The 12 months is 2020, and America’s first lady president is campaigning for her second time period — not Hillary Clinton together with her many years of political baggage, however Ellen Claremont, a whip-smart progressive Democrat from Austin, Texas.
Her brilliant, bold youngsters, Alex and June Claremont-Diaz, are biracial and multilingual, descended from Mexican immigrants on their father’s facet. Alex is bisexual and hopelessly in love with Britain’s secretly-gay Prince Henry, a relationship that may change the course of LGBTQ+ historical past. There’s no pandemic, not a Trump or Boris in sight, and issues are going to be okay.
This is the soothing alternate universe of Red, White & Royal Blue, the 2019 debut novel by Casey McQuiston. Published two years in the past right this moment, it was a New York Times best-seller that carved out a brand new house for LGBTQ+ romance novels — and its affect has solely gotten greater as we have slogged via quarantine and the tip of the Trump presidency.
“This e book has discovered its best success within the final six months,” McQuiston advised The Advocate. On the telephone from New York City, the 30-year-old queer writer was weeks away from the discharge of her highly-anticipated second novel, One Last Stop. “I’ve seen extra gross sales and extra responses from readers and extra the whole lot up to now a number of months of the pandemic, than I did within the first 12 months that the e book was out.”
She first came up with the idea in early 2016, only to be derailed by the election of Donald Trump. In the acknowledgements, she wrote that she gave up on the book for months afterward. “Suddenly what was supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek parallel universe needed to be escapist, trauma-soothing, alternate-but-realistic reality. Not a perfect world — one still believably fucked up, just a little better, a little more optimistic. I wasn’t sure I was up to the task. I hoped I was.”
RW&RB combines clever insights about politics, journalism and LGBTQ+ culture with unabashed references to the “comfort food” entertainment we’ve all been leaning on these past few years — Parks & Recreation, The Great British Baking Show, the Star Wars universe. Alex has all the charm, optimism and snarky one-liners of a character from The West Wing (without the tone-deafness about American exceptionalism, fortunately), and Henry falls somewhere between a Disney prince and the 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie.
Much of the book’s popularity comes from how skilfully it uses the familiar tropes of rom-coms, romance novels and, dare we say it, fan fiction — the Slow Burn, the Enemies-to-Lovers, the Secret Relationship. After a years-long feud between Alex and Henry leads to a tabloid scandal, the White House and the royal family stage a fake PR friendship; but they end up on the brink of an international crisis when Alex and Henry fall for each other. Alex’s clueless bisexual awakening and the president’s response of a PowerPoint briefing with titles like FEDERAL FUNDING, TRAVEL EXPENSES, BOOTY CALLS, AND YOU are laugh-out-loud funny; Henry’s letters to Alex about being forced into the closet by his family’s legacy can bring you to tears.
Embracing this kind of storytelling is a point of pride for McQuiston, who enjoys falling down TVTropes.org rabbit holes in her free time. “I believe tropes exist for a purpose. If a storytelling machine is used many times, it is actually because it has been very profitable in emotionally connecting with its viewers.
“The concept that something is over or executed to loss of life is foolish, when you begin imagining the opportunity of tales that are not cis, het, white tales. Maybe we really feel like we’re executed with YA vampire romances, however have you ever learn one by a Black writer? Have you learn a queer one? I do not suppose you’ll be able to declare any trope useless till all people’s had their probability to have a crack at it.”
For all its escapism, RW&RB appears totally conscious of the harsher world exterior the story, from its mockery of the tabloids to its razor-sharp anger on the sexism and bigotry of right this moment’s Republican Party. “Come on,” Alex’s dad says at one level, “I do not suppose this election is gonna hinge on an e mail server.”
“I virtually felt unhealthy about placing that line in,” McQuiston remarked. “A pal of mine who was a Hillary staffer learn the e book and was like, ‘I’ve to inform you, once I learn that line it was like being punched within the abdomen.'”
Another instance is Amy, a Secret Service agent who helps Alex organize his clandestine conferences with Henry. More than 100 pages after we meet her, it is casually talked about that she transitioned and has a spouse — a delicate second, however an necessary one. “Her being trans was really one thing that was shaded in after the trans navy ban was introduced, again within the early days of the Trump presidency. I used to be so gut-punched by that announcement that I used to be like, ‘Okay, fuck you, I’m going to place this trans Navy SEAL in my e book.”
Earlier this year, RW&RB even managed a “life imitates art” connection with Meghan Markle, the young, biracial American who married the U.K.’s Prince Harry and helped him escape the confines of the royal family. “I had no idea those things were going to happen, like Harry and Meghan deciding to be like, ‘Peace out, I’m going to Canada,'” McQuiston insisted. “When I wrote the entire first draft, they literally had not even acknowledged that they were together. What kind of third eye did I have open when I was writing this?
“I think Meghan especially is so incredibly smart. She’d been given the biggest gold-foil-wrapped shit sandwich in history — ‘It’s gonna be great, except everyone’s going to be horrible to you and racist to you, and you’re going to have to act thankful for it.’ She’s working with what she’s been given, and she is somehow managing to persevere through that.”
Watching Oprah’s bombshell interview with Harry and Meghan on March 7, it’s easy to draw a parallel with the “White House Trio” of the novel — golden boy Alex, his media-savvy sister June, and number-crunching genius Nora, granddaughter of the Vice-President and Alex’s ex-girlfriend. Rather than hiding from press attention like the Obama daughters and other first children before them, the Trio use their celebrity status and millennial appeal to shape the narrative for themselves.
Nora in particular has captured readers’ curiosity. Identifying as queer herself but shrugging off the idea of a public coming out, she has a deep friendship with June that is strongly hinted to be more than platonic by the end of the book. In a memorable chapter about a karaoke party in West Hollywood, Nora and June crash with Henry’s gender-fluid best friend Pez, and “emerge disheveled from their suite looking like the cats that caught the canaries, but it’s impossible to tell who is a cat and who is a canary. Nora has a smudge of lipstick on the back of her neck.”
“I love them because they’re so there on the page,” McQuiston said. “I’ve always looked for that subtext in everything I read, and I thought it would be really funny to put gay subtext in a gay book. Alex is very, very self-involved, so he might not really pick up on it — but we know. We know what’s going on.”
We may not have seen the last of these characters, either. She’s hinted on Twitter that she just lately accomplished a draft of her third e book, and that her “subsequent two romcom tasks after [One Last Stop are] each about women falling in love.” Could a kind of tasks contain June and Nora in a RW&RB spinoff?
“That is such an fascinating query!” McQuiston laughed, and declined to share way more than that. “What I can firmly say is it is a large never-say-never scenario… People who’re supportive of June and Nora, they’re very legitimate, and I help them as effectively.”
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our interview with Casey McQuiston, wherein she talks about her new novel One Last Stop, now out there for preorder and hitting cabinets on June 1.