Most moms would
warn their children against choosing a career
in writing. So, despite the probable warnings
from yours, what inspired you to become a writer?
In my mind, there was never any
question that I would be anything else. Of course,
my high school guidance counselor attempted to
persuade me to "give up these pipe dreams"
of being a writer and do something practical instead
-- such as join the military -- but I have a bad
habit of ignoring good advice. Besides, I would
write whether anybody paid me to do it or not,
so it is a happy circumstance that I get paid
to do what I love. My inspiration came from the
stuff I read as a kid: Twain, Hemingway, Bradbury,
E.R. Burroughs, Tolkien, Haggard, Charles Portis,
R.E. Howard, Verne, H.G. Wells. And my mother
encouraged me to be a writer. Perhaps she didn't
realize the implications.
Many of your writings weave
a tapestry of real history with their adventures.
For some, this task would require a great deal
of study in massive libraries or museums. Your
words make it seem that each of your stories were
generated with ease. What is your secret and how
do you approach writing a novel?
There's no secret to writing a novel,
but there are a few indispensable tools. I learned
the value of research during my years as a daily
journalist, and I carried that over into my novel
writing. And in some ways, the more fantastic
your story is, the more research you must do.
Tolkien comes to mind.
Of course, you can research until your ears bleed
and still not be able to tell a good story, but
research helps; not only does it lend authenticity
to your story, but helps to shape it as well.
Think of what 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' would
have been without the Nazis fascination with archaeology
and Hitler's obsession with the occult. There's
been a lot of talk during the past few years that
this obsession has been overstated, but I think
there is evidence to suggest otherwise. And the
connection with Himmler is undeniable. As head
of the SS, Himmler's castle at Wewelsberg rivals
anything Hollywood has come up with, and his symbol
for the SS was the Totenkopf -- a Deaths' Head,
a grinning skull.
share with us some of the background that charted
you along your current path in writing?
Max McCoy on a trip.
Although I knew I would be a novelist
from an early age, my professional writing career
started when I dropped out of college and took
a job on a small daily newspaper in Kansas when
I was 19 or 20. It was entry level, police beat
stuff. I took a lot of obits. But, I discovered
that everyone had a story to tell, and that if
your stories weren't interesting enough, you weren't
asking the right questions. After a few years,
I began winning some awards for my writing, and
I also started freelancing to magazines. In 1986,
I spent five weeks in Japan interviewing the survivors
of the atomic bombings for a series of articles.
It was during the cold war, and tensions were
really high -- Reagan was making jokes about bombing
the Soviet Union -- and the Doomsday Clock, the
one published by the 'Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists',
was at four minutes to midnight, as I recall.
When I returned from that assignment, my mother
died of cancer, and I realized it was time to
start writing novels. A year or two later I attended
the 'Tallgrass Writing Conference' at Emporia,
Kansas, and met Don Coldsmith, another Kansas
author, and Greg Tobin, who was an editor at 'Doubleday'
at the time. Tobin told me I needed an agent,
and recommended Barbara Puechner. A couple of
years later, my first novel, 'The Sixth Rider',
about the 1892 Dalton raid on Coffeyville was
published, and it was named Best First Novel by
the 'Western Writers of America'. Also about that
time, I went back to school and finished the undergraduate
degree, and also got an MA in English.
How did that
path lead you into writing novels about Indiana
Another editor at BDD (Bantam Doubleday
Dell), Tom Dupree, liked the way I handled action
in my westerns and asked if I would like to throw
my hat in the ring to continue the Indiana Jones
series. They had just finished publishing Martin
Caidin's books, and because he was ill, they were
looking for somebody new. Now, I saw 'Raiders
of the Lost Ark' at a drive-in movie in Joplin,
Missouri, when it first came out, and was fascinated
by it. I remember thinking to myself: somebody
actually gets paid to write this stuff. Little
did I know that I would get the chance to write
for Indy. Tom and I kicked some ideas around,
and the one I liked most had the "Spear of
Destiny" as the centerpiece. It was, I thought,
the perfect Indiana Jones story. But we had to
pass on using that because a Lucasfilm licensed
comic book (and later, a video game) used the
Spear as part of the plot. I was disappointed,
but came up with another story, about alchemy,
intertwined with a continuing story about a Crystal
Skull. The sample chapter I did for Lucasfilm
that became the first chapter in 'Philosopher's
How would you define Indiana Jones yourself and
(in) which of the novels you've written do you
think capture that character best?
That's a great question. I prefer
the 'Raiders' Indy who is a little darker, a little
more mysterious, a little more dangerous. As the
franchise went on, Indy became warmer and friendlier.
In fact, I didn't want to call him Indy in the
books -- I wanted to refer to him as Jones --
but there was already the precedent established
by previous writers. The novel that best captures
the "classic Indy," if you will, is
How would you describe the character of Indiana
Jones mentally and emotionally?
Another good question. Mentally,
Indy is smart but has a tendency to be intellectually
lazy, except when it counts. I thought there were
some clues in 'Raiders', for example, that Indy
had some trouble with foreign languages and so
forth -- and I liked that, because it made him
more real -- but by the time I got a crack at
Indy, the Lucasfilm Bible said Indy spoke several
languages fluently. Perhaps it was just part of
the evolution of Indy into a superhero. Now, emotionally?
Indy is a romantic and a believer, although he
tries to hide those traits. He knows magic works,
but you would have a heckuva time trying to get
him to admit it. He also believes in God, in His
various forms, but has a difficult time with conventional
region. And he seems to have trouble with women.
He tends to fall in love with the wrong ones,
or at the wrong time, and pay dearly for it later.
