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Q&A with Evelyn Skye - The Hundred Loves of Juliet

The Hundred Loves of Juliet

By Ashleigh Cameron

We are thrilled to welcome Evelyn Skye to The Reading Corner to talk about her new release The Hundred Loves of Juliet, released on the 1st of August 2023.

I may go by Sebastien now, but my name was originally Romeo. And hers was Juliet. It’s a frosty fairytale of an evening in small-town Alaska when Helene and Sebastien meet for the first time. Except it isn’t the first time. You already know that story, though it didn’t happen quite as Shakespeare told it. To Helene, Sebastien is the flesh-and-blood hero of the love stories she’s spent her life writing. But Sebastien knows better—Helene is his Juliet, and their story has always been the same. He is doomed to find brief happiness with her over and over, before she dies, and he is left to mourn. Albrecht and Brigitta. Matteo and Amélie. Jack and Rachel. Marius and Cosmina. By any name, no matter where and when in time, the two of them are drawn together, and it always ends in tragedy. This time, Helene is determined that things will be different. But can these star-cross’d lovers forge a new ending to the greatest love story of all time?

The Hundred Loves of Juliet

I was deeply touched by the revelation that your personal journey navigating your husband’s prognosis served as the inspiration for this novel. Could you share with us the origins of The Hundred Loves of Juliet and discuss the experience of writing and publishing a work that held such profound personal significance for you?

The idea for The Hundred Loves of Juliet actually came to me some years ago, but at that time, it was only the Romeo & Juliet reincarnation plotline. The book felt like it was missing a soul, so I set the idea aside. It wasn’t until my husband’s health began to decline and we were facing the very real possibility of his death that The Hundred Loves of Juliet really began to crystallize for me. I wrote the story as a form of self-therapy to work through all my emotions—not only my fears and worries, but also the deep, profound love I felt for him, and our keen awareness of time. There is so much of me in both Sebastien and Helene characters: Sebastien’s anticipatory grief is mine, but so is Helene’s boundless hope, because I am an inveterate optimist. That said, readers can read The Hundred Loves of Juliet without all that background knowledge and just enjoy Romeo and Juliet’s epic love story across centuries. But I think that, for those readers who have also faced illness or lost loved ones, this book will resonate on a different, deeper level as well.

While this narrative encompasses themes of love and loss, it undeniably revolves around hope. Given this, what motivated your decision to centre this story around the reimagining of one of the most renowned tragedies, Romeo and Juliet?

Romeo and Juliet is one of the most famous love stories of all time, and yet, it’s so sad. This conflict has always confused me—why do so many people wish for a love that ends badly? But I think it’s actually the intensity of Romeo and Juliet’s love that strikes a chord, and so I wanted to rewrite their tale into a love story that was indeed worthy of wishing for. I was also curious how Romeo and Juliet’s love could grow if they were allowed to be together for more than a handful of days and to explore their relationship as adults.

The Hundred Loves of Juliet embraces numerous enchanting Romance tropes and doesn’t shy away from being a little corny at times - our central characters even reference this at one point! In crafting this heart-warming and pure love story, did you intentionally lean into the “corny” elements, fully embracing their inherent charm?

I did lean in on purpose! Like many, I’d grown up loving cheesy declarations of love in books and movies, but when it came to my own life, I thought I had to “grow up” and settle for “reality.” We’ve all been in relationships that were good but nothing approaching cinematic. But then I met my husband Tom, who is an unabashed romantic, and he does all those little things that sometimes seem corny in books— touching me lightly with his hand every time he walks by, telling me he loves me umpteen times a day, dancing with me in the middle of empty streets and buying me flowers just because—and I suddenly felt like it was important for others out there to know that “book boyfriends” exist in real life. I think that a lot of times, we declare romance “cheesy” as a defense mechanism, because we subconsciously don’t believe we deserve that much attention and love. This is not the case for everyone! But it’s an observation I had about myself, and so Helene points it out (about herself) in the book. She never thought she deserved to be showered with love, until she was.

As Helene becomes aware of the potential danger posed by the “curse” and the distinct possibility of her own demise should she remain with Sebastien, she demonstrates remarkable strength through her curious nature and courageous demeaner. In the original text, Juliet embodies the archetype of the “Damsel in Distress”. With this in mind, could you elaborate on the ideas and concepts that shaped your modern-day Juliet, Helene?

