TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Vera: What an interesting question. It’s possibly my secret, slightly wicked love of pulling the rug from under the reader’s expectations. Or better to say, pulling the tablecloth away suddenly and leaving the true theme on the table, stripped of all the illusory twists that came before. A story might begin in a traditional manner, and then the reader opens a few plot and character trap doors and suddenly they are in a very different place, which at the same time feels just so right . . .
TQ: Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?
Vera: Back in Moscow, I started out reading classics of world literature in my native language, Russian. The first things I remember, as a kid beginning to read, were grownup books of ancient Greek mythology, which my parents attempted to take away at first, but then gave up and just let me read everything. My favorites (in Russian translation) were George Sand, Victor Hugo, Alexander Dumas, Sir Walter Scott, and Russians such as Goncharov, Pushkin, Lermontov, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy. And of course, fairy tales, myths, world folk tales and ancient epics really stirred my imagination, especially the ancient Persian epic Shah-Nameh and the Georgian national epic Knight in Tiger Skin.
When we immigrated to the US, I started to read in English, including fantasy and science fiction, and immediately fell in love with the genre of soaring imagination without limits. I think Tanith Lee was my greatest English-language stylistic influence, together with Oscar Wilde as esthetic inspiration. And Victor Hugo, with his detailed slow-paced introspective descriptions (with stunning work such as The Man Who Laughs) was my “structural” inspiration—the fundamental underpinnings of human language itself translated over into English and made me an “old fashioned” writer. Different writerly ideals were passed on to me—depth, as opposed to pacing.
Here I must add: I am a native speaker of Russian and Armenian, and have studied Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, and German. I picked up a smattering of Arabic when we were refugees in Lebanon. As a singer, I recognize and understand operatic Italian. As a reader of Russian classics, I can get the gist of French passages so often included in Tolstoy and most of the 19th century classics. Tongues swirl and mix in my head and I naturally perceive semantic “roots” of words across languages, and their meaning. As a result, my writing mode is possibly strange and truly hard to describe because it is an ocean of verbal structures.
My genre favorites were Andre Norton, Gene Wolfe, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and C. J. Cherryh. But most of my personal style was already formed beforehand. The sum total of all the old hoary things I’ve read in old-fashioned, bookish, stodgy style, heavily imprinted on me. My own style is the result of convoluted long sentence structures and segments of clauses shaped in many ways by a Russian grammatical framework—which is often too flowery or “purple” by modern standards of English.
On the other hand, it makes me infinitely suitable as someone to rework the prose of Jane Austen.
TQ: You have written many works of speculative fiction, more than one of which has made the Nebula Award final ballot. Which of your works is your favorite and why?
Vera: I think authors tend to answer that their favorite work is whatever they are working on right now. That may indeed be the case, but, looking back, I think the novel Lords of Rainbow (Wildside Press, 2003) -- the first novel I completed, but not the first published—has a soft spot in my heart for its fierce emotional intensity of the characters and the profound love story.
Lords of Rainbow is an epic fantasy about a world without color, with a grand cast of characters. It has become a sort of exultant cult favorite, for the few people who have read it. I hope one day it is reissued to a larger audience.
TQ: Mansfield Park and Mummies: Monster Mayhem, Matrimony, Ancient Curses, True Love, and Other Dire Delights was published in November 2009. What inspired you to write and Austen mash-up and are there more in the works?
Vera: I firmly believed I could do a far better and more respectful job than the popular zombies mash-up that started it all. After all, I was already in love with Jane Austen’s whole oeuvre. And then I absolutely fell in love with the mash-up process. In a nutshell, mash-ups are a fantastic, brilliant idea, but often poorly executed, because the inserted material and the original texts are not made to mesh properly.
An ideal mash-up should never be a Frankenstein patchwork job, but a truly expanded new work with the supernatural new elements seamlessly included to advance the story in a wider direction. I chose Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park because I personally find Fanny Price the most admirable Austen heroine in her quiet steadfast strength of character—a true heroine of her time, as opposed to a modern girl with modern sensibilities which may appeal more to our present day audience but would be a complete and annoying anachronism to implement.
Which brings me back to the notion of true seamlessness—a good mash-up is ideally seamless in more than one sense (not just style but also sensibilities, characters, theme, even choice of descriptive detail), and requires a perfect blending of disparate elements. Making Fanny a crude kick-ass kung-fu goddess might be funny for about a second. And then it becomes, in Jane Austen’s own style of words, “tedious.” It’s so much more subtle and profoundly amusing to make Fanny Price remain in character, still a girl of her time, and yet, fighting monsters in her own Regency way with her own mannerisms and quirks of personality . . . So that even her methods are not out of place in her original Jane Austen world. Think of it as a homogeneous smoothie as opposed to a chunky blend—that’s the kind of mash-up I write. Also, no gore, nothing jarring with the sensibilities of the original work and the Regency time period.
It needs to be noted that Mansfield Park is the longest and least popular Austen novel, for a variety of reasons, the greatest of which is a fundamental conflict with contemporary moral and feminist values. Which is unfortunate, because it is a great book, and should be read in proper context to be appreciated. Fanny Price is not a doormat, but a woman of strong principles of her time.
I really wanted to do the book and the character justice by bringing out the best in Fanny Price via the addition of relevant Egyptology and the versatile mummies, and a truly worthy romantic hero in the form of the resurrected ancient Pharaoh who becomes an elegant and attractive Regency gentleman to woo Fanny alongside her other rivals Henry Crawford (not as dashing as he seems) and Edmund Bertram (not as colorless as he seems). This was an exciting time historically, when the British and other Europeans were fascinated by the mystique of Ancient Egypt, and Egyptology was all the rage among the upper class. The juxtaposition of this barely repressed excitement with the stately and laid-back mode of Austen makes for some great hilarity.
