Finding Those That Have Your Back: An Interview with Author Kelly Ann Jacobson
by Ashlyn Petro
Kelly Ann Jacobson’s ROBIN AND HER MISFITS is another thrilling reimagining of the Robin Hood legend, hitting the shelves April 25, 2023 from Three Rooms Press. While “stealing from the rich” is all the same, this novel switches out the arrow-wielding “merry men” for a gang of fierce—and fiercely individual—queer bikers, street racers, and thieves. Their leader, Robin, drives them all from a life of greed and “stealing from the rich” to a core code of conduct that means giving back to queer girls, just like them, that need help and support.
There’s been so much buzz and excitement over Jacobson’s return to the world of fairytales, working her magic and reworking the story to allow readers of all kinds to find themselves in the pages, and themselves through the reading community. Author Addie Tsai of Unwieldy Creatures, a biracial queer, nonbinary retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, calls ROBIN AND HER MISFITS a “superb queer young adult retelling of a favorite classic […] such stunning storytelling, with vibrant characters wholly Jacobson’s own.”
Dr. Kelly Ann Jacobson is the author or editor of many published books, including, most recently, her young adult novel Tink and Wendy (Three Rooms Press), winner of the 2021 Foreword Indies Gold Medal for Young Adult Fiction and her contest-winning chapbook An Inventory of Abandoned Things (Split/Lip Press). Kelly’s short fiction has been published in such places as Best Small Fictions, Daily Science Fiction, Northern Virginia Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, New Plains Review, and Gargoyle. Kelly received her PhD in fiction from Florida State University. She currently lives in Lynchburg, Virginia, where she is an Assistant Professor of English at University of Lynchburg.
I caught up with Kelly Ann to talk about the literary landscape of queer literature, writing that’s true to yourself, and see how she feels after turning around a second novel in less than two years.
Ashlyn Petro: Here we are: book two with Three Rooms Press: Robin and Her Misfits! How did it (or does it) feel to start the whole process over again? Anything better the second time around?
Kelly Ann Jacobson: Working with Three Rooms Press was a dream of mine for YEARS, so doing not just one project but two with my favorite publisher is pretty incredible. I love that we are building on the work we did with Tink and Wendy, especially with books that are similar, in terms of being queer YA reimaginings of classic tales, and I definitely have more confidence in myself, as not just a writer but an “author” in the public world of books. I also got to work with you, Ashlyn, which was incredible! I felt like we vibed immediately—you understood my vision, and I got your suggestions for revision immediately.
AP: The feeling is mutual; I loved working with you!
Your reimaginings of fairytales are always queer–upfront and in the title (which I love)–what does a fairytale need to have for you to see those new queer narratives come off the page? What specifically about Robin Hood drew you in?
KJ: Great question! I am very proud of my identity, so I am glad that my books feel upfront about that aspect, too! I knew that I wanted to do another YA reimagining after I finished Tink and Wendy, and I just had this idea of blending a car chase movie like The Fast and the Furious with a classic reimagining. I also wanted to focus on the idea of found family. Looking back, I was living in Florida while I completed my PhD at Florida State University and caring for a new baby, while my partner travelled back and forth from Virginia, so I wonder if that idea of “found family” also felt especially important to me then because of the dear friends I made during that time? For example, the book is dedicated to my best friend Heather, who was one of those found family members and the first reader of Robin and Her Misfits. So, somehow, Robin Hood popped into my brain, and there was Robin, on her motorcycle, flying down the highway with her Misfits behind her.
In terms of what a fairytale needs for me to see the queer narrative in it, I’m still trying to figure that out! I’ve wanted to write a third book to sort of work as a loose series with the other two, but I just haven’t felt that spark yet. I think once I figure out what I want to say about contemporary society—the way that this book is all about queer found family and healing trauma, and Tink and Wendy was all about healing trauma (I’m seeing a theme…) and growing into self-acceptance and avoiding toxic masculinity—then I’ll probably be able to connect that with a classic tale and move forward.
“I just had this idea of blending a car chase movie like The Fast and the Furious with a classic reimagining. I also wanted to focus on the idea of found family… So, somehow, Robin Hood popped into my brain, and there was Robin, on her motorcycle, flying down the highway with her Misfits behind her.”
AP: And then, more generally, what is your overall process? Pen and paper, type it and print it, voice memos…
KJ: Typing all the way! I actually write really differently than I speak (which is 1,000 miles an hour and VERY energetically), but I also think too quickly to ever successfully write with a pen and paper. On days when I’m not teaching (I’m a professor), I wake up, get my kids ready for school, get back home from drop-off, make my second cup of coffee, and there I go, writing as many words as I can get down. My desk is in the sunroom, which is lovely and full of plants.
