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Author Meryl Wilsner on Writing MILFs, Age Gaps, and Twisting Tropes

If there is one thing I love in this world, it is a romance novel. If there are two things I love in this world, they would be a romance novel and a MILF. So you can imagine how overjoyed I was when I learned about Meryl Wilsner’s sophomore romance novel, Mistakes Were Made. A queer romance about a college senior who hooks up with a hot older woman, only to discover the next morning that the hot older woman in question is her best friend’s mother?? Sign me the hell up!

I had already read Something To Talk About, Meryl’s charming debut, and I was frankly dying to get my hot little hands on Mistakes Were Made the second I heard about it. And now that I have, I am thrilled to report that it is an utter delight — sweet and funny and, it must be said, very sexy! It’s filled with all the little things Meryl does so well in their books: characters who feel real and like friends you already know, funny, breezy dialogue that is never overwrought, and did I mention the sex? The sex is…very good!

Luckily enough for me (and thanks, in large part, to The Morning Show), Meryl and I have become friends over the last few years, and they are always my favorite person to talk about writing with. They have so much love for the craft and the people in their community that they are just kind of infectiously joyous about it? Plus, they are smart as hell, so what’s not to love? I was delighted to interview them about Mistakes Were Made, their writing process, lightly trolling the community, and of course, all things hot older women.


Christina: Meryl, you wrote the MILF book! Talk to us about it. Wait, actually let me be professional, let’s use its proper title! Though I do remember a period where you were trying to find a title where MILF was the acronym.

Meryl: I did try to get “Make It Last Forever.” And it’s a decent title, to be honest!

Christina: It does, perhaps, beget a different energy than the book maybe has? It’s not like the book is not charming and romantic — it is a romance! It does the things it says on the tin. But “Make It Last Forever” is a little more wistful, Nicholas Sparks-esque?

Meryl: It’s also aware that the characters have feelings for each other in a way that this book does not? Wait — we never actually said what this book is called! It is called Mistakes Were Made. 

Christina: There we go!

Meryl: They did include “Make It Last Forever” when they were sending it around, because we came up with three or five or something. But Mistakes Were Made was what was chosen, which I think is like, perfect.

Christina: It is perfect! Mistakes Were Made, it’s gorgeous. What is it about?

Meryl Wilsner: Mistakes Were Made is about a college senior named Cassie, who has a one night stand with a hot older woman who she meets at a bar, and then the next day she goes to breakfast with her friend and her friend’s mom Erin…who is the woman she slept with the night before.

Christina: A tale as old as time, truly. Now, something I know about you is that you have a real deep love for the idiots-to-lovers trope.

Meryl: Yes, idiots-to-lovers is my brand. I think I will always write idiots-to-lovers. Whether it takes people a really long time to figure out they have feelings, or they just insist that they don’t have feelings, or they insist that the other person couldn’t possibly have feelings for them. Just any form of being very stupid when it comes to emotions, that’s what I love.

Christina: It’s what you love in life as well as in art.

Meryl: So we have idiots-to-lovers, my favorite trope of all time. I don’t think “best friend’s mom” is technically a trope? Maybe this could kick it off.

Christina: I think we should kick off a whole slew of them, frankly.

Meryl: Well, you and I are still gonna write the MILF/Tiktoker book, don’t forget that.

Christina: No, I will not forget that. I mean, I know it’s like, eighth, on your list of possible book ideas at this moment. I’m not particularly stressed about it. You are gonna remind me when the time comes in, like, 2025.

Meryl: We do have a while. So the other trope in Mistakes Were Made is technically friends with benefits to lovers? Which is sort of weird, if your friend with benefits is your best friend’s mom? But that is basically what happens!

Christina: As I love to say, friendship can look like anything.

Meryl: And you’re right that “Make It Last Forever” is just way too wistful, because this book is absurd. In a great way!

Christina: I think there are many places — especially in queer romance — to have a wistful moment! But these dumb dumbs, who I love with all of my heart, to be clear, are simply not it.

