I’ve recently had the pleasure of exchanging a few emails with Joe O’Neill, author of Rebels of the Kasbah and Wrath of the Caid, the first two books in the RED HAND ADVENTURES series. We talked about his next book, LEGENDS OF THE RIF, and I was able to ask him a few questions about his experiences writing the RHA. He also sent me some of the art he’s been doing for the next book and I have to say, I’m very impressed with them. What do you think? You can learn more about Joe, the RED HAND ADVENTURES and LEGENDS here!
Answer: My favorite place to write about in Rebels was definitely Morocco. It’s a very exotic location and the people are very exotic and varied. The Berber people were especially interesting to learn about. There’s a great book called “Lords of the Atlas” that goes into detail about the bedouin Moroccan tribes.
Answer: It’s funny, but none of the characters really resemble me or my friends. I think, perhaps, they have the kind of loyalty and friendship that I wish that I had. As I dig deeper and write more books, it’s almost as if I’m learning about the characters in new and different ways. It’s a funny thing the creative process. One thing I’ve learned about these characters are that they are tough and they never, ever are victims. If an injustice is done to them, they will not stand still for it.
Answer: Probably the Tintin adventures are the biggest inspiration while Ernst Hemingway is the writer I’ve tried to emulate in these stories. I really enjoyed how the Tintin books were just one big adventure and the writer, Herge, incorporated current events into the stories. For instance, the story of Captain Basil is taken directly from the Somali pirates who attack boats off the African coast. Many of these men are displaced fisherman who had their fish taken by big commercial fishing fleets. There are a lot of writers that I’m in awe of for different reasons. Paul Beatty is a poet and has a command of the English language I can only wish for. Vikram Chandra is a modern genius and up there with Dickens in terms of how detailed he can construct a story. I have to say that it’s taken me twenty years and I like how I write now. It’s minimalist. If I can say something in ten words, rather than a thousand, that’s what I do (and that’s inspired by Hemingway). That’s not some peoples cup of tea and that’s fine, it would be boring if everyone had the same writing style.
Answer: Absolutely. The third book, Legends of the Rif, really gets into some philosophical explanations behind the Red Hand. There’s a very ethical component to the books that I think is very important. I’m a big believer in karma and consequences for evil, or selfish, actions.
Answer: No, it was never a question of writing in the first person. Writing in the third person really allows me to expand on the world and go into different places and story lines. Writing in the first person is great for some books, but I think the scope of these books demanded a third person narrative.
Answer: Rebels took about five years. I would write on and off during that time. Sometimes, I might not write for three or four months and then come back to the story. Wrath was a much, much harder book to write. I ended up completely throwing away the first draft and starting over, and then it took about sixteen revisions. It was a process to really find the voice and the pace of the story. The third book practically wrote itself. I knew exactly what I was going to do. Every writer has their own process and the thing is to discover what works for you. I don’t really work with outlines as they are too restrictive. I might jot down directions for the books with possible plot lines. I think about the books all the time and I do some of my best writing on my bicycle :) I’ll go for three or four hour bike rides and think about the stories all the time. When I sit down to write, I pretty much have it figured out where I want it to go.
Answer: The funny part is, I ended up editing a lot of the harsher scenes. I really, really toned down what it’s like for children and slaves during the early twentieth century. Some people (mostly parents) have issues with some of the violence or harshness of the scenes. My philosophy is a lot of this stuff really happened and it’s important to realize that. Most kids in America have pretty great lives and it’s important to realize that not everyone has it as good as us. The hardest scene, without giving away too much, was when Tariq has a great deal of self doubt and leaves Aseem and Fez. That was really hard because I love these characters and it’s hard to write something where they are dong something weak or unjust. It was an important scene because I think all of us are human and we make decisions that we regret. The most important thing is to atone for those mistakes.
Answer: Probably the third book. I think it’s the best of the series and it’s got a lot more depth than the other two. As much as I love both of the first two books, I think I really found my rhythm with the third book.