Monday, September 24, 2012


Photo:Atlas Remix

When I was a kid, Saturday morning television was a treat for my siblings and I. Cartoons and then Tarzan. I loved Tarzan and his ability to live and talk with all the animals of the jungle and he had absolutely the coolest tree house (recreating that house encompassed hours of time and effort on the part of my brothers and I
complete with ropes to swing on)! I wanted to be Jane. What life to live. 
It's my pleasure to have bestselling historical fiction author, Robin Maxwell, visiting with us today. She has written a fabulous story about Tarzan's mate, Jane Porter who better to write Jane's story than an novelist who writes historical fiction? This story is told from Jane's point of view. Jane is a highly educated woman of her time (Edwardian) and from a sheltered position of wealth and yet she chooses to leave all that behind and become Tarzan's mate.  

It’s rare to be asked about the glitches and tears of this writer’s life, but I’m glad you asked.

I’ve had so many laughs over the years with my loved ones.  It’s necessary condition of friendship. My husband, Max Thomas, is one of the silliest men alive. But the glitches and tears, in my case, were whoppers.  2006 was “The Year From Hell” (I didn’t know there’d be four more in a row after that to rival it).

I’d just gotten a deal with NAL/Penguin to write SIGNORA DA VINCI, and had just begun extensive research into the Italian Renaissance (my past five novels had taken place in Tudor and Elizabethan England and Ireland, so I was in completely new territory, with dozens of research books piled high around me.  In January my mother, Skippy (from whom I inherited my sense of humor) who was living with Max and me – was taken by cancer.  She’d been not only a wonderful mom, but my first and greatest champion as a writer.  Never once did I hear from her: “Get a REAL job.”

There’s nothing quite like your mother dying, but I found some solace in creating a new world in my head and on the page with Leonardo da Vinci, his mother Caterina, the movers and shakers of Florence and their heretical secrets: what I called the “Shadow Renaissance.”  But the next blow was imminent.  My best girlfriend and comedy screenwriting partner of thirty years (with whom I shared some of the best laughs of my life) who lived down the country road from me in our remote high desert town, moved halfway around the world – back to her native Australia. 

It was a hot July day.  I’d just begun getting over that double-whammy, and enjoyed my first conversation with SIGNORA DA VINCI’s wonderful editor, Kara Cesare.  It was a long, leisurely talk about the characters and the period, and I felt so lucky to have a simpatico editor.  Half an hour after we hung up, a wind-driven wildfire roared down from the mountains above our property.  When a helicopter dropped a load of water on our house (while Max and I were still inside – our only evacuation order!) we knew we had to get out immediately. Max and our Doberman got in one car as black and orange smoke descended.  The two parrots were with me in a second.  I barely had time to go back and rescue a clothes hamper full of my research books from a house I knew would be toast within minutes. With Max in the lead we made a run for it through smoke so thick I could barely see my hood ornament, down our narrow dirt half-mile long driveway.   Suddenly Max stopped short.  Behind him I stopped, too.  Before us was a wall of flames so high we could not see the top…and it spanned the entire width of the driveway.

Surrounded by fire, we couldn’t get out of our cars to confer, and we couldn’t turn around.  My worst nightmare has always been burning to death in a flaming car wreck.  Our usually talkative 35-year-old African Grey parrot, Mr. Grey (the Jerry Seinfeld of birds who never stopped talking and was another constant source of laughter) who was sitting in the seat next to me, was completely silent.  Then with horrified amazement I watched Max’s car disappear through the wall of fire.  I was stock still.  What should I do?!  I couldn’t turn back.  I couldn’t stay where I was.  All I knew was that I trusted Max’s instincts.  I trusted him with my life.  So I took a deep breath and gunned it. 

It turned out there was not one wall of flames.  There were three!  In one of them my car started stalling out (no oxygen in the engine), but I floored it and sped out the other side, nearly crashing into the back of Max’s car waiting for me there.  But we were not clear of danger yet.  Once on the main road there were neighbors in their cars barrelling out of their driveways, and a poor doomed horse running by…on fire.  I later learned that Max’s car had tried to stall not once, but three times during our escape.

