Tag Archives: Ammi-Joan Paquette

Demi Moore Isn’t The Only One

Demi Moore isn’t the only one who’s ever seen a ghost.

Stories haunt writers. They rattle at us, whisper to us, ceaselessly tap-tap-tapping at our imaginations. When we least expect it, they emerge to surprise and maybe even scare us, leaving us puzzled, shaken, full of longing.

To write is to reach for something you sense could exist, something that almost exists. Occasionally when I read a manuscript, I experience a sort of déja vu. The story reaches for me as I reach for it. It flickers in my imagination, briefly takes form, and becomes a maybe-book. When it happens, the maybe-book feels so real, so familiar, so full of potential, I can almost touch it. 

But alas, it isn’t real, or at least, it isn’t real yet. Turns out, creative clairvoyance isn’t enough to wrest a book out of thin air. Hard work, attention to craft, dedication, and resilience are required before ephemeral maybe-books have a chance to transform and be embodied in smooth pages and dark ink.

It’s up to the individual  writer to pursue their ghostly maybe-books and capture them. This is a daunting prospect and hiding under the covers—a posture which, according to a friend in the know, is universal ghost-speak for “go away”— may seem an appealing alternative.

But there’s a problem with that option. Duck-and-cover won’t work. You can hide but you can’t…hide. Stories know where to find you, and no mere blanket is going to stop them. Perhaps people who don’t believe in regular ghosts never see them, but the ghosts of Stories Yet-To-Come are different. Even if we don’t believe in them, they believe in us, and boy, are they persistent!

So let’s pluck up our courage, throw off the covers, and shoulder our proton packs. We’ll keep the mysterious channels of communication open and reach for what haunts us. Stories know they belong here, and they depend on us, the writers, to invite them into our world.

Here a few of my favorite ghost books:

ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE by Christina Uss. (June 5, 2018)

 

 

 

GUS WAS A FRIENDLY GHOST by Jane Thayer

RULES FOR GHOSTING by Ammi-Joan Paquette

ghost book image credit: BHG.com

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About Hayley Barrett

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press in spring 2019. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in fall 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. GIRL VS. SQUIRREL, a funny STEM-based picture book illustrated by Renée Andriani, is coming from Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House in spring 2020. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Filed under Advice, craft~writing, Creativity, Inspiration, Persistance, Uncategorized

Of Cracked Ribs and Dreams Come True

It was a Saturday in July when I got “the call”.

Actually, missed “the call”.

Actually…*coughs* ignored “the call”.

I was recovering from pneumonia (brought on by severely overworking myself at my day job) and at my biweekly kidlit critique group meeting. One of my crit partners had driven me, because I was in no shape to drive myself. I faded in and oheyarnoldsickut over the three hour meeting, clutching my pirate pillow that I was using to brace my ribs. I’d coughed so hard over the two weeks prior that I’d fractured them. At one point, my phone buzzed and I saw a call from a number I didn’t recognize. I ignored it.

See, I’d been on sub for a while with the manuscript that got me my wonderful agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette. She’d mentioned that someone was expressing interest and might take it to an acquisitions meeting that week, but my head was too full of fog to ever think that this could mean I’d get an offer. We’d been close before. We’d been on sub for what felt like forever. I had a new manuscript turned in that we were prepping to take out next, with the unspoken understanding that it meant shelving the old one for the time being. And there was the whole…103 degree fever for a week straight thing. The ol’ synapses were not exactly firing properly.

I fell asleep for a good chunk of my critique group meeting. I was in a haze as I was driven back to my apartment. So when I looked at my email, squashed in the front seat with my pillow wrapped securely around me, at first I couldn’t understand what I was seeing.

It was an email from Joan. Asking if I was around to talk. She said she’d tried to get in touch with me, but was overseas and using a number I wouldn’t recognize.

My friend Tara was driving, with my other friend Annie in the backseat. Both published authors themselves, I immediately asked them what they thought of the cryptic message. I don’t think either of them thought it was cryptic–neither would come out and say that it probably meant I had an offer, but the implication was there.

…That’s when it hit me. The reality of what might be happening.

bugsbunnycrazyIt was the oddest sensation. I had zero energy, but I still flooded head to toe with adrenaline. Imagine being buried in sand with a caffeine IV drip buried next to you, pouring into your veins.

