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Friday, April 3, 2015

Interview: Michelle Ray, author of Mac/Beth

I'm so excited to have Michelle Ray stopping by today for a chat! Michelle is the author of Falling For Hamlet, which was adapted as the new tv show, "The Royals", on E!. And Michelle's latest book, Mac/Beth, just released...

Mac/Beth: The Price of Fame Shouldn't Be Death
by Michelle Ray

Mac/Beth follows Beth DeAngelo, the star of a hit teen TV show (think Disney or TeenNick) who wants to break free from the squeaky clean parts she’s had to take and move into adult roles in film. After she and her boyfriend Garrett Mackenzie (they are “ship” named MacBeth) accidentally kill her close friend and costar Duncan King, they must navigate their rise to fame and their own guilt.

This contemporary re-imagining of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is told from Lady Macbeth’s point of view, and explores the allure of fame, romance in the public eye, the conflict between new and old lives, and the possibility of ghosts.

Duncan King’s death was an accident. It was. I know everyone wants to blame me for it. Make me out to be some evil schemer, but that’s not how it was. I’m just like any other teenage girl. Except that I’m on TV. And my boyfriend is a movie star. Sure, we’re ambitious. Sure, we like to get our way. But that doesn’t mean we’re murderers. Well, not me anyway. I never meant for all those people to die. Especially not Duncan.

What three words best describe your book, Mac/Beth?
Modern, fast-paced, mysterious

Can you give us your best one sentence pitch to convince readers to give Mac/Beth a try?
This modern Hollywood story will have you wondering if ghosts exist, how you know a true friend, and if fame is worth hurting people for.

Grab a copy of Mac/Beth and answer the following:
favorite chapter?
My favorite fun/sexy chapter is when Beth turns 18 and is offered a photo on the cover of a magazine, but they want her in lingerie. She’s really uncomfortable with it, but feels like she has no choice if she wants to be seen as more adult. When Mac shows up at the photo shoot, we get to see why she loves him so much.
My favorite serious chapter is mid-way through the book when she finally decides to ask the adults in her life for help because the secrets and lies have become too much, and their responses are different forms of self-interest. She realizes she is even more alone than she thought.

favorite page?
I love when we first meet Beth. She’s just home from work and tired and about to have to go to Duncan King’s premiere and pretend not to be jealous of him, when her mom, agent and publicist attack her for a tabloid photo. She wants to move forward in her career and feels like the sacrifices she’s made have to be worth it, but she’s also a teenager and human:

“There’s got to be a way to fix this,” insisted my mother, twirling her auburn ponytail around her fingers nervously.
“Right,” said Paloma, snapping into fix-it mode. “Beth, you’ve got to be seen out with your dog. Everyone loves a star and her dog.”
“I don’t have a dog.”
“You what? I told – damn it.” She lifted her phone up, pushed a button, and started shouting, “Jacqueline! I told you to get Beth a dog months ago.”
“But I don’t want one,” I interrupted.
“Don’t be ridiculous. You have to have one. Everyone has one,” Paloma said sharply before wandering toward the wall of windows overlooking the city from my perch in the Hollywood Hills. “Jacqueline,” she continued as if I hadn’t protested, “what’s the ‘it’ dog now? A Pomeranian? Labradoodle?” She paused for a split second to listen. “A teacup pig? A pig! Are you – Ugh. Who has one of those? Maddie G? She’s disgusting. No. No. It’s got to be something small and fluffy. Something Beth can carry or put in one of those purse things.”
“Paloma, I don’t --” I tried again, but my mother shushed me.
“By Monday, Jacqueline. Or you’re fired.” Paloma hung up and nodded at me.
The doorbell rang and in walked Eric, my stylist, holding a garment bag. “Here’s the dress for tonight’s premiere,” he practically sang. He hung it on the clothing rack, which had become a permanent fixture in my living room because of the frequency of such occasions, and unzipped the bag. Taking it out with a flourish, he waved down the length of the gown and everyone in the room gasped and golf-clapped. Everyone but me.

favorite setting?
I love when Mac and Beth are at the Kids Heart awards (which are modeled after the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards). The couple is confronted by someone who says he knows what they’ve done and wants to blackmail them. Mac/Beth are still reeling from their part in Duncan’s death, but they have to be presenters and walk the red carpet, so they must look like all is well while falling apart internally.

flip to a random page and give us a 1-2 sentence teaser:
“Umi,” I said. “How did you know about Duncan’s family?”
Umi shrugged and stood up, saying, “We witches may be bitches, but we ain’t no snitches.”

