Exclusive Cover Reveal + Q&A: Emmett Puts a Queer, Genderbent Spin on Jane Austen

Books Features L.C. Rosen
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Exclusive Cover Reveal + Q&A: <I>Emmett</i> Puts a Queer, Genderbent Spin on Jane Austen

Jane Austen’s Emma may not be her most popular novel—that honor likely goes to Pride and Prejudice—but it’s perhaps her most critically beloved work—and one of the most frequently adapted, remixed, and retold. And that’s because almost every reader seems to be able to find something to relate to in the story of Emma Woodhouse, from her occasionally judgy attitude and know-it-all nature or her open-hearted generosity, and ability to learn and grow from her mistakes. And Austen’s story will soon get the chance to reach a whole new audience in a whole new way, thanks to the publication of L.C. Rosen’s Emmett, which will hit shelves later this year.

A queer, genderbent retelling of Emma, Emmett puts a fresh modern spin on the classic novel, transferring its setting to a Los Angeles private school, populating its pages with a variety of colorful characters, and a flawed hero with a huge heart who doesn’t know quite as much as he thinks he does about love.

Described as a book that mixes the spikey social critique of Austen with the lush over-the-top romance of Bridgerton, Emmett seems poised to make a whole new generation of contemporary YA readers fall in love with this classic tale.

Here’s how the publisher describes the story.

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, the candy-colored private school they attend just outside Los Angeles.

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.

Emmett won’t hit shelves until later this year—November 7, 2023, to be exact—but we’re thrilled to be able to reveal the book’s cover for you right now.

EMMETT Cover.jpg

We also had the chance to chat with the author himself about how his new take on Emma came to be and why it’s so important to diversify our retellings of classic stories, particularly when our current moment is full of so many voices trying to stop queer stories from being told at all.


Paste Magazine: So, it’s a big year for you —- not one, not two. but three books coming out! How is balancing all your attention between these projects going?

L.C. Rosen: Yeah! It’s a lot, and I’m a little anxious about juggling it all—I have no strategy here—but I feel so lucky that everyone is taking a chance on these different books, and what I love is that they’re all sort of different ways of queering history, too.

Lion’s Legacy is about a queer teen archeologist uncovering queer history, and then The Bell in the Fog, the sequel to Lavender House, is a queer mystery that takes place in the 50s, and then Emmett! Which is a contemporary queer twist on one of the greatest Regency-era novels of all time: Emma. So that’s queering a historical story, too. I think they all sort of bounce around this idea of what queer history is, and how we, as queer people interact with history.

Paste: I promise I’m really going to ask you about Emmett in a second, but, Lavender House sequel! Digging into this era of queer history feels really important, so I wanted to make sure I gave you an opportunity to tell us a little bit about that one, in particular. How does The Bell in the Fog continue Andy Mills’s story?

Rosen: Yes! And two more after that! I am SO excited about it. So, this gets a little into spoiler territory, but at the end of Lavender House, Andy is offered the opportunity to essentially start his own detective agency for the queer community of 1950s San Francisco—and he’s done just that! But it’s not going too well.

His former life as a cop makes people not trust him so much, and the cases he does get are usually tailing boyfriends who haven’t told anyone they have wives. Seedy stuff that he doesn’t love, and that Gene, the bartender he’s crushing on, really doesn’t love. He knows he needs a major case, something to pay the bills and make the community trust him, but when one walks in the door, it’s being offered by an old wartime boyfriend, James, who mysteriously vanished at the end of war, leaving Andy terrified and traumatized.

So, we get a lot more of Andy’s past, but we also get to see more of the San Francisco queer scene, with multiple gay bars (all inspired by real historical SF bars of the 50s) and what it was like being queer in the Navy during World War 2, and after, in the midst of the Lavender Scare. It’s less country house and more noir PI, but I think it really expands on Andy, and the world he lives in, while keeping that balance of darkness and hope.

Paste: Emmett is a queer retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma—tell me a little bit about what made you want to put a fresh spin on this particular classic story?

Rosen: It actually started at a romance round-table event I did for Booklist, with A.R. Capetta, Sandhya Menon, and Nicola Yoon. I’ve always been wary of the 100% pure happy ending in YA romances – in Camp, I was very careful about making it clear that their being in love doesn’t solve everything or guarantee future happiness—and I talked about that a bit in the interview, but by the end, when we were asked if love conquers all, Nicola said yes, absolutely, and when I was laughing at that, sort of expanded (which sadly didn’t make it to print so I’m paraphrasing from a years-old memory here) about how, it could conquer all, and it was important to show teens that it could, and that love was so important as a teen because it made you believe in the potential of the world.

It really struck me, and I’d been playing around in my head with the idea of an over-the-top sort of YA romance with a contemporary take on the Bridgerton hyper-realism romantic aesthetic, and maybe inspired by Emma, but it had just been a sort of fun idea, not something I could see myself writing yet. But after that roundtable, I felt like I understood what I wanted—I wanted a story about a teen who falls in love and sees all the potential of that love, even as he knows how love ends and how bad that can be, and so he’s put up some boundaries, but to him, they’re just a natural reaction to what he sees around him.