I wrote Joan back and told her (probably fairly incoherently, given my mental state) that she could call at anytime. Seriously. Any. Time. However, she’d made it clear in her first email that she was likely going to be busy the rest of the day. I was shaking, and not from a fever anymore.

My friends dropped me off, and I had no idea what to do with myself. I was too sick to go out and distract myself with anything, so I put in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and watched that.

Until my phone rang at 5pm.

I. Had. An. Offer! It was official! Joan (seriously, bless her) called me from Europe to tell me I had a two book offer from HarperCollins Children’s. Erica Sussman wanted to be my editor.

All I could say was, “Ohrdomigosh my gosh oh my gosh oh my gosh!”–followed by intense periods of ugly coughing/hacking. I wanted to run. Jump. Scream. Dance. But all my body could manage was this odd sort of speed-shuffle around my apartment with my pirate pillow in tow. Both my cats flew around like maniacs, clearly knowing something was up. I called my parents. I cried.

A book deal! My lifelong dream come true, with cracked ribs.

Joan and I got back in touch when she returned to the States that following week, and we formally accepted. It’s been a whirlwind ever since.

I’ve recovered from the pneumonia and the fractures, thankfully.

…Still working on recovering from the shock.


 

Katie Slkatiemarsivensky’s debut Middle Grade novel (title TBD) tells the story of a 13 year-old robotics whiz who is thrilled to be chosen to train for an international mission to Mars, but soon finds herself and her fellow cadets in a situation far more dire and deadly than any of them could have imagined. Publication is set for Summer 2017 with HarperCollins Children’s.

Katie is a science educator at the Museum of Science in Boston, where she coordinates school visits, does live presentations, and runs the rooftop observatory program. With an academic background in paleontology and zoology, she only began dabbling in astronomy when she joined the Museum in 2009. It soon became a major passion, and spilled straight over into her writing life.

Katie lives in a suburb of Boston with her two completely absurd cats, Galileo and Darwin. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

Visit Katie on Twitter (@paleopaws) or on her personal blog, Discoverific.

 

 

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Filed under Dreams Come True, Happiness, Introduction, Thankfulness, The Call, Uncategorized

MOM SCHOOL! Interview with Ammi-Joan Paquette

To celebrate the launch of Rebecca Van Slyke’s MOM SCHOOL, we’re starting the week off with a bang. I snagged an interview with the stellar Ammi-Joan Paquette, Rebecca’s agent extraordinaire. Here we go:

Janet: Hi Joan! Since we’re celebrating Rebecca Van Slyke‘s MOM SCHOOL release, I’d like to start with how you met Rebecca.

Joan: Many of my clients come to me via referrals from one of my existing authors, or from other author friends. Rebecca actually came referred to me by three such authors: my clients Trent Reedy and Carol Brendler, and the fabulous Cynthia Leitich Smith, who knows a thing or two about talented writers. I’m so grateful to those who sent her my way!MOM SCHOOL cover

Janet: And MOM SCHOOL isn’t the first book of Rebecca’s you’ve sold, correct?

Joan: MOM SCHOOL was the first book of Rebecca’s which sold—in a two-book deal, actually; its companion title, DAD SCHOOL, is due out this time next year. Shortly after this, another of Rebecca’s picture books got a flurry of interest, and LEXIE THE WORD WRANGLER ended up selling at auction (another two-book deal!) to Nancy Paulsen Books. Another picture book, WHERE DO PANTS GO? is forthcoming from Sterling as well. Busy, busy lady!

Janet: The cover is darling, and Priscilla Burris is an ideal illustrator for the book, in my opinion. Did you have much input on the art side of the sale?

Joan: Nope, this was all the terrific team at Doubleday. I absolutely adore Priscilla Burris, and couldn’t imagine anyone better to bring these wonderful characters to life!

Janet: This is such a great concept – as a kid, I imagined my mom knew everything. Of course she would have gone to school! What’s your favorite of the charming images Rebecca conjures up for “mom study”?

Joan: You really expect me to pick just one? Impossible! I am in love with every bit of this book, from start to finish. 🙂

Janet: There’s a rumor that Rebecca’s secret dream is to become a penguin tamer. Do you have a secret dream that you’d, ahem, like to share?

Joan: I don’t know that I have any dream quite so jazzy as Rebecca’s, but if my secret future could involve an unlimited supply of buttery pastry, chocolate, and never-ending books, I’m not sure I could want for anything else.

