2. Thou shalt provide thy hero with a helpmate in the form of an attractive and somewhat younger heroine, also intelligent, usually possessed of wisdom in a complimentary field that she may assist thy hero without duplicating his skills.
3. Thou shalt begin thy story with a violent death, usually of a good person, who may be associated with the hero, but dost not have to be.
4. Thou shalt include in thy story a secretive organization, usually one that has been around for donkey’s years and has links to history and may also have had famous people as members.
5. Thy hero shalt progress through a maze of mysteries and puzzles and must solve the immediate step in the puzzle before he be allowed to progress to the next stage in thy story.
6. Thou shalt put obstacles in the path of thy hero in the form of a strong and dastardly villain that art trying to stop thy hero and foil his efforts. Thy dastardly villain shall be willing to resort to committing the most heinous of crimes in pursuit of his nefarious agenda. However, thy dastardly villain shall not act on his own initiative or in his own interests but rather shall he be subservient to shadowy figures in the background of thy story.
7. The masters of thy dastardly villain shall be a powerful organization (see 4th Commandment) that hath a vested interest in foiling the hero because he doth threaten their interests or the established order.
8. Thou shalt set thy story in an exotic location, or series of locations, that playeth a major part in thy story or in the historical background to thy story.
9. Towards the end of thy story, it shall finally dawn upon thy hero (as it surely hath already on most of thy readers) that the hero is being betrayed by one who is close to him (but not the female lead) and that the traitor be associated with the very organization that hath been trying to stop thy hero all along.
10. Notwithstanding thy hero’s sense of righteous indignation at the betrayal, he shall surely solve the final step in the mystery and successfully overcome the obstacles, without the aid of the Almighty, but with some help from the heroine, with whom he shall end up with in a state of transient connubial bliss (albeit outside the bonds of holy matrimony).
I returned from Israel on the 5th of October, refreshed and with a fair amount of the first draft written. Although it had been principally a holiday, I had taken advantage of the relaxing environment to work. I actually do my best writing on holiday. Upon my return, I updated Kate and Diane on my progress, but Diane was snowed under with work after the London Book Fair and it it took a while for her to get back to me.
Meanwhile I plowed on with the book, in-between making marketing suggestions and sending a couple of examples of the snake motif to help the cover designer. Then I noticed that Amazon had pre-listed the book as The Moses Legacy rather than The Moses Tablet. I wrote to Kate about this and she realized that she had subconsciously briefed the designer with that name too. We all thought about it further and Kate and I agreed that in fact The Moses Legacy was actually better. Diane also agreed and so now the book was back to the original title that I had first thought of when I pitched the idea.
Finally on November the 11th – less than three months after I had started – I submitted the first draft to Kate and Diane. And this was a book that I was still researching while I was writing it! And it was a lot of research! And I had a holiday in between. Kate and Diane were both impressed and now all I had to do was sit tight while they read it and gave me their feedback.
However, like most writers, I kept re-reading it. And the more I reread, the more I thought about how I should have done things differently and how I wanted to change it. But I couldn’t change it now, because Kate was reading it and presumably making editorial notes. So I wrote an eMail with the subject line “Post-Natal depression” explaining in general terms that I had been thinking about changes and had come up with some ideas. We agreed that I would make notes of my ideas but wait for her editorial comments before making any changes or even telling Kate my ideas. That way her editorial notes would be entirely her own and we would be able to see to what extent we agreed about the necessary changes.
On the 29th of November Kate and I talked on the phone. She was very impressed with the story and some of the set pieces but had found some faults that I hadn’t thought about. I for my part wanted to make some even more radical changes that would make the ending more focused and dramatic. Kate agreed that these could work, but they might require other changes earlier in the story and she was concerned that because we were already operating in a tight time-frame that I might be able to make it on time. However, she left it to my judgement and I know that the ball as in my court and it was up to me to deliver.
