TNA: Hi, J, thanks so much for being here with us today. Why don’t we start out by having you tell us a little bit about yourself? Hobbies, interests, odds and ends, things that make you, you.
JTH: Well, first I want to thank you for having me on your blog; you are a gracious and lovely host!
Hm. The main thing that makes me, me? The writing. Always there, no less a part of me than my heart beating, really. My amazing spouse has been in my heart only 17 years less than the writing, and we have terrific children and grandchildren. The rest is perhaps odd with a lot of ends as of late. I recently retired from being a professional equestrian of over 30 years. Spouse and I have been archery enthusiasts off and on, more off lately so the island deer are probably safe. I’ve danced since childhood, teach bellydance and, before my knees started giving me fits, was a regular performer in restaurants and at Ren Faires. Our house is empty of dog presence for the first time in… oh… forever, so I’m looking, particularly if anyone has a nice borzoi…
TNA: Who would you say are your biggest literary influences?
JTH: I should have to say Hail to the Three Marys: Mary Renault, Mary O’Hara, and Mary Stewart. Very different, but alike in that their command of language, emotions and imagery is superb; their work, even the lighter fare, I can read over and over again. Parke Godwin, who by sublime example taught me two things: it’s all right to write thick, evocative prose, and that craft is neither quick nor easy. James Goldman–anyone who can write dialogue like The Lion in Winter needs to be emulated, and often! Poe. Felix Salton. L.M. Montgomery. Virginia Woolf. Robert Graves. And Ray Bradbury, who has never made the mistake of equalling short with shallow or undemanding.
TNA: Who would you say is your biggest real-life influence? Was there someone who encouraged your love of writing?
JTH: Quite the opposite, actually. My writing was not taken seriously when I was younger. But it doesn’t have to quash you; honestly, it can be one hell of a crucible. Particularly if the muse refuses to be cast out. ;)
And things change as you get older. You find kindred spirits. My spouse has always been, in his own way, a steadfast support. There was one incident I really remember in school, where I was writing a scene and doodling pictures of it instead of paying attention. My scribblings got confiscated in front of everyone and I was mortified. The teacher came up to me after class and handed it back. Said it sounded really good and she hoped I’d finish it… I was gobsmacked. It was the beginning of being informed: “You do know you really can do this, don’t you?” Another teacher suggested I think about getting published. That was a rather surreal (and often uncomfortable) introduction, not to having a voice because I was determined to have that, but to having one’s voice really heard. Validation, sure, but even more a conversation. I still have a lot of work that is only known to the wall or the fetishes perched on my desk shelves. But the storyteller in my spirit has always been kind of insistent about, well, telling the story.
TNA: Have you always written fantasy?
JTH: I would have to say that most of my writing has had a fantastical element to it. Even my Historical novels (like Greenwode and Shirewode) tend to have a bit of faery dust layered on the chronicled facts. Contemporary is not my gig, really, but some years back I did write a contemporary fantasy with which a screenwriter friend came this close to a movie option for us. I’ve also done my share of non-fiction articles, mostly about equestrian sport, writing and dance.
I guess my sweet spot writing-wise is that mythic, interstitial something best called Speculative, residing in some other time with a liberal dollop of the far-out.
TNA: What is it about writing in that particular sub-genre that appeals to you most?
JTH: The subtext of subversion. Taking a serious left turn along societal norms and mores, questioning what beautiful and terrible things make a world while observing what the inhabitants of that world make of it. So many books–even ones that should be subversive–are relentlessly set in the expectations of the Now we live in, and so many people are fixed in an idea/l of reality that simply is not the only one. The book that makes me think, that pushes me out of my own vistas?–that’s a book I will remember and re-read for a long time. And I hope to achieve the same with every book I write.
TNA: In your books Greenwode, and now Shirewode, you’ve blended the legend of Robin Hood with Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Tale of Gamelyn”. How did you come up with the idea to bring these two legends and two characters together into a series?