The original Juliet was a product of her time, when women were not empowered outside the home, and when they were expected to subordinate themselves to the thoughts and actions of men. However, I also saw Juliet’s strength in Shakespeare’s play, because she isn’t entirely passive. She dared to love and elope with a member of her family’s sworn enemy, and she plotted under her parents’ nose to do so; this alone is a major rebellion, especially in that time period. That glimmer of confidence and conviction is part of Juliet’s personality throughout her reincarnations, and it grows stronger as history passes. Her incarnation as Cosmina the witch is bold and unashamed of her lust; Florence the playwright and director dares to succeed in a theatre world that is still dominated by men. And although Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was a tragedy, I also thought there was something incredibly optimistic about his Juliet, in believing that it was possible for her and Romeo to succeed in deceiving their families and having a happily ever after. While it didn’t work out for the original Romeo and Juliet, I wanted Juliet’s reincarnations to carry that same sense of hopeful possibility... And maybe this time, they could change their ending.

‘Romeo and Juliet’ was, of course, a clear influence for this novel, but the love-through time aspect is reminiscent of stories like, The Time Traveller’s Wife. How did the time travel aspect come into play when developing this story?

I write chronologically, in that when I’m writing my first draft, I start at Chapter One and go straight through to the end. I have no idea how other writers are able to jump around within the story, writing Chapter One and then Chapter Twenty-Seven and then Chapter Three, etc.! Because of the way I write, I came up with the flashbacks along the way, and that ensured that they were always related to the present-day story line. For example, when Sebastien is at sea in the middle of a storm, he thinks back to a past life when he was a lieutenant at Pearl Harbor. I kept a separate document with a timeline of Romeo and Juliet’s past lives while I was writing, to make sure I was peppering in stories across the centuries. I also wanted to show how Helene’s versions of their past lives was different from Sebastien’s. She always thought of their loves as happy romances, whereas he focused on their tragic endings. This is emblematic of the different lens through which they view life, which is also a reflection of how people are, in general—two people can go through the same experience and walk away with totally different lessons from it. Taken together, the flashbacks of Romeo and Juliet’s past lives and of their modern-day versions give a sense of the epicness of this love story. And that, I hope, gives readers what they yearn for from Romeo and Juliet—a timeless romance worth swooning for.

In the book, we accompany Helene on her arduous journey crafting a first draft of her novel from a collection of vignettes. What was your own experience of writing your first novel?

Well, that depends on what you count as my first novel! I wrote eight full-length manuscripts that never got published, before my ninth one (The Crown’s Game) landed me a book deal. From a purist’s point of view, I would consider my first manuscript analogous to Helene’s first draft. When you’re a new writer, you have so many great ideas and beautiful settings in your head, but it’s hard to translate them onto paper in the way it all exists in your imagination. So this is the struggle that Helene goes through for years, knowing that she’s written short love stories and feeling in her gut that they are connected, yet not being able to actually put them together into a novel. I’m too embarrassed now to go back and read my first manuscript... There’s a reason it was never published!

From the level of historical, geographic, and linguistic detail layered in this novel it was clear you had done some epic research! On reading about your background studying Russian Literature and 6 years practising Law I was fascinated, and wondered if these experiences continue to shape and inform your writing endeavours.

Absolutely. I’ve always been a fan of history, language (I have studied and speak several), travel, and food, so those topics frequently surface in my work. I want my books to be escapes for my readers, and that’s why there are often gorgeous locales or incredible food, the music of different languages, and the richness of the history of a place. (As for my past life as a corporate lawyer, that will show itself in my next novel, coming in 2024). I also firmly believe that you can’t be a good writer unless you also experience life in its many facets. In fact, I’m about to take a sabbatical from writing, because I’ve worked almost non-stop for the last two years, and it’s time to pause and refill my creative well—podcasts, chats with friends, articles about anything and everything, listening to old family stories, all of it. The break won’t be too long—I already have an idea for my next novel, macerating in my mind—but I know that it will make that next book so much richer for my readers if I take a break to breathe and be quiet and observe life for a while.

The Hundred Loves of Juliet is at its core a tale of soulmates, and star-crossed lovers. When it comes to love, do you believe in soulmates and fate?

1000% YES to love, to fate, and to soulmates! How could I say no? “Happily ever after” and true love may not come in the form you expect, but I think it is out there for everyone, if only you are willing to believe.

The Hundred Loves of Juliet

Evelyn Skye is a New York Times bestselling author of books for adults, young adults, and children. Her highly anticipated forthcoming novels include Damsel (which will also be a Netflix film starring Millie Bobby Brown, Robin Wright, and Angela Bassett) and The Hundred Loves of Juliet.

Evelyn is a graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and daughter.

Evelyn's Instagram: @evelyn_skye


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