Entrevista: Rob MacGregor
Y he aquí, queridos lectores, nuestra tercera entrevista: en esta ocasión, tenemos aquí presente a Rob MacGregor, un escritor americano conocido por sus novelas de aventura conocido por novelas como Calavera de Cristal o Tulpas. No obstante, una serie de libros conocida para la cual trabajo fue nada más ni nada menos que la serie de libros de Indiana Jones publicada por Bantam Books en los años 90, además de escribir la novelización de Indiana Jones y la Última Cruzada, la tercera película de Indiana Jones y mi favorita. He aquí la entrevista, cuál por supuesto, se encuentra en inglés:
Y bueno, he aquí la tercera entrevista que tenemos en El Recoveco del Geek. Entrevistar al Señor MacGregor fue, como todas las demás entrevistas, una experiencia agradable y marca la tercera vez que entrevistamos a un artista que trabajo en Indiana Jones. Y...para quedarnos pegados al género de aventuras...el próximo review que hagamos será sobre Dora y la Ciudad Perdida.
1. Tell us about yourself, Rob. When we’re you born and what inspired you to become a novelist?
ROB REPLIES >>> I grew up in the North Country, a Minneapolis inner ring suburb, where in ninth grade I gave a speech in social studies class in which we selected a career of interest and described it. Mine was archaeology, the only ninth grader in the school to make that career selection. In fact, I started out in college with that intent still in mind and took an anthropology class my first quarter at the University of Minnesota.
Unfortunately, I didn’t do that well—too many distractions for the 18-year-old—and eventually pursued a degree in journalism. It seemed to me there were a lot more jobs in that field than in archaeology, which was going to require advanced degrees. I was ready to move on and found my first newspaper job in Bismarck, N.D. one week after graduating.
I spent the next twelve years moving from newspaper to newspaper around the country, and always taking extended breaks between jobs for long-distance travel, sometimes disappearing for several month to explore archaeological sites in Mexico, Central and South America, Greece, Italy, Great Britain, North Africa, and elsewhere. I’d never lost the archaeology bug.
After one trip hiking the Inca Trail to Manchu Picchu, my sister wrote me saying, “You’re like that Indiana Jones guy.” That was shortly after Raiders of the Lost Ark came out. Little did I know at that time that I would be joining the franchise, in my own write, a few years later.
Books that inspired me in my younger years tended to be on the mystical side. Still one of my favorites: LOST HORIZON, by James Hilton. I was also inspired by the first several books by Carlos Castaneda, which I always considered semi-autobiographic in nature…or novelized memoirs. I also fondly recall reading THE MAGUS, by John Fowles on the beach in Mykonos, Greece.
2. From all the books you have written, which do you consider to be your best?
ROB REPLIES >>> I guess it would have to be my latest novel, TULPAS, though it seems it was published in secret, not too many have discovered it. Of my Indy novels, I’ve always leaned toward Seven Veils, though the most popular one—according to sales figures—is Genesis Deluge. I also have to give a nod to my YA Hopi mystery series, featuring Will Lansa, son of the Hopi tribe police chief and a woman from a wealthy Aspen, Colorado silver mining family. The fourth and last book in the series jumps ahead ten years when Will Lansa has become an anthropologist and returns to the reservation for the adventure of his life in TIME CATCHER.
3. How were you hired by Lucasfilm to write the novelization of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Did you met George Lucas in person, how he was? (I would love to meet him!)
ROB REPLIES >>> Getting the assignment to adapt the script of The Last Crusade was like magic. It was handed to me by a literary agent, who was not even my agent. I was represented by the same agency, but by someone else. The reason I was given the project had nothing to do with my long-time interest in archaeology and related international travels, which would come into play later in my original Indy novels. Instead, the reason was quite different. I had helped that agent out of a bind earlier that year by writing on very short deadlines two novelizations, based on episodes of a television series, called Private Eye that was set in Los Angeles in the 1950s. At the time I received the offer to adapt The Last Crusade, I didn’t even know there was a new Indiana Jones movie in the works, and wasn’t sure what Indiana Jones script the agent was talking about.
