Carolyn Hennesy: Pandora Gets Heroic

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Carolyn Hennesy

Carolyn Hennesy is a busy person these days. Not content with her recurring role as Diane Miller on the long-running soap opera, General Hospital, she has taken on a role on the upcoming series Cougartown, and also begun publishing a series of young adult novels retelling and reconstructing the mythical Pandora that is being widely acclaimed for its humor and adventure.
I was graced with the opportunity to chat with the ever delightful Ms. Hennessy about Pandora, Cougartown, the near future of General Hospital and Hennesy's skill at the art of... the flying trapeze?
I've just finished reading the first Pandora novel, and I have to say that the idea is a combination of such genius to reimagine Pandora's story into a quest series, and yet such obviousness that I can't believe no one had done it already. Can you fill us in on what it was that caused the idea to bloom?
The only reason I can think of that nobody has thought of it before is because I was simply meant to write it. I was in a writing workshop about five years ago, just noodling around and being somewhat of a dilettante. I was working on a series of short stories based on misunderstood women in fiction, kind of in the vein of Gregory Maguire's Wicked. I was taking women in classical literature who had gotten a raw deal -- kind of like Eve, or Pandora. You know? "Let's blame everything on one woman."
I was using some other literary figures as well, but I happened to be reading in class one day this five-page short story I had written which basically makes up chapter five [of Pandora Gets Jealous]. Chapter five is much like the backbone of the short story I had written, taking Pandora and making her sort of a hapless teenager who just messed up really big. There was a visiting author from Ireland auditing the class, and he heard me read it and he said, "First of all, that's not a short story, that's a novel for young adults. A happens, B happens, and C happens. Can you write 1000 words a day? If you can, in the next six weeks you will have the first draft of your first novel." And I said, "Sure!"
And I took it and ran with it, and said, why does it have to be a single novel? If there are going to be, let's say, seven evils in the box, why can't there be a novel dedicated to her getting back each of these great evils -- never realizing what I was letting myself into!
So that's really how it started: He had the idea to turn it into a novel, I had the idea to turn it into a series.
It seems all successful tween adventures series seem to come in sevens -- Garth Nix's Keys to the Kingdom series, for example, or that thing by J.K Rowling --
I'm sorry, J.K. who? (laughs) Oh! The English woman! Right! She at the vanguard!
So it's fortunate that there were seven deadly sins for Pandora to capture, and now you've already answered that there will be seven books in the Pandora series.
There will be seven books. And they are the seven deadly sins, but, for instance, there is no Gluttony as a deadly sin. I've replaced that with something. There's no Pride -- I've replaced that with Fear. So there's Rage and Vanity, Jealousy and Envy, but I've tweaked them just a little bit.
I was reading down the list of plagues that were mentioned in the books thus far, and I'm particularly curious how in the future you will handle, in a tween-targeted novel --
Yes, I know exactly what you're asking.
-- how are you going to handle Lust?
That, to me, is probably -- to date -- the best book I think I've written. It is the most fun, because I never really do touch on carnal lust.
It all takes place at what is, historically speaking, one of the great weddings. This is where I am convinced that the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, all of the subsequent storytellers, read Greek mythology. There's a fabulous wedding between a mortal king and a goddess, and all the gods and goddesses are invited except for one. And she shows up, she's barred from the door, and she tosses in a golden apple -- the golden apple of discord. It says, "To the fairest," and all three of the major goddesses fight over this apple and Zeus sends them away, saying "You're wrecking the buzz of the room -- you're cramping the style of this wedding. So all of you go to Mt. Ida, find a shepherd named Paris, and let him judge."
You've already written this one -- is this the fourth or fifth book in the series?
Book four is going through its final edit at the publisher's. Right now I'm in the middle of book five.
And who are we capturing in book five?
In book five we're capturing Rage -- Pandora Gets Angry. Pandy Gets Miffed. (laughs)
So the title of the fourth book is...?
Pandora Gets Heart. They're very excited about this, they can do "I 'heart' Pandy" shirts. The publishing house came up with that in New York.
The books nicely balance adventure with some absurd humor, particularly as it involves the Greek gods and Hera's disdain for Pandora -- over a cookie sales competition, of all things.
Traditionally, Hera was the meanest, the basest, the pettiest of all the gods and goddesses, period. And that's saying something, because they were always turning people into trees, or spiders, or monsters -- this and that -- at the drop of a hat!
