The most that Seth Grahame-Smith could hope for while writing “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” (Quirk Books, $14.95) was that his mashup of literary genres would do as well as his previous books. Publications such as “Big Book of Porn: A Penetrating Look at the World of Dirty Movies” and “The Spider-Man Handbook: The Ultimate Training Manual” had both sold more than 5,000 copies.
His book about Regency Era sisters and their battles with the undead not only blew past those sales numbers, his “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” eclipsed 1.5 million books sold in the United States alone. And now it has been adapted into a feature film scheduled to open Friday, Feb. 5.
Grahame-Smith wrote “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” the book he says changed his life seven years ago, at the suggestion of his editor. All of the Jane Austen novels were available for adaption as they were in public domain. And, the zombie craze was just begin to take shape.
The idea of adding zombies came from how all of these characters that Austen had created were so concerned with how they looked and were so stuck up that that they would be more concerned about their own wealth and power, even if a horde of zombies was ravaging the countryside.
Despite the absurdity of adding zombies to a classic novel, Grahame-Smith wrote his story with a serious eye.
The New York native had read “Pride and Prejudice” when he was a high school freshman and found it to be “an impenetrable book.” He read the book again 18 years later and realized that Austen was making fun of these people.
The fun and scary part about writing my book was getting the language right. I had to make these passages invisible.
Author Seth Grahame-Smith
“Then I read everything else and researched her life. The fun and scary part about writing my book was getting the language right. I had to make these passages invisible,” Grahame-Smith says.
He jokes that the good thing about aristocrats during the Regency Era in England is that if something can be said in two words, they would use 500. That gave him the leeway to write long-winded passages.
While he was very careful to maintain the essence of Austen’s book, even to closely matching the way the characters spoke, Grahame-Smith was messing with a novel that has been deeply loved by generations of Janeites.
“When the book took off, I did have a moment of ‘uh-oh.’ I didn’t know anything at the time about the Janeites, and I just figured they were going to come after me,” Grahame-Smith says. “While a couple just dismiss out of hand as sacrilege, to my relief, I found out over the years that the Janeites are a tremendously humorous group of people.”
What the author learned was that fans of Austen appreciated the humor she brought to her writing as much as he did and so they were willing to embrace his offbeat adaptation of Austen’s novel.
Since “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” Grahame-Smith has done mashups of American history and vampires with “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” and “The Last American Vampire.” His approach to those books was the same as when he tackled Austen.
“Whenever I approach one of these ideas, even if it is a B-movie premise, I try to give it an A-level of execution. I try to really do my research. I take time with these things,” Grahame-Smith says. “I try to get the language right. I try to get the characterizations right.”
It was worrisome enough to adapt Austen, but the pressure increased when Grahame-Smith decided to make Abraham Lincoln a vampire hunter. He knew that he would have to be even more thorough in his research because of how much Lincoln is loved.
His work didn’t reveal any real battles with vampires, but he was careful to keep all events, places and people historically accurate.
“That’s been my habit ever since,” Grahame-Smith says.