Jeff & Will kick off Pride month with a few announcements. They talk about their new article on the Frolic website with nine queer YA stories that need to be on your TBR. They also share info on two events. First is the Big Gay Fiction Live on June 8 at 8pm ET celebrating the release of this year’s Love Is All charity anthology. Second is Pride Book Fest 2021, which runs June 11-13 featuring over 100 queer creators.
Jeff reviews Paul Rudnick’s Playing the Palace before interviewing the author / playwright / screenwriter / essayist. Paul talks about the new book, including why he wanted to write a royal romance, what inspired event planner Carter and Prince Edgar, and the fun in writing a big, gay royal wedding. Paul also has details on a couple of his upcoming projects, offers book recommendations and shares what Pride means to him.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find many more outstanding podcasts at frolic.media/podcasts!
Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase. These links are current at the time the episode premieres, however links are subject to change.
- Rainbow Youth: 9 Queer YA Stories for Your Summer Reading List on Frolic
- Big Gay Fiction Live: Celebrating the release of Love Is All on Facebook Event (even takes place June 8 at 8pm ET)
- Love Is All Anthology by various authors Universal Book Link (pre-order until June 8)
- Pride Book Fest 2021 on Twitter | Instagram | YouTube
- Can’t Take That Away by Steven Salvatore on Amazon | Kobo
- A Very Queer Book Club on Instagram | TikTok
- Paul Rudnick Interview
- Paul Rudnick: website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
- Playing the Palace by Paul Rudnick on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Boys in the Band on Netflix
- Pose on FX | Netflix
- It’s a Sin on HBOMax
- Coastal Elites on HBOMax
- Inside the 1st In-Person Broadway Performance Since the Coronavirus Pandemic Shutdown on Playbill (includes a look at Nathan Lane performing Paul Rudnick’s monologue)
- The Devil Wears Prada musical on Broadway.com
- Paul Rudnick essays on The New Yorker
- Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- We Play Ourselves by Jen Silverman on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Last Call by Elon Green on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast patrons on BGFP website
- Libro.fm website (use this link to receive your Big Gay Fiction Podcast special offer)
- Frolic Podcast Network website
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Will: Coming up on this episode, we have multihyphenate author, playwright, screenwriter, and essayist, Paul Rudnick. He’s going to be joining us to talk about his newest book, the rom-com “Playing the Palace.”
Jeff: Welcome to episode 313 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of gay romance fiction. I’m Jeff Adams and with me as always is my co-host and husband, Will Knauss.
Will: Hello, rainbow romance readers we are so glad that you could join us for another episode of the show. Happy Pride month.
Jeff: Yes indeed. Happy Pride month everybody.
Will: To kick things off, we want to make sure that you check out our latest article on the Frolic website. With so many excellent young adult books coming out right now, we have highlighted nine queer YA romances for your summer reading list. It’s such a diverse and wonderful bunch of stories, you are bound to find several that you want to add to your TBR. You’ll find that at frolic.media. Or if you’d like a direct link, simply head on over to our shownotes page at biggayfictionpodcast.com.
Jeff: And a couple of events to tell you about coming up in the very near future. On June 8th at 8:00 PM Eastern, 5:00 PM Pacific, we’ve got an all new edition of Big Gay Fiction Live as we celebrate the release of the Love Is All anthology, which this year is benefiting the National Center for Transgender Equality.
I’ll be joined by author and creator of the anthology, Xio Axelrod, as well as anthology contributors Rachel Lacey, Susan Scott Shelley, Chantal Mer, R.L. Merrill, and Conner Peterson. We’ll tell you all about the incredible stories you’ll find in this edition. So mark your calendars for June 8th at 8:00 PM Eastern, and make sure to join us on our Facebook Page at facebook.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
And another event you’re going to want to check out is coming up on the weekend of June 11th through the 13th. Pride Book Fest 2021 features over a hundred queer creators, including New York Times bestselling authors, Marvel comic writers and illustrators, literary agents, editors librarians, bookstagrammers, booktokers, and so much more. There’s going to be over 20 panels, including some live events over the weekend. The goal of the festival is to center queer stories from across all ages, demographics, genres, intersections, and mediums.
Now, some of our favorite authors, including several who’ve been on the show before, are going to be participating. People like Becky Albertalli, Robbie Couch, David Levithan, Jason June, C.B. Lee, Alex Sanchez, Adam Silvera, and Julian Winters.
The Pride Book Fest full panel lineup will be announced on Monday, June 7th on their Twitter and Instagram accounts, which you’ll find @PrideBookFest, but you can already see several previews that they’ve announced if you go over there now. The programming is going to be streaming for free on the festival’s YouTube channel.
Oh, I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to this event from seeing some of the stuff they’ve announced already. It’s being organized by author Steven Salvador, who wrote “Can’t Take That Away,” and Jacob Demlow who runs a Very Queer Book Club on Instagram and TikTok. So make sure you check out that information and make your plans to join some of that event June 11th through the 13th.