Meryl: They have their own little romantic moments that for the most part, they — or at least Cassie — doesn’t realize are romantic. But for the most part, they are just dumb dumbs.

Christina: What is it about the dumb dumbs that you love so much? Why is this like a trope that you keep coming back to?

Meryl: Because I am also stupid? [laughs]

Christina: [laughs] Well, I think that’s a gorgeous little bit of self awareness!

Meryl: Like, my wife and I met online. Neither of us were looking for someone to date, certainly not someone who lives very far away, but we just ran in the same circles where all the queers lived at the time: Tumblr. And she sent me a gift card for my birthday, and I was like “Is she just a really nice person?” She liked me, it turns out.

Christina: Huge Wait Is This A Date energy? You just decided to get married, and I decided to start a podcast.

Meryl: So yeah, I think there’s a bit of a habit among, especially among — I never know what word to use — sapphic, I guess? Even though I no longer identify as sapphic because I realized I’m not a woman. But being raised within the wlw community, if you will. We’re all stupid and don’t know what we want!

Christina: “Bestselling Romance Author Calls All Queers Stupid!” There’s the pull quote. I do feel like idiots-to-lovers is a very satisfying trope to read. It gives you that fun perspective of talking to a friend and being “like, bro, what are you talking about? Of course they like you!”

Meryl: And I like the dual point of view with idiots-to-lovers so like, you get mad at the characters? Like with Something To Talk About, you got mad at them because it took so long for them to get together.

Christina : Let’s talk about the differences in Something To Talk About and Mistakes Were Made. I remember when I was recommending Something To Talk About to anyone who would listen, I would say “it is the slowest of slow burns!”

Meryl: Mistakes Were Made is much less of a slow burn!

Christina: Exactly! When I was telling people you had another book coming out, I said,”Fret not! In chapter one… there is fucking!” I know Mistakes Were Made was born from a fanfic, but did you ever think about changing the beginning? Or were you always like, “it has to start with fucking?”

Meryl: The fucking was always in chapter one. I tried to add a couple of things before, so that you knew a little bit more about who everybody was and who was involved. And my agent was like, “Why are we changing this? Why aren’t we just starting the bar? The bar was great!” I was like, “Okay, we’ll start with the bar!”

Christina: It’s also very fun to be like, yeah, my first one was absolutely the slowest of slowest burns. And now guess what? Plot twist!

Meryl: I am large. I contain multitudes! And I do love a slow burn! I don’t think when they hook up denotes goodness or quality or whatever.

Christina: Yeah, they’re just different types of books.

Meryl: And I love them both!

Christina: Both are valid. [laughs]

Meryl: [laughs] There is one thing that is the same in both of them. I can’t remember if it was a Tiktok or Instagram comment, but somebody commented something like, “This author loves MILFS, I’m here for it!”  And I was like, wow you’re not wrong, but this stranger didn’t have to just put it so precisely!

Christina: Well, and it’s a large part of our friendship, this love of MILFs! Do you find it challenging to write age gaps? Do you see yourself ever stepping away from the MILFs? Please say no!

Meryl: In my next book, there’s only like a four year age gap. It’s very strange for me! I love older women, that is always going to be part of what I write. But really, I love any trope that makes it like a forbidden romance — but not in a “she’s 16 way.”

Christina: Always good to be clear!

Meryl: Just to clarify! Basically, I love both reading and writing characters who are both like “we should not be doing this, but dear God, I have to do it anyway.” That’s my favorite. And so the age gap tends to lend itself really well to that. And, like obviously, with Mistakes Were Made, it’s her best friend’s mom! So of course they’re both like: “I should not be doing this.” But they do it a lot!

Christina: Like a beautiful amount!

Meryl: They make rules, and then they completely ignore them. And it’s lovely.

Christina: Rules are meant to be broken in so many spaces and in so many ways! Of course we need to be aware of all these varying dynamics when we interact with people, but sometimes — especially online — it can feel like actively erasing an adult’s agency? Like yes, someone in their mid twenties is young, but they are still an adult human who gets to make decisions for themselves! And something that I love about both of your books is that the younger character never feels infantilized or denied the ability to make a choice, even if it is messy.

