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FINDING KATE with Author Maryanne Fantalis (Part 2)

Welcome back to my conversation with author Maryanne Fantalis about Finding Kate, her retelling of The Taming of the Shrew. If you missed the beginning of the interview, check it out here.

Maryanne is back!

I’m interested in the names of the settings, Whitelock Town, where Kathryn lives, and Bitterbrook Keep, Sir William’s home. Where did those come from?

You know, I completely made these up and I’m not even sure anymore where they came from. Generally, with the names of towns I’m making up, I look at the towns in the area I’m working with and try to come up with something that will fit in. I know that with the name for Whitelock, I wanted a sense of cleanliness and order, a place where things are just so. And with Bitterbrook Keep, I wanted a sense of falling on hard times, the idea that things aren’t always as easy as they seem from the outside, even when you’ve got an old family name and a keep that’s been around for a thousand years. Some things are just serendipity, you know?

I loved both those names, by the way, and I thought they fit the book so well!

Speaking of names, I noticed a similarity between Finding Kate and The Last Sister, which is that the love interest calls the main character by a different form of her name than the other characters do. And they’re all variations of “Catherine,” however you spell it, which is not surprising because when you’re working with names from the past that are still recognizable to modern readers, your choices can be limited. (Though in your case, Shakespeare chose Kathryn’s name.) What are your thoughts on this?

Well, Shakespeare seems to have loved the name Katherine because he used it in several plays, and every time, he almost immediately shortened it to Kate (for instance, Lady Hotspur and Princess Katherine of France, just to name two). I don’t know if he did that for the meter (fewer syllables in Kate) or if he liked the wordplay (he conflates “Kate” with “cake” in a particularly yummy pun in Shrew), or maybe he just liked the sound of the name “Kate”.

In any case, I discovered as I read the play closely that everyone calls the main character Katharina pretty consistently, regardless of any considerations of pun, rhyme or meter. However, the love interest Petruchio (whose name I changed in my novel to Will) immediately begins calling her Kate from the very first moment they meet. In fact, she tries to correct him (“They call me Katharina that do talk of me”) but he refuses to listen and launches into a stream of praises of her as Kate (“plain Kate/And bonny Kate… the prettiest Kate…”) that astonish her. Knowing Shakespeare as well as I do, I found that very significant. I believe that Shakespeare was deliberately saying that Petruchio views Kate differently from everyone else, that this stranger is the only one who sees the real woman, as opposed to these people who live with her and see only “the shrew”. Once I grabbed onto that idea, the whole idea of “taming” took on a very different shape and the title Finding Kate followed pretty quickly.

Thank you so much for talking with me about Finding Kate, Maryanne!

Readers, I hope you’ll put Finding Kate on your TBR list. Be sure to enter the giveaway below. If you don’t win, you can find Kate (see what I did there?) wherever you like to buy books. If you’re more of the borrowing type, it’s also very helpful to authors when you request that your local library purchase a copy.

Enter the giveaway below, then leave a comment telling us which of Shakespeare’s women you’d like to see Maryanne retell! (If you have any trouble with the Rafflecopter giveaway, just leave a comment and we’ll make sure you get entered!)

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FINDING KATE with Author Maryanne Fantalis (Part 1)

I used to have a real problem with books that were retellings of other stories. I just didn’t get it for the longest time. It seemed  like the lazy way out to take someone else’s story and tell it from a different angle. It bothered me so much that I did what I always do when things bother me and investigated it very heavily. Leaning on the work I’d done on the Civil War and Reconstruction in my undergraduate History program, I wrote my master’s thesis in English on retellings of “other people’s stories.”

I looked at Geraldine Brooks’ March, a retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

I looked at Alice Randall’s The Wind Done Gone, a retelling of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind.

And I contrasted historical narratives of the legendary Lowrie/Lowry War with Strike at the Wind (a play) and Josephine Humphreys’ Nowhere Else On Earth, two more recent interpretations.

It’s called Reconstructions: A Feminist Perspective on Twenty-First Century Literary Responses to Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Civil War and Reconstruction Narratives. And now you all want to run out and buy it, but you can’t because it’s never been published. So you will either have to visit Milner Library at Illinois State University or me at my house to check out a copy. It’s compelling reading—just ask my mom. (It also relies heavily on theories of haunting and space-place, so trust me, it’s cool.)

