Meeting Conan on the Trail to GRS

As you wade into the writing of a book, you realize you’ve begun walking down a new trail, unlike any you’ve known.  The trail will lead you to pain — as author Rinker Buck says, “It’s a total pain in the ass to write a book” — but also to encounters  beyond your wildest pre-writing imagination.
The writing of the Stewart biography led to meetings with several best-selling authors (Greg Bear, Kim Stanley Robinson, Poul Anderson, William Least Heat Moon, Ivan Doig),  scientists including James D. Burke, composer Philip Aaberg, and others.
One of the most interesting meetings was with prolific author Leonard Carpenter.  Leonard wrote many of the Conan The Barbarian paperbacks, and a treasure trove of science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels.  We met on a beach near San Luis Obispo, a stretch of sand on the edge of sea otter water — a good place to run, swim, and relax from the work of creating literature.
Leonard invited me to his writers’ group.  I joined, meeting others who had written themselves into some small fame and fortune — inspirational and encouraging to an apprentice wordsmith. Leonard critiqued our writing.  When he sent my manuscript back,  with many deletions and suggestions, my first thought was “Leonard’s turning the GRS biography into an exercise in Conan prose!”  But after thinking it over, I realized he’d taught an important lesson – “Lean up that prose!  Cut to the chase!  Move the narrative along briskly!”  I took his advice, and the book is better for it.
Leonard’s latest book moves him away from fantasy, SF, and horror, into speculative historical fiction.  It’s the tale of the sinking of the Lusitania, based on recent research which indicates the British wanted the vessel sunk,  to create a casus belli that would bring the USA into the war on the British side.  I found the well-written book provocative, and was inspired to review it on Amazon.  Here’s my review:
Leonard Carpenter has combined his excellent wordsmithing skills with thorough research to create a partly-fictional, partly real historical novel about the sinking of the Lusitania. As always, he writes a page-turner. Once a reader is into the story, the book hard is to put down. His research and his story lead to a disturbing conclusion: The people who died on the Lusitania were purposefully sent to their deaths to create a casus belli to bring the US into World War I – one of the most useless military tragedies in a century of military tragedies – on the side of the Allies.
Carpenter personalizes his story with subplots about two American journalists, two American nurses – one of whom is actually impersonating a nurse – and their nursing colleagues traveling to Europe to aid in healing the wounded, a thug pursuing the nurse impersonator, a “Dutchman” (not what he seems), and brief sketches of others. His scope is broad, and he includes short chapters focused on British war personnel and others told from the viewpoint of soldiers in battle. The effect is to give the reader an understanding of the vastness and complexity, and the human tragedy, of World War I.
His characters are generally not given depth or rich histories so to some extent they’re one dimensional. (After all, this is not so much a character study as a book of historical adventure and action.) But the main characters have brief moments of exposition which lead readers to a deeper understanding of their personalities.
Several of the greatest historical mysteries of recent times have to do with the convenient attacks on the US, which become casus belli for undeclared (and thus unconstitutional) wars. They take tens of thousands of lives, even after they’re proven to be based on untruths. There was no incident in the Tonkin Gulf, but 50,000 Americans and untold thousands of Vietnamese died because of that untruth. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (except for the poison gas which George H. Bush gave the Iraqis), and, besides, most of the supposed attackers in the September 11th incident were Saudis, but Iraq is as destabilized as Southern Sudan, the carnage has spread, and the US is suffering the longest – and for the war profiteers, most profitable – war in US history.
The implication in Carpenter’s novel is that the sinking of the Lusitania was facilitated by the British as a casus belli. The book’s opening quote, from Churchill, in News of the World, seems to make that clear: “In spite of all its horror, we must regard the sinking of the Lusitania as an event most important and favorable to the Allies.” On the other hand, if it was intended as a casus belli, it wasn’t very effective. The sinking took place in 1915; the US didn’t enter the war until 1917.
Whatever the true story may be, the book makes for wonderful reading. Its characters are generally likeable, the history is intriguing, and the amount of Carpenter’s technical research about the ship and the era brings the age, its technology, and the sinking to vivid life.
Be forewarned – the book’s ending will leave readers up in the air. But since that seems a sure sign that Carpenter is planning a sequel, it’s the right way to end the book.
Buy, it, read it, think about it. Then speculate about what really happened to the Lusitania; and wonder where Carpenter’s next book in the series will take his characters.
lusitania lost cover
If you ever write your book, remember how interesting and painful the task will be.  But like raising a child, writing a book, if you are ethical in the task, will take you to many extraordinary encounters.  It is a great gift of the adventure.

2 thoughts on “Meeting Conan on the Trail to GRS

  1. Interesting (to me anyway) that you opened with a quote from Rinker Buck. I recently read his 2015 work “The Oregon Trail – A New American Journey”, and promptly placed it with my GRS collection. I presume you are familiar with his work since you quoted him; I just wonder if I’m alone in seeing the Stewart influence in his writing. Regardless, it was an enjoyable read.

  2. Thanks, Michael. Yes, Buck’s Oregon Trail is now resting near Blue Highways, Desert Solitaire, The Journals of Lewis and Clark, and Stewart’s Sheep Rock. I must admit I had NOT seen a GRS influence on Buck – his bibliography doesn’t mention The California Trail or other GRS books – but it is certainly a possibility. I met Least-Heat Moon, Ivan Doig, and Kim Stanley Robinson through seeing the GRS influence on their works – so they’re included in my GRS bio. I

    t would be interesting to contact Buck to see if he does know Stewart’s work.

    Cheers,

    Don Scott

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