And neither could we, especially when those books include something as delightful as MOM SCHOOL!

Find MOM SCHOOL at these retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound

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Filed under Agents, Book Launch, Picture books

Evidence for Connection

In one of his lectures on the craft of writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts, the great Tim Wynne Jones said that the only place for a coincidence in a story is at the very beginning.  Random events, coincidences—fate—can set a story into motion. But to bring in a coincidence to resolve the unruly details of a complex plot is a cheap trick. That is unless a book’s theme is built around over the top coincidence as in Uma Krishnaswami’s brilliant The Grand Plan to Fix Everything. By chance, or was it design, Lindsey Lane, was in the room listening that day. In her fantastic debut, Evidence of Things not Seen, Lindsey finds a novel way to use coincidence, fate, and random connection: as the premise of a novel, in which a chance event connects a series of lives that might not otherwise be intertwined.

Evidence of Things Not Seen by Lindsey Lane

To celebrate the role of fate and coincidence, we’ve gathered up coincidences that have shaped our books and our lives. Where books start and life begins is not always clear as this coincidence story from Megan Morrison demonstrates:

A long time ago, I co-founded a Harry Potter web site. After a few years of running the site, I became less involved and rarely posted anymore – until one day, when I saw a post written by someone whose username I’d never noticed before. The post was snarky and hilarious; it was something I’d been dying to say, but as a founder of the site, I felt that my saying it would be inappropriate. Still, it was so satisfying to see someone else give voice to my schadenfreude that I privately messaged a thank-you note to the snarky stranger – something I had never done before. Now, the internet is a big place… but what do you know? It turned out that the snarky stranger lived just a few subway stops away from me, in Brooklyn. So we met up for a drink on July 30th (Neville Longbottom’s birthday, for you HP nerds). Nine happy years and one son later, I’m pretty glad that I randomly replied to that post!

Donna Bowman Bratton also found her partner though literacy and coincidence:

I once replied to a two week old casting call for a mystery fundraiser to benefit our local Literacy Council. There was to be a play. On a stage. Now, I’m sure my parents considered me a drama queen, but I had never been in theatre. Yet here I was, in my twenties, answering this ad. What the heck was I thinking? Lo and behold, all parts were cast, except one, the director explained by phone.
      “You wouldn’t happen to be in your twenties,” she asked. “And, by any wild chance, do you have long blonde hair?”
      “Um, yeah,” I stammered, In the most theatrical voice I could muster.
I showed up for rehearsal and learned that my character, Lotta, was to be murdered, strangled, by her “husband” over a winning lottery ticket. Between rehearsals and performances, I died at least thirteen times, falling to the floor with a flourish. And, each time, my gentlemanly “husband” ensured that my skirt didn’t billow up to reveal too much of, um, me. That last part is what got me.
        A few years later, I married my murderer. Yep, falling in love was murder.
Fast forward a few years and we had all but given up hope of having a baby. Until one very memorable day when, in an hugely unexpected way, I discovered I was pregnant. It was Valentine’s Day!

Friends matter every bit as much as partners. Jennifer Chambliss Bertman believes that fate brought one of her best friends into her life:

I’m never quite certain about the difference between coincidence and fate, but I suppose I could chalk one of my best friendships up to coincidence. Katherine and I knew each other peripherally as undergrads. Then, by chance, we attended the same small MFA Creative Writing program—so small, she and I made up 25% of our class! I initially worried that we wouldn’t get along. I am quiet, introverted, and not comfortable with all eyes on me. Katherine is vivacious, talkative, and not self-conscious about being loud. I didn’t think we had much in common, which is hilarious to me now, given how much it turns out we actually do have in common. We both double majored in English and Dance. We’re both from northern California. We both have brothers. We’re both crafty. We have a similar sense of humor. We have both spent a lot of time working with kids. Of course we both love to read and write. We both have a lifelong love of children’s literature. Our MFA program was challenging in ways I hadn’t anticipated, and I don’t know if I would have hung in there that first year without Katherine’s friendship. And that was just the beginning of one of the most enduring and meaningful friendships of my life. Now that’s a coincidence to be grateful for.

