Welcome everyone! Today Robin Maxwell, author of Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan which releases on September 18, joins us here at the blog with an interview (pre-prepared from publicist) and a fantastic giveaway. I’m anxious to read this book as I’ll admit to always having a fascination with Tarzan and Jane and can’t wait to read it; not to mention it also comes from an author who I admire (having several of her novels on my bookshelf). It sounds like a thrilling adventure and I’m excited to tell you about it and be sure to enter for a chance to win one of three copies up for grabs and read it for yourself! Enjoy the interview…
1. Tell us about your book.
The story of Tarzan and Jane is the wildest, most primal and overtly sexual iteration of the Romeo and Juliet legend in all of literature and pop culture. These two are buried deep in everyone’s subconscious. In fact, the idea for writing my version of a cultured Edwardian lady falling passionately in love with a naked savage in an African eden came shockingly unbidden to me — “Like magma erupting suddenly from a long-dormant volcano.”
Writing JANE: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan was a journey of discovery in re-imagining the iconic story exactly a century after the debut of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s “Tarzan of the Apes,” the first of twenty-four novels. It was a challenge to retain the period veneer and classic adventure style that were ERB hallmarks, while appealing to discerning modern readers. For this I turned to science and history where Burroughs had employed fantasy and suspension of disbelief. My lifelong fascination with and deep research into paleoanthropology and Darwin’s “missing link” in human evolution were woven into my narrative. I had to revamp my protagonist from a meek, turn-of-the-century “maiden” into a stroppy, fearless young woman with dreams of a scientific career who — for the love of a man like no other — transmogrifies into “Jane, Queen of the Jungle.”
2. What was your inspiration behind this novel?
I didn’t realize it till recently, but my first heartthrob was Tarzan. To a pubescent girl with raging hormones and an out-of-control imagination, what could be more appealing than a next-to-naked, gorgeously muscled he-man? A guy who lived totally free, who feared nothing, and had wild, death-defying adventures in a jungle paradise? The romantic in me adored that he was madly in love with and devoted to an American girl…and had a chimpanzee for a pet. You can’t get much better than that.
My favorite TV show when I was growing up was “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.” Irish McCalla was incredibly sexy in that tiny leopardskin dress and those thick gold armbands. Sheena had adventures that polite young ladies weren’t supposed to have. I also loved “Jungle Jim” and “Ramar of the Jungle.” And while I’d never read the Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan novels, I’d relished all the Weissmuller/O’Sullivan movies late at night on TV. Though I didn’t realize it then, there was a pattern emerging. The jungle. Fabulous African animals. High adventure and sweaty thighs in skimpy leopard-skin outfits.
I started growing up and Tarzan slipped out of my consciousness. But when I heard about the movie called “Greystoke,” I was first in line on opening night. I loved the beginning, but the second half left me cold. I could not believe that Jane never even made it into the jungle. It was sacrilege! Bo Derek’s “Tarzan the Ape Man” was simply unwatchable. And by the time Disney made its animated feature, I was “too old” for Tarzan, and didn’t bother to go.
What I didn’t realize was that – like people in nearly every country on the planet – I still had Tarzan and Jane jungle fantasies buried in my brain.
So now FLASH BACK to almost three years ago. I had been an historical novelist for fifteen years and had eight published books under my belt. The question arose as to the subject of my next project. My last had been the first novelistic interpretation in all of literary history of that most famous love story, “Romeo and Juliet”.
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 for my next book. I thought, to myself, “Yeah, that’s a great idea.” And then he asked who they would be. Not three seconds passed before I blurted out, “Tarzan and Jane!” Max’s first reaction was “What!? Really? Where did that come from?” He was very dubious. At the time I had no memory of Sheena, Ramar or Jungle Jim. Or even of the old Weissmuller/O’Sullivan movies. But the images must have been bubbling in the depths of my subconscious like magma waiting to erupt from a dormant volcano.
3. You’ve been a screenwriter for over 30 years. How does your educational and professional background lend itself to your creative work?
