Saturday, February 18, 2023

Q&A with Chloe Liese




Chloe Liese is the author of the new novel Two Wrongs Make a Right, an update of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. Her other novels include The Mistletoe Motive.


Q: What inspired you to write this modern update of Much Ado About Nothing, and how did you create your characters Jamie and Bea?


A: I was raised by an English professor and theater lover, so I grew up exposed to live performances of Shakespeare as well as adaptations for film and TV.


Fast forward to the early days of the pandemic, when I was rewatching my favorite film adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, starring Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh. I'd been throwing around the idea of a Shakespeare retelling rom-com for a while, after having encountered a lot of Austen retellings but not many Shakespeare retellings in the genre. 


While watching the movie, I had this idea about how to put a modern spin on Benedick and Beatrice: in the play, they don’t find out until the end of the story that they were tricked into admitting their feelings for each other under false pretenses; by then, they’re too heart-eyed in love to be mad about it, but, what if they’d found out sooner? They would have been furious!


I started thinking about updating the plotline of a group scheme to trick the contentious, determined bachelor and spinster, Benedick and Beatrice, into falling in love, and came up with the idea of a fake dating for revenge plot.


If Benedick and Beatrice realized that they’d been tricked into dating early on, when they were both only willing to see the worst in each other, they’d have an antagonistic tension (despite palpable chemistry), yet the shared goal of revenge bringing them together.


I loved the idea of two people who clashed and had written each other off being brought together by this common goal, so sure they were going to prove their friends wrong about their matchmaking, only to realize their friends weren’t wrong after all.


In creating Jamie and Bea, I wanted to write characters who are neurodivergent, like me, because I believe passionately in authentic positive representation in romance that affirms everyone deserves a love story.


As neurodivergents, Bea and Jamie experience a sense of peripheral identity and struggle to feel emotionally safe and understood. Making them both neurodivergent added another depth of understanding and camaraderie that they uncovered as they got to know each other while fake dating.


To me it is, I hope, affirming for not only neurodivergents who pick up this story but for anyone who needs the reminder that you deserve to be seen, understood, and emotionally safe in your relationships and love life.


I drew a lot of inspiration from Benedick and Beatrice, two people who cover up their fears and vulnerabilities with heavy armor, yet whose experiences throughout the story allow them to lay down that armor and open their hearts to being loved for who they really are.


Q: What did you see as the right balance between Shakespeare's play and your own take on the story?


A: To me, a good retelling/reimagining, especially of an older text from a very different societal time, doesn't simply recreate but commentates on its source text.


In writing a rom-com reimagining, I felt it was important to not simply drag Much Ado into the 21st century and update times and places, but engage the text's themes, plot points, and characterization, then build on it.


I saw it as a balance of staying true enough to the major plot points and sparkling moments of the story--Benedick and Beatrice's delightful, zinging banter and their tender love declarations; the group's wacky matchmaking scheme; the complication of Claudio and Hero's (in my story, Jean-Claude and Juliet's) relationship, thanks to Don Jon's villainy--while also saying something new.


I pushed back on the concept of group manipulation by giving Jamie and Bea (Benedick and Beatrice) a revenge plot, and I also resisted the very antiquated grace for Claudio who assumed the worst of his fiancee, essentially ruined Hero's life at the start of their wedding by accusing her of sleeping around, then simply was forgiven for that, only to ride off into the sunset with her, by eliding the villain and the so-called "courtly hero," Don Jon and Claudio, respectively, into one twisty, toxic man--Jean-Claude.


Q: The writer Ali Hazelwood said, “I am deeply in awe of Chloe Liese’s spectacular talent for creating characters that make readers feel seen.” What do you think of that assessment?


A: I am beyond humbled by Ali Hazelwood's kind support of Two Wrongs Make a Right, and I was honored by her endorsement of it, in saying I create characters that make readers feel seen.


This is what I want to do when I write romance: write characters and stories that make my readers feel seen, that make them believe in their worthiness to experience love and happily ever after not despite their vulnerabilities, differences, struggles, or imperfections but because of them.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the novel?


A: I hope my readers feel affirmed and joyful when they read this story, because that is its message: everyone deserves to be seen, understood, and loved for who they are; everyone deserves happiness in their life, and if they want one, a truly happily ever after.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I just turned in copyedits for the second book in the Wilmot Sisters series, after Jamie and Bea's book, Better Hate than Never.


It's Kate and Christopher's story, a reimagining of The Taming of the Shrew with strong nods to 10 Things I Hate About You, the late ‘90s rom-com film adaptation of the play. Childhood enemies to lovers, a little angst, a lot of fiery tension, and plenty of laughs, steam, and swoons along the way.


I'm also finalizing my next installment in the Bergman Brothers series, If Only You, which is a sports romance about Ziggy, a professional soccer player, and her brother's best friend, Sebastian, a professional hockey player, who agree to pull a publicity stunt as fake friends so their reputations can rub off on each other: Ziggy wants to give her good girl image an edge and Seb needs to do away with his bad boy notoriety, only to become real friends who fall in love.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I don't think so. Thanks for the chance to answer these questions!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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