Monsters of the Smithsonian

I attended a panel discussion sponsored by the Smithsonian Resident Associates Program this week, Jane Austen: The Author, Her Legacy and… Sea Monsters? and I thought I’d share a few snippets of what I heard.

The participants were Seth Grahame-Smith, co-author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and total author of Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter; Ben Winters, co-author of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Tara Wallace, author of Jane Austen and Narrative Authority, and Regina Jeffers, author of Vampire Darcy’s Desire. The panel was moderated by Bethanne Patrick, managing editor of The Book Studio.

Now you all know about monster mash-ups and you’ve heard of all these books (I think the covers are brilliant). But some interesting points came up at the seminar.

One was that most of the fans are women. So even the lure of zombies still makes guys shy of Austen, although they may enjoy the 2011 movie version of P&P&Z starring Natalie Portman and yes, Colin Firth; Seth is writing the screenplay as well as writing MTV’s first scripted comedy series. Ben is writing another book for Quirk, Android Karenina, coming out later this year (with another brilliant cover).

Both Seth and Ben agreed that it was Austen’s economy of language that enabled the blood and guts and scales to integrate so well into the original books, and that although Austen is so sparing of physical descriptions, you don’t miss them. Tolstoy, being so much wordier, according to Ben, is a lot harder. On the other hand, according to Seth, “It’s not good policy to edit Jane Austen.”

All three writers agreed that a successful mash-up must understand and respect the original book and work with the internal logic of the story. Interestingly, all of the books were inspired by editors’ suggestions, and as Regina Jeffers said, “If I don’t do it, someone else may do it with less class.”

And someone–I wish I remembered who it was–made the comment that marriage in Austen’s time is the end of the story. Now so often–in real life and possibly in fiction–it’s the beginning of our stories.

And on the topic of doing terrible things to beloved authors, here’s the gorgeous cover of Reader, I Married Him, my enovella based on Jane Eyre, releasing this month from Loose-Id. I’ll be telling you more about it soon.

Do you like monster mash-ups?
Which have you read?
What classic do you think would benefit from the, uh, injection of new material?
And what do you think of the comment that marriage is a beginning rather than an end?

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