Today, we wrap up the FALLING FOR HAMLET release party, but don’t cry, it’s not quite over yet!
First of all, there’s something we forgot to mention. YOU MAY ALREADY BE A WINNER!!! No, EMU’s Debuts was not hacked by spammers. We are GIVING AWAY a signed copy of FALLING FOR HAMLET–anyone who leaves us a comment on the blog this week is entered to win! That means if you’ve already commented, you are already in the drawing. If you haven’t commented you have the rest of the weekend to do so, as the winner will be announced on Monday. If you already own a copy of the book, this will be a nice gift to someone you know, so jump on board.
Secondly, we wouldn’t leave you without one last FABULOUS PARTY FAVOR! So here it is, your own ShakespeareMask so you can talk like the Bard! (Courtesy of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater–check out their website for ideas of what to do with this great prize.)
Thirdly, we have been fielding bitter complaints of disappointment all week since Mike failed to come through in the mini-skirt wearing department on Tuesday. Some of you may have seen this photo I posted on Facebook, proving to Mike that real men are willing to wear a bit of plaid to support Michelle’s release:
Still, Mike refused to rise to the challenge.
I, however, insist that the public receive its due. If a man in a mini-skirt was promised, then by golly, we’re going to give our readers a man in a mini-skirt! This is a quality blog, and I’m not going to let a broken promise disappoint anyone!
I’m not cruel, though. I wouldn’t force Mike to do anything I am not willing to do as well, so I was there to support him all the way:
Okay, okay, settle down folks. Enough silliness. Cynthia, put down the cup of wine with the pearl in it! Lynda, get that lamp shade off your head! Because we’ve still got one more FABULOUS interview this week, and a SPECIAL GUEST!!!!
Give it up for Jennifer Ziegler!!! Here to chat with Michelle Ray and Me!!!
Today, we are delighted to welcome fellow EMLA author Jennifer Ziegler. Jenny’s novel SASS AND SERENDIPITY (Delacorte), hit the shelves this week as well, and it shares one other special feature with FALLING FOR HAMLET— it is a modern retelling of a great story from a great British writer!
Two Classic-to-Contemporary novels from two authors from the same agency is a bit of serendipity in itself, don’t you think? So of course we had to ask Jenny to stop by and compare notes with Michelle on updating a classic.
Welcome, Jenny. Earlier this week, Michelle shared with us her inspiration for retelling Hamlet. What inspired you to do a contemporary retelling of Sense and Sensibility?
Jenny: I think it chose me, in the sense that it wouldn’t leave my head. I’ve read Sense and Sensibility many times, at different stages in my life, and I’m always impressed with the way Jane Austen perfectly captured the sister relationship between Elinor and Marianne. Apparently, sisterhood has the same ups and downs today as it did 200 years ago — probably since prehistory. I found myself reflecting on the timelessness of that relationship, as well as other elements in the book, and thinking, “Someone should do an updated version.” Eventually I thought, “Yes, someone should … and why not me?”
That’s interesting, because a reflection on the women’s role is also what inspired you, isn’t it Michelle? It seems like updating Shakespeare’s women might be a little harder than Jane Austen’s sisters.
Michelle: Shakespeare seemed to admire, pity, loathe, and love women all at once. On the first page of my book, I quote Hamlet saying, “Frailty thy name is woman.” In a moment of silliness, I added, “Willie, thy name is Sexism.” My editor found it amusing and it stuck. It’s quippy and fun and a little true, but also disingenuous. Shakespeare was a product of a time when women had less power and fewer opportunities. But while he writes some parts and lines that clash with our modern sensibilities, he also wrote so thoughtfully about women, and gave them wonderful reflections about womanhood and humanity. Best of all, many times it is the woman who is the wisest in the play.
What are some of the advantages/disadvantages of updating a classic vs. writing a “new” plot of your own (not that any plot is new)?
