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Researching a Novel:
Trekking the Rain Forest

August 17th, 2015

congo-crichton-book-coverThe untouched or virgin rain forest was called primary jungle. Primary jungle was what most people thought of when they thought of rain forests: huge hardwood trees, mahogany and teak and ebony, and underneath a lower layer of ferns and palms, clinging to the ground. Primary jungle was dark and foreboding, but actually easy to move through. However, if the primary jungle was cleared by man and later abandoned, an entirely different secondary growth took over. The dominant plants were softwoods and fast-growing trees, bamboo and thorny tearing vines, which formed a dense and impenetrable barrier.

That’s Michael Crichton writing in his novel Congo, pointing out that landscapes are as varied and complex as the people who inhabit them.

path  (2)I was reminded of this passage during my recent treks through the rain forests of Oahu and Hawaii, where I discovered that jungles that seem impenetrable when seen from a distance can actually be quite easy to walk through, as long as you are willing to let nature be your guide.

Some of the forests that we encountered, particularly those on the less developed Big Island, seemed to be Primary Forests. But all of them–even the ones filled with great tangles of vines and fast growing trees–were cut through with natural paths carved by runoff from the high volcanic mountains that surrounded them.

Naturally, you don’t want to try walking along them when the runoff flows, and the paths that you find might not be going in the direction you want to explore.  In that case you might have to assert some dominance by hacking your own trail.

How to Cut a Trail in AmazoniaThe people at The Brain Scoop have an interesting video titled “How to Cut a Trail in Amazonia.” It contains a section title “The Trail Team Cuts a Trail,” which offers a concise overview of how one might go about hacking a jungle into submission (and possibly clearing the way for even denser undergrowth in the future).

Click on the image to the left to view the video.

hutThis post is my fourth in a series of musings about my research trip to the Hawaiian islands. The other posts are My Lost World, Into the Abyss, and Above the Clouds — all of which I was able to finish within a week of returning from my Pacific tour. This post took considerable longer . . . and for a good reason. I mentioned last time that I hoped blogging about the trip would jump start the muse and get me working on the new book. Well, that’s happened.

I have a few other discoveries that I hope to share in the weeks ahead, not the least of which involves the construction of huts entirely out of native plants (right), but the muse is calling: “Scop on!”

Image Credits:
Michael Crichton’s Congo.
*A natural rain forest path.
The Brain Scoop’s How to Cut a Trail Through Amazonia.
*Big Island Hut.
*Photos copyright © 2015 by The 21st-Century Scop.

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.

The Portal Opens: GenCon Preview, Part 2

August 13th, 2013

GenConThe portal opens, and for one week the city changes, reality morphs, fantasy rules.

The event is GenCon, the massive fantasy and science fiction gaming convention that takes over Indianapolis each August.  Attendance this year is projected to break past records, which were well beyond 40,000 attendees.

Part of the event is the GenCon Writer’s Symposium. That’s where I’ll be spending most of my time this week – conducting workshops, serving on panels, doing readings, and (most importantly) hanging out with other science fiction and fantasy writers. It’s always a blast.

I’ll post additional reports this week (provided I get the chance). In the meantime, here’s my schedule for the convention. If you’re there, be sure to say hello.


8:00-11:00 AM

Fiction Fundamentals Workshop (Room 243): The first installment of three days of intense fiction-writing workshops that I’ll be presenting along with W. H. Horner – editor in chief of Fantasist Enterprises. Topics covered on this day will be Structure, Outlining, World Building, and Character.  If you’re seriously interested in learning to write fantasy, science fiction, or horror fiction, you’ll want to be sure to attend.

12:00-1:00 PM

Book Signing (Dealers Hall): The best place to get your V books signed and get promo material on the upcoming Vortex: Book Three of the Veins Cycle. I might even have a copy or two of the newly released Crimson Pact: Volume 5, which editor/writer Paul Genesse will be launching later in the week.


8:00-11:00 AM

Fiction Fundamentals Workshop (Room 243): Today’s topics will be Tension & Pacing, Connecting with Characters, Dialogue, and The Power of Details. Professional secrets will be revealed!

12:30-1:00 PM

Reading (Room 243): I’ll talk about writing, share some stories, and offer a preview of Vortex. Not to be missed!

5:00-5:30 PM

Crimson Pack Reading with Paul Genesse (Room 243): I’ll be joining Paul for a special presentation of a story that takes place in a city very much like Indianapolis, at a convention that just might be GenCon. Yes, you’re in the story, too. Be there!


8:00-11:00 AM

Fiction Fundamentals Workshop (Room 243): Today’s topics will be Revision and Editing – the most essential steps in the writing process.

12:00 Noon

Exploring Genres – Steampunk (Room 245): I’ll be moderating this panel discussion of Victorian-age science fiction with Sara Hans, Paul Genesse, and Jennifer Brozek. This panel broke some attendance records when I took part in it two years ago. Looking forward to doing it again.

2:00 – 3:00 PM

Exploring Genres – Hard SF (Room 244): I’ll be moderating this panel discussion of science-based science fiction with fellow writers Wesley Chu, Jason Sanford, and Geoffrey Girard. I’m looking forward to this one.

There are also a number of mass author events planned. I need to get the dates, times, and places for those. Again, I’ll update this report as time permits. It’s going to be a busy week.

Got to go. The portal’s opening.

See you on the other side!