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The third book in the Mbuno & Pero series pulls terror from headlines to create a gripping international thriller for readers of John le Carré, Daniel Silva, and Iris Johansen.
Expert safari guide Mbuno and wildlife television producer Pero Baltazar are filming on Lake Rudolf in Northern Kenya, East Africa, when they receive news that Mbuno’s son, himself an expert guide, has been kidnapped while on a safari five hundred miles away in Tanzania. After gathering the clues and resources needed to trek through the wilderness, they trace the kidnappers back to an illegal logging operation clear-cutting national park forests, manned by sinister Boko Haram mercenaries. There, they find not only Mbuno’s son but also a shocking revelation that has terrifying and far-reaching consequences.
Relying on Mbuno’s legendary bush skills, the pair must overcome the danger both from inside and outside the camp to bring Mbuno’s son out alive. In doing so, Mbuno and Pero discover that kidnapping and deforestation are only the beginning of the terrorist group’s aspirations, and they realize a threat that would herald an even more dangerous outcome for Tanzania—a coup. A rescue might just risk the entire stability of the region.
Exciting and expertly plotted using facts ripped from news’ headlines, Kidnapped on Safari is a gripping, edge-of-your-seat thriller set in deepest, darkest, Machiavellian, East Africa.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
As an adult? No. However, as a child I was always writing and making up stories based on real events, machines, animals. My mother, of course, loved these, as did my much younger brothers. Then school took that hedonistic pleasure away. It was only in later years, post-40, that I found that pleasure of writing for fun again. It’s a slightly guilty feeling to allow myself the pleasure…
Have you ever written a screenplay?
Yes, at UCLA film school 1969-70. Those years were interrupted by the anti-military riots and it went nowhere. I did critique other young TV/filmmakers—like Steven Spielberg (at USC- he used to come to see original films at UCLA)—with my opinion of films and their perspective. My advice to Steven was useless. He always had a steel-trap memory, remembered every credit of every film he had seen. Steven, who worked with my brother Michael, is a storyteller at heart. We have that in common.
How did you become a literary agent?
As a gopher on Monty Python’s Flying Circus for BBC TV—and I mean a gopher, I had, for example, to fetch two ladies of the night willing to dress as nuns for the penguin tennis sketch… and bare their chests (BBC 2 allowed that, it was aired, but never in video). When the TV season was over they asked my help in getting a book published. My father was a toy agent and he was able to steer me in the right direction. Things went on from there…
How did you develop a love for wildlife in Africa?
I first went to Africa age 16 and then returned –this time to East Africa with a client Peter Beard. There I met some wonderful people, real people, people of the land and adventure, who showed me their connection with nature. Three times I walked solo across the Maasai plain to the Ngong Hills and back, eight miles each way. Lions let me pass, hyenas paid me no heed. I walked through herds of gazelles. There I also met Mbuno who, as you can see in my stories, had a profound impact on me. The stories of his exploits and those of his father (who guided Teddy Roosevelt) are awe inspiring.
What are your favorite animals?
Let’s start with those I hold in my heart… a succession of wonderful companions since I was 18, dogs, currently Lil Lady and Tay, both Golden Retrievers. Except for those dog friends who I consider much like family members (I do not own them, we share life), I have always admired, studied, and been fascinated by animals. I had a farm back east with a rescued pulling horse, Big Jim, 1500 pounds of muscle, along with cows, ducks, chickens and wonderful goats. Where I live now on a ranch in NM we have Pinzgauer cattle that I hand feed when they turn up early morning.
How did your writing process develop? Or has it always been the same?
I am afraid as a writer I binge. In work I read 100k to 150k words a week, write maybe 10k words at least. I have written for the past 20+ years a weekly op-ed piece, 800 words, for the Millerton News and often the Lakeville Journal. It all adds up. But writing a story? I sit down, pluck events I know about out of the thin air, write them down and let the characters construct events. Sometimes that means I’m still typing at 3am… sometimes I need to stop and mull it over for a day or more.
