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Tia Williams is a romantic at heart. Her books are proof

Williams says her books, including her latest novel, "A Love Song to Ricki Wilde," are "a gift from me, to Black women. Whoever else loves it is fabulous."
Courtesy Francesco Ferendeles / Amazon

The idea of a free-spirited florist falling for a brooding jazz musician in the streets of Harlem was enough to hook many of bestselling author Tia Williams’ fans.

But add in the enchanting setting of one of the most storied times in Black history, a wise adopted grandmother and a surprising, mystical twist? "A Love Song for Ricki Wilde" is essentially a modern fairytale.

The book's plot sounds like something out of a dream, but its creation was the opposite: Williams got the idea for her latest novel in 2021 during a bout of insomnia.

“I was sort of hit all at once with these very disparate elements. It was like: A haunted piano, fabulous brownstone, Harlem Renaissance. I needed a show girl, florist. And I was like, ‘OK, I guess I just need to stitch a story together out of these things,’ because it literally dropped out of the sky into my head,” she tells TODAY.com.

She calls the experience a “great creative writing process.” With an unexpected magical twist, the novel sets itself apart from her previous romances: Among them, "The Perfect Find" (which became a Netflix film starring Gabrielle Union and Keith Powers in 2023), and Reese’s Book Club pick "Seven Days in June," which Will Packer Media and Kinetic Content recently announced they’re adapting into a series for Prime Video.

What her latest book shares with its predecessors is an irresistible combination of wit, sensuality, comedic timing, and passionate prose that display a clear love of...well, love, a sentiment the former beauty and fashion editor puts into every page.

TODAY chatted with Williams about "Ricki Wilde," her romance origin story and her upcoming YA spinoff.

The first line of a recent Publishers Weekly story about you reads: “Tia Williams is having a moment.” Do you feel like you’re having a moment? 

It definitely feels like a special time. It’s pretty exciting. And, you know, there’s only one dream I’ve ever had, and it’s to be a novelist. And to see after working in this industry for 20 years, it’s really exciting, after building up a readership all these years to see it all come together.

How were you first introduced to the romance genre?

I grew up in the ‘80s. My mom was obsessed with paperback romances. The ones with the clinch covers with women in bodices and the big old Fabio muscles. My sister and I, at very inappropriate ages, used to look through her romance novels. I was super into them. I also really liked glamour fiction, which was Jackie Collins and Judith Krantz and some of Danielle Steele. Those influences really informed the kind of writing that I ended up doing.

What was the first great Black love story you read or watched on film? 

My first historical romance was Beverly Jenkins. The first Black love story I ever read was "Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neale Hurston. The Janie and Tea Cake of it all just swept me away, and I’m always thinking of them when I write. But my absolute favorite Black love story on screen is obviously "Love Jones." I’m a Gen X’r. So this movie came out and I was their ages, basically. It was really like seeing yourself reflected literally — like, these are my friends. These are my people. I think it’s unmatched.

A huge part of the story in "Ricki Wilde" is the Harlem Renaissance. When did you first become interested in that time in history?

I’m a huge 1920s person, but I love the Harlem Renaissance era the most. What was happening there — the fact that the world was realizing that Black art and culture steers the ship. It became the first time that people really understood that what these people think is cool, and what they’re producing, is what we should keep an eye on. In terms of art, architecture, fashion, slang, music, the way the nightclubs looked. It was just this explosion in Black creativity, and there’s so much inspiration to be had.

I really wanted to write about someone coming up from the South — great migration times — to Harlem to seek a better life and the shock of it, the different unspoken racial rules. The idea that the lines are extremely clear in the South, not so clear in the Northeast. But it’s still a landscape that you have to learn and understand to be safe.

You clearly did so much research looking into the history of the neighborhood and A-Listers of the time.

What’s funny is I didn’t have to do a lot of research on the people. The research that I really did have to do was Harlem as a place itself. I’ve lived in Brooklyn for 27 years. And this makes no sense to anyone who doesn’t live in New York, but Brooklyn and Harlem are complete opposites. They’re so far away, the train takes forever. So I got on the train, like a tourist with a notebook, and walked around trying to teach myself what Harlem felt like.

Ezra and Ricki’s relationship felt grounded and believable. When you were developing their story, what was most important for you?

What’s always important for me is building a case for the love. I want the reader to understand that they’re supposed to be together. I never want it to be one of those books where you’re just told that they’re meant for each other, instead of showing that they’re meant for each other. It’s so important that it’s clear that these people really like each other, like, they’d be friends if they weren’t in love.

A big surprise for me after reading your other books was not only the historical element, but the magical realism. 

It wasn’t something I set out to do. The magical realism happened because the story called for it. Because I wanted to write an enchanted love story. I wanted voodoo to be involved, and I wanted the magic of leap year because it takes place now — February of 2024, which is a leap month. I read somewhere that people think that because a leap month is so odd, the veil between this world and other worlds is thin, and so things can seep through. I just love that idea. 

In the acknowledgements, you said that you don’t want your daughter reading your books until she’s 35. If your daughter hasn’t read them, has your husband?

My daughter is not allowed! She’s 15, and she reads spicy books all the time, which is fine. But I think when the spice is coming from your mom, that’s just … it’s a no until she’s definitely over 35.

(My husband) loves them. He knows me better than anyone else. So for him to read it, he knows exactly what parts of me and what parts of him end up in these books and a lot of us and a lot of our details show up in the books. I think it’s interesting for my husband and my family to read my stuff because they know me on a different level.

Are you working on anything new right now?

I just finished my next novel. My next manuscript, which is a YA rom-com, it’s about Audrey, who is the daughter of Eva in "Seven Days in June." She’s 12 in "Seven Days in June," but in this book, she’s 16. It’s her summer after 11th grade, and she’s checked all the boxes. She’s president of the class, she’s this, she’s that. She’s running things, but she realizes that she doesn’t know how to have fun. So she hires this kind of a wild guy to teach her how to have fun for the summer.

How have your own experiences with love or romance affected how you write it in your books?

I love love. I believe in it. I believe in love at first sight, all of that. I’m a very romantic person. I romanticize life. How grim and sad is your life if you can’t mythologize it? Because life is hard. So I’ve always just tried to make a story out of everything. I don’t want things to be run of the mill. I want everything to be high stakes, more vivid than average: The most interesting people you’ve ever met, the funniest dialogue, the best sex, like ever. Because ultimately, this is a gift from me, to Black women. Whoever else loves it is fabulous. But that’s my first target, and so I want it to be a real fantasy.