Monday, May 11, 2009

Interview with Charles Ardai

Having just finished the first book in the Adventures of Gabriel Hunt series, Hunt at the Well of Eternity (see review), I wanted to get some more information on this wonderful new series, and turned to the man behind the project, Charles Ardai. He was gracious enough to answer all of my questions. Take a look:

Charles, thank you for the interview!

You have recently started up a new series of books, The Adventures of Gabriel Hunt, which focuses on pulp adventure stories. What pulp adventure stories were your favorites? Which of them were strong influences in how you developed the series and the character?

When I was a kid, I read a lot of Edgar Rice Burroughs -- he had a particular knack for describing action in a way that made your heart race. My mother also had a complete set of Dumas novels that I plowed through, plus some old issues of Argosy. I was at least equally influenced by movies, though -- old Zorro and Buster Crabbe serials, for instance, and the Three Musketeers films, and then of course RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Indiana Jones crystallized for me what an adventure hero should be. Gabriel Hunt owes a lot to Indiana Jones, not so much because they're similar characters as because our books are intended to evoke the same response from readers that I remember having the first time I saw RAIDERS at age 11.

Your other major series of books, Hard Case Crime, includes reprints as well as original stories. Why did you decide to only do new novels for Gabriel Hunt, and for that matter, why stick with only one major character instead of stand-alone novels like with Hard Case Crime?

Strangely, there aren't very many adventure novels in the Indiana Jones vein that are both great and out of print. The classics are all still in print (and are in the public domain, so anyone can bring out new editions any time), and there just aren't too many from after 1925 or so that I really liked. Additionally, old adventure stories more than old crime stories are peppered with some really ugly depictions of minorities -- the cost, basically, of stories set in the jungles of Africa and South America rather than on the streets of New York and Chicago. For both these reasons, reprinting old books wasn't as attractive in this genre as it was in the crime genre.

Apart from that, I liked the idea of creating a brand new character and telling a continuing story about his adventures. It's something I hadn't done before, and I always enjoy new challenges.

There are currently six books listed on Gabriel Hunts official site ( Will we see more novels, or will the series come to a conclusion after those six?

Gabriel's story definitely won't end in the sixth book. But whether we ever publish more or not depends on readers -- if people like the books and buy them in sufficient numbers, I imagine we'll do more. If they don't, we may stop at six.

How did you select which authors you wanted to write Gabriel Hunt novels? Was there a submission process, or did you just select the authors who seemed to have written in this style before to acclaim?

If the line continues after the first six books, I'll be open to submissions -- but for the first six I mostly chose authors I knew well and that I knew would enjoy the project. Of course I wanted to write one myself, so that took care of one slot; I knew Christa Faust and David Schow from working with them on their Hard Case Crime books; and though we hadn't done books with James Reasoner and Raymond Benson, I'd gotten to know them through Hard Case and had read their work, so I knew they'd be a good fit for this project. The only wild card was first novelist Nicholas Kaufmann, and he came highly recommended by someone I trust, so I took a look at his work and it was first rate.

The first novel was very much a stand alone story. Will we see any over-arching tales or subplots, or will each story remain pretty independent? Will reading the books in order be important, or can the Gabriel Hunt novels be picked up in any order?

Each of the first six books will be largely independent, though each will also reveal little bits about Gabriel's past and the back story about his parents' disappearance at sea nine years earlier. If the series continues we might develop some multi-book arcs or perhaps tell the story of what happened to his parents -- but for now we're sticking with separate stories that can be read in any order.

You write the second novel in the series, Hunt Through the Cradle of Fear. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Sure. We had a great Glen Orbik painting that seemed to take place in a an Egyptian tomb, and something about it put me in mind of the Great Sphinx. This led me to wonder whether Ancient Egypt was the only culture in the world that had legends about sphinxes, and of course I immediately realized the answer was no -- the Greeks had a sphinx as well, the one with the famous riddle. That in turn led me to research what other cultures had sphinxes, and I found them in India and Sri Lanka...and that was enough inspiration to lead me to write a book in which Gabriel goes around the world tracing the the secret of all these sphinxes. It was great fun to weave real-world sites and history into the book, so that if you go online you can actually find photos of all the places Gabriel visits.

How does writing for a multi-author series compare to writing your other works? Does it feel more constraining to have to fit into the web created by other authors?
I'm in the fortunate position of being the person who dreamed up the character and my job is to cause all the books to be consistent with one another -- so I'm having a blast. My guess is that the other authors may feel somewhat constrained when they write about this character rather than one they created -- but no more so than if they decided to write a book about famous character they loved, such as Sherlock Holmes or Odysseus or Indiana Jones.

Finally, what can we expect in the future from Gabriel Hunt and Charles Ardai?

Well, after my book Gabriel visits Borneo and the Kalahari Desert in Book 3 and then heads off to Antarctica in Book 4. No such ambitious travels for me -- though I did just get back from a trip to Australia and New Zealand...

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