Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Guest post from Robin Maxwell, author of JANE

I'm thrilled to welcome Robin Maxwell, whose new novel JANE: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan is out today. JANE is a thrilling and evocative telling of the Tarzan legend from Jane's point of view;  officially authorized by the Edgar Rice Burroughs Estate, JANE will transport you into the wilds of Africa on a fantastic journey of self-discovery, danger, love, and adventure. When I was growing up in Spain, I used to go to Saturday matinees to watch old Tarzan movies; I was always entranced by the story. I loved this book because it offers a fresh take on a timeless fable while staying true to the spirit of the original work. Jane Goddall has praised it as "an honest portrayal of the only woman of whom I have been really, really jealous" and Margaret George calls it "a triumph."

 Please join me in welcoming Robin, who offers us this guest post about Jane.

JANE: Queen of the Jungle

When I was growing up in the 60s, of all the characters I watched breathlessly on late night TV, I was most envious of Tarzan’s beloved Jane (from the 1930s feature films starring Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan). I was also intrigued by Sheena: Queen of the Jungle, starring the leggy blonde Irish McCalla who had her own TV series and ruled her domain without a man.But while Sheena had a better outfit—a seductive little leopard skin number, gold upper-arm bracelet, spear, and that curved horn she’d blow in times of danger, Jane had a full-blown romance in paradise with the hunky (if dumb) Tarzan. So what if she stood—as actresses did in those days—in a sophisticated slouch with hands on hips and was somehow a cosmopolitan lady underneath it all? And who cared that after a scintillating start with her revealing two-piece outfit and a four-minute-long fully nude swimming sequence with Tarzan her tog became a high-necked, brown leather house-dress?
It was all right. The movie-Jane still lived a wild, unfettered life, cavorting with wild animal friends, chasing through one hair-raising adventure after another, and (gasp!) living in sin with a half-naked Adonis.
This was the extent of my girlish jungle fantasy. As I grew into adulthood no other Tarzan movies were remotely satisfying. The one I waited for breathlessly in 1984 (Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes) was the greatest disappointment of them all. This Jane, a delicate, corseted Victorian lady, made her entrance fully halfway through the movie and never put a single toe in Tarzan’s jungle. Sacrilege! All the others were forgettable (or like John and Bo Derek’s Tarzan the Ape Man, downright awful). By the time of Disney’s animated version and its live action Tarzan spoof, George of the Jungle, were released, I was too old too care. Or so I thought.

When the idea of a Tarzan story from Jane’s point of view popped unbidden into my head three years ago, I hadn’t had a single thought about the wild couple in three decades. But the concept hit me hard, then haunted me unceasingly until I took action.I began by reading the Edgar Rice Burroughs books in which Jane appeared (eight of the twenty-four, sometimes as only a minor character). I had decided to base my novel primarily on the first in his series, Tarzan of the Apes, as it dealt with the series’ most iconic issues: the feral boy’s back-story; how his lordly English parents came to be marooned on a West African beach; the tribe of talking apes that raised him; his first meeting with Jane, and the foundation of their love affair.
I admit to being shocked and dismayed by ERB’s characterization of Jane Porter in that first book. She was quite the “Baltimore Belle,” as Alan Hanson wrote in an extensive and erudite essay about Jane’s evolution throughout the novels in which she appeared. She had come to Africa with a treasure hunting party, accompanying her father and attended by her maid, Esmeralda. Here Jane was a wide-eyed, swooning girl, and though she did have one flash of courage in the book—shooting at a lion about to attack—it was followed immediately by Miss Porter fainting dead away.

Her meetings with Tarzan were all too brief, with few words spoken, and the wild man falling instantly in love with her. This young man brought up from the age of one by “anthropoid apes” somehow knew how to kiss Jane on her upturned lips and even wrote her a love note. Eventually, through misunderstandings and twists of fate worthy of Shakespeare, Jane sailed out of Tarzan’s life, leaving him love-struck and forlorn. The ending of Tarzan of the Apes was, to my mind, wholly unsatisfying. It had Tarzan driving an automobile around the American Midwest and saving Jane from a forest fire, then leaving for Africa after giving her up to marry another man for some unfathomable reason, ostensibly “nobility of spirit.”

