We have a special treat in store for you today. Please help us welcome New York Times best-selling author Shannon Hale. She has graciously fit us into her very busy promotional schedule and answered a few probing questions about her new Austen-inspired novel, Midnight in Austenland, and the new movie in production of her first novel in the series, Austenland.
LAN: Thanks Shannon for joining us today to chat about your new Austen-inspired novel, Midnight in Austenland. This is the second time you have taken readers to that special place, Pembrook Park, the Regency-era theme park in Kent, England designed for Janeites. What tempted you to return?
SH: I was writing a screenplay for Austenland with Jerusha Hess and really enjoying returning to the story and the characters. Then when I wrote up a character sheet for my co-writer, I stumbled upon a new story idea. That story became Midnight in Austenland. I was delighted! I’d never thought to return.
LAN: Do any of the original characters from Austenland make an appearance in Midnight in Austenland? If so, can you share who and why you chose them?
SH: Miss Charming, who was a guest in the first book, is still there. The idea made me laugh, so I had to do it. I love writing her dialog, and I felt like her character had more to explore. Mrs. Wattlesbrook, the proprietress, and her handsy husband are there, and Colonel Andrews, whose parlor mystery game created the story that I couldn’t wait to follow.
LAN: There are many interesting and entertaining new characters in Midnight in Austenland, but the standout for me was Mr. Mallery. Can you give us any insight into your inspiration for his character and a preview of your deliciously moody hero?
SH: Thank you! I was thinking about how Jane Austen was in many ways commenting on the gothic romances of her day in her stories, even with Mr. Darcy. I wanted Mallery to start at that place but mixed in a little more Rochester and Heathcliff–a dark hero with a bit more bite. He was fun. I want to say more, but I’m afraid I’d get spoilery!
LAN: Midnight in Austenland is not only a romantic comedy; it is a mystery, with spirited allusions to Jane Austen’s gothic parody, Northanger Abbey. Gothic fiction played an important part in Austen’s creation of Northanger Abbey. Were there any mystery novels or authors that inspired you?
SH: Definitely. I infused my reading with mystery and the gothic while writing this novel. I read lots of Agatha Christie as well as contemporary mysteries and relished gothic tales like Rebecca, The Haunting of Hill House, and Jane Eyre. And I could call it all research! I love my job.
LAN: Both of your American heroines from each of your novels: Jane and Charlotte, escape a crisis in their lives and travel to England to enter a world that any Jane Austen fan would give their most cherished copy of Pride and Prejudice to visit. Life is not always as rose-colored as we would like in Regency England without modern conveniences. If you were to visit Pembroke Park and enter the early nineteenth-century, what would you miss most? What could you easily live without?
SH: I think the food then sounds awful. I’d miss fresh fruits and vegetables. Bathrooms, showers, tampons (is that TMI? But can you imagine?!). I think women had very little freedom as well, and the restrictions would drive me crazy after a while. But for a couple weeks? Sign me up!
LAN: Congratulations on Austenland being made into a movie produced by Twilight author Stephenie Meyer. What was it like transforming your novel into a screenplay with director Jerusha Hess? Hale and Hess. That sounds like a vaudeville act! Can you share any of your team writing experiences with us?
SH: We are totally a vaudeville act, that’s the perfect description. I loved co-writing with Jerusha. She’s a veteran screenwriter, having co-written Napoleon Dynamite and others. We laughed a lot. That’s the big plus of writing a comedy. We’d sit in a room pitching lines and scenes at each other, trying to make ourselves laugh. The funniest stuff stuck.
LAN: Did you have the chance to visit the set during filming of Austenland? If so, what was it like to see your creative ideas transformed into physical reality?
SH: I did! In fact I was on set every day of the 7 week shoot in England. Talk about a dream come true. It was absolutely surreal, like stepping into Austenland, except I didn’t have to give up showers and toilets. And no charming British actors fell in love with me. I think…
LAN: You obviously admire Jane Austen. When did you first read one of her novels and what was your reaction? As a writer, what do you find most enlightening, entertaining, or enduring about her works?
SH: I first read Pride & Prejudice in high school and have often returned to her books for rereads. E. Lockhart said on our Austen-themed figment.com chat: “[Austen] uses wit in service of real complexity of thought & social commentary. Not just for punch lines.” Austen is romantic AND she’s funny. That should be enough for anyone, and yet Austen is even more than that too. She’s so smart. I just love her intelligent, clever, hopeful yet realistic way of looking at the world.
LAN: If you were to find a free afternoon when you were not writing or promoting one of your books, what would you like to do more than anything?
SH: I have four small children. If I had a free afternoon, I’d probably freak out. “What’s wrong? Where is everybody? Has the End come?!” Then I’d probably take a bath and read a book. I know, I’m crazy like that.
LAN: Are you working on your next book? If so, can you share any news for your readers?
SH: Palace of Stone, the sequel to Princess Academy, will be out in August. And I’m working on my scifi-adventure-superhero book, currently untitled.
Shannon Hale is the New York Times best-selling author of six young adult novels, including the Newbery Honor book Princess Academy, two award-winning books for adults, and the upcoming Midnight in Austenland (Jan. 2012). She co-wrote the hit graphic novel Rapunzel’s Revenge and its sequel with husband Dean Hale. They live with their four small children near Salt Lake City, Utah. Visit Shannon at her website: squeetus; on Facebook as Shannon Hale; and on Twitter as @haleshannon.
A Grand Giveaway
Enter a chance to win one of three hardcover copies available of Midnight in Austenland, by Shannon Hale by leaving a comment about what intrigues you about an Austenesque mystery, or if you have read Austenland, who your favorite character is by 11:59 pm PT Wednesday, February 29, 2012. Winners to be announced on Thursday, March 01, 2012. Shipment to US addresses only. Good luck!
© 2007 – 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress & Shannon Hale, Austenprose