I also added several unique elements to my mash-up, which none of the others have—“Scholarly” Footnotes and Appendices, and back cover fake blurbs from Regency Ladies and Gentlemen. The footnotes are truly crazy, and harangue the reader, at the same time poking fun at anachronistic word choices. The Appendices—well, they have to be seen to be understood. And the fake blurbs are hilarious social commentary.
In the process of writing, illustrating, and putting together this one book, I feel in love with this micro-genre, and found my niche that blends so well with my own stodgy and old-fashioned and alien natural style. So I am now going to be doing all of Jane Austen books as mash-up parodies with completely different fantastic elements to be added—and no zombies!
Currently I am finishing up Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons (forthcoming in a few weeks), which will be followed by a supremely Kafkaesque parody Pride and Platypus: Mr. Darcy’s Dreadful Secret, and then, next year, in the spring of 2011 there will be Pagan Persuasion: All Olympus Descends on Regency, and then by winter 2011, look for Emma Enchanted.
The emphasis in all of these mash-ups will not be horror but wit and humor—literary mayhem with style, and always, a subtle, numinous sense of wonder. These are books for the true Janeite, and a true lover of classical literature. (Readers looking for tacky gore and blood and guts, look elsewhere.)
It might sound audacious, but I plan to single-handedly redefine the mash-up as a classy genre with a great range of literary possibilities.
TQ: In addition to being an author, you are an artist. Have you been able to meld writing and art in any of your books?
Vera: I’ve illustrated a number of short stories over the years, with my illustrations appearing in print next to them. I’ve also illustrated the work of others.
Most recent example—my novella The Duke in His Castle, and Mansfield Park and Mummies (see the hilarious Appendix). I will be doing more interior illustrations for all of the upcoming Jane Austen mash-ups. In addition, I am the cover designer for 99.9% of all Norilana Books titles.
TQ: Could you tell us about Norilana Books?
Vera: I started Norilana Books in 2006, because I was fed up with many things in my life, including the fact that I was already working, for years, in similar book packaging capacity for other small independent publishers (that’s in addition to a high tech full-time day job for most of the last decade and a half), so why not venture out on my own?
I am truly in a unique position of being a writer, an artist, and a computer tech-savvy professional, so I literally do everything—book production, promo, marketing, review copies, website programming, you name it. Except for my talented and fantastic part-time anthology editors who do the annual series Clockwork Phoenix (edited by Mike Allen), Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress (edited by Elisabeth Waters), Warrior Wisewoman (edited by Roby James), and Lace and Blade (edited by Deborah J. Ross), and other standalone anthologies, I have no other help in running this small independent press, which now has over 280 titles in print—the bulk of which are classics of world literature, followed by modern author reprints and a few select originals.
I am absolutely proud to be reissuing classic titles and new originals by my favorite author and inspiration Tanith Lee from the dedicated imprint TaLeKa, and the works of other significant contemporary authors such as Modean Moon, Sherwood Smith, William Sanders, John Grant, Eugie Foster, Catherynne M. Valente, Deborah J. Ross, David Dvorkin, and many others.
TQ: What’s next?
Vera: Many exciting new Norilana Books releases are coming up next year, despite a difficult personal situation and the precarious economy. Expect much more Tanith Lee, Sherwood Smith, and new originals by JoSelle Vanderhooft, Roby James, and many surprises to be announced.
As far as my own writing, the Jane Austen mash-ups are first up on the plate right now. Following that, I expect to return to my own original work, including Lady of Monochrome (a sequel to Lords of Rainbow), and medieval gothic fantasy Cobweb Bride.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
About Vera's Books:
MANSFIELD PARK AND MUMMIES: Monster Mayhem, Matrimony, Ancient Curses, True Love, and Other Dire Delights
Spinsterhood or Mummification!
Ancient Egypt infiltrates Regency England in this elegant, hilarious, witty, insane, and unexpectedly romantic monster parody of Jane Austen's classic novel.
Our gentle yet indomitable heroine Fanny Price must hold steadfast not only against the seductive charms of Henry Crawford but also an Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh!
Meanwhile, the indubitably handsome and kind hero Edmund attempts Exorcisms... Miss Crawford vamps out... Aunt Norris channels her inner werewolf... The Mummy-mesmerized Lady Bertram collects Egyptian artifacts...
There can be no doubt that Mansfield Park has become a battleground for the forces of Ancient Evil and Regency True Love!
Gentle Reader -- this Delightful Edition includes Scholarly Footnotes and Appendices
Vera has given us a peak at the cover for Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons:
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 (forthcoming, 2010), Pride and Platypus: Mr. Darcy’s Dreadful Secret (forthcoming, 2010), Pagan Persuasion: All Olympus Descends on Regency (forthcoming, 2011), and Emma Enchanted (forthcoming, 2011).
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 http://www.veranazarian.com/.
Vera's Website: http://www.veranazarian.com/
Norilana Books Website: http://www.norilana.com/
Norilana Books Blog: http://norilana.livejournal.com/
Norilana Books Twitter: http://twitter.com/Norilana
Vera on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/nazarian
Inspired.Us - Old Wisdom for a New World: http://www.inspiredus.com/
Mansfield Park and Mummies Website: http://www.norilana.com/mpam.htm