An excerpt from Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan ~ by Robin Maxwell; Tor trade paperback; September 18, 2012; and an interview with the author.
Here’s a bit about it:
It’s 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.
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.
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.
Excerpt: Chicago Public Library, April 1912
Good Lord, she was magnificent! Edgar thought. Infuriatingly bold. He had many times fantasized about women such as this Jane Porter, but he honestly believed they existed only in his imagination. The vicious heckling she had endured for the past hour in the darkened room would have broken the strongest of men, yet there she stood at the podium casting a shadow on the startling image projected by the whirring episcope on the screen behind her, back straight as a rod, head high, trying to bring order back into the hall.
Her age was indeterminate—somewhere approaching thirty, but her presence was one of striking vitality and self-assurance. She was tall and slender beneath the knee-length suit coat of fine brown wool. Her honey-colored hair was tucked up beneath a simple toque of black felt, not one of those large frivolous feathered creations that these days hung perilously cantilevered over a woman’s face. Emma wished desperately for one of those freakish hats, and Edgar was secretly glad they were still too poor to afford it.
“These claims are preposterous!” cried a man seated halfway back in the crowded room. He had the look of an academic, Edgar thought.
“These are not claims, sir. They are the facts as I know them, and physical evidence, here, right before your eyes.” There were hoots of derision at that, and catcalls, and Jane Porter’s chin jutted an inch higher.
“This is clearly a hoax,” announced a portly bearded man who brazenly walked to the table in front of the podium and swept his hand above the massive skeleton displayed on it. “And a bad hoax at that. Why, you haven’t even tried to make the bones look old.”
The audience erupted in laughter, but the woman spoke over the commotion in a cultured British accent with more equanimity than Edgar thought humanly possible.
“That is because they are not old. I thought I made it clear that the bones came from a recently dead specimen.”
“From a living missing link species,” called out another skeptic. The words as they were spoken were meant to sound ridiculous.
“All you’ve made clear to us today, Miss Porter, is that you should be locked up!”
“Can we have the next image, please?” the woman called to the episcope operator.
“I’ve had enough of this claptrap,” muttered the man sitting just in front of Edgar. He took the arm of his female companion, who herself was shaking her head indignantly, and they rose from their seats, pushing down the row to the side aisle.
This first defection was all it took for others to follow suit. Within moments a mass exodus was under way, a loud and boisterous one with rude epithets shouted out as hundreds of backs were turned on the stoic presenter.
Edgar remained seated. When someone threw on the electric lights, he could see that the episcope operator up front in the center aisle was wordlessly packing up the mechanism of prisms, mirrors, and lenses that threw opaque images onto the screen as the speaker began her own packing up.
Finally Edgar stood and moved down the side aisle to the front of the meeting hall. He rolled the brim of his hat around in his hands as he approached Jane Porter. Now he could see how pretty she was. Not flamboyantly so, but lovely, with an arrangement of features—some perfect, like her green almond eyes and plump upward-bowed lips, and some less so, like her nose, just a tad too long and with a small bump in it—that made her unique.
She was handling the bones as if they were made of Venetian glass, taking up the skull, shoulders, arms, and spine and laying them carefully into a perfectly molded satin receptacle in a long leather case.
She looked up once and gave him a friendly, close-lipped smile, but when he did not speak she went back wordlessly to her task. Now it was the lower extremities that she tucked lovingly away, using special care to push the strange big-toe digits into narrow depressions perpendicular to the feet.
Edgar felt unaccountably shy. “Can I give you a hand?”
“No, thank you. They all fit just so, and I’ve had quite a lot of practice. London, Paris, Moscow, Berlin.”
“I have to tell you that I was completely enthralled by your presentation.”
She looked at Edgar with surprised amusement. “You don’t think I should be locked up?”
“No, quite the contrary.”
“Then you cannot possibly be a scientist.”
“No, no, I’m a writer.” He found himself sticking out his hand to her as though she were a man. “The name’s Ed Burroughs.”
She took it and gave him a firm shake. He noticed that her fingernails were pink and clean but altogether unmanicured, bearing no colorful Cutex “nail polish,” the newest rage that Emma and all her friends had taken to wearing. These were not the hands of a lady, but there was something unmistakably ladylike about her.
“What do you write, Mr. Burroughs?”
He felt himself blushing a bit as he pulled the rolled-up magazine from his jacket pocket. He spread it out on the table for her to see. “My literary debut of two months ago,” he said, unsure if he was proud or mortified.