Coincidences give us faith. They are signs that we are on the right path as Tamara Ellis Smith found with marbles:

So I signed with my agent, Erin Murphy, primarily for the middle grade novel that became my debut, Another Kind of Hurricane. At the time it was called Marble Boys, because a big part of the story is that one of the main characters, Henry, has a lucky magic marble that he trades back and forth with his best friend…and then loses…and goes on an adventure to find. Shortly after we began working together Erin sent me an email that went something like this: “You’ll never guess what happened! I was digging in a new garden plot, and guess what I found way down deep in the dirt? A marble! A magic marble! A sign!”

Since then, this has happened a few more times with kids in my neighborhood. They have found marbles in their gardens too! I don’t know, but I’m thinking magic marbles grow, like sunflowers or irises…

Laurie Ann Thompson shares how coincidence brought her book to life!

Many coincidences resulted in my third book, My Dog Is the Best, coming next June. After workshopping it for a couple of years, I learned that people either loved the manuscript… or hated it. When I submitted the manuscript that became Emmanuel’s Dream to agent Ammi-Joan Paquette in 2011, she replied saying she liked it and wanted to see what else I had. I sent her the manuscripts that would become Be a Changemaker and My Dog Is the Best. She responded with an offer of representation! We quickly got to work getting Be a Changemaker and Emmanuel’s Dream ready for submission, but she never said anything about My Dog, so I just assumed she hated it. Two years later, Janine O’Malley happened to casually mention to Joan that she was looking for a cute dog story. Joan remembered filing My Dog away for just the right editor—one who would love it—and she sent it to Janine. Janine loved it! She had a particular illustrator in mind who turned it down, but a few days later author/illustrator Paul Schmid just happened to be in New York handing out postcards, one of which landed on Janine’s desk. She thought his style was a good fit, and he got the job. This book truly wouldn’t have come together without the numerous coincidental intersections between Joan, Janine, Paul, and me. It feels like it was meant to be!

Coincidence and fate shaped my book life too. In August of 2012, on my way from my home in Vermont to spend the year in Yerevan, Armenia my flight from Newark to London was cancelled. As a result, I was sure to miss the once a day flight from London to Yerevan. The folks at United suggested that I just stay put in beautiful Newark for the next 24 hours and take the same evening flight one day later to London. But to be sure not to miss the flight again, I insisted instead that they put me on the early morning flight to London. I was completely unaware that the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) annual meeting was just wrapping up in London at that very moment. I arrived well into the evening, got some take out Indian food, and a decent night’s sleep. The next day, I boarded the tube to return to Heathrow. At the tube stop after mine, a woman struggled to board the train with a number of heavy bags. I helped her get in and settled. Her modest dress, beautiful dark eyes and high cheekbones made me wonder if she, like me, might be heading to Armenia, so I asked her. It turned out that Sahar Tarhandeh, was the Bookbird Correspondent of the Children’s Book Council of Iran and a juror for the Hans Christian Andersen Prize. She had come to London to attend IBBY. Our friendship began with an hour-long magical conversation about children’s literature and the power of books to transcend political boundaries and to promote peace and connections across the globe. A few months into my stay in Yerevan, when Ammi-Joan Paquette sold my verse novel, Like Water on Stone, to Delacorte Press, it was especially sweet to know that Sahar cheered me on from a land just to the east of where my story is set.

In Armenian we say that our fate, jagad a kir, is literally written on our foreheads. Do we write this ourselves or do these events just happen? Whether they are about marbles, books, long lasting friendships, or love, these events, like Lindsey’s Evidence of Things Not Seen, affirm our fundamental human connectedness.

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THE CALL by Rebecca Van Slyke

I waited for a long time to get THE CALL.

You know the one. You’ve written a manuscript for a picture book/poem/article/non-fiction/novel and sent it out. Maybe you’ve written two. Maybe sixty. In any case, you wait. And wait. The weeks turn into months, and maybe– like in my case– years. You do the things you’ve been told to do. Be  patient. Keep writing. Keep sending out. Go to conferences. Join a critique group. Get an MFA in writing for children. Get an agent. Keep writing. Keep waiting.

And after awhile, if you keep doing this, you get– THE CALL.

Your manuscript has been accepted. (!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Now with all the practice that I’ve  had waiting, you’d think I would have prepared something semi-intelligent to say when THE CALL came.

You might think that. But you’d be wrong.

I got THE CALL on a Monday morning in early June, just after school got out. I was enjoying a leisurely morning of not having to go teach second grade. I’d had my tea, checked my email, and I was contemplating taking a shower. The phone rang.

Voice on the phone: Hello, Rebecca? It’s Joan.

