Monday, 4 April 2011

TALKING JANE AUSTEN WITH ... VERA NAZARIAN + DOUBLE GIVEAWAY!!!

 Here I am with a new guest to talk Jane Austen with! Vera Nazarian is a young very original Austen-inspired writer. Her speciality are monster mash-up. Here she is to explain her choice answering my very indiscreet questions. 
How bothering/nosey  can I be? I guess, infinitely! I love asking questions. Here's my interview, then. Ready to read, ask Vera questions or leave your comments. Two of you will have the chance to win an autographed book. Vera Nazarian granted you a copy of "Mansfield Park and Mummies" and a copy of "Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons". Please, leave an e-mail address so that I can contact you in case you win and choose the book you'd like to win/read.
Good luck, everyone! And welcome to Vera Nazarian! Here's my first questions for her.

After writing fantasy and science fiction you came to write a "monster mash-up" parody of one Jane Austen’s novels,  “Mansfield Park and Mummies” . How did that happen?

An interesting question, thanks for asking!  Here is how it all began.
About three years ago, when the literary classics mash-up craze was born via the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies phenomenon, and everyone clamored to jump on the bandwagon, I received an unusual book submission from author and university professor Adam Campan for my small publishing house Norilana Books.
 For starters, it was different because it was a serious mash-up. James Fairfax by Adam Campan is an elegant, thoughtful gay and lesbian version of Jane Austen's Emma, with many characters' genders reversed. I found the story and language to be very true to the original, subtle, and yet a whole new take on the original classic. And, unlike the other mash-ups out there, it was genuinely well-written. It mimicked the style of Jane Austen seamlessly. I was proud to acquire Mr. Campan's unusual book, and released this title through the main Norilana Books imprint.

Then, as time went on, and the more I thought about it, I wanted to try my own hand at this mash-up genre. Except, I wanted to do it in a way that would combine the best of both worlds -- a wacky and humorous story that was also well-written and true to its own time period, and seamlessly fitting the style of Jane Austen.

 The humor was to come from wit, repartee, satire, and comic timing, as opposed to shock value and the juxtaposition of bloody gore and zombies and classic literature. The mayhem was to be harmless, like Abbott and Costello, and suitable for most readers.
And so, for my main supernatural element, I used mummies, historically relevant to the Egyptology craze of the time. They easily fit into and subtly expanded the original story of Mansfield Park.
 A mummy is such a complex, interesting "monster." It can be romantic, funny, tragic, and scary, all at the same time.  I also widened the supernatural milieu to include various other creatures -- vampires, werewolves, even the Brighton Duck  (a monstrous duck of my own creation, with a nod to the Hound of Baskervilles).  After all, a magical world that has one kind of monster will likely have them all -- the more, the merrier!

 Now, if a reader is expecting the same kind of blunt, crude, bloody kickass modern shocker mash-up as P&P&Z, they will not like my novels.  (Admittedly, there is nothing wrong with P&P&Z, and that kind of humor definitely has its place.) But if they want real satire -- subtle language, complexity, wit, and completely non-gory mayhem -- they've come to the right place.


In the process of writing Mansfield Park and Mummies, originally started on a lark, and as a way to help me out of a tough financial situation (I am in foreclosure, after years of struggle, illness, and death in the family) I found that I absolutely love working in this literary niche that combines comedy, parody, supernatural fantasy elements, and social satire. It's as if something truly magical has clicked for me, and it has become my own genre -- a combination of period-style language (at which I excel) and my skill at writing fantasy.

And now, I am resolved to single-handedly reclaim the classics mash-up as a respectable literary form.

And so I decided to commit myself to a three-year project called the Supernatural Jane Austen Series, and re-work all the Jane Austen novels into amusing, witty, charming and hilarious romantic fantasies. 

We know the Gothic Novel was a trendy genre when Jane was young and loved reading novels with her family. She teased the too sentimental, overreactive Gothic heroines through Catherine Morland’s misadventures at Northanger Abbey.  How do you explain this new trend in Austen-inspired fan-fiction mixing the two worlds, that of gothic/horror/terror and Austen?

