Julia Quinn has been living the dream for a while now, but the past month has been a whole other story.
Quinn is the author behind the Bridgerton series, which has now been turned into a hit Netflix TV show produced by Shonda Rhimes 20 years after the first book (The Duke and I) was first published. In fact, Netflix just called the show its "biggest series ever" and said that 82 million households have clicked play. The stars gained millions followers overnight and TikTok has blown up with Bridgerton trends, including a whole musical.
The whole world is obsessed, and Quinn is basking in the joy of it all.
"It's kind of funny," she tells E! News. "People saying, 'How are you feeling?' and I'm just like...every day something new and amazing happens and I just am smiling so hard that I just break out into spontaneous laughter. It's insane and wonderful."
For Quinn and for new Bridgerton fans everywhere, the show and the revived interest in the books (which are sold out all over the place) have been such a bright, pandemic-free spot in a year filled with hardship and sadness. Quinn says that's sort of the point of a romance novel, and she's thrilled with how many people are discovering that fact.
"It's this great escape, and that's what I've been doing my entire professional career," she says. "I write romance novels, which at their heart are escapist happy fiction. It's all about the happy ending."
Critics have complained, Quinn says, about romance novels being a "formula," but she says it's less about the formula and more about certain parameters.
"You have to open with a couple meeting or re-meeting and then you have to have a happy ending, just like in a mystery novel, you have to open up with a dead body and you have to solve it. Romance novels are all about the guaranteed happy ending," she explains. "I think people who don't know anything about that genre or haven't gravitated to that genre, I think until they saw Bridgerton they had no idea what they were really missing."
Who among us doesn't desperately want a happy ending right now?
"It's just this strange dichotomy," Quinn says, "that you've got this dumpster fire all around you and you have this spot of something that's not just good but incredible."
That dichotomy is especially apparent in Quinn's own house. Her husband is a doctor of infectious diseases and while Quinn's been doing interviews about Bridgerton, he's been on TV talking about COVID-19.
"We've been in the thick of it," she says. "He's exhausted all the time and has done probably 200 interviews since the pandemic began, and that's just on top of his regular job. He's working so hard and it's nice to come home and I'll be like, 'I'm No. 1 on the New York Times list!' and his whole face lights up. It's nice to have such joy in the mist of such a difficult time."
The show's success has infiltrated Quinn's home life in other delightful ways, too, thanks to TikTok.
While the author is not a user of the video platform, she does have kids and many family members who keep her up to date on the way the show and the genre have spread across the app, especially in the form of a catchy musical led by Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear.
"I know all about the musical and that is just blowing my mind," she says. "I can't believe that's actually happening. I'll be sort of humming in the shower and realize I've been humming one of the Bridgerton the Musical songs."
As if to prove it, she sings a bit of the Eloise song, "If I Were a Man."
"Every single person in the world sends me them," she continues. "All the "I Burn For You" with Bernie [Sanders]? I got every Bernie meme imaginable. It's just sort if indicative of all this joy I'm getting just from people in my personal life. It's just making everybody so happy that everybody wants to send me every Bridgerton meme ever. And it's great."
Some authors might hesitate to hand their characters over to someone else to completely reimagine, but for Quinn it was "not hard, even a little bit."
"I mean, it's Shonda Rhimes!" she says. "To be precise, it's Chris Van Dusen who is the showrunner and also a genius, but when we first started talking to them, it was Shonda Rhimes, and she's an absolute genius. She's so smart. She's so accomplished. She has taken commercial television and really elevated it to an incredible art. I couldn't have imagined anybody better."
Quinn was asked if she was willing to give up creative control and had only one response.
"I said of course!" she recalls. "Because the smartest thing you could possibly do in this situation is to recognize and appreciate how smart other people are. I knew she knew what she was doing and I was not going to tell her what to do, and obviously I was right. I mean look at the results! I was never even nervous—I mean maybe, but not nervous about quality, just nervous because I'm excited. But I never worried that they were going to do something I wouldn't love."
Quinn originally planned to watch the season in a rented out movie theater, but the pandemic changed those plans. Instead, she sat at home in pajamas with her family, and they spent all of Christmas day binging the season and having tea, thanks to a fancy Fortnum and Mason tea set she got as a Christmas gift. She says it was "just as good" as it would have been to watch it in the theater, if not better.
Of course she loved it, and the show has even changed how she sees her own creations.
"I'm not a terribly visual writer...I've never had clear pictures of what the characters look like in my head," she says. "Now I do, which is kind of fun. I mean, I know what the Duke looks like now."
The first season of Bridgerton is now streaming on Netflix, and the show has been renewed for season two.