Pull the crowns and tiara ornaments – this is the reason to spend a royal summer.
Houston-based author Catherine McGee She published the third book in her series that reimagines America as a monarchy, and less than a month after the novel hit bookstores, the series landed on The New York Times Bestseller List.
The American royal series, published by Random House, follows four young women associated with the royal family – Washington. This is correct. Instead of pursuing democracy, the founding fathers of fictional America chose Mackie to establish a kingdom. Now, more than 200 years later, the country has its first reigning queen—and she’s mixing things up. Think: Princess Diaries Meets gossip girl.
third in the series, rivals, published at the end of May, and McGee is currently working on the fourth and final book. She joined CultureMap for a Q&A about the series, being a writer in Houston, and more.
familyAlex’s husband and son William
Neighborhood: Supreme Kirby
Most Recommended Houston Restaurants: Nobie’s – “Their pancakes are so good.”
Favorite authors: Philip Pullman, Evie Dunmore, Philippa Gregory, and Margaret George
Houston’s Favorite Library: Blue Willow Library
Culture Map: Where did the idea for American royals come from?
Catherine McGee: I’ve been playing with the idea of American Royals for a very long time. I grew up reading historical novels and always dreamed of writing my own historical fiction—something set in the royal court, whether it was at the Tudor court or at Versailles, or with the Romanov family. Something with backstabbing, political intrigue, drama and forbidden love.
When I was working in book publishing in 2011 in New York, I was an editorial assistant actually working on youth novels. I was in New York City the day Prince William and Kate Middleton got married. New York that morning, felt totally like a city on vacation. It was so much fun. The streets were lined with people in shawls, and the wedding party was streaming on the jumbotron in Times Square. Pictures of the royal family were on the cover of every magazine and newspaper I passed on newsstands. It was interesting that in America we were so fascinated and incredibly obsessed with this wedding of royals who aren’t even our own. Which of course led me to a place of “I wonder what it would be like if we had a royal family.”
It was a shocking moment when I realized I could fulfill my dream of trying to write a story from the royal court, but in fact I do so in contemporary America that has a royal family. The books still have all those ingredients that I love so much – they still have the forbidden love and the young men grappling with their destiny to rule a country one day, they just happen in an alternate version of contemporary America.
SM: The latest series was released this summer. What’s so exciting about this?
how much: The third book, Rivals, is a lot of fun. I really think this might be the most fun book I’ve ever written. And I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that in the third book in a series, as a writer, I have more room to put my characters in unexpected situations and take them to places that surprise readers with pleasure. The first book in the series is an introductory book, really setting up the world, the characters, and what the stakes are. Then the second book is very much a building book. And in the third book, I like to think of it as a kind of “Let’s Enjoy the World.”
The book is full of unexpected alliances and relationships that will surprise you. Some old relationships revived some completely new ones, and the world got bigger, which is so much fun.
WM: What can you tell us about the future of the series?
how much: I’m currently working on the fourth book, and this is the last American royal book. I was very lucky. The publisher bought the first two books, then bought the second two in another deal. So, I knew upon getting into the third book, that there was a fourth book coming. This enabled me to write an incredibly exciting cliffhanger ending that torments many readers. I obviously wouldn’t have done it if we weren’t sure if there would be a fourth.
The fourth book is in the works, coming out next year – I’m not sure when exactly. It was a lot more difficult than the third book in some ways, because the decisions are always really tough. And I feel like the series has lasted so long that I want to make sure I give every character we’ve met over the course of the series their decent amount of screen time and the accuracy they deserve, which means I’m dealing with a pretty tough bunch from this point on.
CM: You’ve written two YA/New Adult series. What attracts you to this genre and to writing a series separately?
how much: I honestly think soap operas are really more fun for me as a writer. I spend a lot of time leading up to the project, figuring out who the characters are, how they are all interconnected, and how the world makes sense. for both Thousandth floor And the American Royals, it was a process that took a number of years and many drafts to really put in place before I could even sell a concept. And that’s how I feel, as if I put a lot of initial work into every building and creation of this world. And now I’m just having fun, spinning additional stories within the world with the same characters and putting them into new configurations, new romantic interweavings, and finding new ways to cross their stories and bring them together.
I’ve never tried to write a stand-alone one. I think it could happen sometime in the future, but I certainly wouldn’t rule it out, but it’s not where my mind naturally gravitates to.
Another challenge away from dealing with the fourth book is that I also have this looming question of what the next concept or series is after American Royals. And so I’ve devoted quite a bit of time, I would say over the past calendar year, to trying to do that.
SM: You lived in a few cities before you came back to your hometown of Houston. How was it for you being an author in residence here?
how much: I was very pleasantly surprised by Houston’s literary scene. Writing is such a solitary job. And I work almost entirely from my home office—except for going to Local Foods and typing in the yard when it’s not summer. I tend to look at my personal life for the company and social connection that my job doesn’t provide. I don’t go to an office and I don’t really have co-workers – my poor friends often hear a lot about books and get bogged down in characters and know things as they happen. Then my husband and sister also weigh in.
Lately I’ve really enjoyed exploring Houston’s literary scene because there are so many here, including independent bookstores. The Blue Willow Bookshop is where I do all my events, although there are some great ones at the Brazos Bookstore as well. The Barbara Bush Literacy Foundation is organizing some really good events, and we’ve got some great authors coming across Houston. And then we have some other authors out here.
CM: Do you have any favorite restaurants/cafes that you would love to treat yourself to before, during, or after a day of writing?
how much: I can’t believe I’m saying this – I’m honestly a little embarrassed about it. My pleasure is Berryhill. I mean, the margaritas are good and I think they are the best fish tacos in Houston. If I had a hard day writing and didn’t cook dinner, or needed to vent and relax, my husband and perhaps my friends who lived nearby would go to Berryhill together. There and local foods are probably the only two places in Houston where it was known by first name.