Anyway—all that is to say I got over my distaste for retellings long before I met my dear friend Maryanne, and I am so glad I did.

I recently read the first in her series of novels that retell the stories of Shakespeare’s women, and Maryanne agreed to stop by and chat about Finding Kate. Grab yourself a snack and your beverage of choice, because you’re going to want your energy for this discussion!


       Here’s Maryanne!

First, Maryanne, why retell The Taming of the Shrew?

Courtney, in response, thank you for having me here! And I definitely want to read your master’s thesis ASAP! I love to read retellings and adaptations, or any fiction that spins a beloved tale in a new direction or gives us new insights into characters we thought we already knew. So maybe it was inevitable that I ended up rewriting Shakespeare’s stories. As arrogant as that feels at times – How dare I? He’s the greatest writer in the English language! – I think he wouldn’t mind. After all, he borrowed most of his stories from other writers.

I had been kicking around the idea of adapting a Shakespeare play for a while, and in fact, I had begun working on both Hamlet and Twelfth Night in very preliminary stages. But it was a visit to the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, and experiencing their performance of The Taming of the Shrew in 2010, that pushed me to undertake this adaptation with a whole, committed heart. I’ve talked about this at length on my own blog, but basically, I was blown away by the CSF production. Within the first couple of scenes, there were lightbulbs going off in my head as I suddenly understood things about this play that I had never even imagined. I suddenly understood that this shrew had reasons! That she was never the first one to be harsh or cruel; that she was always on the defensive; that her family treated her abominably; and that Petruchio, the man who in his own words is the only husband for her, saw in an instant what no one else around her saw: an intelligent, vibrant woman being oppressed and warped by her environment. The challenge for him was how to get through to her, and how to convince her to see that her usual reaction – fight with everything she had – was counterproductive once she was removed from that toxic environment. A well-directed, well-acted production, like the CSF’s in 2010, can illuminate this play brilliantly. It did that for me. I hope my retelling can do that for my readers as well.

I don’t have the background in Shakespeare you do, but it seems to me that we don’t get much, if any, direct reference to current events in Shakespeare’s comedies. It’s like he’s determined that this is a comedy, people are here to laugh, and he doesn’t reference the real world in any substantial way. But you set your novel toward the end of the Wars of the Roses, several generations before Shakespeare’s time. Why did you choose that setting and what effect does that setting have on your story?

I had two primary reasons for setting the story during the Wars of the Roses. First, I have studied that period of time extensively, far more than either of the logical historical settings for any retelling: Elizabethan England, where Shakespeare lived, or Renaissance Italy, where Shakespeare set his Shrew. By choosing a time period I know well, I was much more comfortable writing everything – social relationships, economics, clothing, customs, language, housing, current events, etc.

I hear you there. Pro-tip, writers: if you can set your story anywhere, think about what you already know well. And Maryanne, I love that you didn’t go to the logical historical setting.

Second, with reference to the play itself, there is a moment during Kate’s final speech where she compares the relationship between spouses to the duty between subject and lord (“What is [a disobedient wife] but a foul contending rebel/And graceless traitor to her loving lord?” Act V, scene ii). In my take on the play, she doesn’t mean a word of the speech, and it hit me that it would be perfect to put Kate and Will against a political backdrop where most of the noble subjects are in fact “foul contending rebels” and “graceless traitors” to their king, and where the king himself is considered by many to be a usurper and a murderer. It gives greater import to her words, and puts Will, as a knight who will be placed by the king – and potentially by rebels and traitors – in a tricky situation as the novel progresses. The setting provided greater depth to the relationship between my main characters, and gave them a very real external challenge to contend with.

Speaking of genre, I remember a while back when you were struggling with what genre Finding Kate fit in? Did you ever decide? Did your publisher decide? The market is such a ridiculous thing sometimes. I feel like the message we get as writers is, “You must fit in this box. But not too much in this box. We don’t want it to look like everything else in this box. But sort of like everything else in this box.” It’s like we’re supposed to fit in while standing out. A hard balance, as any Strong Female Character knows, and as any woman knows.

Yes, it has been a struggle, and I still feel it. My publisher has listed Finding Kate as “historical romance” and while there are romantic elements to it, I do worry that the “romance” label will turn off some more serious (okay, snobby) readers. Unfortunately, romance as a genre does not get much respect, mainly, I think, because it is written (mainly) by women for women and about subjects that concern women…but we’d need pages and pages to deconstruct that problem.