“Pulp fiction.” He flipped through the pages. “This is the first installment in the series I wrote. There was a second in March. My pen name’s Norman Bean. It’s called ‘Under the Moons of Mars.’ About a Confederate gentleman, John Carter, who falls asleep in an Arizona cave and wakes up on Mars. There he finds four-armed green warriors who’ve kidnapped ‘the Princess of Helium,’ Dejah Thoris. He rescues her, of course.”
She studied the simple illustration the publisher had had drawn for the story, something that’d pleased Edgar very much.
“It really is fiction,” she observed.
“Fiction, fantasy…” He sensed that the woman took him seriously, and he felt suddenly at ease. It was as if he had always known her, or should have known her. She exuded something raw and yet something exceedingly elegant.
“When I was ten I came home from school one day and told my father I’d seen a cow up a tree,” Edgar said, startling himself with his candor with a complete stranger. “I think I said it was a purple cow. I was punished quite severely for lying, but nothing stops a compulsion, does it?”
When she shook her head knowingly, he felt encouraged. “A few years later I moved to my brother’s ranch in Idaho and stayed for the summer. By the time I was enrolled at Phillips Academy I could spin a pretty good yarn about all the range wars I’d fought in, the horse thieves, murderers, and bad men that I’d had run-ins with. It was a good thing my father never heard about them.”
A slow smile spread across Jane Porter’s features. “Well, you’ve shown him now, haven’t you. A published author.”
“I’m afraid my old man has yet to be convinced of my myriad talents.”
She snapped both cases closed and took one in each hand.
“Here, let me help you with those.”
“No, thank you. Having the two of them balances me out.”
“I was hoping you’d let me take you out to dinner. Uh, I’d like very much to hear more about your ape-man.”
She stopped and looked at him. “Honestly?”
“You must pardon my suspiciousness. I have been booed and hissed out of almost every hallowed hall of learning in the world. This is the last. I tried to have my paper heard at the Northwestern and Chicago universities, but I’m afraid my reputation preceded me and they said absolutely not. That’s why you had to listen to my presentation at a meeting room at the Chicago Public Library.”
“So will you come out with me?”
The woman thought about it for a very long moment. She set down her cases and walked to the man at the episcope, quietly conferred with him, and returned. “It’s really not a good idea for us to talk in public, but my hotel is nearby. You and I can go up to my room.”
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Edgar said. “Chicago police keep an eye on even the nicest hotels. They might arrest you for soliciting. But my apartment’s not too far. The wife and kids have gone to her mother’s for the weekend. I mean … sorry, that sounds…”
“Mr. Burroughs, your apartment’s a fine idea. I’m not afraid of you. But don’t you care about the neighbors?”
He eyed the woman’s bulky luggage. “I’ll tell them you’re selling vacuum cleaners.”
She smiled broadly. “That will do.”
They were largely silent on the taxi ride across town to his Harris Street walk-up, except for the exchange of pleasantries about the lovely spring weather they were having and how April was almost always horrible in England.
It was just Edgar’s rotten luck that the only neighbor who saw them come in was the landlord, a petty, peevish little man who was looking for the rent, now more than a week late. Edgar was relieved to get Jane Porter up the three flights and inside, shutting the door behind them, but he cringed to see the empty cereal bowl and box of Grape-Nuts that he’d left on his writing desk. There was a pile of typewritten pages on letterhead lifted from the supply closet of the pencil sharpener company he worked for, a mass of cross-outs and arrows from here to there, scribbled notes to himself in both margins.
“It’s a novel I’m writing, or should say rewriting … for the third time. I call it The Outlaw of Torn.” Edgar grabbed the bowl and cereal box and started for the kitchen. “I turn into a bit of a bachelor when my wife is away. By that I don’t mean…”
“It’s all right,” she called after him. “You have children?”
“A boy and girl, two and three. Why don’t you sit down? Can I get you something to drink? Tea? A glass of sherry?”
“Yes, thank you. I’ll have a cup of water. Cool, please.”
When Edgar returned from the kitchen, his guest was sitting at the end of the divan in an easy pose, her back against the rounded arm, her head leaning lazily on her hand. She had taken off her suit coat, and now he could see she wore no stiff stays under the white silk blouse, those torturous undergarments that mutilated a woman’s natural curves. She wore no jewelry save a filigreed gold locket hanging between shapely breasts, and it was only when she was opening the second of the two cases holding the skeleton that he saw she wore a simple gold wedding band. He could see now where she had meticulously pieced together the shattered bones of the apelike face.
