L. C. Rosen is back, and with the perfect rom-com for anyone who likes their high-school romances cinematic, pastel, and gloriously gay! As an avowed Jane Austen fan (Pride & Prejudice is my favorite novel after all), I can say this is a sublime Emma retelling! L. C. Rosen has captured the wit and vivacity of Austen’s classic and translated it perfectly into a modern setting, and we got the chance to sit down with him to discuss it! Plus, we get a sneak peek at what he’s working on next, and let’s just say I am READY to have it on my shelves!
What was your initial inspiration for Emmett?
I’ve always loved Austen and Emma is one of my favorites. I’ve always loved her line about writing Emma – I’m going to write a character everyone hates but me (I’m paraphrasing). I love writing characters I know people will find terrible, and giving them humanity. I think I’ve been doing that throughout my YA career, in fact – taking the sort of queer stereotypes I was told not to be growing up and giving them life not with an emphasis on making them sympathetic (because sympathetic would mean “sympathetic to straight people” here, and I don’t think I owe straight people anything), but with an emphasis on giving them a spotlight to shine in. Jack was the slutty femme kinda goth bad boy I was told never to be. Randy is the over-the-top theater kid I was warned was too much. And now Emmett is that condescending preppy gay that was the villain in every teen movie. So that, and Austen’s quote about Emma, and then this romance round table I did where we talked about what a happy ending means for teenagers, whose lives are still ahead of them – those three combined in my brain and I was like “okay, yes, let’s do this.” Throw in some of the Bridgerton over-the-topness I’ve been wanting to do for a while, and it was all just waiting for me to write.
Why Emma? What was it about this particular Jane Austen story that drove you to retell it? And what was it like taking a story set in high-society Regency England and translating it to modern-day America with a queer twist?
I think because Emma is kind of the worst. I love her, don’t get me wrong, but she’s a condescending know-it-all who gets it very wrong. She’s kind of terrible – and I love that about her. I wanted to write someone terrible too. I think taking Regency and making it contemporary high school really isn’t so hard. I mean, Austen’s novels weren’t big city regency stories, they were small towns with sort of bottled sets of characters, where everyone knows each other – that’s high school, too. A bottle, complete with its own set of rules and relationships. And then in Emma, it’s about making matches within that bottle, trying to arrange the bottle in such a way that would most delight her. That’s easily something a teenager could do. That’s why Clueless worked so well. As for queering it? Not hard at all. Once you’ve made it modern, all the gendered ideas can go out the window. The only big queer twist I think I added was that Emmett and Harrison (Emma and Harriet) are screwing around. Which, if you read Emma, isn’t actually much of a reach. What making it queer let me do though was play with ideas of what queer relationships are – how there’s friends, and lovers, and casual hookups, and everything in between, and they can often all be the same people, just at different stages of your life.
This book is so cinematic! I can practically see the pastel color palette and hear the soundtrack when I read it! How do you go about creating a cinematic-feeling experience in written-word form?
I think it’s about consistency in description. Emmett’s vibe is over the top – I was openly trying to go for a modern Bridgerton with a dash of the absurd, like a romance movie poster come to life. Flower petals fall on people when they kiss, the school string quartet is constantly doing covers of pop music, every color is pastel and matches every other color. So it’s not difficult to do as long as you’re describing stuff regularly without being intrusive. What makes it cinematic, I think, is that consistency of vision – making sure everything matches the color board. Real life isn’t nearly that consistent with how it looks, feels, sounds tastes. It’s having that consistency that makes it feel a little over the top and cinematic.
I love Emmett’s character journey through this whole book! From changing his views and actions surrounding niceness to his view of romance and love, the character growth is *chef’s kiss* perfection! What was it like tooling out these changes to Emmett?
Oooooh, now we’re getting into spoiler territory, so I want to be careful. But thank you, I’m glad you liked his journey. And it’s interesting because I don’t think I changed much in Emmett/Emma from the book, exactly. All I did was focus on an aspect I didn’t think the book dealt with much, which was the death of her mother. Her father, in the book, is a hypochondriac, and I kept that, but I examined why it might be, with mom’s death. What that fear of disease and death and loss would look like in a teen today. That was sort of the seed for Emmett’s development during the book – who he is, why he is that way, and what might make that shift.
Do you have a favorite Emma movie? And who do you think portrayed Emma the best, e.g. Anya Taylor-Joy, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alicia Silverstone…?
I’m not going to pick a favorite adaptation (it’s Clueless) but I will say that each version adds something wonderful. The Romola Garai series, for example, really emphasizes that Emma and all her peers have each been orphaned in some way as children, which really changes the way you see the story (and is something I definitely stole for Emmett). Clueless is pitch perfect funny and heartfelt all at once – but also 25 years old! It’s a period piece at this point. Wild to think about. And I loved the aesthetic of the Anya Taylor-Joy version along with her sort of wickedness. She gave Emma more petulance than thoughtlessness, a sort of smugness she usually doesn’t get, that I loved. So no favorites, they’re all amazing.
What are some books you’ve been reading recently or would recommend?
In the land of YA romance, my top rec all year has been Dahlia Adler’s Going Bi-Coastal, which is a marvel, both on a structural level, and in that it’s structurally complicated and so clever and mechanical but is also this really great and heartfelt romance (romances really). I feel like so much of the time when you get a clever structure or idea in a book it becomes about that idea and the characters end up feeling sort of distant, but not here. Here it’s just… amazing. No idea how she did it.
What are you working on now? Any exciting ideas you can share?
Yes, I have another YA romance coming, but we still haven’t worked out the title… so all I’ll say for now is it has the setup of a classic hallmark Christmas rom-com… except instead of Christmas, it’s Halloween!
by L. C. Rosen
Emmett Woodhouse, handsome, clever and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence and had lived nearly eighteen years in the world with very little to distress or vex him.
Emmett knows he’s blessed. And because of that, he tries to give back: from charity work to letting the often irritating Georgia sit at his table at lunch, he knows it’s important to be nice. And recently, he’s found a new way of giving back: matchmaking. He set up his best friend Taylor with her new boyfriend and it’s gone perfectly. So when his occasional friend-with-benefits Harrison starts saying he wants a boyfriend (something Emmett definitely does NOT want to be), he decides to try and find Harrison the perfect man at Highbury Academy.
Emmett’s childhood friend, Miles, thinks finding a boyfriend for a guy you sleep with is a bad idea. But Miles is straight, and Emmett says this is gay life – your friends, your lovers, your boyfriends – they all come from the same very small pool. That’s why Emmett doesn’t date – to keep things clean. He knows the human brain isn’t done developing until twenty-five, so any relationship he enters into before then would inevitably end in a breakup, in loss. And he’s seen what loss can do. His mother died four years ago and his Dad hasn’t been the same since.
But the lines Emmett tries to draw are more porous than he thinks, and as he tries to find Harrison the perfect match, he learns that gifted as he may be, maybe he has no idea what he’s doing when it comes to love.