I’ve never met George Lucas or Spielberg or Harrison Ford for that matter. I did spend some time at Sky Walker Ranch and later at LucasFilm headquarters in the Presidio neighborhood of San Francisco. One day, I was invited to go out on the Sea Walker, Lucas’ yacht, on San Francisco Bay. But, in the midst of a drought, it rained and the cruise was cancelled.
That evening I was invited to attend a party of mystery writers. It had nothing to do with Indiana Jones. My wife, Trish, had written a successful series of mysteries and had gotten to know other women mystery writers. To my surprise, the husband of one other women was the former president of LucasFilm and we had a great chat talking about Star Wars and Indiana Jones. That chance encounter was an interesting synchronicity.
My later trip to the Presidio site was all about adapting a new version of the Indiana Jones computer game into a novel. I was introduced at a meeting as a “legendary” Indiana Jones writer, who had written more Indiana Jones stories than any other writer. That, I guess, was about the extend of recognition I ever received from the headquarters.
4. It’s known that during the writing of your Indiana Jones novels, you were vetoed from using characters of the films minus Marcus Brody. Did you have any plans to include other characters from the films which got nixed by Lucas? (Coincidentally, I recall that back when you made an interview with TheIndyExperience, you coincidentally guessed that George was saving Marion for Indy IV).
ROB REPLIES >>> Of course, I was interested in exploring the origins of Indy’s relationship with Marion. It seemed the obvious place to go in a prequel series, since we knew from Raiders that they knew each other quite well and that something had happened between them. But one of the ground rules was not to include Marion or anyone else from the movies, except Marcus. It wasn’t really a lucky guess or coincidence that Marion might re-appear in Indy 4. I was told that probably would be the case as the reason for avoiding her back story. As it turns out, we’ve yet to find out Marion’s back story.
5. From all the Indiana Jones novels you have written (minus the Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings novelization, which we’ll talk about later), are there any ideas, plot points or MacGuffins that you wanted to use but didn’t work out?
ROB REPLIES >>> Sure, I wanted to use a crystal skull. At that point in my career, I had written only one original novel called, Crystal Skull, so I wanted to incorporate a crystal skull into the Indy saga. Well, that would certainly happen later, but not by me. The other MacGuffin that comes to mind that was also nixed was the Spear of Destiny, the spear that fascinated Hitler and was the one that supposedly pierced the side of Christ and held magical properties. I was intrigued with that MacGuffin and think it would’ve made a great Indy story. But I was told that I would be infringing on a copyright or some other related legal issue. I doubted that would be a problem, but I didn’t fight it. While these were original novels, I was working for George and since he wanted to avoid that mystical object, I dropped it. One directive I had from him was that all such MacGuffins must be known mystical objects, such as the Omphalos that I used in Peril at Delphi.
6. For years, there have been rumors that George considered Noah’s Ark to be the MacGuffin of what became Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Did he allow you to use it as a MacGuffin or did he initially veto it (they say he vetoed it after the Indiana Jones and the Sons of Darkness script fiasco)?
ROB REPLIES >>> I was never told to avoid Noah’s Art as a MacGuffin. My concept for Indiana Jones and the Genesis Deluge was approved before I wrote it. It ultimately became the most popular book in the series, at least based on sales and fan letters.
7. Much like Timothy Zahn, who created Luke Skywalker’s wife Mara Jade for his Thrawn Trilogy, you created Indiana Jones’ wife Deirdre Campbell for your novels. Did George approve of her creation? (It has been recently revealed that he didn’t like Mara Jade :(
ROB REPLIES >>> No one had any problem that Indy was married in Dance of the Giants. My sense has always been that LucasFilm’s corporate chiefs felt that these books were marketing items, like Indy action figures, and so they didn’t take the content too seriously. That obviously gave me more freedom to do what I wanted, as long as I followed the few restrictions that had been imposed. No one ever suggested a plot idea for me, other than George providing the overview of the series as taking place in the 1920s before the timeline of the movies.