Meryl: Everybody is a grown up, and their choices are fine! I think in Something To Talk About, age was more of an issue, even though it was a smaller age gap. In Mistakes Were Made, Cassie and Erin always meet each other as equals. Like, there’s not a “Oh, you’re just a kid,” sort of thing. Even when Erin wants there to be! She and Cassie just work together. They don’t have a crisis like, “oh, god, she’s so young, and I’m gonna die!”

Christina: Right! There are so many ways in which we have power differentials in relationships, and they’re always a thing you’re gonna have to work around. There’s always going to be an exchange of power in a relationship space.

Meryl: And I do love a dynamic where the one who has the power is like, a fucking mess for the other one. That’s really my favorite.

Christina: Oh yeah, absolutely. So both of us are gay, is what I am hearing?

Meryl: [laughs] Yes.

Christina: Good to know! Now, let me be a journalist again. Tell me about the process of writing Mistakes Were Made! Please be aware that I will check our texts and fact check you if you make something up.

Meryl: Please do! I don’t remember anything that’s ever happened to me! I would love to know what I said as I was writing this. It was so long ago!

Christina: I think around the time we became friends, you were working on changing POVs. I have a lot of “I am changing POVs and I want to die” texts from you.

Meryl: I always say this in every interview because I think it sounds smart: We never learned to write books, we only learn how to write the book that we’re writing.

Christina: That does sound smart!

Meryl: Every time, I think “I don’t know if I can do this.” Actually, Mistakes Were Made was the first ever book-length manuscript that I finished. I did National Novel Writer’s Month, like starting in high school. But I would basically hit 50,000 words and then never look at that project ever again. So I had written long things, but I had never completed a long thing. This was the first one that I finished. But it was mostly written for myself and my friends at the time, who were like, who took my one-shot fanfic and were like “What if this happens? What if that happens?”

Christina: That is what friendship is!

Meryl: That was really fun, to get to write it for myself. One thing that has stayed the same throughout my process is that I like to have the end somewhat figured out. I like to have something to write toward. I didn’t know that this was going to turn into a book-length project. Even as I was writing, I was like, “This is gonna be like, chapter two of three.” And then it was like, three of five…

Christina: I love that as you’re talking about this, I can see the fanfic tags.

I always say this in every interview because I think it sounds smart: We never learned to write books, we only learn how to write the book that we’re writing.

Meryl: Coming back to it was so different! Now I have somewhat of an idea how to write a book? And how to plot stuff? When I first wrote what would become Mistakes Were Made, I had no idea what I was doing. I was just having fun. I think I am a much more efficient writer now — but don’t call me out on that!

Christina: I am absolutely not going to call you out, due to friendship and love. You are absolutely the most efficient writer I’ve ever seen.

Meryl: Thank you, I love you. But Mistakes Were Made was not supposed to be the next book. I was working on revising another book, and it was not going well, and then I switched agents. My new agent was like “you can take some space from this and work on something else.” My relationship with writing was so messed up at the time, and when I got back into Mistakes Were Made, it was like wow, this is very fun! I enjoy this! After that, every time I had a good writing day, I felt like I needed to tell everyone I knew — just because it had been so long since I’d done that.

Christina: Which is great, because I am going to ask more process questions! I know you are not a plotter, which I think is brave. You are a person who sees big conflicts, sees a resolution, sees how they get resolved, sees the ending. But you are not a person who is outlining things like “this is the scene where these things happen, and this is when this person is introduced” and so on.

Meryl: Oh, God never to that extent! But I am plotting more as I am becoming someone who writes, instead of just writing whatever the fuck I want.

Christina: To describe it as “someone who writes” instead of, as we say in the biz, “a writer” is very funny to me.

Meryl: Well I’m trying to become a quit-my-day-job-author.