JTH: Oh, now you’ve put the cat in with the canaries… Firstly, I have to squee over the fact that you know who Gamelyn is! Secondly, I could talk about thematic and lit and history aspects all the day, so just edit me with a meat axe if I start to geek out. ;)
So, Robyn and Gamelyn… It was quite organic, truly. Rather like separate vines trailing out and catching on whatever they touch, and before you realise it there’s this entire connected system. Robyn had been lurking in my subconscious for just, well, forever, and there were other outlaws that I read about and ultimately became fascinated by. Robyn, like all real leaders, is so strongly defined by those who follow him–his Merry Band–so I was looking for ones to fill the communal dynamic. And I have a huge gooey centre when it comes to secondary characters. The ‘Merries’ are fascinating, particularly Little John, who in many of the ballads is basically co-leader and Robyn’s reality check. There’s this whole homosocial dynamic going on that the addition of a female–usually Marion–can both emphasise and contradict. But there were other outlaws informing and peripheral to Robyn’s legend: Foulke fitz Waryn, Adam Bell, and a whole plethora that you just have to be an Medieval Lit geek to know. And there was Gamelyn. The more I read about Gamelyn, the more intriguing it got. Gamelyn is tied in so many subterranean ways to the Robin Hood legend, and before I knew it those stealthy creeper-vines had caught me up and twined me in.
See, Greenwode originally began over thirty years ago as a trilogy that was on the verge of contract with an SFF publisher. Then that publisher died and a lot of things that were going to happen didn’t. It was a run of very, very bad luck on so many fronts. In that first incarnation, Gamelyn was there, but merely on the periphery, a knight who came to Robyn to help him regain his lands. It’s a major part of the RH legend, and also was conversant with “Tale of Gamelyn” insofar that Gamelyn regained his inheritance. He and Robyn weren’t lovers in the original Greenwode, though there was the mythic Holly/Ivy/Oak triad scenario that runs so strongly through Greenwode and Shirewode now. Marion wasn’t Rob’s sister, either; the original was much more along the usual romantic storyline. I ended up putting the manuscript into the bottom of my file cabinet and didn’t look at it again. But the story just wouldn’t leave me alone, the connections with Robyn and Gamelyn wouldn’t be shrugged off, it just kept morphing and changing in my subconscious. It just flat needed a better writer than I was then. My original rubric of Holly King/Oak King rivalling for the Ivy Maid was all still there, but now with this absolutely fascinating (to me, anyway) layer of the two Kings being lovers as well as rivals. It’s the mythic/social/personal triumvirate of terror! Who could resist detangling all these things twining together? Not me.
Gah, I’ll belt up now. I did warn you.
TNA: How many hours of research would you say has gone into the writing of this series?
JTH: Wow. I don’t think I could calculate it. This legend and period in history has been a lifelong passion, gathering bits here and there. When I try to calculate all the research from the first time around with Greenwode, including trips into Robyn’s home territory… as well as the past several years, since research never stops… it’s rather obsessive, actually. I love doing research and will cop to being a bit hardcore about it, but also try to not take myself too seriously over it. History was chronicled by conquerors, after all. This is fiction. Sometimes Fact has to be sloughed away because it just don’t work with what Story demands, and for me, Story trumps everything. But it is a fine tightrope to walk.
So I guess the answer would be less ‘hours’ and more like ‘years’. ;)
TNA: Religion (Christianity vs. Paganism) is the fulcrum upon which all the conflict between Rob and Gamelyn rests. My feeling, after reading Greenwode, was that Christianity comes off as a very real villain, standing in the way of Rob and Gamelyn’s happiness. How much did your own beliefs influence your telling of the story?
JTH: Belief is a fascinating word, isn’t it? Even by saying ‘I believe’ conjures an implied focus and assumption of knowledge. It is inevitable, isn’t it?–what experiences a writer possesses–or doesn’t–will influence what we write, and the assumptions made therein will naturally speak more to those who’ve endured something like.
Yet my focus also has to be subordinate to what the characters are experiencing. As a writer, I need to honour their internal workings–which are often not entirely the same as my own. There’s a disconnect that is very important, despite that our characters are also very much an inexplicable part of us. It seems to me that if we as writers don’t have both strong connection and necessary detachment, the stories we’re telling will in consequence bear little, if any, resonance outward.