In my cycle of Indy novels his love is Alecia,
but it is a doomed romance. She dies.
to Mongolia, the Sphinx to the Arctic and down
into the 'Hollow Earth', we have journeyed through
your words. But, how many of these scenes are
based on firsthand knowledge? Have you traveled
to all of the places you write about?
I would liked to have visited all
of the places I wrote about in the Indy novels,
but it wasn't possible. Also, there is the time
factor -- you simply cannot visit the 1930s on
a research trip. But some of the scenes are based
on real experiences, however. I've trekked through
the jungle to see Mayan ruins, explored caves
and flooded mines, dove into the ocean off the
Yucatan, hiked the desert. But no, I've never
been to the Hollow Earth -- although I did get
some offers from some apparently serious groups
to visit after the book came out. For the other
places, I did a lot of reading, and studied things
like newspapers and city guides from the period.
How long did it take you to
complete each of the four Indiana Jones novels?
Did you hold anything back?
Each book was different, but it
was around a year for each -- much longer than
the publisher would have liked. Yes, I did hold
things back, because there was a feeling that
the books should be suitable for children to read.
I, however, felt that I was writing for adults,
and some of the sexier or outlandish scenes were
purged. An example: During a battle in the Gobi,
a woman flashes her breasts to distract one of
the attackers long enough for Indy to finish him.
But, I was surprised at some things which did
limited on what characters you could use for your
Indiana Jones novels?
No, as long as what I did was consistent
with what was known about the characters. For
example, I got to write the scene in which Indy
meets Belloq for the first time. That was fun.
was George Lucas involved with the books?
Well, they are his characters. But
his involvement was very limited, and I usually
dealt with Lucy Autry Wilson -- who was Lucasfilm's
very first employee, as I understand it -- or
others. And Lucas did read them, and have final
cut, so to speak, but I never spoke with him about
anything. It was really a process that was layered
in bureaucracy -- submit an outline, wait, get
approval submit the manuscript, wait, my editor
would take notes from the lawyers and continuity
people, and then he would confer with me.
Were you able to share input
with the book cover artist, Drew Struzan, about
how the covers would look?
I never spoke to Struzan, but I
know that he read the outlines. Sometimes, I forwarded
pictures of some of the things I would be writing
about, such as ships and dirigibles. Drew Struzan
is very talented and it was terrific to have him
doing the covers. He did a great job, and we were
very fortunate to have him.
Paul Fischer and Jones1899
Which is your personal favorite Indy Novel and
'Hollow Earth' is my favorite. I
like Indy's character best here, and the book
is my homage to the classic hollow earth tales.
Also, Indy gets to have a shoot-out with Nazi
spies in Oswego, Kansas, which was fun.
Martin Caidin ended his two
novels with an Afterword filled with "real"
historical notes. You carried over the same tradition,
which is a lot of fun for the readers. Was this
a requirement of George Lucas?
It wasn't a requirement, but I thought
it was a good idea.
At the beginning
of each chapter, a logo of an eagle holding a
sword and branch appears against a sunset and
shimmering lines. Do you know what the logo means?
had the same question about the graphic, but my
editor said it was just something the art director
liked and had no particular meaning. But I always
felt it should have meant something, however.
It is kind of Nazi-looking, or sinister in a way,
so it would have been nice had it been the symbol
of Indy's arch enemy.
Now, that a fourth Indiana Jones
movie is underway, Indywrite3, Jones1899, Ryan,
Hawkeye228 and many more, ask:
Do you know anything about the 'Indy 4' plot and
if given the opportunity, would you write any
further Indiana Jones novels including a screen
adaptation for the fourth film?
I know nothing of the plot of 'Indy
IV', but I would be interested in doing a screen
adaptation -- if the story is right. Adaptations
are difficult, but I'd like to try my hand. Orson
Scott Card and Max Allan Collins and Alan Dean
Foster all do great adaptations. Foster, by the
way, did the original 'Star Wars' adaptation --
as George Lucas.
Do you go to any conventions?
If so, can you give us an idea of where you might
I go to very few conventions, but
I was in LA recently and became interested in
some of the comic book stuff going on there. All
the buzz the week I was there was a comics convention
in San Diego. You can check on public appearances
under the "events" section of my website,
Note: the website is currently undergoing a revision,
but should be updated by Jan. 1, 2003.
Eabramove asks: Is there anything
(new) you are (currently) working on?
I've been writing screenplays for
the last couple of years, as well as fiction,
and although I have optioned a couple they haven't
been made yet. I'm also finishing an independent
film based on one of my short stories, 'Spoils
of War', which I directed. And, I have a couple
of big novels I'm working on. I can't really go
into detail on any of this, but here are some
movie titles you might look for in the future:
'The Swiss Guard' (action-adventure) and 'The
Moon Pool' (thriller).
you end your fourth and final novel, 'Indiana
Jones and the Secret of the Sphinx', with these
words: "That said, I pass the hat and whip."
Can you describe for us what that statement means?
of the Sphinx.
It meant it was time for somebody
else to carry on the Indiana Jones novels. There
have, of course, been no new novels since 'Secret
of the Sphinx' in 1999, but they will come back,
perhaps with the release of 'Indy IV'. When they
do, I hope the publisher does a better job of
marketing them. The Indy books seem to suffer
from an identity crisis (ironic when you consider
how recognizable the Indiana Jones franchise is),
and many bookstore owners thought they were young
adult, or more improbably, men's adventure. Where
do they belong on the bookstore shelf? In my opinion:
Science Fiction. No, they aren't SF (they are
hard fantasy), but it seems that's where the Indy
readers are. And thanks for giving me an opportunity
to talk about Indy, who remains one of my all-time
favorite fictional characters.