All right. And before we get into the interview, let me just review a book for you.
Review: Playing the Palace by Paul Rudnick
Jeff: As soon as I found out author/playwright/screenwriter/essayist Paul Rudnick was releasing a rom-com centered on a royal romance the book shot to the top of my to-read list. Playing the Palace does not disappoint with the story of Prince Edgar and event planner (excuse me, associate event architect) Carter. And let’s get the comparisons out of the way now since I’ve already been asked by a few people, no… this is not a Red, White and Royal Blue retread. Edgar and Carter have very much their own wonderfully funny, complicated, and heartwarming trajectory to a happily ever after that is all theirs.
So how does an associate event planner from Piscataway, New Jersey end up meeting a prince? Working on an event, of course. Carter is doing the last minute prep for an event at the United Nations when Edgar shows up in the room hoping to practice his speech. It’s a super cute meet cute as Carter ends up giving Edgar tips on how to loosen up so he can be more engaging with the crowd as he talks about his Royal Clean Water Initiative. It seems like that might be the only interaction they have, but it’s not too long before Edgar tracks down Carter to thank him for the help and the two ultimately end up having pancakes at iHop.
Characters are key here and in this case especially Carter because he tells the entire story. The person person narrative here is perfect as the tone made me feel like I was having an extended brunch with Cater as he told the story. He’s wonderfully quirky, such as consulting a picture of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg for guidance. He’s also got a lot of self doubt after his last relationship ended, which leads to some instances of self sabotage. He’s cute, messy, way out of his depth but completely loveable and charming.
Edgar is a stuffy prince who wants to figure out how to be himself while doing his duties for family and country. While he is openly gay, he’s had a hard time balancing what that means to so many people and at the same time how can he find someone to share a life with when there’s so much scrutiny from all sides.
Like all great couples, Edgar and Carter make each other better. Carter helps Edgar find his true self, a person that can connect with people, someone who can be more comfortable with himself. Edgar shows Carter how he’s more than he thinks he his and how his way with people is essentially a superpower. It’s beautiful to watch these two build each other up on their way to falling completely in love.
Like I said earlier, Carter has a problem of making some very wrong choices. His self doubt, especially around relationships, means he often can’t get out of his own way and that can lead to self-sabotage. I often wanted to shake sense into him, or to make Ruth Bader Ginsberg speak up to him. Luckily Carter’s got friends and family who do their best to keep him on track. Carter’s also got fans inside Edgar’s inner circle too and sometimes they can be quite vocal as well.
Speaking of friends and family, Paul has populated this book to the hilt. Carter’s large Jewish family is everything you’d expect them to be–close, funny, in his business and looking out for him. Carter’s sister (who get’s married to her boyfriend early in the story) champions his relationship so much because they’ve been talking about their individual weddings since they were kids. And Carter’s Aunt Miriam is formidable–even when address the Queen. Carter’s roommates are awesome too, an interesting balance between Adam who will belt out mood appropriate Broadway tunes along with his boyfriend DuShawn, and Louise who is an activist who points out the many failings of the royal family.
On Edgar’s side, there’s the Queen who is his grandmother (you see, Edgar’s parents died when he was young). She wants both for Edgar to be happy but uphold expectations and she’s not sure an event planner from Piscataway is the best choice. Edgar’s security detail is wonderful, often helping Edgar and Carter find ways to be together, but also helping them toward each other.
I adored this book. It’s light and breezy with just the right touch of dramatic moments. We get to see so many great moments, from Carter in the palace, Edgar and Carter judging at the Great British Bakeoff, the royals coming to Carter’s family home. Some of the best of this book though are the quite times and the talking that Edgar and Carter have. You know I love guys talking things through, and these two are pros at it, as long as they actually get in the same room to do it.
So, I highly recommend Paul Rudnick’s “Playing the Palace.”
And now that I’ve told you exactly how much I love this book, let’s hear from the author himself. We’ve been fans of Paul Rudnick’s for years. From his films like “Jeffrey,” which also happened to have been a play, this past fall’s “Coastal Elites,” other plays like “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told” as well as his novels and essays.
And now he’s taken one of our favorite tropes with this romantic Royal comedy and we just had to talk to him about it. “Playing the Palace” was wonderful, as you heard, and Paul’s going to tell us everything that went into creating this very Royal romance.
Paul Rudnick Interview
Jeff: Paul, welcome to the podcast. It is so wonderful to have you join us.
Paul: Oh, well, it’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you so much.
Jeff: Congratulations on the release of “Playing the Palace.”
I just adored this book on so many levels. For the folks who maybe have not picked up their copy yet. Tell everybody what they’ll find inside this book.
Paul: Well, it is an all-out romantic comedy. After the past four years, especially during this past pandemic year. I just wanted an escape. I wanted a book that was pure joy and a romantic comedy.
So, I settled on with an idea to actually I’ve been toying with for quite some time because I wanted a royal romantic comedy, and it focuses on Carter Ogden, who is a party planner who refers to himself, of course, as an associate event architect, in Manhattan, where he shares a fifth-floor walk up with roommates. He’s been dumped numerous times.
