On Thursday April 22, the Wellesley Book Club hosted author Casey McQuiston for a Q&A. Casey McQuiston is the author of new adult books Red, White & Royal Blue, and the upcoming One Last Stop. At the event, McQuiston shared insights into their writing process, the inside worlds of their books, advice and book recommendations.
Red, White & Royal Blue is a queer romantic comedy featuring Alex Claremont-Diaz, the charming, biracial, bisexual first son of the United States, and his longtime nemesis, Henry, the Prince of Wales. One Last Stop is about August, a young woman struggling through her twenties by waiting tables, only to become enamored with Jane, a woman who rides the Q train with her every day. Eventually, she finds out that Jane is displaced in time, and August must help her return to the 1970s.
When asked to describe themselves and their books in three words, McQuiston answered with chaotic, camp and comfy. I would describe them as fun, queer, ensemble romcoms.
McQuiston shared a lot about their writing process, especially crafting characters. They like to play on traditional character tropes: Alex is supposed to be a play on the charming, Kennedy-style rising political star, while Henry is a spin on the prince-charming trope with a “dash of Diana.” McQuiston said that Henry and Alex came to mind “fully formed,” but creating the characters of One Last Stop took a little more work.
In some ways, they reverse-engineered August for the plot, because they needed a character who would be able to solve Jane’s mystery. From there, August became a spin on a teenage detective who grew up – a Veronica Mars type who was raised by a single parent and is now struggling to be out in the world by herself. Meanwhile, Jane is a quintessential public transportation crush: a dream girl. She is also an activist and a butch lesbian, which McQuiston said was very deliberate because “we don’t have enough of those in media.” McQuiston also shared that they make character sheets for all of the main characters, which include their zodiac signs, Myers Briggs types, hobbies and interests, how they use social media, what their childhood was like and their relationships. But the most important thing for them is identifying each character’s big want and big flaw.
Both of McQuiston’s books have characters of color, and one student asked what kind of research they did. To write Alex, who is white and Mexican, they said they sat down with lots of Texan Mexican friends to talk to them about their experiences. McQuiston said they also watched lots of Texan Mexican vloggers who talk about their experiences and relationships with race, and in the final process, hired an authenticity reader.
When asked about what advice they would give to college students, McQuiston first offered what they deemed “bad advice:” “try anything once for the story.” They said that was their motto in college, and they regret very few things they “did for the story.” They also reminded students that you do not have to have it all figured out by the time you graduate; “It’s okay to just exist.” And of course, “Be nice to yourself. What you do at twenty-two does not have to define your entire life,” McQuiston said.
They also offered advice for young writers, saying that the point of writing is not to have your point of view validated by other people, but to unapologetically have a point of view.
McQuiston said that in a hypothetical Red, White & Royal Blue sequel, they would not include a pandemic, since part of the point of the book was that it was a universe of escapism. But they did say that if there was a quarantine, Alex would have tried to grow a beard and it would have looked dumb, and he would spend his time volunteering for his local mutual aid fund. Henry would have really liked quarantine at first, and been on his third book manuscript, but would now be desperate to go outside.
One Last Stop will be released on June 1, 2021.