Thursday, 10 February 2011

TALKING JANE AUSTEN WITH ... MICHAEL THOMAS FORD, AUTHOR OF JANE GOES BATTY + GIVEAWAY


Readers and critics alike embraced Michael Thomas Ford’s clever and campy novel Jane Bites Back, which recasts everyone’s favorite Regency era author as a vampire.  Now Jane returns—fangs and all—in JANE GOES BATTY (Ballantine Trade Paperback Original; On Sale February , 2011) and the pre-pub reviews have been glowing. Michael has kindly accepted to answer my questions to present his work to the readers of My Jane Austen Book club. Read the interview, leave your comment, add your  e-mail address and you'll have the chance to win a copy of Michael's JANE GOES BATTY (US and Canada only).

Thanks a lot Michael for being my guest today.  After  the success of Jane Bites Back, Jane Goes Batty will be released on February 1st.  I have read  brilliant  reviews of your  Jane vampire series. I’m actually surprised by the great success mashes-up  Austen/vampires have got so far. Could you try to explain what the appeal of such blend of genres is to a contemporary audience? 
I think mash-ups initially became popular because there are a lot of modern readers who assume the classics are boring. Adding monsters to well-known novels appeals to a certain segment of the population because  it appears that these classic books and their authors are being skewered. But what many readers find is that they're intrigued by the original books and want to read them.  Many fans of classic literature  decried the mash-up phenomenon, saying that it was in a sense sacrilegious , but I think the mash-ups have actually led to a renewed interest in the novels on which they're based. 

Have you asked (of course you have!) yourself: would Jane Austen find this funny? Would she like reading it? And what would she like best?
I do think Austen would enjoy reading the books and would find them amusing.  We know from her letters and her novels that she had a wicked sense of humor, and of course she could hardly pass up the opportunity to remark on what I got wrong in my books. As for what she would like best, I think it would be the  friendship between my  Jane and her assistant Lucy. I based it on Austen's real-life relationship with her sister Cassandra, which in many ways was the defining relationship of her life, and I hope  that she would find my fictional Jane and Lucy reminiscent of that.

 What typical elements of Austen’s world and work did you try to re-propose in your novels?
Because the books are set in modern times, there aren't a lot of day-to-day elements of Austen's world in them. However, I have included a number of references to real-world people and events from Austen's time. For instance, in Jane Goes Batty she listens to a recording of Heinrich Marschner's opera Der Vampyr and recalls seeing an early performance of it. That performance did occur at a time when Austen, were she really a vampire, could have seen it. I've sprinkled little moments like that throughout the books to bring a bit of Austen's life into them. 

How did you approach Austen and her Regency world? What kind of research did you carry out to face the task to write about Jane Austen and make her your protagonist?
I deliberately did not do a lot of research on the Regency world, primarily because the books are about Jane Austen living as a vampire in modern times and I didn't want to weigh the stories down with historical details just for the sake of having them in there. What I did concentrate on was the way in which relationships and social interactions were carried out in Regency times, because after all that's what Austen's novels are about and I wanted that reflected in my books. As far as using Austen as a protagonist, again I tried not to worry about it too much. Austen's fans are  notoriously protective of her, and I felt that if I worried too much about getting her "right" I would end up second-guessing of my choices and end up with a boring story. So instead I asked myself what the Jane Austen I see through her novels might be like after almost two centuries of living as a vampire. This Jane is of course not going to be the Austen every one of her readers sees, but I think she's a Jane who captures a lot of what makes Austen so popular with readers.

Have you got a favourite one among her works? A favourite heroine or hero?
Different novels appeal to me at different times in my life, and my enjoyment of them is often affected by what's happening to me at the time. I think my favorite Austen novel is Mansfield Park, largely because it's often named as the least popular with Austen readers and I like to be contrary. I also think it's the most difficult of Austen's novels to enjoy, mostly because Fanny is an unlikely heroine and her complexity is often overshadowed by her timidity and piety.  She's no Bennett sister, that's for certain, and the novel is seldom joyful. But if you can get beyond that, Mansfield Park is a fascinating look at society and its effects on both self-perception and interpersonal relationships.

Is there a Mr Darcy for your Jane ? More than one?
Poor Jane. She's not entirely sure what she wants in that department. On the one hand she has the kind, sensitive, and dependable Walter. On the other is the dashing, mysterious, and broody love from her past. And of course Walter is not a vampire, which makes a future with him difficult. Which will she choose? We'll have to wait and find out.