At the same time, this novel is not a typical “historical fiction” either in that it doesn’t follow the usual structures or tropes of the genre, and it has a great deal of humor which is, again, not typical of the genre. I have often said if it were set in the contemporary world, it would have a wine glass or a cupcake on the front and it would be called women’s fiction, easy peasy. Unfortunately, the historical element throws that out the window. Why? Because women’s fiction doesn’t include stories set in the past…unless they’re terribly dramatic…I guess? When I wrote my queries, I described it as an “unconventional romantic historical” and I still think that works. But that’s not a category on Amazon, so…

Right. Well, whether or not it notches neatly into a category on Amazon, it is definitely the kind of book I have always liked to read.

There were so many times I related to Kathryn, related to her rage at the way the medieval world (and this one) treats women, and related to the things she said to other people or the things that were said to her. And we’re told as women that rage isn’t okay, that it’s not something “nice” girls feel, when in fact it’s the perfectly natural response of anyone who’s paying attention, especially these days. Here are a few lines I underlined:

“You always act like you’re better than me, than all of us, with your books and your Latin and doing Father’s sums. That’s why no one likes you.” (p. 106)

“You never will learn to be quiet, will you?” (p. 93)

“It would have been nice to have some idea of how to act, of how to be different from who I was.” (p.117)

Those first two are things that have been said to me multiple times over the course of my life, and the third is definitely something I have felt and still feel quite often. Care to comment on these lines?

The virtues the medieval world expected of women were chastity, obedience, and silence. When we look back at the past, we tend to focus on chastity, and male ownership of women’s bodies through legal and religious constructs. But to be an outspoken female was nearly as bad as to be an unchaste one. The “shrew” in literature is only one example of this. The idea that such a woman could – and should! – be beaten, physically muzzled, and verbally abused until she learns to be silent is appalling; that it would be the source of amusement in many plays and stories is worse. I believe that Shakespeare began a process of questioning that with his Shrew play. I hope that I have contributed in my own small way to the breaking down of that harmful stereotype.

The terribly disappointing, but perhaps unsurprising truth is that, five hundred years later, the traits we value in women have not changed very much. And that is something women like us talk about quite a bit, and we need to continue to do so. Fiction like Finding Kate, and like The Last Sister, can help with that conversation by helping frame the present in light of the past. Progress may be slow (five hundred years? seriously?) but it will only happen if we keep working at it.

As far as relating these lines to my own life, I definitely heard things like that first line quite a bit as a child. I wrote from the heart when I wrote about Kathryn’s desire to learn and her anger at the small-mindedness of those around her. I think many smart girls are belittled for their intelligence, and we learn to hide our curiosity and drive to learn fairly early on. In addition, our country seems to be in a strangely paradoxical state right now, where “geeks” and “nerds” are valued in our economy, but at the same time ignorance and anti-elitism is prized in our politics. I don’t know how we’re going to survive the schism.

Again, Courtney, I think you and I could have very long conversations about these issues.

We could and we should! And I encourage everyone reading this to think about how you can contribute to that conversation, whether through your writing or in your daily life.

Join us tomorrow when we’ll be talking about naming places and characters. You’ll also be able to enter to win a signed copy of Finding Kate!

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Talking about FOREVER FINLEY with Author Holly Schindler (Part 2)

forever finley

True love never dies – or so Amos Hargrove, a brave Civil War soldier who lost his beloved before they could marry, still believes.  His spirit, some say, pervades the town he founded and named for his sweet fair-haired young beauty.  In Finley, dreams come true, love blossoms, and second chances are unearthed.  Is Amos’s spirit truly at work, granting wishes as he continues to search for his own love?  Does his unfulfilled desire continue to have influence on those who call Finley home?  What will it take to finally unite two souls meant to be together?

Forever Finley is a collection of stand-alone yet interconnected short stories; when read cover to cover, the stories build like chapters in a novel.  As a whole, Forever Finley explores the many facets of love – whether that love takes the form of friendship, romance, or passion for one’s life calling.  These warm, uplifting, often magical tales detail loss and perseverance, the strength of the human spirit, and the ability of love to endure…forever.