I learned that Burroughs had been more than a little ambivalent about the female character he had created. While he’d used Jane as the linchpin of the first book, and as a civilizing influence on Tarzan in a couple more (eventually having them marry, making her “Lady Greystoke”) the author actually killed her off in Tarzan the Untamed. Says ERB in a letter to a friend: “…I left Jane dead up to the last gasp and then my publisher and the magazine editor rose up on their hind legs and roared. They said the public would not stand for it…so I had to resurrect the dear lady.” He all but ignored her for eight more novels before returning Jane to the series, finally painting her as a strong, courageous woman adept at “woodcraft” and weapon-making, and capable of surviving alone in the jungle. By Tarzan the Terrible (1921) she thinks as she walk alone and abandoned in the forest, “The parade of cities, the comforts and luxuries of civilization, held forth no allure half as insistent as the glorious freedom of the jungle.”

I was determined that Jane reach this elevated state by the end of my stand-alone novel. And since this was meant to be story from her perspective, I needed to spend sufficient time illuminating her upbringing, circumstances and character before letting her embark on her African adventure. Considering she was an Edwardian girl brought up in an English society stultifying for most females, I gave her a head start—a father who moved mountains to provide his daughter with not just an education, but a vocation: paleoanthropology.
I established Jane as a tomboy and outspoken, rule-breaking, free-thinking “New Woman.” She was an equestrian, proficient archer and skeet shooter, a young lady with big dreams based on the exploits of her personal heroines—outrageous women explorers and adventurers like Mary Kingsley, Annie Smith Peck and Lady Jane Digby. Though a spinster at twenty, my Jane was not immune to lustful daydreams and even experimentation. I felt these traits would allow for modern readers, particularly intelligent female fiction readers, to relate to a protagonist who lived a hundred years ago; make believable the extraordinarily radical shift in her character that was about to occur.

I wanted more than anything a story that bespoke of equality between the sexes. It was vital to me that if Tarzan saved Jane, then Jane would in a different but equally important way, save Tarzan. They would serve as each other’s teachers. The ape man’s character arc would be as sweeping and dramatic as Jane’s. The pair, by the end of my book, would be “fit mates” for one another. To be fair, I had an advantage over both Sheena and Maureen O’Sullivan’s portrayals of Jane. I had a brilliantly detailed, exotic world into which I could set my protagonist down and a boyfriend for her like no other, whose own unique history had been crafted by a master storyteller, and generous permission and authorization to change it at my discretion.

 It was a posthumous gift given me by the late, great Edgar Rice Burroughs. I can only hope that he would approve.

Thank you, Robin! To find out more about Robin, her books, and join in lots of fun activities surrounding the publication of Jane, please visit her website.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Guest post from D.E. Johnson, author of DETROIT BREAKDOWN

I'm delighted to welcome D.E. Johnson, whose new novel DETROIT BREAKDOWN, Book 3 in the Will Anderson Series, was recently published.  In this entry of the acclaimed series, Will Anderson is called to the vast Eloise Insane Asylum outside of Detroit, a city once known as the Paris of the West, where a friend is a patient and now a murder suspect. Certain of his friend's innocence, Will begins an investigation that requires him to become an inmate. While Will endures horrific conditions in his search for the killer, his partners follow the trail of a murder suspect that will become a desperate race to save Will's life. Library Journal gave Detroit Breakdown a starred review, calling it " . . . one of the hot new historicals." 

Please join me in welcoming D.E. as he offers this look at his research into the infamous Eloise Asylum.

Why you won’t find women named ‘Eloise’ in Detroit
Even though the hospital has been closed for thirty years, Eloise still strikes terror in the hearts of men and women in Southeast Michigan. Since 1894 that name has been synonymous with madness. Located outside Detroit, only a few miles from the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Eloise Hospital served as Wayne County’s asylum and poorhouse in one form or another since 1832, when it was founded as the Wayne County Poor House. The facility was expanded throughout the Nineteenth Century to contain the asylum, and in 1903 further expanded for a tubercular sanatorium. From there, the hospital did nothing but grow, eventually swelling to seventy-five buildings on 902 acres, and having as many as 10,000 patients and inmates at one time, with over 2,000 staff members. Eloise had its own farm, cannery, bakery, employee housing, police and fire departments, amusement hall, and train and trolley stations. At one point its sixteen kitchens were serving 30,000 meals daily. Eloise functioned until 1981, when it closed for good. (The psychiatric facility closed in 1979.) More than 7,100 people are buried in the Eloise cemetery in graves identified only by a number.

