by Ally Malinenko
author of Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb
“…Lord what fools these mortals be…”
Why Shakespeare? That’s the first question they ask. Not, how long did it take, or who did you base your characters on or how many words, but Why Shakespeare?
Why Shakespeare? they ask, their brows furrowed, their lips pursed. Why Shakespeare?
I tell them if there was no Shakespeare the name Jessica wouldn’t exist.
They shake their heads. Why Shakespeare? they ask again. Why Shakespeare?
Without Shakespeare we’d never say “It’s Greek to me!” when we’re confused. And he invented the word “assassination.” Without Shakespeare we’d have no Infinite Jest, The Sound and the Fury, Brave New World, or Pale Fire.
Why Shakespeare, they ask.
He’s the reason you’ll find starlings in North America.
Why Shakespeare, they ask.
Where would we be as a culture without our tragic prince Hamlet, Macbeth and Lear?
Still, why Shakespeare, they ask.
You’re writing a book, they say, about Shakespeare. For kids? Once I’ve reassured them it isn’t non-fiction and yes it takes place now not in the 1500’s (well, most of it!) they shake their heads. Why not magic? they ask. Oh there’s, magic, I tell them. Why not adventure? they ask. Oh, there’s adventure, I tell them. And death and love and betrayal and fights and escapes and a play!
But Why Shakespeare, they cry. Why Shakespeare?
So I’ll tell you. Many years ago I was in a bookstore in downtown Brooklyn, and while wondering through the children’s section I came across a book by Philip Ardagh entitled “A House called Awful End” which featured a young Eddie Dickens in Victorian London. I thought it was a fantastic idea. A book for young children with a tongue in cheek reference to Dickens! Standing there, I wondered who would be better than Dickens. Who was the greatest writer ever? Whose work changed the life of every reader, every playgoer? Whose birthdate is still unknown? Whose grave is cursed (trust me, it is!)? Whose very existence was so amazing, so talented, so mind blowing that to this day we still argue if even existed? Only one man. That famed, “upstart crow.”
And then, just like that, standing in that book store, I found Lizzy Speare, the only living descendant of the Bard of Avon, her life, consistently in danger because of who she is and who he was. And I found Jonathan Muse, the mythical creature from Mount Olympus, Shakespeare’s own Muse and Lizzy’s only guide in this strange new world. Then of course, Marlowe, our bad guy whose own twisted family history traces all the way back to Elizabethan England. Though in the beginning they were all very different and bore different names. But they were still there. Real. And alive. And inside me, just like the Bard was.
And that’s Why Shakespeare.
MEET LIZZY SPEARE…
a normal twelve year old girl with a talent for writing, who has a very not normal family secret. And when Lizzy’s father vanishes, that secret will change her life in ways unimagined ways. (Spoiler Alert! It turns out that Lizzy, or Elizabeth S. Speare, is the last living descendent of William Shakespeare. Shhh! Don’t tell anybody!)
Then Lizzy and her best friend Sammy are kidnapped, awakening in the faraway land of Manhattan. Their host is Jonathan Muse, whose job is to protect Lizzy from becoming the latest victim in a family feud nearly five hundred years old. Could that be why the mysterious, eye patch-wearing Dmitri Marlowe is after her? (Spoiler Alert 2 – he’s the last living descendent of Christopher Marlowe, a friend and rival of Shakespeare’s. But keep it to yourself!) Is Marlow after Lizzy’s family fortune rumored to be kept in Shakespeare’s tomb? Does he seek artistic immortality? Or Revenge (with a capital R) for a death long, long ago?
In a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse, Lizzy and Sammy are thrust into the realm of the mythical and fantastic – from satyrs and Cyclopses to Middle Eastern cab drivers and Brooklyn hipsters – in what is truly “an improbably fiction” as the Bard himself once wrote.
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