Casey McQuiston Welcomes Readers Aboard New Time-Slip Romance

Posted by Sharon on May 27, 2021
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Casey McQuiston fell in love with New York City before she started living there. She made the decision to relocate from her Southern home after visiting the city a couple of years ago for the launch of her debut bestselling novel, Red, White & Royal Blue.

“I remember standing on a subway platform when I got in from the airport and being like, Oh, I'm, I'm going to move here. I hadn't even decided, it was just predestined,” she says.
New York City is the backdrop for her latest novel, One Last Stop, a love story primarily about 23-year-old cynic August and enigmatic, charming Jane, who’s displaced in time from the 1970s. But the book is also about chosen family, queer history, belonging, and, yes, the magic of the city.

“I feel like this book is about falling in love with New York because I fell in love with New York while I was writing it,” McQuiston says.
McQuiston spoke with Goodreads contributor Taylor Bryant about her research process for the book, her totally biased love for the Q train, and her next project.

Goodreads: What was the inspiration behind the book?

Casey McQuiston: I’ll take it back to the beginning, which was early 2018. I had just sold my first book, and I was like, “Oh man, what am I going to write about next?” I knew that I wanted to do another contemporary queer rom-com. I feel like my first book is so high-concept, you can pitch it in one sentence and you know exactly what you're in for. It’s got that hook and I was like, I need to come up with something [else] high-concept like this. Where do I start?
During that time, I came to New York to meet my editor for the first time and to visit a bunch of friends who lived in Brooklyn. I took the subway a lot and learned [to navigate] my way around [on] it. I'm from a part of the country that doesn't have a lot of public transit, and so, to me, underground trains are mind-blowing. It was like, “Wow, this is kind of magic. This is so cool.” I was also inspired by that sort of classic strangers-on-a-train romance trope. Very Sliding Doors.

And I've always been really inspired by impossible love stories: two people who lost each other finding each other again against all odds—like the Anastasia story—or somebody who's kind of displaced in time and there's this one person that they keep coming back to because they're just meant for each other. I think that is romantic as hell. So I was thinking about all of those things, and I was riding the subway looking at other people on the train, and I had this idea out of nowhere of this magical queer love story on a train.
Originally, my first idea for it was that Jane, the love interest, would be a ghost who was haunting the Q train, and then I decided that I didn’t know how to pull a happy ending out of that. We cannot start with our love interest being like full-on deceased! So I reworked until I came up with this time-travel element, and it all fell into place from there.
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This was a book where I really wanted to challenge myself by doing everything differently from what I did with my first book, which had this huge, huge global scope. [The main characters of Red, White, & Royal Blue] traveled all over the world, they had all kinds of money to make any type of scenario possible.

In contrast, I wanted this [new book] to be [set in a] very small world, with a much smaller cast, this very intimate setting, and [with] people who were broke who were stealing pancakes from work for dinner. Also, it would be something where it's sort of like a bottle book, where everything happened in one setting.

Sixty percent of One Last Stop takes place on the same subway train. I wanted to challenge myself, and I felt like this was a concept I could really challenge myself with. And I did and it was hard, but it was really fun and really rewarding.
GR: Jane is from the 1970s, and that era has a lot of history as far as activism for LGBTQ+ rights goes, not just in New York City but also in New Orleans and San Francisco, where the character Jane lives at one point or another. I’m wondering what your research process was like for the book.
CM: There was so much research that I had to do. I have always been a little bit of a history nerd, so I felt like I had the building blocks of where to start from. I went back and reread Stone Butch Blues, and I feel like that was one of my starting points. I really, really wanted to capture what it was like specifically for Jane to be a Butch lesbian in the '70s because there's no singular historic experience and I wanted to hone in on what it would be like specifically for Jane.

And then from there, I was in San Francisco for work and I extended my trip so I could go to Chinatown and just wander around the city. I hung out in the Castro a lot, I went to the GLBT Historical Society Museum and learned about the history of folks in San Francisco specifically. I went to the Stonewall 50 exhibit at the New York Public Library that was happening in 2019. And that was really, really cool because they had all these historic excerpts from zines that sent me down this whole road.