First of all, I actually do not consider the previous mash-ups to be even remotely associated with the so-called Gothic genre. Gothic is narcissistic high emo, has little-to-no sense of humor, and truly loves to feed on itself.  P&P&Z on the other hand, is completely irreverent. It is the original example of the popular trend of infusing violent or gross monsters (zombies or vampires, but, notice, they're never pretty sparkling ones) and gory bloody mayhem into everything imaginable, for pure shock value.  It is its own genre, and should really be called the Monster Mash-up.

What I write instead is the Fantasy Mash-up, which takes a classic and expands it with all kinds of supernatural elements into a greater, wider 3D imaginary experience.  Think of it as a folded fan or umbrella of "story" that is one thing when collapsed, and becomes a completely new other thing when unfurled.  The underlying story remains the same, and yet it is now Story Plus.

Having said all that, the reason why Jane Austen seems so attractive and "vulnerable" to the gothic-supernatural-horror treatment of any kind, is because of how "peaceful, bland and genteel" her works appear to be on the surface, especially to those who don’t really know or understand Austen and are unaware of her dark side -- the biting wit, wicked satire skills and deep psychological insight and commentary. Jane Austen's books are thought to be stuffy and prudish romance and chick stuff.

And "messing with" Austen appeals to people who hate the "girly" stuff."  It's the act of stomping on the dainty rose beds and throwing a naughty baseball at the window… In modern terms, a monster is nothing more than a rude, awful frat boy being dropped into a formal ballroom, or crashing a proper ladies' tea party. And other supernatural elements (no matter how genteel and harmless in themselves) are also often perceived (incorrectly) as immature, nerdy, or "rude boy" stuff. So, mix in the rude boy attitude with the chick stuff and you get something palatable for the so-called macho crowd. It's perceived shock value and the "desire to despoil."

It is also the reason why so many classic literature purists justifiably find such monster mash-ups abominable. Unfortunately such purists also tend to lump together all things that have fantasy, gothic or supernatural elements, and that's rather unfair.

When and how did you happen to read Austen first? Was it at school /college/ university as for many of us?

I was assigned Pride and Prejudice in high school, and at the same time our class got to watch the Pride and Prejudice BBC mini-series starring David Rintoul and Elizabeth Garvie. That did it; I was enchanted, hooked completely, and in love with Austen, Darcy, Lizzy and the whole thing!

What do you like most in the world of her novels?

I love the romantic relationships and the happy endings, and the deft realist humor. But even more, I really think Jane Austen is balm for our painful stressed-out violent times. She represents what so many of us secretly crave -- not sensuality but stable companionship.  And the problems that are faced in Austen's novels are never worse than the vagaries of interpersonal relationships, as opposed to starvation, war, death, abuse, and basic struggles for sustenance.  She chooses to show a very specific, very narrow range of life's spectrum, the portion of the existential pie that we necessarily overlook when hardships pile on.  And because most of us are living in tough uncertain times, reading Austen reminds us of those overlooked things -- things that are experienced in more stable, quiet times -- and we can truly escape.

The world can all use a vacation from itself and shrink down into a comprehensible human-sized place, found only when reading Austen.

Which of her heroines do you feel you resemble most?

That's a tough one.  I think I am a cross between Elinor Dashwood and Fanny Price.  Probably two-thirds Elinor and one-third Fanny, with maybe a pinch of Charlotte Lucas tossed on top... While I might dream of grand romance, I am likely to do the less romantic and more sensible thing. Though, now and then I am a clown like Mr. Collins!


You’ve chosen to write your own mash-up parodies of Austen novels which are considered her less popular ones, MP and NA. Why?

I really admire Fanny Price as a character and can relate to her stubborn insistence on doing the right thing and making the right choice above all else. She is indomitable, and the novel Mansfield Park is sadly underrated, for the reason I mention below (in the question about re-writing a novel). Maybe for the same reason it is so complex and disturbing on an emotional level, I find it so fascinating. And I do believe Jane Austen herself held a very high opinion of MP, unfortunately not particularly shared by the readers and critics of her time.  In general, I feel that not enough has been done with MP in the sense of adaptations, and it is not as "tired" as the more popular P&P for example.