He’s at his lowest ebb ever. He’s questioning whether love even exists. And then as can only happen in New York, in a particular romance capitol, he happens to meet, Prince Edgar, the crown prince of England at, an event Carter’s working on at the United Nations. And a spark is ignited, and everything flies from there.
I thought, okay, let’s find a romance between two extremely unlikely partners. And I wanted something that was gay in a way that was completely joyous. Because I think there’ve been many very valid and essential stories of coming out and trauma and prejudice. But I thought I wanted a balance because I know so many openly and happily gay people that I wanted to reflect their stories.
And I wanted this to just be, in many senses, a traditional romantic comedy, but with a very current twist. I also wanted to answer the question, what would happen if you brought the crown prince of England to your sister’s Jewish wedding in Piscataway, New Jersey.
Jeff: Very valid question to ask with awesome results.
Paul: Exactly. The Royal Family allows the rest of us to project things onto them.
They’re our fantasy creatures, so I thought, okay, what would it be like if you were actually going out with the prince? What would you be allowed to say to him? Would you always be walking three steps behind? Could you call him Your Highness in bed? What about meeting your Royal in-laws? These were all the sort of stepping off points for the story, and we spend time both in New Jersey in Manhattan and then very much so in Buckingham palace.
So, I just wanted to see if I could justify a gloriously happy ending between these two particular guys. I felt it was time. It’s so strange that we haven’t had any real central openly gay Royals yet given how large that family is. So, I’ve done that service.
Jeff: I had so much love that there was nothing about the prince having to come out, really either one of these characters having to come out, but especially the prince, because one might expect that the prince has to make that leap potentially, but not here. He’s the openly gay prince from the get go.
Paul: Yep. Yeah. And because also I was fascinated by the idea of his being the first, because I thought, okay, he’s been gay. He’s also been dealing with that responsibility. Both. He represents his country. He represents his family. He represents the crown. And he suddenly would be the ultimate gay lightning rod because, and eventually you find this out about Edgar, that he’s expected to become both the most, perfectly assimilated gay role model.
And he’s constantly criticized for not. Either being gay enough or being gay in the right way that everyone wants to claim ownership of our gay prince and who can blame them. So, it’s a very, it’s a fascinating position to be in, especially whenever you’re the first of anything. And he’s wrestled with that, but he’s never wrestled with being gay. That’s always been a great source of joy to him. But that’s also why he so desperately needs Carter. He needs someone who says. No, don’t do this alone.
Then you have the fun of, okay. What happens when you’re the first officially openly gay international Royal couple, when you’re Megan and Harry, except you’re both guys. So it was, very rich comic turf and rich, emotional turf as well, because I mean, we all lead lives nowadays have such a tense internet, immediate scrutiny. But imagine if that attention was global. Every move you made was being dissected and analyzed and photographed for the world. I don’t know how people at that level negotiate those lives, and Carter and Edgar do, and I wanted them to find enormous happiness within that sort of snow globe.
Jeff: It’s interesting, you point out the scrutiny that Edgar’s under. And I think we see that in pop culture, all around us, among those who do come out. It’s like you’re not being this way enough, or you’re not doing enough on this cause. And sometimes, it’s just enough to live your life. So, I like that you wove that into the book. It amongst this romcom that there’s that moment of how to balance the largeness that is the life that you’re leading.
Paul: Yeah, cause it’s something I’ve noticed in, as we’ve watched actors. More and more prominence come out. And I think there was early on initially a fear that they would have to become instant poster children for LGBTQ people everywhere and they didn’t want that handed to them.
What I’ve seen, which is wonderful, is that once they are out, they start to enjoy that role. They start to realize, oh wait. I can actually be a force for good in the world. And this, these are my people, and this is my tribe. And why shouldn’t I lend a hand whenever I can. And what was I so afraid of. But the best thing about having more and more openness is that no one person again becomes the only one.
And that also Hollywood has to stop making those arguments of “oh, if only there were gay leading men, you know, if only there were trans performers.” Now there are, and a lot of them have starting to have major followings so that the world only gets bigger and that’s been exciting to watch. You know, because I remember the world when it was quite different.
And when actors, very justifiably, lifted fear where being openly gay was considered absolute career death. And now there are so many amazing performers, you know, Matt Bomer, Zachary Quinto, Neil Patrick Harris, Elliot Page now. People who are living open, happy lives that are also of enormous use to the rest of the gay community.
Jeff: And generating amazing work. I mean, some of those people, you just named off “Boys in the Band” from last year, you’ve got the entire cast of “Pose,” doing amazing work on television and bringing those stories out to life.
Paul: They’re finding also that they can play every possible role, but that there’s something particularly satisfying about playing gay roles. Also, because sometimes material that people haven’t gotten to yet that has been prohibited up until this point.
