Interview with Author J Tullos Hennig

This week I am delighted to welcome J Tullos Hennig, author of the Wode series. A powerful and thought-provoking take on the Robin Hood legend. I was fortunate enough to discover these books last year and they have stayed with me ever since. Now the author herself has been kind enough to give this interview. Enjoy!

Q: When did you first discover the legend of Robin Hood? A: Oh, my, it was a long time ago! At first through books—so many of the RH books were geared for a younger audience when I was a child—then through the Richard Greene series, as well as Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn. I used to roam the forests in the south with my cousins as a child, playing Robin Hood.

Q: How much of the Wode Series did you plan in advance? A: I’m much more of a ‘discovery’-type writer and rarely plan any book, though I often do have an idea of an ending and several points along the way. Writing the Wode books entailed a serious rewrite of an older book, so there was some familiarity of storyline; still, quite a few surprises along the way have happened, and will continue on in the last book of the series, I’m sure.

Q: What made you decide to portray Robin Hood as gay, and have you experienced any controversy as a result? A: Well, I’m afraid I don’t have a short answer for this, so kindly bear with me. The original Greenwode was a first book in a trilogy written in the 70s-80s, and in that version, there was a definite ‘bromance’ between the original Robyn and the displaced knight Gamelyn (from another outlaw ballad that so many nowadays have forgotten) but the relationship didn’t go much further than that. The original was a decent-enough book, it was in negotiations with a NY publisher, but things fell through. It’s definitely that hindsight thing; now I’m glad it didn’t happen, because about 10 years ago I started looking at that filed-away manuscript and thinking, ‘what if?’ What if I took the challenge that a younger me likely hadn’t the writing chops to pull off; what if I spun it into the epic, twisty thing it truly wanted to be from the beginning? Underrepresented voices are very important to me—and rife in the Robin Hood legends. It seemed a no-brainer to bring those voices to the forefront, not just with Robyn’s sexuality, but Gamelyn’s, as well as Marion’s agency (which she is denied in so many retellings). Add to that the reality of myth as brutally conquered spirituality… It was magic. And when I pitched it to the publisher who went for it, and started reworking the manuscript… more magic! As to controversy… no, not really. Only once did someone actually have the stones to say ‘How dare you?’ to my face. My answer was: ‘How dare you be so narrow-minded?” Such bigotry exists, of course, and will as long as people have too much fear and too little empathy. But my response is to give the old archer’s salute and keep writing.

Q: There have been many interpretations of the Robin Hood legend. What made you decide to introduce a fantasy element? A: I love speculative fiction. I’m a SF/Fantasy fan from way back. I’m also a total history geek… but I’m hyper-aware, (in part because of my own heritage), that history is suspect. Speculative, even. 

Q: Are there any versions of the legend that influenced your writing? A: The one that perhaps had the greatest effect was Richard Carpenter’s Robin of Sherwood, but not in the way one might think. I’d already written the first Greenwode before I saw RoS, but when I did see it, I fell in love, likely because it was so obvious we’d sifted from the same mythological sources. I ended up very involved in the series, and no question but the newer version owes much to Kip’s influence. I’d many an interesting conversation with him about the folkloric and pagan aspects of RH. He was a wonderful writer and a lovely, lovely man. Greenwode is dedicated to him. Parke Godwin’s duology is another exquisite reimagining. The writing alone is enough to inspire anyone, even if his Robin isn’t very like mine. I’d encourage anyone who loves great storytelling to read his books. Of course, that’s what makes it fascinating, all these different ideas. I guess what it comes down to is the respect. Whenever you take an old warhorse of a legend, you must respect its legacy. Question it, yes, subvert it and re-imagine it, shape it to the best of your ability into a vital continuation of Story. To just rehash a tired trope out of expediency is disrespectful to not only the power of legend, but your own talents.

Q: Were there any scenes that had a profound effect on you as you wrote them? A: I’m afraid most of what I write tends to have a profound effect on me. Some writers are script consultants, some are directors, some are set designers… I am that slightly mad and intense Method actor. I wait for rewrites to back off and wield the dispassionate editor’s axe.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring authors? A: Most ‘advice’ nowadays is utter bollocks. But when I am asked to teach or give a workshop, this is what I recommend: Read. Read in your chosen genre, and outside it. Read books that value language, from many cultures and many eras. Write. Write for yourself first, and realise that it isn’t supposed to be easy. Failure is a teaching moment, even more than success—and success doesn’t always equal talent. Keep growing what talents you have, be patient, respect and learn your craft. Find a mentor who will both cherish you and hold you responsible.

Q: The question of whether or not Robin Hood existed is still hotly debated. What is your view? A: I really don’t care. Myths are so much more powerful—and ultimately have more truth to them—than many things considered fact. Whether Robin Hood was a real person, or an amalgamation of many persons, or a magical spirit of the greenwood, the important thing is that his Story survives. I mean, it still resonates nearly a century after it supposedly began! That’s what matters.

Q: What can we expect from you in the future? A: I’ve a lot of projects in the wings, and hope to live long enough to finish most of them! The main project I’m shopping now is culturally based more on my grandmother’s Choctaw descendants than my grandfather’s U.K. heritage; a different voice, to be sure, but one underserved and vital. But as to ‘thisnow’, as the Wode denizens would say, I’m prepping for the release of Summerwode in May, and working on the final book in the series, Wyldingwode.

Thank you so much, N. B., for these fascinating and thoughtful questions, and for the honour of appearing on your blog to answer them!

The Wode books are available in paperback and the Amazon Kindle store, as well as through Audible.com. The series is published by DSP Publications. A big thank you to J Tullos Hennig for this interview.

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