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TheRaider.net Features Interviews Adventures of Gabriel Hunt
 
The Adventures of Gabriel Hunt
as told by Charles Ardai
by Stephen Jared - posted on April 27, 2009
 
The Adventures of Gabriel Hunt

The Adventures of Gabriel Hunt, a series of six new novels, resurrects a story style popular in the first half of the last century, when tens of millions of readers were snatching “pulps” off newsstands. One of the top genres was adventure. Adventure fiction captured readers’ imaginations with exotic locales, larger than life heroes and fast action. Beautiful women loved and lusted for brilliant, athletic men who were experts with a gun, knife or bullwhip, and trails led to extraordinary treasures often enshrouded in supernatural mystery. The Adventures of Gabriel Hunt, despite its modern setting, is thankfully, fearlessly derivative. It’s also instantly addictive.

 

The series’ first book, Hunt at the Well of Eternity, is credited to Gabriel Hunt, but really written by acclaimed novelist James Reasoner. He introduces billionaire adventurer Gabriel Hunt, who follows clues marked on a Civil War flag leading from Manhattan to a lost city of the Mayans. Aided by a stunning scientist and pursued by greedy cutthroats, Hunt inches closer to a fantastic discovery that could change all humanity. With Burroughs, Haggard, Mundy and other classic adventure authors as guide, here is a rip-roaring story that defies time. Could there be a subtle wink in a Fountain of Youth story written by someone channeling works from the early 20th Century? Who knows? There is certainly a wink to fans of Indiana Jones, which is great fun (and will not be spoiled by me). Far from being a mere tribute to yesteryear though, Reasoner’s imagination charges forward like a speeding train, weaving through familiar territory with situations and characters that linger long after putting the book down. My geek heart was left desperately anxious for more.

The second book in the series, Hunt Through the Cradle of Fear, is also credited to the fictional hero, but really written by Gabriel Hunt mastermind Charles Ardai. A lovely linguist with a special knowledge of ancient languages is kidnapped by one of Gabriel Hunt’s most ruthless enemies. A mad chase follows through Egypt, Greece, Turkey and Sri Lanka as Hunt’s rescue operation leads him to an evil scheme involving the mysterious and terrifying legend of the sphinx. Ardai’s story provides clever foundations for many surprises to surface without ever seeming contrived. Consistent with Reasoner’s work, Ardai reaches beyond tribute to pulp authors. His writing takes on a life of its own. It succeeds with a deceptive simplicity where adventure fiction should aim (and most modern efforts fall short), and that is—while reading, fans should long for the fantastic to be real.

Glen Orbik illustrates the top-notch retro covers. Other titles scheduled for release are Hunt at World’s End by Nicholas Kaufmann, Hunt Beyond the Frozen Fire by Christa Faust, Hunt Among the Killers of Men by David J. Schow and Hunt Through Napoleon’s Web by Raymond Benson. Just prior to catching a flight from New York to Australia, Charles Ardai kindly offered time for questions about his latest enterprise.

Who are some of your favorite authors and favorite filmmakers?

Gabriel Hunt
Book 1:
Hunt At the
Well of Eternity

I've got pretty wide-ranging tastes, so this list may seem like a bit of a hodgepodge. Favorite authors include crime fiction masters like Raymond Chandler and Lawrence Block, literary authors such as Graham Greene, Philip Roth, and Kurt Vonnegut, science fiction writers such as Asimov or Dick, and essayists like Samuel Johnson. Plus there are one-off titles I love even if I don't love the rest of the author's work, such as Pale Fire by Nabokov, The Assistant by Malamud, A Passage to India by Forster, or A Canticle for Leibowitz by Miller. If you just want to look at the adventure genre, though, I go immediately to Edgar Rice Burroughs, Alexandre Dumas, Jules Verne, Lester Dent (who wrote the Doc Savage stories as "Kenneth Robeson"), Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, and (though in some ways their work has aged poorly) H. Rider Haggard and Sax Rohmer.

Favorite filmmakers include Spielberg and Lucas (no surprise there); Francis Ford Coppola; the three great physical virtuosos of the last century, Buster Keaton, Fred Astaire, and Jackie Chan; and comedians like Billy Wilder, Woody Allen, and the Marx Brothers.

Are you familiar with the work of Douglas Fairbanks? His adventure films are some of the best and his physicality was amazing.

Charles Ardai: I do know Fairbanks and love his movies, too. Thanks for reminding me. And then there are again the one-offs: Tornatore for Cinema Paradiso, Sluizer for The Vanishing, Lean for Lawrence of Arabia, Curtiz for Casablanca.

As you conceptualized this series, did the original inspiration come from Indiana Jones and James Bond, or were the influences more literary?