So, when a gay actor is telling a story that has enormous personal meaning to that actor, That’s a sort of explosion of talent. That’s exciting on so many levels. It’s happening more and more, you know, with shows like “It’s a Sin.”
I completely pay tribute to Ryan Murphy. I think he’s really not only used gay performers in many ways but tells more and more gay stories and a wide variety of them. So, he really is making a difference.
Jeff: Yeah, absolutely.
Coming back to the book, cause we went off on a whole thing there.
Paul: Yes, we did.
Jeff: There’s a great line at the end of the book that I think actually encapsulates this book so well, about being loony and enchanted. It was like the perfect cap to the book to encapsulate this delightful comedy. Did you intend to cap it so well with that line?
Paul: Oh yeah. That could pretty much apply to everyone’s life in the world. But I think, especially with what Carter is going through, where it was such an unexpected romance and for his life to suddenly take on this size.
That was something he’d secretly always yearned for, but that he’s realizing no, we make up our lives as we go along, even when they turn into particularly demented fairytales. And so loony and enchanted are things to be desired rather than feared, you know? And I think that’s kind of a peak rather than expecting something more conventional or more, you know, confined, that loony and enchanted start to sound pretty great.
Jeff: I like that. I want that on a t-shirt. Now that you’ve explained it that way.
Where did the character of Carter kind of spring from, for you and what made him so perfect for this story?
Paul: Well, I’m a long time New Yorker, and I’ve known so many people who are the kind of shadow army of Manhattan, the people who are cater waiters, who are graphic designers, who are, Uber drivers, the people who make the city run.
And so I wanted to find a guy like that. And Carter is somebody who’s, in certain senses, a background person, but on the other hand, he’s essential. And I think sometimes his skills can be underrated, but as the sort of Royal consort, they become invaluable that he knows people. He knows parties, he knows by ritual and celebration, and costume and theatre are important.
I wanted to really pay tribute to one of those lives into one of those guys. I’ve spent most of my life around that world, and I love it. I love watching those, men and women, figure themselves out. And it often means New York. It can be very central to figuring out your place in a world of celebrity and wealth and power that you may feel very kind of eliminated from, but you make your way, and you realize, oh wait, my life has value as well.
I also wanted to invent a couple where they had very different, social status, but where they complement to each other. It’s very unlikely, but Edgar is kind of… he’d be a great first gentleman for our first gay president. It’s like watching Chasten and Pete that you think, oh yes, they clearly support each other in all the most important ways.
And those guys are delightful together. So, I wanted to make one of those couples as well, where you think, yeah, I buy them, and I get why that works.
Jeff: Totally makes sense. I love that as an inspiration there, cause I really liked how they were both equals even early on there were things that Carter could navigate better than Edgar and vice versa.
Paul: Yup. And Carter was what Edgar had been missing. You know, he’s someone who I think his professional face. His official royal role has become a little too close to overwhelming the rest of his life.
That it’s not just that he needs a personal life. He needs someone who says, look, you don’t have to always do what you’re told. You don’t have to do what your family is prescribing for you. So, Carter is the answer for that, aside from the, the wonderful, personal, romantic, and sexual satisfactions involved. That they, like the very best couples, they function well as a sort of machine.
Carter, I think having an outside voice, which we’ve seen with Megan and Harry as well, can be so incredibly helpful and satisfying to the couple. When it’s someone who says, look, this is how you appear to the world. This is a change you might make.
I think that’s why Edgar starts to treasure Carter on so many levels and realize, no, no, no. I need you desperately.
Jeff: I was intrigued by the point of view in this story. There are so many ways you can write first person, obviously, but here, I really felt like I was sitting down with Carter, maybe having a coffee or a long lunch and having this story told to me by a friend.
Interestingly, what I found as I was reading is that sometimes he holds things back. And doesn’t reveal until he absolutely has to give them up. For whatever reason, that’s usually something he’s trying to hide about something he’s done. Was that the point of view you started with from the beginning or did it kind of shift around into that to find the right tone for Carter?
Paul: Early on when I was thinking about this material and what form it should take, whether it’s actually a movie or a play or a book, it was when I found Carter’s voice that it felt right. That it really landed because I wanted to follow him as he experienced this enormous upheaval in his life. Carter would be the first to tell you he’s a quivering mess in many ways, like the rest of us, that he is someone who feels never worthy of anything. Who will sabotage himself given a split second chance so that I want it to be inside that kind of neurotic, yearning disaster of a guy. And to have that quality, as you had just said, sort of a dish of when you’re with a friend and there’s sort of saying. okay, I’m just going to tell you what’s been going on because I can’t make any sense of it or I’m hanging on for dear life.
But, you know, it’s that kind of, personal therapy session with a friend. Where you’re just letting fly and then your friend suddenly feels like, okay, you’re trusting him, so everybody gets input. And Carter has a very close group of friends around him who all have no problem with, advancing very extreme opinions about what he should do and wear and sleep with. So, it felt right.
