How to mash up Jane Austen and the Zombies

If you want to create a literary mash up, you can't just dig up parts of other people's books and sew them together like Dr. Frankenstein in his lab. You've got to worry about copyright law. Watching "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" claw its bloody way up the bestseller list ( it's been on the Washington-area list for 29 weeks and is currently at No. 6), we wanted to know just how the publisher went about creating this hilarious abomination without making the lawyers scream. Here's his answer.

GUEST BLOGGER: Jason Rekulak, creative director at Quirk Books.

"Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" might be the first international best seller to be inspired by goofy YouTube clips.

I'm not referring to crazy cat videos or silly sports bloopers. My favorite YouTube clips are the ones that manipulate copyrighted material -- to brilliant and hilarious effect. Want to dub new lyrics over your favorite music video? Or rewrite last night's episode of "Lost"? On the wild and wooly frontier of the Internet, writers and artists can get away with virtually anything.

As someone who acquires books for a small publishing house, I'm deeply envious of this creative freedom. Back in the spring of 2008, I found myself trying to bring the same spirit of innovation to my own projects -- without the risk of getting sued.

So I began by making a list of works in the public domain -- those books which have fallen out of copyright. In the United States, this includes virtually anything published before 1923.

I drafted a long list of classic novels such as "War and Peace," "Moby Dick," and "Pride and Prejudice." Then I made a second list of elements which might enhance those novels: pirates, ninjas, robots, and so forth.

Finally, I began drawing lines between my two columns. As soon as I connected "Pride and Prejudice" and zombies, I knew I had a fantastic title and a great premise for a book: It would be the classic regency romance, enhanced with all-new scenes of ultraviolent zombie mayhem!

Now you either love this idea or you hate it. Certainly no one expected that it would make any money. My colleagues warned that Jane Austen fans wouldn't stand for gory scenes of cannibalism and decapitations. Others cautioned that zombie fans wouldn't tolerate long scenes of matchmaking, courtship, and social satire.

But my friend Seth Grahame-Smith loved the idea. More important, he was willing to write it for very little money upfront. So we were off and running.

"Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" was published last April and now has close to one million copies in print. Last month, we released our second monster mash-up: "Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters."

Other publishers have been quick to jump on the bandwagon; next year will bring the publication of titles such as "Wuthering Bites," "Little Women and Werewolves," "Emma and the Vampires," and a half dozen others.

Plato may have called necessity the mother of all invention, but in the case of this weird monster micro-genre, I'd say that necessity shares joint custody with Youtube and the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998.

Thanks to all for inspiring me to bring the joy of internet mash-ups to the world of traditional book publishing.

By Steven E. Levingston |  October 27, 2009; 5:30 AM ET Steven Levingston
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Can you help me understand why this book consistently shows up on the Post's NONFICTION list? The NY Times has it as FICTION. I have been baffled by this for months.

Posted by: jenniferseidel | October 28, 2009 8:49 PM

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