Who is the fairest of them all?
In Wake Me Most Wickedly, it's Solomon Weiss, a businessman struggling who he can trust with his heart as his life hangs in the balance.
EW can exclusively reveal the cover for this fairy-tale retelling, the latest from author Felicia Grossman, who launched the series with Cinderella-story Marry Be My Midnight, which EW praised, saying, "Grossman bibbidi-bobbidi-blasts us into a new corner of Victorian England, proving that the best fairy-tales don't need to fit into a box (or even a shoe) but rather defy them."
Wake Me Most Wickedly doesn't hit shelves until April 9, but we reached out to Grossman to get all the details on her twist on Snow White, why she wanted to gender-bend her fairytales, and the importance of showcasing the Jewish community in historical romance. Check out the cover and read on for more below.
Hachette 'Wake Me Most Wickedly' by Felicia Grossman
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We really have not seen a lot of historical romance that explores the Jewish community in this era. Why do you think that is and how do you hope to change that with your books?
FELICIA GROSSMAN: I often think that people don't know what to make of us. For so long, in English-language culture, we've been depicted as literal monsters and I believe people want to do better, but are unsure how — especially as our identity and history often doesn't fit neatly into popular narratives or shorthand.
I hope that my book reminds people that we exist, that our experiences — past and present — are unique and important, then and now, and reminds those who read romance, especially new readers, that Jewish historical romances like those of Rose Lerner and Nita Abrams exist and that people should also continue to read and support them. We're real people, not symbols and analogies, imperfect, but still deserving of HEAs exactly as we are.
Where did you get the idea to marry historical romance in the Jewish community with retold fairy-tales?
I was in a place in my career where I didn't know quite what to write next, though I knew it was going to be Jewish and set in early 19th-century London. My father had died a few months prior, after a very short, devastating illness. My very good friend, Stacey Agdern, advised me to write my "fuzzy blanket book" — the book that speaks to the comfort and joy that romance, at its best, gives you.
For me, that is the different stories of Cinderella — both the triumph of kindness and the hope they represent. And from there, the world of Once Upon the East End was born, with its characters both based on real history and on various characters, many ready to have their own retellings.
What about the gender-swapping? That feels like such a fresh approach.
It has been so fun. Recasting fairytale princesses as Jewish men with Jewish women as their love interests has allowed me to play with gendered archetypes and power dynamics within the bounds of familiar stories and tropes. For example, in Marry Me By Midnight, I got to take that idea of kindness triumphing, and pit it against the traditional trappings of idealized Jewish masculinity, with its emphasis on scholarly capabilities and being perceived as smart. I also enjoyed taking the "alpha duke" archetype, and creating someone like Isabelle Lira to embody it.
As for what to expect in Wake Me Most Wickedly, let's just say, our Snow White is going to get kissed by a "huntswoman," who has a lot in common with historical romance's "bad boy" heroes, but is also still a very particular type of 19th-century Jewish woman.
Allison Liffman Felicia Grossman
How did you choose which fairy-tales to focus on? So far you've done Cinderella and this next one is Snow White.
Cinderella was the obvious way to start, because of how the story makes me feel, but Snow White came to me through its lead. Solomon Weiss was originally named Solomon Meyer in the first draft of Marry Me By Midnight. However, as I was developing him as a character, I kind of fell in love with him, and his… let's call it confidence, when focused on a goal. So when he was basically calling himself "the fairest of them all," I knew a name change and a book were necessary.
Fairy-tales have been reimagined so many times so what is your primary basis here — the original tale, a Disney adaptation, any version that catches your eye?
Disney looms large, especially for someone who, like me, not only has kids, but spent a lot of her teens and twenties babysitting. Though, because I'm such a musical theater person, I was most certainly influenced by and referenced both Into the Woods and Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella. However, for Marry Me By Midnight, I paid particular attention to the Ferretti and Rossini adaptation which is an opera called La Cenerentola, because of both the story and themes.
The most well-known version of Snow White was published in 1812 by the Grimm brothers, though similar folktales do exist elsewhere. Wake Me Most Wickedly most certainly references those stories as well as the 1937 Disney movie, which was also based on the Grimm tale, but I also paid close attention to the recent movie, Snow White and the Huntsman, and the way that adaptation played with the source material.
I have to say, I am so excited and intrigued by the new, live-action Disney Snow White and how it will reimagine the tale. I loved Rachel Zegler's enthusiasm in recent interviews, and she's mentioned things I thought about when drafting Wake Me Most Wickedly, like what elements speak to our society and creating a deeper relationship between the leads. I'm so excited to see other ways of approaching the work to retell it. Also, like her, I too, as a preschooler, was terrified by the ride Snow White's Adventure. I described it to someone recently as Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, but somehow scarier.
I love your steamy clench covers which we don't often get much anymore. Was that something on your wish list from the time you signed your deal?
The covers for these books are an absolute dream come true. I've loved clench covers since I first noticed the wire racks of historical romances near the check-out counter at our local library. And it's so rare, in either general pop culture or Jewish culture, for Jewish women to be depicted as sexy, desirable, and lovable, and [publisher] Forever has just knocked it out of the park each time.
I hear that the apple on this cover was an avocado during the shoot. What? How? I must know more.
So I didn't get to actually see the shoot, but I heard from Dana and Sam that it was a ton of fun. And with the magic of editing, we have this lovely and very sexy cover.
Editor's Note: Grossman's editor Sam Brody adds: "We knew from the beginning we wanted to include the iconic Snow White apple on the cover. But as happens when coordinating busy schedules, we didn't secure an apple for the day of shooting. Luckily, the photographer happened to have an avocado on hand — which is close enough in shape and size that we could swap it for an apple in post-production. So in the unedited photos, our heroine is not, in reality, offering the hero a bite of her apple (pun intended)—but a much less tasty bite of avocado!"