Today, I’m back with Holly Schindler to talk about her short story cycle, FOREVER FINLEY. Yesterday we talked about the process of writing and indie publishing a new short story each month, and today we’re digging into the stories Holly tells.


 COURTNEY: I read the stories as you released them each month, and I have to say that they were perfect for 2016 because they felt so gentle in what was not, in many ways, a gentle time. Finley didn’t feel like it was really part of this world—in a good way. Is Finley based on any real place? (True Confessions: Our family photographer has her studio on the town square in a little town called Metamora, Illinois, and the first time I saw the town square, I said, “That’s Finley!” So Metamora plays Finley in my head.)

I love that description of the series feeling gentle. I really hope that readers continue to have that feeling in 2017.

As far as the setting goes, I live in Springfield, MO—third largest city in the state, home of Springfield Style Cashew Chicken and Brad Pitt. But it’s also got a real small town feel—and it’s surrounded by little towns (Ozark, Fair Grove) with old-fashioned small town squares. I did have Ozark, MO in my head quite a bit when I depicted the Finley town square. There’s even a river that runs through Ozark called Finley. I take my dog to walk at the Finley River Park quite a bit—and had that area in my head when I wrote about Founders Park in Finley.

Springfield also has a National Cemetery that I had in my mind’s eye from the very beginning, when I wrote “Come December.” It’s right across the street from an apartment building—just as Finley’s National Cemetery is located near Natalie’s apartment complex. You can see more in my short video.

COURTNEY: So now we know where Finley’s name comes from! FOREVER FINLEY touches a lot of genres, including historical fiction, contemporary fiction, ghost stories, magical realism, new adult, boomer lit. And you’ve written in a lot of those genres, so FOREVER FINLEY brings all that together. How would you classify it? Are there any books or other stories that particularly influenced the book?

I really love stories with a strong sense of local color—any story in which the setting feels like a character (I even love the way the café in Flagg’s FRIED GREEN TOMATOES feels like a character). That was a big part of putting this book together. I’m also an old lit major, and was surely influenced by those Victorian classics that were initially serialized.

I think one of my favorite parts of FOREVER FINLEY is that there’s no one right way to read it. As I was writing it in 2016, I felt that each story, while connected to the others, had to truly stand on its own. (That way, readers who discovered the July story on Amazon wouldn’t feel lost when they purchased it.) Now that the stories are all collected into one volume, you certainly can read cover to cover. But you can also read the stories out of order—the same way you skip around an album, listening to random songs, even returning to the same song several times before moving on. For those who’d like to bounce around rather than reading straight through, I’ve included a detailed table of contents at the beginning of the book, which allows you to get a glimpse of what each story is about.

Courtney: I love making connections between art forms, so comparing the cycle to an album is right up my alley. What else would you like readers to know about FOREVER FINLEY?

I’ve just revamped the cover of the series. I liked the first cover—I think it spoke to the historical element of the book—but it wasn’t as mysterious, romantic, or intriguing as it could have been. To celebrate the book’s new “skin,” I’m giving away a review copy of the series to one lucky reader—either e-book (it’s listed in KU, so it’s only available in Kindle form) or paperback. To enter, shoot me an email at hollyschindlerbooks (at) gmail (dot) com.


You can also check out FINLEY and all my other works at my Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/Holly-Schindler/e/B003E3TJ7U

Or visit my author site: HollySchindler.com

Courtney: Thanks for being here, Holly! If you’re reading this, I hope you’ll either enter            Holly’s contest or check out FOREVER FINLEY on her Amazon page.


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Talking About FOREVER FINLEY with Author Holly Schindler (Part 1)

Today, I’m excited to have my friend Holly Schindler here to talk about her short story cycle, Forever Finley.




forever finley




Here’s the description from Holly’s website:

True love never dies – or so Amos Hargrove, a brave Civil War soldier who lost his beloved before they could marry, still believes.  His spirit, some say, pervades the town he founded and named for his sweet fair-haired young beauty.  In Finley, dreams come true, love blossoms, and second chances are unearthed.  Is Amos’s spirit truly at work, granting wishes as he continues to search for his own love?  Does his unfulfilled desire continue to have influence on those who call Finley home?  What will it take to finally unite two souls meant to be together?

