Guest Post by J. I. Radke, author of Rooks and Romanticide
There’s no avoiding it—Romeo and Juliet is a classic. The forbidden love/star-crossed lovers theme is one that occurs time and time again, whether in the traditional Shakespearean sense or in new relevant fashion. And of course there’s reboots like the movie Romeo + Juliet that take the old tale for a fun spin. I like to think it’s because the themes and emotions in Romeo/Juliet are intrinsic parts of the human experience—love and desperation, logic versus passion, secrecy and loyalty. To name a few. I never really had a plan, as a writer, to try my hand at reinventing the classic play. It just sort of happened in a huge collision of inexperienced research. What I mean is… Okay. Here we go!
I love literature in its every form—that includes manga (you know, the “backwards” Japanese visual novels)—and one manga that I absolutely adore and will never stop obsessing over is Kuroshitsuji (黒執事, or Black Butler.) ROOKS AND ROMANTICIDE at its youngest stage was…yes…fanfiction for this series. I was seventeen and I’d wanted to do something different, something new, and I thought it would be fun to reinvent Romeo/Juliet in a Victorian-type setting. What it became was more of an “alternate universe” Victorian London, and the gunslinger idea entered when I adapted the gang mentality of Romeo/Juliet’s fighting families to the era. From there, it just developed into this amalgamation, this almost-steampunk sort of culture, and became this great platform on which to explore the two houses hating each other and to build Cain and Levi’s relationship safe from that hatred. Mind, that was only the humble beginnings of ROOKS. It’s been five years since then and I like to think ROOKS has distinguished itself from its early days… ;)
For whatever reason going mad over organization, I went back to Romeo/Juliet and formed my own outline around the play’s actual skeleton. Scene by scene, act by act. I wanted to parallel it as far as plot movement, while tweaking it into something equally unique. I even structured the story itself like a play—parts are labeled “acts” and chapters labeled “scenes.”
I hope the parallels come through both as throwbacks to the original play and as their own reinvented scenes. I won’t spoil anything, but I think it’s safe to say readers can expect certain turns of events just knowing how Romeo/Juliet plays out—even though there is a lot that is exclusive to ROOKS.
One of the greatest places of inspiration from Romeo/Juliet was in the characterization of Levi and Cain. Knowing Romeo/Juliet, looking through it again, and building my own world for the retelling really made me stop and think about just what Romeo as a character and as a character mold stands for. What he wants. How that translates to Levi’s character. Same with Juliet and Cain. In fact, I feel like some traits of Romeo can be found in Cain at times, and Juliet in Levi, but that was what was so fun about borrowing and breaking the traditional: really getting to dig deep into the meaning and thoughts and feelings of two of literature’s most famous figures, and revitalize them.
Same goes for the feud between the families, too, to be honest. It was a lot of wondering what loyalty meant, or what sort of void it might be filling. It was a lot of exploring grief and grudges, and sort of deconstructing the issues at the core of the classic play. Or maybe it was more about finding new meanings at the core of the play. In Romeo/Juliet, a lot of outside forces threaten the young Montague and Capulet—unwanted marriage, murder, feuding families. In ROOKS, it’s more about internal forces. And that was really pleasing to discover.
I could go on and on about how reinventing the “classic love story” with two men was a lot of fun… ;) But to me the difference here is not because of that; it’s because Cain and Levi are, to put it simply, not Romeo and Juliet. While their situations and struggles are inspired by Romeo and Juliet, their story is still all their own. Realistically, it did bring some new conflicts with which to play, like dealing with homosexuality in a Victorian setting—and with the sons of noblemen well known to the public eye, all that jazz I love so much to talk about. ;D
It was really fun being able to pluck key phrases and moments out of the classic play and put them into ROOKS in a new way—script/play dialogue is so very different from novel dialogue, after all.
And I guess I’ll end with that. Here’s a tidbit!
ROOKS AND ROMANTICIDE – ACT ONE, SCENE FIVE
“A name, what is a name?” Levi sighed. There was no catch to this. He’d always gone by his middle name, anyway, and surely the Earl would never make the connection to his formal first name should he speak it.
He said, “A rose would smell the same if called anything else, wouldn’t it? Names are as dangerous as the guns we wave. With a man’s name you hold so much power over him—but if you should need a name for me, you can call me Levi—and I swear by the moon above in the sky—”
“Oh God, who are you? Romeo?” The Earl’s voice was thick with disgust, but his eyes danced.
Levi was slightly offended. He’d thought that had been a grand play of words.
“The moon is powerful,” he insisted, offering the Earl a frank frown. The Earl’s expression didn’t waver. He returned the stare, stubborn and smug in his austerity. Levi sighed. “What do you suggest I swear by, then?”
About the Author:
J. I. Radke goes by a variety of handles and pseudonyms, most commonly "themissinglenk" and/or "white silver and mercury."
Once upon a time he wanted to be a marine biologist because of sharks. That lasted a year or so. Now he is an English/Creative Writing and History double major (emphasis on 18th/19th c. Western Europe, Classic mythology, and the history/psychology/theory of masculinity and sexuality), minoring in Russian Studies.
Radke writes ghost stories, romance novels, transgressive fiction, and "fanfic" that's sometimes all of that in one. He doesn't favor polemics, but he does believe in passionate speeches, discussions, and intellectual debates (best ones after midnight under the stars). He also believes in ghost hunting, swimming in coves with bioluminescent algae, zodiac/Tarot/moon cycles, sushi, Phad Thai, and pizza. He doesn't do quite as well with Ferris wheels.
Born in New Jersey but raised all over the U.S., Seattle is home to Radke.
Maybe one of these days he'll embellish this bio with a very clever quote from some respected historical figure or another.