Me (thinking): Joan? Joan who? It doesn’t sound like Joan, our retired school librarian…. Stall…

Me (out loud): Hello!

Maybe she’ll say something to clue me in.

Voice on the phone: How are you doing this morning?

No help there. Stall…

Me: Great! How are you?

Voice: I’m very well. I have some good news.

Good news is good. Wait! Maybe she said “Dawn.” It sounds a little like the Dawn I know who is getting married this weekend. She’s probably calling to tell me something about the wedding.

Voice: I got an email from Frances Gilbert.

Frances Gilbert? I don’t know a Frances Gilbert. A member of the wedding party?

Me: Yes?

Voice: She’s made an offer on MOM SCHOOL and DAD SCHOOL.

MOM SCHOOL? DAD SCHOOL? Those sound familiar. Wait. I wrote two picture books called MOM SCHOOL and DAD SCHOOL.

Suddenly all the pieces fell into place like a load of… very heavy things.

MY AGENT’S NAME IS JOAN. SHE HAS AN OFFER ON A BOOK! TWO BOOKS?

So I said… “Oh!”

That’s it. All my years of waiting, condensed into one brilliant syllable: “Oh!”

Little more than a letter, really. “Oh!”

Joan  had more to say, but I didn’t. After every sentence she told me– presumably details about the offer– all I could manage was, “Oh!”

I think I also said, “Thank you.” I hope I said, “Thank you.”

“So I’ll call you back with more details later, then,” Joan finished.

“OK.” Yay. Another letter added. “OK, then.”

We said goodbye. I think I managed a goodbye, too.

My family and I celebrated in secret because nothing was finalized. Champagne corks popped. We packed to go to the wedding, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to say anything to well-meaning friends who were sure to pat my hand and ask, “So how’s your writing going?”

I lamented the fact that all I had said was, “Oh.” I vowed that the next time I got THE CALL I would have something more to say than, “Oh.” Something intelligent. Something charming. Something gracious. I am a writer, after all, and writers are supposed to be good with words.

That very Thursday, before we left for the weekend, Joan called back. She had more details about the offer. I had some marginally intelligent questions to ask, and I even managed to take a few notes. Then Joan said, “Are you sitting down?”

“I could be.” I sat down.

“We’ve had an offer for another one of your picture books.”
Another CALL!! Here was my opportunity to be witty. To be erudite. To say something– anything– besides, “Oh.”

“Oh… my!”

*headdesk

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Filed under Advice, Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anti-Advice, Celebrations, Happiness, Introduction, rejection and success, Satisfaction, Thankfulness, The Call

THE MONSTORE launch party continues with agent Ammi-Joan Paquette!

Today we’re welcoming Ammi-Joan Paquette, the agent who sold THE MONSTORE, to do a guest post on what originally got her excited about the manuscript, and what makes it a successful debut picture book. Welcome, Joan!Ammi-Joan Paquette

LAT: THE MONSTORE is Tara’s debut book. Was it also the first manuscript you saw from Tara?

AJP: Yes! Tara queried me with this picture book, also mentioning that she had several other projects in the works. I read and loved THE MONSTORE, and asked Tara if any of her other works were complete and available to send me. She did! The more I read, the more I loved Tara’s effusive writing, dynamic characters, and wildly inventive imagination. I was hooked.

LAT: What was it about THE MONSTORE that really made you sit up and take notice?

AJP: I think THE MONSTORE is the definition of high-concept. Right from the title you know that you are in for something really special—and then the story itself delivers on every level. Tara takes an out-of-this-world premise and pairs it up with a story that is both fun and wacky, yet also very warm and relatable to kid readers. You are reading about Zack and his parade of defective monsters, but you are also reading a story about a boy who is fed up with his pesky little sister—and a kid sister who turns out to be a lot more than she seems. And all of this is wrapped in a delightful read-aloud package full of rollicking rhythm and wacky wordplay. How could I not sit up and take notice?
monstoresmallcover
LAT: Now that you’ve seen the final version, is it much different from the original that you first fell in love with?

AJP: Yes and no. The story’s gone through some polishing revisions, of course, but the text is very similar to the one I originally read. What is wildly different now, of course, is that it comes with some stunning artwork! James Burks has done an amazing job bringing THE MONSTORE to life, and his characters take the story to an entirely different dimension. Being able to pick this book up off the shelf and leaf through its pages, then send my mind back to that day, three years ago, when I opened yet another email query, this one from a debut author named Tara Lazar… well, that’s really something, isn’t it?

