Author On the Bookcase: Eloisa James, author of A Kiss at Midnight
Author On the Bookcase
(Mary Bly Vettori)
I'm thrilled to welcome Eloisa James to On the Bookcase. Eloisa's new novel, A Kiss at Midnight, is the fairy tale, Cinderella, re-examined in Regency England! What if Cinderella doesn't want to go to the ball and the Prince is engaged to another? Eloisa chats about her "steady diet of fairy tales" growing up and the inspiration to write A Kiss at Midnight "Rather than creating a saccharine sweet version of the original story, I tried to think about the choices my characters had," comments Eloisa.
Thanks for the chance to look at fairy tales in a new way, Eloisa!
I grew up on a steady diet of fairy tales. My parents read them aloud to us, and then sprinkled Arthur Lang’s Blue, Green, Brown Fairy Books around the house. But much more importantly, fairy tales truly interested my father, Robert Bly. Years later, when I was in graduate school, he wrote a long analysis of one such story, called Iron John. When I was a child, he was just breaking in the fairy tale analysis, as it were. I have a distinct memory of being challenged to give a psychological explanation of the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk.
I haven’t the faintest idea what I said. What I do remember is my father saying with real surprise in his voice: “That was brilliant. You’re a natural!” My father is a poet and a deeply loving father—but at times he was so enchanted by words that he didn’t truly notice the children milling about him. I rejoiced in having caught his attention, and I don’t suppose it will surprise anyone to learn that I’m now a professor of English literature, teaching Shakespeare. While I am not interested in the kind of cultural analysis my father did, I inherited his fascination with the complexity of literary texts.
Throughout my years as an English literature professor, I have carried on something of a double life—moonlighting as an author of popular romance fiction. I love to bring together my two wildly disparate careers, spinning romances from plots that were first created in the 1600s, or weaving lines from Romeo and Juliet into a mass-market novel.
My current novel, A Kiss at Midnight, goes even further back than my career as a Shakespeare scholar: it’s my own version of Cinderella. It seems a natural development from my childhood to write my own version of a fairy story. After all, having parents who prompted me to analyze fairy stories means that I found myself wondering what on earth that prince was thinking to choose his wife at a ball? Would I accept a man who could recognize me by the size of foot? (Answer: Absolutely not.) And just how evil was that evil stepmother?
I had a wonderful time writing A Kiss at Midnight. My heroine Kate is a feisty, funny version of Cinderella: not a victimized scullery girl, but a young woman placed in an awful situation, and making the best of it. My fairy godmother, though she doesn’t wave a wand, is just the kind of godmother we all wish we had. And the Prince…well, Gabriel turned out to have many reasons for that ball, and falling in love with Kate was not one of them. I tried to take my father’s lessons to heart: rather than creating a saccharine sweet version of the original story, I tried to think about the choices my characters had. I think I succeeded; Publishers’ Weekly said A Kiss at Midnight is “a candy floss comic romp around a core of heartache.”
If your group ends up discussing this novel, you might want to talk about the nature of evil, and just what makes Kate’s stepmother truly evil. Another question: do you think Kate should have left home earlier? Where does one separate responsibilities from a wish for a life of one’s own?
I do hope you enjoy A Kiss at Midnight, if your book club chooses to read it.
Such an interesting look on an old favorite and plenty of book group discussion points! Thanks so much, Eloisa.
Author of the 4 romance series, Desperate Duchesses, The Essex Sisters, The Duchess Quartet, and The Pleasures Trilogy, Eloisa is a professor of English literature, teaching Shakespeare.
Check out Eloisa's website!
Do you have a favorite fairy tale? How would you retell the story?