Emmett has this whole philosophy about messiness and relationships and how when you’re queer, your best friends, friends-with-benefits, and real potential love all come out of the same pool, and he feels the lines need to be neatly drawn because otherwise, you risk losing everything. It’s why when his friend-with-benefits Harrison says he wants a boyfriend, Emmett tries to find him one—because he doesn’t want that line crossed, and if Harrison is looking for a boyfriend, Emmett worries he might look at him, since they’re naked in bed together.

So, he’s got these ideas, he doesn’t like mixing and mess, but love is messy… So, I wanted to show his journey from not [being[ willing to risk his neat little lines to realizing that maybe they’re more than that, and working through that to finding a love, even when he knows it’s messy and even when he knows it can end terribly. And that fit with Emma really well because Emma also has no interest in love. In some ways I think of it as a combination of my two previous YAs— Camp and Jack of Hearts. This is someone who thinks he has it all figured out when it comes to love and knows it’s not for him but is actually dealing with something deeper.

I admit that doesn’t really answer the question of “why Emma in the first place?” and I think it’s just that Emma is my favorite Austen, and she’s my favorite Austen character because she’s kind of insufferable. She’s a condescending control freak know-it-all, who isn’t nearly as clever as she thinks, which, frankly, was me in high school. Possibly is still me now! So I always identified with her, and I love that she’s kind of the worst, but is also so lovable. Austen said she was going to write a character no one would love but herself, and that’s what I wanted to do. For Austen, she was wrong—so many people love Emma for her flaws, not in spite of them. I hope they do that for Emmett, too.

Paste: What do you think are the most important elements from Austen’s original that you felt you absolutely had to carry over to Emmett?

Rosen: I accidentally may have answered this already, but it’s the character of Emma herself: haughty, spoiled, convinced she knows what’s best for everyone, but also really loyal to her friends and genuinely wanting the best for them—even if it’s her version of ‘the best’ and not theirs.

So that I knew was going to be the core of Emmett. I also knew I didn’t want it to just be gay Clueless. When you’re working on an adaptation of something that already has a famous adaptation, you don’t want to just copy-paste-gay. So, I made sure Emmett wasn’t an airhead like Cher. He’s smart, and he has a complicated relationship with his Dad the loss of his Mom informs a lot of his ideas on love and attachment. That isn’t really in Emma, and it’s something I wanted to expand on. But the core of Emma, and so the core of Emmett, is this character who thinks they know what’s best for the people around them without ever bothering to take into account what those people might want.

And I put in lots of little references—an ice cream truck named after a poem in Emma, stuff like that. And of course, I couldn’t completely ignore Clueless. There are a few special names and an “as if” in there.

Paste: Do you have a favorite Emma adaptation or retelling? What do you think it is about this story that keeps us coming back to it?

Rosen: Well, yes, Clueless is kind of a foundation text for my personality, love it so much, but as I said, I also loved the new Anya Taylor-Joy one, and I liked the Gwyneth one, too, though I thought it softened her a bit. There was also a miniseries with Kate Beckinsale, which is excellent. I haven’t seen it in ages, I really should rewatch it.

And then there are lots of books, which are more retellings or add-ons than adaptations, I guess, but I did recently read The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray, which is essentially what if years later, various Jane Austen characters got together in a country house and there’s a MURDER! and it featured a very grown-up Emma that felt like a really natural progression of who she was to me. And the book as a whole is so much fun.

Paste: Tell me about why you think it’s important to embrace new and diverse versions of stories like this?

Rosen: I think that there are periods of history where queer people existed, but their stories couldn’t be told because of the prejudices of the time, or their stories were erased by historians who felt queerness shouldn’t have a story at all. I’d also point out we are still living in such a time, when queer and BIPOC books for teens are being banned left and right, so it’s not just the past. And that makes it so important to embrace adaptations of classic stories because it lets us queer people take back that past we were erased from in some way.

That’s what all my books out this year are doing; reclaiming queer history or queering history. Because Emma is a classic part of history—fairly or not, Austen is practically the definition of Regency literature, and saying that her stories can apply to queer people, that queer people can interact with these historical novels, is a way of saying we belong in stories like this, even if they’re not historical adaptations themselves. We get to be part of history. That’s the message I’m hoping each of my books is declaring, in some way. Queer people are usually born to straight families, so we’re not taught our history the way, like, I’ve been taught my Jewish history. Our parents don’t know it—and schools are actively trying to keep it from us.

But we were a part of history, and no matter how much people have tried to erase us, or tell us our stories don’t matter, or that we can’t interact with history the way straight people do, we will always be part of it. History doesn’t just belong to straight people. And by adapting an iconic straight historical novel, I’m saying that just as much as I am by writing more about the queer community of the 50s, or about a teen archeologist who digs up relics from an ancient gay army. They’re all ways of saying “history is ours, too.”

Emmett will be released on November 7, 2023 from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. But you can pre-order it right now!

Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.