December 19, 2012

Interview with Amy Helmes and Kim Askew

Did you catch my review of TEMPESTUOUS earlier today?  Not only did I enjoy the book, I also scored an interview with authors Amy Helmes and Kim Askew

Amy is an editor of Soaps In Depth and a contributor to The Rundown.  She once competed against Ken Jennings on Jeopardy!  Kim's writing has appeared in various literary journals and magazines including Elle.  She's currently working on her Master's thesis.

Read on to learn more about Amy, Kim, and Twisted Lit!


1. Modern reimaginings of Shakespeare seem pretty popular in YA right now. Obviously, Shakespeare is perennially popular--but what do you think makes his stories timely? 

What makes Shakespeare so brilliant is the fact that his works really do hold-up in whatever era they’re being read. When you cut through the admittedly challenging language and the historical settings, his universal themes of love, passion, vengeance, loyalty and finding one’s way in the world are so fundamental and universal. What’s more, the intensity with which Shakespeare writes--that heightened sense of drama--is also something that feels very true to the experience of being a teenager. And since many of his most famous characters were young adults grappling with dysfunctional families and falling in could almost say he was one of the original YA authors!

2. How did the two of you meet and decide to write books together? 

Kim: Amy saw me shyly wallflowering away at a networking event, and befriended me. We immediately connected over a love of PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre. When I moved away for a couple of years, we started our blog, Romancing the Tome, to stay connected. We had so much fun writing it together that a book project seemed like a perfect next step.

3. What is your writing process? Do you alternate chapters? 

We get together and brainstorm a very loose outline for the books to get a handle on our characters and where we want the story to go. (Basing our plays on Shakespeare helps give us a solid framework). In terms of writing, we alternate chapters, and that’s what makes the writing process so fun for us. We love the surprise of getting to see what the other person has done with the story and figuring out a way to add onto it. Because we’re constantly editing each other’s work as we go, it helps us achieve that single narrative voice to keep the book cohesive. Afterwards, we sometimes even forget who wrote which chapters!

4. How did you decide which play to start with?  The Tempest is a fantastic play, but it's not one Shakespeare's most famous. 

Even though it was the second novel published, we actually wrote EXPOSURE (our version of Macbeth) first. It was dark and intense, and the whole idea of Macbeth’s quest to be king got us thinking about prom king and the lengths people might go to for popularity. For TEMPESTUOUS, which we wrote second, we wanted something that was 180 degrees different; something fun and light. The Tempest has some seriously unforgettable characters (particularly Prospero, Ariel and Caliban), and it seemed to strike a good balance of drama and comedy.

5. And, I must ask, which are your favorite plays? 

It’s so hard to choose, but Hamlet is a favorite... Kim, in particular, has a natural affinity for brooding types. We both find Macbeth absolutely fascinating, which is why it was such fun to adapt. And then there’s Romeo and Juliet; it contains some of the most gorgeously romantic lines ever written.

6. Merit Press, your publisher, is spearheaded by fabulous (and bestselling!) author Jacquelyn Mitchard. What is it like to work with her? 

During our first phone conversation with Jackie, we both were trying to play it cool but were TOTALLY FREAKING OUT. Definitely a pinch me, I’m dreaming situation. Lucky for us, Jackie is such a gracious and very nurturing human being. She’s been our champion from the get-go. We had our fair share of rejections early on, so as you can guess, it felt pretty amazing to have a bestselling author contact us to tell us she was in love with our books and wanted to publish them! We are forever indebted to her for that.

Exposure 7. EXPOSURE is somewhat more faithful than TEMPESTUOUS, but neither follows Shakespeare's version too closely. How do you decide to keep certain elements? When do you decide to make something up? 

We didn’t want to do a paint-by-numbers retelling of the plays, where we followed the story to the letter, only reworked it into a modern setting. As writers, that didn’t appeal to us. Instead, we use the Bard’s works as a springboard of sorts and let the story take its own trajectory while still incorporating each play’s iconic themes, symbols, characters and major plot twists. We allow ourselves a lot of freedom in that sense. In TEMPESTUOUS, for example, our main character, Miranda Prospero, is actually a composite of two different characters from The Tempest: the sorcerer, Prospero, and his daughter, Miranda. In EXPOSURE, we tell the entire story from the point of view of Skye Kingston, who is our female interpretation of the Banquo character in Macbeth. We definitely turn each play on its ear, and that’s why we decided to name our series Twisted Lit.

8. How did your adorable book trailer come about? 

Amy’s three-year-old daughter and one-year-old son inspired us. We figured we could recruit a bunch of their little friends to learn Shakespeare and recite it on-camera. They did an awesome job, and really, who can resist cute kids? It may be a gimmick, but it’s an ADORABLE one.

9. What comes after EXPOSURE (January 2013)? More Twisted Lit books, an unrelated novel, separate projects? Or is that a secret? 

We’re working on a top-secret adaptation of Romeo and Juliet that we’re absolutely over the moon about. After that, we’re thinking perhaps King Lear or the Henry IV plays...

Tempestuous 10. Give us your pitch! How would you convince a reader to pick up TEMPESTUOUS in less than 100 words? 

Tempestuous is a lighthearted adventure that finds our heroine, Miranda, trapped in a mall overnight with her friend and coworker, Ariel, a sullen boy named Caleb, and the arch-enemies responsible for her recent banishment from her school’s popular clique. If you like the classic teen movies Clueless, 10 Things I Hate about You, or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, we think you’ll love our book. Shakespeare-phobes needn’t stay away: While there are plenty of nods to The Tempest, readers don’t have to know the Bard’s works to enjoy Tempestuous. After you read it, we’d love to hear what you think!


  1. Lovely interview- thanks for sharing! The Tempest is not one of my favorite Shakespeare works, but I think a modern re-telling could be fun. I'd love to see these authors take on Much Ado About Nothing. :)


    1. The Tempest is less funny ha-ha than most of his comedies. Much Ado would be a fun one to modernize! Are you excited about the Joss Whedon version coming out soon?


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