Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Not Only Westerns!

Just in case some of you did not know, iconic writer of western tales Louis L'Amour was also quite an accomplished author of adventure fiction. Some years back I started collecting the well known series of his western books, with the brown covers, but only discovered Louis' adventure fiction in 2002, around the time I started LCL. Imagine my surprise when I learned that L'Amour was quite the pulp adventure writer!

I recommend West From Singapore and Fair Blows The Wind, but you can learn all about Louis L'Amour's fictional and real-life adventures at this great website:
  L'Amour Adventures

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tsavo Maneaters In The Cinema

One of my favorite adventure-themed movies was adapted from the real life story of the Tsavo Maneaters, two lions that stalked and preyed upon railroad workers in Africa in the late 19th Century.

" In March 1898 the British started building a railway bridge over the Tsavo River in Kenya. The project was led by Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson. During the next nine months of construction, two maneless male Tsavo lions stalked the campsite, dragging Indian workers from their tents at night and devouring them. Crews tried to scare off the lions and built campfires and bomas of thorn fences around their camp for protection to keep the maneaters out, to no avail. The lions crawled through the thorn fences. After the new attacks, hundreds of workers fled from Tsavo, halting construction on the bridge. Patterson set traps and tried several times to ambush the lions at night from a tree. After repeated unsuccessful endeavors, he shot the first lion on December 9, 1898, with a Martini-Enfield .303 caliber rifle. Three weeks later, the second lion was found and killed. The first lion killed measured nine feet, eight inches (3 m) from nose to tip of tail. It took eight men to carry the carcass back to camp. The construction crew returned and completed the bridge in February 1899. The exact number of people killed by the lions is unclear. Patterson gave several figures, claiming that there were 135 victims" (Wikipedia)

The skins of the lions were sold in 1924 to the Chicago Field Museum, where they were reconstructed and remain on display.

Three adventure films have been produced from this story, each varying from the facts. In 1952, Arch Oboler made a 3D picture titled Bwana Devil. Starring Robert Stack, Nigel Bruce and Barbara Britton, this one sets the story in the early 20th Century, in British East Africa. Workers building Africa's first railroad must already endure intense heat and sickness when the lions start making trouble. Characters Jack Hayward and Dr. Angus Ross head up the venture and are none too happy about a pair of man-eating lions on the rampage and interfering with their progress. Hayward's attempts to curtail the slaughter prove unfruitful, the lions continue to feast at will. That's when the home office sends three big-game hunters to dispatch with these pesky lions, and they bring Jack's wife to complicate things a little further for him. Unfortunately for the game hunters, they are hunted and killed by the lions. Having had enough, Jack sets out to kill them. His face-off with the lions gives him a chance to save his wife and make points with her.

The second film inspired by the Tsavo maneaters story, is 1959's British production Killers of Kilimanjaro, starring Robert Taylor, Anne Aubrey and Anthony Newley. Taylor is in Africa to survey a route for a railroad and comes into conflict with Arabs because his company will not transport slaves on their railroad. The only part of the movie involving the lions is a brief sequence when workers on the expedition are attacked by a lion and Taylor shoots it. The rest of the movie is more focused on surveying the route in spite of sabotage and intrigues involving the Arab slave traders, plus attempts to emulate King Solomon's Mines and other African adventure films every chance they get, especially a 'brave white hunter standing calmly as spears are thrown at him' scene in a native village, just like in Mogambo with Clark Gable. Though not much of the Patterson stroy is here, the movie was allegedly inspired in part by African Bush Adventures by JA Hunter and Daniel P Mannix which features an account of the real Tsavo lions tale. Probably more interesting is that it was produced by Albert Broccoli and written by Richard Maibaum, who brought the world the James Bond series of films.

The third film based upon the Tsavo maneaters events is the only one that attempts to tell the real story. The 1996 release The Ghost And The Darkness stars Val Kilmer as John Patterson and Michael Douglas as a fictional master hunter. In this film, Patterson is the engineer brought in to finish a railroad bridge after lion attacks have caused the project to derail. Though Patterson dispatches with one lion early after his arrival, it is the Tsavo maneaters who begin to cause much more mayhem shortly after. This movie veers from fact when it has Patterson enlist the aid of the mystical Yankee game hunter portrayed by Douglas to help him hunt down the animals who have been picking off his men seemingly for sport. It gets creepy when they discover that the lions have been keeping trophies of their kills. After Patterson gleans much wisdom from his experience hunting with the cynical and haunted master hunter, the lions are finally brought down, but not without sacrifice.

Personally, I have always liked this film. Kilmer is good, Douglas is fun. It offers all the authentic attempts at the trappings and settings of Victorian Era colonial Africa. Screw Roger Ebert and the Razzie Awards. I disagree with their dismissal of this film. As a fan of adventure and adventure backdrops, G and D is one of the best of the 1990s. 

