This one will be ugly. It might take courage to actually press “Publish” buuuut here goes!
I read Casey McQuiston’s Red White & Royal Blue last summer. It was part of an irresponsible stack of romance novels I ordered in June as a thank god I survived another school year present to myself. I actually rarely buy books anymore. Even the books that mean a lot to me, I might like having them on my bookshelf to stare at lovingly, but I know I’m never going to re-read any of them. I have accepted this about myself. Life is short and my stress about all the new-to-me books I want to read is HIGH. Plus, the library is awesome.
But! Since getting into romance and writing again and following publishing Twitter, I want to support authors! Especially new romantical ones. So every now and then I actually buy books, even if I know I’ll just donate them later, because it helps me feel like I’m supporting the Writing Economy. (For the record, using your local library does that, too. Tweeting and shouting about books you’ve loved really does.)
Look at me rambling about boring shit to avoid what I really want to talk about! Hoo boy!
So my point is, it is good that I bought Red White & Royal Blue for myself, because I am not donating it until I die!
It is possible that there are kind people subscribed to this newsletter just because they like me, who are not immersed in publishing Twitter, and who have not seen the pink cover of this book splash up on every single media platform and every single “best of” book list over the last six months. If that is you, one, thank you for existing because I feel somehow less embarrassed talking to you about this, and two, I’ll tell you that it’s a sweet gay romance between the Latinx son of the first female president of the United States and the prince of England.
IT. IS. ADORABLE! It is swoony and charming and funny and full of delicious political fantasy (a female president! TEXAS TURNS BLUE!! Oh fuck, I think that’s a spoiler. But McQuiston literally wrote it to assuage our failed 2016 dreams and it is extremely gratifying in a bittersweet way!) The sex isn’t even graphic but somehow still super hot! If you like happiness, you should read it!
I consumed it in roughly 24 hours and my heart grew three sizes.
I. Love. This. Book. Which is so boring to say because everyone loved this book! But I did. It reminded me what 1997 felt like, the first time I fell face first into fandom, because suddenly I was scrolling through #rwrb hashtags on Tumblr and I don’t even GO on Tumblr anymore and when I saw a post that said “you know, we don’t talk about Henry’s jim jams enough” (or something) I FELT SEEN.
And then my brain got involved and fucked everything up.
Because when I wore out my VHS of Tulsa, Tokyo, & the Middle of Nowhere in 1997 and gave my entire heart to the Albertane tour in 1998 (remember that time I took a train from Harrisburg to Chicago to see them on my birthday? wow my parents were nice to me), I didn’t actually want to be Hanson. I mean, did I want to sleep with Hanson, yes, Zac specifically, but I didn’t harbor dreams of being a famous musician.
I want to be Casey McQuiston. It took my brain a pathetic amount of time to switch from loving Red White & Royal Blue to being supremely mad that I didn’t write it.
It is exactly the kind of book I want to write. I mean, I am very bad at writing high stakes and Casey is very good at that, but everything else. It’s funny and irreverent and voice-y but also so, so well written and full of huge heart. I remember having two exact thoughts after I finished it:
If this book can get published and be successful, so can I.
What the fuck are you talking about, you can’t write like that hahaha whoaaaa there buddy calm down!!
When my wife started reading it, one night she said, “It feels like you wrote this,” and I probably said “YEAH RIGHT SHUT UP” or something but inside my chest my heart beat real loud and fast and I knew it would be the nicest thing she ever said to me about books and words.
Of course, then I also started following Casey on all the social media & realized that she was in her 20s, and quickly I was following all these other hip queer creative 20 somethings, along with other successful young authors (Talia Hibbert is like, EARLY 20s! Camryn Garrett is in college WTF).
And previously, throughout my life, I’d been pretty chill about the whole aging thing. I never once thought high school would be the best time of my life. It made sense that I spent pretty much the entirety of my 20s really figuring myself out. And now I love being in my 30s! I really do. I bet my 40s are going to be even better!
But this summer, in the month after reading RW&RB, I was like, cool cool cool, great that all these young folks are doing amazing things and are wittier than I’ll ever be, of course they’re writing better things than me, have I mentioned they are all so cute ugh, it’s totally fine that I spent most of my 20s working at Starbucks and racking up credit card debt and deferring my student loans, EVERYTHING IS FINE.
Looking back, it was a really toxic scene inside my head.
But I think, with some distance from RW&RB, and with everything I’ve experienced through Pitch Wars, I’ve recovered. Mostly. Meaning, I have my voice back. I feel emotionally stable again about being in my 30s. Because the thing is, I don’t want to be Casey McQuiston? I think I really did, last summer, like I remember going back and revising some of the stuff I was working on then (I hadn’t even created Dahlia and London yet!) and specifically trying to make it sound more like Casey? Ugh, yikes.
But—if I was Casey McQuiston, I wouldn’t have my own voice. And I do have my own voice. I will probably always have a hard time reading their work, I will always love it to death, but really, surviving a future in publishing will mean being happy that Casey McQuiston exists, that Kate Clayborn exists, that Talia Hibbert exists, that Cat Sebastian exists, that Tessa Dare exists. And then being happy that I do, too.
There is a fellow Pitch Wars mentee this year who I loved right away because she was also saying funny inappropriate things on the Facebook group while everyone else was being all professional and normal, and over the last month we did beta reads of each other’s books. And she also has her own voice, one totally different from mine, but I loved her book and her comments on mine have been so, so helpful. (Sometimes you need that friend who will do a search of your manuscript to count how many times you used the word “really” and then make fun of your characters for using it. London really, really, REALLY likes Nashville lol. Like, RUDE, PIPER, but also, useful. She is also that friend who will say things like “give a better description of the boobs.”)
Over the last month she also read Red White & Royal Blue for the first time.
She sent me a DM last week. I like your book better than RWRB, it said. I care about your characters more.
This feels fucked up, typing this. Like, I do not think my book is better than RW&RB. I seriously, honestly don’t.
But the idea that someone else could think that felt shocking. But real. I believed Piper when she said it. And it changed something for me.
Nothing I ever write will be a phenomenon like RW&RB was, because a publishing success like that is one in a million.
But anything that anyone ever writes or draws or films or creates will probably resonate with someone. If you create something and put it out there, someone somewhere will love it.
And if you love something someone made, you should tell them. It could mean everything.