Given that, the narrators of Greenwode are young and see things very much in black and white so, yes, the Church gets rather a hard shake. I say hard instead of unfair, because too many horrible things have been done in the name of religion–most often by people who take good teachings and twist them to fit their own prejudices. I think the enculturation of faith is massively important, particularly in this timeframe. It’s all about power, isn’t it?–having it, or lacking it. Class warfare and religious intolerance have historically gone hand in hand. Tolerance is a bit more difficult when one’s survival is under siege–not impossible, certainly, but difficult. I do sincerely hope it comes across that the pains of enculturation go both ways in the Wode books. There is a subtext to be gleaned from the supporting characters’ actions, a glimmer of reality through the naïve cracks of the main characters’ PoV. The take home villain is not necessarily meant to be a particular faith, but what things, fair or foul, people do with faith. How they bind themselves in blind obedience to a One Truth. The problem being, of course, that there are so many truths.
TNA: Did Rob and/or Gamelyn give you fits as you were writing, not wanting to cooperate with where you saw their story going?
JTH: Of course! But I’ve found, when characters are particularly non-compliant, it’s often my fault, not theirs. I’ve stopped paying attention, gone off the rails somehow. The characters usually know best. I might be convinced I see the story unfolding–yet I might be wrong.
There’s an odd discipline within the act of just letting go–and its hard. But it seems to me respect must be given to the story that needs to be told. We just need to be… present for it. There’s this mix of terror and joy and trepidation going in, and the hope that your skills are equal to the task… and sometimes they’re not–so you wait, because eventually, you will mature. If, of course, you’re open to it. And the fits that come are part of it. Kind of like raising toddlers, eh? Except taller, with serious weaponry.
How is it that all my characters are so deedy with sharp objects? Well, I’ve the upper hand in this much: if they off me, who’ll tell their story? Ha!
TNA: Of all the characters you’ve created, do you have a favorite? If so, who and why?
JTH: It’s very hard to pick favourites, because I tend to empathise with all of them–even the antagonists–for such differing reasons… it’s that old saw, ‘apples and oranges’. But I do have a squishy place in my heart for supporting characters. They sneak in and demand their due whilst you’re in awash in brain storms over the main protagonists’ issues… and those supporting characters are the ones who usually end up knocking me arse over tit at how mercilessly they make you care for them. The stablelad John did that, in Greenwode. I thought him a mere walk-on, but he showed me, just took over who he was, and why. And I love the animals. They have their own strong personalities, too. Diamant (Gamelyn’s charger) was a favourite. And there’s another animal familiar/favourite you’ll meet in Shirewode.
TNA: Do you have an all-time favorite literary character? If so, who and why?
JTH: Um… Robin Hood? :)
TNA: If you could sit down to dinner with one person, past or present, who would it be, and what’s the one question you’d love to ask that person?
JTH: It came to me that Hypatia would be just as much a geeky bookworm as myself, involved as she was with the library of Alexandria. I would ask her what it was like, to be surrounded by all of those ancient histories, to be able to just reach out and touch them…
But I don’t think I would want to ask her what it was like to watch all that beautiful knowledge wiped out by narrow-minded zealots.
TNA: Would you care to share a little bit of information on any of your current WIPs?
JTH: Well, I did just write ‘The End’ on my newest novel, so I can share that. Wild Indigo is the first in what I hope will be a Speculative Fiction series. It’s set in a Bronze Age type society where shamanism is all but forbidden, and deals with what happens when a young male of the chieftain’s clan hits maturity and starts showing signs of elemental possession. There’ll be some invading aliens and genetic engineering thrown in the mix, too. ;) It’s not based on the usual Fantasy dynamic of western European culture. Not that I don’t love that dynamic–the Wode books are proof of that–but there are many others left wanting.
TNA: Where can readers find you on the internet?
