'Red, White & Royal Blue' Wins Best Debut Novel & Best Romance

Posted by Cybil on December 9, 2019
Casey McQuiston’s much-loved queer rom-com, Red, White & Royal Blue, is a double winner in this year’s Goodreads Choice Awards, dominating both the Romance and Debut Novel categories.

McQuiston’s by turns hilarious, whip-smart, and moving debut, in which Alex Claremont-Diaz, the biracial son of the first female U.S. president, falls in love with British Prince Henry of Wales, touched nearly all who read it, averaging 4.39 stars on Goodreads. Fans raved about everything from the book’s humor and effervescent plotting to its poignant depictions of grief and sexual awakening. “A brilliant, wonderful book” was The New York Times’ verdict, while in Hollywood, Amazon Studios fended off rivals to secure the film rights.

McQuiston, 28, came up with the idea for the novel, which is dedicated “for the weirdos & the dreamers,” during the 2016 presidential election campaign. In Red, White & Royal Blue, a Texas Democrat, Ellen Claremont, sits in the White House while her overachieving, politically ambitious son, Alex, 21, embarks on a life-changing journey after falling for his “archnemesis,” Prince Henry, a romance rife with personal, political, and diplomatic drama. The book is packed with pop culture references and a diverse cast of engaging, frequently foulmouthed characters, and it features an epistolary courtship between the lovers that has made many a reader swoon.

Shortly after the polls closed, Goodreads caught up with McQuiston at her home in Colorado. She told Goodreads contributor Catherine Elsworth what the awards mean to her and how gratifying it is that so many people “have made a home for themselves in this book.” She also described her “fun, weird, and magical” second novel, One Last Stop, and told us of her dream to see bookshelves “overflowing because there are too many queer rom-coms out there.”

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Goodreads: Congratulations on your double win, Casey. What does it mean to you to have the support of so many Goodreads readers?

Casey McQuiston: It’s incredible because this is the biggest book award that’s decided by readers, and that means so much to me. You can hit every list and get a billion starred reviews, but at the end of the day the most important feedback for me is somebody telling me that my book meant something to them, or helped them realize something about themselves, or was just a moment of joy in their day. That means more to me than any list I could ever hit.

I'm very humbled. There are some incredible titles in both of the categories I was in—I didn't even vote for myself in either of them. So it’s a huge honor, and I’m very thankful.

GR: What have the past eight months been like for you? Did anything prepare you for how beloved your book has become?

CM: I knew that this book would find its people. I thought that if every other depressed queer millennial like me picks up this book, then it will have found its people. But I didn't anticipate the audience for it being so broad. That was the biggest surprise for me.

I think anybody who's into media likes this book, anybody who's into politics, anybody who's into rom-coms, which turns out to be a really huge net. I was shocked at how much it transcended its niche—when I wrote it, I thought this is the most niche thing that's ever been written and nobody's going to want to sell it. But I hear from 80-year-old grandpas who've read it, and then I hear from 17-year-olds who come to my events.

So yes, it's completely unexpected. It's been wild. But I just always want to redirect the shine that's given to me on to as many other people as I can.

GR: What are some of the craziest things that have happened? I saw people are selling “Claremont for America 2020” and “History, huh?” T-shirts, which are featured in the book.

CM: Yes, people make T-shirts. There's stuff on Etsy, which is awesome. I get a lot of amazing gifts now at my events—I have to start traveling with extra room in my carry-on because I get things like boxes of tea and people bring me pieces of cake, which is hilarious and fun.

GR: What are the origins of the book?

CM: I was fascinated by both the worlds of the First Family and the royal family, because I think, like a lot of kids born in the ’90s, we grew up with Prince Harry and Prince William and then the Bush twins or Chelsea Clinton, so we looked up to these teens who had the coolest lives imaginable to us.

That was the ultimate escapism we were into in the ’90s, and I think the grown-up version of that which fermented in my brain was this book.

That's kind of where it came from, wanting to combine these two worlds and explore them. I'm also fascinated with private versus public, worlds that are super high-profile where we see everything they do but we also see nothing. We don't know what goes on behind closed doors. I wanted to play with that.

The American side of the puzzle came together first because my original idea was to do a story about a rebellious, queer, first kid who is figuring out who they are and having to grapple with how that plays into their position in the world. Then on the other side, I wanted to do a story that was a subversion of the Prince Charming trope. I’ve always thought Prince Charming is boring as an archetype, but my idea was, “What if he's boring as a ruse to hide the fact that he's actually very complex and has a lot of other things going on?” I couldn't decide which of the two I wanted to tackle first, and that was when I had the idea of combining them into one story so I could do both.

GR: Alex is in his early 20s when he realizes he is bisexual. Some people have commented that seems a late age to realize your sexuality.

CM: It's interesting that people think that because I think, especially for people who are not gay or straight, who are in the middle of the spectrum somewhere, it is a lot trickier to figure out and it takes a lot longer.

