Margaret Stohl talks Royce Rolls and writing reality TV
With two Black Widow novels under her belt and her current role as the writer of the Captain Marvel comics, Margaret Stohl’s fans are used to her recent tales of super heroics. But her latest novel sees the Beautiful Creatures co-author step into a different arena — that of reality television.
In Royce Rolls, Stohl details the story of Bentley Royce, the youngest member of the Royce family and a reluctant star of their show, Rolling with the Royces. Only the teen’s hopes for the series’ possible cancellation — and her ensuing freedom — are dashed when she realizes that without the show, her mother, Mercedes, brother, Maybach, and sister, Porsche, would fall apart. And that only means one thing: Bentley Royce must save her show… to save her family.
With the book hitting out April 4, EW exclusively presents the trailer (above), which features a scene from the Stohl’s fictional TV show. But the Royces aren’t the only ones making their (sort of) TV debut. The book, which was published by Freeform Books, will also be making its own cameo on upcoming episodes of shows on the network.
Ahead of the book’s debut, EW spoke to Margaret Stohl about her inspirations, writing reality, and whether one of her characters would make a run for the presidency.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Do you watch a lot of reality TV?
MARGARET STOHL: I live in L.A. so it’s sort of pop culture. I have a friend who makes reality shows, and another friend who works on reality shows, so that was part of it. We [also] live with it all the time. I live near the Brentwood Country Mart where the paparazzi cluster outside. You feel kind of bad for them. They hang out around our school too. But that’s something you grow up with in L.A. When I was little, I would be at P.E. and the Starline tour bus would stop and people would take pictures of us because it was just Los Angeles and it was a school where a lot of movie stars’ kids had gone to. The L.A. reality is surreality.
Was there a specific show you used as a template for Rolling With the Royces, the show within the book?
The obvious example is always the Kardashians, which is always talked about in terms of the book. But in general, it was more the idea of, “What would I do if I had been born into any kind of reality show family?” Because I would be such a tragic misfit. I’m so unpresentable in general. All writers are. This is the only thing in my life that I’ve ever written for just myself and my friends. I used to send it to Melissa de la Cruz, my friend who’s another writer, just to crack her up. She would laugh so hard that she would cry. It was the thing I wrote because I wanted to write it. To this day I have no idea how it became a book. But it was really a labor of love, which is such a treat. Books exist for all kinds of reasons. This one is just to make people laugh.
Considering you’ve been writing about superheroes more recently, what was it like to kind of pivot and write this heightened reality?
So my theory is, everybody who lives in Los Angeles has at least one really good Los Angeles story in them. Because so much happens to us. We witness so much craziness. So, I wasn’t surprised that I had it in me, but definitely different than what I’ve written for my readers… It’s a big difference from superheroes, sci-fi, and spies. On the other hand, what those all have in common is always this sort of strong woman character who just for some reason does not fit in. Which, as you can tell, is probably the story of my life. You just are what you are. You’re born the way that you’re born. No matter how calamitous or public or private your family is. So Bentley has to figure out her family. They may get canceled, which would be the best thing in the whole world to her because she just wants to go to college. But it also means her family will fall apart because she has to reconcile all of those things, which I love. I also loved Where’d You Go, Bernadette? That’s definitely an inspiration. So I thought someone should do the equivalent of this in YA.
Bentley, as a character, has her feet on the ground. But in terms of her family and the show, how did you go about balancing what they’re really like while plotting the beats of the series?
Part of what makes reality shows successful is because it’s different from reality, but it’s partly, especially in Los Angeles, it’s what we see every day. I have my kids in private school with moms that weren’t that different from Mercedes Royce. It’s a mashup of everything we’ve witnessed in a certain way. And then I take things to more farcical extremes. But I’ve been to all those events. It’s a world I move in and out of all the time. It would be a hard thing to invent. But if you’ve witnessed it, it’s a very easy thing to write about. I speak in schools about cultural observers, going back to Jane Austen and through to reality television because really it’s all elements of our own culture. Whether it’s Mr. Darcy in Pride or Prejudice or Kim Kardashian, those are all parts of things people all value and are interested in and I think it’s interesting to find out why.
Did you have to do research into how reality shows work?
I definitely did. I spoke with about four different people within reality television, but competition and where a camera follows a person around. I researched the progression of the industry and how it changed and the budgets got smaller when streaming content began. One thing I realized is they’ll sit down and shoot five back-to-back lunches. They’re not shot chronologically. So they’ll sit there in a restaurant and have a horrible meal after meal as you kind of talk about something that has been roughly scripted. Also so much happens in the editing room, which we didn’t really even get to. But it’s all about the footage that exists. And when we have a reality show president, we have a world where people talk about footage that exists. Where celebrity is really tied to power in our country, it’s really interesting to look at that directly.
I didn’t even make that make that connection. But it’s wild that this book, which is a fun look at this girl and her family’s life, is very relevant in this way.
Well yeah, look at fake news. We’ve been talking about perspective and fake news. That’s the same question as “What is reality?” What is the difference anymore? We live in such a media narrated world. Right? It’s who controls the camera. In the book there’s all this stuff when Bentley realizes what you have to do to change the story. The way you can distract from one headline to another, that sort of dance. I wrote that two years ago. Now look. It’s something we talk about with our own president every day. When I wrote the first draft of that book I could not have imagined that a reality show participant would be the president of the United States of America. That said, it’s a kind of farce I would have put in the book and thought I was completely making up. But no. Our reality is not that different from a reality show. In fact, it’s hard to tell the difference anymore.
As you were writing this book and current events were unfolding, were you thinking of leaning into that?
In a way, that’s what Los Angeles has always been like. In a world where celebrity is so, so important, you always saw in some sense the way people came off was more important than they way they “really” are. That’s what you see about Los Angeles. I was sort of already there when I was writing it. It’s just the context of the book has changed. Had I been writing it now I would have even been leaning into it more. And we look at a sequel I think about that all the time. The things I thought were so outrageous, don’t even seem like a stretch anymore.
If any of your characters had to make a run for political office. Do you think any of them would?
Mercedes, the mother. I absolutely believe that she would be the first woman president by far. The line about Mercedes is, “She’s as hard as her new boobs and twice as tough.” Nobody can mess with her. She would be great. In fact, that’s what I thought about even as a sequel. Instead of Royce Rolls, it would be Royce Runs. But I have a million ideas for them because they’re so, so fun.
Royce Rolls hits bookstores April 4. Preorder it here.