LAT: Quick! Use three words to describe THE MONSTORE:

AJP: Hilarious! Inventive! Winner!

LAT: Is there anything else you want to add?

AJP: You should also know that Tara Lazar has several other books on the horizon—the next one of which is forthcoming from Aladdin next year: I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK is another wacky tale about an alien who falls out of his library book and into a different story altogether. And her next book, LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD, is forthcoming from Random House Books for Young Readers as well. If I were you, I’d keep a particular eye out for Tara’s books, because I think we’re going to see some increasingly amazing and memorable stories coming out over the next few years. So mark your calendars and clear space on your bookshelves—because this picture book author is here to stay!

LAT: Thanks, Joan! I have to agree that THE MONSTORE is a winner. I’m also looking forward to your own picture book, GHOST IN THE HOUSE, along with not one, but two, new novels, PARADOX and RULES FOR GHOSTING, all of which come out in just a few weeks! Congratulations on all of your success as an agent AND as an author, and thanks again for taking time out of your crazy busy schedule to celebrate THE MONSTORE launch party with us!

Ghost in the House cover Paradox cover Rules for Ghosting cover

Don’t forget: this is your last chance to leave a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of THE MONSTORE!And you can find your own copy of THE MONSTORE (or buy one to give as a gift!) at places like Indiebound, Amazon, and BN.com, or at your local bookstore.

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Filed under Agents, Celebrations, Interviews, Updates on our Books!

Falling for Hamlet, Ophelia, Michelle, Alvina, Joan, Finger Puppets and Italian Vespas

Welcome to Day 3 of Emu’s Debuts FALLING FOR HAMLET launch week extravaganza! We’ve got interviews, photos, and even, dare I say it? A prize! Not just any prize, mind you.  Nay. It’s your very own set of……..

Hamlet Finger Puppet Set

You know you want these...

Hamlet finger puppets! That’s right–you, too, can create your very own version of Hamlet, just like our own Michelle Ray did! Bonus–they’re magnetic, so you can stick them on your fridge or the inside of your school locker, readily available to amaze and impress your friends. How can you win your own set of Hamlet finger puppets? Stay tuned to the end of this post…

Now, quick! Think of a famous Shakespearean line that refers to a multiple. Did “Double, double, toil and trouble” come to mind?

Continuing the celebration of the publication of Michelle Ray’s debut novel, FALLING FOR HAMLET, EMU’s Debuts is going one better. Cynthia and Natalie are proud to post a great three-way interview with Michelle, her EMLA agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, and her editor at Little, Brown, Alvina Ling. As you’ll see, Michelle, Joan, and Alvina really notched up the trouble for Hamlet and Ophelia when Michelle came up with the brilliant idea of placing one of Shakespeare’s darkest plays in a high school today.

First, what most attracted each of you to this story?

Michelle: “Hamlet is magnificently written. The language is perfection and it has everything I love in a story – romance, tragedy, and great language. And yet, Ophelia’s death troubles me. Every time she wanders off stage in her full insane glory, I want to grab her and say, “Hey, pull yourself together!” In the context of the play and its time, it makes far more sense because her world is so narrow to begin with. After Hamlet and his family mess with her life, there is no one to care for her and it’s not like she can run off to the local psychologist and get some help. I wanted desperately to write her a new ending, and to see what the impact of fame, technology, modernity, and the media would have on her story.”

Joan: “The first thing that caught my eye was the story’s extraordinary concept. I loved the idea of taking a classic tale and giving it such a fresh, contemporary spin. The addition of the Oprah-style talk show and the flash-forward investigation interviews woven together with the rich story narrative felt like an unbeatable combination that kept me turning the pages one after the other. I couldn’t put it down!”

Alvina: “I found the novel utterly compelling—so sexy, smart, fun, and drama-filled. And even though I knew what the basic plot points would be because of the inspiration, I was so curious as to how certain moments would be executed—most importantly, how would it deal with Ophelia’s death in the original HAMLET?”

Much is changed but much also remains the same. To what extent was staying true to Shakespeare’s original story important in the process of writing, editing, and producing a book like this?