Naturally, if you want the true story, there is the historical record. And you can still see the Tsavo Maneaters on display in Chicago.

 Here's a 3D image from Bwana Devil:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Giant Birds

Since here in the States we're celebrating Thanksgiving this week, I thought we should take a look at giant bird stories...

There have been various reports of giant birds sighted in the wilds or attacking humans. In some cases they may be exaggerated accounts of large predatory species of birds, but other cases may not be so. Native American customs include the legendary 'thunderbird' often depicted in totems and art. These thunderbirds  got their name from the sound their wings make, and they are said to flash lightning from their eyes and live on mountaintops. They are symbols of strength and power.

But some say the legends were inspired by the real thing. Perhaps there were prehistoric holdouts in the early formative years of Native American culture, and perhaps there still are. This may explain some of the tales in modern times.

Wikipedia relates one of these accounts:

"There is a story that in April 1890, two cowboys in Arizona killed a giant birdlike creature with an enormous wingspan. It was said to have had smooth skin, featherless wings like a bat and a face that resembled an alligator. This description has some similarity to that of a prehistoric pterodactyl, an animal whose existence was known at the time. They are supposed to have dragged the carcass back to town, where it was pinned with wings outstretched across the entire length of a barn."

More recently:

"Among the most controversial reports is a July 25, 1977 account from Lawndale, Illinois. About 9 P.M. a group of three boys were at play in a residential back yard. Two large birds approached, and chased the boys. Two escaped unharmed, but the third boy, ten-year-old Marlon Lowe, did not. One of the birds reportedly clamped his shoulder with its claws, then lifted Lowe about two feet off the ground, carrying him some distance. Lowe fought against the bird, which released him."

It's always fun to see giant birds depicted in adventure films, like the Roc in a Sinbad movie by Ray Harryhausen.

So this Thursday, if you celebrate the holiday, enjoy your big bird!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Man Eating Plants

Among the things you don't see much in adventure anymore, especially since the popularity of the Little Shop of Horrors musical from the movie of the same name, is the man-eating plant. According to Wikipedia, this jungle horror refers to " various legendary or cryptid carnivorous plants that are large enough to kill and consume a person or other large animal. In actuality, the carnivorous plant with the largest known traps is probably Nepenthes rajah which produces pitchers up to 38 cm (15 in) tall with a volume of up to 3.5 litres... This species may rarely trap small mammals..."

Usually attributed to an alleged letter written in the late 19th Century by a man named Carle Liche, which was reportedly printed in many journals of the day. According to this letter, Liche had been invited to a ritual by the cave-dwelling Mkoko tribesmen of Madagascar. Taken to a bend in a jungle river, Liche saw one of these dreaded brown man-eating trees growing 8 feet tall and shaped like a pineapple. With 12-foot leaves growing from the top and drooping to the ground, this hideous thing had spikes in its exposed sides and tendrils waved out from within. Liche wrote that he witnessed the woman to be sacrificed climbing to the top of the tree where she drank an oozing green liquid produced by the tree. As she drank, the long leaves wrapped around her body, enclosing her. The next thing Liche knew, the green fluid and the woman's blood were flowing down the tree and the Mkoko men began to enthusiastically lap it up like dogs. This intoxicated them into a 'hideous orgy' in which Liche elected not to participate.



Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Some Covers I Like

Being a publisher, my favorite aspect of the work is creating a book cover. Naturally, I have some styles ranking among those which inspire me. Here are a few..

I'll have the cover art for my new novel posted very soon!

More to follow...

Just Got Back!

Just got back to everything following the weekend's conference where I appeared to discuss my non-fiction books... Will catch up here on Tuesday! :)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Travel Vids

Hey adventurers,

Lately I've been Netflixing travel vids and the most recent was another in the Rudy Maxa series. I recommend this series, if you haven't seen it. Rudy makes a good presentation and, like Rick Steves (a favorite of mine), Rudy knows how to ferret out those interesting facets of a destination that can make the experience.

Last night I watched the Argentina episode, specifically Buenos Aires and Mendoza. Argentina is one of the countries of South America I have not been to yet and I'm anxious to go. Even more so now. Associates of mine who have worked in B.A. have nothing but good memories.

Since I love Malbec wines, Mendoza is a must-see for me now.

Being a big fan of South America, I recommend you check out Rudy Maxa's Argentina episode, but also his entire series...

(I'll be back with a longer post on something before the weekend, but I'm speaking at a conference this Saturday and am preparing my presentation...)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Seeing Double (Quickie Movie Review)

I thought I was losing it. This morning I turn on TCM and there's Victor Mature in fun on the Northwest Frontier, so naturally I figure it's Zarak, a film I reviewed here several months ago. I recognized his costume, and the costume of the British colonel, especially his chain mail epaulets, colorful sash and blue and orange turban. It had to be Zarak because there were the same locations and sets, right?

