An author’s first novel is always a big deal, but few make an entrance like Jenny Elder Moke. Her debut novel, Hood, is not only being published by Disney Books, but she is also contributing to the legacy of Robin Hood. Currently based in Austin, TX., Elder Moke spends her time away from writing with her family, Tae Kwon Do training, and maybe protecting the city as a costumed vigilante. Wanting to learn more about her career as well as Hood, I was able to interview Elder Moke for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories you loved experiencing? Are there any you still enjoy revisiting?
Jenny Elder Moke: I have always loved high concept, big action/adventure type stories. I mean, my favorite movie of all time is The Mummy. They are these fantastic vehicles for transporting you away from the ordinary into the extraordinary and taking you on a breath-taking ride so that you feel like your hair must be standing on end by the time they’re done.
I absolutely love to revisit all those stories from my childhood – The Mummy, Indiana Jones, Transformers (just the first one, because the rest are…less good), The Princess Bride. All of it.
Yanes: When did you know you wanted to pursue a career as a writer? Was there a moment when this goal crystalized for you?
Elder Moke: I’ve always written little snippets of things, but I didn’t get serious about writing books until I graduated college. I was working for a small independent publisher in Austin, TX reading manuscripts to determine if we would acquire them or not. It felt like a dream job at the time, but there was still something missing for me. So, when I would go home in the evening, I started working on my own story. It was, to this day, still the most exhilarating writing process I’d ever been through. It was like the story possessed me, and I didn’t yet have the hang ups of knowing how bad the writing was and how much work was needed to fix it, haha. But once I finished that manuscript, I realized I better learn how to actually write if I ever wanted to do something with it. So, I signed up for a children’s literature class at Austin Community College and never looked back.
Yanes: You currently live in Austin. While Austin is known for SXSW and incredible music; the city’s literary community is rarely discussed. Could you take a moment to talk about Austin’s writing community?
Elder Moke: Austin has a really thriving writing community, especially in children’s writing. The SCBWI chapter here in Austin is particularly active, and I’ve met some great picture book, middle grade, and young adult writers here. They really span all the genres, and it’s been great to find people who do the same thing I do because most people outside of publishing don’t understand writing or publishing.
Yanes: You studied children’s writing with Liz Garton Scanlon. What are some of Scanlon’s views on writing that have impacted you the most?
Elder Moke: Ahhh she was so fantastic, I can’t overstate that. She really taught me what story was. I went in with these instinctive ideas about good story vs. bad story, but she put a name to it and taught me how to see it in other stories and build it in my own. We talked about theme, tone, character, world, plot points, etc. She covered the gamut.
But where I think she really excelled was in how she taught us to give and accept critique. Critique workshops were always a part of her classes, and the way she set them up and guided the discussion were critical to my career. I am still critique partners with another student from her class, and we still follow her same guidelines for critique.
Yanes: Your latest book is Hood. Robin Hood is a character that has been around since the 1300s. Why do you think this character is still so fascinating centuries later?
Elder Moke: That’s a great question! I actually read an article about Robin Hood’s enduring legacy as part of my research, and what the author said (that I agree with) is that Robin Hood represents the people’s dissatisfaction with the ruling powers (whoever they may be). The idea of someone who rejects the oppression of the ruling class and fights for the justice of those who are affected by their actions will always, unfortunately, be attractive.
Yanes: Of all the stories to be based on Robin Hood, only a fraction make him a father. Given that Hood centers on Robin Hood’s daughter, what was the inspiration behind making this a story about a daughter learning of her father’s legacy?
Elder Moke: The idea was sort of a lightbulb moment for me in a lot of ways – I write YA, so it made sense to focus on a younger character. And I’m a female, so I wanted to explore what it would be like for a female in this world (especially because in most versions Maid Marien gets the shaft. She’s always off in a tower somewhere, pining after Robin, while he gets to do the fun adventurey bits). So those two aspects came together in the idea of following his daughter, which also let me include Robin in all his Robin-ly glory.
Yanes: Isabelle of Kirlees is an amazing character. How did you go about crafting her? Was there a moment in which Isabelle took on a life of her own?
Elder Moke: Oh thank you! Honestly, main characters are always the hardest for me to write because they have the most work to do. They have to grow and change the most, which means you have to start them off in the worst place possible. So, getting into Isabelle’s head and figuring out who she was on the inside, who she had to pretend to be on the outside, and who she would ultimately become took years of work. And she went through many permutations until she became fully realized. But I think the scene that really set her personality for me was a scene in which she goes shooting with her father, Robin Hood. And in that scene and their interaction, something kind of unlocked her for me, and then I knew who she was.
Yanes: When doing research for Hood, were there aspects of the time period the story is set in that took you by surprise? Was there any information you wanted to include but had to leave out?
Elder Moke: Oh yeah! The biggest one I always tell people is that most sisters of the time wore their hair shorn as part of taking their vows. It was usually a matter of oppression by their male counterparts who worried they would be seen as too sexual unless they kept a really severe appearance. But I felt like having a bald main character (or a bald Marien) would be too distracting to explain and to the story overall, so I left it out. But if any medievalists ever read this book and think “well you got that wrong” I didn’t! It was a story choice! I promise!
Yanes: When people finish reading Hood, what do you hope they take away from it?
Elder Moke: More than anything, I hope people have fun. I hope that for a few hours they’re transported to another world, out of the mundane and into the extraordinary. Because that’s what I want out of books – I want an adventure. So, I hope my book takes others on their own adventure.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
Elder Moke: This is really exciting because I just recently got to announce my next series with Disney Books – a two-book series that’s like a young Indiana Jones meets National Treasure by way of The Mummy. The first book, Curse of the Specter Queen, follows a book-loving codebreaker, her childhood crush, and her reckless best friend as they travel to Dublin in the 1920s to try and stop an ancient Celtic curse that could end the world. It comes out June 2021, and I can’t wait to share it!