Indiana Jones Is Dead. Long Live Gabriel Hunt

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Charles Ardai is nerd royalty by any reasonable standard. He founded Juno in the 1990s. He’s married to Naomi Novik. Hasn’t he done enough?

Apparently not. Charles now runs a press called Hard Case Crime, which publishes old-school pulp fiction. Mostly crime stuff, duh. But it has come to Charles’s attention that the two-fisted adventure genre — so ably revived in the form of Indiana Jones — is once again in steep decline. He’s filling the gap with a new series starring a character called Gabriel Hunt.
Because the power cosmic flows through me, I made Charles answer five questions about the new series, and herpetophobia, and the death of my childhood. Even though he’s in Australia right now, hence 14 hours into the future, a time when they have swine flu vaccines and hoverbikes:

#1: The obvious. Gabriel Hunt: who, and why?

Within the world of the Hunt novels, Gabriel Hunt is a world-famous modern-day explorer, known for traveling to obscure corners of the planet in pursuit of rare artifacts and intriguing discoveries. At 38, he is the oldest child of best-selling authors Ambrose and Cordelia Hunt, who vanished on a speaking tour of the Mediterranean in the year 2000 and left a $100 million trust fund in their children’s care. Finding out what really happened to his parents is the one hunt Gabriel has so far been unable to complete.

“Gabriel Hunt” is also the name given to the author of the Hunt novels, in an affectionate nod to the Stratemeyer Syndicate, all of whose books were penned by ghost writers working under house names — “Franklin W. Dixon” for the Hardy Boys series, “Carolyn Keene” for Nancy Drew, “Victor Appleton” for Tom Swift, and so on. While the Stratemeyer books were for children and the Hunt books are not, I thought it would be fun to get a batch of my pulp-loving writer friends together to all write a series of books under a shared secret identity. And taking a cue from Fred Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, who back in the 1920s decided that their pseudonymous mystery novels would be more successful if the detective and the author had the same name (the name: Ellery Queen), I decided to use the same name for the author and hero of our books. (We even used the same meter for his name that Dannay and Lee, advertising men both, carefully chose for their hero’s: Ellery Queen, Gabriel Hunt.)

So that’s why the house name. Why write a series of adventure novels at all?

That’s easy: Because no one else is. If you love adventure stories, you’re stuck reading old ones, because you can’t go into a bookstore and find new ones. The adventure genre is perennially popular at the movies (Indiana Jones being the exemplar, but hardly a year goes by without Hollywood putting some square-jawed, two-fisted hero up against sinster adversaries in a quest for some mystical doodad)…but in bookstores? Nada. That wasn’t always the case — adventure stories were a staple of the pulp magazines in the first half of the Twentieth Century, for instance. But they’re not being written or published today. And that’s the wrong the Hunt team has set out to right.

2. I never believed in Santa Claus, but I did believe in Franklin W. Dixon. Until a friend of the family told me that he was just a hivemind of underpaid ghostwriters, of which he was in fact one. My childhood ended that day.

So when you’re writing Hunt, how do you cope with the looming presence of Indiana Jones? How is Hunt different from him? I would think that would be a serious Anxiety of Influence situation.

The same way George Lucas coped with the looming presences of Allan Quatermain and Doc Savage and Professor Challenger when he dreamt up Indiana Jones in the first place. You remember those that came before with fondness and admiration, you tip your fedora in their direction with a sly wink or two, and then you go on to tell your own rip-roaring tales, secure in the knowledge that no man owns the concept of digging up tombs or escaping from traps or laying a haymaker on a bad guy’s chin. Indy was a patchwork of old beloved tropes, brought to life brilliantly by a great writer, a great actor, and a great director. My hope is that we’ll be able to do the same sort of thing with Gabriel.

As for differentiating Gabriel from Indy at a glance, it certainly helps that Gabriel’s adventures take place in the present day rather than the 1930s or 40s. And Gabriel’s not a college professor by day – his younger brother’s the intellectual in the family, not Gabriel. He’s also got an interesting set of family relationships that Indy doesn’t (the missing parents, the runaway sister, the anxious brother back home), and he’s got the $100 million Hunt Foundation behind him. And he doesn’t wear a hat.

3. The hat and the bullwhip were always Indy’s trademarks. What are Gabriel’s? (And does he have a secret Achilles heel, analogous to Indy’s fear of snakes?)

Gabriel has a gun he loves, an antique Colt .45 that supposedly once belonged to either Wyatt Earp or Bat Masterson. It’s great fun finding ways for Gabriel to manage just barely to hold onto this gun through all his various adventures. (As we learn in the first book, he also knows a thing or two about handling a bullwhip, thanks to an old friend of his parents’, an unnamed octogenarian professor who taught Gabriel the art when he was a youth.)

In general, Gabriel likes old things (as you’d expect from someone who’s dedicated his life to unearthing ancient cities and artifacts): his Colt rather than a Glock or Uzi, his dented WWII-era Bulova wristwatch rather than a fancy modern LCD model, his Zippo lighter (he doesn’t smoke, but it’s always handy to have a way to light a fire). He prefers film cameras to digital when the time comes to photograph a find in the desert or jungle. And he only reluctantly uses cell phones, when there’s no alternative. In some ways, he was born half a century too late — he’s a throwback to an earlier era and this equips him well to survive in environments where his life depends on skills you don’t learn sitting behind a computer.

As for weaknesses, no herpetophobia, no kryptonite. Gabriel’s not a superman by any means and it’s a constant struggle for him to get out of the various tight spots he finds himself in, but he’s not saddled with any quirky and amusing weaknesses — unless you count having a conscience as a weakness (or as quirky and amusing).

4. What’s it like writing Gabriel? Do you have to get yourself in a very manly, wisecracking frame of mind? Or are you that way naturally all the time anyway?

It’s funny: One of the most appealing parts of Indiana Jones’ voice, for me, is that he’s *not* a traditional wisecracking pulp hero. He’s got a sort of modest, middle-American quality to him, a bit like Jimmy Stewart or Henry Fonda. He’s extremely capable, but doesn’t brag; he can be wry but rarely goes out of his way to get a laugh; and he takes his adventures very, very seriously. This is real life-or-death stuff for him. We, as the audience, can laugh or cheer, but he’s got boulders bearing down on him and fragile rope bridges to cross and natives with swords to deal with, so there’s very little time for making quips. Gabriel Hunt is a New Yorker by birth, not a Midwesterner, so the personality is different, but I’m aiming for some of the same quality in his voice.

I think if you go in the direction of wisecracks, you wind up with a Brendan Fraser vehicle instead of a Harrison Ford one, which is to say something more four-color and two-dimensional and hard to enjoy at any level other than pure kinetics. Just as we do our pulp mysteries in the Hard Case Crime series completely straight — no parody, no spoof, no winking at the reader as if to say, “Gee, isn’t this corny old-time stuff fun?” — my goal in the Hunt books is to do pulp adventure straight. We, the readers, can think the story is great fun…but for the characters who are actually living it, it’s got to be serious stuff.

5. Final question. Indy and Gabriel go head to head, man to man, shot for shot, in a Raiders-style drinking contest. Who wins?

Well, we know Marion Ravenwood would drink them both under the table. But if it were Indy vs. Gabriel? I’d give the edge to Indy. We saw how he was able to put away the booze in Raiders, and we have to assume he held his own with Marion at some point. Gabriel can down a whiskey with the best of them, but he’s not a big drinker.

On the other hand, maybe Gabriel would win after all, given that Indy would be about 90 years old by the time Gabriel hit legal drinking age…