One of the most exciting aspects of being in a creative industry (writing, music, filmmaking, etc.) is that once your content is out there, it’s OUT THERE—for all eternity. Courtesy of the Internet Age, that content can be discovered (or re-discovered) at any moment via simple Google search.
In the late-90’s, I was following in my literary idol Hunter S. Thompson’s footsteps, engaging in participatory journalism—primarily for hip men’s lifestyle publications (Razor, Maxim, Stuff, etc.)—minus the excessive booze and drugs that Hunter always chucked into the mix. My focus was high octane stories—crazy undertakings and wild adventures frought with peril. I was just stupid enough to think I was invincible, and my rather unusual skill set made be believe I could handle whatever insanity came my way. After a while, whenever magazine editors had a story idea that could get a journalist maimed or killed, I was among the first scribes they’d reach out to.
One day I got a call from Keith Blanchard, editor of Maxim, asking me if I knew any mercenaries. Soldiers of fortune. Warfighters who played for pay. Turns out I did. A man by the name of Jonathan Keith Idema was my “Dark Arts Yoda,” schooling me in self-defense, guns & weaponry, CQB tactics… Everything I’d ever need to know to survive if society collapsed, if there was a zombie apocalypse, or if I was attacked at the grocery store. Don’t laugh, it happens!
Now if Idema’s name sounds familiar, that’s because he would go on to become quite famous (pronounced infamous), but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Editor Blanchard wanted a no-holds-barred, up-close-and-personal “mercenary story” worthy of being a cover feature. I had one that definitely fit the bill…
For more than a year, JK Idema had been taking wealthy big game hunters on real life “Most Dangerous Game” safaris, hunting prey that could shoot back. Yes, you heard that correctly—upright-walking creatures that carried guns and had no issues using them. While Idema claimed to have done some of this unlawful guide work in Eastern Europe (there were multiple conflicts raging), the vast majority of his illicit safaris took place in Africa, hunting poachers.
For anyone who’s ever been to the Dark Continent, you know that with the right connections (low people in high places) and the right amount of money, virtually anything is possible. Depending on which nation you’re in, simply pay off the local warlords and/or politicians and you have a veritable smorgasbord of debauchery at your fingertips that will appeal to any palate, no matter how twisted your taste buds. Freaky and frightening for sure, but hey, don’t hate the player—hate the game.
Idema’s “clients” had checked off every item on their bucket lists and were now looking to scratch some ungodly primal itch—without legal consequences. I won’t get into the moral consequences; that’s between them and their consciences (or their gods).
Poaching is among the most hideous and despicable practices anywhere, and I’m guessing we’ve all seen graphic photos of the aftermath: majestic elephants slaughtered for their ivory; powerful rhinos killed for their horns, which are then ground into powder and sold as “virility dust” in apothecaries throughout Asia; beautiful giraffes slain for their patterned skins; humanlike gorillas murdered just so their paws can be turned into ashtrays—it’s horrible no matter what creature we’re discussing, and no matter what reason they’re being destroyed.
At least, that’s how most of modern society views it. But in Third World countries, where the death of an animal—every creature lower than Man on the food chain—means life for a family (or many families), those who carry out these heinous crimes simply look at animals as a means to an end, and the ends justify the means. Unfortunately, most poachers are using old and antiquated rifles—weapons substandard for hunting big game animals—so the creatures suffer considerably before they’re ultimately killed; some are even hacked up before they’re killed in an effort to save ammunition, which can be hard to come by. Again, it’s a gruesome as it gets.
So I joined Idema and a few of his paying guests for a couple of these expeditions, and ended up staying “in country” for nearly a month. For those wondering about the logistics, getting in and out of most African nations “under the radar” was—and still is—much easier than you’d expect. Without getting into details, what I experienced was thrilling, and frightening, and eye-opening on so many levels. I was conflicted for quite some time about what I witnessed, and what I took part in, but trust me when I tell you it made for one helluva story.
That story—titled “The Death Dealer”—was a cover feature in Maxim Magazine’s September 1998 issue, the one with Christina Applegate on the cover. Despite writing the piece under a pseudonym, and also changing Idema’s name in the story, along with some pertinent details, almost a month before the magazine hit the newsstands I was questioned by the FBI about what I had written. Looks like Big Brother has been watching us a lot longer than we thought—and with laser-locked scrutiny.
Well, the article made its way around Hollywood like crabs in a frat house (the hell with being PC!), and my phone started ringing off the hook. CAA rep’d Maxim back in the day, and numerous Tinseltown movers and shakers were expressing serious interest in buying the story rights. Considering I had only recently moved to Los Angeles, and the names of the people requesting meetings were a veritable Who’s Who in the movie biz, I was more than a little overwhelmed. Remember, I was just a teensy weensy fish in an absurdly massive pond, and suddenly I had a commodity in high demand.
