesy book sort of thing. We want to be clear, nope, it’s high heat.

Zibby: You don’t get embarrassed writing about sex and all that?

Meryl: I did tell my mom she was not allowed to read this book. She already did not comply with that. She has read an advance copy. Once I realized she wasn’t going to listen to me when I told her not to read it, I said, “Okay, you can read it, but you can never speak to me about it.” That’s what I have to say. When I think about things like that or with my first book, which was much, much, much lower heat — it was a slow burn with, really, one sex scene. Some of my mom’s friends in a book club read that book. Okay, fine. If that book club reads Mistakes Were Made, I will be a little bit embarrassed in that regard. I love to write it. I think it’s a lot of fun.

Zibby: To be honest, it wasn’t — I don’t mean to mischaracterize it as a complete sex show. There’s a lot of heart to it too. I’m a divorced mom who has to share custody and is dealing with kids who are away. You tapped into that too, the longing for kids, missing kids, how to navigate divorce. There’s a lot in there. You packed in a lot.

Meryl: Thank you. I definitely tried to. It’s strange because when I first wrote it, I was closer in age to Cassie, the college student. Through various revisions and everything, I’m now closer in age to Erin, the older single mom. That has been really interesting. Cassie was probably a lot stronger in that first draft long ago because that was more where I was in life. I joke about how many sex scenes it has and how my mom’s not allowed to read it and all of that, but I do think that it does have a lot of heart. I certainly hope that it does. I think that a lot of romance is like that. I think a lot of times romance as a genre can be dismissed as, oh, this is trashy. These are just sexy books, or whatever. So much of romance is really — groundbreaking isn’t the right word, but just important and heartfelt. There’s a lot to the books than if they were just sexy books. Also, at the same time, if they’re just sexy books, that’s okay too. I grew up with that being taught, the literary elitism about romance. I’m glad to have moved past that and be at a point where I’m like, if all it is a sexy book, that’s enough. It’s about entertaining people. I do think that Mistakes Were Made has both.

Zibby: This book is not trashy, though.

Meryl: Oh, no. I think in general, romance is not trashy, but I think that people are taught that a lot.

Zibby: I see. Wait, go back a little bit. Obviously, you start in fan fiction. When did you start writing? When did you start? Have you always been open about your sexuality and all that? Not that it’s any of my business, but just wondering.

Meryl: When did I start writing Mistakes Were Made, or when did I start writing in general?

Zibby: First, in general.

Meryl: God, when I was teeny-tiny. In third grade, we did night writes every Tuesday. We were given a prompt. We were supposed to write — I don’t remember anymore, but it was probably one handwritten page. I learned to type because I was writing such long responses to these prompts. You were supposed to turn in one handwritten page, and I would turn in four single-spaced typed pages instead. I’ve always been telling stories in that regard. In part because I was raised to sort of look down on romance as a genre and I thought I wasn’t supposed to read or write that sort of thing, I think that’s one of the reasons that I did get into fan fiction. I was absolutely writing and reading romantic fan fiction. I didn’t have that outside influence of, this is not what you’re supposed to be doing, so I didn’t really realize I’m still in the romance genre, just the fan fiction version of it. That’s where I really cut my teeth writing. Learned a ton. Always made friends with people who wrote better fics than I did and badgered them about how much I loved their work until we became friends, some of whom I’m still friends with today and who still read my work and help me brainstorm and help me make everything better, even now that I’ve sort of moved on from the fan fiction world.

I really learned just so much by writing in fan fiction and then eventually decided after looking at the number of queer people in media, especially queer women, who aren’t given happily ever afters — I was always also writing original fiction, but that’s what pushed me more into focusing on it just because I recognized that this is something that’s necessary. This is something that I can do and I want to do and like to do. That’s where I shifted into focusing on original fiction and telling happily ever afters for — as my bio says, I think it’s, “I write happily ever afters for queer folks who love women.” I’m non-binary, but I’m assigned female at birth. I grew up within the sapphic community. That’s what I thought I was writing, happily ever afters between women. I have future books on the table that will also include non-binary characters and things like that. I’ve adjusted my bio just a little bit to be “happily ever afters for queer folks who love women” because there’s not enough of them in media.

Zibby: I love that. Wait, you’ve piqued my interest in the next book. What’s coming next?

Meryl: The next book is still two female main characters. It is called Cleat-Cute. It is between two soccer players who are both fighting for a spot on the roster for the United States in the World Cup. They realize that cooperation may be better than competition, both on the field and in the bedroom.

Zibby: Interesting.

Meryl: Then my next one after that, which I don’t have nailed down yet, I do have a non-binary main character. It will be, oh, there was a non-refundable honeymoon that we have to go on together. It’s a forced-proximity sort of book.

Zibby: I want to try one of those where you’re all stuck somewhere. There’s a certain amount of time. You’re all in the same place. I think that would be fun to try.

Meryl: I like that outside pressure.

Zibby: I’m like, somebody give me an assignment, as opposed to the novel that I am writing, which is like, I wonder where I’m going to get by when.

Meryl: I understand that.

Zibby: Did you ever have trouble selling this concept? Did you find this very easy to sell, this book, the previous book? Obviously, it’s so necessarily in the market. You’ve totally hit the sweet spot. I’ll stop making — now my mind is in a bad place. Not a bad place, but you know what I mean.

Meryl: An inuendo place.