I think, for me, it was very, like, all of the signs were there, and I was very willfully ignoring them until I got to be, like, 20, 21. Then it was like, “Oh wait, it's very obvious. Let me go back and look at every interaction I've had the last six years and think about this.” It just reflected my experience, so it made a lot of sense to me to do it that way because, more than anything, I wanted people to read it and hopefully see something of themselves in it. And I've had a lot of people say, “This book made me realize that I was bi because I read this chapter and I thought, like, wait a minute, that line where you say, ‘Straight people usually don't spend this much time telling themselves they're straight.’ I was like, ‘Oh my God, that's me!’ ”

That whole chapter is basically like a personal essay about my life with the pronouns changed. It comes from a really real place, and I think that's probably why it feels so real, and it feels really rich and believable. It was something I put a lot of care into, and there were other scenes that I cut so I would have enough room to have a whole chapter of him piecing this together because that's how it happens, you know?

GR: Did you always know that Alex would be half-Mexican?

CM: That was something I knew pretty much as soon as I decided on the president. At first I was thinking that for a woman to realistically get elected president, she'd be a legacy politician. She'd be from a Kennedy-type of political dynasty family and from Cape Cod and all this. But then to me, as somebody from the South, that sounds like a lot of boring research that I don’t want to do. So instead I was like, what if she's this gritty Texas Democrat, like a Wendy Davis type of character? Once I had the idea in my head that she was from Texas, obviously a very natural progression would be to have at least a part-Mexican family. I have a lot of friends in Texas and I have a lot of Mexican friends in Texas, so it just seemed natural to me.

There was also a lot of rhetoric in the presidential race at the time about Mexicans that made me want to be, like, actually, screw you, I'm going to put Mexicans in the White House. So that was definitely a part, but it just felt like a natural progression for me as soon as I knew that they were from Texas.

GR: Were you worried about writing a romance novel, given the preconceptions people can bring to the genre?

CM: I never really put that much thought into it because I knew it was already going to be niche in a lot of different ways. Like it was going to be political, it was going to be queer, and it was going to be very millennial, and all these other things. I was like, romance? Whatever, I'm already taking all these other risks. So I didn't think about that part as much. But I'm definitely proud to be part of the romance genre, and I do hope that if this is the first romance novel people have read, they will go out and buy ten more because there’s so much good stuff out there.

GR: You’ve said that your aim with this and future books is to push queer love stories out of the margins and into the mainstream. With the success of Red, White & Royal Blue, does it feel like this is happening?

CM: It's amazing. But it's not just me; it's a huge process that I'm excited and honored to be a part of. I really hope that what this book can do more than anything, because it did manage to break out a bit, is show publishers that queer stories are worth investing in and worth throwing money behind. That it's not just about my work but about demonstrating that there is a market there and that there are a lot of really incredible queer authors who are already writing these books, and if we invest in them and we invest in new, emerging voices, then what I would love to see is a bookshelf that’s overflowing because there are too many queer rom-coms out there. And they're all beautiful and adorably packaged, and have thousand-dollar campaigns and publicity behind them.

Because that's what I really want to see: I want so many books on the shelf that it's ridiculous.

GR: Many people describe reading this book as very emotional. Was that what you always intended the reading experience to be?

CM: I know what my wheelhouse is. I know that I'm really good at making people laugh and making people cry. So I definitely knew that there were going to be tearjerker moments. There were a lot of things that were hard for me to write. For example, writing the [2020] election night scene took me days and days just to draft it because I wasn't just making it up, I was looking at the timelines of returns from the 2012 and 2016 elections to do a hybrid of them. So it was like, let's relive the 2016 election night again, as if that wasn't traumatizing enough the first time.

So I knew that if it made me emotional when I was writing it, it was probably going to make people emotional when they were reading it. But I think that’s my favorite thing about writing; it’s just being able, literally from nothing, to use words to provoke that kind of response. It’s incredible. I'm always, no offense people, but I love when you tell me that I made you cry. It makes me happy.

GR: Readers have really responded to the way you portray mental health issues in the book such as anxiety, grief, and depression. Was that something you did consciously or was it just integral to the characters?

CM: I've been really open about all my diagnoses and my mental health. To me, mental illness touches every part of my life, especially interpersonal relationships and romantic relationships. So if this was going to be a love story, I wanted it to be a love story that looks like a love story that I relate to, where these things touch their lives.

Alex—this is not textually in the book—but he does have undiagnosed ADHD, and if I ever get to write a sequel, he will go and get diagnosed with ADHD. It makes sense to me because Alex is so impulsive and gets so fixated on things but also has so little filter on his mouth. Then with Henry—I've dealt with a lot, I've lost a parent, and I've been depressed—so a lot of what I was writing with Henry was how, like the way that Alex loves him was the way that I wished I had been loved when I was at my lowest point, you know? So I think that is a big part of what makes [Henry’s experience] feel really real to people is that it's coming from a really real place.

It was definitely an intentional thing. I wanted to have that thread of grief in there for Henry. It was hard to balance, like how do I get into all of this and still make it fun and lighthearted? But I’m pretty proud of that stuff. Bea’s speech [about grief] is one of my favorite parts of the book, just in terms of how I managed to convey a very specific, hard-to-describe feeling.