Michelle: “To me it was very important. There are some who will say there’s no need to retell it, but there are others who enjoy retellings. And there are many, many people who don’t like Shakespeare. I wanted to win them over and convince them that he had great stories to tell. Lots of people find the language of the original too large a hurdle to get over and give up, and their only experience with Shakespeare is in school, which can be dull. (I teach it yearly and struggle mightily to keep the kids engaged.) My hope is that some readers will pick my book up and think, ‘That’s a great story. I want to see the original now.’ And I hoped that those who already knew it would get a kick out of the twists and alterations necessitated by a change in time and style, and recognize the speeches and memorable moments from the original that they enjoy.”

Joan: “I liked the similarities as much as the differences. The biggest difference—the fact that Ophelia doesn’t die at all, but lives to tell her own story, and to grow from the tragic circumstances she has been caught in—is a pivotal one, which affects so many other aspects of the story. But with that aside, I loved the fact that it closely followed so much of the original tale. I feel like this gives the story a solid backbone, and also an extra launching point for students who are familiar with—or want to become familiar with—the original play and can compare the two versions to see what matches up and what has been given its own spin.”

Alvina: “For me, the most important aspect was making sure that this novel stood on its own, that it would work for a reader not familiar with the original play. In fact, I decided not to re-read (or re-watch) HAMLET during the editing process. However, I did have another editorial reader who had re-read HAMLET give the novel a fresh read to get that perspective as well. The reader made some great suggestions on important quotes and moments from the original play to add into the novel.”

Finally, what were the biggest challenges in bringing about this book?

Michelle: “There were a few. First, Ophelia’s not in the play much. I had to use technology, eavesdropping, and creative license to get her to witness or be part of key moments. Second was the language. Countless times I got notes saying that my translation of a line still sounded too Shakespearean. Some lines are natural enough that I didn’t have to do much, but others are so formal and foreign to the vernacular of today’s teens and adults. What nineteen-year-old proclaims, “To be or not to be?” And yet readers will be looking for those words. Figuring out when and how to put in the real words and when to change them or leave them out took some doing. Finally, because I’ve seen enough Hamlets, I feared making some scenes a cliché, or too tied to the past. For instance, one very important scene is usually done with fencing. Yes, people still fence today, but wanted to offer something different. I had originally written the scene as a televised poker game. (When I started writing, celebrity poker was huge.) The lines worked, but Alvina, my editor, said it was too sedentary. I understood, but I don’t know much about sports, so I had to teach myself. I chose lacrosse, which I’ve never played. YouTube is a terrific tool for the non-sporty writer, as is having athletic friends to fact check.”

Joan: “My window into FALLING FOR HAMLET was that it was a pleasure to be involved with, from start to finish. Looking over the finished product now, savoring the rich language and spicy dialogue, it looks so easy and effortless. But I know that this neat-looking package is the product of countless hours of careful crafting, meticulous research, and writerly angst. I applaud Michelle for her creation, and also Alvina’s close oversight in drawing it out—and all the folks at Little, Brown for creating such a delicious-looking package. Here’s to much and many more such masterpieces in the future!”

Alvina: “I loved that the book stayed true to the original story, but what I worked with Michelle the most was making sure those plot points were believable in the contemporary world. One of the more challenging scenes for both of us, I think, was the climax when, well, most everyone dies. In the first draft that I read, Hamlet was participating in a televised poker game. Now, I love watching poker, but it wasn’t working: the way everything unfolded in that scene was too farfetched and unbelievable. I felt that it would need a more physical challenge to feel more real, and Michelle came up with lacrosse, which I think worked really well. I’m so excited to have played a role in introducing this extraordinary novel to the world. Michelle has been a dream to work with!”

Thanks to Michelle, Joan and Alvina for the great interviews!

Now, make haste! Can you spot Hamlet and Ophelia in the photo below?

Do not try this at home. Riding a Vespa in a short skirt is not recommended.

Why did Natalie snap a photo of Michelle’s book on a Vespa in an Italian piazza (at great risk of looking like a fool in public, I might add)? That, my friends, is the question. Anyone who would like to hazard a guess (any guess–we’re not picky) will be entered to win his or her own set of Hamlet finger puppets. Just include your guess in the comments for this post, and a winner will be drawn and announced for Monday’s post. For those of you who have the book, this should be an easy question (*cough* page 24 *cough*). For those who don’t yet have a copy, get thee to a bookstore!

With publication in July, dare we say that Michelle’s been a mid-summer’s night’s dream? Go forth and fall for Hamlet!

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