What's this? Curtis Sittenfeld has written a romantic comedy? Wait, isn't she a serious literary writer, a graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers Workshop whose work has appeared in the New Yorker and Vanity Fair? A writer whose bestselling novels (including "American Wife" and "Prep") have been translated into 30 languages, named to many "best of the year" lists and optioned for TV shows and movies? That Curtis Sittenfeld is writing a romcom?

Yes, she is. Actually, she already has. Her new romantic comedy — actually titled "Romantic Comedy" — is a serious novel about feminism, sexism and American popular culture. But it's also a delicious, funny romance that earns its star-spangled, candy-pink cover.

The story is about Sally, a writer for "The Night Owls," a TV comedy show a lot like "Saturday Night Live." Sally understands the rules of life: Ordinary-looking men can land gorgeous, accomplished women, but ordinary-looking women never land gorgeous, accomplished men.

And then a gorgeous, accomplished man — a singer named Noah — comes on the show as guest host. He notices ordinary-looking Sally. He notices that she's actually very smart and funny. He notices that she uses the word "actually" a lot. And sparks begin to fly.

We caught up with Sittenfeld by phone as she walked the frigid streets of her Minneapolis neighborhood. She talked about romance and humor, lumpy thighs and her brief love affair with "SNL."

Q: This novel follows the traditional form of a romance novel — attraction, obstacle, happy ending. Did you read a lot of romance novels to prepare?
A: I would say that romance and romantic comedies have been in my bloodstream from a very young age. I started reading romances in elementary school. Harlequins — what used to be called bodice rippers — I read those through high school. And I certainly watched many romantic comedies. I think just being a human I was prepared to write a romance.

Q: Is "Saturday Night Live" something you'd wanted to write about for some time?
A: No. I thought it would be funny if someone were to write a screenplay for a romantic comedy that makes fun of that phenomenon where men date-up to these super-gorgeous, talented female celebrities at the top of their game but ordinary women don't date super-famous gorgeous male celebrities.

I was actually working on a different book while thinking this, and then a few months passed and I thought, "Oh, maybe instead of someone writing a screenplay with this premise someone should write it as a novel and maybe that someone should be me."

Q: Why?
A: After my last book ["Rodham"], I said my next book would be short. Short and fun. And then I started working on this other book for about eight months and it was neither short nor fun. And I thought, there's no guarantee it would work but if I wrote that "SNL" book there's a 99 percent chance it would be really fun to research. It seemed as close as I could get to living inside a fun fictional world. And I really, really wanted that. It was not my lifelong dream to write an "SNL" novel. It was my short-term dream.

Q: You posted a picture on Twitter of some of the books you read to prepare — memoirs by Tracy Morgan, Colin Jost and Tina Fey, to name a few. Did you also go behind the scenes while "SNL" was filming?
A: I went to one dress rehearsal in March 2021. Foolishly, maybe arrogantly, I thought it will not be difficult for me to get a ticket and in fact it was. I was trying and not succeeding. I was at the St. Louis Park Target with my kid on a Tuesday and my agent called and said, "I can get you a ticket for the dress rehearsal for this Saturday."

I'm in Target, this is like four days away, I can't do it, and then I thought if I don't do it now, I am never going to set foot in the place, so I used my Sky Miles and l flew to New York for 17 hours. That was the only time, and if there's such a thing as an all-access pass I did not have one. It was very much like being herded — "Here, you're in this group and you're seated in the balcony."

Q: The book feels very real, not just the details but the emotions of putting on such a show. What other research did you do?
A: There's also an "SNL" YouTube channel where they have these little, almost five-minute documentaries that are "this is how the makeup department works, and this is how the costume department works." They're like a gold mine of information.

The actor James Franco made what appears to be a low-budget documentary called "Saturday Night" that follows a week in the life of a show. And I listened to a ton of podcasts.

This is such a dark time, I kind of walk around a lot, it'd be like me listening to Bowen Yang, the interview by Mike Birbiglia, and they'd both be funny, and I thought even if this book doesn't turn out well, doing research that requires me to listen to this is the best idea I've ever had.

Q: Your character Sally is funny and smart but she lacks confidence about her looks. She thinks her thighs look lumpy, she's not pretty enough to be seen with Noah. Do you think most women worry about these things?
A: I do think a lot of women struggle with that. I'm 47 and it seems like there's more expansive ideas of beauty among people who are younger, but I definitely know very talented, charming and also attractive women who, if they're being honest, will say very critical things about their appearance. I relate to it and it pains me on their behalf.

Q: This book is very funny — like, that whole segment on "what dogs search for on the internet." Does humor come naturally to you?
A: My kids helped me write that, which actually we did sitting in a school parking lot. I certainly do not see myself as primarily a comic writer and definitely not a comedian. But I think I do understand how to write a novel, and I was kind of like, "This is what I'll do, I'll go through life finding situations absurd or ridiculous or funny and I'll think, "That sounds like an 'SNL' sketch, and I'll write that down and use it in the book."

Q: What are the chances you're going to be invited to guest-host "Saturday Night Live"?
A: Not in my wildest dreams.

Laurie Hertzel is senior editor for books at the Star Tribune.

Romantic Comedy

By: Curtis Sittenfeld.

Publisher: Random House, 304 pages, $28.

Event: Book launch, in conversation with Julie Schumacher, 6 p.m. April 10, Parkway Theater, Mpls.; tickets $15-$51. bit.ly/3YMdmBy