There are a lot of books about Robin Hood, but this one is different. The Robin Hood Chronicles goes back to the oldest ballads about Robin, which are the closest things we have to original sources of the legend. The first thing you notice in the ballads is that Robin isn’t in Sherwood Forest at all, he’s in Barnsdale Heath, which is in Yorkshire, not Nottinghamshire. The next thing you notice is that there’s no Maid Marian. In one of the ballads a “King Edward” comes into the north of England and takes Robin into his service. The only King Edward who got as far north as Yorkshire in the early days was Edward II, who was in the north of England in 1323. Now it happens that there’s a real Robin Hood on Edward II’s payroll in 1323. I think the coincidence is striking. We do know some facts about this Robin Hood; he lived in Wakefield, he had a wife named Mathilda, he had served as a soldier under Thomas, Earl of Lancaster. What I do in my novel is take the stories in the ballads, add in what’s known about the Robin Hood who was in the service of Edward II, put that against the background of English history of the 14th century, and make up whatever I need to fill in the gaps. There’s no other Robin Hood book like it.
Tell us something about yourself.
I’m 83, grew up in California, got a Ph.D. from UCLA. I’ve been writing all my life. I was a university professor for 23 years, burned out, and quit. Since then I’ve worked for a newspaper, an ad agency, and a PR firm. By that time I was an expert on career change, so I went into the career management field. I’ve published a collection of Kansas folklore, a children’s book of cowboy songs, a critical study of a Kansas novelist, and two books in the career management area. In fiction I’ve published a translation of a Flemish novel, a historical novel about the California gold rush, and two collections of short stories about Thailand. When I retired, I lived in Thailand for six years.
What inspired you to write this book?
When I was in fifth grade, somebody gave me a copy of Howard Pyle’s Robin Hood, and I was fascinated. Then the next year I got a copy of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. Ivanhoe has Robin Hood in it, but it’s a different Robin Hood. Ever since then I’ve been wondering what Robin Hood was really like. Then a few years ago I read J.C. Holt’s Robin Hood, and it all came together. Holt is a lot more tentative than I am, but the facts I use are in his book. After all, he’s a historian and I’m a novelist.
What’s your favorite Robin Hood movie?
Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood in 1938. I was in Thailand when Kevin Costner’s Prince of Thieves came out, so I didn’t get a chance to see it. I understand it’s pretty good. But it would have to be awfully good to come up to Errol Flynn’s.
How did you choose the title?
I didn’t, my stepson Alan did. In writing the book I adopted the style of a medieval chronicler, so Alan suggested I call it The Robin Hood Chronicles.
What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?
Nobody wanted it. I think maybe it was too far outside the beaten path of Robin Hood stories, too unlike what people expect. So I published it through PublishAmerica.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
I wanted to be a writer ever since I learned to read. I wrote my first book when I was in kindergarten.
Do you have any writing rituals?
Apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair and start in.
How do you come up with the names for your characters?
Since The Robin Hood Chronicles is a historical novel based on early ballads, the names were already given.
Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?
The hard part is marketing. It helps if you can find someone authoritative who is willing to write a blurb for you.
If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?
Nothing, really. I’m pretty well satisfied. Well, I think I would have tried to get PublishAmerica not to price the book so high; I think the price has hurt the sales.
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?
I read anything and everything. When I was a child I liked the Oz books, and of course Robin Hood, when I was in high school I liked detective stories, and when I was in college I liked science fiction. But now I’m more impressed with serious literature. My favorite authors in English are Chaucer, Fielding, and Mark Twain. They saw the world pretty much as I see it. As a historical novelist I think nobody’s better than Robert Graves. In other languages I like Cervantes and Kazantzakis. So my favorite authors are all dead.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
My next book is called Adolf Hitler in Oz. It’s a comic fantasy satire. It’s already finished, and I’ll tell you about it in our next meeting.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
Believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, who’s going to believe in you?
Who is the perfect reader for your book?
I think my perfect reader is somebody who likes history and isn’t disturbed when somebody sees thing differently from the way they’re usually seen. Because I certainly see Robin Hood differently from anybody else.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
I have a website, www.samsackett.com.