Interviews in Sherwood

Nathan Makaryk

Interview conducted and transcribed
by Allen W. Wright


Nathan Makaryk is one of the owners of the Maverick Theatre in Fullerton, Orange County, California. He is a playwright, director, combat choreographer and more.

In 2012 he wrote and directed the play The Legend of Robin Hood. In 2019, he adapted the play into the novel Nottingham.

A sequel, Lionhearts, will be published in 2020.

Visit Nathan Makaryk's Official Website 

Encountering Robin Hood

AWW: Thanks for agreeing to this interview.

NM: Thank you for inviting me! I love the content you put out, it’s great to have daily doses of Robin Hood.

AWW: I'm always fascinated by how people first encountered Robin Hood. How did you discover the legend and what was your first impressions of Robin Hood?

NM: You know, I honestly have no idea! He's such a ubiquitous character, I feel like Robin Hood has simply always existed as a classic hero. I definitely have no "first" memory of encountering the characters, but I'm sure I had picture books and toys as a kid. I undoubtedly saw the Disney version or some of the early movies earlier than I can remember now, so I feel like I’ve always just known the general characters more than any one specific version of them (which I think may be true for a lot of people). I suppose I have concrete memories from when I was ten years old of Prince of Thieves and the "Qpid" episode of Star Trek:TNG, but those were definitely not my first exposure. 

From the stage to the page

AWW: In 2012 you wrote and directed The Legend of Robin Hood for the Maverick Theater. What convinced you to do a production about the legend?

NM: Most of the shows I had directed before 2012 involved a lot of sword-fighting (like Treasure Island and The Hobbit), since I love stage combat. My business partner suggested I find a Robin Hood script and I responded with … “I hate Robin Hood.” Don’t get me wrong, Robin Hood should be my proverbial jam, because it has everything I love: sword fights, kings, castles, witty English banter, etc. But it’s also one of the biggest offenders of the “good guys vs bad guys” trope that I just despise. Most incarnations of the Robin Hood story (and especially the generic version that everybody knows) involve an unbelievably altruistic Robin Hood faced off against a moustache-twirling coin-counting Sheriff, and I just hate it. I’m a big fan of seeing both sides from a realistic point of view, and I had never seen that to my satisfaction in a Robin Hood story. So my business partner basically said, “Well you should write your own version.” And I did.        

AWW: What were the biggest challenges and opportunities in expanding the play into the novel Nottingham?

NM: The opportunities were everywhere, because the play (dense as it was) could only fit so much material. The challenges, however, were that the major plot points are the same between the play and the novel, so any material I added had to raise the stakes, or risk feeling like filler between plot tentpoles. Some of this came in the form of establishing Robin and William’s relationship in the Crusades before they return to Nottingham, building a bigger romance and backstory between William and Arable, and digging deeper into the Sheriff’s internal politics.

     Since I’m a playwright and a producer, I try to write my plays in such a way that I know they’ll be practical to actually produce on a small stage. This meant the play was geographically limited by its scenery: most scenes alternated between “somewhere in the forest” and “somewhere in the castle.” The novel obviously had no such limitations, so it was such a relief to stretch the plot into more areas with bigger set pieces. In the play, I also did my best to avoid too many small roles, because I hate to waste an actor’s time as “Nameless Guard #4”—whereas the book let me expand the cast considerably, without caring that a character is only in one scene! 

     The biggest addition was following the POV of Guy of Gisbourne, and building his Guardsmen up as a sympathetic balance to the Merry Men, which we’ll talk about in just a bit.

AWW: Do you have a favourite character in the novel, and why?

NM: This may sound like a cop-out, but usually whichever character I’m currently writing/editing becomes my favorite! Then when I have to move on to work on someone else, I start off angry because I miss the previous character, and then the new one becomes my favorite again.

     Realistically I’d have to choose between Prince John and Arable. John is just a delight to write because he’s sarcastic and playful and doesn’t care when he offends someone, but I’ve come to love Arable for being the exact opposite of that. She’s a very grounded character and the most vulnerable of the POVs, which we don’t get a lot of in adventure stories. Also, she grows a lot over the course of the books . . . and I have some big plans for her if I’m lucky enough to get a third book in the series. 

