Paige McKenzie never set out to be a novelist.
After portraying The Haunting of Sunshine Girl's titular heroine for six years, 16 seasons and more than 1,000 webisodes, the local 20-year-old actress planned to continue her role as the program she created with her mother/co-star Mercedes Rose and business partner Nick Hagen shifted from PDX-based YouTube phenomenon to television series.
When the Weinstein Company purchased their property, however, the studio decided to promote their upcoming TV series with a trilogy of young adult novels. WW's 2014 cover story ("80 Million Paige Views," WW, July 30, 2014) was one of the first pieces to document McKenzie's rise to fame.
Upon the release of her third book, The Sacrifice of Sunshine Girl, WW sat down with McKenzie and Rose to talk about the TV show, the origin story and the terrors of internet fandom. (McKenzie wi'll be signing books at Voodoo Doughnut Too on Sandy Boulevard Thursday, April 12, at 5 pm.)
WW: How did this all begin?
Paige McKenzie: We started the YouTube channel back in 2010. YouTube was not new, but it didn't really have anything based on storylines. We thought ghosts were a creepy, cool thing to talk about. On YouTube, you can do a reverse search. We looked and found that was the No. 2 most-searched thing. I think we're on season 16. Like, road trips will be a season.
Is there an arc?
Mercedes Rose: They're all kind of the same. Ghost. Sunshine gets rid of ghost. Everything's fine for a while…
PM: And, ghost comes back—a different ghost, sometimes the same ghost.
How long are the clips?
PM: Anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes or so. We have a couple that are longer. The Investigation of Sunshine Girl is a bit longer, almost fifteen minutes, but it's really good – way more funny than scary.
How many episodes a season?
PM: It depends. Some of our seasons we take on for a while, and some of them we only do 12 or so episodes. Like, road trips will be a season. We go to the beach, and, usually, that's fifteen episodes or whatever. Then, we'll start a new season with us back in the house being haunted.
Which is, of course, not your real house…
PM: The first one belonged to our business partner, and he actually moved.
MR: We keep things very vague so you can't really find it. One guy figured out where it was—kind of but not exactly so—based on a Barnes & Noble that she was at.
PM: I'm a pretty private person.
MR: Actually, we kept her name out of it as long as we could. It wasn't until Seventeen Magazine insisted that they use her name for an article. We floated out fake names, we were trying really hard – 'can't she just be a Sunshine?' – but, she was part of a contest. In the end, though, here's the funny twist! She was one of five finalists, and there were two girls with the first name 'Paige'. So, two out of five were named Paige. The other girl was born HIV positive and was writing a book about her experiences. Her literary agent was looking for stuff about that Paige – searching 'Paige Seventeen Magazine' – when [this] Paige came up, and that's how we got our literary agent!
Had she not used the name Paige, had she used Sunshine, that might not ever have happened. We've tried really hard to keep her private life private because of the emails that she gets from stalkers – marriage proposals and death threats, sometimes in the same email.
PM: We had a couple fake names. Frances Jones – that was me, and I regret it. We were just trying to keep it super vague and super far away from my real name. And, it worked. There's still people that are, like, 'Frances!' And, oh, yeah, I forgot about that. Sorry.
MR: It worked. Everything we've done has been done purposefully.
What should newcomers know about Sunshine Girl?
PM: Sunshine is a luiseach—a paranormal guardian. In Celtic, it means light-bringer. Book one, the origin story, followed the first YouTube playlist. She's coming into her powers and learning where she fits into this paranormal world. Book two's her training, if you will. She goes to Mexico, learns to fight the demons and helps light spirits move on. Then, book three, she ends up coming home—kinda back to her roots. She's back with Mom and the whole Scooby gang. She's really figuring out where she's gonna go from here. And, how to save the world, too.
Since you are the literal face of the franchise, will you have to turn into Sunshine Woman for the TV series?
PM: I think I look pretty young [laughter]. I think I can handle being in high school for a TV show. I don't know, Sunshine goes to college? Veronica Mars went to college—I could go to college!
GO: Paige McKenzie will sign copies of The Sacrifice of Sunshine Girl at Voodoo Doughnut Too, 1501 NE Davis St., on Thursday, April 13. 5-6 pm.