Repurposing real-life celebrities from bygone eras into readymade fictional characters is a handy device, saving the modern-day novelist the work of crafting personalities from the ground up, quirk by quirk. In Paul Malmont's Jack London in Paradise, the Oakland-bred socialist whose beloved bestsellers include White Fang and The Call of the Wild is forty, near death, and pondering Jungian psychology in Hawaii. Like the real-life London, Malmont's fictional London is restless, adventurous, and maintains a fiery relationship with his wife, the former Charmian Kittredge. In the novel, which Malmont will discuss at Books Inc. (1344 Park St., Alameda) on January 13, London is pursued across Hawaii by actor/director/film studio owner Hobart Bosworth, who seeks a London screenplay in hopes of saving his own career. Bosworth, too, was a genuine historical figure and known associate of London.
While researching his previous novel, The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, Malmont "came across a mention of how Jack, in his final year, had discovered Jungian analysis. Since his writing is so rich with symbolism and archetypes, I had to wonder what this investigation might have revealed and how it might have affected him," says the author, who works in advertising. "The richness of Jungian theory is that there's this whole symbolic language that we all share and use," and which "would have been extremely attractive to someone like Jack who used such rich imagery for most of his career without understanding where it came from. When he did begin to delve into the universal subconscious, and begin to understand that he had a creative libido, it must have been a stunning revelation." Setting the novel in Hawaii offered Malmont prime opportunities to draw upon strong symbolism himself: tradewinds blow; tropical plants burgeon; cliffs loom. As must all writers of historical fiction who use real people as characters, Malmont made stuff up when it suited him. His fictional London believes himself to be the victim of a curse: an idea that Malmont spun out of the fact that the real-life London's mother was a spiritualist, a performer of séances who claimed to commune with the spirit world. "It's a character trait I created," Malmont admits.
He also had to create a voice for his fictional London. The real-life London authored bestselling fiction, nonfiction, and speeches. But how did he sound in casual conversation? In a typical swatch of dialogue, Malmont has London telling a friend: "We're going to see the waves. At this time of year they're the biggest, most spectacular things in all of Hawaii save for the volcano, I hear. Everyone says it's a sight to behold, especially the beach boys. ... The Hawaiians considered Waikiki a sacred place, a healing place." Putting made-up words into the mouth of a world-renowned wordsmith takes a lot of nerve. Malmont knows that. "Jack London was such a popular writer that I knew there would be plenty of haters ready to tell me, 'You don't know Jack,'" he admits. "But ... his story was so unique that I couldn't let go of it." 7:30 p.m. BooksInc.net
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