I asked Steve Hockensmith, author of Dawn of the Dreadfuls, some questions.
1) Since Jane Austen never wrote a prequel to Pride and Prejudice, this is a completely new work. Did you come up with the idea to write a prequel or were you approached by someone who suggested it?
Steve: A little more than a year ago, I heard through the grapevine that Quirk Books was looking for someone to write a follow-up to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I’d never written romance or horror before, but somehow -- go figure! -- I got the idea I was the guy for the job. Maybe it was because I was already doing tongue-in-cheek novels that mixed seemingly incongruous genres. (My “Holmes on the Range” books are mysteries set in the Old West.) I was also intrigued by the premise, because even though I hadn’t read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies yet, I thought the concept -- “mashing up” Jane Austen and George Romero -- was absolutely brilliant. So I got the book, read it, loved it, and told my agent to throw my hat in the ring. And miracle of miracles I got the gig!
2) Before writing the prequel, did you talk with Seth Grahame Smith, read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or both?
Steve: I read PPZ through twice with a highlighter before I wrote a word. I also did a fair amount of research into the Regency era. I didn’t have the chance to speak with Seth -- I didn’t meet him until just a few weeks ago, actually -- but I don’t think that was a bad thing. I had a very different challenge than Seth did with PPZ. I wasn’t reshaping an existing text. I had to create something (almost) entirely from scratch. And to be able to do that, I think it was necessary to feel total ownership of the book. If I’d been constantly asking myself, “What would Seth do here? What would Jane do here?” it would have crippled me. Certainly, I tried to stay true to the characters, but at the same time I had to put them in an entirely new context -- an original story -- and have the freedom to follow them (and my ideas and sense of humor) wherever they’d take me.
3) The Bennett sisters are being trained to fight zombies. What did your research consist of? Did you have to research on how they would be trained? Did you have to research zombies?
Steve: I did a weeeeeeeeeeeeeee bit of research into martial arts, but I didn’t think it was necessary -- or even advisable -- to take that aspect of the book too seriously. In PPZ, it’s basically a joke. I had to approach it from a slightly less wacky, over-the-top angle so readers would buy into my story, but even so it was still mostly a source of humor. As for the zombies, I did do some important research. I rewatched what are, for me, the touchstones of the zombie genre: the original "Night of the Living Dead", the original "Dawn of the Dead" and Edgar Wright’s "Shaun of the Dead". Those three films told me everything I needed to know about zombies!
4) Who was your favorite character? Who was your least favorite character?
Steve: My favorite is probably Mr. Bennet. I love his droll, jaundiced point of view. I really liked the role I found for him in the story, too: manipulative puppet master. It might seem like a departure from what we’d seen of him before, but I thought it fit, given his nature. He likes to hang back, assess, judge. And though he’s a sharp guy, he’s not always right, which can lead to some fun complications. And my least favorite? Oooooo, dangerous question! I wouldn’t call her my least favorite -- I’m really not sure who that would be -- but the trickiest character for me was Jane. I found it hard to get a bead on who she is. In the end, I think I got it, but it took a lot of thought. Elizabeth, Lydia, Kitty, Mary, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet -- they were all a breeze, compared to Jane.