Gabriel Hunt
Book 2:
Hunt Through the Cradle of Fear

There were many influences. I grew up reading falling-apart copies of Argosy magazine and watching old Buster Crabbe movie serials on PBS, for instance. But if I'm being completely honest it can really all be traced back to one weekday afternoon in 1981 when my parents told me to put on my jacket because they were taking me to see a new movie called Raiders of the Lost Ark. I had no idea what I was walking into—none. I was eleven and a half, I loved adventure stories, but somehow I hadn't heard about this movie. From the title, I assumed it was something about Noah's Ark, possibly along the lines of that cheesy Leonard Nimoy TV series of the time, "In Search Of...," where Nimoy narrated credulous tales about nonsense like the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and UFOs. In fact, they'd done an episode about Noah's Ark, so it made sense that I'd draw the connection. I wasn't too excited to spend two hours watching a movie about it, but... I went. And when I came out of the theater, I was a different person.

It's as simple as that. That movie shaped me. It shaped what entertainment could be for me. Every leading man from then on had to measure up to Indy; every action scene had to measure up to the truck chase; every finale to the melting faces. The comedy had to be as clever and smart and perfectly timed. Every script as economical and ingenious. Every score as rousing. And of course I was doomed to be disappointed many, many times over the subsequent three decades, not least of all (I'm sorry to say) when after a 19-year hiatus I finally got the fourth Indiana Jones movie I'd been dreaming of... and it was not the movie I'd been dreaming of. Of course Lucas and Spielberg would say I'm not 11 anymore and can't expect to be charmed by an adventure movie in the same way... but I honestly think that's a copout. If I saw Raiders for the first time today, I'd love it as much as I did then. Maybe in different ways, but... it's just such a great film.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I started writing when I was very young; it's something I always loved doing, coming up with stories and telling them. I was a voracious reader, and eventually if you read enough it's probably inevitable that you'll think, "Hey, I could do that, too." So I contacted one magazine after another, offering to write for them, and of course most of them said no. I was a kid, for heaven's sake. The New Yorker wasn't going to publish me. But this happened to be around the time that videogames were first becoming popular—the Atari VCS, Intellivision, Colecovision, Vectrex—and there was suddenly a crop of new magazines covering these games that needed people to write reviews. And those magazines were happy to let a 14-year-old write for them. For fixing a hair dryer, my brother (a born engineer) commanded $5—but for writing a videogame review, I got $50, and I got to keep the game! I was the happiest kid in New York.

Eventually, I published more than a quarter of a million words on the subject of videogames and computer games (including reviews of all the early Indiana Jones games). I also experimented with branching out. Some of these experiments worked better, some worse. I got a gig reviewing nightclubs in New York when I wasn't technically old enough yet to legally be allowed into the nightclubs. That didn't last long. But I also started writing fiction, first for one of my favorite magazines, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, which had been launched in 1941 and is actually still going strong today (I have a new story coming out in their pages in a few months), and then for its sister publication, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. That's where I cut my teeth, turning out crime stories for pennies a word, just like the old-time pulp keyboard pounders. Lousy way to make a living, but a great education and a great way to hone your craft. And this was all before I turned twenty. I was a pretty driven kid.

I read that your parents are Holocaust survivors. Can one fairly say then that your existence is in part thanks to American tough guys of the 30s and 40s? Do you think that’s played a part in your enthusiasm for this type of work?

Gabriel Hunt
Book 3:
Hunt At
World's End

Yes—though it wasn't only Americans. Hungary was actually liberated by the Russians at the end of World War II, so they were (somewhat confusingly) the heroes in some of the stories my parents told me when I was growing up. Of course, they then turned into the villains a short time later, and my parents wound up fleeing at night through a minefield while Russian tanks rolled in the streets behind them, and that transformation of friend into foe also probably influenced my taste for adventure fiction with its double-crosses and twists.

And of course one of the truly great heroic figures of the war—rakish and reckless and fearless, plunging into danger repeatedly with no regard for his own safety—was Swedish: Raoul Wallenberg. I grew up hearing tales of how Wallenberg walked into Nazi-occupied territory and literally physically pulled Jews off trains bound for concentration camps, giving them papers—some real, some forged—to get them to safety. My father, who was only 13 at the time, got one of those papers; a relative of mine, Sandor Ardai, was Wallenberg's driver. You grow up hearing stories about a man like this, risking his life to fight evil and save lives, and in your child's mind he becomes a sort of combination of Zorro and Batman and The Avenger... and Indiana Jones.

I certainly think my parents got a little extra kick out of watching Indy triumph over the Nazis in Raiders—it was cathartic for them in a way that more serious movies about the war never could be. I remember when Schindler’s List came out, I asked my mother if she wanted to see it with me and she declined, saying "I don't like remakes."

