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Help Support Features Interviews Campbell Black
Campbell Black interview
by Shipwreck - posted on August 29, 2002

Campbell Black is the author of the very first Indiana Jones novel, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Aside, from Raiders, Campbell has had an extensive writing career that includes 26 books! His most recent, I Hope You Have A Good Life, a touching memoir, is available in stores now.

Official site:

Writing is a risky business. You must have been pretty sure or loved the thrill of possibly losing your fedora to get involved. Can you share with us how you became a writer?

At the age of six I made up my mind when I heard Dylan Thomas read his poetry on the radio. I was enchanted by the magic of the words. I thought: that's for me. I must work with words.

When looking at a bibliography of your work, the list is pretty extensive. How do you approach writing a novel?

I get the germ of an idea and start work. Some writers lay out a whole map of a book, I don't do that. I like the characters to lead. I prefer if they have lives of their own. Each day I only have a rough idea of where the story is going to take me. Then about 3/4ths of the way through, I usually see an ending take shape.

Would you share with us some of the background that charted you along your current path in writing?

I'm not sure what you mean. I always wanted to write. I don't know anything else. I tried most things, but writing was all I ever needed. I've been lucky to make a living at it. I was also fortunate in high school in Scotland because I had a teacher who truly cared about my writing. He encouraged me. My parents encouraged me. I was fortunate.

There are currently, over 20 Indiana Jones novels in print. The first, Raiders of the Lost Ark, is the most sought after. How did your path into writing lead to your novel adaptation of Raiders of the Lost Ark?

My publisher suggested to Lucasfilm that I do the novelization. They agreed, I agreed. I hadn't turned a script into a book before. I was given six weeks in which to do it.

Adam Daniel asks:
Indiana Jones is much more of an enigma in Raiders of the Lost Ark; his character seems a little tougher, a little darker. How much freedom were you given to explore the character in preparing the novel?

Raiders' novel cover.

I wrote Jones as I saw him. An adventurer, yes, but I always felt there was a slight melancholy side to him. I don't think Lucasfilm really approved of this, but from my point of view I couldn't write the novel if I had to base it on the character in the script - I found him shallow and shadowy, all action and no thought, and I wanted to add some kind of internal process to him, which I think I did. Up to a point. I couldn't write straight comic book, which was how the script read to me. Let me give you example that I think suggests the 'tone' of future Jones's books. In my original manuscript, I referred to Indiana Jones as Jones all the way through. The one editorial change that was made was the change from "Jones" to "Indy". Clearly, the filmmakers were thinking of a more approachable more chummy character, than the darker Jones who appealed to me. They were right, of course, because they were market-oriented, and I wasn't. Not to that extent anyway. To me it seemed to reduce the character to call him "Indy" instead of "Jones".

How much were George Lucas and Steven Spielberg involved with your work?

To the best of my knowledge, not at all.

Adam Daniel asks:
Did Indy's personality seem to change in the film or its sequels from what you had originally envisioned?

I think he became a caricature, a comic action hero, and not very interesting after 'Raiders'. He might have been developed differently, a more thoughtful character, with more levels, but I found him being turned into a hollow Hollywood figure, frankly.

The imagery of Raiders of the Lost Ark changed cinematic history and revived the adoration of adventure in print. Was it difficult to create the places and scenes used in Raiders? Did you use anything like props or travel to assist you?

I invented them myself. I took what was in the script and added to it. There is a sequence where Jones travels to Nepal; in the film this is done with a map. I had to invent how Jones got there, and I had to imagine what that trip might be like. There's also the question of a car Jones gets in Nepal. How does he come across a car? Is there a Nepal branch of Hertz? In the film, he just has it: Hollywood magic! I had to devise a sequence whereby he acquires a car. There were other such additions to the book.

Jennifer Feher asks:
When writing about the broken romance between Indy and Marion, what did you have in mind that Indy did to "ruin" Marion's life when she was a teen? I've wondered about this one for years, so I'm sure others are curious too.

I remember only that she was in love with him, or had a crush on him, and that was taboo - she was too young, and he told her so, and the romance was impossible. If there was sexual innuendo - an older man's affair with a young girl - I think that was kept muted. My own feeling is that they were lovers. He broke it off. She hurt. But he hurt too, and that interested me as much as the action: it gives a character depth if he or she has pain and a past.

Adam Daniels asks:
You describe in detail Indy's past experiences with Rene Belloq and (especially) Marion -- were those flourishes you developed on your own, or were they all "dictated" to you by others?

I had to make them up because there are gaps in scripts, and in books you can't write credibly with so much left out in terms of character development & background. Nothing was 'dictated' by anyone.

Can you share with us some of your experiences while writing Raiders of the Lost Ark?

I don't have many that are illuminating. I read the script a number of times. I saw where I'd have to add material to give depth to what was basically an action screenplay - for example, some explanation had to be given for Jones's expertise with a bullwhip. It isn't common for a professor of archeology to be proficient with a bullwhip, as far as I know. I had a six week deadline and I remember deferring work until the last possible moment. In the end, I wrote and edited the book in about 4 days. (I should say my wife helped edit the book.)

Raiders of the Lost Ark won four Academy Awards and is now considered an American classic. Do you feel the book did well? Can you share with us your opinion about it?

I don't know if the book did well. I assume it did. I never saw a royalty statement, nor receive any percentage of sales. I was annoyed by that because the book went into numerous printings and whenever I asked for an accounting I wasn't given one that made any sense. Welcome to Hollywood.

Did you ever consider writing additional Indiana Jones novels?

No. It was a one-shot thing. The character doesn't interest me at all any more.

Now that a fourth Indiana Jones movie is in pre-production and is slated for the big screens by 2005, if offered the chance, would you consider writing the adaptation of the final chapter in Indiana's film life?

No chance.

Adam Daniel asks:
What would you like to see happen with Indy 4, in terms of the story and the character?

The development of a flesh and blood character instead of the flip comic-book Indiana Jones we see nowadays. I realize he's popular as an action hero, but at a great cost to character development and personal relationships within the stories.

Do you go to any conventions? If so, can you give us an idea of where you might be next?

No conventions. I'm never invited anyway.

Finally, you've spent an amazing amount of time devoted to writing. Do you have any last minute advice for those who wish to pursue a career in the "risky business" of writing?

Get a good agent first of all, one who will stake his/her life on your career. Write to be read, don't write for a few pebble-eyed professors in universities. Write to entertain. Use suspense as a proper literary technique. Watch people. Keep notebooks. Enjoy yourself when you can, because it's mainly all damn hard work.

Thank you, so much for spending time with us. We wish you and yours the best, and look forward to spending more time with you by opening a chapter to your latest adventure.

My pleasure. I have happy memories of writing the book, and some that are not so happy. But every book is like that.

James Bradley would like to extend his sincerest thanks Campbell for taking time out and spending it with Also, thank you to the visitors of TR.N for providing the numerous questions.


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