A book publicist for a dozen years, first for Scholastic and currently for Little, Brown as director of global publicity for Stephenie Meyer, Elizabeth Eulberg stepped into the role of author with The Lonely Hearts Club. Scholastic’s Point imprint is publishing her second YA novel, Prom & Prejudice, a modern-day retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Set at an elite Connecticut boarding school, the novel centers on Lizzie Bennet, a gifted pianist shunned by her snooty classmates for being a scholarship student, who is drawn to privileged Will Darcy despite his seemingly pompous demeanor. Bookshelf caught up with Eulberg—who like Lizzie lives in Hoboken—to talk about the novel and her writing life.
Have you long aspired to write fiction?
I remember always telling myself stories when I was little. And when I moved to New York fresh out of college, I started to write a book in my head about that experience. But I never thought of actually writing a book—I think because I’m too practical. When I started working in publishing, I became more hesitant to write, since I was surrounded by so many amazing authors. So I put off doing it. Then one night, while I was still at Scholastic, I was having dinner with Dav Pilkey and he said, “You really should write a book,” and he wouldn’t let me forget about it, which I thank him for.
When you finally decided to tackle a novel, why did you choose to write for teens?
In publishing, I’ve always worked in that world and mostly read YA novels. Also I remember being in high school so well. It’s a time in your life that you’re figuring out a lot of things, including who you are. It’s a time that’s ripe for drama. And teen readers are the sweetest ever. They really get into a book. I’ve received some really amazing letters from readers and find this a great audience to talk to.
What led you to revisit Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice—is that novel a particular favorite of yours?
My mother was a school librarian, so I grew up with someone who loved books—in fact I was named after Beth in Little Women and I have a sister named Meg. Books were always a big part of my life and I’ve always loved Jane Austen. I think she’s one of the greatest novelists of all time. It’s amazing that she wrote Pride and Prejudice almost 200 years ago and it still resonates today.
I was having a conversation with a friend about the novel, and we talked about how it is a story that fits in well with current times and has influenced popular culture—think of Bridget Jones’s Diary and the Bollywood movie Bride and Prejudice. I began thinking about how it might be retold with teenage characters, though I was a bit nervous about doing a modern retelling of one of the most classic works of all times—no pressure there!
Did the premise of the story come to you quickly?
It took a while. I knew I didn’t want to send the message that every teenage girl is in need of a boyfriend. In fact, in The Lonely Hearts Club I wrote about a girl who decides she’s going to live without boys. While thinking about what is important to teens, I thought of prom, and the title Prom & Prejudice just popped into my head. I said it aloud, and I knew I had my title. So the novel started with the title, and it took me a while to figure out exactly how the story would work.
Why set the novel at a boarding school?
The setting had to be a place where money and class mattered, and I thought that in a regular high school, that’s not so much the case. I needed to put my Lizzie in a situation where she was totally out of her realm in terms of class, and I thought what better place than a rich, elite boarding school?
And why make Lizzie a pianist prodigy?
This was something that made her special and made her stand out. I have always loved music, and I’ve played the piano since I was five. And I also thought that music could be a way to connect her with Darcy, whose mother is a concert pianist. I actually loved writing the music part of this story, because music is an important part of what I am.
In Prom & Prejudice, Lizzie performs Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.” Does this piece have special significance for you?
I did some research to find what would be a difficult piece for her to play, since I am nowhere near the pianist she is. I love this piece and in fact I’d had the sheet music for a long time. I always wanted to learn to play it but had never gotten around to practicing it—until I was writing the book.
So Lizzie inspired you to practice this piece?
I felt it was important to do. Otherwise it would have been hard to write about her performing the piece. This way, I was able to experience what she was experiencing.
How do you juggle your jobs as publicist and writer?
I only write on weekends and I have to be really disciplined. During the week, while I’m commuting, at the gym, or in the shower, I’ll think about the book I’m writing, and often jot down some notes. So when I sit down on Saturday to write, I know where the story is going. I have to do that to make it all work.
Has becoming a published author affected your perspective as a publicist?
It’s funny. I joke that everyone in publicity should write a book, to understand what it’s like from the author’s perspective! Some things make a lot more sense to me now. I’ve worked with authors who, when preparing for an interview, say they’re going to re-read their book. And I always thought that was weird, since they wrote it. But now I get it and have a better appreciation of juggling books, since I’ve just turned in my third book to Scholastic, and I’m now promoting Prom & Prejudice—but haven’t read it since May.
What’s your third novel about?
It’s a not yet titled novel set in a performing arts high school in New York City. I’ve always been fascinated by these schools, because of my love for music. The students have to balance homework, practicing, auditions, rehearsals, and performances. And I was interested in the way that being in such a competitive world might affect teens’ relationships.
Having worked as a publicist at Scholastic, is it gratifying to be back in the house as an author?
Very! It was great that Scholastic was so enthusiastic about The Lonely Hearts Club and wanted to publish it. I respect David Levithan so much and to work with him as an author is a huge privilege. It is definitely fun to be back there as an author. It is something that I honestly never thought would happen.
Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg. Scholastic/Point, $17.99 Jan. ISBN 978-0-545-24077-2