Revisiting the classics

Growing up, Kimberley Askew’s parents wanted their daughter to be an attorney. But Askew simply didn’t find joy in courtrooms, juries and attaché briefcases.

Askew loved books. Not books filled to the brim with legal jargon, but stories that transported the mind and expanded the imagination.

As a child, Askew and her family moved around a lot. During the moments she had to herself, she was nose-deep in a book.

“I wrote a lot on my own and I read a lot,” Askew said. “Basically, I just read a ton.”

Her obsession with the written word eventually took her on the path to Fresno State.

Askew entered Fresno State as an English major with an emphasis on Medieval and Renaissance literature.

Askew was taught under the guidance of her instructor and mentor, Laurel Hendrix, who taught Renaissance literature. Askew said Hendrix’s enthusiasm for the written word was captivating.

“She also introduced me to a lot of female writers I haven’t heard of from that period,” Askew said.

She said that learning in Fresno State’s English department was an experience she will never forget.

“The instructors were fantastic,” Askew said. “The classrooms were, for a school that large, pretty small. I got to know everyone in my classes pretty well.”

Askew said that it the instructors made an impact in her decision to follow literature as a career.

“The instructors there really believed in what they were teaching, what they were doing,” she said. “There was a purpose to it. That has definitely affected me in my life and the choices I made.”

Askew graduated in 1993, but she didn’t stay grounded in Fresno, as her wandering spirit took her to San Francisco, to Los Angeles, across the ocean to London and finally back to Los Angeles where she now resides.

Currently, Askew is co-writing a series of young adult novels with author Amy Helmes, who began writing together in 2004 when they launched a blog dedicated to book-to-film adaptations called Romancing the Tome.

The books being published under the authors’ Twisted Lit series are modern retellings of Shakespearean plays.

The first novel, “Tempestuous,” is based off of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” but revolves around a girl seeking revenge against a group that cast her into a social exile.

In the book, the heroine, Miranda, finds herself trapped in a mall with her friends and nemesis overnight in a blizzard.

“Tempestuous” will release in December.

Following on its heels is “Exposure,” a novel based on “Macbeth.” The story, due January 2013, follows an awkward high school teenager in Alaska.

Though based on the works of Shakespeare, the books carry Askew’s personal touch, and she and Helmes have changed many settings and have even combined some characters into one in order to serve the new stories.

Askew said that she enjoys modern reinterpretations of classic stories. For example, she is a fan of BBC’s “Sherlock,” which took Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 19th century detective and placed him in the modern world.

Askew said she still remembers writing first story as a child around the age of 5.

“I wrote an epic poem about a unicorn,” she said with a laugh.

As she grew older, her tastes began to change. And she often found herself on the constant hunt for more books.

“I started reading adult novels at about the fifth grade,” Askew said. “Every chance I got, every weekend I was at the library checking out books.”

Askew also found herself doing volunteer work at the library where she was comfortable being surrounded by the books she loved.

“I’ve read every Agatha Christie. I read tons of sci-fi stuff,” she said. “I also read the girlie stuff like ‘Little Women,’ and I liked Sherlock Holmes.”

Her interest in books, however, were not anchored to recent releases, and she began to read older works as time went on.

From Medieval tomes to “Beowulf,” Askew said she discovered a love of classic Western literature that grew stronger over time.

Eventually she discovered her first true love in literature in that of a 16th century writer.

“When I was in school I was really obsessed with Shakespeare,” she said.

Askew looks forward to publishing her first two novels, and she is already working on the third.

“We’re working on “Romeo and Juliet” right now. I know for sure we’re doing ‘Romeo and Juliet.’”

She won’t stop at just three stories.

“I’d really like to do the first two Henry plays, ‘Henry IV’ part one and two,” Askew said. “We talked about doing ‘King Lear,’ that will make a good book as well. Perfect teen adaptation.”

Askew knows that her own story isn’t a simple fairy tale, and much of her success came after years of hard work. Her advice to Fresno State students currently looking into a career in literature: do not let your talent go unnoticed and don’t hide from the spotlight.

“Keep writing and submitting, and try to be disciplined,” she said. “Keep writing as much as possible, and don’t just keep it all for yourself. Send it out. Start making a name for yourself.”

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