Jane is also Chinese American, and so I wanted her to have been really involved in the Asian American rights movement, the self-determination movement of the '70s, and the antiwar movement. Some of that stuff is really hard to read, but it’s all incredibly interesting and something I enjoy geeking out about. There was a lot that I wanted to make sure I put in, and even in my last round of edits, I was tweaking things. I wanted to have Jane be this cross-section of a bunch of different moments and movements that were happening in the '70s. So she was a really rich, fun character to write.
GR: I loved reading about all of the different characters. August and Jane, of course, but also August’s roommates, neighbors, coworkers. Everyone’s interesting in their own right. What was it like writing so many different characters? And who did you have the most fun bringing to life on the page?
CM: I was thinking about this yesterday, like, where all these characters came from, and I feel like a lot of these characters remind me of somebody I know. Whether it’s my friends from college or this one person that I used to date. I really wanted all of those characters to feel real and grounded and weird (in the way that your friends and neighbors are weird and esoteric and all of those things), because the whole book also has to center on this insane, impossible concept of this girl who's unstuck from time. So everything else about the story needs to support that, needs to hold up the weight of that, because you still want it to feel accessible to the reader and like something they can relate to.
I knew as soon as I sat down to write that it would be helpful to have somebody who is clairvoyant in the cast because, if I met somebody like Jane on the subway, I would assume she was just a ghost. So we need somebody who can confirm that she's not. That's where Niko comes in, and then his character is kind of built out from there. I mean, I don't know any queer household where somebody doesn’t own at least one Tarot deck that they will whip out on you. So, that was kind of the process. And it was just having fun, building these people who felt like people I would know.
As far as a favorite, that's really hard, but I feel like Myla and Niko have a special place in my heart. What really gets me is their relationship; they're a great supporting couple. I went through a period of my life where I had a lot of couple friends who I would hang out with, and they wouldn't make me feel like a third wheel. They were really great to be around in terms of showing me this is what love could be like, it can be really great and nurturing, and I wanted that for August. I wanted her to see a model of that in her life because she was never really around it.
GR: A majority of the setting for the book is on the Q train. Why did you choose that particular line?
CM: I knew that I wanted it to be set in Brooklyn, and so I talked to a bunch of my friends who lived in Brooklyn and I was like, “OK, this is the main character, these are her friends, these are her roommates, this is the type of vibe I want, this is their budget. Where do you think that they would realistically live in New York?” And most of them told me Flatbush. So the next time I went to the city, I went to Flatbush, and I walked around to scout and see if I could find something that looks like it would be their apartment. And I walked to this one corner almost as soon as I got off the train, and of course, there's a Popeyes with, like, a six-story apartment building above it. As somebody from Louisiana writing somebody from Louisiana in an unfamiliar city, I was like, that is what would make August decide to move here is seeing a Popeyes. Because, to me, when I see a Popeyes, I'm like, “Oh, OK, this is familiar. This is home. I know this.”
And that's right by the Parkside Avenue subway station, which I love. It’s beautiful. There are mosaic tiles and ivy, and it's aboveground right next to Prospect Park. So I decided that was going to be her subway station, and it’s served by the Q. Well, it's served by a couple of trains, but I picked the Q because, it’s silly, but like Q for queer. I thought that would be fun. Then I started riding the Q, and I realized it is the best train in the city. I’m biased, but I do think it's the best train in the city. It's half aboveground, it’s cinematic, it's usually one of the newer trains, and it goes all the way to the beach. So I just decided I would do the whole thing on the Q, and I’m really, really happy with that.
GR: The Q goes over the Manhattan bridge, right?
CM: It does, and that was another big selling point for me. I knew that that would stand out to August, too. I also just wanted Jane to have a nice ride. She’s stuck on the train all the time, I wanted it to be one where she's aboveground and gets to see the sun and gets to see that beautiful view across the bridge. I didn't want her to be underground the whole time; she would be so depressed. I wanted her to be able to see the world a little bit.
GR: You mentioned Popeyes, and food plays a major role in the book. There are mentions of fried chicken, dumplings, and, of course pancakes. Why was it important for you to incorporate food throughout?
CM: I'm from the South, we love food, and so I thought that would be something that August and Jane connect over. I think that food, for a lot of people, can be a very emotional and spiritual thing and really connect us to ourselves and our past. I really just wanted to use that as much as I could. A lot of Jane’s memories are also triggered by the senses, and I really wanted to play with that. And, I mean, I also just wanted people to be hungry. I feel like Popeyes should send me some coupons because I feel like I’m gonna drive some sales for them!
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GR: Are there any books that you’re loving that you’ve been recommending to friends?
CM: One book I recently picked up that is so incredibly good is Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo, which is like a YA historical romance set in Chinatown in San Francisco. Malinda Lo can do no wrong in my eyes. I also really enjoyed Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters.