I never imagine that my studies in the gross anatomy lab at Tufts University Medical School (when I was training to become an occupational therapist) would ever come in so handy writing one of my novels. But as it turns out, Jane Porter is introduced as a character in England while she dissecting her first cadaver in the gross anatomy laboratory at Cambridge University Medical School where her father is the professor. In those days (1905) women were allowed to audit classes at Cambridge, but not graduate, and Professor Porter has moved mountains to get her into his dissection lab. It was a great way to introduce a strong, stroppy, no-nonsense Edwardian lady at a time when women of her class were expected to enjoy afternoon teas and tennis parties…and never talk back to a man.
Later, when Jane finds herself alone with Tarzan — a near-naked, drop-dead gorgeous savage — she has to balance her instant primal attraction to the wild-haired young man with the social mores with which she’s grown up. So she falls back on her anatomy training, becoming a “scientific observer,” only to realize that she’s just hot for the handsome ape man.
Excerpt from JANE:
Tarzan’s back was a masterpiece of musculature. Under the slightly tanned skin rippled and bulged two mighty triangular trapezii, massive latissimi dorsi running from armpit to waist, a spinal column sunk within a deep canal and bordered on either side by a column of little erector spinae and intertransversarii muscles connecting one vertibra to another. The proud, well-formed head sat atop a powerful neck with its two brilliantly defined sterno-clieto-mastoid muscles, allowing him maximum flexibility and strength.
I could not decide whether I was most fascinated by Tarzan’s arms and hands or his buttocks. The forearms were nearly as large as the upper arms, with the most massive wrists I had ever seen on a human being — even the masons who worked on the Manor rockwork. His hands themselves were living machines that allowed him feats of unbelievable strength, yet were capable of the most extreme dexterity and tenderness. The thought of those hands moving over my body in the Waziri hut made me suddenly weak and giddy, and I admonished myself to concentrate lest I lose my footing and fall to my demise.
A moment later, however, I found myself contemplating Tarzan’s thighs. They were meaty and well-formed, with a quality that hardened them to steel when in use, and softened them when at rest. The feet, and his toes in particular, could curl round a limb and grip with astonishing tensile power. But the man’s arse, I thought, was one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World…
Well honestly, I must stop these prurient observations! I could tell myself all day long I was studying his magnificent physique “in the name of science,” but that was blatant self-deception, and I was mortified by my prurient motivations.
As for my screenwriting background, I believe that so many years of having to write passages so descriptively and colorfully that an actor, director or film executive reading it can “see it” perfectly as it would be up on the screen, gave me a leg-up in writing novels. Another skill I honed was pacing — keeping the plot moving at a brisk pace. I had a terrific teach (and sometimes co-writer) Ronald Shusett, the writer-producer of “Alien,” “Total Recall” and “Minority Report.” He was a master of pacing and never let me get away with a single lagging moment, especially in the third act. That, he told me, was where you needed almost no dialogue, just fantastic action sequences and a bang-up ending. I really made use of that intelligence writing JANE, the ending of which many of which liken to an Indiana Jones movie.
4. Your last novel, O Juliet, focused on the great love story between Romeo and Juliet. Which do you prefer to write about: literary lovers or historical figures?
When you’re dealing with historical lovers, it’s a double-edged sword. While you’re bound (as good historical fiction authors are) to adhere to the facts that are known about a romance, you are also given the great gift of an already blocked-out story. And it’s been my experience — writing about the likes of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley — that truth is stranger than fiction. In my wildest dreams I could not have come up with a more passionate, dysfunctional, history-changing and bloody love stories than these. Come on! A king who moves mountains (including a break with the Catholic Church and executing his best friends) to divorce his first wife to marry his second. A beautiful, clever non-royal woman who manages to keep the already-scary monarch out of her bed for six thigh-sweating years — only to marry him and have her head chopped off for bearing him a daughter and not a son?! You couldn’t make that up.
I do like literary lovers. Once again I’m provided with a brilliant framework (no less than Shakespeare for O, Juliet and Edgar Rice Burroughs for JANE: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan) but then I can go wild. In both cases, while the original writing was fantastic, there was a huge amount of room for character and plot development. In O, Juliet the protagonists were fourteen and fifteen, and their love affair ending in double-suicide took place over a three day period. I made them eighteen and twenty-three and stretched the story over three months, allowing for more believability and for readers to really get to know Romeo and Juliet, as well as their families and something of the city they lived in – Florence (not Verona — again, literary license!).