Do you always write what you know? And if not, would you write something outside your direct knowledge base?
Yes, I rely on what I know, have studied, learned about or—and this is the fun part—connect the dots on. Take two separate events, especially when everyone assumes that there is one event and that’s final—and there is another event and that too is final, self-contained. If you then find the link between them, if you can find that thread that mysteriously (plot twist) connects them, then you have great fun allowing the threads to be woven into a good story. If I reach a point where my personal knowledge fails me, I have resources, people I can talk to of course. Quite often that gap not found on Google until you get to the 20th or more page down. I often prefer my 1956 Encyclopedia Britannica. Research is never frustrating, it is always illuminating.
Write something outside my direct knowledge base? Yes, sure, insofar as data and facts are concerned. That’s fun. My SciFi stories fit that bill, tons of learning (all fun). Write something outside of my personal emotions and experiences as a character or those of characters I have known? Not sure I can make up a human out of whole cloth. Can anyone?
I believe storytelling originates out of some kind of appreciation. What do you appreciate about Mbuno?
Mbuno embodies—both the real man and the character I write which is an amalgam of Mbuno, his father and stories of pre-colonial East Africa—that which is most honorable, most deliberate, least constrained by false values levied in modern society. I’m not talking about PC here, but let’s take an example. The real Mbuno was asked to help the British powers during the Mau Mau revolution. This was a terrorist faction of the Kikuyu tribe, set on upending British rule. Mbuno didn’t care who wanted to rule the country. Like ownership of land which he believed to be nonsense—“Only the gods own the land they created.”—ruling a country didn’t interest him. However, Mbuno could not stand by and watch Mau Mau butchers hacking up women and children in the dead of night. He had no hesitation in tracking those killers down. Nothing to do with sides, just moral right from wrong, nothing PC about his thinking.
What do appreciate most about the setting in your book?
It is so hard to convey the true majesty of real nature. I live in New Mexico, abutting the Gila Wilderness, 3.5 million acres set aside as wilderness. To be here, to inhale unspoiled air, revel in the scenery, watch the wild animals (bears, coyote, fox, javelina, snakes, and 1/3 of all the bird species in N. America come through here)—it’s like a meal for the senses. The difference between here and East Africa’s wild places? On foot, almost nothing, but Africa has that primordial connection to a part of your brain that you cannot escape. The senses can be overwhelmed with the beauty and majesty. In a zebra-painted tourist minivan, your TV is better.
Is everything in Kidnapped on Safari real?
Oh, of course, real yes and actual fact? No. Times, events, places are moved about. A similar coup in Tanzania was a real possibility until it was stopped in the ‘70s. Boko Haram kidnapped girls (news events). Transporting the girls to Tanzania as a means to effect the coup? My imagination and that connection thread no one expects. The trains, the places, the parks, the animals, all real, researched or experienced first-hand. Mbuno’s ability to communicate with elephant? As told by him true and, in his old age (approaching 80 when I knew him), no longer fully possible—but the prowess of his father to do so—taught to him—always astounded me and even him. He used to explain, “You need the beat of the land, of nature. Without that, they will not listen.” Mbuno was the real deal.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Peter Riva is the author of Kidnapped on Safari. He has spent many months over thirty years traveling throughout Africa and Europe. Much of this time was spent with the legendary guides for East African hunters and adventurers. He created a TV series in 1995 called Wild Things for Paramount. Passing on the fables, true tales, and insider knowledge of these last reserves of true wildlife is his passion. Nonetheless, his job for over forty years has been working as a literary agent. In his spare time, Riva writes science fiction and African adventure books, including the previous two titles in the Mbuno and Pero Adventures series, Murder on Safari and The Berlin Package. He lives in Gila, New Mexico. For more information, please visit https://peterriva.com
From the New York Times bestselling, celebrated, and award-winning author of Empire of the Summer Moon and Rebel Yell comes the spellbinding, epic account of the dramatic conclusion of the Civil War.
