Interview: Mary Wilcox
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Current Song: Suddenly Strange by Bic Runga
Sixteen-year-old Eva Ortiz dazzles viewers every week on a hit television sitcom. Her younger sister, Jessica, does not have any acting aspirations, preferring to lead an average life off-camera. When accidents start happening on the set and things start to go missing, Jess decides it's up to her to solve the mysteries.
Such is the life of The Hollywood Sisters. This book series will keep young readers them giggling and guessing. (Learn more about the series at my booklists But I Don't Want to Be Famous! and But I DO Want to Be Famous!) Author Mary Wilcox was able to avoid the paparazzi long enough to answer a few questions here at Bildungsroman.
Jess and Eva have a good relationship, and their differences compliment one another. Do you have any siblings?
Yes, I have a younger sister -- and some of our history is in the books. There is a photo of me rocking a Mickey Mouse guitar while Julie shakes a rice box that I straight-up lifted for the book. More than specific incidents, though, I think what I've taken from my real-life relationship is that sense of my sister always being there in some way -- whether or not we are actually spending lots of time together; whether we even want the other one there! -- and how she is the other person with an inside view of how my family works. That just seems to get more meaningful over time.
I also have a younger brother who was born when I was about Jessica's age. He hasn't shown up in the books...yet. :)
There is absolutely some of me (or at least my thinking about things) in every character in the book--that's one of the things that can be scary about writing, it's self-revealing! I am closest to my main character Jessica in that she is an observer and someone who likes to puzzle things through--two qualities common in writers.
Though the sitcom and its cast and crew are fictitious, you've had big names guest star on the show, such as Ashton Kutcher, George Clooney, and Scarlett Johansson. Did you have to get any clearance to "characterize" these real-life celebrities?
There's a line in the copyright that the publisher's lawyers put in to specify that the incidents are fictional.
Did you select celebs you personally enjoy, or go for who is currently on the It List?
Most of the celebrities were chosen because they are well-liked. By which I mean, it's all the more awful for Jessica's jinx to be kicking in around people with the nicest reputations, vs. those who the reader might not mind seeing getting pelted with marmalade...or a golf cart!
My sister-in-law is a producer for an entertainment show in L.A. She shares interesting stories--unfortunately, in her experience, the stars are mostly behaving badly (like big babies, in fact!) I have used some of her inside info--but always applied to my outright fictional characters.
The same two girls appear on all of the book covers. Not only do they look like the characters, but they look like real girls, as opposed to stick-thin stereotypical models. How much say, if any, did you have in the covers?
The characters of Eva and Jessica had been living in my head for a long time; then one day I was flipping through Latina magazine and there was a photo of the gorgeous Mia Maestro (from her Alias days). Boom! I thought: "This is what Eva will look like when she grows up."
When my editor let me know that they would be pursuing a photo-real look (v. illustrated) for the covers, she asked if I had any visuals. I sent a jpeg of Mia...and was AMAZED that they found girls who looked just like the ones I had described. They did a photo shoot with the girls, and I think captured a nice dynamic between them.
The family is of Latin descent. This is pleasantly a non-issue - as in, this series wasn't necessarily written to discuss cultural identity - and though the girls were born and raised in Los Angeles, the family is proud of their heritage. Eva speaks Spanish at an important moment in the first book. The show travels to Mexico in the second book. How important was it for you to weave in these elements?
This series was first born out of the characters Jessica and Eva. I knew that I wanted the girls, especially Eva, to be attractive; I knew that I wanted their home life to run in some ways counter cultural to "celebrity" values. That is, they are from a close family, they practice their religion, and emphasis is put on how they treat people (vs. how people treat them.) Those elements--combined with some great experiences working with the Latin population when I lived in California--evolved into the girls' developing a Latin heritage.
Storyline-wise, both the Spanish-speaking in book one, and the trip to Mexico in book two, are for Eva a reminder that she is part of a larger culture. Not that it defines, or preoccupies her, but that she's simply part of something larger than herself.
How many books are planned in the series?
Five are signed up, but I'd love to spend even more time with these characters.
What are your top ten books?
Some current & ongoing favorites: A Great & Terrible Beauty; Twilight; Feed; Dairy Queen; Charlotte's Web; Little House on the Prairie; A Confederacy of Dunces; Midnight's Children; The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe, and anything Austen.
Visit Jess and Eva (and Mary!) at hollywoodsisters.com
Bonus! At the close of On Location, Eva gives Jess the following playlist:
Songs for Getting Over Boys
You Had Me by Joss Stone
Hole in the Head by The Sugababes
Fighter by Christina Aguilera
I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor
All I Have by J.Lo (Jennifer Lopez)
How You Remind Me by Nickelback
These Boots are Made for Walkin' by Nancy Sinatra