1 Sep 2015

Interview with Michael Mullin, author of Simon

Michael Mullin, author of the modern day Hamlet retelling Simon was kind enough to answer my questions regarding his novel and of course Shakespeare.

Synopsis of the novel: 

His father is dead. His mother has remarried. His uncle is . . . his new stepfather? When the ghost of Simon Elsinore's father returns and claims he was murdered by his own brother, the nineteen-year-old film student must determine what is true and exact the revenge his father demands.

You can check out my review of Simon here.

Why Hamlet? Do you have a special relationship with this particular play?

I’m a bit of a Hamlet geek for sure, but not so much one of Shakespeare on the whole. I’ve always loved the depth of the story and the character in Hamlet. As a graduate student, I designed and taught a freshman writing course that was (oddly) called The Myth of the Hero. Along with some Joseph Campbell, I taught Hamlet, Frankenstein, Frank Miller’s Batman graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns and a near-final draft screenplay of Star Wars. (Cool course, I know.) I also wanted my son’s middle name to be Hamlet. That idea, however, was shot down.

How much did you lean on the original text?

I mostly used the Hamlet text for story arc, major plot points and characterizations. While writing the novel, there were certainly no questions as to what will happen next. It was more like: “How might that happen in a modern world?” What I tried most to avoid in my adaptation was anything that would come across to readers as me trying to be clever, matching up scenes and lines and interactions and such. The joke in my pitch is that I swear, Simon’s last name (Elsinore) is like the only time!

If you taught your book alongside Hamlet in high school which similarities/differences would you put emphasis on?

It’s interesting how universal themes like revenge and mortality translate over centuries and across cultures. I think discussions and analysis of this type would best engage students. Also, much-studied aspects of the original play like Perception vs. Reality could be looked at with regards to how we are “shown” the theatrical drama of Hamlet and how the fictional public in (and readers of) Simon are “shown” the story’s aftermath via the sensational news media.

Which character was the hardest to write? Why?

I’d have to say Juliana was the biggest challenge, evidenced by the fact that her scenes were rewritten the most. It was important to me that she was much more than merely a member of some supporting cast. Her familial backstory and her demise were of my own design, and I hoped to translate some of Ophelia’s reserved, mysterious qualities in a young woman who rings true as her own, interesting person.

How and/or why did the movie aspect come in?

I must confess a little bit of a “write what you know” autobiographical approach there. I studied film and filmmaking as an undergraduate (like a century ago), so it wasn’t too difficult to revert back to my nineteen-year-old self in that regard. That said, I went with the theme mainly for two reasons: first, it worked with today’s “YA” generation. Everyone films everything now, but Simon is “above” the common folk in his serious study of the medium. And second, Simon lives (just as Hamlet does) mainly in a world of his own creation. Every bit of dramatic action – and inaction – is crafted for a purpose. His purpose.
Do you yourself prefer written, performed or screened Shakespeare?

I haven’t even read all the plays, and I’ve only seen a couple of stage productions. I imagine theatrical versions must be the hardest to do without the highest level of talent (acting and production). I’m looking forward to seeing an onscreen version of the recent theatrical production starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet. That’s here in Los Angeles in November. That counts as performed, I think because it’s not a movie!   

Do you have a favourite Hamlet movie adaptation?

Give me the Kenneth Branagh full-text film from the mid 1990s any day.

If you had to choose a death from Shakespeare’s tragedies for yourself, which one would you opt for?

If recollection serves me, it’s mostly stabbings and poisonings, right? I’d say one in which I get to give a speech while it’s happening. That narrows it down a little, but perhaps not that much.

Would you consider retelling other stories of Shakespeare?

Not any time soon, no. I just don’t have that level of investment in any other work. Simon was the proverbial labour of love for me.

What project(s) are you currently working on?

A couple of years ago, I published a YA collection of three twisted fairytale retellings called TaleSpins. The first story (featuring the 8th dwarf no one knew about) has a graphic novel adaptation already out called 8: The Untold Story. I’m currently working on comic book versions for the other two TaleSpins stories.
I’m also throwing darts at the wall on an adult, thriller novel. Years ago, the story idea produced several unfinished drafts as a screenplay, so I’m weeding through that content, deciding on a direction.

Simon on Goodreads

Simon on Amazon

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