Be glad in the Lord and rejoice! Psalm 32:11

Monday, October 8, 2012

Author Interview - Robin Maxwell, author of "Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan"

I'm happy today to be hosting author Robin Maxwell, author of "Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan."

Robin was gracious enough to answer a few questions about her writing and her inspirations.

Your latest novel Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan was released on September 18th. How did you come up with the idea of writing this story from Jane's point of view?

 Tarzan was my first heartthrob.  After all, what girl wouldn’t crave the undying affection of a gorgeously muscled, scantily clad he-man (and an English lord at that) living free from the confines of civilization in a lush paradise?  Though I'd read Tarzan comic books, I’d never dipped into a single Edgar Rice Burroughs novel.  Yet Tarzan and Jane were as hard-wired into my fantasy life and consciousness as any characters in popular culture.


“Sheena Queen of the Jungle” was my favorite TV show.  And who didn’t love the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films with the peppery sophisticate Maureen O’Sullivan as his “mate,” Jane.  I waited breathlessly for the film “Greystoke,” but was sorely disappointed by the filmmakers decision to keep their Jane (Andie MacDowell) from setting foot in Africa till the last frame of the movie.  By 1999 when Disney made their animated "Tarzan" I'd stopped caring, and didn't even both going to see it.

I’d just completed my manuscript of O, JULIET when the question arose as to the subject of my next novel.  I’d had a ball with my take on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” fleshing out the characters, their world and families, and expanding the timeline from three days to three months.  Riding down the road one day with my husband, Max, he wondered if I might want to choose another pair of literary lovers rather than historical characters.  When I told him I liked the idea he asked who they would be.  Not three seconds passed before I blurted out, “Tarzan and Jane!”

“Where did that come from?” Max wanted to know.  At the time I had no memory of Sheena or the old Weissmuller/O’Sullivan movies, but the images must have been bubbling in the depths of my subconscious just waiting to erupt like magma from a dormant volcano.  The more I thought about it, the better the idea became. 

Would you share a little about the importance of having strong female characters versus the more common 'damsel in distress'?

 I've been writing strong women ahead-of-their-time for so long now that I can't imagine having a damsel in distress as a protagonist.  The gutsy women (there were so many of them in history), besides being so much more interesting to write about, are the role models for future generations.  More than ever, people -- men and women alike -- need to be strong to survive in this world.  We all need to learn to stand on our own two feet, move forward fearlessly, practice kindness and compassion, and accomplish something in our life.  That "something" can be anything from bringing up a child well to making a beautiful garden out of your backyard or rooftop, to teaching, to having a high-powered career, to making art, to rescuing animals.  I hope that my heroines, whether real-life or fiction, inspire men as well as women to aspire to their personal best or perhaps to greatness. If you want to hear about eight hundred of the greatest sung and unsung females in history, read my dear friend Vicki Leon's four volumes of UPPITY WOMEN (of The Ancient World; The Middle Ages; The Renaissance and The New World).  They're brilliantly researched and laugh-out-loud funny.

Your previous books display a perfect blend of history mixed with fiction. How did you come up with this formula of storytelling?  Do you begin a project by studying the historical elements, or with the emotional side of the characters?

Generally I find a female historical figure with a good story.  I always look for "an angle," since many of my women have been written about numerous times. A good example is SECRET DIARY OF ANNE BOLEYN, about Elizabeth I and her mother, Anne Bolyen. 

There had been countless renditions of both of them, but I discovered in my research that no historian had ever linked the two of them in any more than a single paragraph.  Now here was a daughter who, by the age of twenty-five when she became Queen of England, had not spoken her mother's name for twenty years, so tarnished was Queen Anne's reputation (adulterer, whore, witch, traitor).  Yet within a few years of taking the throne Elizabeth began wearing a locket with her mother's miniature in it, and started honoring the Boleyn relatives that had made it through Henry VIII's bloody reign alive.  I asked myself: "Why did Elizabeth have that 180° change of heart?  Had she learned something about her mother that caused the shift?  Had she learned the truth about Anne?  What is the best way to discover the truth about someone?  Read their diary!  People don't lie in their diaries.  So I "wrote" Anne Boleyn's diary and put it in Elizabeth's hands just after she'd taken the throne.  Reading it changes the course of Elizabeth's life.

Or I find a fabulous female character that no one has heard of, like Grace O'Malley -- the Pirate Queen who was Elizabeth I's rival, but most importantly the "Mother of the Irish Rebellion."  Massive research into the women's parallel lives produced one of my proudest creations, THE WILD IRISH.


In the case of SIGNORA DA VINCI I began by wishing to write about Leonardo da Vinci, the most brilliant and fascinating man in history...but my publishers wanted a book from a woman's point of view.  Leonardo didn't have a wife, a daughter, a mistress or a sister.  He, of course, had a mother, but history tells us next-to-nothing about Caterina of Vinci. There's loads to read about Leonardo and 1,080 pages of his own writings on every imaginable subject.  There's also scads of material about the Italian Renaissance, Florence, the Medici family, other artists of the period like Botticelli, as well as the great  philosophers.  So I "extrapolated" the character of Caterina from the facts that I DID know, particularly about Leonardo - but largely out of thin air, and once again SIGNORA DA VINCI is one of my favorite and most satisfying creations. 


My thanks to Robin Maxwell for taking time out of her busy schedule to talk about her writing, and to Amy Bruno with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for including me on this blog tour. 

For my review of "Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan," click on this link - http://sharonsgardenofbookreviews.blogspot.com/2012/09/book-blog-tour-stop-jane-woman-who.html



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