Do you find it annoying that critics are so dismissive of certain genres?

Yes. I love genre fiction and genre movies. Critics sometimes look down their nose at genre material because it's "mere" entertainment, but there's nothing contemptible or even unambitious about entertaining people. Giving an audience pleasure is one of the finest things a piece of art can do. And it's not easy. It's as hard to write a great entertainment as it is to write a great tragedy. And I think Indiana Jones is as great a literary creation, ultimately, as Falstaff or Huck Finn or Gatsby.

Seems you’ve launched Gabriel Hunt off the success of Hard Case Crime. Could you tell me how Hard Case Crime came about?

Hard Case Crime
Hard Case Crime

Sure. Back in 2001, my friend Max Phillips and I, who had spent the previous seven years working together on the Internet company Juno, started talking about what we might enjoy doing next. And one thing we both loved was the paperback pulp crime fiction of the 1940s and 50s. No one was publishing books like that anymore: short, cheap, with irresistible plots and gorgeous painted covers. And we asked the question, "Why not?" We spent the next two years trying to find a publisher willing to take a chance on a new line in the old style and finally hooked up with a terrific company called Dorchester Publishing, which really is the heir to the great paperback publishers of the pulp era: they're not part of a bigger conglomerate, they only do paperbacks, and they specialize in genre fiction with exciting covers. And the one major genre they didn't already have in their lineup was crime fiction. (They had some thrillers, but that's not the same thing—a thriller is Tom Clancy or Thomas Harris, a crime novel is Raymond Chandler or James M. Cain.) So I approached them and we worked out a deal to publish a half dozen books and see how they did; if we liked the results, we'd do another six the following year. That was five years ago, and we're now coming up on our 60th title. Authors who have written original books for us include Stephen King and Mickey Spillane and we've uncovered lost treasures from other giants of the genre like Ed McBain and Donald Westlake and Cornell Woolrich and David Goodis. Plus every book features a brand-new painted cover in the grand pulp style, including some by artists who were working when books like this first came around, like the legendary Robert McGinnis. It's been a grand adventure. Not a hugely profitable one, but great, great fun.

Tell me about the process of recruiting the right writers for this project.

I started the project by going to some members of the Hard Case Crime family. I talked to Christa Faust, who got an Edgar Award nomination for the book she wrote for us, Money Shot; I knew she'd also written and directed a video series in the old serial style starring pin-up queen Dita von Teese called "Dita In Distress," and over cheesesteaks in Philadelphia we hatched a plot for a Hunt adventure she'd write. I went to David J. Schow, who wrote the very cinematic Gun Work for us as well as screenplays for movies like The Crow and some of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Texas Chainsaw Massacre pictures; he's a big, big fan of Doc Savage and signed on immediately. Since I was certainly not going to miss the opportunity to write one myself, that gave us three books right there, which was half of the six I'd committed to deliver. That left three slots open, and two of them went to adventure novelists I'd known for years and whose work I loved: James Reasoner, who is probably best known for westerns and historical novels, but who has written 200 books in all sorts of genres; and Raymond Benson, who is best known for writing the James Bond novels after Ian Fleming and John Gardner stopped, but has also written books set in Tom Clancy's universe and original thrillers of his own. Both of them were excited to join our merry band. And finally I signed up a first-time novelist named Nicholas Kaufmann who'd been recommended to me by a friend and whose short fiction really knocked me out.

On the website, you promote these books stating that the adventure genre is no longer popular and it's time to bring it back. I'm wondering how you went about attracting interest from a publishing house.

Gabriel Hunt
Book 4:
Hunt Beyond
the Frozen Fire

I was fortunate, in that I'd already been working with Dorchester Publishing for the past five years in connection with Hard Case Crime. I knew them and they knew me, so we didn't have to go through a long or complicated dance of getting to know each other or proposing and counter-proposing terms. I went out to lunch with two of their executives and said, "I've had an idea for a new line of books, let me tell you about it and see what you think," and they said, "That sounds great, let's do it." It was that simple. But it wouldn't have been if we hadn't worked together on more than fifty books before.

Why set the series in present day?

I talked about this with Dorchester early on, and their feeling was that if we set the stories in the pulp era we might lose a significant fraction of the potential readership, since there are readers who just won't pick a book up if it's set in the 1930s or 40s (or 50s, or whatever). I love reading (and writing) period stories myself, so I would have been happy to make Gabriel a 1930s adventurer—but I trust Dorchester's judgment and went along with the idea of setting the books in the present. Besides, doing that helped us distinguish our character from Indy. I mean, they're different in all sorts of ways, but setting the series 50-60 years later is a big thing that immediately tells the reader, "This isn't just Indiana Jones under a different name."

