INTERVIEW: Author Katharine McGee Talks American Royals And What We Can Expect In The Sequel, Majesty
Image Credits: Instagram / Katharine McGee
In April 2020, Future Female Leaders launched our official book club as a way to connect our readers together over shared love of reading and talk about some amazing books along the way. Our first pick was American Royals, the first book in a new series by Katharine McGee.
You can read our full review of American Royals, published when the book was released back in September 2019 here, , but in case you didn’t know: American Royals imagines what the United States would look like today if instead of becoming president, George Washington became King back in the late 18th century.
We had an amazing response to our book club, and so many of you all told us how much you loved the book, and how eager you were for the sequel, Majesty, out this September. To quench your thirst in the meantime, and give you a glimpse into what goes into the mind of an author creating such an amazing new world, we present to you our interview with American Royals author, Katharine McGee.
McGee is the New York Times bestselling author of the Thousandth Floor series, and now the American Royals series. She studied English and French literature at Princeton and has an MBA from Stanford. She’s been speculating about American royalty since her undergraduate days, when she wrote a thesis on “castle envy”: the idea that the American psyche is missing out on something, because Americans don’t have a royal family of their own.Katharine lives with her husband in her hometown of Houston, Texas.
What inspired you to write American Royals? Were you more intrigued by the royal side, or the American history side initially?
I’ve always been fascinated by royalty—I grew up on historical fiction, especially Philippa Gregory’s books about the Tudors. It’s uniquely compelling story-wise because it’s all about power, and those who were born with it versus those who have to fight for it. Royalty is also one of the only instances of fate left in the modern world! Who else aside from a future king or queen has their entire life laid out for them at birth? (Obviously, the position comes with a lot of perks, but it is still inescapably a role that is chosen for you, rather than one you choose for yourself.)
I used to always dream of writing a historical fiction novel, something with forbidden love and political intrigue and villainous characters scheming for the throne. Once I got the idea for American Royals, I realized that I could still have all those things—in a modern setting, and with an American twist.
Our readers love America, they love politics, and they love history, myself included. That’s why I was so intrigued by this book, which takes so much history of both America and England and adds nuance. How did you decide which history to change and which to keep as a nod to the real history of the US? What is your favorite “Easter egg” of mostly-true American history in the book? Mine is the cherry in the design of the book as a nod to the infamous cherry tree!
The world building was definitely one of the best parts of writing American Royals. I’m such a history nerd, I could have spent years teasing out all the what-ifs! Overall, I wanted to preserve the glittering sense of fun that’s inherent to monarchy—the glamour and pageantry of a royal procession, the feeling of awe you get when you see Versailles—but to give it a distinctly American flavor. For instance, I did include an American aristocracy (I can’t imagine a royal novel without scheming courtiers!) but emphasized that modern peers are all chosen by merit rather than birth.
There were so many nods to real world history that didn’t make it into the final draft. One of my favorites was that an American princess, Frances, had married the Russian tsarevich Nicholas toward the end of the 19th century. (In real life, Nicholas married Alexandra of Hesse and became the last tsar of Russia—but in my alternate history, his American wife was such a positive influence on him that he successfully worked with the Russian people to avoid a revolution. So in the present day, the Romanovs are still ruling Russia!)
One of the reasons I love your novels are because they are multi-POV. In American Royals, we get Beatrice, Sam, Nina, and Daphne. How do you decide which POVs to write? Did Jefferson have his own chapters at some point? Will there be new POVs in Majesty?
A lot has changed about American Royals since the first draft, but the four main characters stayed the same. I have a soft spot for Princess Margaret and Prince Harry—it’s such a unique position, to be the “spare” for your older sibling—so I always wanted to show two princesses, one of whom is the future queen while the other feels distinctly less-than. The royal world is so unique that I knew I needed an “everygirl” perspective, which became Nina. And Daphne actually came from the ugly things that the British press used to say about Kate Middleton. When they first started dating, the tabloids called her a social climber who had built her entire life around marrying Prince William. I don’t believe this, but I thought it made a fascinating character!