Much later, however, I did encounter concerns about the fact that Indy had gotten married for a brief time in my series. That happened during a meeting at the LucasFilm headquarters at the Presidio when I met the Indiana Jones “historian.” The meeting took place shortly before the release of Kingdom, and I was there mainly to talk about adapting the latest version of the Indy game. He was concerned about the marriage and said it was a mistake that wouldn’t be included in the Indiana Jones bible. I could tell he hadn’t read my novel—in spite of his job—and someone had told him about the marriage. But as I said, these books were seen largely as a marketing tool. They were never given any publicity. They just came out one after another, two per year. Also, in the in the early editions of the first two or three novels, Indy dropped the f-bomb a few times, and that was removed from later printings.
8. The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles started to air shortly before you ended your Indiana Jones novel series. Were you were warned about it to avoid any potential continuity errors (Al Capone was later established as having met Indy before Genesis Deluge, so we have assumed he failed to recognize Indy) or to include references to the episodes?
ROB REPLIES >>> There was never any discussion about the relationship of my novels and the young adult series. However, I did contribute to that YA series in a round-about way. When I was first offered the chance to write Indiana Jones novels after the success of my novelization of The Last Crusade—a New York Times bestseller for a few weeks—George came up with the idea of a prequel series taking place in the 1920s. I took that concept, and suggested that each book begin with Indy as an old man in his nineties with an eye-patch, a little dog, and a cane. The old Indy would introduce each story and we would see him again at the conclusion. George responded (through an intermediary—as always) that no one wanted to see an old Indiana Jones. The idea was nixed, only to reappear exactly as I had suggested in the young adult series. You can imagine my surprise when I watched the first episode and saw how my old Indy had been re-deployed, complete with eye-patch, cane, and a little dog.
9. Did any real people or events inspired characters and plots from your Indiana Jones novels?
ROB REPLIES >>> The character of Jack Shannon, who appeared in a couple of the novels, was a conglomerate of a couple of old friends from my younger years, though none of them ever became born-again Christians, as Shannon did, in Genesis Deluge.
10. Given the long breach between Interior World and the Staff of Kings (non-published) novel, did you have any plans for an Indiana Jones novel that got cancelled due some reason?
ROB REPLIES >>> After I wrote my sixth original Indiana Jones novel, with each one due four month after the previous one was completed, I said I wanted to take a break. LucasFilm immediately hired another writer to continue the series. (Oddly enough, I had just met Martin Caidin at a book event two weeks before he called me to say that he had been hired to take over the series.) So, no, I wasn’t going to write another Indy novel while the series was in the hands of another writer.
11. Were you were ever approached to write the novelization of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? Did you liked the film?
ROB REPLIES >>> I really wanted to adapt the script of Kingdom into a novel and my agent made repeated requests that I be considered. Instead, shortly before the movie came out, I was asked to novelize the story line of the sixth version of the Indiana Jones game, Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings. While visiting the Presidio headquarters, I was told about the plot of Kingdom, even though it was being kept secret at the time. Of course, I was surprised to find out that it dealt with crystal skulls, but not surprised that Marion re-united with Indy.
Every new Indy movie has to do something original or it would be seen as a second-rate re-make of earlier ones. In this case, mixing Indy with aliens and the space craft took the saga to a new level, one that mystified or angered many fans, but I liked it for what it was. Mixing genres didn’t bother me, because it’s what I do in novels.
12. With respect to your work in the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade novelization, are there any characters you liked to expand their backstories (like the mention of Walter Donovan as possibly being Panama Hat’s client)?
ROB REPLIES >>> I sent the young Indy on a shamanic journey when he went on a vision quest on the Navajo reservation. That, of course, was nowhere in the script.
13. I read that your favorite Indiana Jones novel was Indiana Jones and the Seven Veils. Any reasons for it?
ROB REPLIES >>> I liked the idea of connecting Indy with Colonel Fawcett, the British adventurer who searched for a city of gold in the Amazon. Also, in the 1980s, I led adventure tours to South America, working with Avianca Airlines, and among the tours were three to the Upper Amazon on a converted rubber boat from Leticia, Colombia to Iquitos, Peru. So I had a feel for the Amazon and its mysteries.
14. In regards to the Staff of Kings novelization, how were you approached to write it and what significant changes did you make, like backstories? Is there any chance for you to ask Lucasfilm to publish it?
