Shy, cautious Claire has always been in her confident older sister’s shadow. While Miranda’s life is jam-packed with exciting people and whirlwind adventures, Claire gets her thrills vicariously by watching people live large on reality TV.
When Miranda discovers her boyfriend, Samir, cheating on her just before her college graduation, it’s Claire who comes up with the perfect plan. They’ll outshine Miranda’s fame-obsessed ex while having an amazing summer by competing on Around the World, a race around the globe for a million bucks. Revenge + sisterly bonding = awesome.
But the show has a twist, and Claire is stunned to find herself in the middle of a reality-show romance that may or may not be just for the cameras. This summer could end up being the highlight of her life… or an epic fail forever captured on film. In a world where drama is currency and manipulation is standard, how can you tell what’s for real?
Alison, I looooooved For Real! Spill! How on earth did you get hold of so many fantastic details?
I did so much research for this book! It was pretty easy to get hold of details about how to audition for reality TV effectively—I read several entire books about that. But once someone actually makes it onto a show, the network makes them sign all kinds of non-disclosure agreements, so it’s significantly harder to find behind-the-scenes information about the filming process. Fortunately, reality shows have a lot of rabid fans, and they’re pretty good at scrounging up secrets—in fact, there’s a nearly-500-page, fan-written tome about the first few seasons of The Amazing Race. Since the show in my book is pretty similar, I found all kinds of information I could use in there.
Of course, I also needed lots of little details that were far too specific or mundane to address in that kind of book. What’s the sign-in process like at an audition? What does the producer’s side of the conversation sound like in a daily recap interview? Are the contestants allowed to snack on camera? How do you attach a microphone to someone when he’s not wearing a shirt? Fortunately, I was able to find one reality show contestant, one casting director, and one field producer who were willing to do interviews with me. I probably drove them crazy with all my super-specific questions, but they were incredibly good sports about it, and they did an excellent job of demystifying things!
And what about the exotic locations? I’m guessing an all-expenses-paid world tour wasn’t on the cards, so how did you so convincingly convey that local flavour?
Sadly, you’re right: a world tour was not included in my advance. I actually did a lot of my local flavor research by watching The Amazing Race; there have been something like twenty-five seasons at this point, so I was able to find at least one episode that took place in each of the cities I’d chosen. I never stole a challenge from the show, but I paid a lot of attention to what was going on behind the contestants so I could accurately describe the road signs, the taxis, the locals’ clothing, etc. It often took me ninety minutes to get through a forty-five-minute episode because I had to keep pausing it to write down descriptions of cows and rooftops and bridges. The “street view” function on Google Maps was also an incredibly big help—I spent one entire afternoon virtually driving down highways in Scotland. Honestly, I can’t imagine how people did book research before the internet…
I know I looooove Race Around The World for my vicarious travel fix, and For Real felt like being allowed behind the scenes. Are you a big reality TV fan?
I used to watch a number of the competition shows pretty religiously: Amazing Race, Top Chef, So You Think You Can Dance, Work of Art, and Project Runway were my favorites. I loved watching people showcase their talents, and I used to get really into it. Unfortunately, writing this book kind of ruined reality TV for me. Maybe I just know too much about the strings behind the puppets now, but it just doesn’t appeal to me at all anymore. Scripted dramas only from now on, I think…
To leave reality TV for a moment, For Real also explores the relationship between sisters. Was that something you set out to do when you began writing the book?
Absolutely. The sister story came first, and the show came later; in fact, Claire and Miranda never even made it past the final round of auditions in my first draft! The sisters have been apart during Miranda’s four years at college, and I was most interested in exploring the way their relationship shifted and strained and morphed as they struggled to get to know each other again as adults. I sent them on this trip around the world together because it was the best way to raise the stakes and the tension; it turns out emotions bubble to the surface much faster if you surround your characters with manipulative strangers, deprive them of sleep and personal space, and stick a camera in their faces!
And finally, what’s the one book you’d pack if you were setting off around the world?
I’d bring a big, thick, plot-twisty novel full of scandal and scheming and intrigue, like Gone with the Wind or The Count of Monte Cristo. Those books are so long that they’d last me through a bunch of transcontinental flights, and if I did manage to make it to the end, I love them enough that I’d be perfectly happy starting over again right away.
Thanks Alison! Readers, I’m sure you can see now why I’m so into this book—here’s nothing like being kept up late by an amazing read, and this one kept me laughing, guessing, turning pages, and kept me from sleeping!