Sunday, January 12, 2014

Guest Post: The Birth of Chase Baker, Renaissance man By Vincent Zandri

The Birth of Chase Baker, Renaissance man

By Vincent Zandri

“You’re Chase Baker.”
Or so I’ve been told at least a half dozen times by readers and reviewers of my new action/adventure release, The Shroud Key. And I suppose in some ways, the statement makes perfect sense. Chase lives in both Florence, Italy and New York City. He’s a writer and an adventurer, and even an amateur historian. His father was a construction pro, in this case an excavator. But most of all, Chase loves trouble. Especially when it comes to women. 

I too spend a few months per year in Florence. I live in New York, but not New York City. Instead I live 140 miles north in Albany. I’m a writer of course, and I like to think of my excursions to places like the Amazon Jungle, West Africa, and post-revolutionary Egypt as great adventures. And they are! My dad was a construction man, but his trade was laying bricks. When it comes to romance, do I seem to attract trouble like Chase Baker? Well, let’s put it this way: I’ve been married and divorced twice and with plenty of love stories in between, not all of them ending on particularly high notes. But these are where the similarities between Chase and Vince begin and end.

So then, where did I really come up with the main character of The Shroud Key? To be honest, I allowed the character to form in my mind for period of almost two years. I knew I wanted to write a “serial” inspired by the old film and dime novel serials of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. I wanted a sort of Indiana Jones, only earthier and more of a tough guy who embraces his romantic side. I wanted him to be part Ernest Hemingway, part Casanova, part Sam Spade. Lastly, I wanted him to be someone I would love to travel with for a couple of weeks, sharing a beer or two in a dark bar in Athens or Istanbul, where the bartender shouts out “Hey Chase, it’s good to see you again,” as soon as he walks through the door.

The true idea for the Chase character wasn’t crystalized however, until I came upon a rarely known movie from the 1950s called, Secret of Incas. The movie stars Charlton Heston as Harry Steel. Like the name suggests, Steel is a tough guy. A former pilot who, as the story starts, is giving guided tours in Cuzco, Peru while waiting to get his hands on a private plane that he can steal. In the meantime, he’s set his sites on some priceless Inca artifacts that he plans to “liberate” from Machu Picchu.

The point here is not the plot but the character. Steel wears a worn leather pilot’s jacket, a fedora, khaki trousers, and work boots. He is also obsessed with going after priceless antiquities in far off remote areas of the world. He is Indiana Jones before Indiana Jones was invented. He is also the missing link in my search for Chase Baker. His macho ethic was exactly what I needed to seal the deal for The Shroud Key, and after having watched Secret of the Incas a half dozen times, along with some on-site research in Muslim Brotherhood controlled Cairo, Giza, Abu Simbal, Alexandria, Luxor, and more, I knew I could finally write my story. In the end, I came up with my version of the action/adventure hero who is not only on a grand quest to find the treasure, but who is also hoping to hook up with the damsel in distress.

While writing “Shroud Key” however, I became more and more curious about The Secret of the Incas and why it took me so long to come upon it. Well, it turns out that when Steven Spielberg was seeking out the inspiration for Indiana Jones, he found it in none other than Harry Steel. But Spielberg didn’t stop there. He went a step further in making sure that “Secret” wouldn’t be seen by the movie going public for years to come, therefore eliminating what would have been the inevitable comparison between Steel and Jones. In fact, the movie was pulled from circulation for decades and only re-emerged recently in the digital age. Goes to show you the kind of power Mr. Spielberg yields out there in Tinsel Town.

I think there will always be comparisons between Chase Baker and myself, if for no other reason than our love of adventure and our inability to sit still in one place for more than a few minutes at a time. His next adventure will also mimic my own recent travels in South America, especially in the Amazon and Machu Picchu. Many people aren’t aware of it, but much of Machu Picchu is currently unexplored and covered in heavy vegetation. The area is ripe for adventure. Like Harry Steel and Indiana Jones before him, Chase Baker is about to uncover some brand new secrets of the Incas.

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