Robin Hood tropes and good vs. evil

AWW: In Nottingham, you poke holes in various Robin Hood tropes -- the archery contest, for example. What are your biggest philosophical concerns with the traditional Robin Hood legend?

NM: As I mentioned, the “good-guy vs bad-guy trope” is first on the list. When I started my research, I began with one basic question: who was the Sheriff of Nottingham? In almost every telling, he never even gets an actual name outside of this nefarious title. But—unlike Robin Hood—we have actual historical records about the role of High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire during the years that Robin Hood is most commonly set … and somehow we still always just get a nameless caricature of evil! But he was a real person, and—very interestingly—the title changed hands quite frequently during the time in question! And while the odds are high that any Medieval sheriff was indeed probably insanely corrupt, I wanted the challenge of seeing things from his point of view. I wanted to explain the signature Robin Hood canon through the lens of an honest, pacifistic politician who was navigating the difficult political balance of running a medieval county. From there, it was just about connecting the dots.

     My second biggest philosophical problem is that of nameless, faceless “guards”. Whether it’s books or movies, I always hate the mob of expendable baddies that our good guys have to fight by the dozens. Stormtroopers, zombies, robots, guards, mercenaries … whatever they are, the reason they’re faceless is so we don’t have to worry about the morality of killing them. But in any real situation, guards or soldiers are all actual people (except Nazis. I’m okay with Nazis dying). We always celebrate when Robin Hood’s crew cleverly takes out a throng of guards, never thinking about those guards’ lives and families, or how those guards might be honestly trying to protect their city from this unchecked banditry. So I wanted a story that had zero nameless deaths. Every time Robin Hood’s men killed or incapacitated a guard, I wanted the reader to already exactly know who that person was. This was one of the big advantages the novel has over the play, because I was able to flesh out Guy of Gisbourne and his company of guardsmen so that the reader knows them as well as the Merry Men.

AWW: It has been a hectic couple of years. Has your position on good and evil changed much since writing Nottingham (or the original Legend of Robin Hood play)?

NM: Ah ... yeah. Yeah. The world has been making life hard for authors lately who want to write dastardly villains, only to discover they pale in comparison to the actual villains in real life. I’m not going to lie—for someone who tries extremely hard in my creative work to see the humanity of people on both sides of a conflict, I’m having a profoundly hard time doing that in the real world right now. Take a brief glance at the comments on any political social media post and you’ll find hundreds of people who are crueler and less empathetic than the worst Sheriff of Nottingham ever was. But the good news is that there are far more Robin Hoods amongst us than just one. The work of stopping corruption and hate at the top is still just as poignant today as it was eight hundred years ago, but It’s fortunately not as hard to find the good guys in the crowd anymore.

Lionhearts - The sequel

AWW: Did you have a sequel in mind when you wrote Nottingham?

NM: I did! The play was intended to stand on its own, of course, but when I decided to novelize it I knew that opened up the possibility of extending beyond the first story, if it was successful. So as I was researching the history, I made a loose outline of the historical events that would be important to include as the series progressed, and how I’d want the characters to get entwined into those, and some general plot ideas for what a 3-book or 5-book series might look like. I didn’t want to go in without a plan, so that I could work in some seeds for future events early on.

     Yes, there are some obvious unresolved conflicts in Nottingham that directly set up the wheels at play in Lionhearts, while other times it’s more about setting up a character’s backstory early to support what I know is going to happen later on. For example, it’s completely unimportant in the first book that Will Scarlet and Elena came from a Nottingham gang called the Red Lions, but that’s vital information in the second book, and I didn’t want it to feel like it came out of nowhere. I was lucky in that I had most of Lionhearts finished while I was still editing Nottingham, so I was able to integrate those kinds of connections into the first novel as needed.