It also felt gay in the best sense. I wanted it to feel seriously gay, you know, and Carter is a guy who that’s, his voice. That’s how he talks. That’s how he moves through the world. And that’s what he loves. So, seeing the world through his eyes became exactly the right point of entry to this story. And also to his torment too, to see how he can sort of mess himself up, how he can get in his own way. One of his touchstones is a photo of Ruth Bader Ginsburg because she’s somebody saying, “Get over yourself, stop being you.” The advice you need from someone who understands you all too well.
And I sort of just fell in love with Carter. I thought, yeah, that’s the guy I want to see go through this, because he is no one’s role model. But, on the other hand, he could be everyone’s friend and a kind of a great boyfriend ultimately and a great husband.
Jeff: Absolutely. And a great consort, I guess, was the title he was going to have for a while.
Paul: When I researched that to figure out what would the first gay Royal spouse be called? And actually, some of those rules are much more flexible than we imagined.
I think as we found out when Meghan and Harry, where kind of being demoted a bit. That there isn’t all that strict protocol for every event, especially more modern events that they didn’t see coming. I just love the idea of Carter being named the Duke of Piscataway at some point. Before he became the Royal consort, but you know, all sorts of titles are possible.
Jeff: You mentioned a second ago that you had that moment where you’re trying to figure out, is this a book? Is it a play? Is it a movie? And I’m always interested when I talk to people who create across a variety of mediums, what factors go into it for you to decide this is a book versus a play, or a movie or something else?
Paul: Oh, it’s one of the very few things I’ve learned in my life is to let the characters and the story dictate the form, to not try to second, guess it to not say, oh, I want to write a movie. So, I’ll wrench this particular material into that shape. With Carter, again, it was because I wanted a first person voice.
And I wanted to see the world through one guy’s eyes, not have the advantages of, oh, quick cut to Buckingham Palace, exterior. But to say no, what does it feel like to actually walk inside a building of that stature and that history? So that felt right.
With other material it’s sometimes something just wants to be a three page essay. Or, you know, a monologue for the theater or with “Coastal Elites” (https://www.hbo.com/specials/coastal-elites), a program that I did for HBO earlier this year, the intimacy of a film monologue ended up being the right home for that material.
You just gotta learn to listen to your characters.
Jeff: It’s interesting you mentioned “Coastal Elites” because there’s a note in your author’s note in “Playing the Palace” that you started writing this before the pandemic, and they were working on revisions through it. And you also did “Coastal Elites” completely inside the pandemic. What was it like to have those two projects running parallel with each other, getting to their finished point?
Paul: Oh, it was wild, but actually very necessary because “Coastal Elites” was reflecting a very particular moment, right before the 2020 election of peak rage and peak anxiety. There was a fury that I, and everyone I knew was feeling, and it was informing every moment of our lives and it was becoming overwhelming.
And I wanted to write something that would reflect that particular electricity that was coursing through the country and the world at that point. Those monologues just kind of erupted from, my Mac book. But it was not a place of joy. It was a place of absolute fear and panic over the fate of our country.
I was wildly gratified that the wonderful director, Jay Roach and this extraordinary cast that was assembled of Bette Midler and Dan Levy, Issa Rae, Kaitlyn Dever, Sarah Paulson. They all signed on because I think there was the feel they shared. That panic over what was happening, what potentially might happen after that election. So that was a place of, pure chaos.
So, when I got to switch to sort of editing the final galleys of “Playing the Palace,” it was the most blissful release. This escape into a world of pleasure. Actually, it was by a quite deliberately while there are certainly sexual and gender politics at play in “Playing the Palace,” there wasn’t that level of open warfare, and so it was a very necessary balance.
And when the election, thank God, allowed some element of relief to enter all of our psyches. I felt good. I’m so ready for some romance. So, it was a very good contrast because I thought no, if I had continued the “Coastal Elites” vain, I would, you know, Cut my throat. It was just that scary for everyone.
So, I was thrilled about, the opportunity to share both of those projects with the rest of the world. But I think that was the correct order for them because it was like, no, no, no. We need to deal with our endless fury before dessert it was a fascinating sort of balance to be working with.
Jeff: It was kind of, nice you had it, I guess, to be able to shift to total happiness and such versus, you know, the feelings of the other.
Jeff: It was nice that they kind of had that you had that moment where they were colliding projects.
Paul: It was just blind luck, but it was, because, Playing the Palace” had been in the works for quite some time, but it was, another thing where I’ve just, I love being surprised or I’ve certainly learned to love it. That sense of okay, let the world tell you what you should write. You know, cause I know other writers often have a very specific agenda or they have a life schedule for themselves. With me. It’s always been much more, the God laughing when you make plans. That sense of nope let the world tell you what your next project is. In this case, I was just very satisfied with both of them and with the contrast between them.
Jeff: It is a great contrast for sure.
Another unique thing I liked about “Playing the Palace” so much is that you rooted it in our reality. I mean, often we see Royal stories where it’s a Royal of a country we’ve never heard of. Some small island tucked away in Europe somewhere. And there’s not much difference between this Royal family and who we know, and have known forever as the Royals. Was that easier or harder to write with, to make it a little off center from reality?
