Thursday, October 4, 2012

Blog Tour Q&A with Robin Maxwell, Author of Jane

Please join me in welcoming author Robin Maxwell to Let Them Read Books! I loved Robin's newest novel, Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan, so much that I've put it on my list of favorite reads in 2012 (read my review)! I'm thrilled to have a set of questions and answers to share with you and a giveaway! Not one, but two of my fabulous readers will win their own copy of Jane!

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.

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" in 1932 and "Tarzan and His Mate" in 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 show. 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.

You are the first woman to write a novel about Tarzan and Jane. Were you aware that this was uncharted territory?

Actually, no. I knew next-to-nothing about ERB's novels (twenty-four of them) when the idea popped into my head. It was more about writing the book from a woman's perspective than anything else. It wasn't until I met with Jim Sullos, the president of the Burroughs estate and he filled me in on the history of the Tarzan books that I realized how few novels by writers other than Burroughs (of either sex) had been authorized. Unauthorized ones without the ERB copyright and trademark might get as far as bookstore shelves, but the estate would swoop in and have them removed. They were simply closed to the idea of adding any more books to the legacy. Jim told me that if I'd pitched the idea even the year before, I'd have had the door slammed in my face. New leadership at the company had only recently determined that the Tarzan legacy needed invigorating.  It was then that I realized the luck of my timing and the very good fortune of being the very first woman allowed to tread on such hallowed ground.

The beloved Jane Goodall celebrated your book as: "Finally an honest portrayal of the only woman of whom I have been really, really jealous. What a wonderful idea to write this book. Now I am jealous all over again!" What went through your mind when you heard this statement?

I wasn't thinking at all while I was shrieking with joy and disbelief, reading that blurb because Jane Goodall has for so long been my real-life (and still living) heroine. The endorsement was incredibly difficult to get because she travels three hundred days a year. I'd actually given up hope of getting a quote at all. I knew that she considered Burroughs's Jane "a wimp" and that she believed that she would have made a far better mate for Tarzan than the Jane Porter of the ERB novels. So for her to say what she did about my book -- calling it an "honest portrayal" and using the word "jealous" twice...well, I thought I'd died and gone to Heaven.

Thanks, Robin!
And now for the giveaway!

Want to score your own copy of Jane?
Simply leave a comment with your email address and you're entered!

This giveaway is open to residents of the U.S, Canada, and Europe, and ends at 11:59pm Sunday October 14. Winners will be selected at random.
Thanks, and good luck!

This giveaway is closed and the winners have been selected!
Stay tuned for more great book giveaways!


  1. What a neat quote from Jane Goodall. I have added Jane to my wish list, and would love to win a copy. Thanks for the giveaway.

  2. I've been circling around this book like a shark :) Really want to read it! Thank you for a gorgeous giveaway!

    impy80 at hotmail dot com

  3. I so want to read this book! Please enter me!

  4. I've seen this book a few times around the blogging world and it got rave reviews. I was never a true lover of Tarzan, but the thought of a book written solely about Jane is intriguing.

    1. Ugh, forgot the email. I always do that!
      Lmackesy @

  5. would love to read this book Jane fascinates

  6. Absolutely fascinating! Please count me in!

  7. A Jane Goodall endorsement?! I'm agog too -- that's AWESOME.

  8. The Jane Goodall story is excellent, congrats on the endorsement. So many of us revere this great woman. I met her once up in Canada, she's quite a force.

  9. I grew up watching Maureen O'Sullivan play Jane in the movies and I always wanted to be Jane and live in the jungle. I would love to read this one.

    tmrtini at gmail dot com

  10. Added to my TBR list! Loved the post!

    lafra86 at gmail dot com

  11. Thanks for this wonderful giveaway. Jane is awesome. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  12. An impressive book and a great interview. Fascinating. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

  13. It would be very interesting to read things from her point of view. I would love to read this!


  14. This one's on my list!

    Thanks for the chance to win!


    CalicoCritic at gmail dot com

  15. Tarzan is a pretty wonderful hero. He's wild and untamable except when it comes to love. I like that this book is about Jane. I want to know more about her!


  16. Very nice interview.


  17. I was never interested in Jane and Tarzan before, but I am now! Great review and interview! Thanks for the chance to win.


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