Back in 2016, friends and fellow YA authors Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, and Jodi Meadows teamed up to write My Lady Jane, a playful retelling of the history of Lady Jane Grey and King Edward VI. This summer, the trio is back with another satirical novel about a famous Jane—this time, Charlotte Brontë’s heroine Jane Eyre. We asked the three authors to interview each other about the origins of their series, and the joys of collaborating with close friends.
Jodi Meadows: Let’s begin at the beginning and talk about how we met.
Cynthia Hand: Texas. Aw, it seems like such a long time ago. Our publishers sent us to Texas together on a book tour back in 2012, since we all had books coming out at the same time. And we just instantly hit it off.
Brodi Ashton: I was intimidated meeting Cynthia because this was her second book, and she was sort of a rock star. But we quickly bonded in the bathroom when we discovered that both of us couldn’t hold our pee like we could before we had kids. And then Jodi gave us each hand-knitted mitts.
Meadows: You make it sound like I followed you into the bathroom to a) listen to you talk about bodily functions and b) give you fingerless mitts. “Hi! I like you and your weird bonding! Have some mitts. Please wash your hands first.”
Ashton: I’m sure you had other reasons, too! Kidding. Jodi walked up to us in a room that was very much not a bathroom and handed us mitts. I liked them both pretty immediately. Jodi joined me on my crusade to find a flat iron, and seemed very empathetic to my plight.
Meadows: I liked both Brodi and Cynthia already because I’d read their books. I was a little terrified and didn’t feel nearly cool enough to be part of the group, but then they told me their pregnancy stories so I figured I was in.
Hand: Either that or we were trying to terrorize you into never having kids.
Meadows: I’m terrified. Good job. So, whose idea was this co-writing thing anyway?
Ashton: It was all Cynthia’s idea. She started it.
Hand: I did. Blame me. I’d always wanted to write a novel about Lady Jane Grey, who was a strong-willed, bookish teenage girl in 16th-century England who had the misfortune to become queen … but only for nine days, and then she had her head chopped off. I always loved studying Jane Grey’s story in history, except for the ending. I hated that this awesome person had such a tragic end. So I thought, “Hey, I’m a writer. I can give her a different ending! I could even turn her tragedy into a comedy!” But I didn’t feel like I really knew how to write a comedy. And then I thought about my dear friend, Brodi Ashton, who wrote comedy so beautiful. So tell me, Brodi, what did you think when I first brought up the idea of us writing a book together?
Ashton: I thought you are very hard to say no to. Even though when you pitched the idea to me, you basically said, “Let’s retell the story of Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for nine days, and then beheaded, and… let’s make it funny!”
Hand: I am not the best at pitching.
Meadows: You’re getting better. Sort of.
Ashton: Jodi is already editing these lines as I write them, which points to the fact that we each have our strengths. Jodi is excellent at editing. Cynthia is a master plotter. I bring the tomatoes.
Hand (laughs): You are very good at bringing tomatoes. But you are also such a great comic writer. I don’t think our books would be funny at all if you weren’t writing with us.
Meadows: They wouldn’t be our books without all three of us. Tomatoes included.
Hand: There’s just something about the three of us. We have an insanely good chemistry. And we naturally work well together and balance out one another’s strengths and weaknesses. I don’t think I could write books like this with any of my other friends. We’re this magical combination.
Meadows: Anyway, it took about six months after Cynthia pitched Brodi for them to even talk about it again. When they brought it up, we were all just traveling together and hanging out, and Cynthia announced they were writing a book together. I was instantly jealous. Then Cynthia asked if I wanted to write the book with them, and I was so happy to be included I didn’t bother to ask what the book was about until I’d already told my agent and a whole hour had passed. That’s when I heard about the beheading.
Ashton: The funny beheading.
Meadows: Right. Funny. Then we managed not to talk about it again for another six months until Cynthia had us trapped in the car in L.A. traffic, and we could either stay in the car and talk about the book, or we could try to escape and get run over. We chose the book.
Hand: And aren’t you so glad you did?!
Ashton: And then there was the time we were going to take Jodi to Disneyland for her first time ever, and we changed our minds and went to Pepperdine and wrote the beginning chapters to My Lady Jane.
Hand: And the rest, as they say, is history. (Snerk.) Or rewritten history, anyway.
Meadows: Let’s talk about our writing process really fast. One of the questions we get most often is how do three people write a book together, and in the same-ish voice.
Hand: Pretty quickly after we started writing, we figured out a system that works for us. Namely, we each write a separate character’s point of view (we’ll let you guess who wrote what) and we write together. At the same time. In the same room. Around the same table. Sometimes that table is at Brodi’s family’s condominium in Utah, sometimes it’s at my house in Idaho, and sometimes it’s in Virginia, which is where Jodi lives. But we do it together. Brodi, do you want to talk about what our typical writing day might look like?
