By Alaina Leary
Today we’re pleased to welcome Casey McQuiston to the WNDB blog to discuss their new adult novel One Last Stop, out June 1, 2021!
For cynical twenty-three-year-old August, moving to New York City is supposed to prove her right: that things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist, and the only smart way to go through life is alone. She can’t imagine how waiting tables at a 24-hour pancake diner and moving in with too many weird roommates could possibly change that. And there’s certainly no chance of her subway commute being anything more than a daily trudge through boredom and electrical failures.
But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train.
Jane. Dazzling, charming, mysterious, impossible Jane. Jane with her rough edges and swoopy hair and soft smile, showing up in a leather jacket to save August’s day when she needed it most. August’s subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but pretty soon, she discovers there’s one big problem: Jane doesn’t just look like an old school punk rocker. She’s literally displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her. Maybe it’s time to start believing in some things, after all.
One Last Stop features a cast of very authentic, well-developed characters, most of which are LGBTQ+. Why did you want August to be surrounded by LGBTQ+ community, and how did you develop the personalities of supporting characters like Niko, Myla, Wes, Isaiah, Lucie, and Jerry?
Really, I just wanted this book to reflect what life is like for most queer people, especially queer folks who live in big cities. I’ve consumed and loved a lot of fiction where there’s one queer character in a group of straight friends, but I’ve never found that to be accurate to real queer life. In real life, queer people gravitate toward each other, and we feel safest and most at home when we’re surrounded by people who are like us. Some straight people seem to think it’s statistically unrealistic to see more than one queer person in a story, but it’s actually way more likely for there to be one token straight person in a group of queer friends (see: Jerry the cook) than the other way around.
So when I was building out a network of characters around August, I wanted to show that. And I wanted her to go through the life-changing experience of finding a family of queer people and realizing she doesn’t have to go through life alone. I thought that was the truest way to depict the type of life she would find in Brooklyn and the truest way to bring her character arc back to family.
As far as personality development, I think all of these characters remind me of people I know. Pretty much every worldbuilding choice I made in this book was intended to help the book feel grounded because I knew the whole thing had to support this absolutely insane central concept of a girl displaced in time. It still needed to feel real and accessible to the reader. So I gave my supporting cast details that sounded like someone I went to college with or waited tables with or met through a friend of a friend, and then I fleshed them out from there.
This book features a number of details and a complex timeline that is pieced together as the story unfolds. How did you keep your timelines organized while you were writing and revising? What was the hardest part about filling out Jane’s backstory?
This was one of the hardest things about the book for me! I have ADHD, so I really struggle sometimes to keep my plot threads and timelines organized unless I have a visual system. At the time I was writing and revising this book, I had a folding room divider made of chalkboard in my bedroom/office, so I would literally divide my plot threads up onto different panels of the board and write them out step by step in different chalk colors, then go back through and add color-coded notes of where those threads overlapped or interacted with each other. Having the whole story in three concrete dimensions helped so much.
The hardest part of filling in Jane’s past was just trying to conceptualize where she went and when. Without giving too much away, she was very much the type of person who was never anywhere for too long, which meant I had to sort of make a timeline and map out places she lived, and then do differing levels of research into what life was like in those places for butch lesbians and Chinese Americans. There was a lot of niche research I had to do for her into specific activist groups that she was part of in different parts of the country, which did require a bit of digging at times, but that was as fun as it was challenging. Writing Jane was an incredibly rewarding experience for me because I really got to spend a lot of time with queer history and feel connected to queer communities of the past. I love her so much.
What have you learned about writing and promoting books since Red, White, and Royal Blue, and how has that shaped the journey with One Last Stop?
So incredibly much! I went into RWRB as a total newbie, no idea what I was doing at all, and it was quite a crash course on how to make a book happen and navigate the promo cycle. I think the biggest thing I discovered has been how to balance doing books about deeply personal, emotional, human stuff while taking care of myself as a person. I learned how to hold things closer to myself and write books that say everything I need to say so that I can stand beside them and let them speak for themselves. And, while I always knew that there were hungry queer readers out there because I’m one of them, I learned how affirming it is to write stories for those people and have my experiences reflected back to me in how they care about and engage with things I write.
August’s relationship with her mom felt so real and nuanced; she loves her mom and they’re close, but she also recognizes the harm that her mom’s obsession with investigating has had on August. How did you originally envision their relationship and how has it developed over time?
I think the starting point for August’s development and backstory was just determining what kind of person she would have to be to become fixated on solving the mystery of a stranger’s existence and then actually solve it. She needed to be scrappy and observant, and she also needed to come pre-loaded with a certain skill set.
So I had the idea of her being a sort of reformed girl detective, and that brought me back to Veronica Mars, which brought me to another single-parent-only-daughter fictional relationship of that time period, Rory and Lorelai in Gilmore Girls. Which gave me the idea to take that “you and me against the world” dynamic and explore the darker side of it, the side that character might reach in her twenties when she realizes her entire life has been built around one relationship and she doesn’t know who she actually is outside of it. So that was the basis of August’s relationship with her mom, and then I colored it in with a lot of details and inspiration from a lot of Southern moms I’ve known in my life, and this is where we wound up.
What kind of research did you have to do for this book? What drew you to the 1970s as a time period? Do you have a favorite ’70s fact that you already knew or learned while researching One Last Stop?
