Jillian Cantor: On Reimagining a Classic
Jillian Cantor has a BA in English from Penn State University and an MFA from the University of Arizona. She is the author of award-winning and bestselling novels for teens and adults, including The Hours Count, Margot, The Lost Letter, In Another Time, and Half Life. Born and raised in a suburb of Philadelphia, Cantor currently lives in Arizona with her husband and two sons. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
In this post, Jillian discusses why she chose to reimagine The Great Gatsby from the women’s perspective in her new historical fiction novel, Beautiful Little Fools, what she hopes readers get out of the experience, and more!
Name: Jillian Cantor
Literary agent: Jessica Regel, Helm Literary Agency
Book title: Beautiful Little Fools
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Release date: January 4, 2022
Genre/category: Historical fiction, literary fiction, women’s fiction
Previous titles: Half Life, In Another Time, The Lost Letter, The Hours Count, Margot
Elevator pitch for the book: The Great Gatsby meets Big Little Lies, Beautiful Little Fools reimagines the world of Gatsby, and who killed Jay Gatsby, from the women’s points of view.
What prompted you to write this book?
I’ve long loved The Great Gatsby and have come back to reread it again and again. But I’ve always felt that there was more to the women’s stories beneath the surface. In the original novel Daisy says that a best thing a woman can be is a “beautiful little fool,” but I always felt certain that neither Daisy nor Jordan were fools.
How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?
The idea of writing about the women of The Great Gatsby has been in the back of my head for many years, but in early 2020 I realized the copyright for the original novel would be expiring in 2021, and then the idea for Beautiful Little Fools came to me very quickly. I started writing in January 2020, so just about two years from the idea to publication in January 2022.
The idea didn’t change during the process. I wrote out an outline in those first few weeks of drafting, basing my timeline on what we learn about the women in the original novel, and stuck to it. The only exception is the final chapter of the novel, which was not in my original outline or draft, but which came about in my revision with some wise advice from my editor.
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
This is my 11th published novel, so I’m not sure I’m surprised by too much about the publishing process at this point. I was happily surprised by how much I loved the cover, immediately, the first moment I saw it. I’m not an artist, and I always have trouble conceptualizing what a cover should look like. Often, I’ll see a cover draft for the first time and will feel undecided if it’s right. But this time, I just knew right away, the team at Harper Perennial had gotten it exactly right.
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
I don’t usually outline before I start writing, but for this book, because of its connection to the original Gatsby and me wanting to stick to the timeline and many details set out there, I did begin by making a really detailed outline before I started my first draft. I’ve always said I’m a pantser, not a plotter, so the surprise was that I guess I can be a plotter too!
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
I hope it gives them a new and more feminist perspective on The Great Gatsby, but also, I hope it says a lot about women and their roles in that particular moment in history. And of course, above all, I hope it’s an enjoyable read!
If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?
To write the book that you would want to read yourself! I’ve always wanted to know more about Daisy and Jordan, and I had the most fun I’ve ever had writing a book creating their stories.