Parlez-Moi Blog is honored to support Carnival of Cryptids, a Kindle All-star anthology with all proceeds going to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Jeff Provine's "Where is Captain Rook?" is one of seven stories in it:
Prewriting "Where is Captain Rook?"
When I first heard about Carnival of Cryptids, I knew I wanted to write a story about the ancient South American giant ground sloth, the mylodon. Giant prehistoric mammals have always fascinated me since seeing them in the back of one of my many dinosaur atlases as a kid with their huge saber teeth, various spikes, and general woolinesses. My interest in mylodons exploded after hearing a clip on History Channel mentioning mylodons may have existed long enough for conquistadores to fight one while exploring for lost cities of gold in the Amazon. I took the notion of modern heroes taking on ancient beasts and aimed to write a story about three Indiana Jones types trading quips and bagging a mylodon on a trek through the rain forest.
While delightfully pulpy, when I outlined my story to my then-fiancée-now-wife, she said it sounded good, but what was the point? "The point is…" I began, and paused to grab the first word that could come to mind to cover that I had no idea. "Imperialism."
I went back to the drawing board. As much big-chinned fun my original story may have been, it didn't have any staying power. It needed a major overhaul to have anything in it with staying power. Since I'd picked "imperialism" in my panic to answer an English-major's question, I decided to go with it and make the story about something instead of just an overly straightforward hunter-chases-his-prey.
Rather than the Great White Hunters as the heroes, I switched the perspective to their guide, a local riverboat captain. João Paulo Nativo needed to be interesting in and of himself, so I made him the embodiment of Brazil's diversity. On the one hand, he is moderately wealthy with his own boat; on the other, he was practically enslaved to those he guides into the rain forest. He is a caboclo, someone of mixed native and Spanish heritage. The setting could stay as the 1930s, which worked all the better since the Rubber Boom in Brazil was long over, and the jungle had begun to retake much of what the imperialists had tried to carve out of it. Paulo would be the voice showing the blurred dichotomy of civilization and the wild.
By the time the captain was rewritten, the story didn't need the three leather-jacketed protagonists, and they were merged into a single Great White Hunter named Captain Rook ("rook", of course, being a term for "thief"). He was an experienced adventurer, but there is always that feeling of lost when exploring over a new horizon, whether it be the Amazon or a new grocery store. I decided to kill him. It gave a great example of the hubris in so much of imperialism. Now the story became a frame story of Paulo recalling this final adventure of Captain Rook.
My original story was a fisticuffs-laden tale with lots of one-liners, but after its many rewrites, the final story proved far more interesting. Interesting is what stories are all about: new ways to turn old ideas on their heads.
Instead of just a story, give it layers of complexity through unlikely heroes, whether they be riverboat captains or children abandoned in the woods stumbling upon a house made of candy. Make it about something. Light reading is great and a wonderful thing, but there is no law saying that light reading can't have depth, too, if the reader wants it. I didn't expect to write a story dripping with discourse on the dangers of imperialism and attempting to exploit the unknown for profit, but it certainly can be analyzed that way. And, if the reader prefers not to analyze, then there's no worries. It's a great adventure story anyway.
When writing, find the new twist. Do what hasn't been done before. Give the guide a try instead of the fedora-wearing heroic type. He may surprise you.
~ ~ ~
"Where is Captain Rook?" is one of seven stories in Carnivalof Cryptids, a Kindle All-star anthology with all proceeds going to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Jeff Provine is also author of YA ebook Dawn on the Infinity and the This Day in Alternate History blog, asking what if things in history had gone a little differently.