The last few days here in Chicago have been really hot and humid, finally with a cool down with a fantastic thunderstorm last night, but that kind of muggy weather is just the thing to turn my mind toward this month’s Featured Story, “The Scrimshawed Ostrich Egg,” from author Robert Allen Lupton. It’s been a real joy getting to know Robert and his work since he became part of the World Unknown Review family. As I was in the process of getting last year’s WUR out, we stumbled upon another connection: both of us were to have stories in Alban Lake Publishing‘s Potters Field 6! So I’m very please to get the opportunity to bring more of Robert to my readers with this interview. Sit back, relax, and enjoy getting to know more about this very unique writer.
L.S.: Hello, Robert! “The Scrimshawed Ostrich Egg” immediately caught my attention because it immediately ticked off two boxes of Things I Really Like: pirates and New Orleans. I especially loved the richness of your descriptions of the Louisiana swamps. What’s your own personal connection to that area, and what inspired you to bring it into this work of fiction?
R.A.L.: I was fortunate enough to live in New Orleans from 1975 to 1984. I was in upper management for a large national restaurant chain. I learned about gumbo, oysters, crawfish, andouille sausage, and bars that never close. I fished in the swamps with friends and watched the sun come up in the French Quarter a few to many times. Laissez le bon temps rouler, or let the good times roll.
Jean Lafitte is, of course, an actual historical pirate, lending a nice authenticity (for lack of a better word!) to the story. When did you first learn of Lafitte, and why has he resonated with you enough to be written into a story?
My first exposure to Jean Lafitte was the Yul Brynner movie, The Buccaneer, in 1958. I was ten years old and the thought of a pirate with a heart of gold helping to save America resonated with me. (Besides, what ten year old doesn’t love a pirate? There’s a little Captain Hook in all of us.) I visited the Battle of New Orleans battlefield and walked the area, including the battle line that the pirates were charged with holding. The Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve in Jefferson Parrish has been around since 1907 and is worth a visit. Jean Lafitte disappeared around 1823, and his fate is still unknown. It doesn’t get any better than that.
The grave of Marie Laveau is readily accessible. Use a piece of brick to scratch a cross on the monument and make a bad wish about someone. I might have visited a few times and left a red clay scratch mark or two on the marble.
What’s your boating experience? I don’t have much myself, but I still found Pat and Pierre’s troubles getting out into the swamp really fascinating.
I owned a small sailboat when I live in New Orleans, but you don’t take a sailboat into the bayou. I never wandered into the swamps and bayous alone. One of my old friends, a true Cajun from Chalmette, Louisiana, took me fishing more than once. The bayous are an absolute maze, without street signs. It would be easy to get lost.They’re full of dead ends, twists, turns and blind alleyways with only one way our and one way in. The channels change from year to year as the storms and tides uproot trees, shift debris, and create and destroy temporary islands.
If you found your own scrimshawed ostrich egg, would you try to follow it to the treasure?
I have a beautiful scrimshaw ostrich egg. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a map, it has a whaling expedition on one side and a close up of a whaler ( the ship ) on the other. It doesn’t make me want to go whaling, a barbaric activity, at best.
However, if there was a map, I would be packed and ready to go in an hour or two.
Who would you cast in the roles of your characters if you were in charge of a film version of your story?
Jonny Lee Miller is definitely Jean Lafitte, and Halle Berry is Marie Laveau. The two lost boys are Johnny Galecki and Kevin Hart. I visualize Kevin Hart caught in the bayou on a pirogue pole and screaming at Galecki to bring the boat closer. It would be amazing.
Read any good books lately?
Always, I read more than I should. Golden Prey by John Sandford was excellent. The Turn by Kim Harrison was a great prequel. I read everything Kelley Armstrong writes. Her new series, the City of the Lost, is excellent. I recently discovered Arthur Conon Doyle‘s non-Sherlock Holmes novels. His two novels that feature Sir Nigel are unappreciated and mostly unknown treasures. Sir Nigel and The White Company are outstanding.
Do you have a method for your writing? If so, what’s it like?
I write for three or four hours every morning, then I run five or six miles. My goal is to write 2500 words a day, 15,000 words a week. Sometimes I get caught up in the story and write seven or eight thousand words at a setting. I use a brief outline. One sentence can indicate several pages. For a short story, I write the story straight through, it’s important to get it on paper. Revise. Revise, again. Check for contradictions. (If I said that a character doesn’t have a shirt, I don’t want to have him wipe his face with his sleeve.) Revise and punctuate. Let the story set for a few days and then do a final review. Send the finished story to a publisher. A story sitting on the shelf doesn’t do you any good.
I use a more detailed outline for novels, at least for the two I’ve written. The major change in technique for the novels is that I read and revise yesterday’s work before I put anything new on paper.
What’s next for Robert Allen Lupton?
My collection of short stories, Running Into Trouble, will be published in June. Fifteen short stories where the protagonist is a runner. This book won’t teach you how to run. The stories range from science fiction, horror, fantasy, and adventure. There are bad things out there, run away.
I plan to edit a collection of feral child stories later this year. A call for submissions will be forthcoming, once I get off my butt and set up my website.
The second book in my Foxborn series, Here There Be Dragons, will be published next spring.
I’m working on expanding my unpublished short story, “The Valhalla Arms,” a retirement home for old superheroes, into a novel. It’s got a long way to go.
My completed Barsoomian novel, Dejanna of Mars, is making the submission rounds and someday may see the light of day.
Where can we find more of your work?
I have a couple of drabbles (100 word stories ) available on the excellent website, http://www.horrortree.com.
I have been contributing to the Edgar Rice Burroughs Amateur Press Association, on and off, for thirty years. Several ERB themed short stories have appeared only on those pages. You can join ERBAPA by Googling ERBAPA, and following the instructions. The current issue includes my short story, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Back issues are available from time to time from EBay, Alibris, and other used book sellers.
Anything else you’d like to add?
My wife and I are commercial hot air balloon pilots and will be flying our balloon, The Lady Jester, a female Mardi Gras Harlequin shaped balloon again this year at various events around the country. We don’t post a schedule.
May the words you write give someone a moment’s reprieve from the world outside. Calm winds and soft landings.
And many thanks to Robert for taking the time to share his thoughts and answer my questions, as well as providing us with a classic adventure story of pirates and intrigue! You can read the “The Scrimshawed Ostrich Egg” through the end of May, and then it’s onto the next one, so catch it while you still can. Or consider picking up a copy of the World Unknown Review for yourself.