Christina: And I? I love that for you. You’ve found that encourages more structure in your writing?

Meryl: Yeah, as I started writing on contract, I’ve leaned more into plotting. And I realized that I always thought that I wasn’t a plotter because I don’t have a written down outline. But I talk about every idea that I have. I do a lot of sort of… flailing at people as my plotting? I just never thought about it as a form of plotting before.

Christina: You are a community-based plotter, and I think that is really beautiful. It’s what being queer is about.

Meryl: I just love to yell at people! I love when something gives me a feeling and then I yell it at someone else, so it will give them a feeling. My friend Zabe is very good at saying “yes, and then this can happen.” If I like it, I’m like, “Yes,” and I run with it. If I don’t like it, I’m like, “Cool, but actually, this happens.” And we don’t take offense at the other person, we’re not like “that’s a stupid idea. I’m not going to do that.” I think part of that is from becoming friends through fanfiction. When the characters weren’t ours, there was no reason to be offended.

Christina: I mean, obviously, I’m aware of this based on how our friendship began!

Meryl: You know, I immediately rewatched The Morning Show because you were obsessed with it, and I was like “I am obsessed with Christina and must become her friend, let me rewatch this.”

Christina: You know, I can’t say that I’m proud to have created that kind of response to that particular program? But I am very much a person who gets hyperfixated on things, and you were lucky enough to come into my life during one of my most unwell eras!

Meryl: I feel like that’s what I do with my book ideas. I hyperfixate on an idea for a week, and I send it to everyone who I know will care about it. Do I do anything after that? No, absolutely not.

Christina: Well, I have learned — largely due to your influence — that it actually can be helpful to talk to people about things that you’re working on and the problems that you’re having. Like, when writers talk about their process, it usually feels so solitary? And what I love about your process is that you are like “yeah, this was hard and then I talked with 18 different friends, and then everyone gave me different answers and different plot points, and I pulled it all together!” I think that’s very delightful.

Meryl: I don’t know that I would be able to write books without people! I will often just text somebody and be like, “Okay, do you like, do you have time at some point today or this week to talk about my book? I need to tell you the problem I’m having.” And I do it with [my wife] Brooke, but Brooke usually just responds with “you’ll figure it out.” And I’m like, “No, I need you to give me the answer!”

Christina: Wow, what a top response!

Meryl: But the thing about this kind of problem solving is that a lot of what I actually get from talking to other people is when someone suggests something that I know is wrong. That can be incredibly helpful.

Christina: So you can be like: “oh no that would never happen” because something someone says makes you realize you know a lot more about your characters than you thought?

Meryl: Exactly, that is really, really helpful to me. Like, for Something To Talk About, I did Pitch Wars. And my mentor wrote a lovely edit letter. They spent a fair amount of time saying “here’s the issue. And here’s a potential way that you could solve that issue.” But I was like, “absolutely not, we’re not going to do that.” But because she did that, that was the only reason that I figured out what I was going to do instead. And sometimes I just need people to scream and be excited! Sometimes I need a cheerleader.

Christina: The compliments part, I totally get.

Meryl: It literally doesn’t even have to be a compliment. It can just be like a keysmash.

Christina: A keysmash is a compliment in the language of bottoms.

Meryl: I hadn’t thought about the fact that my process is not as solitary as it could be. Like, just hearing you say it that way is helping me realize that I get stuck when I am solitary. Bringing other people in is what helps me.

Christina: Well, in fairness, I hadn’t really thought about your writing that way until I said it. And now I’m like, okay go off journalist! But I do find it inspiring — maybe it will make me stop being such a solitary hermit when I am writing.

Meryl: I was gonna say okay, now you tell me all about your book, where are we?

Christina: On the record?!?! Talk about accountability practices!!

Meryl: That is actually a good idea! I was gonna say it doesn’t have to be on the record, but I’m like, mmm, maybe it should be.