In the original Tarzan of the Apes (1912) the first of ERB’s twenty-four Tarzan novels, Jane was written as a swooning, fainting Baltimore belle who actually brings her black maid on a treasure-hunting expedition to Africa. By permission of the ERB estate, I was able to take artistic liberties with the character of Jane, though there were rules that I was forced to adhere to. This was a document called “The Tarzan Universe,” a list of twenty-one rules (such as, “Tarzan may not drink alcoholic beverages” “Tarzan may not harm women” “Tarzan may not be a racist” etc.) so that the dignified Tarzan legacy is preserved.
The one that threw me was #17: “Tarzan may not have elicit sex” (read: “sex outside of marriage”). I put my foot down on that one, insisting to the board of directors that if Tarzan and Jane couldn’t “do the wild thing” in my novel, I wouldn’t write it. We amended #17 to read, “Tarzan and Jane may have sex, as long as it is handled tastefully.” In addition, I had to promise there would be no “throbbing members” mentioned, and I was good to go.
5. Jane, your protagonist, is clearly a trailblazer. Do you think she is largely ignored as a strong feminist example in popular culture? Why or why not?
This requires a complicated answer because it has so many moving parts. The way people perceive the character of Jane Porter in popular culture comes from two sources — the twenty-four ERB Tarzan novels in which she was only a character in eight, and the movies (and to a much lesser degree some short-lived Tarzan TV series). In the earliest books Edgar Rice Burroughs, a product of his times and societal values, wrote Jane as “everygirl,” not a bold suffragette, but a Baltimore belle thrown for a short time into an exotic situation with an even more exotic man. In later books, such as Tarzan the Terrible, Jane has definitely evolved. She has learned “the art of woodcraft,” is resourceful, capable of handling herself alone in the jungle, killing to defend herself, and even leading a group of people through the jungle to safety.
However, most people today don’t read the original novels of ERB. We are left to the movie portrayals of Jane Porter. The most famous was Maureen O’Sullivan’s (including “Tarzan the Ape Man” -1932- and “Tarzan and His Mate” – 1934) who happily donned skimpy and quite fetching costumes and swung around in the jungle with her lover, engaging in rather shocking out-of-wedlock sex. She even did a four-minute long nude underwater swimming sequence with Tarzan that so enraged the nascent Hollywood censors that from then on Jane was forced to cover up in little brown leather dresses…and true Hollywood censorship was born.
Janes of the 50s, 60s and 70s were mere pretty appendages to Tarzan. Bo Derek tried to put the focus (1984) in which Tarzan doesn’t meet Jane (a gorgeous young Andie McDowell) until he’s brought back to England. Their love affair is conducted in an Edwardian mansion, and Jane never even sets foot in the jungle!
For my role model as I was growing up I had “Sheena Queen of the Jungle,” my favorite TV . A beautiful leggy blonde — Irish McCalla — could hunt and fight and survive like her male counterpart, Tarzan.
Since I’m known in my historical fiction writing for strong, ahead-of-their-time females, I knew “my Jane” would be no different. Because she lived much later than my historical heroines and herself had role models (women explorers and adventurers like Mary Kingsley and Annie Smith Peck) I had much more freedom to make her a feminist — what was in those days known as a “New Woman.” These women were feared and hated, much as feminists are today. It was thought that if there were enough of them, they could bring down the British empire.
6. This is the first authorized Tarzan novel written by a woman—what is the story behind receiving approval from the Edgar Rice Burroughs Estate?
I was fortunate that two of my dearest friends had been dealing with the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate on a screen adaptation of the first of ERB’s novels, The Outlaw of Torn, and I knew from their experience that one did not tread anywhere near a Burroughs creation without great peril to one’s self. And of course I desperately wanted the blessings and authorization for my concept from the estate, as much as I needed them.
So, first things first. I got myself a copy of Tarzan of the Apes and read it thoroughly. Of course I was blown away by the storytelling and the astonishing imagery. But lurking behind every banana leaf and every elephant’s ear were, in my writer’s mind, fabulous opportunities for telling this brilliant classic in a new way.
So I revved up my courage and sent a letter of introduction to Jim Sullos, president of ERB, Inc. That very day I got a call from him, and before I knew it he was demanding to know what my “great new idea” for a Tarzan novel was. So I unchoked my throat and told him: “The Tarzan story from Jane’s point of view.” At that point I had only the most basic “beats” of the adventure that would bring Tarzan and Jane together. But I was confident that it was good.
