Congratulations to Carolyn! She’s won a signed copy of If I Loved You Less!
Happy Sunday! Today we’re joined by author Tamsen Parker. This is her first time joining us, so be sure to say hello. Also, she’s giving away a signed copy of If I Loved You Less, so you want to get in on that action. Leave a comment below to enter the drawing and we’ll announce the winner on Friday, November 16.
When crafting a retelling of a classic, one of the most important things to consider is the setting. If you’ve seen Baz Luhrman’s 1996 movie of “Romeo and Juliet,” you know exactly how much changing the backdrop can matter to the feel of an updated production of a classic.
As I was first sitting down to write my contemporary f/f retelling of Jane Austen’s “Emma,” I wanted to find a setting that was at once familiar but new for framing the familiar story. One of the things that struck me the most was the paradox of the fictional village of Highbury. While London is within sixteen miles of Highbury—a reasonable trip on well-traveled roads—Emma regards the city where her sister lives as effectively on another planet. She couldn’t possibly venture so far. And why would she, when everything and everyone she needs is already at her (somewhat spoiled) fingertips?
There aren’t so many places in our modern world that feel at once remote yet accessible. Where many residents would feel that the distance to other, more metropolitan places was easily overcome whereas others would regard it as daunting. The place that came to my mind was Hanalei Bay in Hawaii.
While the island of Kauai is quite small (it takes about two hours to drive the main road which nearly circles the island, interrupted by nature reserves) and it’s relatively straightforward to travel to other islands or the mainland, it’s easy to feel as though Kauai is a world unto itself. Which is how Theo, one of the heroines in “If I Loved You Less,” treats it. And while many people around her treat the water surrounding the island as a connection, due to losing her mother in a big wave surfing expedition as a child, she clearly sees the ocean as not only a barrier but an actual threat.
Despite taking place 200 years and over 7,000 miles apart, these parallel settings are meant to allow the reader to experience what I think is one of the great joys of retellings: something that is the same, but different. Humans delight in pattern recognition, it’s pleasurable for us to be able to categorize things we come across. But we also enjoy riddles, puzzles, and surprises. An author has the opportunity to play with both of these things during the course of a retelling through changing the genders of characters, the setting, the language in which the story is told, but keeping the essential story the same.
It’s an interesting exercise to consider favorite retellings through a lens of what has remained the same, what has changed, and what may have been updated but is an equivalent in essential ways. And to ask oneself why an author might have chosen to make the decisions they did and what you, as a reader, may have done differently.
Do you have any favorite retellings of classics? How far do they stray from the original storyline? Are there any stories you’d love to see retold?
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Tamsen Parker is a USA Today bestselling erotic romance writer. Her novella CRAVING FLIGHT was named to the Best of 2015 lists of Heroes and Heartbreakers, Smexy Books, Romance Novel News, and Dear Author. Heroes and Heartbreakers called her Compass series “bewitching, humorous, erotically intense and emotional,” and The Pink Heart Society said IF I LOVED YOU LESS is “an utterly delightful f/f romance for the keeper shelf.”
She lives with her family outside of Boston, where she tweets too much, sleeps too little and is always in the middle of a book. She should really start drinking coffee.
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