Zibby: An inuendo place. Yes, let’s say that. Did you get pushback? Did you know which publisher to pitch to? Did you have trouble getting an agent? Was it an easy process for you?

Meryl: With Something to Talk About, which was my first book, I did a program called Pitch Wars, which doesn’t exist anymore. It is a writing mentorship program. Got paired up with a great mentor and went through that. That’s how I got my first agent. All the way through, my mentor did — caution is maybe the right word — caution me of, there might be less interest just because of the way that the romance world works and all of that. Something to Talk About came out in 2020 through Berkley. It was actually Berkley’s first F/F romance in print. I don’t want to say it was groundbreaking because, obviously, people have been writing queer romance forever, for long before mainstream publishing was paying attention. It was their first F/F romance in print. I didn’t get pushback. I didn’t get pushback on it. I did get my agent. I did get a book deal. The book came out. With Mistakes Were Made, I feel like it’s just such a different climate. When Something to Talk About came out, I was desperate searching for other people who were writing F/F and either getting or trying to get published by the big five or whatever. Whereas now, there’s a lot of us, or at least a lot more of us. I think that in the time between Something to Talk About and Mistakes Were Made, there has been a real growth of the community. I think it’s a strong community. I like everybody in it. That has been really heartening to see. I hope that only continues to grow.

Zibby: Did you have any other titles that you were considering for this?

Meryl: I lovingly refer to this book as the MILF book. I spent a long time coming up with titles that would abbreviate into MILF. I really pushed for Make it Last Forever just so that I could abbreviate it to MILF every time I talked about it. I think Mistakes Were Made is the right pick, for sure.

Zibby: You were vetoed on that by the publisher?

Meryl: I wasn’t vetoed. It was included in a variety of options. Everybody really liked Mistakes Were Made. I love Mistakes Were Made.

Zibby: I love the title. It’s just such a great thing. Is this going to be a movie, do you think? I feel like it has a very cinematic —

Meryl: — I would love it to. Please tell Hollywood that.

Zibby: Right? It’s a total, in the olden days — what’s her name? — Meg Ryan-type thing, but not Billy Crystal or whatever.

Meryl: Or Tom Hanks.

Zibby: Tom Hanks, that’s it.

Meryl: I would love that. I would love to see that. Fingers crossed.

Zibby: It’s great. I think it’s very visual the way you wrote it. You can see yourself in all these different scenes and restaurants and homes and even at the end with our little happy ending of sorts. Oh, my gosh, there I go again. When you’re not writing, tell me about your life.

Meryl: Gosh. Lately, it’s all writing because I am on deadline for Cleat-Cute. When I’m not writing — I live with my wife in Michigan. We have a dog and a cat. We don’t take our dog out enough and give her enough exercise. We’re constantly trying to because she is just a ball of energy. My mom lives on the shores of Lake Michigan, so we spend a lot of time at the beach, especially now. It’s the end of summer. I’ve probably swam in the lake for the last time this year. Love being outdoors and hanging out with my family.

Zibby: Was your book inspired at all by a particular mom of a friend of yours?

Meryl: It was not, no. I will say just in terms of you also asking, could it be a movie? the characters’ looks changed drastically once I realized that I could cast Cobie Smulders, who is from How I Met Your Mother. She’s Robin in How I Met Your Mother. Once I realized I could cast her as Erin in a movie version, I leaned into that as I went. In the first draft, she maybe had blond hair. I just switched everything up as soon as I realized that I could do that. I love to cast actors or models or whatever in my mind as my characters and go from there.

Zibby: That’s smart. It’s neat. I love how you have smart women, a doctor. She was going to go work at NASA or something crazy. It’s awesome, just letting passion out and real feelings, whether it’s — what do you call it? F/F? I don’t even know. It doesn’t matter who it is. That raw energy coming out on the page, really great, really captivating.

Meryl: Thank you. What I try to do — I did this with Something to Talk About as well. I try to put different types of women on the page. There’s not any one type of woman that I’m like, oh, this is the way to be. You have to be the strong female character. You have to be this. You have to be whatever. Just exploring the characters and dynamics between characters of a whole bunch of different women.

Zibby: Amazing. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Meryl: For aspiring authors, my number-one thing that I say is write the next book. At least if you are trying to write books and get in publishing, you’re always going to have to write the next one. Whether you are at a querying stage and you don’t have an agent yet and you’re sending out queries for a book, you’re going to need another book to have a career at some point. Start writing the next one while you’re sending queries. Once you have an agent, if you go out on submission to editors, you’re going to have to have another book at some point. Rather than freaking out and being nervous about being on submission, write the next book. That’s my go-to advice also for myself as well as for aspiring writers anytime that you’re floundering and feeling lost in anxiety or this great big world. Of course, be gentle with yourself. I’m not saying you have to produce all the time. When you don’t know what to do next, writing the next book is often the way to go.

Zibby: Yes, or even just trying to finish the one you’re working on.

Meryl: That is where I am right now.

Zibby: Amazing. Meryl, thank you so much. Thank you for discussing Mistakes Were Made and for the entertainment and thought-provoking-ness of the whole book. It’s awesome. I really wish you all the best. I’m excited for Cleat-Cute. I’m going to follow all your titles forever now because you have all these — it’s great. Really awesome.

Meryl: Thank you so much. Thank you again for having me. This was a lovely little chat. I was really glad to be here.

Zibby: Me too. Bye.

Meryl: Talk to you later.


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