Speaking to NewNowNext over the phone during a jam-packed day of signing preorders, McQuiston has no problem sacrificing her lunch break to gush about August Landry and Jane Su, the lovestruck protagonists of her highly anticipated sophomore novel. She's also overjoyed that a queer interviewer from an LGBTQ outlet finally asked her about all the hot sex they have in the book. "I think it's really funny when people describe this book as 'cute' because I'm like, 'Did you skip some scenes?'" she says. "Like, I do think that their relationship is very sweet, but they're also kind of raunchy. I wanted these two girls to be able to be unabashedly, unapologetically horny for each other on the page, so I did that."
The Red, White & Royal Blue author describes August as a "prickly loner" and Louisiana native who moves to New York City for her fifth year of college. One fateful morning on the subway, she works up the nerve to ask out Jane — her witty, leather jacket-clad public transit crush — only to realize that Jane is actually displaced in time from the 1970s. But the unanswered questions surrounding Jane only further endear her to August, a "reformed girl detective" who can't resist a mystery.
True to form, August attempts to help Jane get back to the '70s without falling in love with her. This is a Casey McQuiston romantic-comedy, though, so the "falling in love" of it all is inevitable. It's also a key part of what makes McQuiston's books so appealing to LGBTQ readers. Fans of Red, White & Royal Blue — McQuiston's wildly popular debut novel about a whirlwind romance between the posh Prince of Wales and the smart-mouthed First Son of the United States — fell fast and hard for her smitten, endearingly messy protagonists. In the worlds McQuiston builds, queer people aren't throwaway characters sprinkled into the narrative to enrich the lives of cisgender, heterosexual protagonists; they're complex, fully realized characters, and they get the full rom-com treatment, something queer couples in fiction are too rarely afforded.
One Last Stop boasts the same robust world-building as Red, White & Royal Blue with the added bonus of an all-LGBTQ supporting cast. "With my first book, the cast very much had to be dictated by circumstances," McQuiston explains. "But with [One Last Stop], these are just people who stumble into each other and then form friendships." She recalls watching sitcoms from the early 2000s, which often introduced a lone gay character within an ensemble cast of all cis-het people. "I was just like, 'This person doesn't exist,'" she says. "I wanted to show what my friend group looks like, and what I think that a lot of young queer people experience, especially in big cities, which is this hodgepodge of random queer and trans people who become your dearest and most beloved family."
The book is as much an ode to "found family" as it is a tribute to queer New York. McQuiston now lives in New York, but when she began working on One Last Stop, that wasn't the case. She recalls taking multiple research trips to the Big Apple to craft a version of Brooklyn that felt true to life, and true to what August could realistically afford.
McQuiston remembers those initial New York trips — and her wide-eyed wonder at the city's intricate subway system, something unheard of in the Deep South — in vivid detail. Even after living in New York for over a year, and weathering the COVID-19 pandemic in the city, she says the luster hasn't worn off: "The subway is a liminal space full of endless possibility. It's very Sliding Doors: If one little thing was incrementally different, then everything would have worked out differently. And I think there's so much romance in that."
The historical component of One Last Stop also allowed McQuiston to incorporate in a little-known true story from queer history: the 1973 arson at the UpStairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans. Up until the 2015 shooting at Orlando's Pulse Nightclub, the UpStairs Lounge fire was the deadliest anti-LGBTQ massacre in U.S. history. (No spoilers, but McQuiston integrates the story so seamlessly, I fact-checked it immediately after finishing the book.)
As someone who grew up queer just outside of NOLA, McQuiston was "floored" when she first learned about around 2015. "I have a lot of chips on my shoulder about queer people in Red states and how forgotten they often are," she says, "so this story is something I've carried with me for a long time." But One Last Stop isn't an LGBTQ history lesson in disguise, nor is Jane, August's love interest, intended to be based on any Stonewall Uprising-era hero readers may know. In fact, McQuiston was very intentional about depicting Jane as a lesbian who happened to be present (and a take-no-shit kind of person) during the watershed moment for LGBTQ civil rights. "It's not like [these activists] were built any different than we were," she explains. "They just did what they did, you know? There's this sort of flattening to history when we just cast everybody as heroes."
Is Jane heroic, then? Sure, but as readers, we reach that conclusion through the eyes of August, the girl who's in love with her. "Jane didn't throw the first brick at Stonewall," McQuiston jokes. "I wanted to pay tribute to that generation of queer people while also very much giving Jane room to have been just an ordinary human being."
One Last Stop is out now.