At Eloise, the patients who were able worked for their dinner. The farms, cannery, bakery, and kitchens were manned (and womanned) by residents, in what would now be considered occupational therapy, but was then considered simply a necessity: the facility had to be self-sufficient because of chronic underfunding.
Why “Eloise?” In 1894 a post office was established at the Wayne County House (as the poorhouse was then known) because of the large volume of mail coming and going from the facility. The U.S. Postal Service required a unique—and short—name for the office, and after dozens of rejected attempts, the President of the Eloise Board suggested his four-year-old daughter’s name for the post office’s title, which was accepted. Had he known that “Eloise” and “insanity” would become synonymous, he likely would have suggested another. While the name wasn’t officially adopted by the various facilities on the grounds until 1911, it immediately became the unofficial term for the hospital.

Eloise was a relatively modern facility, as these things go. They were one of the first to adopt radiation therapy for tuberculosis and got good results with many of the patients. Unfortunately, therapies for the insane for most of its history are hard to classify as modern today. (Of course, that’s not just Eloise. You could find the same treatments at virtually any asylum.) In the early days, “treatment” was essentially immobilization. The patients would be chained to the wall, day in and day out. Therapy was not on the card. An insane asylum’s purpose was to protect society from the mentally ill, with no thought of those incarcerated.

Things changed during the “Progressive Era” (1890s – 1920s). The United States had a social awakening, which showed its hand in many of the advancements of the day, particularly in public responsibility for the less fortunate. This included the mentally ill. Psychiatric treatments began in earnest and ran a gamut of approaches, including electrotherapy (not to be confused with electroshock therapy). Electrotherapy worked by stimulating nerves with a low-level electrical pulse, which typically produced a tingling sensation. Depending on the school of thought, electrodes could be attached to the head or other body part, or the patient could be partially immersed in water that carried a low level electrical current. Electrotherapy isn’t particularly pleasant, but neither is it cruel. The first real shock therapy involved transferring a patient rapidly between a steaming hot bathtub and a freezing tub. The shock would often cause patients to pass out.

In the early Twentieth Century, psychoanalysis became the new fad, as Freud’s theories gained widespread acceptance. Psychiatrists were hired by the Eloise Hospital administration and enjoyed some success with the patients. Later, the story turns darker, as electroshock and prefrontal lobotomies took center stage. Eloise was at the forefront of these therapies, as they were with most “promising” new treatments. It’s easy today to judge them for employing these cruel techniques that caused radical and irreversible harm to the patients, but at the time they were at the forefront of innovation. The surgeons who performed the lobotomies genuinely thought the operation would result in a better life for the patient, and went forward with the best intention.

It’s always a danger to measure history by today’s yardstick. Experience has shown us that the lobotomy was a bad idea, and that electroshock therapy, applied as it was, did more harm than good. But just as with medical authorities today, these doctors were doing the best they could with the information available to them at the time. While it won’t do a bit of good for the patients who suffered at their hands, the doctors deserve at least our understanding. (And woe to you if you don’t expect the same scrutiny to be applied to our medical techniques today. In the future, some of our tried-and-true therapies—including radiation, I’m certain—will be viewed as cruel and barbaric, perpetrated by primitive hacks barely advanced from the barbers of the Middle Ages.)

So what is Eloise Hospital’s legacy? Now only four buildings remain. Three are derelict, one, the Kay Beard Building (formerly “D” Building, which served as Eloise’s administration building from 1925 -1981) serves as the office for the Wayne County Senior Citizens Services. The office occupies a small portion of the main level, leaving the vast majority of the facility empty. The other buildings—the firehouse, dynamo, and bakery—are standing but are uninhabitable.

People of a certain age who drive by the Kay Beard Building remember the patients, often children, who would gather at the fence to get a glimpse at the world outside Eloise’s walls. They remember the strange noises, sometimes human, sometimes animal, often-times indiscernible as either. They remember the relatives who were locked away behind those walls, sometimes never to be seen again.
But mostly they remember that name, the name that has always run chills up their spine—Eloise.