Paul: Well, cause I didn’t want to do that thing of inventing, you know, where it’s a made up country. There could be a lot of heavy lifting and inventing an entire different Royal life scape for the reader. And I thought also part of the fun of writing romances is there’s an element of gossip, which I love. Which is sort of the basis of our interest in the Royal family.
What we project on them, you know, who we get crushes on, what they’re wearing. How we think they should behave. So, I did, of course, take advantage of common knowledge of the Royal family and then have fun with it.
The way with queen Catherine in the book has elements of Queen Elizabeth. That was someone who I enormously admire. I think she’s behaved so well for decades, and without a moment of public self-pity she can also be very forbidding, but I thought, okay, let’s start there. And with Queen Catherine, I wanted to create a character who was also terrifying and who really enjoyed her power over people.
There was a moment when Carter wishes he would be introduced to her at sort of peak Carter, you know, beautifully dressed, calm, articulate, prepared. Instead, it’s his first time in the palace, he’s stealing snacks from the kitchen and suddenly there’s Queen Catherine, his potential mother-in-law, as a figure of absolute terror and power. And she loves that.
She knows how she can put people on the spot. She knows how they’re responding to her. And I kind of loved her, wicked glee and using her position that way. She also adores her grandson and only wants the best for him. So, there are a lot of layers to that character.
But it was just that I love the collision of this guy in his sweats, chugging milk from the carton and suddenly the Queen of England is standing in the corner with a cleaver. It’s the fun of borrowing characteristics from people we know, or we think we know, which is usually the case with the Royals. There’s such mystery there, which is part of their power.
They tend not to give interviews. They don’t let things out. So, we get to project onto them. Even “The Crown” is all supposition and that we have through enormous research as well, but we do not know what happened during those private moments.
So, I was filling in my own and, and I loved using the bits and pieces of actual royalty that had always particularly fascinated me.
When you start marrying into that family? The way it, it turned her life upside down the way when Kate Middleton married in and, and her, her own family. The fact that her mother, I think, had been a flight attendant was suddenly scrutinized and criticized. And you think that felt wildly unfair and yet, of course, delicious. So yeah, I’ve wanted to use all of it.
But then always surprise the reader and say, okay, this is where you think it’s going, because that’s what might happen with the Royals we know. Nope, these are my Royals. So, let’s see what happens.
Jeff: I was surprised quite a few times like, oh, we’re going to do this. Okay, cool. Off we go.
Now, of course. It’s not going to be a spoiler to say, because this is a romance that there’s this wonderful happily ever after. And yes, there’s a Royal wedding. I would have certainly gotten up early to watch this Royal wedding.
Paul: Oh yeah, me too!
Jeff: Was it fun for you to turn into event planner, to create all of that that went on there?
Paul: Oh, absolutely, that was also part of the great joy of being a writer. You get to spend everyone else’s money that way. You’re going to say, okay, this is what we’re demanding.
These are the white horses. This is the carriage. This is the Cinderella moment. And to create it from a gay lens to say, okay. Also, I think these are guys who are very thoughtful, which you could see in Megan and Harry as well. But Carter and Edgar realize, no, we are not just, non-essential fluffy Ken dolls here. We want to make a difference. And we also know that there’s great political pressure on us as a gay couple, as a Royal, which is something many people feel should be abolished. So, they have to make all the right choices. And also all the choices that feel personally right for them and to pick the outfits that they will enjoy wearing, and to invite all of their friends and all of the people in England who often aren’t included in Royal ceremonies.
But that’s also a way that Carter uses all of his event planning skills to change the face of the Royal family. And I love being along for that ride. It’s the ideal way to experience that level of excess.
It’s like I maybe twice in my life that I’ve been on a private jet, and I felt both completely luxurious and glamorous and all that and deeply ashamed of myself. Oh my God, the fuel that this plane is expending, could pay for 18 million college educations. But, on the other hand, when you’re putting it into a romantic comedy, you can enjoy the sheer excess of it. The wonderful decadence of wealth and privilege. So, yeah, I loved traveling in that world.
Jeff: So, I’m going to probably make you pick among the children now over a couple of questions. Did you have a favorite scene to write?
Paul: There were many because I loved just the introduction of the characters, you know, to see, okay, let’s write that big time almost cinematic glamour moment of two, very unlikely people falling in love are seeing each other for the first time and feeling everything. So, that was fun. I also like challenging Carter. There are a number of scenes where he sort of ends up behaving not far from perfectly, let’s say.
Jeff: That’s a generous way to put it sometimes.
Paul: I’ve always loved watching all the British baking shows because they’re actually far less ruthless than American reality shows.