I did tons of research! I reread Stone Butch Blues, visited the Stonewall 50 exhibit at the NYPL and the GLBT Historical Society Museum in San Francisco, looked through old queer zines from the ‘60s and ‘70s, pulled up a lot of historical records on activism organizations from Jane’s time, read a book on a particular event from queer history in New Orleans that I won’t mention specifically because it’s a big spoiler, read a long academic article on queerness in the punk scene, and more that I’m definitely forgetting right now. I also took a lot of trips to New York, during which I crashed with friends in Brooklyn and went to dive bars like the one in the book, and I rode the Q from one end to the other a couple of times so I could take notes on all the stops. I guess you could say that the biggest thing I did to make sure this book was as true to New York as possible is the fact that I literally moved to the city in the middle of line edits.
One of my favorite 1970s discoveries was learning about the existence of Jayne County, a southern-born trans woman who helped found the punk movement in New York. I already knew about Stormé DeLarverie, the butch lesbian whose fight with the cops sparked the Stonewall riots, but I had no idea Stormé was from New Orleans, which was an incredibly cool thing to learn as a southern Louisianian myself.
One of the most meaningful moments in the book is when a major character decides to go back to using their given name, and they’re not the only character with a chosen name or multiple names. Why do you think names can be so meaningful, especially to LGBTQ+ people who are making the choice to honor who they are?
I think names are one of the most powerful and symbolic parts of being a queer person. August’s name is one she inherited from a relative who she has a lot more in common with than she could imagine, even if part of her resents his role in her life. Every part of Jane’s name is loaded with history and meaning, both as a queer person and a Chinese American person. Niko chose his own name years ago.
I think a lot of queer people see names as a really integral part of self-concept because they can represent personal agency and self-determination, or history, or the evolution of your relationship with your own identity. Sometimes, shedding a name you were born with—even temporarily or only in certain settings—can be healing for a queer person who associates trauma with that name or the period of their life in which they used it. So it was really important to me that names were handled with care in this book.
All of the little details really make the chosen family in One Last Stop come to life, from Isaiah using the Popeyes service elevator to Rolly Bangs to Myla’s adoptive mom sending snacks. Why was chosen family such an important concept in One Last Stop? Why do you think it’s so important to LGBTQ+ people throughout history?
People need families—that’s a pretty integral part of humanity, and August starts the book longing for one while also insisting she’s better off on her own. I think that reflects the way a lot of queer people think about family: the one she was born into messed her up, but there will always be a part of her that still wants to fall into a family unit, one that absolutely sees and understands her.
And in a way, that may resonate with a lot of (especially queer) readers, August doesn’t even realize she’s found a family until all those small details, like learning someone’s weird habits and reflexively reacting to their little peculiarities without even having to think about it, all add up to make a life. I think a lot about a passage toward the end of the book where August describes her dream for her life as a warm little terrarium with growing plants where she can always look out and see all of her friends. I think we all want to be toasty under a sun lamp with everything in its right place and the immediate comfort of people who love you, and for a lot of queer people, that means planting those plants yourself. Or meeting people who will help you plant them.
If you could design your dream panel to promote One Last Stop, what would the topic(s) be? What other authors would you love to have on it with you?
This is such a hard question! But I feel like I never get to panel about craft enough, so I think I would set up a panel on how to write funny, voice-y romcoms and bring in Talia Hibbert, Alexis Nedd, Emily Henry, and Abby Jimenez.
What other books do you think One Last Stop is in conversation with? And do you have any recommendations for published or forthcoming books, especially New Adult and Young Adult?
I know you said “books,” but when I think about the romances OLS is in conversation with, I first think of the sort of loosely magical/supernatural romance movies of the late ‘90s and early 2000s like Kate & Leopold, Sliding Doors, The Lake House, Just Like Heaven, and 13 Going on 30. Like those stories, this one has tenuous sci-fi roots and leans pretty heavily on the magical power of love to transcend impossible circumstances and save the day.
Now, to actually talk about books, I feel like this book has modern, queer notes of the Outlander series (struggling woman falls in love with strapping, sexy person from a bygone era, difficult choices are made between past and present). More recently in YA, I feel like OLS would be lucky to consider itself a spiritual relative to Malinda Lo’s Last Night at the Telegraph Club, a queer historical romance set in San Francisco’s Chinatown. I also have to throw out This Is How You Lose The Time War as a time-screwy lesbian love story.
As far as recent and upcoming reads I’ve loved, I have to shout out The Echo Wife by Sara Gailey, Act Your Age Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert, People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry, How to Find a Princess by Alyssa Cole, Some Girls Do by Jenn Dugan, and Don’t Hate The Player by Alexis Nedd. I’m eagerly awaiting Tidesong by Wendy Xu and The Chosen & The Beautiful by Nghi Vo. Also, when Tamsyn Muir finally drops Alecto the Ninth next year, y’all may never hear from me again.
What is one question you wish you were asked more often (and the answer)?
I feel like this interview already asked me some of them! I just always want to talk about craft. Like, always. I also wish more people would ask me my favorite Carly Rae Jepsen song (it’s “Want You In My Room”).
Casey McQuiston is the New York Times bestselling author of Red, White & Royal Blue, as well as a pie enthusiast. She writes books about smart people with bad manners falling in love. Born and raised in southern Louisiana, she now lives in New York City with her poodle mix and personal assistant, Pepper.
Alaina (Lavoie) is the communications manager of We Need Diverse Books. She also teaches in the graduate department of Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College and is a book reviewer for Booklist. She received a 2017 Bookbuilders of Boston scholarship for her work in the publishing industry. Her writing has been published in New York Times, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Refinery29, Allure, Healthline, Glamour, The Oprah Magazine, and more. She currently lives in Boston with her wife and their two literary cats. Follow her @AlainasKeys on Instagram and Twitter.