The fourth and final year of the Civil War offers one of that era’s most compelling narratives, defining the nation and one of history’s great turning points. Now, S.C. Gwynne’s Hymns of the Republic addresses the time Ulysses S. Grant arrives to take command of all Union armies in March 1864 to the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox a year later. Gwynne breathes new life into the epic battle between Lee and Grant; the advent of 180,000 black soldiers in the Union army; William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea; the rise of Clara Barton; the election of 1864 (which Lincoln nearly lost); the wild and violent guerrilla war in Missouri; and the dramatic final events of the war, including the surrender at Appomattox and the murder of Abraham Lincoln.
Hymns of the Republic offers angles and insights on the war that will surprise many readers. Robert E. Lee, known as a great general and southern hero, is presented here as a man dealing with frustration, failure, and loss. Ulysses S. Grant is known for his prowess as a field commander, but in the final year of the war he largely fails at that. His most amazing accomplishments actually began the moment he stopped fighting. William Tecumseh Sherman, Gwynne argues, was a lousy general, but probably the single most brilliant man in the war. We also meet a different Clara Barton, one of the greatest and most compelling characters, who redefined the idea of medical care in wartime. And proper attention is paid to the role played by large numbers of black union soldiers—most of them former slaves. They changed the war and forced the South to come up with a plan to use its own black soldiers.
Popular history at its best, from Pulitzer Prize finalist S.C. Gwynne, Hymns of the Republic reveals the creation that arose from destruction in this thrilling read.
The first history books I loved were the Cornelius Ryan works about World War II: The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far. I also loved the Bruce Catton books about the Civil War, starting with A Stillness at Appomattox and This Hallowed Ground. Note the war theme. These books taught me what history could do. I had two great professors at Princeton—Stephen Cohen (Soviet history) and Robert Darnton (history of the French revolution)—who really inspired me.
The title is a play on “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” that Bible-based, blood-drenched, sword-themed song of divine triumph that the northern soldiers liked to sing. I meant to suggest other “hymns,” in a more metaphorical sense, that were sung by the various constituencies of the war. (Black soldiers actually had their own battle hymn!)
A few years ago I wrote a biography of Stonewall Jackson, entitled Rebel Yell, that ended with his death in May 1863 and thus covered roughly the first two years of the war. When I was researching the last year of the conflict, I was struck by how much more violent, desperate, brutal, and vengeful the war had become. This was the product of many things, including the progressive destruction of southern property, southern industry, and southern wealth; the staggering body counts from the Grant-Lee fight in Virginia; the anti-civilian warfare of William T. Sherman and Phil Sheridan; the rise of the prisoner of war camps; the rise of a bitter guerrilla war; and the presence of 180,000 black soldiers in the northern army, which drove Confederate soldiers to unprecedented acts of violence. I wanted to try to convey how deeply the war had changed, and the final year gave me a mechanism by which to do that.
For this book I did about a year of background reading, then proceeded to research and write each chapter as I went along. I always travel to the places I am writing about. The research/writing ratio was probably 60-40.
Characters are always the drivers of compelling narratives. So I start with interesting characters and do as much reading as I can in their memoirs, letters, and other documents, as well as other primary sources of the era. With a character like Grant, about whom much has been written, I just try to look for a particular angle that other historians haver not pursued. The difference lies less in the facts themselves than in how I analyze those facts.
That is a very hard question. Assuming that the war had to happen, I guess that the single worst piece of news for the nation, and for its future, was the assassination of Lincoln. So I would save Lincoln.
