Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Of Dinosaurs and Desperadoes - Writing "The Bone Feud"

 Of Dinosaurs and Desperadoes - Writing "The Bone Feud"
The journey that eventually led me to write The Bone Feud began when I was just five years old. Our local shopping center in Peabody, Massachusetts brought in several life-sized fiberglass models of dinosaurs on wheeled trailers and parked in their lot for kids to gawk at.

In the wide eyes of a five year old, these giant creatures were magnificent. It was right then and there that my lifelong fascination with dinosaurs began.

I immediately proclaimed that when I grew up I wanted to be an “archaeologist” and dig up dinosaur bones. My mother patiently explained to me that archaeologists don’t dig up dinosaur bones, and that what I actually wanted to be was a paleontologist. Later, my career path faltered when I discovered that science involves a lot of math, something for which I had no natural talent. But, I was a voracious reader, so becoming a writer seemed inevitable.

I began to write screenplays and moved to Los Angeles in my early 20s, where I spent the better part of ten years writing for film and television. Today I make my living writing and designing video games.

Before I left the film industry, around 2000, I read a nonfiction book by Mark Jaffe entitled The Gilded Dinosaur: The Fossil War Between E.D. Cope and O.C. Marsh and the Rise of American Science. It detailed the fascinating history of the events known variously as “The Bone Wars” and the "Great Dinosaur Rush." I saw, in its bones, the potential for a great action-adventure tale.

A straightforward re-telling of the story would have ultimately been quite depressing. These two men, Professor Edward Drinker Cope and Professor O.C. Marsh, were compulsive, jealous, driven men, and their bitter feud ultimately destroyed them both. But their feud occurred in the late 1870s at the height of the American Wild West. Cope and Marsh crossed paths with an amazing array of colorful characters who have been heavily romanticized in Western fiction over the years: Wild Bill Hickok, P.T. Barnum, the great Sioux leader Red Cloud, and many others. I saw wonder and magic in these events, and I became determined to make their story my own.

It began as a screenplay, and I took many liberties. I combined some events, and altered others. I compressed timelines and took artistic license with historical facts. When I finished, I had my agent send it out. I had some initial interest, but ultimately nothing came of it. So, I put it on a shelf, but I never forgot about it. I’d fallen in love with this story and these characters, and I was convinced it was the best thing I’d ever written. A few years ago I dusted it off and began to turn it into a novel. I knew, as written, it would be a short novel, and I briefly considered padding it out to make it a more marketable length.

One of my writing heroes, the great Elmore Leonard, said, “When you write, try to leave out all the parts that readers tend to skip.” His style was to leave out big descriptive paragraphs, keep things as lean and as fast-moving as possible, and reveal character through dialog. That’s what I tried to do. I wanted to create a novel that filled the reader’s head with images, and kept them compulsively turning pages.

My favorite early review said that one of the things they most enjoyed about The Bone Feud was that “It was almost like watching a movie in my head.” That was entirely my intention. I hope the rest of my readers feel the same way.

At the height of the American Wild West, two friends and scientific colleagues went to war. Each scrambled to out-wit and out-discover the other in a race to unearth the skeletal remains of dozens of previously undiscovered species of dinosaurs. What began with spying, bribery, and theft, quickly exploded into a bitter feud involving hired gunfighters, secret deals, and sticks of dynamite. Scientist-adventurers Edward Cope and O.C. Marsh inadvertently unleashed “dinosaur fever" across the globe, and their amazing discoveries became the subject of bidding wars by universities, museums, and even the great showman P.T. Barnum. Their story has never been told, until now.

THE BONE FEUD is an action-packed Wild West adventure based on real historic events.

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