I didn’t have to wait long – maybe 3 seconds – before Jim blurted, “I love it. It’s original. It’s never been done like this before in a Tarzan novel.” And surprising me even more – because at that point I didn’t know Jim from Adam – one of the reasons he liked it so much was because it was a romance. Since then I’ve learned what a big, sweet-hearted guy he is, so now it doesn’t surprise me at all. And funnily enough, when I saw the cover of the All Story Magazine where “Tarzan of the Apes” debuted, there in the bottom right corner, it read: “A Romance of the Jungle!”
It was during this phone meeting that Jim explained that 2012 was the one hundreth anniversary of the All Story publication. We figured it out, and realized that if we timed it properly, my book could be written and published in time for the “Tarzan Centennial Year.” This was fabulous news.
But suddenly I was faced with the prospect of coming up with a detailed outline of my novel, something that Jim could pitch to the ERB, Inc. board of directors. Doing an outline for a novel (especially one with historical elements) is no small task. People think you can just “throw together a few pages.” But that’s not how it works. If you want to get it right, this is the time that you do a good portion of your research. This is the time you develop your characters and fill in the beats of your story. The way I work, I have the beginning, middle and end (and a good idea of everything else inbetween) all blocked out in my proposal. And as it always happens when I’m researching a novel, exactly the right books find their way into my hands. It’s almost like magic.
First I bought the The Big Book of Tarzan (with eight of the early novels all in one doorstop-of-a-book) and about four dozen research books. There were ones on the rape of colonial Africa; missing links in human evolution, Jane Goodall and chimpanzees, Dian Fossey’s gorillas, feral children, Victorian and Edwardian woman, Edgar Rice Burroughs, explorations and big game hunting in West Africa circa 1900, as well as the trbes of Central and West Africa. Being a thoroughly modern researcher, I surfed the web and printed out tons more stuff from that. I even toyed with the idea of dinosaurs in my story, and looked into tales of the fearsome “Mokele Mbembe” along the Ogowe River.
I re-watched the old Weissmuller/O’Sullivan movies. Of course I was blown away by the raw sensuality of the first couple of movies. But after about six I had to stop, because Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan never seemed to get any smarter or more eloquent. And Maureen O’Sullivan, lovely as she was – and she was lovely – seemed to have lost her wildness and passion. The early sexy costumes had been replaced with cover-up-everything dresses. We later learned that the censors had had a go at her, which was a real shame. I think I hit my limit in “Tarzan Finds a Son,” when Jane says to their adopted son, “Boy, go down to the river and get me some caviar and we’ll put it in the refrigerator.” The elephant-driven elevator up to the tree hut was final straw.
But the more I read, the more into focus my story became. I knew I wanted to honor ERB, to stay as true to his intentions and spirit as possible. But one hundred years had passed, and I knew from my experience in the publishing world exactly what today’s readers expected and demanded…and what wouldn’t fly. Tastes had changed, and sensibilities, too. The story had to be fresh, relevant, and acciessible to a wide audience.
One of the things that’s been beaten into my head as an author in the last fifteen years is that 70% of fiction readers are women. I think that’s something that’s changed over the last hundred years, but in any event, my publishers are always nagging me to write things from a woman’s point of view. Sometimes I grumble, and argue with them, but in this case I was all for telling the story through Jane’s eyes. That’s what would make it different. And that was exactly what had appealed to Jim Sullos at ERB, Inc.
Of course women, on the whole, were far different a century ago than they are now – their lot in life, the rights they had and didn’t have, and the way they were perceived (especially by male writers). So although I wanted to set my book precisely when ERB set Tarzan of the Apes – turn of the twentieth century – I was determined that my Jane was going to be a forward-thinking, strong-minded, brilliantly educated female of her day. Somebody that would resonate with modern women.
With all of my initial research done and my story blocked out from start to finish, I went back into the Burroughs office and I pitched for five hours to Jim. Though he liked it, he had to get the okay from the estate where my story and characters diverged from ERB’s. It took several weeks, but one day I got the call – a go-ahead with JANE, with all the points that I needed to bring the story up to date and make it my own. Since then, Jim, John R. Burroughs (grandson of ERB) and every employee of ERB, Inc. have been incredibly supportive and have made anything and everything in the amazing Tarzan archives available to me, including one hundred years of Tarzan and Jane images that have proved to be great inspirations to my writing.