On the 19th of August 2010, Diane, my agent, wrote back to me that she personally liked my suggested title Shibboleth, but felt that it was difficult to pronounce. She said that the title needed to be catchy and memorable. Although this wasn’t an outright negative, I decided to give it some more thought and not yet put the suggested title to Kate, my editor. In the meantime got on with writing the book. (I had already written two chapters in four days and felt that the going was good.)
On the 27th of August, I wrote to Diane again, proudly boasting that I was ahead of schedule with the writing and suggesting that maybe we could get HarperCollins to bring out the book in April to coincide with the Jewish festival of Passover. I thought that as the book was about a conspiracy concerning Moses and the Biblical Exodus of the Israelite slaves from Egypt that this would be particularly appropriate. But Diane pointed out that the significance of the suggested date had to be balanced against the fact that Summer was a better slot than Spring, although she agreed to run the idea by Kate for a second opinion.
I continued working on the book and then on the 15th of September I got an eMail from Kate that the Avon team had been having discussions on the title and their favourite was The Sacred Sign. I felt a little put out because it seemed that a decision had been reached before I was given a chance to offer any input. There was nothing essentially wrong with The Sacred Sign (although I suspect it was an attempt to ride on the coat-tails of The Lost Symbol), but I felt that I should have been given a chance to offer a few suggestions before it got to the group discussion stage.
I wrote back explaining my feelings and offering the title Shibboleth, along with my argument about it being unknown but enigmatic, like The Tesseract. I also suggested that my non-de-plume for the new project be Abe Phillips. Kate wrote back promptly that Shibboleth and my other suggestions didn’t really work, but agreed that the nom-de-plume was okay and agreed to put it to the team.
There followed a brief exchange in which I pushed gently for my preference, but Kate held firm. The gist of Kate’s argument – which in retrospect makes perfect sense – is that the title should be clear and straightforward. In particular, she pointed out that The Tesseract, which I had offered as an example, was an exception – a word-of-mouth hit in the era before the supermarkets packed such clout in the book retail market. Furthermore, the Avon list specialized in selling through the supermarkets. Our discussions spilt over into the question of whether we should be so heavily reliant on the supermarkets, especially as they have little patience for slow-burners. But as Kate pointed out, we have to operate within the existing market and the supermarkets do pack the most clout.
The exchange was good-natured, but it was clear to all of us that the differences were far from resolved. Wanting to find some common ground, I suggested a book giveaway on Goodreads before publication, to get some pre-publication reviews and generate some buzz in advance. Two days later I went to Israel for two weeks, for the Jewish festival of Succot and three days into my visit, after clearing my head in the fresh Jerusalem air, I wrote to Kate again explaining that having thought about it, I was warming to the title The Sacred Sign. This was partly because I had been thinking about the cover design and I had come up with the idea of a snake coiled around a pole (called “the Rod of Asclepius” by the ancient Greeks, but also associated with Moses and with the pharmaceutical industry).
Imagine my surprise then, when Kate wrote back to tell me that she had been reconsidering and had now decided that the title The Moses Tablet was fine after all! It seems that we were like ships that pass in the night… never quite meeting.
In paralel with this, the discussions about my pen name were continuing. In addition to Abe Phillips, I was offering various alternatives like Phil Abrams and Maurice Palmer – the latter a pun on Michael Caine’s real name of Maurice Mickelwhite and the character Harry Palmer whom he played in the films of several Len Deighton books. They liked the surname “Palmer” but thought that “Maurice” was a bit weak, suggesting Michael Palmer as an alternative. I liked this, but a quick web check revealed that there already was a Michael Palmer writing thrillers in America and he was still active. But as we all liked the surname, I suggested keeping it and using the first name Adam – the Biblical First Man.
Kate agreed and so now – just a few days before I was due to go to Israel for the Jewish festival of Succot – we had a title (The Moses Tablet) an author’s “name” (Adam Palmer) and a cover designer working on some ideas, one of which I had suggested myself.
