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

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AT: So where did your zombie lore come from?

SH: Zombies are a fairly new addition to the cannon of monsterdom. Really the modern zombie goes back just to the Night of the Living Dead. There’s a ton of material out there, but it seems like there’s not a lot of diversity out there. And horror fans might beat me up for that because I’m not a huge horror fan myself. I like what I consider the good stuff within the genre, but I don’t consume it in vast quantities. So what I did was just sort of reacquaint myself with the classics.  I went back and I watched Night of the Living Dead, the original. That’s the touchstone. That’s where you’ve got to start.
Then it was Dawn of the Dead the original, which for me, is a special zombie movie, which is probably my favorite of the classic Romero era because it’s able to be a good scary zombie movie, but it’s also an adventure movie and it also has such a great social satire aspect to it. It’s got some things to say. It’s the grand slam of classic era zombie movies.

Then of course, there was the film that had the treatment that I’d like to capture with zombies, which was Shaun of the Dead. It’s scary and it’s funny and so often you can have one and not the other. It’s commenting on zombie movies, but it never crosses that line where the satire overwhelms the situation. It walks that tightrope perfectly of having its tongue in its cheek, but also having that feat that that cheek is about to be ripped off and eaten at any second.

(More on Techland: E-Readers Get First Chapters of Dawn of the Dreadfuls With Free Download)

AT: The descriptions were pretty awesome. I like the descriptions of the way the flesh was hanging off of the corpse. How did you visualize the appearance of the zombies?

SH: I did have to do a little bit of that, which is one of the not so fun parts of writing about zombies. I wanted to know what color do dead bodies really turn, and you’ve got Google and I’m looking at it with one eye and my head turned away because you don’t know what’s going to pop up.

I didn’t want to delve into that stuff too much, but I wanted the descriptions to have enough verisimilitude that you really buy that this is a dead body. Because you could be really generic about it: There was a zombie. And the zombie chased them. And they killed the zombies. It seemed to me that if you’re going to do zombies, you’ve got to give them personality, you’ve got to give them individuality or it’s just going to be this blur. I tried to think creatively with my zombies. There was one with no arms and legs that moved around like an inchworm, but very fast. Then there was the one in the lake who was tied to a rock.

There were a couple that I wanted to work in and I couldn’t. I wanted them to find a zombie who had hung himself and they find him swinging around by a rope trying to eat people so they use it like a piñata for target practice. I wasn’t able to work that in, but maybe in another book.

AT: I think my favorite moment of the book is when Jane kills a zombie in the bedroom with the battle-axe.

SH: Oh yes. You know I toyed around with having her be a complete bitch. You’d get to finally see inside her head and what you realize is that it’s all a front. It’s all a lie. The Jane you think you know is just a complete creation and underneath it all she’s just a nasty, vile, cynical bitch. And I just couldn’t do it.

It would have been heartbreaking because of course we all love Jane. It would have been funny, but it would have been funny at the expense of a lot of sentiment. That, and I would have brought upon the Jane-ites with their fiery torches.

(More on Techland: Dawn of the Dreadfuls’ Unmentionable Takes Battle-Axe to the Skull)

AT: What are you telling the Austen purists? There is some hate coming your way.

SH: It’s something that I understand. I grew up as a fan. I was a Star Trek fan. Years later when J.J. Abrams comes traipsing along and says that he’s going to re-imagine this thing that you loved from your youth, there’s going to be some trepidation. Are they going to be respectful, or are they just going to trash it? I totally get where they’re coming from.

On the other hand, I would say that certainly with the Quirk Books, I would hope that our affection for Jane Austen comes through. That’s why it was very important to me that the dedication of the book be: “For Jane: We kid because we love.” For me, that captures what I’m all about. I’m not doing this to flip Jane Austen the bird. I’m a guest in her home.

And as far as this genre of mash-ups is concerned, it’s nothing new. In the 60s there was a movie called, Robinson Crusoe On Mars. It’s been done before. It’s a way to have fun. It’s a way to play on the playground in the amusement park of literature. If we’re going to start walling off parts of the playground and say, you’re not allowed to go there, I just think that’s a loss to everybody.

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