I Kissed Shara Wheeler: A love letter to queer kids in the south

by Georgia S.

When coming up for the pitch for their YA debut I Kissed Shara Wheeler, Casey McQuiston asked themself, “What if I wrote a book about terrible people?” 

I went to the launch event of I Kissed Shara Wheeler on May 5, and I am happy to say that meeting Casey made me an even bigger fan of their books. The event took place at the Central Presbyterian Church, which I feel was the perfect setting. The stained glass was beautiful, and it reflected the Southern aspect of the book. Casey got into the Texas spirit by “bringing cowboy realness” to the event: They had bought cowboy boots and a hat that same day.

Moderator Sasha Peyton Smith (left) and author Casey McQuiston at Central Presbyterian Church, May 5th, 2022.

Casey first came up with the inspiration for this mystery in a college screenwriting class where they had to pitch a movie idea. Their idea was: “Young woman runs away to rob banks and leaves behind her best friend, brother, and fiancé”. The idea was pitched along with their second adult novel, One Last Stop. The first draft was written the day that quarantine started for most Americans, on March 12, 2020. 

To write a young adult novel, Casey revisited their favorite teen media, including the Twilight series. Casey stated that they are team Edward, but when asked what Chloe, the main character, would be, they said she would see the issue as “too antifeminist” to choose a side. Their goal was to mash together teen romcoms, drama, and early 2000s John Green era archetypes. They also used the song “Drivers License” by Olivia Rodrigo as inspiration. They said that they were moved by the bridge of the song, where Rodrigo names normal, everyday things, but they bring out big emotions. This considers Casey’s vision for the setting of the book: “A small town that feels like the size of the world”. It channels the small town feeling of “exquisite boredom, but feeling like your heart is going to explode”.

Casey revealed that originally the characters’ relationships were all jumbled up. Smith and Chloe were going to be a couple in the early stages of the writing process. 

McQustion wants young queer readers to learn that they are allowed to exist. They want them to think, “nothing inside me is what I am scared of anymore”.