He set the water down and sat across from her. Now she sighed deeply.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Edgar asked, praying silently that she did.
“Well, I’ve never told this in its entirety. The academics don’t wish to hear it. But perhaps your ‘pulp fiction’ readers will. I can tell you it’s a story of our world—a true story, one that will rival your John Carter of Mars.”
“Is it about you?”
“A good part of it is.”
“Does what happened to you in the story explain your fearlessness?”
“I told you, I’m not frightened of you. I…”
“I don’t mean me. You took an awful lot of punishment this afternoon … and in public, too. You’re a better man than I.”
She found Edgar’s remark humorous but grew serious as she contemplated his question. “I suppose they did toughen me up, my experiences.” She stared down at her controversial find, and he saw her eyes soften as though images were coming into focus there.
“Where does it begin?” he asked.
“Well, that depends upon when I begin. As I’ve said, I’ve never told it before, all of it.” She did some figuring in her head. “Let me start in West Central Africa, seven years ago.”
“Africa!” Edgar liked this story already. Nowhere on earth was a darker, more violent or mysterious place. There were to be found cannibals, swarthy Arab slave traders, and a mad European king who had slaughtered millions of natives.
“It just as well could start in England, at Cambridge, half a year before that.” She smiled at Edgar. “But I can see you like the sound of Africa. So, if you don’t mind me jumping around a bit…”
“Any way you like it,” Edgar said. “But I know what you mean. It’s not easy figuring out how to begin a story. For me it’s the hardest part.”
“Well then … picture if you will a forest of colossal trees. High in the fork of a fig, a great nest has been built. In it lies a young woman moaning and delirious. Her body is badly bruised and torn.”
“Is it you?” Edgar asked.
Jane Porter nodded.
“I have it in my mind. I can see it very well.” Edgar could feel his heart thumping with anticipation. He allowed his eyes to close. “Please, Miss Porter…” There was a hint of begging in his voice. “Will you go on?”
Copyright © 2012 by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.
Question & Answer:
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. Visit her online at www.robinmaxwell.com.
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. Specific research played a large role in the writing of Jane. Please elaborate.
I made the decision that my book was going to be based as much in reality as was humanly possible. Where Mr. Burroughs strayed into fantasy, I would be grounded in reality. I wanted everything in it to be possible, if not probable. And being a science buff at heart (I graduated with a Bachelor of Science, not a Bachelor of Arts degree from college), I was keen to lace the story with scientific fact and history. In places, I knew I’d be stretching the facts and taking literary license…but I was writing fiction, so basically, if you do it well, anything goes.
So what are the major differences (aside from point of view) between ERB’s Tarzan of the Apes and JANE: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan? In Tarzan of the Apes, Jane and her father are part of a treasure-hunting expedition in western Africa – Gabon. The fact of their being on or near the west coast was, I thought, important to the integrity of the story. I just needed a way to get them there – solid motivation – that was based in science. It just so happens that, from a very young age, one of my greatest passions was the search for the “missing link” in human evolution, both in the ancient fossil record, as well as creatures that some claim are still alive (like Bigfoot and the Yeti). I think if I hadn’t become a writer, I would have made my career as a paleoanthropologist or archaeologist.
I’d postulated in my most basic outline that the thing that gets Archie and Jane Porter to Africa is their search for missing link fossils. But that was all the detail I had at that point. The most important research book I found on this subject was The Man Who Found the Missing Link: Eugène Dubois and His Lifelong Quest to Prove Darwin Right by Pat Shipman. Dubois was a leading paleoanthropologist of the time, and had found the bones of “Java Man” (Pithecanthropus erectus) in Indonesia in 1891. Besides being a brilliant scientist, Dubois was also a sculptor, and he created a statue representing what he believed Java Man would have looked like with flesh and bones. You can see the straight, upright posture, human-looking legs, the hands with the extra-long, ape-like fingers, and especially the big prehensile toes. This was clearly a transitional creature. But the important thing here was that Dubois’ work gave me a plausible missing link species that Archie and Jane could be looking for.