Forever Finley is a collection of stand-alone yet interconnected short stories; when read cover to cover, the stories build like chapters in a novel.  As a whole, Forever Finley explores the many facets of love – whether that love takes the form of friendship, romance, or passion for one’s life calling.  These warm, uplifting, often magical tales detail loss and perseverance, the strength of the human spirit, and the ability of love to endure…forever.

COURTNEY: Today, we’re talking about the writing and publishing of FOREVER FINLEY. Can you tell us about the writing process? What were some pros and cons of writing and publishing a new short story each month?

HOLLY: I honestly didn’t plan on writing one a month when I wrote the first installment. In late 2015, I indie published “Come December,” thinking it would simply be a stand-alone holiday short story. But the story really took off in a surprising way. I moved a ton of copies—readers were coming to my work for the first time, dropping me messages about having enjoyed the piece. It made its way into the hands (and tablets and Kindles) of so many new readers that I thought, “It’d be a real shame to leave it at that. I’d like to continue the story.”

But how?

The obvious answer probably would have been to catch up with Natalie again (the protag of “Come December”). I was actually more interested in the setting, though. What kind of place would allow Natalie to meet George (another character from “Come December”)? It seemed a magical place. A sweet place. A place I really would like to return to time and again. As I brainstormed, it suddenly became clear that I had enough ideas to return to Finley once a month throughout 2016…


come decemberCOURTNEY: Like many readers, I came to FOREVER FINLEY through “Come December.” I’m a sucker for a good holiday story—it’s all I read in December—and good new reads can be hard to find. But you took it past the holidays. What were some pros and cons of writing and publishing a new short story each month?

The pros of a publishing a new story each month? Learning to go with my gut. I’ve been writing full-time since 2001 (my first book was accepted in 2009). As we all know, the process of first draft to publication is fraught with rejection. And after you sell a book, you’re then inundated with editorial letters and reviews. Everyone has their own opinions, identifying various strengths and weaknesses. You could almost get whiplash from it all! Most dangerously, though, you can begin to doubt yourself.

COURTNEY: Yes! One of the toughest things about drafting and revision is knowing which feedback to take seriously and which to let go. Which is helpful and necessary, and which is a very subjective matter of opinion or personal preference? I bet it was a relief to bypass all that in this project, but I’m sure it was also nerve-wracking to put work into the world without it.

HOLLY: Once I decided to turn “Come December” into the FOREVER FINLEY series, I was shocked at how quickly a month could go by! (Which was really the only downside.) I was never without new ideas. But I was also working on full-length projects as well. In 2016, I indie published an adult novel (MILES LEFT YET) and my first illustrated children’s book (WORDQUAKE). My fourth YA (SPARK) also released with HarperCollins. And in the midst of all that, I was always working on a new FINLEY story—which required its own cover and synopsis in order to list them on KDP, Nook Press, iBooks, etc. Going at that pace, I couldn’t second-guess myself. I wrote; I gave each story my all; I revised and polished; I published. I learned a ton about cover creation and writing eye-catching copy. And my readers taught me that while revision is always required, often your first instincts regarding a piece are the best.

COURTNEY: I’ve always been in awe of how prolific you are, and now you’re doing traditional and indie publishing. Can you tell us about the experience of being a hybrid author? Why was indie publishing the right path for FOREVER FINLEY?

One of the best things I think I’ve done for myself is go hybrid. Obviously, FOREVER FINLEY never would have been released in regular, short installments with a traditional publisher. (The best I could have hoped for going traditional would be to sell a few stories to periodicals, then collect them into a single volume.) That’s the great thing about indie—independently published works are no longer books that aren’t “good” enough to be published. They’re just not a good fit for the traditional publishing platform.

Obviously, genre lit (romance, mystery, etc.) were the first works to really take off in the indie world, but I’m anxious to see more experimental, literary authors come to indie pubbing as well. The door is wide-open in terms of what’s possible. One of the best parts of having your foot in both worlds is that you can really start to see how traditional publishing and indie publishing influence and affect each other.

COURTNEY: I’m excited about the possibilities for indie publishing, both as a reader and as a writer. It’s giving us so many opportunities to do high quality work that for whatever reason, just doesn’t fit with a traditional publisher. Short stories are a great example of that.

 I’d like to thank Holly for being here today, and to invite you to join us tomorrow, when we’ll talk about the stories Holly tells in FOREVER FINLEY.

 In the meantime, check out Holly’s work at her Amazon author page

or at HollySchindler.com.


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