Again, tough question! You can pick up virtually any major newspaper these days and immediately grasp the fact that the United States of America has not solved its problems with race. One can argue that it hasn’t even come to terms with them. Our nation has always been deeply divided. More than twenty percent of the residents of the American colonies were loyal to the English king. I grew up in the 1960s, a time when the nation was badly split over the Vietnam War. There were race riots in the streets, riots at the Democratic convention. In 2019 we are deeply divided. The Civil War was the worst split of all. 750,000 men died because Americans could not agree on questions related to race and the future of the country. I actually take a positive lesson from this. I think you can read about the war and understand 1) that we are by nature divided, sometimes violently; and 2) that in spite of these problems we always manage to muddle through. Democracy is messy, and often violent, but the republic stands.
S.C. Gwynne is the author of Hymns of the Republic: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War and the New York Times bestsellers Rebel Yell and Empire of the Summer Moon, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He spent most of his career as a journalist, including stints with Time as bureau chief, national correspondent, and senior editor, and with Texas Monthly as executive editor. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife. For more information, please visit https://scgwynne.com
Toby Neal was raised on Kauai in Hawaii. She wrote and illustrated her first story at age 5. After initially majoring in journalism, she eventually settled on mental health as a career and loves her work, saying, “I’m endlessly fascinated with people’s stories.”
Toby credits her counseling background in adding depth to her characters–from the villains to Lei Texeira, the courageous and vulnerable heroine in the Lei Crime Series, to the wounds and psychological implications of the heroes of the Scorch Series.
I can’t say that setting is any more or less important to historical fiction than any other genre as every genre has its conventions. What makes or breaks a novel is how deft an author is at conveying the expected milieu. In that, historical fiction can be unforgiving. Readers who love this genre already know their history. Beware the author who doesn’t check her facts for she will suffer the slings and arrows of critics who remind her that sycamores are an American tree and potatoes come from the New World. For the record, neither of those were my errors but I have heard from readers protesting facts that in other genres would be deemed unworthy of comment.
In historical fiction it’s not enough to be comfortable with the details of your chosen time period. You also have to get that information from your brain through your fingers and into the book in a way that doesn’t stop the flow. For me that requires writing out all the details I think I’ll need for a particular scene, say a meal in a merchant’s house. How many tables are there and how are they set? What’s on the floor? Where are the windows, if there are windows? Is there a newfangled chimney or is there a central hearth? What colors/designs are painted on the walls? What
furniture might there be besides the tables? Is there crockery? How does it smell? What sounds fill the air from nearby homes or their own workshops? Are they close enough to hear the bells from the nearest church? Are there regraters outside in the street selling goods? Is the neighboring merchant shouting out to passers-by about his wares?
Once I’ve answered those questions, I go back and tighten, tighten, tighten, eliminating this, shortening that, until there are just enough details to describe the scene without slowing the action. This is very hard to do for someone who writes history textbooks disguised as novels to educate unsuspecting readers. I want to share every cool fact I’ve learned. To protect my readers, I employ this mantra: “If I love it, take it out.”
I would say very. The historical backdrop is almost like a character in itself. Readers love the details and historical trivia. Otherwise, you might as well stick to a contemporary setting.
Rhys: for me setting drives many of my stories. NAUGHTY IN NICE. TIME OF FOG AND FIRE. Etc etc
And it’s important to get every detail right. I read biographies, accounts of battles, diaries, study old maps.
How did you get interested in history?
My interest must have begun in college, when a professor made history more interesting by telling stories which made past heroes real. Since then, I’ve learned that “truth is stranger than fiction”, and am regularly surprised by the limitless things that can happen in life. I also feel that great people of the past deserve to be remembered, and that we can learn from their lessons and mistakes. History is our connection with our ancestors, a continuation of life from our beginnings to our present to our future.
What fascinates you about the history of Ireland?
Ireland is one of the lesser-known, yet most fascinating places in the world. My interest began when I discovered my Irish ancestry, and with my first trip to Ireland I was so hooked, I felt more at home than in New York. Irish history is culturally rich, and archeologists are discovering sites and artifacts older and more advanced than the pyramids.