While we made it out alive, our nearest neighbor and his dog were killed.  Eighty square miles were toast.  Our home and a few trees around it were saved by the water drops.  But our once-beautiful high desert paradise looked like a moonscape, and it was a wildlife graveyard. 

A few months later, our darling fourteen year-old Doberman, Shiva, left this world.  Soon after that, Max underwent bi-lateral knee replacement surgery and rehab.  The following year Mr. Grey, after seven surgeries, died.  The next year his gorgeous, cuddle-bucket wife of 25 years, Cookie the Cockatoo, followed him.  But the Grim Reaper was not done with us. In 2010 my stepdaughter, mother of four, grandmother of seven, passed away. 

Max and I both suffered from post traumatic stress disorder for three years from that moment in which we were a single piston-stroke away from being burned alive.  Strangely, during those five years I wrote three novels, each of them helping me get through the worst of my depression and anxiety.  Sitting down to write felt like sinking into a warm bath.  And it was an escape into fabulous worlds as well.  Never did I appreciation the strength of my creative life and its ability to heal me.

Now, six years later, our wilderness property has come back to its former glory.  Max became my research assistant, story partner and first editor on JANE: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan, and we have never been healthier or happier.

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.

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. 


I’m about to launch my “Book Club Weekend Getaways” at our beautiful high desert wildlife sanctuary.  Please visit me at and 

Bestselling author and screenwriter Robin Maxwell often wonders how growing up a suburban New Jersey girl, an education at Tufts University as an occupational therapist, stints as a music business secretary, parrot tamer, casting director, dozens of Hollywood script development deals and marriage to yoga master Max Thomas prepared her for a career in writing.  After fifteen years and eight novels of historical fiction, including Signora da Vinci and The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn (now in its twenty-fourth printing) she is preparing to jump genres with the publication of JANE: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan (Tor Books, September 18).  The first Tarzan classic in a century written by a woman and told through the eyes of the ape-man’s beloved Jane Porter, JANE is enthusiastically supported and authorized by the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

You can find Robin on FACEBOOK, TWITTER, and WEBSITE.


~Sia McKye~ said...

Robin, welcome to Over Coffee! Losing a loved one is awful and I'm sorry for your loss.

That fire would have terrified me too! Being trapped by flames--I've been closer to that than I ever wanted. *shudder*

BTW, I enjoyed The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn. I'm thoroughly enjoying Jane. Wow!

Kat Sheridan said...

I'm blown away by all that you survived, and that you still managed to write through it all! And the book sounds utterly fascinating and I can't wait to get my hands on it! Here's hoping the future is calm and sweet and bright for you.

And Sia, I would kill for the desk in that picture!

Robin Maxwell said...

Good morning. I'm so pleased to be sharing coffee with you (in my case, hazelnut decaf - the real stuff gives me the jitters).

I'm just happy that my current adventures are more about the African jungle or, as in the case of this past Friday night, the Hollywood jungle where, at my JANE book launch, we began "The Hunt For Tarzan and Jane," a search for the new faces of the world's wildest couple, who will help me promote this book. About fifty actors, actresses and models lined up on Sunset Boulevard in their tiny leopard skins waiting for their "audition" in front of an audience who had never been to a book signing event remotely like this one. Some of the "Tarzan yells" and the beautiful bodies brought the house down.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Wow, Robin - you win! What a horrifying story. If all of that tragedy didn't make you stronger, nothing will. Congratulations on your book.

~Sia McKye~ said...

What fun Robin. You get to be on the other side of the audition process.Be fun to see who gets chosen.

Popping in real quick between calls at work. Mondays are insanity with calls.

Robin Maxwell said...

We're thinking of taking the "Hunt For Tarzan and Jane" national - something like "American Idol" (of course on a smaller scale). When it comes to iconic lovers in literature, everybody thinks of Romeo and Juliet, Edward and Bella. But Tarzan and Jane "out-wild" them all!

Ciara said...

Writing can be so therapeutic. I'm sorry for all your tragedy, but wish you all the best on your book.

Karen Walker said...

I was riveted by this post. If you write a blog post this well, I can only imagine how good your novels are. Thanks, Sia, for hosting Robin. And Robin, thanks for sharing your compelling story. Congratulations.