The only problem with that seemingly dream-come-true scenario was that Idema expressly forbade me to entertain any offers. He had recently had a battle of sorts with some Hollywood luminaries concerning another “story” he was involved with, and it left a sour taste in his mouth. Now I don’t know about you, but disobeying the direct orders of a mercenary—an individual who I knew had zero qualms ending human life whenever it served his needs—wasn’t something I was gonna chance. And so, the story sat. “Thanks but no thanks” was my repeated response whenever the CAA agents called with a new offer, or an interested party that wanted to take a meeting. It was killing me (figuratively) to turn them down, but that was far better than Idema killing me (literally)!
Fast forward to January 21, 2012. Jonathan Keith Idema died in Bacalar, Mexico. His cause of death was listed as HIV/AIDS. Those who followed his antics closely would say his demise was a product of his latter years lifestyle, but there others who weren’t convinced. He had made a fuckton of enemies during his 55-years on Earth (including the CIA, NSA, and more than a few so-called “No-Name” agencies), so it stands to reason that anyone could have “done the deed” and masked it to look like natural causes. Y’all remember Marilyn Monroe, right?
Anyway, I had no interest in digging in to that story. No, I was far more interested in breathing new life into the piece I had penned back in ’98. Problem was, by then there had been dozens of “Most Dangerous Game”-type tales on the market—plots about hunting humans in books and films had been done to death, no pun intended. But I still loved my story—hell, it was REAL; I had lived it!—and I just couldn’t let it go. But to make it “work,” at least in terms of commercial viability, I felt it needed a fresh pair of eyes. Someone who could look at it objectively and crack the story in a manner that was fresh and different. So I turned to my good friend and fellow scribe, Mark Rogers.
Mark is a phenomenal writer; a novelist with numerous published works and a journalism career that has taken him to fifty-six countries. Simply put, the guy knows his way around stories and characters. We spit-balled for a few weeks and came up with an outline for a screenplay that was really compelling, or so we thought. Edge-of-your-seat plot, interesting and layered characters, it had all the makings of a monster success—just like all those other “monster success” scripts floating around Hollywood. We finished the script in about four months and, to test the waters, entered it (titled “Hunter’s Moon”) in the 2014 Script Pipeline screenwriting competition. To our surprise, out of more than 5,000 entries we were a Top 10 finalist.
Now, while that was exciting as hell, and Mark and I were both thrilled to the gills that our work had yielded recognition, given the fickle nature of the beast that is the Hollywood screenwriting and filmmaking industry, we were reasonably certain a Top 10 placement in a screenwriting competition—even one as highly regarded as Script Pipeline—wouldn’t be enough to sell the script with a reasonable chance of getting it made. We received some option offers, and a couple were pretty decent, too, but considering the story, while truly original, was still something that was considered “been there, seen that,” we were convinced the script was headed for “development hell” if we inked a deal. No, we were absolutely certain we had to pull out all the stops to make a splash. Thus, our choice was simple: novelize that SOB!
Sitting down to write a novel is no casual undertaking, especially for two (fortunately) working writers who lived in different parts of the world. I was still residing in L.A., but Mark had moved to Rosarito Beach, Mexico (Mark, I still envy/hate you!). We both had other commitments, and bills needed to be paid. Writing anything on spec, especially something as lengthy as a novel (90,000 words) couldn’t be accomplished with a genie blink. But there’s an old saying… The juice is worth the squeeze. So we got to squeezing.
They’re signaling for me to wrap this up, so lemme cut to the quick…
A couple years later Mark and I finally finished the novel’s first draft, spent another year and change rewriting it, spent a few more months polishing it, and then, retitled “The Death Dealer” in synergy with the Maxim article that spawned it, took our manuscript to market. The stars must have been aligned because we found a home for it fairly quickly—at World Castle Publishing. Even better, Mark and I absolutely love the publishers’ (Erik Shein and Karen Full) vision for it. We just finished the final edit (editor Maxine Bringenberg is a true pro and a pleasure to work with) and the book comes out on August 26th.
Amazingly, with Hollywood being such a “small town,” we’ve already started getting inquiries about the novel’s television and film rights, even though it’s not “officially” on the market. News really does travel at light speed in this crazy biz of ours.
So, will “The Death Dealer” be a commercial success?
Will the story ever find its way onto the big screen?
Will the FBI or the NSA or ??? want to talk to me again about my “friendship” with JK Idema?
These are all questions I’m looking forward to seeing answered. Well, at least the first two. The latter I could do without. For those who are curious, visit Jonathan Keith Idema’s Wikipedia page, although an Internet search of his name will yield plenty more info.
So, until my next post, I wish you nothing but success with all your Hollywood endeavors.
Adam Rocke Slutsky is an adrenaline junkie with a wide variety of high-octane skill sets - most notably an expertise w/ firearms & weaponry. Adam has been a working writer for nearly two decades.
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