What we didn’t know was that there already an Adam Palmer and that he had written a critique of the Da Vinci Code – the prime example of the very genre that I was trying to break into.
On the weekend after my meeting with my editor Kate, I wrote to Diane, my agent, updating her on the discussions:
I had my meeting with Kate on Thursday and I agreed to change and simplify The Moses Tablets...
My only concern is about the possible loss of the Summer release slot. I firmly believe that the summer slot is ideal, followed by the spring slot. On the other hand I obviously need more time (guaranteed in writing), given how late we have come to this decision. Kate was talking about a January 2012 slot, but this is less than ideal. If it was a hardback, I wouldn’t mind a November 2011 slot. But it isn’t and as for January (or even February), I see them as little more than graveyards.
The question is what can I do to make a summer slot attainable? Certainly, I can write a first draft in 6-8 weeks once the plot is finalized and the research done. In fact I am quite far with my research, as much of the old research can still be carried over. But I still have to finalize the plot. I reckon I may be able to do that by the end of the week. and then finish the research by the end of September. This gives me two months to write it by the end of November deadline for a summer release (if I have understood correctly).
I will only know for sure when I have completed a more detailed plot summary. If I manage that by the end of the week, then I can do the rest, including delivering by the end of November.
Kate said that she would send us a summary of our discussions on Monday, so you may be reading that at the same time as this.
Diana agreed with me that a summer publication slot was desirable and wrote to Kate accordingly, while I got on with the task of writing a two page synopsis based on my discussions with Kate. I did not yet send it to Kate, as I wanted Diane’s feedback first. I wanted to be sure that this story really hit the spot. I did however write to Kate, to sound her out on the idea of changing the male Mossad officer into a female. The reason for this was that I wanted to two strong female characters in addition to the male protagonist, in order to heighten the tension.
Kate for her part sent me the summary of our discussions (our messages crossed over) and this helped me a great deal. Not all of the things we discussed made it to the final cut. But certain key elements were there that form the basis of the final story: a female archaeologist make a major find with ancient writing, a young Anglo-Jewish professor Daniel Klein called in to translate, background research into the archives of 19th century explorer William John Bankes, the Mossad, Daniel coming under suspicion of murder, a chase, a ruthless secret society, seeking historical information from the Samaritans.
By mid-day on Tuesday the 10th of August, I had finished my own preliminary draft of the synopsis, incorporating these key elements and sent it to Kate. By the early evening, Diane wrote to me that she had spoken to Kate and they had agreed on a delivery deadline of the 1st of December, aiming for publication sometime in May or June. This was perfect for me and it was clear that Diane and Kate shared the excitement.
The title that I had settled upon – The Moses Tablet(s) was a problem however. Kate felt that it gave away too much too soon. The other issue was my name. The publishers felt that as this was a completely different genre to my other books, it should be published under a different name. This was something I entirely agreed with. But coming up with a new name could wait. I had to crack on with polishing the synopsis. By eight o’clock in the evening on August the 10th, I sent the synopsis to Kate.
Four days later, I wrote to Diane, suggesting that we call the book Shibboleth. Derived from the Hebrew word for an ear of corn, it has been incorporated into the English language as meaning “any distinguishing practice that is indicative of one’s social or regional origin. It usually refers to features of language, and particularly to a word whose pronunciation identifies its speaker as being a member or not a member of a particular group.” The literal origin goes back to a war between different Israelite tribes when the tribe of Ephraim was defeated. When fleeing members of the tribe of Ephraim tried to flee, they were challenged to say the word Shibboleth. If they pronounced it Sibboleth (because of their inability to pronounce the consonant Sh) they were put to death on the spot.
In my story, this conflict did not play a direct part, but the ancestors of the tribe of Israelite tribe of Ephraim and their origins – as well as their inability to pronounce sh – played a major part. But it was also the modern meaning of Shibboleth – a test of membership and faith – that gave it a pleasing double meaning. I pointed out that even if most people didn’t know the meaning, the same could be said of Tesseract – a title of a very successful book by Alex Garland.