Christina: Well, I am trying to figure out, like, what kind of writer I am? It is very challenging. I love that you know that you need to talk things out with people, but I was genuinely shocked to discover that talking with a bunch of writers was really helpful? It truly did not occur to me that that could be, like, helpful in any way? Which, like, hello?

Meryl: Idiots-to-lovers….[laughs]

Christina: Maybe it’s a trope that I don’t reach for because it hits too close to home? But like you, even when I am just writing fanfiction, the only way I’ve been able to finish is when I know exactly how it’s gonna end and I can write to the ending. That’s fine. Books are — what’s the word? Longer.

Meryl: Much longer. So many chapters!

Christina: The other thing I’ve realized over the last couple of weeks is that I kind of have to constantly be reading romance, if I want to write it.

Meryl: That’s so funny because I am literally the opposite.

Christina: I know so many people who are like “I cannot at all read romance when I’m writing romance!” But I was listening to the audiobook of the Fifth Season, and I was writing like a lunatic! I think part of it is that I am very good at mimicking tone, like, I read the thing, I can write a version of that thing. If I dip outside of that…all bets are off.

Meryl: I think that would be amazing though to be like, okay, only read thrillers but now write a contemporary romance! I love that idea. It could be something to play with! Once you have finished a book.

Christina: When and if! Words…are hard!

Meryl: I used to write so many words per day. Everyone tells you “oh once you start writing for a job, it is a job like everything else,” and I was always like “that will never happen to me, I love writing so much!”  And it’s like, oh, no, it will and has. But I am always trying to be more gentle with myself. Every time I cut myself a break, things go better for me. And every single break is still very hard to cut myself. There was a time where I was shooting just for like, I think 250 words was my goal per day. Because that way, if it was 10 o’clock, and I hadn’t done it yet, I was like, “okay, I can write one conversation.” And then often once you start, you end up like, “Oh, I actually wrote 500 words today.”

Christina: Something I’ve started doing when I don’t know where a scene is gonna take place or whatever, but I do know the dialogue is just write the dialogue and then layer these other parts in later.

Meryl: A first draft can be shitty! The second draft can be shitty! Like, as soon as Something To Talk About came out, it was a published book, and I could not change it. And there are so many things that I would change! I wrote about a TV show, and I never once mentioned a writers room, like, come on. So I’ve moved on from the like, “oh, the first draft can be shitty” to recognizing that even the final draft is not going to be perfect. Nothing is going to be perfect! I don’t strive for perfection on any draft.

Christina: …I’m just gonna write a note to myself for my next therapy appointment.

Meryl: And now that I’ve written more books, I realized things about my writing style. Like, I tend to know the dialogue fairly well.Then I will add in the details about the room they’re standing in, because I will not write it in the first draft. Just learning those things, like you were saying, like getting to know, what type of writer you are, makes it easier, even though I ended up having to sort of put my hands in the document more times because I’m like, “Now I will go through and add, you know, description.” That’s still easier and takes less time than if I sat there and tried to make this seem perfect before I move on and write something else.

Christina: I have a running note in my phone with things I remind myself as I am reading or going about my day. I had one the other day that says “Stop worrying about the tiny details and the timing! Literally no one will care!!”

Meryl: The people who are reading this book will not know how they do things! And the ones who do probably won’t even care that much! People always say, like with Something to Talk About “Oh, it’s so nice to get a behind the scenes look at Hollywood!” Again, I wrote about a TV show without mentioning a writers room! I did a fair amount of research, I talked to PAs — some of it is accurate! Some of it…is not!

Christina: It’s a romance! It is supposed to be fun. It is supposed to be transporting, it is not going to be a Barbara Walters special of whatever industry! But wait — can we talk about your next book for a moment? I recall when Cleat Cute was announced, there was a flurry of activity in the Slack here at Autostraddle HQ. So tell us about Cleat Cute!

Meryl: Cleat Cute is about a rookie and a veteran soccer player, both trying to make the World Cup roster, realizing that cooperation may be better than competition, both on the field and off. Basically, what I wanted to do was play with the miscommunication — which so many people hate.