7. Who, in your opinion, is your target audience?
The easiest target audience is women and men age 50+. This is because either they read the ERB Tarzan novels or — more likely — were fans of the Johnnie Weissmuller/Maureen O’Sullivan movies. Men had boyhood fantasies of being Tarzan, and girls either wanted to be Jane or they loved the idea of a wild, handsome half-naked boyfriend. When this demographic hears my book is “The Tarzan story from Jane’s point of view” they go nuts. They “get it” instantly, and they say “I can’t wait to buy it!”
My question to you is: are there blogs that are widely read by 50+ fiction readers?
The 35-50 crowd probably never read the ERB novels and was exposed to the inferior Tarzan movies. However, in this group, are many historical fiction readers (and much of my fan base), romance readers (this is a romance novel at its core), and females who read women’s fiction. Here, you’ll also find sci-fi/fantasy/adventure readers, and as you know, JANE is chock full of adventure. You should add sci-fi/fantasy readers as I take license with science, Darwin’s theories and missing links in human evolution. The Mangani as a “living missing link species” is — in my estimation possible. They would be like an isolated tribe of “Bigfoot” creatures (which have never been disproven). But most consider this borders on sci-fi/fantasy.
The youngest readers (18-25) only ever saw the Disney animated “Tarzan,” “Tarzan and Jane,” and “George of the Jungle.” Some don’t have a clue who Tarzan is, and don’t “get” how cool a Tarzan story told through Jane’s eyes is. They might never have heard of Jane! That doesn’t mean I want to forget targeting this audience. After all, both Tarzan and Jane in JANE are fabulous 20-year-olds having an extraordinary adventure and sexy love story. And I have (especially with O, Juliet) been favorably reviewed by YA bloggers.
8. Do you see any yourself in any of these characters?
Of course I want to be Jane, defying a repressive society, traveling to an exotic location and being left entirely alone in paradise with a gorgeous, uninhibited male specimen who can protect me from virtually anything, loves me to distraction and makes wild primal love to me. Don’t you?!
About Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan
Cambridge, England, 1905. Jane Porter is hardly a typical woman of her time: the only female student in Cambridge University’s medical program, she is far more comfortable in a lab coat dissecting corpses than she is in a corset and gown sipping afternoon tea. A budding paleoanthropologist, Jane dreams of traveling the globe in search of fossils that will prove the evolutionary theories of her scientific hero, Charles Darwin. Little does she know she is about to develop from a well-bred, brilliantly educated Edwardian young woman to a fierce, vine-swinging huntress who meets and falls in love with Tarzan.
And so begins JANE: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan (A Tor trade paperback; September 18, 2012; $14.99), the first retelling of Tarzan written by a woman and authorized by the Edgar Rice Burroughs Estate. This renowned love story of the ultimate strong female protagonist, by award-winning author and screenwriter Robin Maxwell, deftly entwines real people and events with archaeology and ancient civilizations based on Maxwell’s research into Darwinian evolutionary theory and the historical discoveries of paleoanthropologist Eugene Dubois.
When dashing American explorer Ral Conrath invites Jane and her father to join an expedition deep into West Africa, she can hardly believe her luck. Africa is every bit as exotic and fascinating as she has always imagined, but Jane quickly learns that the lush jungle is full of secrets—and so is Ral Conrath. When danger strikes, Jane finds her hero, the key to humanity’s past, and an all-consuming love in one extraordinary man: Tarzan of the Apes.
About Robin Maxwell
ROBIN MAXWELL is the national bestselling author of eight historical fiction novels featuring powerful women, including Signora da Vinci and the award-winning Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn, now in its 24th printing. She lives in the high desert of California with her husband, yogi Max Thomas.
GIVEAWAY DETAILS (US/Canada)
I have 3 copies of Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan by Robin Maxwell up for grabs courtesy of the publicist. To enter…
- For 1 entry leave me a comment entering the giveaway.
- For 2 entries, follow my blog. Let me know if you already do so I can be sure to pass the extra entry on to you as well.
- For 3 entries blog or tweet this giveaway and spread the word!
This giveaway is open to US and Canadian residents (no PO boxes) and I will draw for the winners on Saturday, September 29/12. Good luck!