One day later – on the 15th of August 2010 – I commenced the actual writing of the book.
After a flurry of communications following the London Book Fair and my belated return from Israel (courtesy of the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud), some two months went by, without any indication of what I was supposed to be doing and now with all the proofreading and corrections done for the second Alex Sedaka book, I was in the uncomfortable position of not having anything to do. True, I was supposed to be studying for my physics degree with the Open University. But high blood pressure and dizzy spells – brought about by anxiety – were making that impossible.
No Way Out had gone on sale on the 10th of June and hopes were high because the publishers had got it into Tesco and Asda. However, whilst it was selling better than Mercy, the question was whether it was selling enough to meet the publishers 20,000 copy target within a reasonable time?
In the absence of any word on the subject, I decided to force the issue. So on the 20th of June, I wrote to Diane telling her that in the absence of any indication from the publishers as to what they wanted I was going to continue writing the third Alex Sedaka book. But being too cowardly to present this as an ultimatum, I explained my decision in conciliatory terms (or should that be weasel words) to the effect that “I don’t want to be in a position where they decide they want it and I have to start from near the beginning.”
In retrospect it may have been a mistake to force the issue. Had I not done so, the publishers might have waited longer before deciding. But the upshot of all this was that on the 27th of June Diane told me that the sales – although better than for Mercy – were not quite good enough and that consequently HarperCollins had decided not to go ahead with the third Alex Sedaka book. The good news was that they agreed,in principle, to my suggestion that I should do the Moses book rather than the Doomsday Labyrinth. Of course all this was subject to agreement between me and Kate (my editor) on the plot for the Moses book. And that had yet to be finalized.
There followed an exchange of eMails in which Kate and I struggled to find a suitable date to meet. The problem was that Kate was going on holiday for a fortnight starting on August the 20th. For my part, my sister was coming to visit for a week, taking up a chuck of the time before that. In the event, we met on Thursday the 5th of August and came up with the rudiments of a plot.
The basically requirement was that there had to be an important discovery at the beginning, the hero trying to work out the full implications (which had to be major), people trying to stop the hero, a chase, an albino monk (only joking – but there did have to be some serious threat to the hero) and of course a final resolution of some sorts with a happy end. Also one of the pursuers must be extremely vicious with a propensity not just for murder but for brutality.
This last point was something of a problem for me, because one of the things I had learned from my mother’s cousin Clive Donner (a celebrated film director in the sixties and seventies) was that one should always put a bit of good in ones bad characters and a bit of bad in ones good characters. This Yin and Yang approach had served me in good stead when it came to keeping my characters realistic. But perhaps it was actually holding me back in the commercial stakes. So maybe Kate was right. But it was uncomfortable for me to have to adapt my style to this extent.
However, I rose to the challenge and drew up a synopsis based on our discussions. The one one remaining problem was the deadline. Kate wanted to publish the book in January 2011, somewhat earlier than we had previously been talking about and well before the third Alex Sedaka book was due to have been published. Given that we were already a week into August 2010, this left very little time for the writing of the book – especially as there was still some research to be done. (I had in fact been reading up on ancient Egypt and especially the 18th Dynasty, but my reading was far from complete.)
The one that was not yet decided was the publication date. When the third book in the contract was going to be an Alex Sedaka book, the delivery deadline was the end of August 2010 and publication had been scheduled for August 2011. But now things had changed. Here we were in the first week of August 2010 and I had yet to write a word of the new book, or even to have a full and detailed plot.
As I explained in the last installment of this, part of the drama surrounding the development of the Moses Legacy took place while I was on holiday in Israel in 2010. In parallel with these discussions, the line editing and proof-reading of No Way Out was proceeding smoothly, complete with debates about whether a number between 200 and 300 could be described as ‘hundreds”.