I decided to make this real historical figure – Dubois – into a dear friend and colleague of Archie Porter’s. And along with Archie and Jane, we get to witness one of Dubois’ real lectures at Cambridge University about Java Man…where was hooted and howled at by the audience … because no one believed his find was real. Of course Dubois was later proved right. Pithecanthropus erectus would later be redesignated Homo erectus.
But the other fascinating thing I learned in Shipman’s book was that Darwin insisted that the real missing link would be found in Africa, and no where else. So, I made Jane and Archie faithful “Darwinists.” Then I created a big, charismatic expedition leader named Ral Conrath who – for his own nefarious reasons - approaches them with a promise that he knows of a place in West Africa where they are sure to find their missing link fossils. Conrath is hired. And voila! The Porters suddenly have the motivation they need to go to to Africa and end up not-far-inland from the beach in Gabon where Lord and Lady Greystoke were set ashore by mutineers twenty years before (here I stayed close to the story in Tarzan of the Apes). This is also the great forest where Tarzan is now living alone as a rogue Mangani.
Then smack in the middle of my research my husband handed me a National Geographic magazine – a story about a team of paleoanthropologists, (Tim White, Berhane Asfaw, and Giday WoldeGabriel) who, fifteen years before, had discovered in the Middle Awash area of Ethiopia a full skeleton of Ardipithecus ramidus (whom they called “Ardi”). It had straight leg bones giving it a human, upright stance. This is one of the main distinctions that separate human from ape – the shape of the pelvis and the and leg bone…that and speech. On the other hand, Ardi had opposable, “prehensile” big toes perfect for grasping branches…and the face and skull of a chimp. It was to my eye the closest creature to a missing link that I had ever seen. To my pleasure (and Charles Darwin’s, if he had been alive), it was found in Africa. I now knew that just across the continent from where Jane and Archie needed to be a “transitional species” had once lived and breathed. If you look closely at Ardi, except for the hairy body, he looks strikingly like Dubois’ Java Man. Straight leg bones, and especially the fingers and big toes.
Something was dawning on me, and it got me really excited – a cool mixture of science and fantasy. A story point that might not be probable…but possible. What I was thinking was that when Jane meets Tarzan, she discovers that the tribe that brought him up – one that he secretly allows her to observe – is a living missing link species!
Now when you think about ERB’s Mangani (which he calls “Anthropoid” apes), they can talk. They speak in words. They have a language. So I figured that if I melded scientific fact together with ERB’s imaginary “Ape-People,” what I’d get was a “transitional species,” – A living missing link tribe residing in East Africa -- Tarzan’s neck of the woods. And Jane, a budding paleoanthropologist, gets to make one of the biggest scientific discoveries in history!
My second departure from the ERB canon – one that I argued for many hours with ERB Inc.'s president – was the age at which Tarzan was taken from his parents after their murder at the hands of a crazed and vicious Mangani bull. ERB says “little Johnnie Clayton” was one year old when this happened. Yet in the ensuing years, he is able to teach himself to read books, words “little bugs” on their pages, and to write. And once he meets the human expedition – the Porters and a Frenchman, Paul D’Arnot – he is able to learn, within a couple of months, not only English, but French. By the end of the book he’s got perfect grammar in both languages and is driving a car around the American mid-west.
I, too, wanted my Tarzan to be capable of simple but grammatical speech by the book’s end – enough so that Jane could contemplate taking him back into civilization. But to stay true to my self-imposed “reality guidelines,” I asked myself how realistic it would be for a child who had only lived among humans and heard their speech for the first year of its life to re-learn not only language, but comprehension, reading and writing in a few month’s time. I guessed it was unlikely, but I didn’t know the answer. So I went to the research books about feral children.
There were a surprising number of famous cases, and I read them intently. But here was the crux of it: There is something called “The critical period hypothesis.” It is fiercely debated, but it basically states that humans have a “window of opportunity” to learn their first language. If that period passes without exposure to language, practice, etc., then the opportunity is lost forever. Feral children(like Tarzan) must hear human language spoken in that period if they are later to come back to civilization and learn to speak properly.
ERB explained Tarzan’s incredible mastery of language to his superior intelligence and nobility of spirit. To me, it strained credulity. I decided it wouldn’t hurt to make him four years old when he is abducted by the Mangani. This would give him time to speak, and even learn a little reading and writing. Hence, his re-learning with Jane’s help, would be that much more believable to modern readers.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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?!
10. Finally, where can we find your book?
This excerpt and Q & A are courtesy of P R by the Book.