Rachel Roasek gives Cyrano de Bergerac an LGBTQ twist in debut Love Somebody
When Rachel Roasek was presented with the chance to give Cyrano de Bergerac a modern-day queer reimagining, she jumped at the opportunity. "The premise of Cyrano de Bergerac is a guy who loves this woman and doesn't know how to tell her, so he tells her through somebody else," Roasek says. From her perspective, many classic Renaissance plays are "surprisingly easy to transfer into the modern-day," which she did with her debut novel Love Somebody (out Jan. 11). "The themes of the story don't age. They keep being relevant because they are so human," she explains.
When Christian asks his best friend Sam to help him win over cool loner Ros, the pair gets to work. After Sam begins coaching him, she becomes confused about her feelings about Ros. Love Somebody delves into the pressure put on young people to figure out what they want their lives to look like and how the possibilities that social media gives us are not always good while telling a story about love – both platonic and romantic.
We spoke to Roasek about creating a messy love triangle, adapting a classic, her favorite character, and much more!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What made Sam, Christian and Ros the right characters to put at the center of this story?
RACHEL ROASEK: I prefer to base plot around character and this trio is kind of the perfect formula for a love triangle that is destined to go a little badly. You have one person who is very outwardly confident and reacts a little irrational at times in Sam, a very solitary person who is afraid of getting their feelings hurt in Ros then Christian who is very connected to their emotions and has lots of wants but is scared to express them. Somebody is going to piss off somebody else. It could completely blow up on them if they don't grow.
Can you share one thing you kept from the initial play and something you changed?
Sam, who is the adaptation's Cyrano, doesn't have any sort of really strong physical characteristics like Cyrano who has a very large nose that he's very insecure about. Her insecurity is all internal and is about not liking who she thinks she is or not knowing who she is.
Christian's name stayed the same between both versions, but he actually dies in the original and I wasn't going to do that. This is the strongest place that I diverted. Christian gets an emotional arc and a resolution that feels satisfying, instead of being a tool for Cyrano to express love then die to further the plot.
What inspired the struggle within Christian's family and his arc in the story?
Christian was one of the hardest characters for me to figure out when I started writing because I didn't have a good grasp on what he wanted or what his story should be. I had a good idea for Ros and Sam because they had a lot to do with one another, but Christian was a struggle. The only clue I had was that he's got a brother who isn't part of his family anymore and lives somewhere else. In the end, Christian's situation very much ended up being based on my own family experience.
What was challenging or surprising about writing your Love Somebody?
The biggest difficulty was trying to rationalize everybody's actions and behaviors in a way that didn't make them completely horrible. The actual premise is Cyrano is lying to Roxane, so it's hard to translate that into the morals and values of the modern-day without it being shady. Trying to balance the actual premise of this lie and subterfuge but handling it more delicately, and also having the characters apologize because they realize it's wrong, was the hardest part.
The three central characters are all struggling with learning how to be comfortable being themselves. What did you want to explore about how teenagers struggle with that?
All three of them have a little bit of my personal experience. Sam's not knowing what people want from you, so you try to be whatever you think they want in order to be accepted or to feel valued. Ros not being in touch with her feelings and thinking that any emotional investment you give to a person is ultimately going to be let down. For Christian, it's learning to be his own person, to speak up for himself and being less passive. I would hesitate to find anybody who doesn't relate to at least one of those. You don't have to be something else for anybody and learning that is a huge part of being a teenager.
What was it like telling the story while bouncing between the trio of characters whose perspectives we follow through the book?
Early on I realized it would be impossible to do one point of view because you desperately need to know what all three are thinking. Otherwise, somebody gets missed and you can only infer what they're thinking, then it becomes all kinds of problematic. If we didn't get Ros' internal dialogue to know that she is warming up to them instead of being hounded against her will. If we didn't see Christian's growth and learning to speak up for himself, it would have been impossible to tell the story.
A minor character that stood out to me was Monty. What inspired that character and what did you want to explore through his friendship with Christian?
Monty is my favorite character. He is a lot of fun. Monty is non-binary, but still uses he/him pronouns. At school he dresses mostly masculine, but he expresses himself a bit more at school. There's no one way to express yourself or to identify.
I already knew from what I figured out about Christian is that he is a very passive person and tends to be drawn to more assertive people as friends. He just kind of gets adopted by extroverts and naturally I wanted him to have a best friend outside of the triangle, so he can get some perspective. He needs a voice of reason that he categorically wasn't going to get from Sam. Monty cares about Christian and has been telling him for years to start standing up for himself. All three characters have their own voice of reasons outside of the triangle: Sam has a grandmother, Ros has her father and Christian needed one and he wasn't going to get it from a parent.
You are telling a queer generational story through Ros' family with her two fathers. Why did you decide to add that to her character?
A small part of it was wanting to show older, queer people in a mentorship of parental figure roles because you don't see much of it.
Also, I didn't want Ros' story to be one of realizing that she's attracted to women and coming out. I wanted her arc to be about putting trust in her feelings and other people to keep those feelings safe. I wouldn't say that I made her dad gay for a plot point, it just made sense. She's got a gay dad who has been sending her to therapy since she was a young kid to make sure she's healthy and well-adjusted. No facet of this is related to her sexuality, it's about learning to trust that not everyone she cares about will leave or learning care about them. Her dad was the mold for that.
What does it mean to you to add a queer book to the stories being told about young people?
I feel lucky because books and publishing are in an era where LGBTQ books are becoming much more common. When I started reading I remember one of the first queer stories I ever read was The Miseducation of Cameron Post and it was incredible to be able to see that and be validated. My book is among many others and I feel the furthest thing from jealous about that. I'm thrilled that kids are now spoiled for choice when looking for something to read.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.