Just to recap, my publishers liked the Doomsday Labyrinth but detected a small problem that it was too “boysy” and needed less physics and more archaeology – as well as a strong female lead. At the same time, Diane (my agent) was still lobbying for the Moses book, pointing out that it already had a strong female lead as well as a generous helping of archaeology – they find the tablets of stone with the Ten Commandments for God’s sake!
At the same time, HarperCollins were officially committed to making the third book under the contract another Alex Sedaka book. Indeed they got me to send them the first two chapters so that they could include them as a sneak preview at the end of No Way Out.
I wrote a revised synopsis of Doomsday, fulfilling the “feminization” requirement <Wry Grin> and for her part, Kate (my editor) agreed to reconsider a shortened synopsis for the Moses book. The idea was that if I could reduce it to a one-page synopsis, then it would not be too complicated. (I know that sounds patronizing to the reader, but we live in the real-world – and writing is a business.)
Kate read it again, but was still not convinced. She made it clear that it was not the idea of a story about Moses in principle that she objected to. She just felt that the particular story that I had come up with didn’t work. She suggested a few idea to get the creative juices going such as finding that the Ten Commandments are different to what it says in the Bible or some Big secret surrounding Moses – something more shocking than the theory that he may have been an Egyptian prince. She even suggested an alternative story in which the remnants of Noah’s Ark are discovered. Nevertheless, she agreed to present both the Doomsday Labyrinth and the Moses book, to the editorial committee.
With hindsight, Kate was almost certainly right about the Moses book needing a stronger twist. The theory that Moses really was an Egyptian prince (and not just brought up as one) has been around since the time of Sigmund Freud. Finding his bones and DNA to prove it, might be interesting in a nerdy sort of way, but it wouldn’t exactly be shocking. And it is certainly not the sort of thing that people might kill to suppress. However I wasn’t sure quite sure how to come up with something that was sufficiently surprising and yet at the same time credible. I wrote back a couple of days later with an idea, but it was still undeveloped and not exactly earth-shaking:
I have been thinking of some ideas to make the MOSES TABLET bigger. It STARTS with the discovery of the ten commandments in proto-semitic script. This enables them to translate the script and thus gain access to other documents, leading them on a trail that leads them to the discovery of the BONES of MOSES in Petra, Jordan. Remember that in the Old Testament, Moses wasn’t allowed to cross the River Jordan into Canaan? Finding the bones of Moses (with a provable proto-semitic inscription on the coffin or tomb) would be a HUGE archeological find. But certain interests would be opposed to it.I would also make other changes, such as clandestine digging in Sinai in a military area that could lead to some tense moments in the story.The story would then have:– An exciting BEGINNING (finding the tablets with the ten commandments)– An exciting MIDDLE (chases, clandestine digging, people trying to kill them)… and-An exciting END (finding the tomb of Moses and a final shootout).I am sure that this would work.The good thing about this story is that I could hit the ground running because of my existing knowledge of the Old Testament.
This was the best I could do for the time being. I thought that as I was on holiday in Israel and both my agent and editor were at the London Book Fair, it would be enough at least to keep their minds open to the Moses idea, while I struggled to come up with a story that would be powerful as well as clever. (Clever doesn’t cut it – I should have learned at primary school that no one loves a smart-ass.
However, on the 21st of April, 2010, Diane (my agent) sent me an eMail that sent me reeling. It said:
On another note, we had a frank discussion about the conspiracy thrillers and she is reluctant to enter into a separate contract. This is because she would like to see how NO WAY OUT performs. If they can’t get the supermarkets on board for NO WAY OUT, they would not be interested in commissioning a third Alex Sedaka title, and instead would like to cut losses and have one of the conspiracy thrillers as the third title in our existing contract. I can see the sense in this – if we’ve failed to get the supermarkets on board with Alex Sedaka twice, I can’t see how we are going to get them on board with a third novel and agree that we should cut our losses.
