Thursday, November 6, 2008

How I got the idea for my novel NATURAL ENEMIES

Of all the questions asked of fiction writers, the one most common is: Where do you get your ideas? It is a crucial question that goes to the heart of the storyteller's art. One might generalize and assert that it comes from an amalgam of one's life's experiences, stories told by others, books read, movies seen, dreams and fantasies, and the molten mix in the cauldron of one's imagination. This is one writer's attempt to pinpoint the spark that ignited the idea that became the story and its aftermath.

Peter Mayer, when he was the editor of Pocket Books, suggested that I write a book about a heroic woman who takes the lead in a situation of extreme danger and saves her male companion through superior ingenuity and pluck.

It was a time when the publishing industry was making a conscious effort to attract women readers through inspirational scenarios where they are portrayed as winners. I had no quarrel with the concept since I always believed in many aspects of the equality of men and women in dangerous situations. In fact, I had portrayed many women characters in defiance of those who believed that men could not create viable and accurate female characters.

I conceived of an exciting scenario in which a married couple, through various circumstances, find themselves lost in the wilderness and must find a way to survive and find their way to safety. They confront many natural dangers and circumstances that push them to the edge of death, only to find a way out at the very last moment.

Unfortunately, I needed to do some heavy research since, aside from my Boy Scout camping experiences and my Army basic training, I had little knowledge of the remote wilderness and even less knowledge about survival skills.

To do this research properly, I hired two female outfitters in the Denver area to take me into the remote wilderness for a week. Following their instructions, I arrived in the area properly attired and mentally ready for the adventure. The two young women were tough, knowledgeable and ready to take on this city slicker whose experience of the wilderness was many decades behind me.

We entered the wilderness in a remote area in Colorado identified on a map, if I remember correctly, as Little King Ranch. We carried heavy packs filled with dehydrated foods and other essentials for survival in the wilderness. It was tough going, climbing up and down steep hills, and in some places having to hack our way through uncharted paths. These ladies were real ecology fanatics and in superb condition.

They cut me no slack and were unmerciful and relentless in their determination to show me the very worst of wilderness travel. I was totally unprepared physically and dragged myself forward with sheer grit and willpower. Somewhere along the trail, my macho genes kicked in and I was soon in mano mode unwilling to be bested by women. It was no contest. I was a blundering weak tenderfoot. As they trudged ahead, their contempt for me became apparent. Although they knew I was researching a book, they quite obviously considered me a dilettante, effete and corrupted by city life.

Indeed, although I tried to make myself as pleasant and charming as I could be under the circumstances, they had obviously bonded together to humiliate me and were deeply critical of my performance. They had me set my pup tent up at a good distance from theirs and were adamant in lecturing me on the proposition that anything brought into the wilderness must be brought out, especially trash. Toilet paper had to be burned in the campfire after use, the ashes buried when we broke camp.
Although I was paying them, I was far from in charge since I needed them to get me the hell out of there. After four days and nights of hard hiking and tough sleeping, I insisted that they take me back. By then, we were barely talking. It has always been a mystery to me why they held me in such contempt and, at the time, my mind conjured up fearful scenarios of being left alone to fare for myself fated to be a dinner time snack for the wildlife that abounded in the area.

On the return trail, they deliberately moved swiftly and it was quite impossible for me to keep up. They seemed to delight in my struggle and would often disappear while I huffed and puffed my way up steep inclines only to find them chatting amiably at the peak of the climb.

I did manage to get back to civilization in one piece and paid my bill without further confrontation. To my eternal regret I neglected to ask them why they had taken such an obvious dislike to me. I have mulled this over for many years concluding only that they must have seen me as an intruder into what they might have believed was their guardianship of the wilderness. Perhaps my attitude was what put them off. I’ll never know, but I did accomplish my research goals.

The book was published to fairly good reviews and was optioned for the movies but never made. Nevertheless, like all experiences, good or bad, the strange adventure offered me insights and knowledge into a world in which I was a total stranger.

Ironically a few years later, my wife and I moved to Jackson Hole and loved to hike the many mountain trails in the Tetons.

To purchase a copy of Natural Enemies, click here.


Sandra Beyer said...

A great entry on a good question.
I would have asked them about their attitude towards you. An interesting point is if those rather unhelpful women helped you in your understanding of women in the wilderness. Did they make you see how men and women treat each other in those circumstances? How their attitudes change. The question if a male writer can create convincing strong female characters and vice versa is a tricky one as one would affirm it at first and then stop to think. Thank you for your blog entry. Made me think about writing and the writer in his/ her relation to the text.

Warren Adler said...


Think about all the memorable female characters created by male writers and great male characters created by female writers. Imagination has no gender.