Why Shook-up Shakespeare?

I’m Old School. I wrote my English papers in ink, in cursive, double-spaced. I still have the callus on my middle finger all these decades later. The hill was only up one way to school, but the snow was deep, and the homework load caused chiropractic issues. There was a lot of reading, and most of the stuff in literature class had been written a century or more before my time. William Shakespeare, Henrik Ibsen, and Oscar Wilde.

Just five years after I graduated, I was back in the classroom teaching some of the very classics I had loved so much, and the kids would stare at me, dull-eyed, as if I’d placed one of Homer’s works in the original Greek in front of them.

“Guys, this is English.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Yes, it is.”

“It doesn’t sound like English.”

Unfortunately, it seems Old School literature is even more of a foreign language now than it was then. No matter how I urged students, parents, and administrative boards to keep the classics, the verdict was that the stories were irrelevant and the language archaic.

I won’t go into a commentary on modern public school reading lists, but let’s just say I’m not a big fan.

A few of the upcoming titles in the Shook-up Shakespeare Retellings.

In addition to loving Old School lit, I grew up in a theater family full of actors and directors and scene designers. My brain absorbed stories told in these dramas, and I wrote stories through dialogue for the the first 25 years of my writing life–sketches, one-act plays, narrations, etc. Scripts make sense to me, and anyone familiar with my stories knows I rely heavily on the spoken interactions between the personalities to move both plot and character development forward.

So, now I’m circling back to mix together my loves of reading, writing, drama, and helping people understand what the heck is going on. Shook-up Shakespeare Retellings are taking some of the famous and not as famous stories of the great Bard of Stratford-on-Avon and making them into dialogue-rich, fun reads for teens and other YA fans. The original stories had so many great layers and characters, but the language can be hard for modern youth whose native tongue is Textese. The aim of this series is to show that timeless truths and recognizable archetypes make literature happen, whether it’s with Thee, Thy, Thou and a dozen semicolons per paragraph, or with something a bit more relatable.

Do you have to know or like Shakespeare to understand or enjoy these books? No! But if you are familiar with the plays in question, it’ll be like an Easter Egg hunt. I’ve got quotes and paraphrases of famous lines sprinkled about, and characters with plot parallels that Those In the Know will be able to recognize and nod sagely. Hey, Shakespeare knew what he was doing. I’m just doing it 21st Century Teen style. Like what Rick Riordan did with Greek mythology in the Percy Jackson series, but probably sillier.

I can tell these stories are likely to be novelette-length books. That’s good news for those with short attention spans and those who don’t like to wait long for the next book in a series. If you have a favorite Shakespeare play and are wondering if I’m going to tackle it, go ahead and ask. If it’s in the line-up, I might decide to bump it sooner!