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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Interview: Jane Nickerson, author of The Mirk and Midnight Hour!

Yesterday, I offered you the chance to win a fairy tale retelling that is high on my wishlist, Jane Nickerson's Civil War-era Tam Lin retelling, The Mirk and Midnight Hour. Today, Jane has dropped in to chat a bit about the book, how she chooses the tales she retells, and share a deleted scene!
Check it out below, and then make sure to go enter to win a copy!

How do you decide which tale to retell? Do you look for something that can blend into your magical version of antebellum South, or is it something particular in the tale itself that makes you want to adapt it and retell it?
JN: Both of the stories I have retold so far (“Bluebeard” in STRANDS OF BRONZE AND GOLD and “Tam Lin” in THE MIRK AND MIDNIGHT HOUR) are tales I’ve been interested in since I was little. I was a big fairy tale fan and those stories really affected me. With “Bluebeard” it was the creepiness that grabbed, and with “Tam Lin” it was the romance. Then too, since I live in a town full of antebellum houses and old-fashioned Southern charm and a poignant sense of past tragedy, I’m also fascinated with Mississippi in the 1850’s and ‘60’s. As an author, you’re all powerful as far as your setting goes. It was great fun to mix the setting with the stories and flesh out the details, figuring out how, why, where, and to whom, it all came about.

What tale(s) wouldn't you touch with a ten-foot pole? (Would you avoid the popular ones like Cinderella, 'cause they've been done, or are there just certain tales that you hate, or are utterly indifferent to?)
JN: I admit I’m tired of “Cinderella.” It’s a good story, but sheesh, hasn’t it been retold enough? Although some of the retellings are so far removed from the original tale as to be unrecognizable, I still wouldn’t be tempted to retell it, or “Snow White,” or “Sleeping Beauty.” Sadly, because I really love them, “Twelve Dancing Princesses” and “Beauty and the Beast” have been done too much. And now, because of “Frozen,” “The Snow Queen” is off limits, and I had been considering it. I’m trying to think of the stories I actually hated…I’m indifferent to tales that have animals as the protagonists. Also, I remember I hated a horrible Swiss one that haunted me when I was a kid. I don’t know its name, but it’s about some goatherds in the mountains who made a giant doll. They mocked her and tortured her, until she came to life and flailed one of them alive and stuck his skin to the cabin wall. Ghastly, without any of the intriguing charm of “Bluebeard.” However, there’s still a treasure trove of lesser known stories to be retold. I’d better get busy.

Create your dream cast for Mirk or Strands.
JN: You know, I do believe THE MIRK AND MIDNIGHT HOUR would make a riveting costume drama—lush Southern scenery, heartwarming bits, chilling bits, moral questions to ponder, and an opportunity for lovely clothes and an all-star cast.

At first glance, the heroine, Violet, looks like an ordinary, not pretty, not plain 1860’s seventeen-year-old Southern farmgirl, but in reality she’s extraordinary. With cleverness and resilience, she deals with all that’s thrown at her—even the climactic scene where she must save her beloved Thomas from being a voodoo sacrifice. I would choose Jennifer Lawrence to play Violet. Jennifer is pretty, but not in a flashy way, and she could handle the required physical action.

Violet’s family includes gorgeous, spoiled stepsister, Sunny (Jessica Biel when she was a teenager), her dreamy, vague, laudanum-addicted stepmother, Miss Elsa (Cate Blanchett), her sometimes annoying, sometimes endearing ten-year-old cousin, Seeley (Haley Joel Osment when he was a kid), and her cousin Dorian. Oh, Dorian is a charmer! Blonde and handsome, funny and flirtatious. A young Matthew Mcconaughey would play Dorian to a T, and he even does the Southern accent.

Now we need Violet’s love interest—sensitive, intelligent, kind Lt. Thomas Lynd, who wrote Seeley’s favorite adventure books before he joined the Union army. Thomas was badly wounded and kidnapped by the mysterious VanZeldts, who are caring for him for reasons known only to themselves. Casting Thomas is tougher. He’s good-looking, but not pretty-boy, and he needs to show the vulnerability of his position since he’s physically helpless throughout the story, but still have an underlying strength of character. Maybe Ben Feldman could do it.

