Today I am so pleased to welcome Kate McMurray to Joyfully Jay. Kate has come to talk to us about her latest release, See the Light. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
I grew up in a New Jersey suburb just outside New York City, with a mother who is an avid opera fan. We watched a lot of Great Performances on PBS—sometimes under duress—and Mom kept a cassette tape of Mozart arias in her car that she played a lot on long car trips. I didn’t love opera as a kid but grew to appreciate it as an adult (see also my novel The Stars that Tremble, in which my hero Gio is a retired opera singer).
Then, when I was fourteen, I went on a school field trip to see Les Miserables on Broadway. And my mind was blown.
Musical theater obviously shares DNA with opera. A show like Les Mis shows how closely they’re related in terms of basic storytelling structures and the style of singing. American musicals pull in elements from elsewhere—vaudeville, for example, or pop music—and are mostly sung in English, which to my fourteen-year-old brain seemed a lot like a modernization of opera. As a teenager, I found musicals accessible in a way opera wasn’t. And after that first viewing of Les Mis, I was in love.
Well, I bought a cast recording and listened to it on repeat for, like, a month.
(There’s a scene in See the Light in which our heroes, Jeremy and Max, go to see Evita on Broadway that draws a lot from this trip to see Les Mis.)
But I’m not great at singing or acting, so I was never going to be a theater kid, but I have since seen dozens of shows live (mostly on Broadway, but also off-Broadway and touring casts in other cities) and I own a bunch of cast recordings on CD (kids, ask your parents) and I will admit to sometimes having living room karaoke parties in which I act out certain shows to an audience of two disinterested cats.
So I love Broadway. And then a lot of things happened around the time I was cooking up the story that became See the Light that all kind of got baked into the book.
I saw Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway and was totally blown away. I don’t want to spoil anything, but one of the themes of the show is being an outsider and wanting to be a part of something. (Evan establishes this in the song “Waving Through a Window.”) The show is intense and emotional, and the songs are amazing (written by Pasek and Paul, who also wrote the lyrics for La La Land and the songs for The Greatest Showman). The woman sitting next to me in the theater sniffly cried through the entire second act, and it was hard to blame her for it. That’s part of the magic of live theater, not to sound like a presenter at the Tonys. Its immediacy pulls you into the story.
So after I listened to that cast recording about 357 times, I chatted a little with a kid I used to babysit when I was a teenager. Although he’s not a kid now; he’s 28. He’s an aspiring Broadway actor, and he told me a lot about the audition process that I didn’t know. He lives in another state, but he comes to NYC for a few weeks every spring and couch surfs while squeezing in as many auditions as he can.
So I had Broadway on the brain when I was trying to brainstorm ideas for this book. I was also watching a RuPaul’s Drag Race marathon one afternoon when it kind of all came together. Two best friends, one of whom is an aspiring actor, and one of whom does theatrical makeup. And the actor goes through a grueling audition before he is finally cast in a show that is basically Dear Evan Hansen meets Love, Simon.
I was writing the book around the time the Parkland shooting happened as well, and I was really inspired by how these kids were like, “Enough!” and were fighting for change on a scale we hadn’t seen before. So that kind of got rolled into the plot of the fictional musical, too.
(And, yes, I totally did write out a plot summary for the musical. I came up with song titles, too. It’s really a shame songwriting is not part of my skillset or I’d be halfway to Broadway by now.)
My theater nerdery is on full display in the book, which is chock full of musical theater references, but even if musicals aren’t your thing, there’s still a sweet love story between two best friends who share an apartment after one of them goes through a bad breakup.
Up-and-coming Broadway actor Jeremy was given two days to get up and get out. Dumped by his long-term boyfriend and suddenly homeless, he needs a sofa and a sympathetic ear, stat.
Enter Max, aspiring makeup artist and Jeremy’s BFF and former roommate.
Max has been in love with his best friend forever. Now that Jeremy is back in his home, his old feelings are back, too. He’s happy to help his friend, but this time…it’s complicated.
When Jeremy gets his big break in a new show, the message of the play hits home. “Live life to the fullest” means recognizing how he really feels about Max, and that’s not complicated at all. Jeremy’s in love, and wants to move full steam ahead.
But Max has waited too long for Jeremy to look at him this way, and he doesn’t want to risk his heart. If this is just a rebound fling, or if Jeremy is only interested in Max because he’s convenient, it will not only shatter him—it will ruin the best friendship he’s ever known.
Kate McMurray writes smart romantic fiction. She likes creating stories that are brainy, funny, and of course sexy, with regular guy characters and urban sensibilities. She advocates for romance stories by and for everyone. When she’s not writing, she edits textbooks, watches baseball, plays violin, crafts things out of yarn, and wears a lot of cute dresses. She’s active in Romance Writers of America, serving for two years on the board of Rainbow Romance Writers, the LGBT romance chapter, and three—including two as president—on the board of the New York City chapter. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with two cats and too many books.