You know, here, we always looking for villains. We’re always looking for people to punish. But on those shows, they’re always sort of cheerleading for the contestants who are from, you know, all over the country to make the best aspic or the best cobbler. And so, I wanted to take advantage of that, but also to show the sort of comic potential in a baking competition. Because I thought, oh my God, is that an ideal setting for a certain level of sort of heightened farce. So that was quite fun to write as well to say, okay, how far can I take this? How can I make the reader feel Carter’s sort of social agony, and his sort of behavior, that’s in many ways outside his control?
So yeah, I was starting to fall in love with the characters. So, I loved writing Carter and Edgar together to see, okay what’s their rhythm? How do I make them a believable couple and a couple that I would root for? So, yeah, it’s hard to pick a favorite there. And there were people I just adored like, like the Queen and, Carter’s aunt Miriam she’s one of those incredibly powerful and smart, 80 something, Jewish women, who they often shrink as they get older. They end up being these sort of, you know, four-foot tall, glorious terrorists who will tell you how to run your life from their vast experience, and they’ll often be correct. They’re, half jewelry and half person.
Jeff: You may have just answered this next question with Miriam, but the supporting cast in this book is so wonderful. Carter’s family, his sister, aunt Miriam, his roommates and roommate’s boyfriend. And then you’ve got the people who are Edgar’s security team who were their own brand of awesome. Did you have favorites among those characters?
Cause you’ve got such a big population in this book and maybe it is Miriam because boy, she was a lot like the Queen, and she will tell you what it is.
Paul: One of my favorite moments is when the Queen and aunt Miriam finally do have a meeting and Miriam does, as she often will, wraps dinner rolls in napkins and she puts them in the Queen’s purse, as she says, “for later.” I thought, yep, that’s exactly what many of my aunts would do if they met any… Margaret Thatcher.
But yeah, I think anyone who’s been in a relationship knows you don’t just marry the other person or go out with them. You’re dating their family. You know, and I wanted Carter, especially to have a very loving support system and very highly opinionated support system as well. So, especially his sister, Abby because when he brings Edgar to Abby’s wedding, Abby is a surgeon, but she’s also celebrity craze. So, this could be the greatest wedding gift of all, or it could be an act of totally sabotaging someone else’s big day.
Jeff: It made me very anxious that scene.
Paul: Oh, of course. Luckily, I think it turns out well, but I also love watching what happens when you introduce your potential spouse to your friends and family. You know, the levels of judgment on both sides. The maneuver, the strategizing the way in which sometimes your partner’s family can join forces with your beloved against you.
You know, that’s all too common. I’ve experienced that. but also, just that sense of wanting everyone to fall in love with each other and to have your family understand what you find so special about this person and share that. The wedding felt like the ideal backdrop for that. And just to see, okay, what? This is a moment of such elevated social behavior for everyone. And to also watch how good Edgar is at putting people at ease, because something I’ve noticed in some of the celebrities they’ve been around, but the ones who were most admirable, they’re in charge of the situation they put the rest of us at ease. They say, look, I know that you’re staring at me and slobbering, but I am a person, and we can shake hands. You know that they become they’re their own sort of ringleader. So yeah, I love the idea of seeing how Edgar made his way through a very foreign world to him.
Jeff: The first date was kind of brilliant.
Paul: Oh, well they also, they go to, IHOP, which is one of my favorite destinations and it’s something that my partner and I share. We have been to IHOPs all across the country. Although the one that we are things is I’ve noticed that. For something that is technically called the International House of Pancakes, I’ve never come across one outside of America. So, I hope they exist, but they may not.
I have this real test of any romance. It’s when you introduce someone to something you, you treasure and an element of your personal taste that might not be so easily shared with every potential partner.
You know, you’re saying, I love this, will you get it? Or when you at least allow me this particular fetish? And Edgar, God bless him, really goes for it, you know, that, and that was one of the other things that I always pictured in this book was I thought, you know, those cardboard gold crowns you get at Burger King on your birthday. I knew the guys were going to have to wear them at some point and they do.
Jeff: Yes, they do love that scene too. I love all the scenes. What am I talking about?
So, as we celebrate pride month here on the podcast, can you please tell us what pride means to you?
Paul: Oh, my Lord. Pretty much everything. I had this bizarre childhood where until a very advanced age, I somehow assumed that that everyone was gay.
I think I lived in one of those bubbles of childhood self-regard where I thought, oh, everyone’s like me. So, I never had the slightest problem with being gay. I thought it was the luckiest part of my life. And I know that isn’t necessarily the case for everybody and other people face far greater obstacles.
So, I think that pride has come to represent such a saving grace for all of us. For so many of us in the queer world that it’s essential and joyous. I think it’s, what’s so important to that it’s a sense of not just affirmation, but it’s celebration that you say, yep. Don’t listen to everything else you’ve heard, being gay is fabulous, you know, it’s an advantage. It’s a virtue, it’s an asset, it’s all these great things.
And that pride is a time where that can be particularly, well, and openly expressed. You know, I think sometimes people have asked, oh, do we still need the parades? Do we still need the parties? Do we still need the rainbow? And I think of course we do.
