Author Interview: Jodi Lamm

Interview with Jodi Lamm
author of Chemistry
YA Contemporary/Retelling
published October 29, 2012

Connect with the author: website : Twitter.

Jodi is offering Chemistry for free today and tomorrow (April 26-27) on Amazon. Yes, free!

The backstory: In March, Jodi emailed me and asked me if I'd be interested in reading her recently published book, Chemistry, which is a contemporary retelling of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  Here's the blurb she sent me:

You don't want to read this book. I'm warning you. This isn't a heartwarming, boy-meets-girl, high school romance. I wish it were—God, do I ever. No, if you read this, you're going to be angry… with me, mostly. You'll probably yell at me, if you're the type of person who yells at books. You'll tell me not to be so stupid, but I won't listen. I'll be exactly as stupid as I need to be to destroy everything I love because that's who I am: a walking, talking tragedy. That's who I've always been. But if you're determined to read on despite my warning, I may as well introduce myself. My name is Claude Frollo, I'm nineteen going on ninety, and this is my story. It isn't pretty, but it's honest. And it's the only story I have left to tell.
Why was I drawn to this blurb? First, the very strong narrative voice. I love that in a book. I also love retellings, although I've never read The Hunchback of Notre Dame. And I liked the fact that this was a contemporary YA.  Now that I've finished the book, I see that Claude was right. Chemistry isn't a heartwarming romance. This is an intense story of love, jealousy, betrayal --  a story full of complex characters and some very dramatic moments.

So here are my questions for Jodi and what she had to say:

Jen:  I learned from your website that you used to write books on stapled-together pieces of paper. Me too!  Can you tell me a little bit about your journey as a writer from Dragon to Chemistry?

Jodi's early work, Dragon.

Jodi: I started writing stories pretty much as soon as I learned how to write. At first, it was to record some of my stranger dreams. Then I read a book called DRAGON OF THE LOST SEA by Laurence Yep. There was one scene that brought me close to tears for the villain. The villain! I was shocked. I was just a child and only accustomed to evil villains of the Disney variety. Bad is bad, you know? But this villain had a reason and a painful history to go with it. That was what made me realize how complex stories could really be and what made me want to be a writer. After reading Laurence Yep's novel, I folded my notebook paper, stapled it, and composed DRAGON. And writing just became this amazingly bad habit of mine. I loved it. I have boxes of old manuscripts that will never see the light of day. It's interesting to me that the idea behind CHEMISTRY (as an attempt to acknowledge the humanity of the villain) kind of recalls that early experience.

Jen: Chemistry is a retelling of  Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which I've never read. Can you give us a short summary of the book and explain why you decided to use it as your inspiration?

Jodi: Summarizing that book is going to be so tricky. It follows a number of primary characters (Claude Frollo, Quasimodo, Pierre Gringoire, and Esmeralda) and even several secondary characters. Each character's story becomes irreversibly tangled in the others, in much the same way they do in ROMEO AND JULIET. In short, it's a tragedy about a priest, a bell ringer, and a soldier, who all fall for a Gypsy girl in their own special ways. For Claude, it's deeply passionate, obsessive, crazy love.

What I adore about the original is how human every character is. Quasimodo is a kind-hearted person, but he has a violent, dangerous temper. Phoebus is a handsome, fun-loving guy, who's also a selfish jerk. Esmeralda is lovely and sweet, but she's also intolerably stupid. Pierre is a genius except when it comes to interpersonal relationships. And Claude has such high expectations of himself and others, he drives himself utterly insane with them. I wanted to read a retelling that preserved the things about the original I loved most, but I couldn't find it, so I wrote it.

Jen: Claude, the narrator of Chemistry, is a pretty complicated character. He's an orphan, he's intelligent and funny, and yet he's also a little ... unhinged. Do you see him as insane? As a villain? As someone driven mad by love?

Jodi: I don't think he's an outright villain. I see him as someone who has high expectations, for himself and others. Unfortunately, those expectations are impossible to meet, and when people—including himself—fail him, the consequences he creates are terrible. I think he's also someone with a dangerous obsession, a painful history, and an inability to interact with others in a healthy way. And while he works so hard to be a kind of parent to the people he cares about, he has no one to help him through his own troubles.

Jen: As much as I questioned the choice while reading, I love that you kept Esmeralda's pet goat and didn't make him into a Yorkiepoo. Can you tell us a little more about some of the elements of the original book that you either decided to keep or decided to change?

Jodi: Ha! You have no idea how much I worried about the goat. Then I remembered that some people keep pygmy goats as pets… and they are so cute! So I stuck with a goat, only smaller. I know it's kind of surreal, but the whole book is pretty surreal, in my opinion. I kept as much of the original story as I could. In fact, the chapters even correspond, which is why one of them is out of order. I wanted to keep the tragedy as a tragedy, but modern justice systems don't work the same way, so the justice had to be vigilante. Most of the main characters are orphans in the original; that stayed the same. The only thing I really couldn't find a way to fit into the modern story was the switched-at-birth plot, which I left it out, but I included a hint of it in the little pendant Esmeralda wears.

Jen: Claude is nineteen, and he -- and the book -- have some dark moments.  Do you think that Chemistry skews a little more toward New Adult than YA, or do you think YA is trending toward darker, more complex stories?

Jodi: That's a tough question. I chose to call it YA because the setting is high school. I do think YA is just as dark and complex as NA, and these age-categories are mostly about relatability. You're just dealing with a completely different world in high school than you are in college.

Jen: Thanks so much for answering my questions, Jodi. I wish you much success with your writing!

Jodi: Thank you for the opportunity.

You can read my review of Chemistry on Goodreads here. And don't forget, if you want to give Chemistry a try you can download it free here through April 27.

If you have questions for Jodi about goats, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, being a writer, or anything else, just leave them in comments and I'll ask her to stop by and answer them :)


  1. Great questions-interesting to learn about the changes from and similarities to the original story, which I also have not read (although I've seen the Disney version!)

  2. I haven't even seen the Disney version! But after reading Jodi's retelling, I'm wondering how Disney managed to adapt such a dark and complicated story...

  3. Thanks for the freebie! I can never resist a free book and I like the sound of this one!

  4. I've never read The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but this sounds like a really cool retelling. The goat is adorable and I love that bold choice, too!

  5. I loved this book! It was so haunting and at times unsettling. Definitely worth reading.


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