Jo Jones has a lot to think about. The Hollywood screenwriter and former child actress has just signed on pen her biggest project yet, a big budget action flick featuring an iconic American comic book character, while dialing back her involvement in her successful television drama series. She’s bracing for the inevitable blowback that will come when the fanboys hear their favorite comic will be written by a woman, and an Asian American one at that. But Jo’s confident and levelheaded—one has to be in Hollywood—and helped along by her right-hand woman, assistant Emma Kaplan. Emma’s been trying to break into Hollywood’s creative industry, and her work with Jo has put her on a promising path to her dream of directing. Plus, Emma just really likes Jo—they just seem to click. Neither Jo nor Emma give much thought to their chemistry until a fateful evening when a photographer catches the two having what looks like an intimate moment on the red carpet at the SAG Awards. The Hollywood gossip machine swings into motion, and pretty soon, Jo and Emma are fighting rumors about their relationship, while privately avoiding talking about a relationship that, to everyone else, seems a pretty obviously good thing. Their slow burn realization of just how right they are for each other forms the core of Meryl Wilsner’s debut, Something to Talk About.
And it is a slooooow burn. Jo’s still in the closet—a come out to her show biz parents did not go well—and her status as the older, successful Hollywood big shot means her interest in the much younger, less connected Emma could be cynically viewed as less women mentoring each other and more Harvey Weinstein-sexual-favors-for-success. And Jo feels that all she could offer Emma is the loss of her privacy and a check on Emma’s creative ambitions. Emma, in the meantime, knows that Jo has been generous with her, but is so confused by the mixed signals Jo is sending that she can only conclude that Jo hates the extra publicity Emma has attracted and wants to gently shuffle her off the scene. By the time two thirds of the book has elapsed, the most the women have shared is that red carpet moment and an awkward non-kiss. The time is spent with other matters—a leak on set and a Weinstein-like character that fill out each woman’s characterization. When Jo and Emma finally trust each other enough to get together, it’s a sweet moment that shows how far they’ve come individually and as a couple and definitely ends the book on a high note.
The latter half of the book is definitely stronger than the first. Issues of pacing aside, Wilsner shows promise in writing strong characters like Jo. Wilsner packs a lot into their first novel—issues of power and race in Hollywood usually don’t show up in romance—and if characters sometimes sound like they’re hitting talking points, the issues raised directly shape the characters in their journey towards each other. Mainstream romance publishers are slowly coming to recognize the importance of LGBTQA+ stories to readers, and Something to Talk About is publisher Berkley’s first (of hopefully many more) queer female print romance title. Wilsner is slated to have another title appearing with the publisher. = Something to Talk About is recommended for readers who are patient with a slow, thoughtful love story in general, or contemporary LGBTQA+ romance and Hollywood insider fiction in particular.