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.

Of FIRE and Flu

George R. Stewart was always interested in how humans react to ecological events, because he saw those reactions as defining human character.   Two of his best novels, FIRE and EARTH ABIDES, focus on such events – FIRE, on a great forest fire (and fire ecology); EARTH ABIDES,on a planet-wide disease epidemic which nearly ends the human species.

This last month California experienced fire, and some Californians had a lesson about disease.  There were massive and destructive fires, and a literary discussion of an epidemic which references Stewart’s EARTH ABIDES.

Build a home in the woods and, sooner or later, fire will come.  Defensible space is a great help; but in suburbia’s tiny lots, there can be none.   The fires of 2017 burned through the house-stacked neighborhoods so quickly that – as in the recent Oakland Hills fire – many people died trying to flee.   Entire neighborhoods were burned to cinders.   And it was lesson about the fragility of stuff – one video shows a classic, restored ’57 Chevy wagon, burned into eternity.

Anyone familiar with George R. Stewart’s work has probably read FIRE.  The novel of fire ecology, history, and fictionalized fire drama is one of his best – it, STORM, and EARTH ABIDES are probably his greatest ecological novels.  STORM ends with a reference to California history.  FIRE, with a beautiful passage about the role of fire in the ecosystem.

FIRE opens with a lightening strike in a mythical national forest set just to the north of the Tahoe National Forest.  Stewart’s forest is so well-developed – thanks to the help of his brilliant son, Jack, map-maker and geologist, and a colleague, a famous impressionist painter — that for years readers of the book would drive into that area, looking for the fictional National Forest.  In the same way, his story is developed.  It centers around people who seemed non-fictional – a young woman in a fire lookout, an old Ranger, and a young Forest Superintendent, and all those who fight the blaze – so the people read true, like the forest, and their drama brings us into the power of a California forest fire like the ones of this autumn of 2017.  By choosing rangers as key characters, Stewart is able to integrate the human drama with ecological science.  And, in his usual way, he also includes myth, broad science, place-naming, and history.

Walt Disney later filmed the novel for television, as “A Fire Called Jeremiah.”  It’s somewhat Disneyfied, but follows the novels ecological and human themes closely. Today, it seems somewhat old-fashioned and crude; but it shared Stewart’s dramatic presentation of fire ecology with millions of Disney TV viewers.

The TV film, like Disney’s TV version of Stewart’s STORM, is not available today.  When I asked old family friend, Disney Legend Bob Broughton, about the chances of getting a copy,  he said, “Don, the film is in The Vault.  And if it’s in The Vault, Walt himself can’t get to it.”  Needing to view the films for my George R. Stewart biography, I went on a quest – and actually found a copy in a university library (which shall be nameless); the university kindly set up their old Bell and Howell 16mm projector, and, after decades, I again saw Stewart’s work come to life.  There’s now a clip online, probably pirated, but you can watch it here.  (Paramount also made a version of the film – changed so much it bears no resemblance to the book. Here’s a clip, again probably pirated, so view at your own discretion.)

Fire appears in several George R. Stewart novels.  In EAST OF THE GIANTS, a cleansing fire provides closure to the chapters of the novel set on a Mexican rancho.  In FIRE, of course, a massive fire is the protagonist of the work.  And in Stewart’s EARTH ABIDES, a fire ends the story of Ish, and moves the story of The Tribe into some unknown, post-novel, new territory.

EARTH ABIDES‘s protagonist is a disease, a kind of super measles which wipes out most humans.  In these days of AIDS, Ebola, and the other plagues, the story has as great an impact on readers as it did in the days it was published or in the intervening near-70 years.

Stewart himself was the victim of a plague – the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918.  AIDS is a killer, with 38, 000,000 victims.  But the flu killed many more – perhaps 100,000,000 worldwide.  Stewart should have been safe – he was young, in excellent health, and isolated in World War I training camp where he was preparing to go overseas in the Ambulance Corps.  But the flu, ironically, hit the young and healthy with more fatal force than it hit the elderly or those in poor shape.  GRS got the flu.  He recovered enough to hitchhike halfway home from the East Coast to Pasadena.  But for the rest of his life, his lungs were always weak.