Thank you, D.E. To find out more about D.E. and his novels, please visit his website.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Guest post from Nancy Bilyeau, author of THE CROWN

I'm delighted to welcome Nancy Bilyeau, author of THE CROWN, which has just been released in paperback. This terrific novel about a nun who must abandon her cloister during Henry VIII's turbulent destruction of the monasteries to save her father and discover the truth about an ancient relic has garnered unanimous acclaim and was shortlisted for the prestigious Ellis Peters Award for Best Historical Crime Fiction. The novel's sequel, The Chalice, will be released next year.

Here, Nancy shares with us here her own initiation in Tudor mania, an obsession many of us know well. Please join me in welcoming her.

The Stages of Tudor Mania

People keep asking me why I chose to write a novel set in 16th century England. It’s not perhaps the most obvious source of inspiration. I am an American, growing up in the Midwest and now living in New York City. I’ve worked for magazines like InStyle and Rolling Stone and Ladies’ Home Journal. I adore films and Italian food and ocean beaches. So why am I fixated on a family that ruled England from 1485 to 1603?
I thought it was time to explain.

Launch pad: In the beginning, there were Keith Michell and Glenda Jackson. I watched “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” and “Elizabeth R” on television with my parents in Livonia, Michigan. I was fascinated by the vivid drama of these personalities—the mercurial king, the jostling of the six wives, the courage of Elizabeth.
For a while the stories of this period were everywhere: I saw “Anne of a Thousand Days” and “Mary Queen of Scots” as a double feature in the local cinema. Another classic that I saw on television was “A Man for All Seasons.” But I longed for more of Vanessa Redgrave’s giggling Anne Boleyn—I was just too young for Sir Thomas More’s wisdom, I’m afraid. I began checking out books from the library on the 16th century. I remember a librarian didn’t want me to have a book about the divorce of Catherine of Aragon because it had the word “divorce” in the title and she thought I was too young.

The middle years: Through high school, college and my 20s and 30s, my interest did not wane. I read nonfiction about the 16th century, such as J.J. Scarisbrick’s Henry VIII, Retha Warnicke’s The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn, and Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots. I read deeply in historical fiction too, not just stories of the Tudors by authors like Jean Plaidy but Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy and Anya Seton’s Katherine. My favorite of all was Norah Lofts, and I marveled at her ability to write about women ranging from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Hortense de Beauharnais. I read everything I could find by Daphne du Maurier, novels and short stories too. I loved her historical fiction such as Jamaica Inn but I also reveled in her use of suspense.

The crescendo: When I joined a fiction workshop in 2006, I announced that I wished to set my mystery novel in the 16th century. I wanted to unite my two passions: Tudor history and mystery thrillers. Thanks to the success of Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl, fiction set in Tudor England was on the rise again. I was happy about it but a little disoriented too. For a number of years I’d felt a little off to the side with my thriving library of biographies. Now people were excited about seeing "Elizabeth", with Cate Blanchett and a new series about Henry VIII starring Ray Winstone. I liked both productions but twitched through the historical inaccuracies. And then came "The Tudors" on Showtime, and everybody was talking about Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry. As I wrote my novel over the five years, I felt ambivalent about the exploding trend of Tudor fandom. I laughed when I saw on Facebook a group called “I Was Interested in the Tudors Before They Were Cool.” I joined immediately.

Undying Love, It Seems:  In 2010, after selling “The Crown” to Touchstone Books, I took a break from my magazine jobs to write my second book, a sequel called “The Chalice.” I was accepted to work in a writer’s room in the New York Public Library—the others who’d gained admission were all scholars. Was I worthy to slave away next to the Ph.D.s on something that was really a hobby interest gone wild? It took a few months to realize that yes—I belong here. I have dedicated myself to the study of the 16th century, not just the royals but, since my protagonist is a Dominican novice, the monastic life of the period. I use my journalistic training to exercise judgment on the accuracy of sources. I search through contemporary sources as well as secondary. I want to get it right.

