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Researching a Novel:
Lost Worlds above the Clouds

August 1st, 2015

tallest mountains 2 cropped (2)It was a dull gray landscape, and as I gradually deciphered the details of it I realized that it represented a long and enormously high line of cliffs exactly like an immense cataract seen in the distance, with a sloping, tree-clad plain in the foreground. 

That’s George Edward Challenger describing the Amazonian plateau in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, and it’s a description that came to mind when I got my first look at Mauna Kea — the tallest mountain in Hawaii and (arguably) in the world.

mount roraima

My photo above shows Mauna Kea in the foreground with Hawaii’s second tallest peak, Mauna Loa, in the distance behind it.

Towering over 13,000 feet above sea level, the peaks are nearly half as tall as Mount Everest, but if measured from the ocean floor (the true base of each of these volcanic mountains), they measure over 33,000 feet, making them the tallest mountains on the planet.

lostworld12In comparison, the real-world mountain that inspired Doyle’s The Lost World (Mount Roraima in eastern Venezuela, above right), measures a little over 9,000 feet, but the wonder of it has less to do with height than the grandeur of its vertical cliffs and the possibilities of what might lie hidden in such a remote location.

In fiction, facts are the springboard for possibility.


The isolated summit of a high mountain also plays a role in my current project, the book-length expansion of the “Daughters of Prime” stories. In those stories, an exploratory mission establishes an observation post on a high cliff only to discover that the site is revered as sacred by the creatures of the valley.

Coincidentally, travel writer Brandon Wilson has informed me of an ongoing conflict between an observatory atop Mount Kea and some island residents who feel that the presence of a science installation violates the sacredness of the mountain. You can read more about that controversy here.

Once again, the road between fact and fiction runs both ways.

rainforestThis post is part three of a series of thoughts that come to mind as I sort through photographs and notes from my research trip to the Hawaiian Islands. You can find the first two posts here and here.

Along the way, I’ve also been commenting on the works of Arthur Conan Doyle and the new book Professor Challenger: New Worlds, Lost Places — a book that I just happened to be reading during my travels. (Coincidence? You decide.)

For the next installment, we’ll travel through some rainforests and consider an eco-friendly way to avoid getting tangled in dense undergrowth. No machetes needed.

Until then . . . scop on!

Image Credits:
The cloud-rimmed summit of Mauna Kea.* 
The cloud-rimmed summit of Mount Roraima from
Wallace Beery as Professor Challenger from a poster for The Lost World, 1925.
“Navigator on the Observatory,” Copyright © 2013 Herbert K. Kane.
The forest primeval.*
*Photos copyright © 2015 by The 21st-Century Scop.

Researching a Novel: Into the Abyss

July 29th, 2015

crater at nightIt glows by night, filling the air with a blood-red cloud.

By day, its rising steam billows dull gray from an active crater. Either way, it’s a wonder to behold, a doorway to a hot spot of subterranean fires that recalls the opening lines from Canto Three of Dante’s Inferno:

Only those elements time cannot wear
Were made before me. Beyond time I stand.
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

smoking crater (2)The Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii has been active at the Halema’uma’u Crater since 1955. It’s the volcano responsible for nearly taking out the village of Pahoa back in October. Situated over the volcanic hot spot responsible for forming all of the Hawaiian Islands, it remains one of the most consistently active volcanic sites in the world. And since volcanoes feature prominently in my current writing project, I was keen on getting a firsthand look at the monster and its surrounding terrain.

three guides even smallerDante had the poet Virgil to guide him on his journey. As both Dante’s soul mate and long-term resident of the Inferno, Virgil was well suited for showing a novice around the wonders of the dolorous abyss.

For my trip, I had three guides (see left): information-specialist Ginny Connolly, award-winning travel writer Brandon Wilson, and long-term Hawaii resident John Connolly. Wife, friend, and brother — a perfect trinity to keep me on the straight road to enlightenment.

51X2iyPCaUL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Winner of the Lowell Thomas Award, which is given each year by the Society of American Travel Writers, Brandon Wilson currently makes his home in Volcano Village, a few miles east of the active crater. You can read more about him at his Amazon page and at his website. A seasoned traveler and fine storyteller, Brandon led the way through the rain forest surrounding Kilauea Iki (south of the active crater), then down a steep mountain pass and out onto an expanse of hardened lava where steam rose from vents in rocky fissures. It was like stepping onto the surface of an alien world.

Afterward, Brandon led us back out through the rain forest and into a cylindrical cavern (below left) that once served as a conduit for flowing lava. Molded with organic curves reminiscent of the Queen Alien’s lair in James Cameron’s Aliens, the tube stretches deep beneath a volcanic mountain, through darkness and back into leafy sunlight.

volcano tubePuddles dot its floor while thready roots from the forest above dangle overhead like living stalactites. My notes on the place will certainly come in handy as I expand the climax of “The Others,” which takes place in the underground lair of creatures called “the fang-claws.”

Interestingly, the lava tube also brought to mind the underground passageway that Professor Challenger visits in my story “King of the Moon” from the newly released Professor Challenger: New Worlds, Lost Places.

ChallengerTime and again, whether presenting  wonders that informed new projects or recalled previous ones, these travels around the Hawaiian islands proved time and again that the connection between life and art flows both ways.

This post is part two of a series about researching a novel based on the previously published stories “Daughters of Prime” and “The Others.” You can find the first installment here. For the next, we’ll take a look at Mauna Kea — the tallest mountain in the United States and possibly (depending on how you measure) the entire planet. I have some photos that compare it to the Amazonian plateau that inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. It’s pretty cool stuff. I should have it ready in a day or two.

Until then . . . scop on!

Image Credits:
Kilauea Volcano by night. *
Kilauea Volcano by day.*
Three guides.*
Yak Butter Blues copyright © 2013 by Brandon Wilson.
Inside the Nāhuku Lava Tube.*
Professor Challenger: New Worlds, Lost Places copyright © 2015 Edge SF & Fantasy.
*Photos copyright © 2015 by The 21st-Century Scop.