As for Northanger Abbey, it is also less "tired" and it has so much fun fodder for supernatural additions!  I simply took it to the next level, and made real the things only hinted at by Austen.  Bringing the Gothic wonders of the abbey to life was sheer joy and fun!  Add in the Udolpho Code, guardian angels that only our noble and naïve heroine can see, spooky ghosts, demons, and mysterious dragons, and you get the recipe for delightful wonder.

This is something I asked other writers of mash-up before, i.e. Michael Thomas Ford author of Jane Austen Bites Back and Jane Goes Batty. What do you think Jane Austen would think, reading your parodies?

I honestly think Jane with her wicked sense of humor would love them.  She would laugh uproariously, and be completely and utterly delighted with the pure and unadulterated satire. To the best of my abilities I stay true to Austen and the heart of all her characters.

Nothing that matters has been changed, only widened, expanded, and heightened -- like a sprinkling of MSG to heighten the flavor.  Jane would wholeheartedly approve.  And -- diehard Janeites, trust me on this.

What kind of readers do you have in your mind while writing your mash-up stories?

Definitely not zombie lovers! I am hoping for sophisticated readers with a sense of humor, and a love of the absurd, who enjoy the play of language, both period and modern, and the juxtaposition of modern pop culture notions, mores, and terminology cleverly disguised into period costume and beautiful glimmers of fantasy.

Lovers of satire, this is for you.  Also, lovers of sheer joy that can only be derived from mayhem and charming silliness -- plunge in!

As for language and style, did you try to mimic Austen witty prose in the Regency manner or have you tried to create your own style, a more contemporary language?

My own natural style is heavily old-fashioned, since I learned English mostly by reading 17th through 19th century English and English translation novels.  Russian is my first language and I am steeped in world classics.

So I am uniquely suited to mimic the period styles, and Austen in particular, I believe. However, please do judge for yourself by picking up a book of mine.

Blogging and surfing the Net, I’ve discovered what a successful and popular market the brand Jane Austen has got. What’s her huge popularity nowadays due to, in your opinion?

I think as I mentioned above, the world of her books brings a sort of calm and steadiness of mind to our troubled times. Jane Austen is truly balm for the modern soul.

Going back to Austen tradition, if you could change the destiny of an Austen hero/heroine, whose story would you rewrite?

I think it would have to be Mansfield Park. I really think that here was an opportunity the author did not take. Henry Crawford is bright, charming, fascinating. And, if rewritten as a man with more integrity and less flakiness, would make an excellent true reformed rake hero -- if only Jane Austen had taken him all the way.

As the story is, she basically put him on the road to redemption, but left him short. Because of the fundamental shortcoming of his character as written -- an ultimate shallowness, inability to follow through, and hence insufficient personal strength and not enough true love for Fanny -- Henry Crawford is and will always be such a dissonant figure for many readers who want him to be better than he really is.

Meanwhile, Edmund, the object of Fanny's love, is infatuated with Mary Crawford for most of the story, and his change of heart is barely touched upon by Austen in just a few frugal sentences at the end. So his eventual romantic appreciation of Fanny does not ring entirely true to the reader. Therefore, as a psychological story arc, Mansfield Park fails to truly satisfy. 

Overall, I do feel the original story works. As is, it underscores Fanny's moral fortitude and gives her a worthy and similar-minded mate (Edmund). It is complex and not "easily resolved," which makes it in some ways more "real" -- after all, in real life bad boys hardly ever change. But oh, it makes for a less deeply pleasing storyline.

So, in my rewritten version, I would give Henry Crawford a true inner nobility and have him not run off with Maria. He would prove his genuine love for Fanny by some profound means, maybe an act of self-sacrifice of some sort (not just an easy and contrived commission for her brother William). Then, once he has reformed, Henry and Fanny will be paired, and Edmund in turn would "reform" Mary Crawford and end up with her.

My story would be a more passionate story overall, possibly more emotionally satisfying for readers -- but it would not be true Jane Austen.

