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Inside Queer Rom-Com 'Red, Hot and Royal Blue': A Talk with Novelist Casey McQuiston

by Steve Duffy
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Sep 9, 2019
Casey McQuiston
Casey McQuiston  

With her debut novel "Red, Hot and Royal Blue," Casey McQuiston tells the story of the son of an American President who falls in love with a British prince. Their romance doesn't begin well: Alex Claremont-Diaz, the son of the American President Ellen Claremont, has long disliked British Prince Henry and a very public (and embarrassing) encounter at a royal wedding only makes things worse. To rectify the bad optics, Alex and Henry pretend to be friends, with surprising and unexpected results. (The time is the present, in an alternative universe in which the Democratic Party candidate Claremont won the 2016 election.)

The New York Times called Ms. McQuiston's first novel an "exquisite debut;" adding "McQuiston masterfully navigates two very different political realms, conjuring the quick-fire decision-making of a progressive White House and the iron-grip traditionalism of Buckingham Palace with equal skill. That would be impressive enough, but it's nothing compared to the consuming vividness of Alex and Henry. They shine as individuals — it's especially lovely to watch Henry emerge from behind his royal facade — and when they fall in love, the intensity of their infatuation, youthful but not immature, is intoxicating. They're perfect for each other, but hardly perfect; McQuiston manages to make her characters believably, truly flawed while still utterly lovable. The stakes are high, too, personally and politically, for every misstep and mistake. And they make plenty, especially Alex. It's hard to watch him fall in love with Henry without falling in love a bit yourself — with them, and with this brilliant, wonderful book."

With great reviews, the book became one of the summer's hottest reads — quite an achievement for a writer in her debut as a novelist. Part of the novel's appeal comes with McQuiston's mining cultural memes — Alex and Henry feud in the tabloids, then communicate with emails and social media. Yet despite its rom-com conventions, "it's also a highly specific story — a queer romance as interested in flirty Snapchats as it is in addressing its characters' struggles with anxiety and depression. It's honest in a way that resonates in an era where more and more millennials are openly discussing their mental health issues," writes Vanity Fair.

EDGE spoke to McQuiston about writing a queer rom-com, her sudden success, and the novel's upcoming film adaptation.


No one is going to want to buy this

No one is going to want to buy this

EDGE: Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Casey McQuiston: Oh sure! I am originally from southern Louisiana and moved to north Colorado about a year ago. This is my debut novel. I see myself as a queer rom-com author who writes full-time now. I have a dog named Pepper, she is a poodle mix. I love her to death.

EDGE: "Red, White & Royal Blue" has very rightfully racked up some rave reviews. When you were writing it, did you have any idea that it would be on the New York Times Best sellers list?

Casey McQuiston: Absolutely not! When I first wrote it, I remember sitting back and thinking: this is a queer, new adult genre kind of straddling political romantic comedy with a subplot of gerrymandering and no one is going to want to buy this. I wasn't even sure if there was a market for this story. If I didn't find an agent, I was going to self-publish if it didn't pan out traditionally. I am glad that the story found its people and I feel incredibility lucky.

EDGE: As a queer female writer, what drew you to tell the story of two men in love?

Casey McQuiston: From the beginning, I knew that I wanted to write queer rom-com. This turned out to be the story that I finished first and really believed in and could sell. It wasn't that I set out to write this story about two men, it was more about the pairing of the two main characters. The way that mainstream media engages with queer male couples versus queer female couples, I feel is really different. For the plot to play out the way that it did, I felt like it had to be about two men. I am not sure if the consequences would be the same if it was about a first daughter and a princess. At the end of the day, I felt like it was about queerness and where these two people fit into queer history.

EDGE: What research did you do in order to create Alex and Prince Henry's world?

Casey McQuiston: It was a lot. I watched "VEEP" and "The West Wing." Probably not the most historically accurate, but it did give me a baseline about the atmosphere and the tone. I do have a lot of friends that work and live in DC and they have told me that if you want to know what it is like to work in these types of administrations then you should watch "VEEP." It is terrifying because everyone on that show is a disaster. I also read some biographies of first families and the Royals. There is a website called, www.whitehousemuseum.org that is not actually paid for by the government, its just put together by a bunch of history nerds. It was very helpful to me because that is how Alex engages with history.

EDGE: Whom — if any — of your characters do you best identify with?

Casey McQuiston: Its hard to say. I think that with every author and especially every romance author there is this level of self-therapy to writing. I think that you give different parts of yourself to every character. There is a lot of myself in Alex. He is from the south, he has ADHD, he is intense but then Henry is this different side of me. He's very melancholy and a few other things. I would love to say its Nora, because she is really cool, and I want to be her. She is definitely too cool for me to relate to.


EDGE: I love how you included some gay history representation. Why was it important to include this both for you as the writer and for Alex and Henry's relationship?

Casey McQuiston: As soon as I knew what the premise of the book was going to be, I really wanted to get the sense of scope for what this would mean to the reader. For me, the kind of queer stories that I write don't exist in a vacuum and I want them to feel like there is a bigger picture to it. What makes me feel proud about being a queer person is being connected to the roots of what came before me. I also knew there would be some people who are not queer, or baby queers that have not looked into their history, so it's a queer history lesson for them.

EDGE: I read that Amazon Studios bought the rights. Who would be your dream cast?

Casey McQuiston: Yes, they have. It's incredible and so exciting. It's so hard because I have talked about the cast with the producers and the executives. We all feel like for Alex and Henry, we want a relative unknown for those parts. I don't want to stunt cast them. You don't want to look at those characters and see some celebrity that you have known forever. You want it to be someone who can step into and embody that role and let you fall in love with them, not the celebrity. Assuming the movie is good, which I am hoping it will be, it will be a break-out role for them. If I could cast anyone it would be Connie Britton as President Ellen Claremont. She would just be perfect for it. She has that whole Texas grittiness to her while also being super-beautiful and having this authority about herself that I could totally see her as President.

EDGE: How do you feel if straight actors were to play these roles?

Casey McQuiston: It's hard to say, but I always want to prioritize other queer creatives. I would never demand for an actor to be openly queer to be in the movie. I don't know what his situation is, maybe he is queer, but not out. It would be amazing if both roles were played by queer actors and that would be the ideal situation, but I would never require it.

EDGE: How involved will you be in transitioning it to the big screen?

Casey McQuiston: It's all still early in development. With Hollywood and movie adaptions lots of books are optioned in but never move into production. I will say that Amazon has been really wonderful every step of the way. They seem very excited to work with me. I also sense that they want it to be a really collaborative process. I really don't want to be crazy involved, because I have other books to write. They are the ones who make movies, so they know what they are doing. From the work that we have done so far, they really care about the integrity of the story. Basically, how much do I want to be involved? I really believe it is in good hands.

EDGE: What message do you hope readers take away from "Red, White & Royal Blue"?

Casey McQuiston: What I was aiming for is a sense of hope, joy and pride. Things might suck right now, and the world is very dark place at this moment, but that there are possibilities that it will change. There are good people out there who are working very hard to make change happen and that we can have something to believe in. What I am really proud about is that people will see a queer love story center and it given a rom-com package that is shiny and fun. I would love to see more publishers take more chances on queer stories.

"Red, White & Royal Blue" is available on Amazon and at bookstores. For more information on Casey visit, visit her website.


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