Casey McQuiston grew up in the swamps of Southern Louisiana, where they cultivated an abiding love for honey butter biscuits and stories with big, beating hearts. They studied journalism and worked in magazine publishing for years before returning to their first love: joyous, offbeat romantic comedies and escapist fiction. Casey now lives in the mountains of Fort Collins, Colorado, with a collection of caftans and her poodle mix, Pepper. Red, White & Royal Blue is their first novel and they recently agreed to be interviewed about it by Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.
What was your inspiration for Red White & Royal Blue?
RWRB was inspired by so many of my favorite things—Pride & Prejudice, Veep, Parks & Recreation, Chasing Liberty, The West Wing, first family memoirs, the list goes on. The idea for this book came to me while I was following the 2016 presidential election and reading A Woman in Charge by Carl Bernstein and The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan at the same time. I was fascinated by the worlds of both of those books, so I wanted to do something fun inside them on the backdrop of an intense election year.
Are Alex, Henry or any of the other characters inspired by or based on specific individuals?
Most of my characters are pulled from a mixture of my brain, people I know, people from history, and tropes I love, but Ellen Claremont, in particular, was heavily inspired by a real-life Texas Democrat: Wendy Davis. I’ll never forget watching Wendy filibuster for abortion rights on the floor of the Texas State Senate for eleven hours straight, and when I was coming up with what I pictured for a first female president, that was the first image that came to mind.
How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?
The biggest evolution this book went through was an overall change in tone. I began writing it in early 2016 as a Veep-esque affectionate send-up of American liberal politics, but after the 2016 election and all of the terrible things that came with it, the book transformed into something a lot more hopeful and a lot less cynical. I didn’t think I needed to add any more cynicism to the world. There were a lot of words that got cut for space, mostly just fun asides like Henry filming a promo for the 2020 Olympics or Alex flirting with staffers for information, but I’m hoping I’ll find a way to use those one day.
Are you a fan of the royal family? Do you have a favorite (living or deceased)? Do you collect any of the memorabilia?
I’m more of a casual fan of the royal family than you might think, but they have always been part of my pop culture landscape. I remember my sister having pictures of Prince William on her bedroom door in high school, and I definitely woke up at the crack of dawn to watch both royal weddings. When I studied abroad in London, I brought home some fine bone china from the Royal Collection (I also took some incredible naps in Hyde Park and outside Kensington Palace that would eventually lead me to set scenes of this book there). My favorite royals would definitely have to be Duchess Meghan and Princess Diana
Did you write Red, White & Royal Blue before or after the 2016 election? If it was before, did you make any major changes after the election?
Like I said, this book spanned before and after the election, so the world of the book definitely changed and grew with what was happening in the world I was living in. Other than overall tone, I definitely ended up adding more words about gerrymandering and voter suppression than I ever expected to have in a romcom.
What’s currently on your nightstand?
What was your favorite book when you were a child?
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein.
Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?
Every single one of the trashy romance novels I would steal from my older sister’s collection at age twelve.
Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?
What is a book you've faked reading?
I have never in my life read a single Sherlock Holmes book, despite owning the full collection and watching nearly every possible adaptation. Whoops!
Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?
The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer.
Is there a book that changed your life?
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, because Remus Lupin was step one in the very clumsy stumble toward realizing I was queer.
Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. People are probably sick of me raving about it by now, but I love it so much.
Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn.
What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?
Mid-morning breakfast of French pastries at a cafe with a book or a notebook, mid-day exploration of a beautiful city I’ve never been to before, mid-afternoon outdoor nap in lush grass somewhere sunny and mild, a five-course family-style dinner with lots of friends and wine, drunk karaoke, and the big finish: 2 a.m. Taco Bell.
What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked, but never have been? What is your answer?
Nobody ever asks me about where I’m from! I’m a deep South Cajun baby, and I love to talk about Louisiana culture and cuisine and speaking Cajun French and making gumbo. More people should talk to me about gumbo!
What are you working on now?
Right now, I’m working on my next book, which is another queer new adult rom-com, this time centering on two girls. It’s set in present-day Brooklyn, but it revolves around the Q Train and a little bit of romcom-style time travel.
In her debut novel, Casey McQuiston takes an outrageous idea, what if a romance developed between the First Son of the United States and one of Great Britain’s Royal Princes, and runs with it full tilt! There is a lot to admire here: the nicely drawn and relatable characters; the inclusive and diverse cast; the exploration of how invasive and influential the press, specifically tabloid "journalism,” can be on the US political process (especially when what is being reported is more spectacle than news). But the true bottom line for Red, White & Royal Blue is that it is fun! It is a page-turning read because McQuiston has hit everything at the perfect pitch.
Red, White & Royal Blue is a fairy tale, with two princes, and a very happy ending. While it was the perfect summer/beach read this year, it is also an enjoyable read for any time of the year!