AP: This novel is jam-packed with fantastic and strong queer women you can’t help but root for. Besides Robin, which character came to you first? What part of the story clicked next and made the Misfits leap from your fingers and onto the page?
KJ: I do have a type, don’t I!
I never plan my books, so the novel came out this way sort of by accident. Robin was first, and then suddenly I was switching points of view to Little John, and then, whoa, I was in emails between White Rabbit and Skillet. I kept looking at the screen thinking, What is happening? That’s just my process! If I know the ending, then I won’t be as driven to keep writing the book to find out what happens next. I just sort of set my books up, and then I just follow them, allowing the characters to tell me their stories the way they want to tell them.
My favorite section of the book is actually the last one (Daisy Chain’s section), and when I got to it and started writing, everything in the book that I’d done subconsciously sort of instantly made sense. Plus, I just love all of Daisy Chain’s Shakespeare quotes—they’re a fun thing to incorporate into a chapter!
AP: There’s so much queer lit–and more being published and posted and printed every single day–how does it feel to be contributing to this growing mainstream landscape? And what did you set out to accomplish, or have sitting in the back of your mind, when you began really digging into Robin and Her Misfits?
KJ: It feels AMAZING. When I first started publishing fiction, my work (when it was finally accepted) was shelved under “erotica” because no one knew what to do with queer fiction! Now, there are lists like “30 Must-Read Queer Fairytale Retellings for Pride!” Getting more queer characters in books is the whole reason I switched from adult to young adult fiction in the first place, and now I get to actually do it.
In terms of what I wanted to accomplish with this book in particular, I think I wanted to tell young adults, and anyone reading this book, that even if you don’t feel like you fit in with the family you started with, or if they don’t accept you for who you are, it will still be okay. You can still find those people who will have your back. A lot of people assume that having queer protagonists means that my books will be romance novels, and though they do have some romantic love in them, they’re mostly novels with a different kind of love—in this case, learning to love others again as family, and in the case of Tink and Wendy, learning to love yourself even when you’ve made mistakes.
“Even if you don’t feel like you fit in with the family you started with, or if they don’t accept you for who you are, it will still be okay.”
AP: Now the real question on my mind has been: HOW did you do it AGAIN? Robin and Her Misfits is coming out only eighteen months after Tink and Wendy! That’s truly incredible. I know writers typically vary in their writing habits after finishing a manuscript (let alone publishing). They either take a nice long break or have something in the wings to immediately redirect their attention. What was your (original) plan after Tink and Wendy?
KJ: Break?!? Not me. My first book was published in the school library when I was five years old, and I have been writing stories ever since. It’s part of the fabric of my life. When I need to work something out in my life, I write. When I want to avoid something, I write (and then realize I left a secret message for myself in the writing anyway, even when it’s super speculative and completely removed from my own experience).
In other words, I’m someone who must really try to take a break from writing (and there are times when I do, such as when I start a new teaching job and need to craft a bunch of new courses, or when my kids are off from school—I just don’t like to do it!). One of my major growths as a writer has been learning to accept the way that life can make my writing ebb and flow, and to not get resentful when this is the case.
In this specific case, I went right from one to the other, and I’m very glad I did since I think there would have been immense pressure on my writing if I’d known how successful Tink and Wendy would be. Robin and Her Misfits was just sitting on my computer, and when I happened to mention the novel during a Q&A session for a Tink and Wendy launch event that Three Rooms Press was attending virtually (I didn’t know, since I wasn’t the one controlling the Zoom!), Kat asked to read it. I was thrilled!
AP: So now, what is your (tentative) plan after Robin and Her Misfits hits the shelves?
KJ: Well, I have a literary speculative fiction novel coming out this fall from Livingston Press called Weaver, which was my dissertation and is told in epistolary format from the perspective of an alien museum curator who is putting together an exhibit to tell the story of the fight over Earth.
In terms of new writing, I definitely want to circle back to another young adult novel, but I’m just waiting for the right inspiration to strike. In the meantime, I’ll write some stories and craft some poems and just enjoy writing shorter pieces!
AP: Lastly, if you could reread any book for the first time, what would it be and why?
KJ: This is a tough question! Hmm. My favorite series is the Dark Tower series by Stephen King, and King has inspired me in a lot of ways, especially in the combination of literary craft and genre fiction. Perhaps I would reread the seventh book, The Dark Tower?
Kelly Ann Jacobson's newest novel ROBIN AND HER MISFITS (9781953103321) will be released April 25, 2023 in Trade Paperback, ebook, and audio. For further details on the book, click here.Share This!