Gabriel Hunt is in his late 30s. Will there ever be a fleshing out of his younger days—perhaps what inspired him to a life of adventure?

In each book, we learn a little bit about Gabriel's previous adventures, including some tantalizing bits about what he did as a teenager and in his 20s. I'm a big believer in not giving the reader too much background information—I don't feel we'd enjoy Casablanca or The Maltese Falcon more if we knew more about Rick's childhood or Sam Spade's—but I do think it was fun to see glimpses of Indy's background in Last Crusade, so it can be done well. The trick is to work the information in gradually and naturally, when there's a good reason for it, rather than falling prey to the modern notion that everything will be better if we know what kind of diapers the main character wore as an infant and whether he was bottle fed or breastfed. (Although I'm guessing Gabriel was breastfed.)

Bits of information are dropped about Gabriel Hunt’s long missing parents in the first book, and then a sister is mentioned in the second. How soon before we get more detailed information about what happened?

Gabriel Hunt
Book 5:
Hunt Among
the Killers of Men

Good question. Gabriel has two siblings, one of whom he sees a lot of (his younger brother Michael, who administers the Hunt Foundation) and one of whom they haven't seen in nine years (their kid sister Lucy, who ran away from home at age 17). Their parents vanished at sea in the year 2000 and are presumed dead, but their bodies were never found—that search is the one hunt Gabriel never managed to complete successfully, and it nags at him. I have deliberately left this storyline open and unresolved for the time being—I like it sitting there as a spur, driving the character. But that doesn't mean we'll never reveal the answer.

The real treasures in the first two books aren't revealed until we get well into the stories. I love the puzzle aspect of the series—the mystery. What inspired that? Movies are generally not like that. You are told very quickly what the hero is after.

That wasn't deliberate and won't be the case in all the books. In the third book, for instance, we're told right in the second chapter what the artifact is that Gabriel is looking for, much as Indy was told about the Ark in Raiders. But I did enjoy the element of discovery in the first two books, where you know there's something funny going on and something people are willing to kill to possess, but you don't quite know what it is until halfway through the book in one case and the very last pages of the book in the other. In Hunt Through the Cradle of Fear, you find out late in the book that even the villain doesn't know exactly what he's chasing after—he just knows it's an artifact of enormous power, and that's enough reason for him to covet it. Of course, this is true to some extent in Raiders as well: the Nazis and Belloq know they want the Ark, but basically the Ark is just a box, and they don't know till the climax of the movie what's inside the box. This is classic adventure storytelling, the hunt for what Hitchcock called a MacGuffin. You don't necessarily need to know what the MacGuffin is or why everyone wants it, just that they do and that they're willing to kill over it.

Where have the more fantastic elements of these stories come from? Did you and the other authors research existing legends or did you create them? Obviously there are Sphinxes but is there evidence of them outside Egypt?

Gabriel Hunt
Book 6:
Hunt Through
Napoleon's Web

While initially I told all the authors that I didn't want them to do any research. I told them I just wanted them to make things up out of their imaginations. In practice that's not what actually happened. James Reasoner, for instance, is the author of an authoritative 10-volume series of books on Civil War battles, and he used some Civil War material in Hunt at the Well of Eternity. And every location in my book, Hunt Through the Cradle of Fear, is 100% real: the Pyramids and the Great Sphinx, of course, but also the towering rock fortress of Sigiriya in Sri Lanka (yes, with a giant pair of lion's paws halfway up), the underground cistern in Istanbul, the deserted town on the Greek island of Chios. And everything I wrote about sphinxes is true: the sphinx really was the symbol of Chios; there really was a lost epic called "The Oedipodea," telling the story of (among other things) Oedipus' run-in with the Greek sphinx; there really are sphinxes in the mythology of India and Sri Lanka; and so on. Mind you, I did take liberties at some points, but I tried to weave the fantastical or merely fictional elements into the scrupulously researched historical material so that the seams were invisible.

Do you plan to have the Gabriel Hunt series continue after the currently scheduled six books?

It's up to the readers. If the first six do well, I'm sure Dorchester will want to do more, and if they sell poorly, they probably won't. I definitely think there are more than six good stories we can tell about the character, so I would like to do so—but of course publishing more books isn't the only way to tell more stories. We might also see Gabriel Hunt on television or at the movies someday, or in a comic book adventure, or a videogame. One of the fun things about adventure fiction is that you're really not limited to the printed page. I'm a novelist, so starting Gabriel on the printed page made sense, but once the character's out there, there's no limit to where he can go.

For more on the adventures of Gabriel Hunt, visit www.huntforadventure.com.

 

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