Monday, August 01, 2011
Beyond the Book: FALLING FOR HAMLET by Michelle Ray
Beyond the Book: FALLING FOR HAMLET by Michelle Ray
Happy August, everyone! It's been a while since I've done one of these, and I have a few books that have come out this past Spring and Summer, so I'd better get crackin' if I want to catch up before the Fall releases.
Falling for Hamlet is a contemporary retelling of William Shakespeare's Hamlet from Ophelia's point of view...and in this version, Ophelia doesn't die.
Meet Ophelia: a blonde, beautiful high-school senior and long-time girlfriend of Prince Hamlet of Denmark. Her life is dominated not only by her boyfriend's fame and his overbearing family, but also by the paparazzi who hound them wherever they go. As the devastatingly handsome Hamlet spirals into madness after the mysterious death of his father, the King, Ophelia rides out his crazy roller coaster life, and lives to tell about it. In live television interviews, of course.
Passion, romance, drama, humor, and tragedy intertwine in this compulsively readable debut novel, told by a strong-willed, modern-day Ophelia.
This novel is the first (and only, so far) book I've acquired that has been published on the Poppy imprint. Poppy is home to our young women's commercial fiction. Originally the imprint only published paperback series, like Gossip Girl, The Clique, the A-List, etc, but in the past year or so the imprint has evolved a bit and also published hardcovers, and stand-alone novels. Another editor had recently acquired a modern retelling of Jane Eyre for the Poppy imprint (Jane by April Lindner) when this novel (then titled Ophelia Live!) was sent to me from agent Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, and when I read the description I immediately though Poppy would be its perfect publishing home. Now, when this is the case I will sometimes pass the project on to another editor, but the concept appealed to me so much, I wanted to read it myself. At Little, Brown, any editor can acquire for any of our "imprints", because we're a relatively small group, and we all attend the same editorial and acquisitions meetings. Although I don't usually tend to acquire the type of books that Poppy publishes, I've always loved reading their books, and had always wanted to acquire a Poppy book.
I read this book in one sitting, and absolutely fell in love with it. I guess you could say that I was falling in love with Falling for Hamlet. I loved how clever it was in modernizing the story. I loved the narrator Ophelia, who I felt was the perfect "every-teen" of sorts--she was relatable in that she didn't always make the smartest decisions, and she was still figuring out who she was and who she wanted to be. I loved that the book was about growing up in the public eye, and for anyone obsessed with the royal family, Prince William and his then-girlfriend Kate Middleton, etc, this book gives a great peek inside what life close to the royal family might be like, from the paparazzi, the scrutiny, the privilege, etc. I loved how it was sexy, smart, and full of juicy drama and angst.
The agent was getting other interest for the book, so as soon as I read it I asked for other editorial readers; as I felt Poppy was the right imprint, I specifically asked for reads from some of the Poppy editors, who started reading immediately. One called me an hour later just to tell me how awesome it was and how much she was enjoying it.
The book ended up going to auction, which we won, of course!
Working with Michelle has been a joy. She's a Shakespeare geek, a teacher, wickedly funny, and a great reviser--one of the things we worked on was to flesh out the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia. She added a key scene where they vacation in Florence, and I think one of the last scenes of the book she added in was of how these two childhood friends started dating in the first place. We also worked on some key scenes from the original play which weren't quite working in the modern context. One of my main objectives was to make sure that the story made sense even for readers not familiar with the original play, and I think we achieved that.
This books was such fun to work on, from the sexy cover design by the amazing Gail Doobinin (the girl's skirt on the ARC was actually even shorter than the one pictured here! We used a little Photoshop magic to make it a little less scandalous. Michelle talks about the cover design process here), to the perfect tagline courtesy of my former assistant Connie Hsu: "First comes love, then comes madness"--I came up with our second choice, which ended up on the jacket flap: "Sometimes love will make you crazy."
Coming up with a new title was a challenge. We didn't feel Ophelia Live! was working, and there was already a YA book of a few years earlier titled Ophelia. We debated whether to put Hamlet's name in the title or not--we weren't sure if that was a selling handle or if it would be a turnoff to teens. Some other title options were: Ophelia + Hamlet; Ophelia loves Hamlet; Crazy Sexy Love; and Mad Love.
Over at the blog Emu's Debuts, they celebrated the launch of Falling for Hamlet with a whole week of posts, including an interview of Michelle, Joan, and me here,
Read more interviews of Michelle here and here (the latter is in the Washington Post!) to see more behind what inspired her to write this story.
Falling for Hamlet just came out last month. It's always exciting when a new book comes out, but even more so when it's a debut, because everything is brand new and exciting. I hope you read and fall in love with Falling for Hamlet--although if you read it, you'll probably find yourself falling for Ophelia instead!