Zibby speaks with New York Times bestselling author Tia Williams about A LOVE SONG FOR RICKI WILDE, an enchanting, modern-day fairy tale set in Harlem, featuring a free-spirited florist and an enigmatic musician who are irreversibly linked through history, art, and magic. Tia reveals how the initial spark of inspiration struck her during a sleepless night and then delves into her creative process. She also discusses her novel’s themes of following one’s dreams and pursuing creative passions and then talks about her past as a beauty writer, her fascination with flowers and fragrances, her transition to fiction writing, and her next project (a YA novel!).


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Tia. Thanks so much for coming on to discuss A Love Song for Ricki Wilde. Congrats.

Tia Williams: Thank you. Thank you for having me. It’s so fun to talk to you again.

Zibby: You too. A Love Song for Ricki Wilde, tell everybody what it’s about, please. I read it right when I first got this galley forever ago. Now I’m like, wait, what was that book? No, I’m kidding. So great.

Tia: Before the holidays, I think.

Zibby: Yeah. I was really excited. I was so excited. So good. I love the way you write. Really exciting.

Tia: It is a modern-day fairy tale about a free-spirited florist who moves from Atlanta to Harlem to open a flower shop and realize her dream. When she’s there, she meets a very mysterious musician. They fall passionately in love and lust and all of it. They find out that their lives are inextricably linked in very interesting, enchanted ways. There is voodoo. There’s leap year magic because it actually takes place this February, which is a leap month. There’s a touch of magical realism.

Zibby: Love it. Where did this come from for you?

Tia: It’s funny. I never had a book idea come to me like this. I have insomnia. I was up one night. These disparate ideas and themes dropped out of the sky. It was, haunted piano, voodoo curse, Harlem Renaissance, mysterious musician, and a florist and an enchanted brownstone. Go! I had to figure out how to make a story out of these elements, and I did. I was really nervous to present this to my agent and my editor because it’s a little bit different than what I usually write. It’s definitely a “me” book. It has all the sparkly dialogue and steam and big, high-stakes love, but I’d never written anything with a touch of magical realism before, so I was a little nervous.

Zibby: It seems like that didn’t stop you in the slightest, so that’s good.

Tia: I went for it.

Zibby: Would you work in a flower shop or own a flower shop if given the choice? Do you like to arrange flowers, decorate, or any of it?

Tia: It’s funny. I did not grow up in a flower house. I don’t know the names of flowers, the genre and breeds of flowers. In my other life, I was a beauty writer for a million years for fashion magazines, but also for brands. I was an executive editorial director at Estée Lauder companies, and so I was writing a lot of ads for perfumes. I was naming fragrances, writing ad copy for it. To do that, you obviously have to learn about ingredients. So many of the ingredients in perfumes are florals. I had to learn the story behind a lot of the notes in these fragrances, how the flowers were cultivated, where they grow, what time of year, all that. I was writing about fragrance that had night-blooming jasmine. I thought that was the most romantic thing, the idea that it’s kind of asleep during the day. It’s dormant during the day. As soon as it gets dark out, it blooms. I was so into that. There’s a night-blooming jasmine sub-theme happening in the book. That’s also where I got the idea of Ricki being a florist, because I got so interested in flowers as I was writing perfume copy.

Zibby: I worked at Unilever back in the day launching the Vera Wang fragrance.

Tia: You know.

Zibby: I know. We had to go to perfume nose training at IFF and all of that and smell all the sticks.

Tia: Yep, and sniffing the coffee beans in between to neutralize those so you can smell the scents accurately. It’s fascinating.

Zibby: Totally fascinating. There’s still something so uplifting. You can’t think about flowers without getting uplifted. I love how you then use that as a setting for all the rest of it. As you were talking about all the different elements, I was like, this would be such a great writing school thing, to just chop out a bunch of things like that, haunted brownstone or scary fireplace or whatever. People just pick out a few and then go. That’s how they write their novels.

Tia: That’s actually a great idea.

Zibby: Right? You should start that. You should do that.

Tia: I know. creative writing exercise.

Zibby: Good creative writing exercise. Following Seven Days in June, how did you approach — you had all these ideas. Then what happened? You woke up after not sleeping, or you didn’t wake up. How did you approach writing this? How much time do you spend outlining books like this versus just going for it? How do you do it?

Tia: I’m not a “just go for it” writer. The pantser versus plotter — plotters are people who have outlines. They figure out the plot. They have it all laid out before they write. Pantser is someone who flies by the seat of their pants and just writes. I’m definitely a plotter. Before I write a book, I have to sit with it for a while because I have to research. I have to know what happens. I need an outline to tell myself what the story is so that I know how to bring it to life. I had to do a lot of research. Harlem Renaissance, I’ve always been obsessed with. I didn’t have to do a lot there in terms of the historical aspect, but I don’t know Harlem very well. It’s hard for people who don’t live in New York to understand that a Brooklyn girl wouldn’t know Harlem. It’s all New York, right? Brooklyn people and Harlem people just — it’s far. It’s far on the train. I dated a guy in Harlem in my early twenties, and it felt like a long-distance relationship. It’s far. It’s different. It’s a different vibe. I was taking the train and just walking around Harlem like a tourist, like I was new to New York because I don’t know those streets. While I was walking around researching the vibe, there’s this interesting thing about Harlem where you’re just walking down a random street, and then you’ll see a “blink, and you miss it” little plaque on a building that’ll say something like, Billie Holiday was discovered here singing at fourteen in 1929. Those are all over the place. It’s almost like being in Pompei. It’s like a city built over a city. There’s so much history. I got so interested in that aspect of this place where you have the modern reality of it, but the magical past lives with it.

Zibby: Sometimes I think about that too having lived in New York basically my whole life, how many times I’ve walked past the same things, which versions of me at different times. Are they even still there? Time becomes this crazy concept when you think too much about place versus souls and all the rest. I sound crazy.

Tia: No, that’s part of what inspired this book. I’m a huge Stephen King fan. In the book The Shining, it’s very much about, the people in the hotel aren’t haunted; the hotel is haunted because memories have heartbeats. They’re real. The lives that were there will always be there, pieces of them. That’s an interesting gothic idea.

Zibby: Yes. Little did you know I was so gothic underneath this very tame exterior. There’s a whole other plotline of when you’re, essentially, a black sheep of the family, when you go against what everybody else thinks or when people aren’t believing in you. How do you really stake your claim on a creative passion if you don’t have the support? How do you know when to give it up or to go for it and all of that? Talk to me about that.

Tia: Ricki Wilde is the youngest of four girls in a very, very aristocratic family. She’s the youngest by fifteen years or something. She has these three older sisters. They are very fancy, very bougie socialites, Ivy League, married the right guys, all went into the family business, which is funeral homes. They just played by the rules and did everything right. She’s like the Denise Huxtable of the clan. She just cannot get herself to care about funeral homes, nor does she feel like she has to. She’s the kind of person who doesn’t want to just exist. She wants to taste life, enjoy life, pursue her passions. The only thing she likes about funeral homes is the flowers. For her, it was like a matter of life and death. If she stayed there working the family business, wearing the suit, doing everything that was expected of her, she would experience a soul death. To her, life is too short. She wanted to really experience it to the fullest, and so she took a big chance and took off, and much to the chagrin of her family. They were basically like, well, you’re disowned. For people like Ricki, like I said, it’s almost like a death if you’re stuck in a box your whole life and you can’t fully realize who you are. I’ve always been interested in people and characters that do that because I’m more like her sisters. I’m very careful. I make the to-do list, check everything off. I have a hard time trying things that I don’t already know I’ll be great at, which is very limiting. I myself am inspired by Ricki just going up to Harlem to start a brand-new life not knowing anyone, never having owned a shop or been an entrepreneur. It’s an exciting personality to have, to be like that.

Zibby: Isn’t it amazing you can just write and be whatever you feel like? Okay, I’m going to make up for all the flaws in my personality by creating this person over here. Isn’t that great? That is so easy. Look at that.

Tia: That’s what I did when I was growing up. When I had a bad day at school, I would come home and rewrite it, rewrite the day in my favor. That’s something I’ve always done. The world doesn’t look the way you want it to or you don’t look the way you want yourself to, and so you can make anything real when you write fiction.

Zibby: Is there anything about your life now that you would be rewriting if you could?

Tia: I would like to be the kind of person that works out. always working out and sticks to a schedule and is devoted to moving their body in some way every day. Instead, I’m extremely sedentary. No one’s getting younger over here. I have got to figure out how to incorporate a workout regimen that makes sense.

Zibby: If you figure it out, let me know. The other day, I just thought about the concept of exercising and how I used to do it every day during a certain period of my life a long time ago. I was like, it’s not even on the menu anymore. Now it’s like, should I even shower or not?

Tia: Me too.

Zibby: So pathetic. Tell me more about your next project which you handed in. I guess that’s the next one coming out. What is that about?

Tia: I just handed it in two days ago at five in the morning. My next project is a YA novel starring Audre Mercy-Moore, who is the daughter of the protagonist of Seven Days in June, my last novel. In Seven Days in June, she was a precocious twelve-year-old. Now she’s a precocious sixteen-year-old in this book. It’s a rom-com. It’s her the summer after her junior year in high school. She realizes that she is pretty uptight. She’s the class president, the debate club president, and this and that and straight A’s and very, very ambitious and type A. She’s like, do I know how to have fun? She hires this guy who’s this adventurous kid she knows that goes to a different school. She hires him to teach her how to have fun.

Zibby: Wow, that must have been very fun to write.

Tia: It was. It’s a good time. I love Audre. It was fun to have time with her again.

Zibby: Do you feel sad when you’re done and it’s handed in? I’m sure there’ll be work to be done, as there is with everything, and going through all the different rounds or whatever. That you’ve gotten the character sort of fully formed and released them out into the world, do you feel a little sad?

Tia: Yes. Oh, my baby. You want to stay in the world. I have to say that I do think that I’m not done with Audre yet. I feel like a college novel or something. She’s just such a funny, interesting little character. She wants to be a famous celebrity therapist when she grows up. Since school, she has this side hustle where she charges her friends to give them advice. Her perspective on things is really funny because she’s not an adult and she’s not a therapist, but she thinks she knows everything about everything.

Zibby: She’s like Lucy in Charlie Brown, right? You know how she sets up on the corner?

Tia: Yeah. The doctor is in.

Zibby: The doctor is in. Oh, my gosh, I love it. Do you make time to read when you’re in the midst of all of the writing, or not really?

Tia: Unfortunately, no. I can’t because I start sounding like whoever I’m reading. When I’m in the writing mode, I’m a sponge. I think all writers are when they’re writing. You have to absorb what’s happening around you because that’s what inspires you, people’s conversations, stories people tell you. You have to stay really open when you’re writing. When I read someone else’s work, I start accidentally plagiarizing, but tone plagiarizing. You take someone’s sound. I can’t read any fiction while I’m writing. I have a little bit of a break now, so I’m excited to read now.

Zibby: You don’t work out. You don’t read while you’re writing. What do you do to get away from the computer and relax or get out of that headspace?

Tia: I watch Real Housewives of every city.

Zibby: Amazing.

Tia: I zone out. I watch these yapping harridans. It feels so good. Sometimes I have them on while I’m writing as just white noise.

Zibby: Do you have a favorite character from any of the housewives? Favorite housewife?

Tia: I love Sonja Morgan from New York. I think she was made for this. I hate/love all of the Beverly Hills housewives. I love Potomac. I love Karen Huger. Oh, my god, and Dr. Wendy. I could go on and on and on.

Zibby: I feel like this might be another career move for you. You could have a little cameo on one of these shows. Call up Andy Cohen. Let’s see. Get you on there. A benefit for the novelist.

Tia: While I’m writing, that’s how I chill. I’m going to read a lot while I have this break.

Zibby: While you’re touring for this book and because you won’t be busy.

Tia: Well, you have time . I’m going to try to read before I go to sleep every night.

Zibby: Which tour stops or which conversation partners from the tour are you excited about and want people to know about and all of that?

Tia: The first stop is in Brooklyn next week on February 6th. I don’t know what day the podcast —

Zibby: — I don’t either, but hopefully, very soon.

Tia: I’ll be speaking with Tessa Bailey, who is fantastic. I was her conversation partner when she was coming around for her tour. Which book was it? Secretly Yours, I think. I love her. She’s so much fun. I’ll be speaking with Taylor Jenkins Reid, who is amazing; Kennedy Ryan, who is a friend of mine. A lot of great events planned. I’m excited to go to some of these cities because there’s some I’ve never been to. I’ve never been to Tucson. I’ve never been to Cincinnati. There’s another one I’ve never been to. Oh, I’ve never been to Savannah. I’ve heard Savannah is a great eating city, so I have a list of places to go. I’m excited. Good restaurants.

Zibby: I’m going to go to Tucson and Cincinnati too, so maybe I’ll see you.

Tia: Great. Okay, I’ll see you there.

Zibby: Cincinnati just for the day for Winter Institute as a publisher. I’m making the rounds. Tucson, I’m really excited about. I feel like I was there maybe as a kid or something, but I haven’t been. I could use some nice weather, I’m sure. It’s the doldrums here. Anyway, what advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Tia: I would say to not try to follow trends. If you’re a romance author, don’t get so caught up in tropes. Just write the book that tickles you. Write the book that doesn’t exist yet. Write the book that lives inside you. When you start doing a bunch of market research and you’re too plugged into what the market is demanding right now — first of all, by the time your book comes out, everyone will be onto something else anyway. The best thing to do is just go with what you’re really interested in at the time. Try not to think about who’s going to be reading it and why they’re going to be reading it. I never think about those things. That’s not your job as a storyteller. That’s my advice.

Zibby: Amazing. Excellent. Thank you for A Love Song for Ricki Wilde.

Tia: Thank you for having me. So fun.

Zibby: No problem. My pleasure. Good luck. I’ll see you on your tour. Bye, Tia.



Purchase your copy on Bookshop!

Share, rate, & review the podcast, and follow Zibby on Instagram @zibbyowens