Art & Culture

Local writer publishes seventh novel

Hollister’s John Chadwell brings legendary lawman, James B. "Wild Bill" Hickok back to life

What do you think would be your first thoughts if you woke up one day and discovered that you had been murdered 150 years ago? That is what local writer, John Chadwell, 68, wondered when he decided to write about famous lawman James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok.

 In his seventh novel in four years, Chadwell wanted to write a futuristic western where the man, better known as Wild Bill, is far from his natural element—1800s Deadwood, South Dakota. In the novel, The Kid and Wild Bill, Hickok wakes up in a laboratory in the year 2024, having been cloned by a 17-year-old boy desperate for help from the one man who he thinks can save himself and the president of the United States.

Chadwell said the book evolved because of two technologies, the first being the popularity of ebooks. “These days, I read most books on an iPad. I discovered that I could download for free many books that were no longer under copyright, such as those by Zane Grey, Jack London or Edgar Rice Burroughs,” he said. “I’ve read a couple about Hickok and came to realize that he was one of the few men who was bigger than life in his own lifetime. In the way newspapers reported his exploits and from comments by people who actually knew him, he was almost mythical. He was deadly accurate with any firearm and his luck was phenomenal in that he survived so many gunfights and battles against men and nature.”

The second technology that led to Chadwell’s fascination in creating a story based on Hickok is 3-D printing of human organs and even an entire car. “I wanted to bring Hickok into the future through some sort of cloning procedure based on real science combining the power of quantum computing and DNA-based bio-printing,” Chadwell said. “Cloning animals has already happened and now we’ve seen human skin tissue and certain organs cloned. Cloning humans is still taboo, but I thought in the future some nefarious organization might get into it to suit its own purpose. Then I wondered how Hickok would react if not only his body was cloned, but he woke up with all his memories intact, which would also involve his emotions, including missing his wife and friends, who have been dead over a century. So I came up with the idea of a 4-D bio-printer that not only regenerates the three dimensions of height, width and depth, but memories."

“Cloning Hickok with all his memories and skills intact into the 21st century presents all types of moralistic and ethical issues. Suddenly, I not only found that the kid was faced with the dilemma of having created a living being who has his own agendas, but the cloned Hickok also comes with his own morality based on 19th Century code of behavior, which includes a strict sense of right and wrong, with very few grey areas."

What started out as twist on the basic time-travel story, Chadwell said evolved into a morality tale about cloning humans, the rights of clones, and even the debate over whether clones have souls.

“When I first started working on the book, I didn’t expect it to go off in those directions,” he said. “I quickly discovered the characters, particularly the kid, began questioning the rightness of the cloning program that he and his father were involved in. And, with my own church teachings, the questions of the soul popped up as if it were the kid’s idea and not my own. That is how I try to write. The characters become their own in a real sense and they often go in directions I did not anticipate when I first began writing the story. When that happens things get real exciting. You’re not just working from an outline or a preconceived idea. The story has taken on a life of its own.”

Chadwell has lived in Hollister for 12 years and has worked as a reporter and freelance writer. Prior to moving to Hollister, he spent 20 years in the Navy as a combat photojournalist. One year, in particular, stands out as being the most rewarding professionally and personally. “For a number of years, the Navy and Marine Corps sent journalists and photographers to the University of Southern California to study filmmaking,” he said. “This may seem strange, but the U.S. government probably makes more documentaries and other types of films than anyone, including Hollywood. After a year of graduate-level schooling, my official military designation was as a motion picture scriptwriter, and for the next four years I wrote and produced television news stories and documentaries, as well as classified video briefings for the president and Joint Chiefs of Staff.”

It was while at USC that Chadwell became interested in writing what is known in the film industry as spec scripts.

“Through a very twisted trail of unanticipated events, I got the opportunity to rewrite a script for an independent producer,” Chadwell said. “The movie came out in 1988, and is probably one of the worst science fiction horror films ever made. “After that I wrote 20 or so spec scripts. Those are scripts that people write on their own, with no producer or studio involved, that they then have to then go out and try to sell. Along the way, I was also hired to do a couple of rewrites that I actually got paid to do. Needless to say, I never quit my day job." 

“Even though Hollywood has not come calling yet, I have 20 good stories already written as scripts. Instead of just letting them fade away in a virtual world on my computer, I hopped on the self-publishing bandwagon through Amazon and other companies. Using those scripts, which are essentially 120-page outlines, I wrote my first book, Hunt of the Sea Wolves, in 2011. Four years later, I have seven books completed that are on Amazon. I am already researching the eighth, which is not be based on a script.”

If he doesn’t get sidetracked by one of his 13 other scripts, Chadwell plans to explore the life of another of his favorite historical figures, Hannibal.

“I’m tentatively calling it Hannibal’s Crossing,” he said. “I’m going to take a different approach than others who have written about him. I’m going to tell his story through the eyes of a boy who is pressed into service in Hannibal’s army as it wages war against Rome. “I’ve been thinking about this story for ten years, since reading Hannibal’s biography. Deep inside Hannibal’s story is another story about a group of people forced to fight. I found that a much more compelling angle on the typical war story. I’ve been averaging a book every seven months or so, and I plan on beginning writing this one by January.”

To learn more about Chadwell's book or to order it, click here.

BenitoLink Staff