Saturday, September 1, 2012

Interview with Author Joanna Campbell Slan

It is my privilege to have author Joanna Campbell Slan as our guest today. Now Joanna Campbell Slan has a prejudice. She likes to write about underdogs, spunky women who refuse to give up. First came the Kiki Lowenstein mysteries, a contemporary series featuring a young soccer mom whose comfortable life is turned upside-down with the murder of her husband. Her first novel in that series, PAPER, SCISSORS, DEATH, was a finalist for the Agatha Award. Joanna is also the author of twelve non-fiction books, and many essays that appear in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Now Joanna tackles the Regency Period, by recasting that iconic heroine, Jane Eyre, as an amateur sleuth in the debut of Joanna's newest series, The Jane Eyre Chronicles, beginning with DEATH OF A SCHOOLGIRL.
I caught up with Joanna as she was fast at work on the sixth book in the Kiki Lowenstein series.

Jeri Westerson: Let's just put this out there first thing. Are you nuts? What possessed you to write a follow-up to Charlotte Brontë’s iconic classic? It certainly takes chutzpah to tread those waters.

Joanna Campbell Slan: Don’t I know it! Charlotte Brontë was a genius, which is probably why no one dared touch Jane. But I loved that book so much, Jeri, that I didn’t want it to end. If my series causes one or two readers to return to (or be introduced to) a beloved favorite, then I think Charlotte would approve.

As I recall, the reviewers were pretty cruel to Charlotte, weren’t they?

JCS: Yes, ma’am. They called her book “coarse” and attacked it as having a plot that was “extravagantly improbable.” Oh, and “anti-Christian,” too. Considering that Charlotte was the daughter of an Anglican vicar, that must have stung. Of course all that happened BEFORE they knew the author was a woman. Then the reviewers got nasty. Really nasty.

Does an author have the right to re-appropriate the work of another author?

JCS: Legally, yes, because the copyright has run out. Jane Eyre is nearly 150 years old. Morally? Certainly. Every work is a derivative work, a retelling of classic themes. One might argue that the highest form of praise is to want to extend the “life” of a beloved character.

How does your book differ from the original?

JCS: Recall, dear readers, that in the original, we have a very young Jane, an orphan totally without worldly resources. By the time I tapped out a new adventure for her, Jane is a wealthy heiress with loving cousins, an education, and a husband who is a member of the landed gentry. A very different situation, indeed, especially given the prejudices of the times. She’s also become a mother. Anyone who has made that particular transition knows that motherhood turns the meekest among us into Mama Bears, who will protect their young at any cost.

What did you learn about the Regency period while writing the book?

JCS: Like most of us, I grew up hearing about “Mad King George” whose failures sparked the Revolutionary War. In fact, my ancestors were landed gentry who wrote the King and begged him to reconsider his policies. But I never heard anything about George IV, the even crazier son of George III, who only ruled a short time. His dissolute ways contrast enormously with the highly ethical Jane Eyre. That gave me a lot of insight into the times. That and horsesh*t. I gather from my research that all of London was awash with horsesh*t. If you’ve ever visited a city with horse-drawn carriages on a hot summer day, you can only imagine the smell of London in the 1820s. Gag.

Okay, tell us something we don’t know about you and wouldn’t suspect.

JCS: When I was in college, I wrote a letter to Prince Charles asking him if he could behead people. I got a letter back from him.

What did it say?

JCS:  I’d have to kill you if I told you, Jeri. Maybe someday over a drink at a bar…

Death of a Schoolgirl, the first book in The Jane Eyre Chronicles (Berkley Trade) was released August 7. For more about Joanna, go to But don’t expect her to tell you what Prince Charles said!


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

A husband who's NOT Mr. Rochester? Daring, indeed! Joanna, you're in good company with SF/fantasy author Sharon Shinn, who took Jane's story into space in Jenna Starborn,, and Laura Joh Rowland, whose series features Charlotte herself as the amateur sleuth.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

BTW, it's not that we've never heard of George IV--we know him as the Prince Regent who defined the Regency period, beloved of romance writers ever since Georgette Heyer.

Sandra Parshall said...

Hi, Joanna! Good to see you here again. Your book is getting such a great reception from reviewers and readers that I know you have a long, successful series ahead. I love everything the Brontes wrote, and I wish the snarky critics who slashed away at their work could see how those books have endured, generation after generation. Who knows those critics' names today? Nobody. How many literate people know the names Jane Eyre and Heathcliff? I rest my case. I wish you and Jane the very best in your new partnership.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Um, Liz, I'm confused. Yes, Jane's husband is Mr. Rochester. As for Sharon Shinn, she's a friend of mine--and a "sister" Jane Eyre freak. I didn't know she wrote about Jane! We had lunch eons ago, and both discussed our ideas. Gee!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

And yes, I think that Regency lovers know about George IV, but he's still a distant shadow compared to his dad.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Hey, Sandra, I'm very pleased at the reviewers' comments. Most of all, I'm thrilled by the readers who are going ga-ga over my Jane.