The American Connection – guest blogger James Woods

27 Jan

It is my pleasure today to have James Woods as my guest. James is a fellow GSP author. Jim Woods, who also uses the pen name Jamel Dubois, writes novels authentically set in South Africa. As a native South African, I am usually skeptical about foreigners writing about my country. However,, James has perfectly captured the South Africa Afrikaaner in his book Assassination Safari. I have just finished reading it and found to be totally authentic to the culture. So with any further ado over to you James.

The continent of Africa and particularly the southern regions including South Africa became a major part of my muse immediately upon my first visit, and that initial visit perhaps calls for a bit of background. The time was the mid 1980s and I was firmly entrenched in the outdoors magazine business. I was on staff with Guns Magazine as Senior Field Editor, which translated to allowing me mailing-in my monthly feature and column from my Arizona ranch mailbox that was half-mile walk up the dirt road. I earned that almost retirement privilege by first working several years as Editor, Managing Editor and Editorial Director with (then) Petersen Publishing Company in Beverly Hills, where I was attached to Guns & Ammo and Petersen’s Hunting magazines. These professional and literary connections put me on my first flight to Africa.

Commercial magazines are supported by advertisers, not subscribers; but advertisers are attracted to magazines holding influence over a reader base sufficient to justify a product supplier spending promotional money with a particular magazine. My first two trips to Africa were press junkets. The first, to Zimbabwe, was hosted by a German optics company introducing new
line of riflescopes and binoculars and they wanted articles on the products. I was one of four magazine writers making that trip.

It was a natural progression for me to think South Africa following that junket; Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, was politically and socially tied to South Africa in my numerous history volumes. I waited two years for the opportunity to visit South Africa, but in the interim I read, and re-read, James Michener’s, The Covenant, on colonial influence and development of the country. I also was introduced to Wilbur Smith, who writes on Africa and has become my
favorite author. He has written thirty-three novels, most of which are set in South Africa, and I have them all. My safari to South Africa was at invitation of the South African Tourism Board (SATOUR); they looking for favorable press on the recreational opportunities in the country at a time when the country was not getting favorable press from the world at large. I was one of seven outdoors communicators invited–magazine, newspaper and television–from the U.S. And Canada.

Spouses are not invited along on press junkets. Upon my return from South Africa, and my wife, becoming fed up with my praise for the beauties and attractions of the country, announced that my next trip to Africa would include her. It came the following year, just the two of us and at personal expense; no more sponsored press trips. We self-drove all over the country for six weeks, me showing off what I had been shown and both of us discovering so much more for ourselves. I decided I had to tell the western world about South Africa, and formulated what I considered to be the ultimate travel guide.

Actually, the germ for the travel guide came to me while I was in the home of a professional hunter, in South Africa, on my SATOUR sponsored trip. The bunch of us, all the writers and the hunter’s family, were socially imbibing in the comfort of the hunter’s home, all paying rapt attention to his tales soon to become fodder for my current novel-in-work, when I was distracted by movement at the vented jalousie window. A green mamba slithering its way up the exterior wall found the window opening and started to enter between the panes. I caught the hostess’s eye and silently directed her to my discovery, and she coolly approached the window and cranked it shut, causing the viper to withdraw. No one else observed all this and I determined that I had to tell the world about this fascinating country, things to see and do, and things to
avoid. Subsequently on my long personal explorations I collected tons of notes on history, customs, politics, human relations, cuisine and traveler amenities. It was a lost effort.

I cleverly titled my work, Tackies, Bakkies and Biscuits. “Tackies” is the local identification of sport shoes that we not in Africa call tennis shoes, running shoes or trainers. Tackies are tacky; I’ve been asked to leave high-toned establishments in South Africa because I dared to enter wearing the shoes and breaking the dress code. And not just tackies either; I travel in jeans
wherever in the world I’m in charge of my own travel, such as driving through southern Africa. I was escorted from a historic hotel dining room in Harare, Zimbabwe, for showing up in my travel jeans. The Ndebele policeman was a foot shorter than me and quite officious in his sharply pressed and detailed khakis. I was permitted to retrieve my luggage and change into khakis
myself, before being readmitted to the establishment. The firearms mores are strict as well. I know of bird and waterfowl hunters refused admission to South Africa’s shooting sites because they came equipped with automatic or pump shotguns. Over-under guns are tolerated but side-by-side double guns are the accepted sporting arms of gentleman shooters. These are things I intended to tell potential travelers to the region, in my book.

