James Hall on Writing Gone Wild


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A couple of lucky accidents pushed me in the direction of this novel. The first one was the accidental meeting with a very interesting US Fish and Wildlife Officer who works out of Naples. I’d met him while doing research for Mean High Tide, which is partially set in the Naples area. He was a fan of my novels and after answering some research questions I had about fish farming, he said he had a subject I might be interested in for a future novel. Lots of people approach me with ideas for novels and I almost never find them of much use. Other peoples’ ideas and passions are rarely my own. But in this case, it was different. The Wildlife officer suggested I should consider writing about animal smuggling.

For a while as I researched Gone Wild, I was focusing on the smuggling of endangered snakes. But I found that it was beyond my powers to make snakes either interesting or endearing in any way. As I sought another animal to focus on, my sister in law gave me an issue of a local newspaper with an investigative article in it about the smuggling of primates. I was immediately fascinated. I sensed that apes would be far more interesting to write about than snakes. Eventually my research led me to orangutans and after encountering several people in Miami who worked with orangutans, I decided that it would be important to the novel for me to go to Borneo to see orangutans in their natural jungle setting.

It was a great trip. I met all kinds of colorful and interesting people on both sides of the animal smuggling issue and I tried to bring this more international feel into the book. When the book was done, my editor said she loved what I’d done, but she wanted me to find a way to put Thorn into the novel. I was reluctant, but I did it finally. I turned a character from the original manuscript named Chip into Thorn. For this reason Thorn really never lived up to his usual heroic standards in Gone Wild. He wasn’t the protagonist of the book and only played a fairly minor role in the outcome of the plot.