The Lady Janies Tackle the American Wild West with 'My Calamity Jane'

Posted by Sharon on June 1, 2020
Individually, Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows are three authors who write fantasy and paranormal novels for young adults. Together, they are the Lady Janies, the trio behind the popular series of YA books that reimagine historical and fictional "Janes" with happier endings and supernatural twists. (Think Lady Jane Grey with shapeshifters, or Jane Eyre with ghosts.)

Their newest book finishes the trilogy by crossing the ocean from England to America's Wild West. The Jane of this novel? Calamity Jane, joined by her pals Annie Oakley and Frank Butler. In the Lady Janies' versions, these three figures from American history are part of Wild Bill's Traveling Show…and they hunt werewolves on the side. And while My Calamity Jane continues to display the three authors' signature rollicking humor, it's not all fun and sharpshooting games, especially when Jane turns up with a suspicious bite on her arm.

The Lady Janies spoke with Goodreads about the crucial role knitting plays in their collective writing process, how their newest book acknowledges the "really, really hard" parts of American history, and which historical figure they're tackling together next. (Hint: Her name isn't Jane.)


Goodreads: How did the three of you meet and start working together?

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Brodi Ashton: We met on a Dark Days [book] tour and we instantly connected. It was the kind of connection where we ended up spending a lot of money to travel across the country to be together and do book stuff together. We (Cynthia and I) finally decided that maybe we should find a way to hang out AND make it financially viable.  
 
Cynthia Hand: So now our friendship is contractually obligated. :)
 
Jodi Meadows: Cynthia came up with the idea to write My Lady Jane. (More on that in a bit!) She talked to Brodi about it first, while they were on a trip together. Brodi managed to avoid talking about it for six months, until Cynthia brought it up on a trip where all three of us were together. She said she and Brodi were writing a book together. I pretended like I was happy for them, but really I was wildly jealous. Then Cynthia asked if I wanted to write it, too, and I was so happy to be included that I said yes without bothering to ask what the book was about.

Six months later, Cynthia had us trapped in her car and started talking about the book, and by the time we got back to her house, we were plotting and working on the first chapters. The next day, we skipped Disneyland to work on the book! Cynthia is really persistent, if you didn't notice, and thank goodness she is!

GR: Tell us more about the creative process of co-writing a book. Do you map out all the plot beats ahead of time? What happens if you disagree on where to take the story?
 
BA: Writing a book with three people is definitely easy…and hard. We get together in person for probably three weeks—one week to draft the first half of the book, one week for the second, and a third for revisions. (Ideally). But in order for that to happen, we do a lot of planning ahead. We usually come into these weeks with a semisolid (think Jell-O) idea of what we're doing. We can make suggestions and disagree on plotlines, but in the end, each of us has jurisdiction over our own characters' chapters.

CH: We decided early on that we would each write the point of view of a character, and our books would rotate between those three points of view. So in My Calamity Jane, I wrote Chapter 1 as Jane, Brodi wrote Chapter 2 as Frank, and Jodi wrote Chapter 3 as Annie, and then it was back to me with Chapter 4 as Jane. In a given workday, when we are all together, we each write a chapter. We get up in the morning, have breakfast, talk about our chapters, then write our chapter all day. And we always finish our chapter because there's so much peer pressure—nobody wants to be the one who doesn't finish her chapter. Then we have dinner, read our chapters out loud, and laugh and laugh and make suggestions and tweaks, then talk about what we're going to do tomorrow. After about a week of this, we have half a book!
 
JM: It might surprise you to hear that there's a lot of knitting in our process, too. For example, when someone needs grammar help or a gut check if something is working, the two who will be listening very quickly close computers and pick up whatever we're knitting. It helps with listening. No, really!
 
CH: I love the knitting part!

GR: Where did the initial idea to rewrite the sad stories of historical and fictional Janes come from?
 
JM: That was all Cynthia. Well, the part where we write about Janes was sort of by accident, but the idea to rewrite sad stories was Cynthia.
 
CH: Really it all started with me simply wanting to write about Lady Jane Grey, who was a person in history I always admired and connected with. And because we had such a great time doing that, we went on the hunt for other sad stories in history to "fix."

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GR: With My Calamity Jane, you leave England, the setting of the previous Lady Janies books, and visit the American Wild West. Why did you pick Calamity Jane, and what were some challenges when it came to writing about her time period?
 
BA: Oh gosh, that is a good question. For some reason, writing about American history was much harder than writing about British history. To tell the truth, Calamity Jane came with her own set of calamities. We rewrote this book like five times. American history is really really…hard.
 
CH: It just wasn't a very good time for so many people, like for Native Americans, for example. And it is difficult to write a comedy set during a time when there was so much suffering going on. We really had to sit down and think hard about how we could write something funny without making light or glazing over the struggles that people were experiencing then.
 
JM: Yep to all of that.

