Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Q&A with Amanda Sellet




Amanda Sellet is the author of the new young adult novel Belittled Women, a retelling of Louisa May Alcott's classic Little Women. Sellet also has written the YA novel By the Book. A former journalist, she lives in Lawrence, Kansas. 


Q: What inspired you to write this modern take on Little Women?


A: For a long time, I assumed all retellings came from a place of unadulterated fandom, as in: “This is my favorite fairy tale; I’m going to do a modern version.”


What I’ve learned in talking to author friends, and in writing a retelling of my own, is that stories that get under our skin and stay there are often the ones that spark frustration or outrage as well as affection. That was certainly the case for me with Little Women. (Laurie marrying Amy? Come on!)


It was a book I knew intimately, with moments that had bugged me for decades, through every new screen adaptation or think piece. I also felt like there was a lot of comedic potential in playing fast and loose with a book generally regarded as a sweet and sentimental classic.


Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book says, in part, that “the premise’s cheeky inventiveness—a remix within a remix that both enacts and interrogates the source material—buoys this playful jaunt.” What do you think of that description, and what did you see as the right balance between the original Little Women and your own version as you were working on the book?


A: That is a wonderfully pithy description of what I was going for with Belittled Women. There are plenty of excellent retellings of Little Women, including recent titles like So Many Beginnings by Bethany C. Morrow and Great or Nothing by Jessica Spotswood et al.

Instead of engaging directly with the plot of the original, my take is a little more meta and a lot more tongue-in-cheek. In a way, it’s about the act of retelling stories and how we take meaning from narrative, while still touching on the same themes Alcott wrote about: family, duty, identity, growing up.


I tried to make my version accessible to people with only a passing familiarity with the source material, though the better you know the story, the funnier I hope the jokes will be. Unless you’re horribly offended that anyone would make light of the March sisters, in which case: sorry!


Q: How would you describe the relationship between Jo Porter and her sisters?

A: Jo is a bit of a grump. I say that with love, having been a teen curmudgeon myself. In Jo’s case, some of her annoyance with her sisters is justified and some is the product of viewing other people’s actions in the worst possible light. (I suspect she, too, will mellow with age.)


Underneath the sarcasm and bickering, however, there is a baseline of loyalty. They may not always understand each other, but when the chips are down, the Porter girls have each other’s backs – as Jo learns by the end.


Q: Why do you think Little Women has remained so popular for more than 150 years?

A: I think this quote from Little Women, about the story Jo writes after giving up her racy melodramas (which – speaking of meta – sounds a lot like Little Women) gets at the heart of the enduring appeal: “There is truth in it, Jo, that's the secret. Humor and pathos make it alive, and you have found your style at last. You wrote with no thoughts of fame and money, and put your heart into it, my daughter. You have had the bitter, now comes the sweet.”


Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on something new for a non-YA audience. It hasn’t been announced yet, but I can say that it’s funny, and romantic, and (unlike my first two books) doesn’t have anything to do with 19th-century literature. Though it does pay tribute to one of my other great narrative loves!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Belittled Women hits shelves Nov. 29, which also happens to be Louisa May Alcott’s birthday. So have some cake with your book!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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