Today I'm honored to present a Guest Blogger for the first half of this week who is one of the most prolific writers in Tucson: Jim Woods. Jim has published some four hundred articles in national magazines, contributed to various fact and fiction anthologies, and is the author of sixteen print and e-books. He lives and writes in Tucson, Arizona.
Part 1: THE AFRICAN CONNECTION
Upon one of my early press trips to South Africa, representing my publisher/employer’s guns and hunting magazine, I determined the exploits of one of the professional hunters I met there would be transferred to a fictional character of my creation. His was an epic lifetime of accomplishment in the interrelated game capture and relocation, game ranching and safari industries of not only South Africa but several of the neighboring southern Africa countries as well. My novel of this larger-than-life individual had to be of epic proportions too. My primary obstacle was that I was a journalist, not a novelist. The four hundred articles I had published in various outdoors magazines over the prior twelve years did not prepare me for writing a novel; the only fiction training I could claim was that of an avid reader.
I recognized I required education to be a novelist and set about a self-training regimen. How hard could it be? Up to now I created and assembled the flow of words for my own magazine feature articles and my monthly column, and the primary side of my job was editing other authors’ works. All I had to do was work through an initial novel to learn the ropes, and then get on with the saga of my vision. As long as my downstream saga would be set in South Africa, it was an easy decision to set my first effort in the country as well.
That first book, The Outlander, was more difficult and time consuming than I could have imagined at the start, and it contained its share of first-novel flaws. At its final fifty thousand words, it fell in between the norm for novel or novella, and it was more novella than novel in its limited complexity. It just didn’t fit most publishers’ requirements, but I thought it a pretty good story. It didn’t get published on its own merit, but finally did see print when it was packaged with a handful of short fiction to make collection of acceptable word count. Those supporting short stories were not set in Africa, as was the primary story, but were of a theme allowing them to be packaged together under the umbrella title, Gunshot Echoes, by Champagne Books. And while it was never intended to be part of a series, The Outlander introduced my epic character-to-come, Jim Stone. In this first fiction, Jim Stone was not an actual character but merely a reference in narrative, as seen in this excerpt:
EXCERPT, “The Outlander,” from Gunshot Echoes, Champagne Books (2008):
I really should have married her, he mused silently, and recalled that he had tried but had been less than gently turned down. Her explanation was that she could not oppose her father. Her father refused to consider any man for her who was not as pure an Afrikaner as himself. David knew that her father lumped Americans with the English and anyone else who spoke the language, as a group not to be trusted. Uitlanders, outlanders, he identified all cultures that had not been part of the country for at least two centuries, or anyone else he particularly disagreed with, and he agreed with few.
David had recounted, to no avail, to Marjie and her father, that he was actually South African by birth, that his mother was American who had met and married his father, also an American, while in South Africa. He told of how his mother had been in the company of another man, but not married to him, when the man engaged the services of his father’s safari outfit. David’s mother-to-be had became infatuated with the American white hunter, who returned too much attention to her, such that the client hunter got wind of the affair, fired the white hunter, and left the country and also left his companion behind.
The white hunter was in some sort of dilemma. It was not the first time that the woman on safari, usually married to the client hunter but sometimes, as now, a companion, had set her sights to bag the professional hunter. The professional hunter generally accepted and returned these attentions, knowing full well that safaris lasted only a couple of months at best, and the entanglement became unknotted when the clients boarded the ship for home. As a competent professional hunter, one who made his guest hunters look good, frequently he was the recipient of large cash gifts or even the guest hunter’s rifle at the conclusion of a successful safari. But he had never been “tipped” for his services by the guest hunter leaving his woman behind. In this instance, the white hunter, who could face down a charging buffalo or repair a balky Land Rover with the same detached expertise, could not handle his situation. For lack of any better solution, he married her.
At this point in David’s story, he emphasized that he was not an illegitimate offspring of that alliance. His parents had been married for two years before he was born. The couple also had another child, David’s sister, two years later, a year before the arrangement fell apart.
His mother tired of the excitement that came from living in a safari camp where she was part of the staff instead of a guest benefiting from the ministrations of that cadre of servants. Perhaps she came to appreciate all the work and organization required to give the illusion that the safari camp operated so smoothly. Certainly she discovered that those enormous safari tariffs paid by the client hunters, such as the man who brought her to Africa in the first place, put very little in the safari operator’s bank account. Such fees were spent mostly to cover the expenses of their previous clients’ safari. Only the record of a past successful safari coaxed the bank into taking a chance on financing the next one.
At any rate, she finally made good on her threats, having squirreled away her tips earned by supervising the camp and serving as cook for five years, along with whatever she had cadged from the camp operating budget. When the professional hunter was away with the clients for a couple of days at a remote camp, she packed up, left the camp in the hands of the laundry boy, and took the kids back to California, and subsequently obtained a divorce. In her bitterness, David related, she had tutored the children to the evils of their father, and like her, they learned to hate him for imagined injustices. David relented his stance against the father he didn’t remember, with purely mercenary intent, when he sent an announcement of his graduation from high school and plans to enter college. The envelope from South Africa, with a note on Gemstone Safaris stationery wishing his son well in his endeavors, did not include any support of substance. David never attempted to contact his father again. As far as he knew, his father had no knowledge that David now lived and worked in the country.
David was aware of his father’s status though. The more than two decades since the breakup of his family had been kinder to Jim Stone. The old man now in his sixties, not only had prospered, but Gemstone Safaris earned the reputation as a premier outfitter, credited with being the architect of the South African game-ranch safari industry. Jim Stone was recognized as the leader in the wildlife capture and relocation programs that made the safari business finally become more than a hobby for the country’s several hundred licensed professional hunters. Once, when David first admitted his connection to Jim Stone, Marjie’s father was attentive, but just briefly. He knew the reputation of Jim Stone, but in the end, no matter what his accomplishments, he was just another foreign interloper in the Afrikaner’s closed society.
Jim Woods has published some four hundred articles in national magazines, contributed to various fact and fiction anthologies, and is the author of sixteen print and e-books with treatments ranging from writing tutorial to fictional political assassination. He’s a current world traveler, so far having logged his presence in eighty countries. He also is a former Editor, Managing Editor and Editorial Director with (then) Petersen Publishing Company of Beverly Hills—Guns & Ammo and Petersen’s Hunting magazines; and Senior Field Editor with (then) Publishers Development Corporation, San Diego—Guns and Shooting Industry magazines. He’s a former big-game hunter and has written extensively on African safari, both the hunting and camera varieties. He lives and writes in Tucson, Arizona.