I now blog over at The Eyre Guide! This blog is an archive of my past posts.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Q&A with Joanna Campbell Slan, author of DEATH OF A SCHOOLGIRL (The Jane Eyre Chronicles)

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,
I am so happy to present this interview with Joanna Campbell Slan, author of Death of a Schoolgirl (which releases tomorrow, August 7th!) on her novel and on Jane Eyre which inspired it.  It's a wonderful book that I have reviewed here, and I hope fans of the original novel, of mysteries, and of good stories will check it out!  The Giveaway for this book is still on-going - but is due to end very soon! (Check the entry form below) Enter now to win your own copy!

Thank you so much Joanna for your time and for your wonderful, thoughtful answers!

--- Q&A ---

1. What is your "Jane Eyre" origin story?  When/Why did you first read the novel and what were your first impressions?

A tattered copy of the book sat on the bookshelf at my childhood home. I think it must have been assigned to my mother when she was in college, but I doubt that she read it. Every book in our house was fair game to me, a challenge to tackle. Since my family life was so chaotic—my parents were alcoholics—I read to escape. I loved Jane Eyre. The story gave me hope that I could transcend my environment. I thought, “Aha! Here’s a game plan for having a better life.” Remember, the subtitle is “An Autobiography.” I didn’t know it was fiction!

2. What inspired the idea to turn Jane into a detective?

I love writing the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery series, but I wanted to stretch and grow as a writer. While casting around for a new idea, I answered questions for an upcoming panel. One was, “What’s your favorite mystery?” Immediately I thought of Jane Eyre because there are so many elements of a mystery within that classic book: the secret room, the tortured hero, the innocent but curious young woman, the conspiracy of silence, and so on. Upon reflection, Jane was the perfect person to become an amateur sleuth. In fact, I was surprised no one had thought of “using” her before!

3. How did you approach capturing the voice of Jane and the tone of Charlotte Brontë’s writing?  Did you find it difficult?

My first attempt, I totally “channeled” Charlotte Brontë. I showed it to my husband and he said, “I can’t believe that you wrote this!” Here’s a sample:

My Husband! How my heart trills to the sound of those two words.
            Dear Reader, they might seem unremarkable to you, but to me they are the most agreeable sounds in the whole of my vocabulary. Two words I turn over and over as I raise my fingers to my lips as though this is where the words originate, yet I know—I know!—they spring from my very soul. For we are joined together, Edward and I, after we had been split asunder by circumstances no lovers ever surmounted, I am sure. I can tell you, I can say with all surety, there is indeed a God and He is beneficent because He answered our prayers.

Then he looked at me sadly and added. “I don’t think anyone will read this. It’s too daunting for a modern audience.”


My next draft went too far the other way. I spent a whole summer gnashing my teeth and hating what I wrote.

Finally, I found a middle ground where I felt that I captured the tone of the original, without sounding too much like a mimic, and yet modernizing the writing so it was more accessible to a new audience. I did not allow myself to read Jane Eyre while I was writing these drafts. There were two reasons. First of all, Brontë is a genius. To try to walk in her footsteps was far too intimidating. I would literally freeze up at the keyboard. Secondly, I needed to find my own version of Jane and my own story to tell. So after I wrote my third or fourth version of the book, my wonderful editor Shannon Jamieson Vazquez and I went over and over Jane’s character, getting her right.

4. Miss Miller turns up and becomes an important character in the story.  Why did you pick Miss Miller to return instead of Jane’s other Lowood teachers?

Thank Shannon for that. Originally I had chosen Maria Temple, but Maria was too good to do bad! So Shannon pointed out other likely “suspects,” and Miss Miller seemed the most ambiguous. However, I may return to Maria Temple in the future because we really don’t know what happened to her, do we? I mean after she and her husband rode off into the drizzle.

5. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that "Jane Eyre" has the greatest love story of all time! What elements of their relationship do you feel were important to carry into their married life?  How do you feel marriage has changed Jane and Rochester individually or as a couple?

If you are out on a limb, you have a lot of company on that bark-covered bough!

