Interview with Susan Heyboer O’Keefe, Author of Frankenstein’s Monster
Its been awhile, and part of the delay stems from the fact that I’ve been resting for the last two weeks- I don’t think I’ve watched as much Carl Sagan’s Cosmos at any other time in my life. I hope all you have had an equally relaxing holiday, and I hope that you’ll continue reading this blog avidly.
For one of my first posts for the new year, I have the much-delayed interview that did with Susan Heyboer O’Keefe, who skillfully wrote a brilliant, unofficial sequel to one of my favorite novels, Frankenstein. Since the anniversary of the original publication of Mary Shelley’s classic is today, I thought that this belated post, along with my in-depth review of the book tomorrow, would be more than appropriate to celebrate the life and work of Mary Shelley.
1. What originally piqued your interest in writing a sequel to Frankenstein?
First, let me thank you for your kind invitation to be here. You’ve put me in impressive company.
As to the sequel: Shelley’s Frankenstein ends with what I’ve always thought to be one of the most beautiful and haunting sentences I’ve ever read. The creature has boarded Walton’s ship, discovered Frankenstein’s body, and told its side of the story. Then, declaring that it has no place among the living, it avows to annihilate itself. It rushes past Walton, leaps from the ship, and lands on an ice floe.
Then that sentence:
It was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.
Beyond the poetry of the words themselves lingers keen ambiguity. Does the monster do what it says it will? The reader never knows. If the monster does—end of story.
But if it doesn’t…
2. Throughout the novel, I was gripped by your deft ability to capture the psychological depth of the monster from Frankenstein. Was finding the balance between your vision of the creature and something that was faithful to Mary Shelley’s particular vision challenging?
Challenging is a word I wouldn’t have used at the time. I’m rather unconscious about technique and just “work,” if you know what I mean. Perhaps if I were more aware of what I’m doing, I could have eliminated half of those endless drafts! However, I did do a lot of preparation, which I guess does answer the question. I read and reread and reread Shelley beforehand, and reread parts countless times, so that when I came to a particular scene of my own, I had a sense of wanting the monster to have the same emotional tenor as this or that point in the original.
3. Personally, I find watching Frankenstein adaptations to be a rather disillusioning venture at times. Then again, I’m naturally picky with any adaptations of my favorite novels. I’ve found the Kenneth Branagh adaptation, the classic Universal monster film adaptation, and the Hallmark television special to all be very disappointing. The recent London Theater adaptation, directed by Danny Boyle, remains my personal favorite. What is your personal favorite adaptation, and why do you think Frankenstein adaptations to be so particularly difficult to film?
Actually, the two Whale-Karloff movies are my favorites, even though they’re responsible for the terrible grunt-and-shuffle creature. Most movie distortions of books are awful or ludicrous, but the Whale-Karloff movies are powerful visions in their own right. At a certain point I had to let go of Shelley’s monster and my monster and just surrender. Whale’s monster is his own and deserves to live, whatever its origin.
Maybe that’s why later adaptations are so difficult to film. Whether consciously or not (witness how many films add Mary Shelley or The True Story to their title), on some level each one’s biggest challenge is to erase the indelible impression of those first movies—and this before even attempting to do justice to a classic.
4. Is there any other classic novel that you’d love to perhaps write a sequel for in the near future?
I was shocked by how many reviewers talked about my “audacity” for tackling so classic a work as Frankenstein (and relieved that they then liked it; a few even said Shelley herself might have written it). Honestly, that unnerved me. At no point did it occur to me that what I was doing was audacious and daring by approaching such a seminal work. I was just a writer, responding to questions that I had as a reader, prompted by a wonderful book. If I wrote a sequel to another classic now, I’d be more aware of such things beforehand—that there would be, or at least perceived to be, this supposed audacity, and that many people would judge the work additionally on that basis—which would color things from the beginning and maybe prevent my doing it again.
In any case, there’s no classic I can think that I’d like to write a sequel for, although who knows what questions the very next book will make me ask?
Thanks again Susan for participating in this interview and offering thoughtful analysis about the process behind writing this brilliant sequel to a great novel!
For More Information About Both This Book and Susan’s other noteworthy works: Check out the following links!Susan’s Author Website