There are no new POV’s in Majesty, but there are some new characters—including someone who was introduced briefly in book 1, and becomes a crucial part of the story!
If you had to set American Royals at a different point in history, but with America as a monarchy, which period would you have picked and why? It’d be fun to imagine the American monarchy trying to navigate the roaring 20s.
I love the idea of American Royals in the flapper era! I also think it would be fun to go all the way back to the beginning, and do a prequel novel about the Revolution, and how America got a monarchy in the first place. It would be The Crown meets The Patriot!
In the world of American Royals, America has a monarchy as an executive branch, but still has an elected Congress and a Supreme Court. Do you think it makes this feel more feasible, to modern readers? Is this inspired by any particular systems you studied?
When I started building the world of American Royals, one of the first questions I grappled with was how powerful to make the king. Obviously, I could have made the position more like that of the British monarch, a head of state operating separately from a PM who serves as acting executive. But I felt like this did a disservice to Beatrice! She is a young woman training for a role that has always been occupied by men. I really wanted her to step into a position of real power, and not just symbolic influence.
The idea of king-as-executive may surprise you, but Alexander Hamilton actually argued for something similar during the Constitutional Convention of 1787. (If you’ve seen the musical, this is when he “talked for six hours, the convention was listless!”) Hamilton essentially wanted to elect a president for life—making the position similar to the British King, only chosen on merit rather than birth. I feel a little better about my fictional American monarchy knowing that it’s something Hamilton might have approved of.
You wrote your college thesis on “castle envy.” How did you decide to study that so intensely and what did you learn—does America truly want a royal family?
I wrote my senior thesis at Princeton about the rise of American historical fiction, from Forever Amber, Rosalind Laker, and Gone with the Wind to more modern books like those of Philippa Gregory. When I tracked sales data and interviewed editors, I learned that books about historical royals—books about the Tudors, or Queen Victoria, or even ancient Roman emperors—sell better in America than in European markets. (More novels have been written about Versailles in English than in French!)
To explain this, I coined the term “castle envy”: the idea that Americans gravitate toward stories about royals because we don’t have a royal family of our own. Sure, the presidency has ceremony and traditions, but none of them compare to the sight of the Queen in her robe and crown jewels, or the splendor of a coronation day. And we may have celebrities, but they don’t fill the same role as royals would. There’s a reason that Americans have so eagerly followed Meghan Markle as she became a princess and then left it all behind… like Grace Kelly, she did the impossible and actually became an American royal.
Did you always know how the first book in this trilogy would end? Or did you change your mind as you spent more time with the characters?
Right now, American Royals is actually only two books, so it concludes at the end of Majesty… but I know better than to ever say a series is really done. I have some ideas for where I would take the characters in a third book, if the publisher ever wants to continue the story!
I did always know how the first book would end. I watch a lot of dramatic TV (Game of Thrones in particular!) and knew that I wanted to leave things on an epic cliffhanger, the way a TV series might end. It also felt like the right breaking point between the first and second books, as Beatrice starts to come into her own as a young woman who will become queen.
American Royals features a hint of one of my favorite romance tropes—“there was only one bed.” What are your favorite romance tropes to write?
That scene is one of my favorites, too! I’m also a big fan of enemies-to-lovers, probably because I love writing heated and tense banter. Fake-dating and arranged marriages are also a favorite of mine (I blame all the historical fiction I’ve read!)
If you had to be locked in isolation with one of the characters from this book, who would you choose and why?
I think Samantha would be the best isolation buddy! She’s so buoyant and entertaining, she’d be full of great ways to pass the time. (I’m currently quarantined with my younger sister Lizzy, who always knows how to make me laugh—and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t write a bit of Lizzy’s personality into Samantha). Although, I wouldn’t hate being quarantined with Connor, either!
Get your copy of American Royals here and pre-order the sequel, Majesty, out in September 2020 here.
Join the Official Future Female Leaders Book Club HERE!
Future Female Leaders is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.
FFL Cabinet Member