What is the nicest review you got for your Jane vampire (either related to Jane Bites Back or Jane Goes Batty)? What about the worst?  (I know it’s not nice to ask, but I’m so nosey!)
There have been many nice and gratifying reviews, both in trade publications and from readers. I tend to be most pleased with (and upset by) reader reviews, because after all I write books for readers, not reviewers. So my favorite "reviews" are actually all of the wonderful e-mails I get from people who have enjoyed reading the books. As far as professional reviews, one of my favorites came from Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose, who was an early and vocal champion of Jane Bites Back. When the book was announced there was some understandable skepticism from Austen fans. Laurel Ann was the first major voice in that community to encourage Janeites to give the book a chance. She wrote that, "you will chortle and guffaw until the last bite." That did a lot to break down the barriers some Austen fans had put up. As far as bad reviews, the one unfavorable reader review I can remember was from a woman who said that she didn't find it funny and while reading it kept thinking of ways that she could have made it funnier and better. Reviews like that make me crazy, because the writers never say what they would do to make the book better.  I don't mind if someone doesn't like a book, but I want to know why.

 Would you like to “vampirize” any other classic heroine/hero or writer? What fun can that be?
As fun as it's been, I really have no interest in monsterizing any other literary figures. Although Jane Bites Back came out after Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (which effectively launched the mash-up phenomenon), the proposal for my series was written and sold almost a year earlier. I honestly had no intention of being part of that phenomenon. Initially I was amused by the idea of writing about a Jane Austen who was indignant about what had become of her body of work in the centuries since her supposed death. Really the books were intended as a commentary on the writing life, using Jane Austen as an example. I just happened to get caught up in a wave of seemingly-similar books, which was both good and bad. But I  don't think there's anyone else I want to turn into a werewolf or mummy or any other thing that goes bump in the night.

 Did you read any classic Gothic novel, before starting writing your own?
I've always loved Gothic novels. Frankenstein has been a favorite since high school, as well as Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White  and even Walpole's Castle of Ortranto. I love anything with a darkness to it, whether it's Shirley Jackson or Stephen King or William Faulkner. Although my Austen novels are comedies, I'm actually much more comfortable writing novels with a darker  edge to them.
10. Would you adapt or let others adapt your Jane vampire series for the screen?
Absolutely. In fact, there should be some good news on that front any day now, although for the moment I must remain mum. 

How would you tell the story of Jane goes batty in about / less than 50 words?
Having successfully published her first novel in almost two hundred years, Jane is now watching a Hollywood film crew turn it into something she barely recognizes. Also, her potential mother-in-law arrives for a visit and expects Jane to be Jewish. Oh, and a vampire hunter is trying to kill her. Hilarity ensues. 

Now, my last request is… Michael, try to convince skeptical janeites to read you books.
If we learn anything from Austen's novels it's that things are not always what they appear to be, and that making hasty judgments only leads to unhappiness and tears. On the other hand, when one takes chances and allows oneself to be open to possibilities, one is often pleasantly surprised. 

Thank you, Michael! You've been brilliant. It was a real pleasure to have you as my guest today. 

GIVEAWAY TIME|!!!

 Readers  living  in the US or Canada can leave a comment and their e-mail address to be entered the giveaway of a copy of JANE GOES BATTY. The winner will be announced next Wednesday 16th February. Good luck!

More about Michael Thomas Ford and his work at his site
  http://www.michaelthomasford.com

5 comments:

C. Allyn Pierson said...

This sounds like a lot of fun-hope it is available on Kindle (or as a free giveaway!
my e-mail is bligard@frontiernet.net

C. Allyn Pierson said...

BTW, I am one of the fans of Mansfield Park- I admire the strength Fanny Price has to hold off people who are trying to force her (often with the best of intentions) to do things she thinks are wrong.

Kathleen Baldwin said...

Hadn't heard of these books, Maria! I can't wait to read them. Thanks for a fun introduction. And Michael Thomas, hats off to you for your creativity.
I've studied Austen and, while some of my fellow scholars find P,P and Zombies revolting and scandalous, (I didn't. I thought it was a hoot,) I believe Jane would be intrigued by your book. I don't think she was above enjoying someone having a bit of fun at her expense. Heaven's, she poked fun at everyone else. Much of her wit a sarcasm is obscured because of difference in our societies.

I shall read it and let you know.

Luthien84 said...

Just like to say that Laurel Ann's favourable review of Jane Bites Back influence me to read this book. Most of the time I look to Austenprose for recommendation before I decide whether to read an Austenesque novel or not.

Since I'm not residing in US or Canada, please do not include me for this giveaway. However I prefer all giveaways to be open to international readers so we get an equal chance to win something. Just saying

Linda said...

Normally I shy away from vampire novels, but if Laurel Ann recommends it I would like to give it a try. Thanks for the giveaway.