     Other times it’s just about introducing characters that are going to grow over the series. Prince John, for instance, wasn’t in my play and has only a very small role in the first book. But he’s obviously a huge historical figure that’s a big part of book two and (crosses fingers) future books, so I introduced him in book one even though his plot was fairly tertiary. Similarly, John has a quirky young advisor named Wally (Walter de Gray), who will one day bribe his way to the title of Chancellor when Prince John becomes King. That’s probably Book Four material, but these are the kinds of historical events that are critical to know in the research stage, because it lets me set them up way in advance. Again, whether or not I’ll be lucky enough to still be writing books in this series that far into the characters’ future, I don’t know. But I definitely have an intriguing plot outlined for book three, and there are plenty of seeds for it (obvious or not) in Lionhearts.

AWW: I'm intrigued by the plural title Lionhearts - which seems to hint at the old ruse of "King Robin" and "King William" from the first novel. 

NM: Yes, that’s a good analogy! There are many people in Book Two who might call themselves a “Lionheart,” based on the charisma and bravery that King Richard is purported to have. It’s more thematic than literal, but Book Two is full of people who see themselves as the king of their domain, who might not end up faring much better than King Richard: sitting in an Austrian prison. There’s a lot of discussion about what makes a person lionhearted, and what kind of people rise to answer the call to action. And then about two-thirds of the way into the novel, we get an entirely new definition for a “lionheart” that hopefully shines an entirely different light on the title.

AWW: What can you divulge about Lionhearts?

NM: Lionhearts continues to deconstruct more Robin Hood tropes, much like Nottingham did, but it also deviates a lot more from the standard Robin Hood formula. I wanted the first book to feel very much like the canon Robin Hood tales that people think they expect, but in the sequel I have a lot more control over new plotlines. One of the big tropes tackled in this book is the Lionheart himself, King Richard (or Richard of the Last Reel, as he’s known in the movie industry) who is famous for sweeping merrily back into town, slapping evil Prince John’s knuckles for misbehaving, and making everything okay again. That’s far, far from the truth of what happened historically, which—spoiler alert—involved a lot of people dying.

     Another thing I get to do in Lionhearts is take on the “Robin-verse,” if you would. In Book One I had to settle on one version of Robin Hood as the titular character, but part of the joy of the Robin Hood catalog is how many different interpretations we have of him. In Lionhearts, there are a lot of characters who, in one way or another, claim the title of Robin Hood as their own. For instance, the earl Robert of Huntingdon is often attributed as a potential originator of the Robin Hood myth, and he’s a character in this second book ... who is not necessarily dissimilar from an Errol Flynn. You’ll also see a more anarchist-style Robin Hood, and a Robin-Hood-gone-wrong . . . and there’s even a knowing wink to a particularly fox-shaped Robin Hood.

AWW: Is there anything else you'd like to add? 

NM: I’ve probably said far too much already! I think the last thing I can proudly claim with this book is an increased amount of agency for its women. In the first book I did as much as I could to add three-dimensional, meaty female roles, but I also wanted to stay true to the “typical” Robin Hood lore, which is overwhelmingly predominately male. I’m happy that the first book had an equal number of female and male recurring POVs, but the main story was still very much about two men. In the sequel, I had so much more leniency to deviate and tell my own story within the world, which meant a much better balance not only for Marion and Arable to lead, but also for new powerful female characters, even within a very patriarchal time period.

AWW: Thanks again for your time. I'm looking forward to reading Lionhearts.

NM: I’m so excited for people to get it! Unlike the first book which depended on you bringing your preconceptions about Robin Hood along for the ride, this one hopefully takes you places you never expected.

Order Nathan Makaryk's books on Amazon

The novels, novellas and short stories are available in print, Kindle and audiobook format on Amazon. Also, you can get a free exclusive short story, The Rescue, on Steven A. McKay's website.

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© Text and Location pictures, Copyright 2020 Allen W. Wright - All Rights Reserved
Photos of Nathan Makaryk supplied by Nathan Makaryk
Covers to Nottingham and Lionhearts from Tor/Forge Books supplied by Nathan Makaryk. Nottingham cover art by Nicolas Delort and Andrey Burmakin

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