Do you remember when the zombie Pride and Prejudice books came out? I do, mostly because I viewed them with a kind of wonder and fear — horror was not my favourite genre then (it’s still not, but I appreciate it more) — and wonder that authors dared, dared to mess with Jane Austen (humour was not my favourite genre then either).
I know, I don’t know what I was thinking. The popularity and success of Steve Hockensmith’s Pride and Prejudice novels, a sequel and pre-equal to Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies showed just how ready people were for exciting, well-written mash-ups. Currently, The Jane Austen Project is going strong, introducing modern writers’ versions of Jane Austen’s novels to a new audience.
He’s written everything from Westerns to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies mash-ups to his kid’s Nick and Tesla series and an engrossing new series in which tarot cards play a central role: The White Magic Five and Dime, reviewed here.
Steve answered some questions for me about his writing and his books.
Have you made any writing resolutions for 2015?
Sure: “Don’t be late!” Alas, 2014 was the Year of the Missed Deadline for me. I let not one but two books get waaaaaaaaaaay behind schedule. I don’t want that to happen again, so I’m trying to be picky about what I commit to. But this year’s already looking pretty loaded with deadlines, if certain projects pan out, so maybe I wasn’t picky enough.
How would you describe yourself as a reader?
Slow. I’m incapable of skimming or speed-reading. I read at the speed of speech. Which can be really frustrating, as there are approximately 2,000,000,000 books I want to read before I croak. I’ve had to accept that I won’t get to all of them. (Maybe just 1,999,999,999. It’s worth a try, right?)
You’ve written everything from middle-grade novels to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to Westerns – for you as a writer, what’s the best and worst thing about venturing into a new genre/series for the first time?
It’s different for each project. With my Pride and Prejudice and Zombies novels, the hardest thing was finding the right tone. We wanted them to be scary and exciting and romantic and funny and irreverent (but not too irreverent). The first pass was too broad, too over-the-top, too Mel Brooks. In the next drafts, we reined all that back in. The best part is looking back on those books and feeling like they turned out pretty darned well!
Nick and Tesla’s series sounds quite simply, fun! As I understand it, your collaborator on the series, “Science Bob” Pflugfelder, helped with the experiments and the gadgets in the series – how did your collaboration begin? And, it seems like the best sort of series to make science fun and engaging for kids?
Indeed — fun is what those books are all about. Well, fun and building stuff. Which is fun to some people, of course. Just not me. I’m the opposite of handy. I can screw in a lightbulb, but that’s about it. Fortunately, I was able to find Science Bob to handle all the hands-on projects. I have Google to thank for that. Our publisher, Jason Rekulak at Quirk Books, came to me with the idea for the series, I agreed to write it, then I went out and found Science Bob because I’m hopeless with technical details. Fun fact: Bob and I have never met face to face. We do 95% of our collaborating via email, with the occasional phone call to iron out this or that. It’s a wacky system, but it seems to work.
The best, strangest experiment in the Nick and Tesla’s series is?
The strangest projects Bob has come up with would probably be the potato canon or the solar-powered hot dog cooker — neither of which have ended up in a book. (It was decided that the potato canon was too dangerous, while the solar-powered hot dog cooker…well, how exactly do you use a sun-cooked hot dog to solve a mystery?) My favourite project is definitely the diet cola and Mentos-powered rocket cat from the first book. It puts a smile on my face just typing the words “diet cola and Mentos-powered rocket cat”!
I recently read The White Magic Five and Dime, written with your collaborator Lisa Falco — why did you choose to go with tarot cards in the story? What attracted you to it?
I’m not a big believer in the occult or the supernatural or the spirit world or anything like that. I don’t pretend to know everything about how the universe works — I’m the first to admit I don’t know much of anything about it! Yet I am, by nature, sceptical. But years ago, Lisa (who’s an old friend of mine) opened my eyes to what tarot cards can reveal. She does extremely insightful and accurate readings. So the tarot is something that she and I would discuss from time to time. At one point, Lisa said she wanted to write a novel about a tarot reader and her relationships with her clients. I said, “Throw a murder in, and you’ve got yourself a mystery series.” Cut to 10 years later, and we’re actually doing it.
Where/How did the idea for your two Pride and Prejudice and Zombies books begin? I know they were written in follow-up to Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but your books are original material, with familiar Jane Austen characters.
After the first PPZ book became an unexpected smash, the publisher — Quirk again — naturally wanted to do some kind of follow-up. But luckily for me (and him), Seth was being offered truckloads of money to go off and write other things. Keith Kahla, who was my editor at St. Martin’s Minotaur at the time, heard Quirk was looking for a new writer and suggested I throw my hat in the ring. So said hat was thrown, I got the gig, and the rest is alternate history. Originally we were going to do the obvious thing and start with a sequel, but at some point Quirk switched gears and decided on a prequel instead. That was a pretty big challenge due to all the continuity I had to work around. How do you write a romance that can’t have a Happily Ever After… ending? But as mentioned above, I think it all worked out well.
Retelling Jane Austen and other classics seem to be ever growing in popularity these days (The Jane Austen project, for instance) – was the reception as welcoming to your books as it is now?
It’s hard to say. I got a lot of new fans from those books. I also got hate mail. I’m guessing Janeites are more accustomed to new interpretations of Austen these days, so perhaps there aren’t as many haters anymore. We’ll see how fans react to the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies movie later this year. Maybe they’ll embrace it. Or maybe I’ll get a whole new wave of hate mail!
If things go according to plan, I’m going to be very, very busy. How often do things go according to plan, though? So I can’t really talk about anything at the moment, except to say that Lisa and I are working on two sequels to The White Magic Five & Dime. That’s a done deal. Everything else is up in the air. One thing I know for sure, though: Sooner or later I’m going to revive my old Holmes on the Range mystery/Western series. I miss those characters and have already thought up a million ways to get them into trouble. So come September or maybe October or maybe November or maybe December, that’s what I’ll be working on. In the meantime…well, we’ll see….