What sets Jane Eyre apart from so many “love” stories is Edward’s reason for loving Jane. It’s not that she smells good and he wants to eat her! Or that her beauty intrigues him. Or that her feminine wiles ensnare him. It’s that her mind and spirit call to his. He has met his match in her, intellectually and emotionally. She completes him. Furthermore, while their relationship is lopsided at the start—he has money, power and the advantage of experience—after the fire, he is “brought down,” and she is “raised up” by her inheritance, and her knowledge that she can make her way in the world without him. She comes back to him as his equal, and therefore, they can have a marriage of true equals.

I guess that’s a long way of saying something I whole-heartedly believe: A good marriage happens when both people think they got the better end of the bargain.

Correspondingly, marriage should improve both partners, because one spouse is strong where the other is weak. There is a need that each satisfies, and I’m not talking about sex. It’s that acknowledgment that someone is your better half. To me, that understanding is what truly turns two discrete individuals into one beating heart.

6. One of the things I was most impressed with in "Death of a Schoolgirl" is the overarching theme of the need to protect innocent and helpless children, just as Jane Eyre the novel can be seen as an early feminist novel, I loved that your novel works in some important social commentary.Was this deliberate and is there anything you would like to say about how children are treated today?

It was absolutely, totally deliberate, and good on you for noticing! I wrote this in advance of the Penn State debacle, so I think it’s even more relevant today than when I was plunking down the words. All of my books have a theme of social relevance, but as a child who grew up in an abusive home, I know exactly how it feels to have the adults around you turn their heads the other way when you need help. After I grew up, one of my aunts told me that she was appalled by how my father abused me as a child, but when she mentioned it to her husband—my father’s brother—he said, “Don’t stick your nose in their business. You don’t want Bob mad at you!” It not only takes a village to raise a child; it takes a village to save a child who is in danger!

Furthermore, isn’t this the point of the first Jane Eyre? Jane as an orphan is ignored. She’s sent to a charity school where the children die because pompous adults pay no attention to their basic needs. She comes to care for Adéle, who has been abandoned by her mother. She comes to love Edward, whose father “abandoned” him to marry him off to a flawed woman so that he, Mr. Rochester Senior, wouldn’t have to “worry’ about Edward having money. Over and over, a child is abandoned with tragic results. (Sorry about the rant!)

7. What was your favorite scene to write in "Death of a Schoolgirl"?

There were two that caused me great glee. One was where Jane sees the stretcher and the dead girl. The second was when Jane falls out of the tree into you-know-who’s arms. Oh, and when she learns the Scotland Yard man can speak French. Honestly, the best part of writing a book is how the work surprises YOU, the author. I loved writing this!

8. Were there any plot threads or scenes you had to cut from the final version of "Death of a Schoolgirl"? Any outtakes to share?

Nope. I was lucky. It all fit. Whew!

And a quick Question-eyre!

1. Favorite adaptation of "Jane Eyre"?
The 2006 BBC one. By far!

2. The first adaptation you watched.
Probably the one with George C. Scott.

3. Kiss, Marry, Kill - Literary Men Edition!  Mr. Rochester, Mr. Darcy, and Heathcliff
Marry Edward, meh, meh to the other men. Maybe kill Heathcliff because he’s rather a mad dog.

4. Favorite quote from "Jane Eyre".
You are too cruel to ask me to pick one, but here goes: “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” To which I add, “Boo-yah!”


Check out the links below for more information, and join the author tomorrow for an online chat (here) from 7-9pm EST.  There will also be more great Jane Eyre related giveaways!

Amazon  Goodreads ◊ Author's Website ◊ Twitter ◊ Facebook

Giveaway for "Death of a Schoolgirl"

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Open to U.S. residents only. The winner will be notified by email on August 7, 2012.  If there is no reply to the email within 72 hours, another winner will be chosen. Many thanks to the publisher for allowing me to host this giveaway!

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  1. This was a GREAT interview..I agreed with all the points she made and now it makes me more eager to read her book!

    1. Thank you! I agree with the points she made too, especially the thoughts on marriage!

  2. Alisa, you might want to join me tomorrow for a live chat from 7-9 p.m. EST I'll be answering questions and giving away prizes! http://tinyurl.com/JCSChat

  3. You're a gem, Charlene. Thanks so much.

  4. Great interview! I keep hearing how great these books are! :D

    1. Thank you!! The book comes out Tuesday, I hope you can check it out!

  5. Liesel, I hope you'll check a copy out so you can see for yourself!