What else? I mean, I feel like I've said this in every interview lately, but I have loved Talia Hibbert's Brown Sisters series, the most recent one being Act Your Age, Eve Brown. [Hibbert] is so funny, and she's got such a distinct voice and she just knows exactly what she's doing in her books and commits to it wholeheartedly. Don't Hate the Player by Alexis Nedd is another one, which comes out the same day as my book, actually. It’s a really voicey, funny YA romance.
GR: Did you turn to any books that had a similar time-traveler theme as a guide?
CM: I feel like I used movies for references more than books for that element of the story. I used Kate & Leopold as a blueprint for, like, how do you handle this intersection of questionable science and romance? You can get away with so much questionable science in rom-coms because it's also magic, so it's OK.
Somebody asked me recently what books do I feel like my book is in conversation with, and the first thing I thought of was Outlander, which I know sounds insane, but that is a classic time travel romance. It's about this woman with a lot of personal issues falling in love with this strapping, super-hot person from another time period. And then all of these difficult choices have to be made between the past and present. I was like, you know what, there's a little bit of cheeky, little modern queer Outlander vibes in here.
GR: I saw on Twitter that you're currently working on a playlist for the characters, and music plays a big part in the book. Are you able to give a little sneak peek into any of the characters’ playlists?
CM: Jane’s is my favorite. I think it's so cool because the first half of it is songs that came out while she was in the '70s. So, the first few tracks are all live recordings because I wanted to start off with this feeling of being at a live show with her. And then it goes into all of these other punk songs that she would have liked, then it goes into some Queen and some soul, and then we flip into modern songs. That's sort of like her coming into the present. I'm just such a nerd for anything that can feel like an immersive experience to be a companion to the book.
For the rest, August's is very sad girl music. Niko's is sort of like rock and roll meets R&B meets suavemente-esque. Myla’s taste is very FKA Twigs, artsy alt-girl type of music with also a lot of really good rap songs on it by really cool women. Wes' is just sad white boy music because Isaiah makes fun of him in the book for listening to sad white boy music, so I was like, that has to be his playlist. And then Isaiah's is a mix of old-school funk and soul and then house music. When I imagine their music tastes, Isaiah has probably the broadest musical taste because I feel like every drag queen I've ever known knows about so many songs I've never heard of.
I do think the secret sauce of writing a book that somebody will get really into is that I'm obsessed with my own book. I feel like if you don't get obsessed with what you write, then how can you, like, ask people to get obsessed with it? So I made these playlists, and I commissioned an artist to do portraits of each character to use as the cover art. In the last couple of weeks, leading up to release, I'm going to share the playlists with the portraits of the characters. It's going to be cute and fun.

