Pride & Prejudice & Prequels: Mash-Up Author Talks Austen & Zombies

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Welcome to ‘Zombie of the Week,’ folks, where each week we’ll present you with a different brain-eating member of the undead that has captured our fancy. There is no methodology to our Zombie Awesomeness meter, just our own piqued interests. Got a zombie we should see? Comment below. No zombie is too small, too short-lived, or too gross.

“For Jane: We kid because we love.”

Our curious fascination with the transformation of our beloved literary classics threaded with monster mayhem has bedazzled the publishing industry and spurred a litany of mashings from Tolstoy to Lincoln. (Your First Look: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer) Even Hollywood is jumping on the bandwagon, signing the newbie genre’s top sellers to big budget movie deals. As far as a literary renaissance is concerned, publishers may have found their meal ticket. Lured by the promise of gore and ghouls, readers have revisited the classics in solid numbers.

(More on Techland: Natalie Portman to Star in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Film)

But splattering blood on Jane Austen? It was a risk that paid off ten-fold for Quirk Books in 2009 with Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride & Prejudice & Zombies ($12.95, Amazon), the zombie-infused regency romance that went from spoofy spook to best seller, the point of origin for the great monster mashing trend. To continue the franchise, Quirk decided to revisit its Austen miscreation to tell the tale of how it all began. Pride & Prejudice & Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls ($12.95, Amazon) returns us to the beginning of the English countryside’s zombie woes and the evolution of the Bennett sisters from proper young ladies to slayers of the undead.

Because Austen provided no prequel of her own, author Steve Hockensmith (Holmes on the Range) took up the task of creating a zombie-centric plot required to measure up to standards of both Austen and horror fans – no easy task. Now a NYT Best Seller, the book seems to have struck a chord with both, and though Hockensmith says he’s still been hit with backlash from Austen purists, he’s just having a little fun. With zombies.

AT: So I was doing a bit of Googling and read that when you set out to write this book it was pitched as a sequel, not a prequel.

SH: Yes, correct. When I first started, it was definitely a sequel that they had on the table and the more we talked about it the more it swung around to being a prequel because of all of these fun, unanswered questions to play with – not all of which I answered purposely, but certainly we addressed some of them and the one that I found the most interesting was the transformation of Jane Austen’s beloved and demure Bennett sisters into fierce, zombie-beheading warriors. I thought, “Now, that would be a fun thing to watch happen, so let’s watch it happen.”

(More on Techland: Watch the Dawn of the Dreadfuls Book Trailer)

AT: I have to ask you about your Jane Austen-cred? Did you have a lot of experience with her work before writing this book?

SH: I had read her way back in college, and the thing that was funny was that at the time, I found her stuff very frustrating. And I found her frustrating for reasons that in hindsight, I completely understand and they were about me, not about Jane. I read P&P and Sense & Sensibility and I had the same reaction to both: I kind of wanted to grab everybody and shake them real hard and say, “Just talk to each other!”

There’s all this drama about misunderstandings and what so and so is really feeling. And as an 18 or 19-year-old American guy, I found that sort of infuriating. It just seemed so incredibly frustrating. There was just a big aspect of it that I was missing and I didn’t clue into it until I saw the P&P the miniseries many years later. It was a revelation: it’s funny.

AT: So how different (or similar) were you willing to make the writing styles of the two P&P&Z books?

SH: They’re very different by necessity, and I think people will realize that because if we don’t have P&P 2 to mash-up with wackiness, then we must create our own P&P 2 by writing in Jane Austen’s style and inserting our own wackiness, which would negate the same thing again and would have been horrible. I think to our credit that never really was on the table.

The idea was to take the ideas and the setting and the premise and tell another story and make that story as good as we could make it. We din’t have any conversations about “Jane-ing me up.” Certainly, I have different styles and many writers do. There are many different styles that you can write in and I wasn’t going to write this in a super modern mode with some sort of punchy thriller with five word sentences and a lot of BAM and POW and that kind of thing.

At the end of the day, it’s a book about zombies descending on an English village. It’s going to move differently than P&P&Z because it’s a regency comedy of manners.

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