The “bakkies” in my travel title is more or less synonymous with “pick-up truck” The word does not rhyme with “tackies” when verbalized, but I thought it looked as though it did in print. And “biscuits” are not biscuits as westerners know them, but the English version of cookies. I intended my book to clarify and educate outlanders in the local language anomalies. I also laid out travel advisories and money exchange tips. The book did not get published, not even
completed. I submitted numerous queries complete with sample chapters and full outline to agents and publishers, but found no takers. I had publishers tell me in no uncertain terms that South Africa as a subject was taboo because of Apartheid practices in force at the time. By the mid 1990s, the book was still incomplete due to the continuous updates I was making on subsequent research trips, but the death knell was the elections of 1994 when the country’s
political structure was altered drastically. I chose to drop the travel guide effort entirely.

In the interim I did sell several safari articles to the outdoors magazines, and I used South African settings for some success in short fiction, novels and factual hunting accounts. From my first of several exploratory trips to South Africa I wanted to write an epic novel using exploits of the professional hunter credited with creating the modern safari operations from its roots as a cottage industry. I transferred his real accomplishments and credits to my fictional
protagonist. That novel is currently in work, primarily because initially I had no knowledge of novel writing, just desire. So I trained myself with a couple of preliminary works, one little more than a long novella, and the second qualifying as a novel with all the complexities and characters unknowingly omitted from the first.

My novel writing education, and much of my Africa knowledge, came from the works of Robert Ruark, Ernest Hemingway, Peter Hathaway Capstick, whom I knew and associated with personally, and the afore-mentioned Wilbur Smith. Success for me as a novelist will not be counted in dollars; all I want is my books alongside theirs on bookstores around the world. Is that asking too much?

Thank you Jim for being with us today. Jim Woods lives and works in Tucson, Arizona, but can be found on line at these websites:

10 Responses to “The American Connection – guest blogger James Woods”

  1. Lady Deidre January 27, 2012 at 9:52 pm #

    James Woods appears to be a very intelligent writer! Thank you, Anne, for an interesting article on a fellow GSP writer. Enjoyed!
    God Bless You Both!

    • annepetzer January 28, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

      thanks and you Deidre

  2. Charlotte Holley January 28, 2012 at 2:14 am #

    Great post. Thanks for the interesting read.

    • annepetzer January 28, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

      Thank you for the comment Charlotte 🙂

  3. Colin Acland January 28, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

    Mr Woods is a very interesting man I liked the cool approach to the viper i’m afraid i would be gone if i saw one
    Thanks again Anne for another interesting article

    • annepetzer January 28, 2012 at 6:01 pm #

      thanks for stopping by Colin

  4. Sheila Deeth January 29, 2012 at 12:57 am #

    Fascinating post. I really enjoyed it. Would love to see your book next to one of Wilbur Smith’s.

    • annepetzer January 29, 2012 at 8:47 am #

      Amen to that Sheila. Thanks for stopping by

  5. klokanomil January 29, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

    Nice to see you two kept in touch after meeting on my blog 🙂
    I think you;d do a good job for the South African tourism board james. You’ve sold me! 🙂 In the meantime, good luck getting your books on the desired shelf in the book stores 🙂

    Kylie aka klokanomil

    P.S. What’s a biscuit if not a cookie? Is a biscuit something else in the States?

  6. Jim Woods January 29, 2012 at 6:57 pm #

    First, to Lady, Charlote, Colin, Sheila and Kylie, thanks for your comments. Kylie, in the U.S., a biscuit is home baked bread in individual puffy pieces two or three inches in diameter, and depending on the recipe and the cook, may be just as high, “Cookie” is reserved for the sometimes hard or crunchy sweet desert snacks, unless you live in a U.S/Mexico border state and a cookie could be a “galleta.” Bon Appetit! Jim Woods

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