What’s your creative approach to writing a novel?
I never know where inspiration will come from. I was planning my first book to be about German immigrants in NYC, but on a bus tour in Dublin, our plans were changed from seeing Dublin Castle to seeing Christchurch Cathedral. That day changed my life. Visiting a place as old as the Vikings, feeling medieval tiles beneath my feet, and exploring the underground crypt gave me my first connection with ancient times. From then on, I decided to write about Ireland. I have been inspired by the most unexpected things, like fishing villages, plants, abandoned islands, and even an insane asylum in Wales (which I frequented as a visitor, I might add).
How has your writing process changed over the years?
I used to write from the seat of my pants, but found that subsequent editing required too many drafts, and plot and character fixing. Now I take my time—months–developing an inspiring idea, drawing an outline and doing research until I feel I really know my story and characters. That way, there are no major snags in the plot. Planning definitely shows in the development of the story, and the reader can tell.
How do you write the historical tone of Ireland into your writing?
Historical wording is something I’ve experimented with in various ways for the past few years. At first, I wanted the language to be as modern as possible, as I was addressing a modern reader, and wanted more than just historical readers to enjoy my books. Then I went more literary, striving for heightened language, but found the readers weren’t as fond of that. Now I’m returning to simpler language (with occasionally sprinkled historical words) with a more engaging plot. As far as historical Irish elements, I generally try to make the characters speak with the grammar and vernacular of the culture, as well as using cultural items and situations of the time.
What’s the historical context of Dingle Ireland, 1579?
Ireland of the sixteenth century was under the rule of Elizabeth I, who was fighting a war with Spain. Therefore, Dingle, a busy port, was subject to British rule, Spanish interference, and smuggling, as well as destruction by local Irish warriors fighting against Elizabeth and among themselves. My book talks about the struggle of Ireland’s “Black Earl”, who fought Elizabeth and his relatives to maintain the estate which had been in his family for centuries, a fight which resulted in Dingle being burned a few times.
What are some fun facts from your research that aren’t in the book.
Studying about Dingle revealed interesting facts about struggles from other time periods as well, such as the potato famine’s effect on the town, which brought the establishment of the notorious workhouses, as well as the battle at Smerwick Harbour, where Irish soldiers were decimated by the English. The most fun part of research is always the travel. Dingle is the most magical place in the world. A road winds along cliff-laden coasts where one can catch unexpected views of ancient ringforts, famine cottages, Celtic runes, and the abandoned Blasket Islands. There are few untouched places in the world, but because of an Irish tradition to respect what remains, old sites are not taken down.
Who is Englishwoman Norma Le Blanc and what is she dealing with?
Norma is a fictional character who believes her religiousness makes her superior to everyone, but a carefree, Spanish smuggler who arrives poses the greatest challenge to her ideas. Norma is lonely without her family, who live in England, and finds companionship in Vicente, despite their differences, until she realizes she’s in love. They both have something to learn from one another, as Vicente struggles with his mother’s wish to maintain faith in a God, when it seems as if God has failed him. Through their relationship, Norma learns humility, while Vicente regains his ability to believe.
What did you enjoy most in writing The Smuggler’s visit?
Finishing it? Ha! I always enjoy writing, and every book is different, but the first draft was most enjoyable with this one. Because my outline was established, I went off to a cabin in upstate NY and typed away to my heart’s content, finishing the first draft in two weeks. The editing process took much longer.
What were the most challenging aspects?
Finding detailed information about Dingle’s history was a challenge. Irish history isn’t as well-published as in other countries, and much of the Dingle info was in books or documents in their local library. Thanks to a local historian, I was able to get what I needed.
Do you have a favorite quote?
I collect them and have so many! But I came across this the other day, by Einstein: “Failure is just success in progress.” I think that’s a good thing for us to remember, every time we challenge ourselves to do better.
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