And the world is still a very dangerous place for an awful lot of, queer people. So that pride is a way of also reminding ourselves that no, there is still enormous work to be done. But yeah, it’s always such a great joy to look out at any sea of faces and realize, oh my God, this the, you know, the census doesn’t lie. Look at how many LGBTQ people there are in the world and they’re all very different, but they’re all very happy to you know, dance. I can’t imagine my life without the gay community.
Jeff: Thank you so much for sharing that.
Moving ahead from “Playing the Palace,” which of course just out, but looking to the future what can you share about what might be coming up next from you?
Paul: Oh, well there are a whole batch of projects.
One thing I just did that I loved was as New York is gradually opening up again. There’s a group called New York pops up. That’s welcoming people back to live performance. So, I wrote a monologue that the glorious Nathan Lane performed in a Broadway theatre for an invited audience of healthcare workers and for theatre workers. And we were all distanced and masked and all of that, but just to be back in a theatre again, after more than a year was so thrilling and so gratifying, and you could feel the audience being so happy to be there. So that was really a special treat.
But beyond that, I’m also, co-writing the book for the musical of “The Devil Wears Prada” with Kate Wetherhead is a terrific writer and Elton John is doing the score and Shaina Taub doing the lyrics. So that we’ll have a tryout in Chicago next summer. So that the world will have to have to wait a bit for that. But that’s been an exciting project.
And there’s some other TV and movie and book projects actually in the works, but I’m deeply superstitious. So, the minute I start talk about them too much. I hear myself and I go, that sounds God awful. Even if it’s not, I just, you know, the weird voices in our heads. I’m still doing pieces for “The New Yorker.” There was one in last week’s issue. Yeah, there’s lots of stuff on the horizon.
Jeff: Fantastic, and fingers crossed maybe a “Playing the Palace” movie. I would definitely want to see that.
Paul: You never know, me too. So, I’m open to anything.
Jeff: What’s a book that you’ve read recently that you would recommend our listeners.
Paul: Oh, my God, there’s “Detransition, Baby” by Torrey Peters, is spectacular. She’s a trans writer. It is the most beautifully written and funny and smart book that is one of the first, truly authentic trans novels. So that I can’t recommend more.
A terrific book called, “We Play Ourselves” by Jen Silverman. Who’s also a queer writer, that takes place on both coasts and is so smart about jealousy and sort of the entertainment industry and life in general. So, I adored that.
There’s also a book, although the writer is actually straight, but he did a great job. It’s called “Last Call,” which is about a real life serial killer who stalked the gay community in Manhattan during the eighties and the nineties and how he was eventually apprehended.
So it’s an often overlooked part of gay history, but very meticulously researched. So, that was gripping in its own if you enjoy, you know, your Netflix police procedural, that’s a great one. So yeah, there’s the selection. But they’re all great books.
Jeff: Fantastic, good stuff to add to the reading list.
What is the best way to keep up with you online so everybody can kind of find out all the news on your latest projects?
Paul: Let me see. I have a website, paulrudnick.com. I’m on Twitter at PaulRudnickNY. I’ve just started on Instagram. I’m on Facebook as well. So, all of those are good places to start.
Jeff: Fantastic. We’ll link to all of those and all of the books and movies and TV shows that we’ve talked about so people can find them easily. Paul, thank you so much for coming and telling us about “Playing the Palace.” I wish you all the success with the book.
Paul: Oh, thank you. Thank you so much for having me. Yeah, this has been a joy.
Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read the conversation for yourself, simply head on over to the shownotes page for this episode at biggapefictionpodcast.com. The shownotes page also has links to everything that we talked about in this episode.
Jeff: Many of the books that we talked about with Paul, including “Playing the Palace,” which has a narration by Michael Urie, are available from Libro.fm. Libro.fm is where you can buy audiobooks while at the same time supporting a local bookstore of your choice. Listeners to the Big Gay Fiction Podcast have the opportunity to get a two month audiobook membership for the price of one. All you need to do to take advantage of that offer is go to biggayfictionpodcast.com/librofm.
And thanks again to Paul for joining us. I had such a great time talking about “Playing the Palace,” and especially the elements that he wanted to pull from. Things like the Great British Bake Off, to how the families met, and balancing all of that crazy stuff that goes on with some of the quieter ones, not to mention the Royal wedding he got to pull off within the story. The book was a great beginning to my Pride reading month.
Will: All right, I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up on Monday and episode 314, we’re going to be kicking off YA week with authors Jason June and Emery Lee.
Jeff: These two are a part of the treasure trove of YA that’s coming out this summer. Jason June’s “Jay’s Gay Agenda” and Emery’s “Meet Cute Diary” are incredible books. And I had the best time talking with these two about these summertime reads.
Will: Thank you so much for listening. Until next time, stay strong, be safe and above all else keep turning those pages and keep reading.
Jeff: Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find more shows you’ll love at frolic.media/podcasts. Our production assistant is Tyson Greenan. Darryl Banner composed our original theme music.