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Help Support Features Interviews Max McCoy
Max McCoy interview
by Shipwreck - posted on October 31, 2002

Armed with Member questions, as well as a few of his own, James Bradley has provided us with an in-depth look into the written world of a great author.
Max McCoy has written numerous novels including, Jesse: A novel of the outlaw Jesse James, Home to Texas, Sons of Fire, The Wild Rider, The Sixth Rider and Four Indiana Jones Novels.

You can learn more by visiting Max at


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.

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

click to enlarge
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 Jones?

Philosopher's Stone.

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 Stone'.

QueZTone asks:
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 'Hollow Earth'.

Indywrite3 asks:
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.

From Rome 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?

Hollow Earth novel.

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 make it.

Were you 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.

How much was George Lucas involved with the books?

Dinosaur Eggs novel.

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 ask:
Which is your personal favorite Indy Novel and why?

'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?

I 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 be next?

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, at 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).

Finally, 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?

Secret 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.

James Bradley would like to extend his sincerest thanks to Max McCoy for taking time out and providing with this amazing Interview.


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