JTH: I’m still learning to navigate the social media thing, but I do have a website that lists most of the important bits: http://www.jtulloshennig.net
–And a blog that I’m still moving into and attempting to master (though I think it’s more mastering me), mostly musings about stories and telling them: http://musings.jtulloshennig.net/musings/
–And I have a Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/jtullos.hennig
I welcome email correspondence from readers and do my best to answer questions.
Of course, if I’m in the middle of a writing jag, I will likely be absent from all of the above. Nobody should take that personally.
TNA: Would you like share an excerpt from Greenwode or Shirewode with us?
JTH: Of course! How about Shirewode?
Robyn didn’t go hunting. Instead of taking down some hapless game—their larder was stocked well enough, anyway—he ended up taking out some aggression on scrap of cloth hung against a tree.
Considerable archery practice—at sheriff’s men as well as target clouts—had rehabilitated his left arm to nigh his old skill. He felt a man—his own man—again. The old monster of a Welsh longbow that had lain sleeping in Cernun’s care was at his back again, her spirit submitting gladly instead of struggling and besting him. The feel of nigh three ells of yew giving to his push and sighing at his pull like a satisfied lover was, sometimes, better than sex.
And this release had its own satisfactions.
Right now, he was imagining a ginger-haired hillock of heartbreak at the end of that release. The arrows sang, hit and hummed, one after the other, deadly accuracy and economy.
I thought you were dead, you Motherless sod. John told me they’d sent you to war, and we all know the odds of a young soldier surviving… it sounds all of danger and hot glory to fight for king and country, only our king is a Norman who refuses to even speak our tongue, so how much would he value our Mother’s sons?
Another three arrows, lining up, one next to the other and the other.
So long… years of it… first Marion then you, ripped from me, always wondering how and why, never feeling whole… the pain there but not… like Arthur, with his missing arm aching in the damp.
Two, in-between the three, a finger-length upward. Then four below, two fingers down. The clout was edged with Gilbert’s goose- and peacock-fletched arrows.
Had Gamelyn… felt it? Could it even be possible he had not?
Robyn stalked over to the tree and pulled his arrows from the clout. Several of them had pierced altogether deep; he tugged the clout away and tossed it aside. Working the bodkins from the rough bark, he exhaled a soft, healing benison, saw the white-blue sparks dancing about the trunk and knew the apology had been accepted.
Not for the first time, he wondered what the world had been like when everyone could see these things, could feel and sense the other realities hovering just beneath this one. For surely it depended upon the day whether he himself thought such a possibility either wondrous or one flaming mad.
Realized, suddenly, the tree he had spitted then caressed was an oak.
Always the slap with the kiss….
Memory ripped at its old, festering scab once more, so merciless that it made his knees wobble. Robyn clutched at the tree, found tears, sudden and hot, filling his eyes.
Found the demand burning through his mind: Why didna you tell me?
The answer, when it came, was slow, almost as if the Horned Lord was spending his thoughts in aimless drift through the trees. There was nothing to tell.
He was dead to us. Beyond my reach.
The sense of it trickled through, cooled Robyn’s outrage as swift as it had risen. “And now… he is not.”
Now, he has returned.
“Will he come?” He didn’t dare hope—didn’t want hope—but it warbled through the words, nonetheless.
He will not be able to resist. There was a dark, eerie satisfaction in the words, telling Robyn the Horned Lord had spent much energy into the wait.
A wait that, until this moment, Robyn had not recognized he’d had.
He is not the lad you knew.
“Neither am I,” he whispered. “I’m not sure I know me, most days.”
Summer has returned to our land, my own. We must make sure, you and I, it cannot leave again. However that must be.
There was a threat beneath the words, stirring resentment in Robyn’s belly. “I was told he didna mean—”
It does not matter. He was cause for betrayal and would do so again in a heart’s beat. He has turned his face from me. From you. The tynged that would swirl about him is foreign, dangerous.
“But I felt—”
He is your rival. You forget that at your peril. You played well, but you lost, little pwca. Do not presume you can game so recklessly again.
As the consciousness faded from his own, warning, Robyn smiled.
“What else, o my lord, does your pwca do?”
THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED