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Editor’s Note: Quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity. 

“In all honesty, ‘Mistakes Were Made’ was supposed to be a one-shot fanfiction,” author Meryl Wilsner said, laughing, in an interview over Zoom with The Michigan Daily. “Mistakes Were Made” is their sophomore novel, following their debut, a sapphic romance called “Something to Talk About.”

Wilsner shared that after their friends read what later became the first chapter of “Mistakes Were Made,” they were immediately invested in the story and asked Wilsner to continue with it. A whirlwind of a story featuring a fiery romance resulted. 

“Mistakes Were Made” centers around the relationship between 21-year-old college senior Cassie and almost-40-year-old Erin, who first meet when they lock eyes from across the bar. The moment in the book is memorable: “She was probably twice Cassie’s age, and honestly, Cassie wasn’t typically a cougar hunter … but this woman was way too hot to worry about any age difference.” Cassie goes on to buy Erin a drink, and things heat up quickly as she follows Erin into the bathroom — and later escalate further when Cassie finds out Erin is the mother of her newest friend. 

Wilsner is no stranger to controversial tropes; their first work gracefully depicts an evolving relationship between a boss and her assistant, so the choice to employ a risqué age gap doesn’t come as a shock. “I like dealing with power differentials,” Wilsner said. “I like the idea that there are two people that could stop themselves and should stop themselves, but don’t. The easiest way to make that play out is with an age gap — here, it’s Cassie and Erin recognizing that their own happiness matters more than anything else.” 

After Cassie and Erin’s one-night stand and subsequent awkward encounter the following morning featuring Parker — who is both Cassie’s friend and Erin’s daughter — the two women see each other again, and their spark is just as strong as it was that night in the bar. Both women are desperately trying to move forward — forget the age difference, how can Cassie date her best friend’s mom, and how can Erin date her daughter’s friend? — but neither can get the other out of her head. Parker, oblivious to their blatant attraction, invites Cassie home for the holidays to act as a buffer, given her own tense relationship with her mother. 

Though the developing relationship between Cassie and Erin is at the heart of the story, Erin’s relationship with Parker is also significant. Following her parents’ divorce, Parker harbors anger at Erin for ending her marriage. Their dynamic adds an interesting complexity to the book, as we see Erin struggle to navigate two pivotal relationships. We see that Erin is flawed, but more than that, we see how hard she tries to uplift her relationship with Parker while she prioritizes her romantic life for the first time in a long time.  

“Partly why the two have so many issues is that Parker hasn’t necessarily seen Erin as a full and complete person,” Wilsner said. “Mistakes Were Made” is more than a spicy FF (Female/Female) love story, it is an honest portrayal of both mother-daughter tensions and the excitement of new love.” Though Wilsner admits it’s difficult for them to write flawed characters — “Oh no, my characters are my babies. They’re perfect and nothing is wrong with them ever” — they say, it’s the characters’ faults that make them so captivating. 

In addition to personal flaws, Wilsner also details imperfect FF relationships. “There’s this idea that if you date women, everything will be fine — which, to be fair, is a joke I make a lot. But, I think that when the joke comes from outside the community, like if a straight woman is like, ‘Oh, I’m going to become a lesbian because that’s easier,’ you’re not seeing lesbians as people,” Wilsner said. 

“Obviously, there will still be issues in relationships, regardless of the gender of the people who are in them,” Wilsner said. “I write romances, so my stories are always going to have a happily-ever-after ending — but that ending always feels better when the characters have had to go through something to reach that point.”

Following the two weeks spent together over the holidays, Cassie and Erin’s relationship progresses. Though both women are hesitant to label the relationship between them, it’s apparent that they share sincere, unwavering feelings. When Parker learns about their relationship, and later accepts it, it becomes clear to Erin and Cassie that their hesitation to admit their feelings was never truly dependent on how Parker was affected, but was rather due to their own fears of accepting the love they deserve. 

“Like I said, I write romance novels, and they’re always going to end happily,” Wilsner said. “But, at the same time, I’m so grateful for the Queer writers who do write dark and sad Queer stories. Different people need different things, and I think it’s important to have a gamut of genres and tones, to have Queer people telling all different types of Queer stories.”

Wilsner’s debut work “Something to Talk About” was the first Queer female romance in print from its publisher, Berkley Books. “One of the biggest differences between the release of ‘Something to Talk About’ and ‘Mistakes Were Made’ is that there are now so many people writing Queer female romances, and I love that so much,” Wilsner said. “It’s nice to not just have a community, but to be continually expanding the community.”

Throughout our interview, they share some of their favorite Queer authors and their respective recent or upcoming releases, like Ashley Herring Blake’s “Delilah Green Doesn’t Care,” and Taleen Voskuni’s “Sorry, Bro.” They specifically point out Anita Kelly’s “Love & Other Disasters,” which features an openly non-binary protagonist. “Even as a non-binary author, I didn’t recognize that was an option for me to write,” Wilsner said. They promise that one of their future books will have a non-binary main character, stating, “I don’t know if that’s something I would have done without reading Kelly’s work.”

Until then, Wilsner will spend the upcoming weeks on tour for “Mistakes Were Made.” Since their first book came out in May of 2020, they didn’t have the chance to do signings or see the novel in stores until long after its release. “I’m really excited to see what the tour will be like, and to have my book out in the world,” Wilsner said. “This time around is going to be a very different experience.”

“Mistakes Were Made” is a lively story about the simultaneous complexity and simplicity of love. Wilsner’s sophomore work is a strong and compelling follow-up to their lovely debut novel, both of which demonstrate Wilsner’s talent for writing authentic and electrifying Queer female romances. After talking with Wilsner, it’s clear that their passion for Queer and sapphic stories is genuine. It was exciting to discuss their work with them in addition to hearing their thoughts on Queer representation and the influential, inspiring Queer authors shaping today’s literary world. Wilsner is an author you don’t want to miss, and “Mistakes Were Made” is a book you won’t soon forget. 

Managing Arts Editor Lillian Pearce can be reached at pearcel@umich.edu