Lee’s A Shot in the Dark (Dell, Sept.) pairs recovering alcoholic Ely Cohen with her teacher, hotshot trans photographer Wyatt Cole.

What was your take on writing a teacher/student dynamic?

I love the forbidden romance trope—I’m a fan fiction girl!—so I did want that to play some kind of role. But more than that, I wanted their relationship to be grounded in real commonalities. That Wyatt is in a position of potential authority over Ely is a source of a lot of anxiety for him. He’s very aware of the ways in which he could put Ely into a difficult situation. Ely, on the other hand, is just like, “This is a summer program, dude, who cares?” So they have different approaches to this dynamic, and a lot of their conflict comes from that disagreement.

How did you approach the sex scenes?

You want it to be hot, right? And because I’m queer myself, there’s a matter-of-factness to writing about queer sex. Ely and Wyatt are in very different situations when they meet. Ely’s returning to New York after having been gone a long time. Going to a queer club is her reclaiming New York as home: she’s getting involved with the queer community, she’s making friends, she’s finding lovers. Whereas for Wyatt, being trans and propositioning somebody, there’s risk involved. As a cis straight dude, if you ask somebody if they want to go home with you, what’s the worst that happens? As a queer or trans person, the risk is much greater. During queer sexual and romantic interactions, you’re doing this kind of risk analysis that has nothing to do with what you actually want in the bedroom.

Part of that first sex scene is a discussion about what Wyatt’s comfortable with. You make the negotiation a steamy part of the interaction.

This is being talked about recently with people of any sexuality and gender identity: the process of getting consent from somebody and making sure that consent is enthusiastic. I think there are lots of ways to make that hot! Of course, it can be inorganic to be like, “Hold on, stop for a sec. Is it okay if I do this?” But this is a romance book, so it was nice to step out of the social awkwardness of a real-world interaction for a second and think, if I could make this go perfectly, how would I do it?

You ground Ely and Wyatt’s relationship in mutual support. Why was that important?

I think having that deep respect for each other, even in really difficult situations, can be a progenitor of attraction. Physical attraction is one part of it, but Ely and Wyatt see reflections of themselves in each other. It’s easy to look at the things you don’t like about yourself and think, “Why would anybody want to be with someone who has this unattractive quality?” But Wyatt and Ely are able to show each other new lenses on themselves. They help each other accept and love themselves, which makes them better able to love each other.