Christina: Okay, let’s talk about your love of miscommunication.

Meryl: People miscommunicate all the fucking time! I like to take tropes and twist them a little bit. With Something To Talk About, I took fake dating, and I twisted it a little bit — it’s mistaken for dating. And in Cleat Cute, I am taking the miscommunication trope, where so many people are like, “if you would just have one conversation, this would be fixed.” And the characters have the conversations — but guess what! They miscommunicate! But it’s also friends with benefits and is somewhat idiots-to-lovers. They’re just idiots in different ways.

Christina: Miscommunication can mean so many things! Like not communicating with oneself about what one really wants, or having the self awareness to know that what you’re saying is perhaps deviating from how you actually feel. There are a lot of ways you can miscommunicate yourself.

Meryl: Or you think you’re talking about one thing, and you’re not! And the thing is, I like to write tropes that I know some people don’t like?

Christina: Just lightly trolling the community. I think that’s beautiful!

Meryl: I just want people to know what they’re in for!

Christina: Totally fair! I think it’s safe to say the people are going to be thrilled to pick up Mistakes Were Made and know they are in for: idiots, hot moms, and a lot of sex! Please do me the honor of telling our fine readers where they can get themselves a copy!

Meryl: You can get this baby anywhere books are sold, but the best place, in my humble opinion, is my local indie Schuler Books. Independent bookstores are the backbone of this nation, and also if you get it through Schulers, I’ll sign and even personalize it for you! The MILF book is also going on tour: Please come out and say hi! I’ll be at Books Are Magic in Brooklyn on October 13th, East City Bookshop in DC on October 15, and Women & Children First in Chicago on October 17th. You can find all this info and all the links you need on my Twitter @merylwilsner or my website merylwilsner.com. Thanks so much for talking to me; this was a lovely, if slightly unhinged, conversation, but I expect nothing less with you!


Mistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner is out today.


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Christina Tucker

Christina Tucker is writer and podcaster living in Philadelphia. Find her on Twitter or Instagram!

Christina has written 192 articles for us.

12 Comments

  1. this is so fun! i loved ‘something to talk about’ and have had milf book on my tbr since before it had a real name, but i am somehow even more excited for cleat cute? possibly because i’m embracing my sports fan side possibly because i’m a sucker for a good pun

    the love of idiots-to-lovers is something that can be so personal actually

  2. Meryl’s books are in my tbr queue, but now I want to know what fanfiction they write since I somehow feel into reading waaay too much Rizzoli and Isles fanfic during lockdown and there are some really talented writers in that fandom!

  3. I’m a queer author myself (I have only published in French so far, sorry for the disappointment if you’re all looking for some extra queer reading material haha) so… Thank you very much for this interview! It is always very interesting to hear other authors talk about their writing process and the characters they have created. My own protagonist is actually 50 years old when the saga starts, and she falls in love with a 28-year-old girl, so the age gap is part of it too. I wouldn’t be able to say why I decided to create someone who was 50, it just happened and felt right. And it’s only when I settled on it that I realized that I could actually develop a lot more topics / build ‘obstacles’ that we don’t often get to see/read with younger protagonists. It’s important to remember that being a woman doesn’t stop with menopause and such, that women over 50 exist and have a love life too, and that it’s all fine, and that they deserve their own ficticious protagonists too.

  4. Just got in line for these books at my library. What a fun interview. I definitely judge and get annoyed at characters’ poor choices while also being 100% guilty on the idiots-to-lovers trope in my own life. And I definitely went from “we should not be doing this” to cohabitating and engaged. So. I guess everyone is dumb. Or at least I am. Dumb and gay and loving it.

  5. I literally loved it so much I read it twice in a week and then I came to Autostraddle to find the interview with the author that I KNEW MUST EXIST and then to find out the interview was done by Christina Tucker whose The Morning Show recaps I have been lowkey obsessively re-reading recently… I’m dying. This was great! Thank you so much for the insight into the writing process of this great author. I am def going to read their first book!

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