GR: Do you have a particular playlist that you listen to when you’re writing, or even just this particular book, that you listened to?
CM: When I just need background noise, a lot of times I will listen to instrumental music or music in another language, because I'm not hearing any English words that are going to mess up my thought process. I enjoy a lot of lo-fi beats and movie scores. I feel like there's a lot of really good movie scores out there.
I don't actually listen to music when I'm drafting or revising, but I listened to music a lot when making character sheets and outlining. I’m a big-time plotter, and it's really important to me to know as much as I possibly can about the characters and the plot before I go into writing anything.
GR: Your first book came out pre-pandemic. Is there anything that you'll miss most about in-person book tours? And what are you looking forward to when it comes to the virtual version?
CM: Being in a room full of queer people is something I've missed a lot, just in general, which is what a lot of my events turn out to be. I also just miss having conversations with readers and hearing about them and their lives and hugging people.
The thing with virtual tours that I'm really excited about is the accessibility of them. You don't have to live in a major city to go to a virtual book event; you don't even have to live in the same country. I have a lot of younger teen readers who, for whatever reason, may not be able to go to a physical event, and I love the idea of them being able to attend. I think that even when life goes back to the physical world, I want to make it a point to incorporate virtual events into my future, or at least stream my physical events, because I really don't want to lose that accessibility.
GR: What are you working on now? What's next for you?
CM: I can't give you a title or anything, but I can tell you generally that the next project I'm working on is actually going to be my YA debut. It's a queer ensemble rom-com set in a small Southern Bible Belt town at a religious high school. I'm kind of pitching it as Paper Towns meets Book Smart with a touch of Saved. It's very much about coming-of-age queer in the religious Deep South. It’s obviously a very personal book for me, but I am so excited about it, and I feel like it manages to get into all of those things about what it's like to grow up in that environment and also be a really fun, exciting rom-com with a lot of really exciting elements that people are gonna like. I feel like there's something for everybody in this book.

Casey McQuiston's One Last Stop will be available in the U.S. on June 1. 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 1-16 of 16 (16 new)

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message 1: by Sasha (new)

Sasha i can't wait to read One Last Stop, been waiting for it since I read Red, White and Royal Blue last year. It's my favourite

message 2: by Zoe (new)

Zoe Keller (zoesbooksession) I love this so much! I've had my copy pre-ordered of OLS for so long now and I'm waiting for it to arrive impatiently! Thanks for this wonderful interview, I'm hyped about OLS probably more than I've ever been about any other book and I can't wait to see what other stories Casey has for us.

message 3: by Katherine (new)

Katherine Hayward Pérez Really want to get a copy of One Last Stop.

message 4: by nat (new)

nat :p Omg I can’t wait to read One Last Stop it sounds soo good ! Red, White and Royal is seriously my comfort book and one of the best books I’ve ever read !!!

message 5: by Cazadores (new)

Cazadores De Opiniones I can't wait to read this new book. I love the Casey pen, I already want to have it in my hands 💗

message 6: by Zed (new)

Zed So excited for this! Does anyone know what platform the playlists will be released on?

message 7: by Am (new)

Am The insertions in brackets in this interview are so unnecessary and disruptive. "I learned my way around it" is a perfectly intelligible phrase that didn't need clarifying. Etc.

message 8: by Francesca (new)

Francesca De Cecchi I really can't wait to receive my copy of One Last Stop next week!

message 9: by mary (new)

mary Zed wrote: "So excited for this! Does anyone know what platform the playlists will be released on?" The playlists are currently on Spotify!

message 10: by mary (new)

mary I need that new YA book!! It sounds amazing!

message 11: by Ghost.Reader (new)

Ghost.Reader I need to read the book soon, I am very excited that Casey has written a new book because I like his writing 💕💕

message 12: by Kaila (new)

Kaila I need to get my hands on this now!!!

message 13: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Rhea Pre-ordered my copy of OLS yesterday and I can't wait for it to arrive. After, RWRB, I knew anything by Casey would be a a must buy for me. Just tell me when I can place my preorder for the YA debut!

message 14: by Z (new)

Z Franks 💜💜💜 I can’t wait to read this and the next one! 😊

message 15: by Z (new)

Z Franks Cute_and_Grammatical wrote: "I need that new YA book!! It sounds amazing!"

Agreed. 😊

readinggivesserotonin This book is definitely my most anticipated read of this year and I can’t wait for it

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