I’m thrilled to have Abigail de Niverville here on my blog to talk about her debut novel, I Knew Him, and what the experience of debuting has been like for her! I was interested in this book when all I knew about was that it featured a bisexual protagonist and a production of Hamlet. And the more I found out about it, the more I wanted to read it!
Before the interview, here’s a little more information about the book itself!
In his senior year of high school, Julian has one goal: be invisible. All he wants is to study hard, play basketball, and pretend he’s straight for one more year. Then, he can run away to university and finally tell the world he’s bisexual. And by “the world,” he means everyone but his mom and best friend. That’s two conversations he never wants to have. When he’s talked into auditioning for the school’s production of Hamlet, Julian fears that veering off course will lead to assumptions he’s not ready to face. Despite that, he can’t help but feel a connection to this play. His absent father haunts him like a ghost, his ex is being difficult, and he’s overthinking everything. It’s driving him crazy. The decision to audition leads Julian on an entirely different path. He’s cast as Hamlet, and the boy playing Horatio is unlike anyone Julian has met before. Mysterious and flirtatious, Sky draws Julian in, even though he fears his feelings at the same time. As the two grow closer, Julian begins to let out the secrets he’s never told—the ones that have paralyzed him for years. But what will he do if Sky feels the same way?
And now onto the interview! There are some opened ended questions and then at the end, there are a few, fun, and fast This or That questions!
Has being a debut changed your outlook on the bookish community? If so, how?
It has a bit, especially using social media like Twitter. When I was on Twitter as a reader, I would get really excited when an author engaged with my reply to their tweet. Or I’d get excited to see an update about a future project. It’s just surreal to think someone might have the same reaction to me in the future. Engaging with readers as an author with an upcoming novel is a bit of a different dynamic, too. It’s interesting navigating that.
Writing a book is hard and releasing you work into the word can overwhelming. What has been you biggest struggle with process of debuting, writing or otherwise, and how have you dealt with it?
My biggest issue was letting the story go. This book has been with me for such a long time. I started writing the first draft when I was fifteen, and I’d been revising and rewriting it off and on ever since. The characters and I have gone through some journeys together. So because these characters were such a huge part of my life, I wanted to do everything in my power to make sure it was nothing short of perfect for queries and submissions, so that the final version readers would see would be good enough. I would spend hours reading the manuscript and just pick it apart.
It took me a while to accept that the book would never be perfect, and I was only one person. I could only take this story so far by myself. Not to mention, I’d read the book so many times, so of course it would never be perfect to me. There would always be things I could pick apart. I just needed to tell myself I was done, and start submitting. I told myself whoever ended up editing the book would be incredibly capable of helping me polish the story, so whatever imperfections I may have been unsure about would be addressed during edits. I think it helped just telling myself these facts. It helped ground me and reassure me that this book had potential and it was beautiful just the way it was.
There is is production of HAMLET in I KNEW HIM! What made you want to add a theater production into I KNEW HIM? What drew you to Shakespeare?
Fun fact: I KNEW HIM actually began as a Romeo and Juliet retelling! I was compelled to write an LGBTQ contemporary book because I didn’t know of any, or really have the resources to find them. But it was unlike anything I’d written before (I used to only write fantasy), so I thought having a familiar story as a guide would help me navigate this new territory. And I was reading Romeo and Juliet for English class, so it was on my mind a lot.
A few years later, I was in university and decided I wanted to try and rewrite the book. The only thing I wanted to do was keep the characters, because the retelling angle really didn’t work. I took the classic writing advice to “write what you know” and started thinking about things that were important to me in high school. For me, what made my high school experience memorable was being in theatre productions. We did two musicals per year, so it was a huge part of my life. So many personal dramas would happen while everyone was preparing for the shows and emotions ran super high. It felt like a good place to start for a story. I knew I wanted to keep the Shakespeare connection, so a production of a Shakespeare play was the most natural conclusion.
And again, I’d been reading Hamlet for the second or third time for a course, so I was inspired to make it the production featured in the story. Hamlet worked because I knew Julian could make some connections to the play, whether he wanted to or not. He has an absent father, an ex that’s driving him up the wall, and he’s a huge over-thinker – kind of like Hamlet. Those connections would compel him to audition after his friends beg him to consider it.
What I really like about Shakespeare in general is how alive his words can be. The heart of his plays are all about things everyone can relate to. Love, loss, grief, wants we don’t quite understand yet. At first glance I found Shakespeare really daunting and difficult to understand. But I started going to local productions (and then being in them myself), and developed a really strong connection to his works. The words that hadn’t made sense to me while I was reading them came alive onstage, and even the strangest of references were relatable because of the actors’ expressions. Shakespeare plays have had a long history of being re-interpreted too, whether it be gender-bending characters or setting a play during the Cold War. You can do anything to the surface of the story, but the heart always remains just as relatable as it was when they were first performed.
If you could surprise any of you characters with tickets to any Broadway show, which ones would excite them the most and why?
Oh this is fun! Julian, despite what energy he puts out, would be all over tickets for The Sound of Music. His mom was a musical lover, and he used to watch the movie all the time when he was younger.
Sky would definitely be into tickets for something like Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 because he loves modern visual arts that push boundaries, so a musical that does the same would be up his alley. But at the same time, he’s a fan of campy fun things, so I think he’d be really happy to get tickets to Mamma Mia.
And finally, do you have any other story ideas brewing that you love and could share?
I have too many ideas brewing! Right now, I’m focusing my energy on a story where the protagonists are in their first year at university and are having trouble adjusting. I also have a beach friendship story that’s always cooking in the back of my mind. I think that’ll be the next one to tackle.
Sunshine or rain?
Paperback or hardback?
Waves or still water?
Looking at the stars with the naked eye or through a telescope?
Reading in the morning or at night?
Instagram or Twitter?
Drafting or revising?
Here’s a little bit about Abigail herself and some links to where you can connect with her!
I KNEW HIM comes out April 15th, which is super soon and there’s still time to pre-order! I can’t wait to read this book and thank you so much to Abigail for coming by my blog!
Thank you for reading!