What inspired Mac/Beth? How did the story come to be?
I was asked to do another retelling after Falling for Hamlet, and I was considering stories that had a modern equivalent to the original storyline. My youngest was watching High School Musical in the back seat during a road trip, and it hit me. Hollywood is like American royalty, and I started thinking about teen stars, and ambition, and what leads people to do drastic things. I wanted to get all of the elements I enjoy about Macbeth in there – spots of blood and witches and ghosts – but it’s hard to make those translate to a less superstitious age. I decided that Beth could be skeptical but still see ghosts and blood, and the witches became gossipy mean girls. The girls play witches on their TV show, and they overhear and spread rumors, which isn’t quite fortune-telling, but it has the same effect.

Can you tell us a bit about your characters Beth and Garrett? What makes them unique and interesting?
Beth has sacrificed a lot to be on TV, and Mac fell into it and everything comes easily to him. She’s irritated that he’s not more ambitious at the beginning, and she brings out him, um, killer instincts. I think we see stars and think they’ve got it all, but they’re just people. Beth is conflicted. She’s embarrassed by her desire for more but it drives her. Mac is a romantic and a sweet soul, but Beth isn’t sure what to believe about him after a while.  

Both Mac/Beth and your previous book, Falling For Hamlet, are modern retellings of Shakespeare plays, so I gotta ask: what other Shakespeare works would you love to reimagine? Do you have a favorite Shakespeare play and/or character?
My version of Much Ado about Nothing is mostly finished. It’s a bit of a departure from my murder-y stories, but it has the same elements as Mac/Beth and Falling for Hamlet: parental expectations, the consequences of actions, the thrill of romance, and how gossip and rumor play with your head.
I adore Benedick from Much Ado, and my very talented friend, Jason O’Connell, played him the best I’ve ever seen -- as a mouthy boy with heart who appears insensitive but is a mush inside. Benedick wants to do right by the gal he likes, even though she keeps pushing him away. I don’t think I got that until I saw Jason’s performance. That play is funny and sweet. A perfect summer show.

Your book Falling For Hamlet was the inspiration for a new televisions series, The Royals...what has that experience been like? Are you a fan of the show?
I genuinely like The Royals. Would have watched it even if I had no connection to it, and I was worried before the first episode aired, but it’s fun!
Seeing my name on the screen during the end credits was one of the biggest thrills of my life. It’s been crazy because the decisions and filming and everything have had nothing to do with me. I knew that going in, but it’s odd not to know how someone is interpreting your ideas. From the commercials, I thought nothing was the same, but after watching the pilot and re-reading the beginning of my book, there are bits of my original story there. It’s a funny thing seeing my writing combined with someone else’s new ideas. It’s been an unexpected and welcome adventure.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of being an author? The hardest aspect?
Entertaining people with my stories is a kick. Even when it’s just emailing a draft to a friend and having them say they were really drawn in is satisfying. Being rejected is horrible, as is reading mean reviews. Not bad reviews. I get that it’s art and people may not like what I’m going for or my style. Mean makes me mad.

Fill in the blanks:
I’m really awesome at teaching things kids think will be boring and making it interesting.

I’m really embarrassed to admit that I sing my heart out to musicals on the highway.

The last great book I read was Every Day by David Levithan.

If you were to create and bake a cupcake inspired by Mac/Beth, what would it look and taste like, and what would you call it?
It would be red velvet with splatters of red gel on the cream cheese frosting. I would call it “Eat Eat This Damned Cupcake!”

Thank you so much for stopping by, Michelle!

Michelle Ray loves killing people . . . in her books. This would worry her a bit, but Shakespeare's body count outpaced hers significantly. A confident "theater geek", she also loves to read YA books, to hang out with her friends, her kids and her husband, to teach cool things to her middle school students, and to go to the movies. Most surprising in her life so far was having FALLING FOR HAMLET optioned for TV and end up "inspiring" THE ROYALS, E!'s first scripted drama. Michelle grew up in LA, moved to Boston then New York, and now lives near Washington, DC. She visits NYC whenever she can.

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