Which of the Austen famous matches do you think will be the most successful and happy, after the novel end? The couple who will have the least exciting married life, instead?

This is a bit of a trick question! I really do think that all of Austen's matches are perfectly happy as they are written, and in fact that is part of her underlying perennial appeal to the reader. There is no question in my mind they will all be equally happy and satisfied, though I do think that Emma Woodhouse might periodically drive Mr. Knightley crazy. 

However it is much easier to guess who might be a bit of a dull couple for the rest of us to observe (but never dull to each other!) -- it would be Elinor Dashwood and Edward Ferrars.  They both have very reserved and semi-repressed personalities, and they will be blissfully placid in their quiet daily lives.

Your latest release is “Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons”. Why don’t you tell us more about it?


The second book in the series, Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons, with a nod to Dan Brown and modern love of theological conspiracy theories, is available now. 
 It has wonder and absurdity, ludicrous indoor British weather, angels who follow Catherine in droves and give her endless advice (from how to comb her hair to which gentleman to dance with), demons (who belch), and a haunted gothic abbey. The Brighton Duck makes an encore appearance, the whole town of Bath goes on a scavenger hunt for hidden treasure (and absurd new fashions are born as a result), and dragons mysteriously fly in the skies overhead.


And here's the description:

Dragons in the skies of Regency England!

Gothic horrors collide with high satire in this elegant, hilarious, witty, insane, and unexpectedly romantic supernatural parody of Jane Austen's classic novel.

Young and naive Catherine Morland is constantly surrounded by angels only she alone can see. Leaving her country home for the first time, to embark on a grand adventure that begins in fashionable Bath, our romantic heroine must not only decrypt the mystery of the Udolpho Code but win her true love Henry Tilney.

Meanwhile she is beset by all the Gothic horrors known to Impressionable Young Ladies—odious demons, Regency balls, elusive ghosts, pleasure excursions, temperature-changing nephilim, secret clues, ogre suitors, and a terrifying ancient Dragon who has very likely hidden a secret treasure hoard somewhere in the depths of Northanger Abbey.

Have you already started writing your next? Top secret?

I am hard at work on the next novel in the Supernatural Jane Austen Series.  Each book takes the original Jane Austen storyline and adds in delightful fantastic elements.

Each one also comes with so-called Scholarly Footnotes -- absolutely inane and hilarious, and written by a complete lunatic. The footnotes insert anachronistic or purely silly commentary, harangue the reader, and include gag references to all kinds of things.

The other fun feature is the Appendices.  They must be seen to be appreciated.

Then of course there are the interior illustrations.  The books have some highly amusing line drawings by Yours Truly, and hopefully come as a fun surprise when you turn a page.

And so, next up in the series is:

Pride and Platypus: Mr. Darcy’s Dreadful Secret -- tackles all the werewolf and shape-shifter legends. When the moon is full over Regency England, all the gentlemen are subject to its curse.

And then, the other titles:

Pagan Persuasion: All Olympus Descends on Regency -- tackles the entire Greek Mythology fascination.  Ancient gods and heroes and creatures battle it out, and only the true love of Anne Eliot and Captain Wentworth can save the world from destruction!

Emma Enchanted -- takes on the current fad with fairies, and dips into The Faerie Queen. The Queen of all Faerie challenges Emma to a wondrous matchmaking contest.

Sense and Sanguine Sensibility -- tackles Twilight. (Oh boy, oh boy! Team Willoughby! Team Brandon!)

Lady Susan, Succubus -- takes on the popular sexy incubus/succubus demon fad.

For more information, go peek at the website:  http://www.norilana.com/norilana-curiosities.htm

 So that's all for now, Vera. Thanks for being my guest today  and kindly answer all my questions!
 Thanks for asking me these fun questions, it's been a pleasure!

Vera Nazarian is a two-time Nebula Award® Finalist, and a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. She immigrated to the USA from the former USSR as a kid, sold her first story at 17, and has been published in numerous anthologies and magazines, honorably mentioned in Year's Best volumes, and translated into eight languages.