This was very different to their earlier reassurances that they wanted the third Alex Sedaka book. The eMail went on to reassure me that:
If they did a third Alex Sedaka, they would want to do this in May next year. There would be a slot for a conspiracy thriller in February / March. Either gives you plenty of time to deliver so I can see that it is sensible to wait and see how we get on with NO WAY OUT in June before deciding on a way forward.
However there was no getting away from the fact that they were no longer committed to a third Alex Sedaka book, that they might want to make the conspiracy thriller the third book in the contract – depending on how well the second Alex Sedaka book did – and there was still no indication of which conspiracy thriller they wanted me to write. Furthermore I remained less than enthusiastic about the Doomsday Labyrinth as a full-length book – although it would work fine as a screenplay.
Finally there was the small matter of the August deadline for submission of the third manuscript. How was I going to meet it, if I had to wait until the publication of the second Alex Sedaka book in June before I even knew which manuscript I was going to write?
After Kate’s negative reaction to my original book proposals for the Moses Legacy and Phaistos Disk, in which she had suggested a few alternatives, I wrote to Diane, the same day, expressing my strong feelings on the subject:
Sorry for this long reply, but I have a lot to say.
Firstly, I am a bit disappointed that they didn’t go for the MOSES TABLET, especially after I put so much work into it – including after I submitted the draft (it is 106 short chapters)…
Furthermore, even if Dan Brown’s books centre around a simple premise, they expand into something more complicated – otherwise they wouldn’t run 500+ pages. The MOSES TABLET could also be reduced to a sound bite summary – “Was Moses really an Egyptian prince?” – but like the Dan Brown books it expands into something more detailed in the telling.
Regarding the story suggestions, some of the ideas are more appealing than others:
1) The Turin Shroud is interesting, but it seems more like a scientific question and I can’t think of a way to get a story out of it. But I’ll do some internet research and see if any ideas leap out at me.
2) The illuminati has been done before, by Dan Brown (Angels and Demons).
3) Secret Societies – Did you send them the PHAISTOS DISK? Or only the MOSES TABLET and MARKED? The reason I ask is that the PHAISTOS DISK is about secret societies ruling the world.
4) Noah’s Ark is a fascinating story. (There is also an old Summarian Legend, which some say is the origin of the story.) I could have a go at coming up with a story along those lines. But it would need a modern tie-in, like people trying to gain access to a sensitive area in Turkey. A former US astronaut was actually arrested in the Mount Arrarat region a few years ago and accused of espionage whilst searching for Noah’s Ark. I’m not sure why Noah’s Ark is commercial but Moses isn’t – they’re both Old Testament Biblical figures and both are surely recognizable.
5) I don’t know much about the Mayan calender, but 2012 is the Olympic year and I see a possibility of a tie-in there. However, given that I believe in rational explanations, I would have to make it a case of human beings trying to cash in on the legend either for gain or political terrorism. (The latter is more topical and plausible.)
6) Stigmata. It’s been done and I don’t really know how to spin a story out of it – at least not with a logical explanation. (Well maybe a publicity stunt for a bogus medical breakthrough being pushed by a latterday snake-oil company. But there’s plenty of that already, in the form if people offering Viagra over the internet.)
In conclusion then, the only ideas of those above that really inspire me at the moment are Secret Societies and 2012. I will trawl the internet for more info on these and their other suggestions and try to come up with a story. But I stand by my view that “Was Moses an Egyptian Prince?” is just as recognizable as “Was Noah’s Ark Real.”
However, not wanting to be stubborn, I decided to do a bit of online research and in the process I came across something that intrigued me. So less than a quarter of an hour after sending Diane the above message, I wrote to her excitedly about my discovery:
I’ve just been looking up some things on the internet. The next sunspot cycle is due to peak in 2012 – and is expected to be 30-50% stronger than the last peak. If this were to coincide with a reversal of earth’s polarity (a real phenomenon every few tens of thousands of years) that could expose the earth to lethal radiation.