But something was off...

First of all, the schedule showed a different title, yet there was a 'Z' in it. I finally had to give up the fight and Google it. Sure enough, there as an answer and I wasn't insane!

The Bandit of Zhobe is a 1959 production featuring Victor Mature in virtually the same character, a noble bandit in the border territory of the Northwest Frontier, wrongly accused of crimes he didn't commit and righteously fighting for his people and his life -- wearing a turban through it all. This time around Vic's wife and child are killed by a rival warlord who blames the British. Vic, as 'Kasim', embarks on a campaign against the Victorian era redcoats commanded by Colonel Crowley, whose ridiculously pacifist daughter throws herself into the mix. What we end up with is a standard action yarn enjoyable for all the reasons folks like us here love standard action yarns: manly determination and gallantry in warfare, all set against an exotic backdrop with elegant Victorian touches here and there.

What you'll notice here is that Albert Broccoli produced both this film and Zarak, using much the same action action footage for both films. That explains the identical costumes and several shared sets and locations. The similarities are such that they could have filmed both movies at the same time. Broccoli, of course, went on to bring the James Bond franchise to the big screen just a few years after The Bandit of Zhobe.

Another thing to notice is Anthony Newley. His humorous yet resourceful British corporal would have fit nicely among the cast of Zulu or even The Man Who Would Be King.

The Bandit of Zhobe is a worthy expense of an hour and a half for the diehard adventure fan.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

New Book At Last!

I've started to write three different books in the past few months. Just couldn't get into them. They weren't firing me up. These days, you gotta be fired up about the material because the market has changed so drastically. It's not like there are publishers out there lining up for new content. And being a publisher myself, I have to consider what will be the smartest choice for me as a writer, i.e. what might sell best, what can I get into the market rather quickly, what will be worth the effort personally. Writing a novel is a commitment, so if I'm going to do it I must be energized by the material. The new Julius Corbin novel wasn't sparking me. I haven't finished the outline screenplay for The Jade Rabbit. I started a detective novel based on aspects of my real-life cases as a federal agent, and that does give me some juice, but it's still kind of in story development. So what to do?

Well, I opened a box of my writing dating back 29 years when I was in college -- and BAM! There it was. A very special project of which nearly 900 pages were written. As I read through it and organized everything, I found that I have a trilogy in this saga. And most exciting is that what will be the first book is the most developed. All I'm doing now is typing it into my computer and that is a revision in itself. The best part of it is that I am quite energized about this material and the commitment magnet is activated. This one is happening!

My goal is a Christmas Eve release and I'll announce the title as soon as I decide on what the first book will be titled. I will tell you that the entire saga, when finally in one fat 720-page volume, will be titled Stand And Deliver.

Now I'm happy

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Desert Rat & Starlight Expedition

This evening I had an unexpected adventure. I headed out to Yucca Valley to the Hi Desert Nature Museum to see my friend Greg Bishop's talk on the legendary Desert Rat, Harry Oliver. A set designer nominated for Oscars during his years in early Hollywood, Oliver was a popular colorful character in the desert areas out near Palm Springs and Joshua Tree. His Golden Gulch frontier exhibit in Balboa Park for a past expo became the inspiration for Knott's Berry Farm's original amusement park, as well as influencing Walt Disney's vision of Frontierland at the Magic Kingdom. Oliver is well known for publishing the Desert Rat Scrap Book, several samples of which were on hand during Greg's presentation. It was truly quite interesting.

After Greg's talk, I noticed-- to my astonishment-- an original album and scrapbook of photos from the World Columbian Exposition, also known as the 1893 Chicago World's Fair! For those of you who have read the Lost Continent Library trilogy by Sesh Heri, you will recognize this historical event as the location of much of the first book. The 1893 fairgrounds are where Tesla and Twain, et al, depart for Mars aboard an airship. Sealed in a glass case, I am making arrangements to return to the museum to have an inside look at these relics and will do a post upon my return.

Following the museum activity, I joined Greg and his good friends, including Barbara Harris who gives unique tours in the desert areas, for dinner at Kimi's Sushi. The conversation led to a pleasantly unexpected trip to Giant Rock (near The Integratron) where we watched shooting stars and climbed a hill of quartz crystal. I made new friends and had a great evening.

If you enjoy the Old West, take a gander at Harry Oliver and his life, as well as the Desert Rat...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

'Empire of the Wheel'

I'm speaking at the Lewis Library in Fontana, California, at 630PM this evening. The topic is my new book written with Richard B Spence. Check it out Amazon...

Empire of the Wheel