Vera made her novelist debut with the critically acclaimed Dreams of the Compass Rose, followed by Lords of Rainbow. Her novella The Clock King and the Queen of the Hourglass made the 2005 Locus Recommended Reading List. Her debut collection Salt of the Air contains the 2007 Nebula Award-nominated "The Story of Love." Recent work includes the 2008 Nebula Finalist novella The Duke in His Castle, science fiction collection After the Sundial (2010), and Jane Austen parodies, Mansfield Park and Mummies (2009), Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons (2010), and Pride and Platypus: Mr. Darcy's Dreadful Secret (forthcoming).

Vera lives in Los Angeles. She uses her Armenian sense of humor and her Russian sense of suffering to bake conflicted pirozhki and make art. In addition to being a writer and award-winning artist, she is also the publisher of Norilana Books. Visit her website at www.veranazarian.com

Now it's you turn. Vera and I are looking forward to your contributions, questions and comments! Good luck with the double giveaway!  The contest is open worldwide and ends next Wednesday 13th April when the names of the two winners will be announced.

14 comments:

jerseysue said...

Hi- I would love to be in the book giveaway "Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons" love to see what Henry Tilney does to handle these obstacles! :)
themanzifive@embarqmail.com
Twitter handle @lovesjaneausten

Thanks! Susan

Regina Jeffers said...

Vera,
I am pleased to find you here. I loved the interview.

cyn209 said...

congrats & good luck to you, Vera!!
i've yet to read a JaneAustenMashUp, but i'm certainly curious about them!!!

thank you for the giveaway!!!

Cynthia
cyn209@juno.com

Alexa Adams said...

Great interview! I can't wait to get my hands on Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons, and would love to win a signed copy! I really enjoyed Mansfield Park and Mummies, so much more than any other mashup I have read. Reading this interview, I was particularly struck that both of these books feature heroines that can see something no one else can, which is so appropriate as Austen's heroines inevitably have a level pf perception lacking in their companions. Can't wait to read the entire series!

alexa.adams96@gmail.com

norilana said...

Thank you, Maria, for an absolutely lovely and fun interview, and thank you everyone!

Best of luck to all and hope all of you can win! :-) Susan and Cynthia, nice to meet you!

Regina, it is great to be here! *waving*

Alexa, many thanks for your kind comments and so glad you enjoyed the Mummies. And now I hope you get the chance to read Northanger very soon -- one way or another! *sending you win vibes*

:-)

Vera Nazarian

Anne said...

What a great interview!! I really liked what Vera had to say about the original Mansfield Park and how she would have done the ending differently. Vera's books look great and I cannot wait to read one.

Anne
annesbookgarden@gmail.com

Mystica said...

Thanks for the interview and yes please throw my name into the giveaway.

mystica123athotmaildotcom

Claudia said...

Hi Vera, your books seem both very exciting, but I feel more intrigued by "Mansfield Park And Mummies", since I think Fanny Price is the most underrated Austen heroine ever and I'm so curious to see Henry Crawford acting differently. Basically, I like Henry a lot and asked myself "what's wrong with him?" many times ;)
Thanks for this fun interview and for the double chance to win :)

claudiagaggioli@virgilio.it

Kulsuma said...

I did enjoy Mansfield Park and think there is room for more adaptations. Fanny Price was a great character.
Thanks for the great giveaway!
k_anon[at]hotmail[dot]co[dot]uk

Norilana said...

Thanks again, everyone! :-)

I really think it's time Mansfield Park received a closer scrutiny, and was more widely appreciated for its wisdom, and a remarkable female lead. Fanny Price is possibly one of the strongest, wisest, noblest -- and yet humble and "secret" -- heroines in all of literature.

Vera Nazarian

KELLY said...

Thanks for this giveaway! These two books sound really interesting and original.

maniezkelly at gmail dot com

mbreakfield said...

Oh, the books sound great, and I can't wait for the shape shifting Pride and Prejudice. Please enter me in the giveaway.
marlenebreakfield(at)yahoo(dot)com

Cait said...

What fun and fantastic retellings! I can't wait to start reading these!

cait.lore@gmail.com

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