Hera had some validation for it, because her husband was basically chasing after anything that moved. So she had, in a way, centuries -- an eternity -- to become jealous, jealous, jealous, literally looking over her shoulder at her husband all the time. But traditionally, she was small and mean and petty. And so it makes perfect sense that she would hate -- she would hate Pandora's mother, because Zeus loved Pandora's mother, this mortal woman named Sybilline, and then she would obviously hate the offspring. And when it came down to an oatie cake -- essentially a Girl Scout Cookie contest -- this is the perfect thing she can wrap her mind around.
As mortals -- as human beings -- holding a grudge... some people have made it an art form! The Hatfields and the McCoys. Romeo and Juliet. Over what? Over nothing! Sometimes we don't even remember what the small slight was. Hera does take it to an art form.
I appreciate that you don't shy away from Zeus's philandering ways, and other more mature concepts in the series. Pandy even brings up to her father that every kid's mom has a gift from Zeus.
Yes, "All the kid's mothers have those." Absolutely! Well, you can sugar-coat it to a point, and I do understand that I am not Edith Hamilton. Now, I was reading Edith Hamilton, who did not sugar-coat anything, when I was eleven. But that was my choice. She wasn't writing for young adults, I just -- as a young adult -- picked it up. But if I am consciously writing for young adults, I don't want to go against traditional myth when I don't have to, but I also need to be very conscious of my audience. I mean, Zeus -- he married his sister! How wrong is that?
It seems the sometimes forgotten rule for authors when writing young adult fiction is that they're actually writing fiction for the parents of young adults.
Exactly! And I can't tell you the number of parents who have said, Bless you! This is now a primer for our young girls -- and young boys. I've actually had a number of young boys come up to me and ask, "What happens to Dido? What happens to this?" And it's so gratifying for me, because I'm able to look at them, and grab onto them and say, "This means you read the book! You know that Dido's in trouble, that Alcie has two left feet!" It's so gratifying for me.
The humor puts me in mind of Kevin Sorbo's Hercules: The Legendary Journeys series, with the very anachronistic modern philosophy overlaying ancient customs.
Exactly! You know, one editor really wanted me to take out one scene in the very beginning of book one where the girls are in the Agora, the ancient Greek market. And I said, "These girls are like today's girls -- they love to go to the mall! They love to go shopping! That's their thing." So I really fought very hard not to have that taken out. So girls of ancient Greece were just like the girls today.
Have there been any discussions about translating the Pandora books into other media?
There have! We are finally in negotiations with several outlets. We wanted to let them know -- and they needed to know -- that Pandora book one wasn't a one-off. They wanted to see things on the shelf that they could start working on, and see that, yes, this is a series. They didn't want to commit to a series and then have it die out in book two. Three or four books on the shelf gives them the confidence to proceed.
Speaking of series -- and jumping to a completely different track -- you have a new television show coming out soon.
(laughs) I do! It's interesting -- it's not my show, it's so most definitely the show of Courtney Cox, Bill Lawrence -- who created it with Courtney and David Arquette, and who is the creator of Scrubs and Spin City; no small track record there! But it is definitely her show. I acquitted myself well, I believe, in the pilot.
It's called Cougar Town. Courtney Cox plays a recently-divorced forty-something in a small seaside city in Florida. Her husband was a ne'er-do-well, her teenaged son is constantly embarrassed by her, and she'd been leading one style of life for forty-something years -- and now that's all changed. She sees men going out with younger women -- her next door neighbor is this philanderer, who hasn't even been divorced two weeks -- so why is it okay for him to do that, and not okay for her to have a new relationship? She has these wonderful friends -- Christa Miller, Busy Philipps -- and they say, "We're going to get you back in the saddle," so to speak. They take her to this club, and she sees me, a contemporary of hers, also a realtor. I'm a very strait-laced, conservative, demure realtor by day, and then she sees me at this club and I am a Queen Cougar, basically all over anything under 25 in tight pants. And the wacky hijinks ensue.
So that's what I'm up to starting in August, and if the pilot is any indication it is going to be more fun than you can shake a stick at.
You were also in a film called "The Cougar Club," and there's a reality dating series out called The Cougar.
"The Cougar Club" was very interesting -- it's one of those films, I believe, that everyone got sent a script and then other things were shot. Because I remember seeing the movie, the scene that I'm in, and then watching the rest of the movie thinking, "I never read that in the script," and "Where did that come from?" So I think it was slightly raunchier than I would have liked. (laughs) But, you know, I wasn't editing the thing.
I guess the term, cougar -- I'd always thought it was slightly denigrating, but it seems to have been accepted and embraced by women in their forties.
Oh, absolutely! It stands for women empowering themselves. It stands for women not necessarily going out with protector/father/supplier figures -- that they are the ones in charge, that they will no longer be dominated by an older man.
