The voracious interest that created an entire industry devoted to the lives of famous people, where the public treats celebrities as if they were our royalty. The courtship, engagement and wedding of Harry and Meghan. Cardi B's cover shoot for Harper's Bazaar. In particular, the picture of Cardi in a Vera Wang ballgown running away from a castle, a bejeweled Jimmy Choo heel spotlighted in the frame.
These were the sparks that led to American Royalty and the idea of a British prince falling in love with an American rapper.
“There's a tendency to portray [Black women] as strong, tough and incapable of being vulnerable, but that depiction comes at a cost to our humanity.”
I knew people would see the Harry and Meghan connection, but making my heroine, Dani, a rapper instead of an actor shaped it into a different story with its own avenues for me to explore. Meghan is very fair-skinned, with a white father and an African American mother, and she still had to face overt racism from the British tabloids. (Remember that headline, “Harry's girl is (almost) straight outta Compton”?) What if the woman in question were Black with a darker complexion? More famous? And a rapper? How would those attributes change her treatment and people's feelings about her possible addition to a historic institution?
Both Harry and my hero, Jameson, have difficult relationships with the press that are linked to the death of a parent, but unlike Harry, Jameson has been sheltered and allowed to hide away from a society that, by virtue of his birth, felt entitled to him. How would he handle being forced back into the spotlight, and falling for an American entertainer like Dani, who'd built her career cultivating a larger-than-life public persona and who'd need to stay in said spotlight for her own professional purposes?
Once the characters evolved from their initial inspirations, I began crafting my story. I always imagined Dani and Jameson's happily ever after would look different from Harry and Meghan's by virtue of the issues that are important to me and the topics I chose to address. But I never could've anticipated the bombshell game changer that was the Oprah interview! It didn't necessarily change what I was writing, but it created an immediate response to any naysayers who may not have wanted their royal romances tainted with the notion of racism. The reactions, conversations and issues raised in my story, although entirely fictional, would now feel plausible, given what we were learning.
So, I was free to challenge the assumption that in relationships between royals and commoners, the nonroyal was the lucky one. By crafting the royal family as a group of people who seem more like a corporation than a family, it's clear Jameson is the fortunate one in this equation. He manages to find someone to truly love him, not because he's a prince but in spite of it.
While writing, I delved into privilege, appropriation and unconscious bias in the entertainment industry to highlight the aggressions—macro, micro or otherwise—that affect Black female entertainers. Finally, I also took the opportunity to highlight intentional caring for Black women. In fiction, there's a tendency to portray us as strong, tough and incapable of being vulnerable, but that depiction comes at a cost to our humanity. Dani is powerful, independent and resilient, but I also show her being cherished, treasured and protected by a prince who could have his pick of partners. And he chooses her.
There were so many topics I wanted to explore; the challenge was in determining how to narrow my focus. Because at the end of the day, American Royalty is a romance, and I didn't want to lose sight of that. It's lush, fun, sexy and joyful, and it chronicles the journey of two people who aren't perfect but who, improbably, are perfect for each other.
Photo of Tracey Livesay by Jontell Vanessa Photography.