Last summer I traveled to London to meet my British editor at Orion Books and co-agent at Abner Stein (“The Crown” was also published in the U.K. as well as seven other countries.) I couldn’t sleep more than a half-hour on the red-eye flight on Virgin Atlantic—too much turbulence and too small a seat, perhaps. I checked into my hotel at noon, but instead of taking a nap I ran out onto the Strand, exhilarated to be breathing London air. I walked for hours and then, in the late afternoon, I jumped on a tour boat to see the Thames. I was in the last group of the day for the Tower of London, a place that I thrilled to write about in “The Crown” and “The Chalice.”

I’ve wondered occasionally if I will get sick of the 16th century--and then what? But after walking on the Tower green and through the White Tower, making time for royal jewels and instruments of torture, I left and finally sat down to rest at a table outside the Tower wall. The sun was low on the horizon as I ate fish and chips at one of the small shops facing the centuries-old castle keep. I thought of what once went on inside those walls and on those smooth Thames water. And I was completely happy.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Guest post from C.C.Humphreys, author of A PLACE CALLED ARMAGEDDON

I'm delighted to welcome back my friend C.C. Humphreys, who is currently touring for the US release of his new novel A PLACE CALLED ARMAGEDDON. Set in Constantinople in the earth-shattering year of 1453, this is a riveting account of the city's catastrophic fall to the Sultan Mehmet, as seen though the eyes of four lead characters whose lives and fates are entwined with that of the beautiful, doomed city. C.C. has such an eye for detail and voice; he captures the tragedy and drama of this pivotal event in history while never forgetting the human impetus behind it. I'm reading this novel now and am thoroughly entranced.

Please join me in welcoming C.C. Humphreys as he recounts an event that happened while researching this book.

In the cause of research, an Author is assaulted

What is travel without a little danger? I have always been a lucky traveller, rarely had  any problems. Humans are nearly always delightful, kind and generous. I have been given beds when I could not find hotels, food when I was hungry, heard great tales from people whose language I barely understood. 

And yet? The usually great experiences have to be contrasted with something darker to achieve their full brightness, surely? So there was that time in the hill tribe village near the Cambodian border. Another on the streets of Lima. A third beneath the pyramids at Giza…and then there was Istanbul.

It happened like this. I had rendezvoused with my good friend Allan Eastman – film director, history nut, fabulous indulger in life and its pleasures – to explore the city and especially the tale of the great siege of 1453. We both knew the battle well by this stage, and our plan was to walk over the sites, trying to see down the centuries to the men and women who’d fought there, attackers and defenders. We’d get distracted by speculation, possibilities.

So we’d come up from the Golden Gate to a rundown section of the Theodosian walls. To a turret, knocked down by Turkish cannon in 1453, never repaired. There was waste ground behind the ruin we explored, some ramshackle dwellings beyond it. Realizing that we couldn’t walk further along the walls, we were about to retrace our steps when a pack of boys came running across from the houses. Ten of them, they ranged in age from about nine to fourteen.
‘Heh, Mister! Cigarettes! You give!’
We both put up our hands in a pacifying gesture. ‘No, no,’ we said. ‘We don’t have any. Excuse us.’
We tried to move through them. They blocked our path. ‘Money. You give money now.’
‘Don’t think so.’
Hands still raised, smiles fixed, we managed to push through. The boys glowered but didn’t touch us. I thought we were in the clear… until I felt a shove in my back. I turned. A boy was a couple of paces away, glaring at me. I gave him a stare, turned slowly, moved away.
No one followed. We made the road, hailed a cab, went to more populated sections.

That night, back at my pension, I was emptying my bag when I found something unusual in it: a jagged piece of rock that had definitely not been there before. And I realized - it hadn’t been a shove - that boy had shied a stone at me! It had hit my daypack, dropped in… I studied it more closely – and found it wasn’t a rock at all but baked clay over brick. A chunk of the turret that had almost certainly been shattered by a cannon blast, fired by the boy’s ancestors.

Next moment, I was laughing. I had taken shot from a Turk upon the Theodosian Walls! And unlike many a Christian in 1453, I had survived. The rock sits on my desk – and makes me smile every time I look at it.

Thank you, C.C.! To learn more about C.C. Humphreys and his work (he's also a master swordsman and accomplished actor) please visit his website.