Laney, Violet’s African American best friend, who happens to be enslaved, needs to be curvy, pretty, and show common sense and shrewdness. Possibly Adepero Oduye, if we can make her seventeen.
Two other important characters are Miss Ruby Jewel and her servant, Jubal. Miss Ruby Jewel is old and shriveled and obnoxious. The actress Gloria Stuart was beautiful in her heyday, but she can be Miss Ruby Jewel now. Jubal’s casting is obvious. Morgan Freeman all the way. Jubal is elderly and tired, but he has dignity and a complicated relationship with the awful Miss Ruby Jewel.

The last key characters are the VanZeldts. Dr. VanZeldt is an impeccably-dressed, polite, but creepy Dutchman in his 60’s, loved as a father by the rest of his household. Donald Sutherland could do it. The most important thing about the African VanZeldts is their height and their movement—gliding along with silky grace. Amenze must be tall and lovely. Lupita Nyong’o should play the part. Uwa needs to be handsome, muscular, smooth, but a little scary. He also doesn’t really need to speak, since mostly he slinks around making Violet uncomfortable, but he has to be an amazing dancer. Therefore, I would have to take upon myself the enjoyable task of looking over male dancers from the Alvin Ailey dance theater for casting.

Give us a scene or some tidbits that were left on the cutting room floor.
JN: My original, working title for MIRK was STOP UP THE CRACKS, which was a line from the slave lullaby that Violet quotes. Although I was constantly tweaking, I did a lot more adding to the original, rather than taking away. Originally there was no Sparrow. I’m so glad she came into being because I think she’s wonderful.

Here are a couple paragraphs deleted from a scene where Sunny and Violet are talking about Dorian. I took them out because I decided they were too preachy, although in Sunny and Dorian’s case it was good advice:
(Violet): “You better watch out that you don’t lose your reputation. Dorian can move on any time, but you’ll be stuck back here having to deal with the consequences.”
(Sunny): “There won’t be any consequences, goose, and how can I lose my reputation when no one but you knows what’s going on? Even Mama doesn’t have a clue what goes on and she’s in the same house pretending to be an adult. It’s so funny how, when we first moved here I hated the isolation of this poky old farm, but now I love it because it gives me all the more opportunities to be close to Dorian.”
I turned back to my painting, hoping to end this conversation.
Sunny refused to end it. She studied me critically. “Besides, everybody I know plays around a bit. Or at least everybody who has the chance, so just because you’re an ice maiden, it doesn’t mean other girls are. And I don’t see broken reputations lying scattered about like dandelions. Society tells young people not to do things, but in reality no one expects us to obey the silly rules.”
I was silent for a moment, considering. Did everyone else go about nuzzling and nestling and cuddling and caressing indiscriminately behind corners and I had never known? Was I an “ice maiden?” Was this whole other world going on while everyone laughed at me behind my back for being a prude? Nanny Kate? Mary Clare? All the girls from school? No. I didn’t believe it. Such a secret would be too hard to keep. Sunny told herself these things so she wouldn’t feel guilty. Or maybe it was the hussy-men who told Sunny these things in order to get her to act like a hussy-girl.
“Please be careful, Sunny. Dorian seems so easy-going, but I have a feeling he can be heartless.”

The Mirk and Midnight Hour by Jane Nickerson
Get It | Add It
Historical/Retelling, 384 pages
Published March 11th 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
A Southern girl. A wounded soldier. A chilling force deep in the forest.
All collide at night’s darkest hour.

Seventeen-year-old Violet Dancey has been left at home in Mississippi with a laudanum-addicted stepmother and love-crazed stepsister while her father fights in the war—a war that has already claimed her twin brother.
When she comes across a severely injured Union soldier lying in an abandoned lodge deep in the woods, things begin to change. Thomas is the enemy—one of the men who might have killed her own brother—and yet she's drawn to him. But Violet isn't Thomas's only visitor; someone has been tending to his wounds—keeping him alive—and it becomes chillingly clear that this care hasn't been out of compassion.
Against the dangers of war and ominous powers of voodoo, Violet must fight to protect her home and the people she loves.
From the author of Strands of Bronze and Gold comes a haunting love story and suspenseful thriller based on the ancient fairy tale of “Tam Lin.”


For many years Jane Nickerson and her family lived in a big old house in Aberdeen, Mississippi, where she was also the children’s librarian. She has always loved the South, “the olden days,” gothic tales, houses, kids, writing, and interesting villains. She and her husband now make their home in Ontario, Canada.

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  1. Great interview. I can't wait to read these books.

  2. Lovely! I suffer the same Snow-Queen-off-limits frustration. But there's still other tales to be (re)told, and I look forward to reading Nickerson's take on them.


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