GR: Do you have a favorite scene?

CM: The part I had the most fun writing was definitely karaoke night. That was a blast. Especially because you get to see Henry really have fun for the first time. And I love a party scene, so the New Year's party was super fun to write. There were definitely parts that were difficult, but for the most part I was just having fun. I think that comes through, and I think that's why people like the book so much because you can tell that I, as an author, was having a great time when I was writing it.

GR: Was it ever difficult to balance the intricacies of politics and government with the rom-com genre?

CM: Oh yeah, I know I have some one- and two-star reviews that are like, “too political, I was bored.” Even my mom was like, "I'm going to be honest with you, I skimmed some of those parts."

And that's fine, but I like to think I did a pretty good job of balancing it. It was hard, though. I have some friends who are political staffers in DC, and I would send them things and be like, I know this is not realistic, but by rom-com politics standards, will this not get me laughed out of DC? So it was a lot of turning up those notches just enough, almost to the point of absurdity, and then pulling back.

GR: Can you tell us anything about the movie? Are you going to be involved at all?

CM: I don't really have any secrets because it's all so early in the process, but I can say that I'm very excited.

I’ve had incredible meetings with Amazon Studios and Berlanti Productions, and we all have the same priorities in terms of maintaining the diversity that's on the page and who we would want to run the project. They’ve said I can be as involved as I want to be, but I have a lot going on so I'm happy to put it into their hands.

GR: You've just announced the title of your new book, One Last Stop.

CM: Yes, it’s so good to finally be able to say the title! One Last Stop is basically about August, a directionless fifth-year college student who has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has a subway commute to school in New York, and there's a girl on her train, and she develops this huge public transit crush. And it grows and grows, and they get to know each other. Then, through a series of events, August figures out that this girl is actually displaced in time from the 1970s, and she's tied to the Q train—she can't leave the Q.

August has to use all of her skills trying to figure out how to help this girl and meanwhile try not to fall in love with her because she's doing all she can to send her back to the ’70s.

Jane, my love interest, is Chinese American, a first-generation immigrant, and back in the ’70s she was an agitator marching with antiwar protesters and the gay liberation movement. She's my love letter to the movement that got us to where we are today. So it's about queer communities of the past and present and what they have to offer each other.

It's really fun, really weird, and kind of magical. I’m very happy with it. My first book is about rich people falling in love, and this is about broke people falling in love. I feel like we need more rom-coms about broke people because many of us are broke.

GR: Are you working on a third book?

CM: I am. Look for some news about that very soon! It is not written yet, and I can't tell you anything about it because if I tell you even a little, it's going to spoil the whole surprise.

GR: What's the most meaningful feedback that you've had from readers of Red, White & Royal Blue?

CM: Oh, man. A lot of people tell me that this book has been an escape for them and that the world is a really dark and scary place right now, and I think what I was trying to create when I was writing it was just a place to feel safe for a little bit, and feel loved and comforted. So anytime somebody's like, your book is my happy place, your book saved my life or things like that, that is the most meaningful to me because that's all I ever want to do is just create, to do good by creating.

People really have made a home for themselves in this book, and I think that's incredible and so gratifying to see as an author.

Casey McQuiston's Red, White & Royal Blue won for Best Debut Novel and Best Romance in the 2019 Goodreads Choice Awards. Don't forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf. Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews and get more great book recommendations.

Comments Showing 1-12 of 12 (12 new)

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message 1: by Licelot (new)

Licelot Delgadillo Well deserved! Book is excellent! Congratulations!

message 2: by Marissa (new)

Marissa Krasny So happy she won! I was pulling for her

message 3: by Lauren (new)

Lauren ft me crying from joy

message 4: by John (new)

John I happened to be in a bookstore in mid-July and bought this book because the premise sounded "interesting and fun".
I read it, and re-read it and ......re-re-re-re-(etc)-read it for the next 3 (or 4) months.
I re-read the book so many times, I got sick of Alex and Henry, but I made sure to vote for them all the way through the contest.
Damn right this book deserved to win and I'm very glad that a whole lot of other people thought so, also !!!!!!
Can't wait to see how Alex and Henry tackle "real" life !!!!!!

message 5: by Jesse (new)

Jesse Double Congrats from the Mile High City!!! Yay for the movie! Could Alex and Henry's story be a trilogy? :-)

message 6: by Megan (new)

Megan » Hello Book Bird "I'm always, no offense people, but I love when you tell me that I made you cry. It makes me happy."

Hahahah, best author line ever.

message 7: by Aubrey (new)

Aubrey Thanks for the spam in my notifications, GRamazon. What's next: phishing emails? Also, fix your comment system already. Your mobile website sucks too much for me to use it.

message 8: by Rainbow (new)

Rainbow This is my fav, tbh.

message 9: by Ali (new)

Ali Congratulations!!!

message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

I need more of Alex & Henry! At least one more book, please.

message 11: by Iris (new)

Iris meh

message 12: by Chelsea (new)

Chelsea Miller Congrats! You so deserve this!

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