Ashton: We wake up, me last, and make breakfast—
Meadows: Cynthia makes breakfast, and I grate the cheese.
Hand: You are an excellent cheese grater. The best I’ve ever worked with.
Ashton: And, as previously discussed, I cut the tomatoes.
Meadows: We all contribute.
Ashton: At least to the eating. Anyway, then we make Jodi lots of coffee, and then we sit around a table, open our laptops, and write all day long. Usually a chapter each. Then we eat whatever Cynthia’s made for us, usually the best chili ever, and then we read our chapters out loud, and, hopefully, laugh a lot. Rinse. Repeat.
Meadows: Writing a chapter a day (I mean, three chapters, technically) takes a lot of planning, so we always come armed with a detailed outline. We have a limited amount of time together, and we don’t want to waste any of it with backtracking or trying to figure out what happens next.
Hand: And we do a lot of talking and laughing and coordinating our chapters as we go. And after a week, we usually have about half a book. (This still amazes me, how fast we churn it out.)
Meadows: Right! It definitely helps to have two other brains just devoted to getting the story on paper. When I’m writing my solo books, I do a lot of staring at the wall while I try to think of the right word. But writing with Brodi and Cynthia, I can just ask.
Hand: So we plan to do about two separate trips at different times to write an entire first draft. And then we take turns revising the book, initially. I think this is part of why it feels like we’re writing in one voice. Because, even though we write each point of view separately, we also each do a lot of writing and revising of one another’s chapters. So what feels like one voice is actually a compilation of all three voices in each chapter.
Ashton: So what do you gals think is the best part of writing with besties? And then the worst part?
Meadows: The best part is getting to spend tax-deductible time with the two of you! Who doesn’t want to get paid to hang out with their best friends and make up funny stories all day? Worst part … I don’t think there is one.
Ashton: Well, there was that one time when two of us (I won’t name names) got in an epic battle over feminism in the back of a hired car, and scared the driver…
Meadows: That poor driver. He didn’t deserve that. But later, we all adopted stuffed unicorns, so that was pretty great.
Ashton: And we scared our next driver by pretending our unicorns were real to us.
Meadows: Driving us should probably come with a warning, come to think of it.
Hand: Writing with you two is such a joyful process—heated arguments over the merits of Mr. Rochester aside. It’s almost wrecked me for writing my solo books. Writing by myself now is so lonesome and non-hilarious.
Meadows: Agreed. I know so many writers who wish the story fairy would come in and fix their books while they’re sleeping. And writing with friends… sometimes that actually happens!
Hand: Oh God, I love when that happens.
Ashton: Let’s talk about why we picked Janes.
Hand: It was kind of an accident. I had that idea that featured a main character whose name was Jane. And we had so much fun writing that book, we wanted to write others. And then we thought, wouldn’t it be cool to write about other Janes in history who were in some way screwed over by the patriarchy? And that’s how it got to be a thing.
Meadows: And of course we have more ideas, like writing about Calamity Jane, and even some that involve people not named Jane. There are lots of women who deserve funnier stories than the ones they were given by history.
Ashton: Which reminds me, do we have a new book coming out soon or what?
Hand: Oh, yeah. We do have a new book coming out. A new Jane. My Plain Jane. I like to think of this book as Jane Eyre meets Ghostbusters.
Meadows: It’s pretty widely believed that Jane Eyre wasn’t a real person in history, but we—I’m just going to say it—have a different tale to tell. The truth is that the events in Jane Eyre really happened, but not in the way they’re shown in the book. Charlotte (Brontë, that is) and Jane were actually pre-Victorian BFFs, and the whole book of Jane Eyre was just a cover-up for the ghost business. We’ve decided that the world deserves to know what actually happened.
Hand: So My Plain Jane is a companion novel to My Lady Jane, in that it was written by the three of us in a similar comic/fantasy/rewriting history vein, but it’s an entirely separate story with totally different characters and a different set of rules. So you don’t have to read My Lady Jane first in order to enjoy My Plain Jane. And you don’t have to read Jane Eyre or watch Ghostbusters, either—although if you do, you’ll get some of our sneakier jokes.
Meadows: My Plain Jane comes out June 26 and we think everyone should read it.
Hand: Yes, please read it! So I think we’re done here.
Meadows: Well, Brodi is already gone. So yeah.
Hand: Okay, bye.
My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows. HarperTeen, $17.99 June 26 ISBN 978-0-06-265277-5