Move over, Mrs. Robinson. There’s a new cougar in town. And she’s a lesbian.
You can find her in Michigan resident Meryl Wilsner’s new novel “Mistakes Were Made,” available Tuesday, Oct. 11 from St. Martin’s Griffin. The book starts off with a bang — literally — when Erin Bennett, who came to her daughter’s college for Family Week, unknowingly sleeps with a student and friend of her daughter’s. The resulting story is a sort of “The Graduate” for queer, millennial readers.
“Mistakes” is only Wilsner’s second published work, though they have been writing “since I can remember,” they told Pride Source. “I used to write on an old, huge desktop computer that my mom had. I started before I reached double digits.”
Wilsner wrote everything from poetry to a murder mystery, especially during lazy summers in a house on Lake Michigan. The scenery might have been idyllic, but Wilsner, who is non-binary, grew restless.
“I wanted to flee as soon as I got the chance,” they said, noting that the Grand Haven community they grew up in had nearly 30 churches in it, none of which helped Wilsner feel at home. “I only applied to colleges outside of Michigan. I didn’t want to be one of those people who stayed in their small hometown all their life.”
So Wilsner went to Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. After their four years were finished and they had earned a bachelor’s degree in political science, they were surprised to hear the Great Lakes State calling them home. Today, Wilsner lives in Grand Rapids with their wife.
“I realized once I did flee how much I loved it here, and how much I love a lot of people in it as well,” they said.
When Wilsner is not writing, they work by day as an executive assistant in a library “primarily because writing doesn’t pay particularly well. I still have a full-time job. But writing is definitely my dream.”
While Wilsner might not be rolling in moolah, they are making headway as an author. Their first novel, “Something To Talk About,” was released in 2020. Described by the American Booksellers Association as “the slowest of slow-burn romances in the best possible way,” Wilsner wasted no time in raising the steam level in their latest effort, beginning it with the aforementioned bang.
Wilsner explained that “Mistakes” was originally meant to be a one-chapter work of fan fiction.
“It was supposed to be this little one-shot piece … about these two people sleeping together,” they said. But their friends encouraged Wilsner to do more with it. While working on the story, “Mistakes” took on the subtitle of “The MILF Book” to Wilsner and their team.
“I tried to come up with a title that we could abbreviate to MILF,” they said. “I tried really hard. I’m thrilled with ‘Mistakes Were Made.’ I love the title. But ‘The MILF Book’ was always my joke.”
Looking ahead, Wilsner’s next two books are already sold (and were prior to the release of “Mistakes”). This is a remarkable accomplishment for a writer of queer fiction. And beyond those two, Wilsner said they have endless ideas for future books. In future works, Wilsner said they’d like to diversify their characters and offer representation of their own identities as someone who is non-binary and a person of size.
“Right now, there are so many queer female romances and there’s so much more of a community, and I’m really grateful for that,” they said. “I think it’s similarly helping when it comes to fat characters and I hope that continues … race, ability, size, everything.”
“I feel like fat characters are getting their happily-ever-afters way more than they used to,” they continued. “Olivia Dade is an author that writes fat heroines beautifully. Jenny Howe and ‘The Makeup Test.’ That has fat characters as well. So, I think the genre is slowly moving in the right direction when it comes to sort of a lot of different marginalization.”
As both a writer and a library employee, Wilsner said they are distressed by current efforts to ban queer books here in Michigan and across the country. “I am non-binary and that’s not something that I knew was a thing when I was younger. So being exposed to different identities would have been really helpful. Representation matters, and kids need to see themselves.”
Wilsner said the same is true for grown queer folk as well. “Even as adults, it’s really meaningful to read about people like you finding their happily-ever-afters,” they said. “It’s important and it’s something that gets overlooked in the adult sphere.”
So important, in fact, that it has inspired their own writing.
“I never previously considered ever writing a non-binary character until I read another book someone else had wrote,” they said. “I didn’t even realize it was possible.”