ROB REPLIES >>> Turning a game story into a novel is much harder than adapting a movie script. It has to read like a novel and not like the script of a game. It involved more development of the characters and changes in the storyline. I think readers who have played that game would definitely recognize the story, but see a lot of changes. All the locations in the game version are the same as the game.
After Bantam Books dropped the novel when the game came out ahead of the novel—which I had completed and submitted months earlier—I tried to convince them to publish it anyhow. But the Bantam Books editor said there weren’t enough Indiana Jones fans to make it worthwhile. Later, I tried to get approval to publish Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings for free as an ebook. An Indy fan, Christian Guldager, had even created excellent cover art for the book, and I would’ve handled all the details of publishing it myself gratis. But the Bantam editor nixed that idea, too.
15. You once mentioned that Indiana Jones and the Interior World received backlash from hardcore Indy fans, regarding its magic element. How great was the backlash or the main criticism of the novel (because I don't think it wasn't much as when R.A. Salvatore killed Chewbacca)?
ROB REPLIES >>> I heard a few rumblings, mainly in reviews of the book. That was about it. Hard core fans were much more vocal, of course, with the genre crossing story line in Kingdom of the Skulls.
16. Maybe this question may sound a bit out of place, but did you ever consider writing a Star Wars novel to work in Lucasfilm’s other greatest franchise? Or have you ever been approached to write a Star Wars novel back during the Expanded Universe days?
ROB REPLIES >>> No one ever approached me to work on the Star Wars stories because I wasn’t known as a science fiction writer, at least not in terms of writing about space voyages. I’ve noticed that science fiction writers and fans have a lot of rules about what constitutes “real” science fiction, and my stories tend to go beyond science into the magical.
17. I know you can’t confirm anything related to the Indiana Jones canon without Lucasfilm’s approval, but did you believe that Jack Shannon was among the wedding guests in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? In such case, any chances for you to approach Lucasfilm to retcon him into one of the guests?
ROB REPLIES >>> That’s a good one! Jack Shannon certainly should’ve been there, but if he’d been introduced as a guest, only fans who read the books would’ve pick up on it. If I had written the novelization, you can be sure Jack would’ve been there!
18. You once mentioned on Reddit that you wrote a script for a movie, but it didn’t go ahead. From what was about? Any chances to write a film in the future?
ROB REPLIES >>> I wrote a script based on my first novel, CRYSTAL SKULL. In fact, just a few months ago, while cleaning out my closet, I found it, read it over and thought it was pretty good. So I’ve decided to work on it and try again to sell it again. Meanwhile, I’ve written script of SPINNING OUT, a story that appeared in a collection of stories called Outliers. I’m also writing a script now based on my inter-dimensional novel, TULPAS.
19. Given that Indiana Jones 5 is everyday getting closer and closer, would you approach Lucasfilm again to write a new Indiana Jones novel? But would you have any problems if Disney “descanonizes” your Indiana Jones stories if they decide to reboot the Expanded Adventures much like they did with the Star Wars Expanded Universe?
ROB REPLIES >>> I don’t have any contacts any more with LucasFilm. They’ve all retired. The only contact I have with Disney is in their accounting department where they know me well for bugging them about royalty payments. After Disney took over LucasFilm, royalties on sales of my Indy novels, which are all still in print, stopped for more than three years until I finally found my way into Disney’s massive accounting department. The team of accountants I worked with were very helpful in tracking down the money. One of them, in particular, was spurred on because he’d read my Indy novels.
20. Did you have any new projects in mind you would like to talk about with us?
ROB REPLIES >>> I’m expanding my novela (a long short story), Spinning Out, into a full length novel. Spinning Out is about a team of intelligence officers who have the ability to travel out of body, a handy tool for intelligence gathering…until it gets wildly out of control. I’d also like to finish by saying again that my best non-Indiana Jones novel is one published in 2018 called, TULPAS.
Rob, we’re very grateful that you allowed us to interview you. You’re such a good author and novelist. We can’t wait to see what your next projects will be and I hope you will visit Markawasi in the future (which reminds me that I would like to visit it now that you have informed me :)! Good luck!