Jodie Slaughter draws on her experiences living with mental health issues and in a fat body in Bet on It (Griffin, July), which begins with a bingo-based sex pact and ends with two broken souls finding themselves and each other. “I hope readers connect with my characters—their struggles, their joys, their horny energy—and see something, the smallest thing, that makes them feel comforted or at home in this book,” she says. PW spoke with Slaughter about increasing inclusivity in romance and how she hopes to see the genre change in the future.

What was the inspiration for this book?

I always start with large concepts. I live in the South, not in a small town like Greenbelt [where the book is set], but in a similar place where neighborhoods are small, close-knit communities. I got the bingo idea while talking to an older family friend. I’m listening to her talk about this cast of characters, and these rules, and these faux pas, and I was like, this is the perfect setting for something I’ve been wanting to do—to explore troubled community relations.

Why is it important to engage with mental health issues in romance?

I was struggling with my own mental health issues. Being able to put so much of what I was feeling, what I was afraid of, what I was learning in my new therapy journey into this book was cathartic. Every part of my life is colored by my own experiences with mental health issues. There are romance novels doing such a good job of representing a holistic view of mental health struggles. I wanted to add my little stick to the fire.

What role do bodies and intimacy have in this book?

I’m fat and have been my entire life. It’s not something that I would change; it’s something other people make very difficult. Being fat doesn’t mean anything when it comes to my ability to give and receive love and care and comfort, and also to have really good sex. We need a more holistic view of fatness and representations of fat bodies that are not the “perfect hourglass.” It was important to me to mention that Asia has fat arms. I’d love to see more fat people who are fucking and existing in ways that aren’t respectable.

What are your hopes for readers?

It’s an incredibly tender romance novel at its heart. Both of the characters cling to the idea of being loved and loving. I want to devastate readers—for them to be sad and to feel the catharsis and joy of being loved and cared for by their community, by a partner or partners, by their family, in spite of their mental health issues. I hate being aggressively earnest, but this is just what I want to say to all the mentally ill babes: “I love you and you’re doing well.”

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