Author Spotlight: McKelle George talks Speak Easy, Speak Love
Today I have author McKelle George on the blog! Her debut novel, Speak Easy, Speak Love, was released yesterday and it's been racking up praise, including this BEST BLURB EVER from Mackenzi Lee (author of New York Times–bestselling The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue) who wrote: “Speak Easy Speak Love is a book nerd’s dream. With the vivid hedonism of the 1920s, a cast of exquisitely drawn characters (with snappy chemistry and sexual tension that makes you want to smash their faces together), and wit to rival Will himself, a loving, fresh, and unputdownable homage to the original romantic comedy.”
In addition to writing, McKelle works as a reference librarian at the Salt Lake City Public Library. She's been a Pitch Wars mentor, as well as a mentor to teens with Salt Lake Teens Write, and she's also judged for the Poetry Out Loud teen competitions.
And now, here's my chat with McKelle.
Hi, McKelle! Welcome and congrats on your debut. Can you tell us a little about Speak Easy, Speak Love and what inspired it?
I was inspired to do a Shakespeare retelling after seeing some amazingly clever and intuitive adaptations at the RSC and the Globe in England. When I sat down to think of ways I could tackle my favorite play, Much Ado About Nothing, I thought instantly of the 1920s. The play is feminist in subtle ways and it offers two different kinds of womanhood in Hero and Beatrice, and the 1920s is a uniquely feminist decade. Women had just gotten the vote and the emergence of the flapper in the time after the Great War had all the right soil to explore those themes.
I’m a sucker for the 1920s era, and I know you’re a reference librarian, so I’m super curious about your research process. What sort of research did you do for this book and, as a writer, how to you balance plot vs. the real-life facts in fiction?
Well, I love doing research. It’s genuinely enjoyable so I’d do it even if I wasn’t writing a book in that time period. Firsthand research is great if you can get it—but sometimes, particularly in historical fiction, you can’t, which means a lot of reading and watching and studying. I read a lot of books, watched documentaries, tried to find songs and videos from the actual period. Once in a while, real-life facts helped inform the plot, or a detail I unearthed helped solve a minor plot problem, so it worked out!
What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it?
There’s a line in Speak Easy, Speak Love where Benedick says: “He knew from experience that the moment he began typing, any ideas would somehow, in the journey from thought to fingertip, degenerate entirely.” This is my problem exactly. Also, when I know a scene is not right, it’s difficult for me to simply plow through it and get to the other side, even if that’s what the story needs. I know what I’m writing is not right and I get bogged down in that instead of just finishing and fixing once it’s there.
VOYA magazine said “. . . the witty banter between Beatrice and Benedick is deliciously enjoyable, and the modernized cast of characters is so colorful that the entire novel seems to do the Charleston right off of the pages.” What do you love best about banter, and what are your tips for crafting such snappy dialogue?
Banter is the best part of any book for me, and I have no real tips on how to do it well (I don’t even know if I did that well, tbh), except to try and hone that instinct. Frankly, it’s a difficult thing to teach. But if you read a lot of clever writing, witty humor, and books with the level of banter you’re going for, and then write, write, write out those conversations, you’ll find your groove. With Beatrice and Benedick, those two had drafts and drafts of time spent together, lots of words to hone their chemistry, even if all of it didn’t end up in the book.
Did music inspire you while writing Speak Easy, Speak Love ? If so, what might we find on the novel's soundtrack?
Not really! I know that’s a crap answer for this question, but I don’t listen to a lot of music while I write. But I do really love the The Great Gatsby soundtrack and think I has the right feel for my book.
What has been your most rewarding experience as an author so far?
Ooh, good question: and tough one. Obviously any time someone reads my book and likes it and if they laughed even once, I find that incredibly rewarding. But I also find it hugely gratifying to say that I’m an author when people ask me what I do.
What are you reading, or otherwise currently obsessed with?
I recently finished An Enchantment of Ravens and The Art of Starving and both were wonderful.
And finally, what’s your best piece of writing advice?
Do not come lightly to the blank page. In other words, it’s okay to take yourself and your work seriously, whether published or not.
I hope you enjoyed this interview with McKelle as much as I did! I want to thank her for taking the time to chat about Speak Easy, Speak Love, as well as sharing tips for crafting banter between characters. Be sure to add McKelle's witty debut to your Goodreads list, or order your copy RIGHT NOW from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local indie.
If you want to connect with McKelle, you can tweet her at @McKelleGeorge. And for more information, check out her author website at mckellegeorge.com.
And, as always,