Pride and Prejudice and Kitties (originally called “Purr and Petulance”) began many years ago with the idea of combining the wicked humor of Jane Austen with the wackiness of cats. When we started out, we didn’t really know what we were doing (and that’s an understatement). We thought it was enough to take a cute cat photo and throw a quote from Pride and Prejudice at it. The idea of illustrating P&P with photos of kitties was so funny to us that we didn’t even think it mattered if the photograph related to the quote. In fact, to us it was funnier if it didn’t. Here’s an example:
OK, so the letters look more like bills, and Mr. Bennet looks more clueless than surprised, but maybe he’s really bowled over by the thought that his dear Lizzy is about to become Mrs. Darcy!
We blithely snapped a bunch of cat photographs, wrote a proposal and query letter, and began approaching agents. There were always one or two who came back right away, enthusiastic about the idea. In fact, says Pamela, “On a slow morning, when I wanted something exciting to happen, I would send out agent queries just for the rush of getting that phone call an hour or so later.”
The problem was that after thinking it over, the initially-enthusiastic agent had second thoughts about the logistics of photographing cats in Regency settings, or came up with a vision for the book that had little or no relationship to ours.
More photos, more interest, and many more rejections. This period went on for five years and an undisclosed number of agents. We did get an interested agent who sent our proposal out to a few publishers. One major publisher said they would consider publishing the book if we could perfectly reproduce scenes in P&P with cats dressed in Regency costumes. This was not going to happen. First of all, you can’t make cats do anything they don’t want to do. The pictures would have been hilarious, but not in the way the publisher imagined. Secondly, this was not our vision for the book. We wanted a book that juxtaposed cats being cats with Jane’s wit and verve. To us, the juxtaposition was the joke.
Slowly we began to shape our vision for the book. Each chapter would include a “kittified” summary from P&P, an excerpt from the original text, and two or three photographs. We continued to work on fine-tuning our proposal. Even the rejections helped with this process. As one agent told us, “how do we know that P&P isn’t a paradigm for a bunch of kitties running around the neighborhood?”
Eventually, with very little fuss or fanfare James McGinniss took on the book and sold it shortly afterwards to Skyhorse Publishing.
Now we had a publisher, a contract, and deadline, but we still had no clue how it was all going to come together. Debbie was in Portland, Oregon, taking thousands of cat photos, and Pamela was in Pennsylvania “Kittifying” P&P chapters (although Pamela also photographed and Debbie wrote). When Pamela expressed paralyzing and insurmountable anxiety about just how all this was going to work, Debbie said, “Just have faith.”
Luckily, at this time, Pamela’s good friend, author and photographer Sally Keehn, set out on an “English Literature on Location” tour in the UK. The tour focused on several authors, including Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens – and Jane Austen. Sally agreed to take photos of Austen-related settings for us to Photoshop the cats into.
Taking the photographs was a joy (seeing Austen’s world through a cat’s eyes) but tricky because so many humans got in the way of my shooting! “Begone humans,” I’d hiss in my fake British accent as I crawled about on the floor, trying to get photos from a cat’s perspective and with no human feet in them. It was also challenging because the homes and museums were “electrified.” I needed to avoid those modern power outlets and electrical cords. I was particularly moved when I saw the house on College St. in Winchester where Jane died in the arms of her sister, Cassandra.”
The last piece of the puzzle was provided by the incomparable graphic artist, Kathryn Hathaway (http://hathawaydesignsnw.com). Kathryn Photoshopped the kitties into many of Sally’s settings, which is why we have a photo of Elizabeth throwing up a hairball on Jane Austen’s actual bed in Chawton.
“What’s crazier than working with two Austenite-cat-lovers? I’ve known Debbie Guyol for years and met Pamela Jane when she came up with this totally loony idea of putting cats as characters in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. They both came out to my place to photograph the neighbor’s cats.
Then came playtime, placing cats into Regency backgrounds or putting two cats together in a room via Photoshop. There were weekends taking shiny 21st century toys out of cat’s paws and replacing them with hairballs or some bit of a lace hanky.
Now two of the silliest girls in the country are in the limelight. Who knew? I am happy for Austenites and cat-lovers everywhere. I entreat you to enjoy the book, as it is a very innocent diversion.”
We Finally Figure Out How To Do It!
Long ago, Pamela miraculously acquired a two-story office. Debbie flew to Pennsylvania for the let’s-put-it-all-together phase, and the downstairs office became our staging area.
We worked all day every day for weeks: writing and revising, scouring the pages of Pride and Prejudice, then painstakingly matching photographs with chapters and with quotes, and when that didn’t work, making up silly captions for photographs. We settled our artistic disagreements with duels. Or horse-trading.
After Debbie flew back to Portland, we spent another full month refining the text, discovering that the cat we thought would fit perfectly into one of Sally’s wonderful authentic settings was all wrong for it, taking more pictures, making lists, horse-trading – well, you get the idea. Yes, we did it. We figured out how to do it, in the end, simply by doing it.