Jenny: The advantage is that there is source material to draw from and be inspired by. The skeleton of the main story is already there. Some characters and themes translate effortlessly.
Michelle: I would agree, but I would add two other huge advantages: 1) You can bring in audiences familiar with the work and offer them a twist. 2) You might bring readers to the classics.
Jenny: The disadvantages are that you can feel a little constrained at times, depending on how true to the original you want to be.
Michelle: That’s right. You can tweak, but if you want to do a close retelling, you have to love the original and keep most of it.
Jenny: True, but at the same time, you have to let go of things that you loved about the original (characters, subplots, pivotal scenes, etc.) that really don’t belong in your retelling.
What was most challenging about updating a classic?
Jenny: For me, finding the perfect balance of Jane and Jenny was the hardest part. Michelle, did you reread the original and do lots of research? I purposely stayed away from Austen (which is difficult for me). One reason, was that I didn’t want to get her rhythms in my head; it had to be written in my style.
Michelle: I did stay closer to the text, but still had to write it in my style. Shakespeare is magnificent, but it can seem like a foreign language and be very off-putting, and not just to teens. Translating his words and making them sound “normal” was painful at times. Who wants to change such gorgeous words to dull ones? But I made a choice to update, so “O, that this too too solid flesh would melt/Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!” became, “I just want to kill myself!” Not pretty, but right for what I set out to do.
Jenny: I felt that I wasn’t “retelling” Sense and Sensibility as much as I was simply paying homage to it. Therefore, it made sense to work from memory — to draw from the themes and story arcs that stayed with me over the years — than it did to reread and replicate. I didn’t want that pressure to translate everything, just key stories and ideas.
How true to the original voice/tone/language did you feel you had to stay?
Michelle: Hamlet is light and entertaining, then dark, depressing, and at times tense and terrifyingly suspenseful. I tried to hit the same notes. I worked in dirty jokes and quiet philosophical moments, as well as a sense of rage and betrayal. Though the language had to go, I wanted to keep the rest of what I loved, which was variation of emotion and a corker of a plot.
Jenny: I realized from the get-go that my style is very different and any attempt to replicate Austen’s prose would fall short and feel forced. Besides, even though it was a tribute to Austen and inspired by her work, I still wanted it to be my story with my characters and my author voice. There has to be ownership in what you write, even if you are borrowing elements from other sources.
After this experience, will you write another classic-to-contemporary?
Jenny: Not unless I’m truly inspired. How about you, Michelle?
Michelle: Absolutely. I’ve written two other manuscripts that are all my own, but I love this kind of story and am working on one right now. There are plenty of magnificent tales that are excellent starting points.
Any thoughts on what you hope will draw readers to your stories, and what they will get out of them?
Michelle: Many of the stories that last are universal. It’s a cliché, I know, and yet it’s true. Power, betrayal, heartbreak, love, rage, self-loathing – these are part of the human experience. We come back to these stories because they are beautiful and because we recognize our dreams and nightmares in them.
Jenny: I agree completely. I think if something like Sense and Sensibility isn’t presented as “a story about two sisters finding love during the Regency Period in England” but rather “a story about two sisters who suddenly find themselves facing economic hardships and trying to understand what true love means,” that might help. Setting shouldn’t matter. When the author lived shouldn’t matter. A good story is a good story regardless. And an “old” book isn’t old if you’ve never read it.
The fact that Michelle and I could enter those stories and pull things out into today’s world demonstrates their staying power. And perhaps our novels will inspire a few readers to check out the originals. I really hope that happens.
Michelle: It already has. More than one person I know has rented a movie version of Hamlet because of my book, and I think that’s the best outcome of all. These stories have lasted for a reason, and I think some people need a nudge to seek them out.
Thank you, Jennifer Ziegler for joining us here this week, and thank you to all our fans who have partied with us in celebration of the release of our first debut! And most of all, congratulations to Michelle and Jenny on their releases, and to Mike, for totally rocking that skirt!