Much of EARTH ABIDES is set in the Berkeley hills and the UC Berkeley campus.  So it is appropriate that Pat Joseph’s fine recent article, “In Flew Enza,” in the California Alumni Association magazine,  CALIFORNIA, describes the effects of the 1918 flu on the UC campus.  Murphy ends the article with a reference to Stewart’s novel, setting it in the context of Stewart’s experience with the flu.  Since Murphy has kindly allowed this post to link to the article, I encourage you all to read it.  Here’s the link

As Murphy writes,  Stewart always found hope, an optimism, even in the greatest of events called disasters by humans.  Whether he wrote about the benefits of fire to the ecosystem, or indomitable will to persevere after disease had wiped out most humans, Stewart always gives us hope.

 

 

 

Earth Abides to Be Filmed?

(Another repost, so it’ll get to the FB page.)

Earth Abides, George R. Stewart’s great classic – in 20 languages now, and never out of print in 77 years –  thanks to Alan Ligda, who published the book for a few years through his Hermes Press when the Trade publisher dropped it and thus kept it in print until the Trade publisher realized its mistake  – is long overdue for film treatment.

 

ligda

ALAN LIGDA, Publishing Hero

In the old days of movie-making, before computers and computer graphics, it would have been nearly impossible to film.  But today, when The Martian can re-create a believable long-distance shot of the Martian surface with a few layers of computer graphics, the post-apocalyptic Earth of Stewart’s novel would be easy to re-create.

Today long films based on several linked novels – think Lord of the Rings – make it possible to film long and complex books like Earth Abides.  EA, with its three sections (each in fact a novella) and its shorter interchapters between the three, could be filmed in a three part or five part version.

And Stewart’s Greek Chorus of observations, the beautiful bits of poetic prose set in italics which filter through the text,  would work as well with a viewing audience as they do with a readership, to help them see Stewart’s overview of events.

So it is with great interest I hear rumors of a plan to film Earth Abides as a mini-series.  A mini-series, it seems to me, is not as worthy of the book as a film or films would be; but remember that Lord of the Rings went through several anemic visualizations before Jackson made his mighty epic. So an Earth Abides mini-series would be a start; and if properly done, a fine start. It would certainly expand the fan base; and in so doing, eventually lead to an audience for a feature film or films.

IMDB has announced the mini-series plan.  There’s no detail about the series, but the public IMDB pages let us know it’s being considered.

Without giving away any secrets, I can confirm that another source has indicated the truth of the project.  No more details than are on the IMDB page, but one small slight confirmation of the interest by filmmakers, and their first steps to make it so.

Stay tuned.

 

ea-cover-copy1.jpg

Sally van Haitsma-Agented Book to be filmed

(Again, a re-post to get this shared on FB)

Sally van Haitsma is my agent.  She’s been of invaluable help in seeing the GRS biography through to publication; and she’s supported it even though the publisher sells few copies.

Now she’s struck gold.  The Leisure Seeker, one of the novels she represents is going to be filmed.  According to Hollywood Reporter today, the film will star Meryl Streep and Donald Sutherland.

The book is a wonderful read – and dangerous if you’re a geezer, because it’s the story of a older, ill couple, ignoring their children and heading out in their RV – the Leisure Seeker – to travel Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica…and Disneyland.

Congratulations to Sally, author Michael Zadoorian, and the filmmakers and actors wise enough to make this film.  It will probably win many awards.

Now – if someone would only buy the film rights to the story of George R. Stewart’s life…..

Sally van Haitsma-agented book preparing for filming

Sally van Haitsma is my agent.  She’s been of invaluable help in seeing the GRS biography through to publication; and she’s supported it even though the publisher sells few copies.

Now she’s struck gold.  The Leisure Seeker, one of the novels she represents is going to be filmed.  According to Hollywood Reporter today, the film will star Meryl Streep and Donald Sutherland.

The book is a wonderful read – and dangerous if you’re a geezer, because it’s the story of a older, ill couple, ignoring their children and heading out in their RV – the Leisure Seeker – to travel Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica…and Disneyland.

Congratulations to Sally, author Michael Zadoorian, and the filmmakers and actors wise enough to make this film.  It will probably win many awards.

Now – if someone would only buy the film rights to the story of George R. Stewart’s life…..