It's normal for men to want [another] woman, going out with trophy wives and dumping their loyal steadfast partners of umpteen years for younger models. When women do find themselves single, why is it wrong that they want to take comfort and just have a good time with a younger man? There's nothing wrong with it -- it's become kind of a badge of honor.
You've also done quite a bit of stage acting. Is there anything in the near future where fans can find you on the stage?
I do not at the moment. I sort of made a promise to myself last year that I was not going to do any stage work until book four was written. And I broke that just for a very short stint over the holidays -- I did Peter Pan up in Santa Barbara with the Santa Barbara Theater Company, and that was wonderful! It was sort of like a little vacation. Cougar Town hadn't shown up on the horizon, yet, and General Hospital was on hiatus, so that was nice -- I was able to take my laptop up and do some writing as well.
I'm trying to get book five written ASAP, only because General Hospital has now really kicked back into high gear for me, and Cougar Town is starting up, so I don't know... between those three things -- writing, General Hospital, Cougar Town -- I wouldn't want to give short shrift to any sort of stage work. Something would suffer, and I can't afford to have that -- I can't afford to have anything suffer right now.
Speaking of General Hospital, there are no fans hungrier for advance spoilers of storylines than soap opera viewers -- so I have to ask, can you spare any particularly juicy details regarding the future of your character, Diane Miller?
For the future of Diane? I wish I could! Here's the thing: I am not one of the "elite few" -- Maurice. Steve. Nancy Lee Grahn. Laura Wright. -- who actually get to go up to the fifth floor and sit down and have a nice long chat with Bob Guza and Jill Farren Phelps and say, "Where is my character going?" These people know what's going to happen five, six months down the line. Diane is basically day-by-day, so I don't know what's going to happen.
I know that Alexis is in deep, deep trouble right now -- huge, huge trouble. She is going to do something with regards to her eldest daughter that could destroy Alexis's life -- and Diane is going to try to figure out every way underneath the sun to keep that from happening. She's going to staunchly stand by her friend. I think there's some funny stuff coming up with Max, that does not involve a marriage proposal, but might involve... (laughs) no, I can't spoil that!
I don't see a trial coming up in the foreseeable future, but basically there's some serious, serious goings-on with Alexis, and dear Alexis is playing it wrong right down the line, and Diane is trying to be the voice of reason, desperately trying to keep her friend from making one of the biggest mistakes of her life.
To wrap things up here, I'd be absolutely remiss if I didn't respond to the line in your bio that reads: Actress. Author. World Traveler. Trapeze Artist? Really?
(laughs) Let's just say that I have studied The Art of the Flying Trapeze. In fact, I went out a few days ago and got back up on the rig again.
When you've got so much going on, you're writing, General Hospital -- General Hospital started out as two days of work. The casting director called me up, a very good friend, and said, "I have two days of work for you on General Hospital. Are you interested?" And I said, "Sure!" Two and a half years later... God bless him! I'm building a shrine to the man in my house!
But, it has snowballed, wonderfully so, and I've got these books now, which all have deadlines. So flying on the trapeze has kind of gone by the wayside for just the moment, but I went back out and got up and started swinging again. I didn't realize how out of shape I was, but it's amazing what the body remembers -- and it's amazing what the body does not remember.
Why that over spelunking or skydiving?
You will never find me in a small crawlspace! I can't really say that I'm afraid of heights, can I? Because, really, thirty feet, three thousand feet? It might all just end up the same, you know, if you fall.
I had to learn a version of the trapeze. There are basically two versions of the trapeze: there's flying trapeze, and there is the hanging or static trapeze. You see a lot of the latter in Cirque du Soleil. Actually you see a lot of both, but, you know, the aerialist never leaves the bar in static trapeze, and I had to learn that for a production of "The Comedy of Errors" that I did while at university. I just fell in love with it! It's so graceful and beautiful, so athletic -- such core conditioning! Then I was introduced about six years ago to a man in the valley named Richie Gaona, and he is fourth generation circus. He's got a beautiful home in Woodland Hills, and he teaches trapeze. Neil Patrick Harris and I studied the trapeze together! And Neil's life has just taken off like a rocket, so I don't think he's been out there for a while. But we started studying together. Neil's a wonderful flyer. I became quite a proficient flyer. And I'm starting back up again -- I'm getting very excited!
From the hanging trapeze, the flying trapeze is a completely different animal -- much more exciting! You know, talk about getting over trust issues! You have to trust -- especially when you're a novice -- that they're going to send you off from the platform correctly, that the people handling the guidelines for your safety belts are, you know, not talking with somebody else while you're swinging, and that the catch is there on the other end to make it all right.