GR: Even supernaturally tinged alternative histories require a lot of research about real-world events and people! What is your favorite fun fact or anecdote that you've discovered in the course of your research?
 
CH: I love those times in the research when the details seem to magically line up to put two previously unconnected things together. Like when we were writing My Plain Jane and thinking about who the leader of the Society would be, and lighted on Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. It turns out that early on in Charlotte Brontë's life, when she and her siblings were making up little stories with tin soldiers, she kept coming back to characters she called Charles and Arthur Wellesley. It turns out Charlotte LOVED the Duke of Wellington. It's so awesome when you figure out these things.
 
In My Calamity Jane, it just so happened that Wild Bill's full name was James Butler Hickok, and Frank's last name was Butler, so we made Frank into Bill's son. It was a natural leap to make.
 
JM: Instalove is a real thing in the Actual History of Annie Oakley. As in, Annie and Frank really did meet over a shooting competition. And Frank really did fall in love with her right then and there, when she won by one point. A few…liberties have been taken in our portrayal of the competition, but the fact that it happened—and that Frank and Annie fell in love with each other right away—that's all history we didn't need to improve.

GR: Your books have featured werewolves, ghosts, and shapeshifters. Which supernatural ability would you each like to have, and why? What supernatural creature would you least want to encounter in a dark alley?
 
BA: I would want to have the power of invisibility. For…so many reasons.
 
CH: Hmm. I think I would like the power of flight. Like Edward in My Lady Jane.
 
JM: I guess mine is going to have to be seeing invisible people and keeping up with flying people. And frankly, I don't want to meet anyone or anything in a dark alley. I'd rather stay away from dark alleys, if you don't mind.

GR: What can we expect next from the three of you? Will you be writing more books together?
 
JM: Why yes, thank you for asking! Our next book is My Contrary Mary, about Mary, Queen of Scots, and it's set in the E∂ian world of My Lady Jane. You can add it to your Goodreads to-read shelf now, in fact. 
 
CH: It was soooooooo much fun getting to write in the world of MLJ again. 

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GR: What are some other books you would recommend to fans of the Lady Janies books?
 
CH: I always recommend The Princess Bride, since it was such an inspiration to us. I'd also like to recommend The Kingdom of Back, by Marie Lu, which isn't a comedy but IS a fantastic story about a girl (Mozart's sister) who is so often overlooked by history.
 
JM: Yes! I'll add Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee to that list; it's a Western with an amazing cast of characters and tons of heart. And it wouldn't be a day that ends with Y if I didn't also recommend the His Fair Assassin series by Robin LaFevers, which is a historical fantasy about assassin nuns.

GR: Finally, what are the books you've read recently that you couldn't put down? Any titles you're recommending to all your friends and family right now?
 
JM: I just finished reading the first two Skyward books (by Brandon Sanderson) and have been forcing friends to read them so that I don't have to be miserable by myself. Thanks for joining me, Cynthia.
 
CH: Gosh, I loved those books. I am so devastated that the next one isn't out yet. But I can be patient…
 
JM: A new release that I want everyone to read is Agnes at the End of the World by Kelly McWilliams. It's such a beautiful story filled with love and courage and compassion. Bonus: It's a standalone!

 

Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadow's My Calamity Jane will be available in the U.S. on June 2. Don't forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf. Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews to get more great book recommendations.

Comments Showing 1-9 of 9 (9 new)

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message 1: by Elyse (new)

Elyse Can't wait for the new book *and* the new Mary trilogy!!


message 2: by Alyson (new)

Alyson Parris Thanks for the recommendations! I’ve been looking forward to My Calamity Jane for years and can’t wait to read the new Mary story! Adding it to my ‘want to read’ stack ASAP!


GroverTheForest I just started to reading these books last week and you have no idea how happy I was yesterday when I found out the next one comes out tomorrow. So stoked!


message 4: by Sofia (new)

Sofia Yay!!! New Mary trilogy!!!!


message 5: by ClaraBelle (new)

ClaraBelle Can’t wait to read these amazing looking books about some wonderful heroines!


message 6: by Alexw (new)

Alexw This book should be fascinating as I live close to Deadwood, South Dakota and have the definitive biography of Calamity Jane written by noted historian, James D. McLaird.


message 7: by Bethany (new)

Bethany I am so happy they're writing My Contrary Mary! My Lady Jane was my favorite out of the series and I am really excited that they are revisiting that world (even though I know that there will probably be no more Jane and Gifford angst).


message 8: by TMR (new)

TMR Love this interview.


message 9: by Irma (new)

Irma I work for the Los Angeles County Library as a page, I happened to be shelving the YA books when the title of My Lady Jane caught my eye, being a history buff I knew all about her story. I had to check it out and I could not put it down, I cried at the end and wished that this had really been the end of their story. I can't wait to read My Plain Jane and My Calamity Jane.


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