I don’t know if this one slipped under Diane’s radar, given my plaintiff appeals to her as a shoulder to cry on in my earlier – and somewhat longer missive – but she focussed on the long eMail when she wrote back two days later (26/02/10) with warm words that combined comfort with practicality.
At the time when I sent the eMail about the sunspot cycle, I didn’t yet have any clear story in my mind (even I take more than fifteen minutes;-). However, during the course of a train journey, on the 26th of February, I got my head down and cobbled together a story centering around the Mayan calender and the belief that the world is coming to an end in 2012. I typed it up and sent it to Diane that same evening, together with a sigh of relief that I had suddenly become highly enthusiastic about an idea that I been rather cool about only the day before.
Copyright (c) 2011 David Kessler
Physicist Dennis Mason dies suddenly at the site of a huge industrial project in Guatamala The project involves drilling a hole through the earth’s crust and mantle down to the core, so as to extract pure iron for industrial use as well as thermal energy which can be converted to electricity and distributed throughout north and south America.
But the project is being built on sacred Mayan land, very close to an ancient Mayan temple and is opposed by the local people, especially central American Indians. Indeed an old local, western educated, Indian leader (calling himself “Itzamna” after a Mayan god), who is leading the resistance, has warned them that there is curse on those who defile the sacred ground.
Dennis Mason was the chief physicist of the project, as well as a shareholder in it. Indeed the project was his baby. He was the one who first calculated the feasibility of the project, selecting the location based on the thickness and composition of the earth’s crust and mantle at that point. It was his calculations, and reputation as an elder statesman of physics that prompted governments and big business to back the project.
But now there is a vacuum in the personnel hierarchy, and David Sedaka – Mason’s star pupil – is called in to act as interim chief physicist, by project head Charles Sherry, until a permanent replacement can be found.
Meanwhile, the toxicology report from the post-mortem examination shows that Mason had traces of a rare snake poison in his body. A follow-up examination of his body reveals no snake bites, but a tiny pinprick wound in his neck, which could be from a poison dart from a blow-pipe. When eye-witness reports from frightened witnesses, confirm that Itzamna was seen running away from the scene – and even leaning over his body according to one witness – the self-styled “holy man” comes under intense suspicion and is arrested by local police.
In jail, Itzamna asks to see David Sedaka. At first David is reluctant to meet him, but he eventually agrees and Itzamna tries to explain why 2012 will be the year of destruction based on old Mayan legends, but adds that it is not inevitable. “The Gods do not destroy. It is man who is the destroyer.” David is on the verge of walking away from Itzamna’s “New Age bilge” as he calls it, when Itzamna admits that he went to meet Mason, but it was by pre-arrangement and at Mason’s instigation. He says he went there, but found Mason dying. Mason told him “you were right” and then died. David is sceptical. He asks how Mason could have even contacted him to arrange the meeting, given that Itzamna eschews modern technology. Itzamna replied that Mason got a young local girl (K’in ich) to bring him the message.
David goes asking around in the local villages for K’in ich-il, but gets an angry response. He is rescued/arrested by the local police chief who tells him that the girl is missing and that there is a lot of local resentment blaming the Americans. He advises him to stay away from the villages. He also tells David, that Itzamna probably knew the girl was missing and was simply cashing in on that to give himself a false alibi.
However, shortly after that K’in’s body is found. The local Indians want to bury her quickly, but David persuades a local doctor to perform an autopsy. The doctor says she has been tortured. David asks if it could be the work of some sort of sadistic killer but the doctor shakes his head and says: “I have seen this kind of torture before. This is not the random torture of a sadist. This is the carefully controlled torture of some one who is seeking information.”
At Mason’s quarters – where David is staying – he asks the maid if Mason was troubled by anything, as Itzamna implied. The maid says no, but that after his death, the house was ransacked. David asks if anything was missing after that. She says only his laptop computer. David logs on to Mason’s webmail and with some considerable effort, cracks his password. He finds a file attached to a blank eMail. The file contains revised calculations showing that the drilling into earth’s iron core will cause a reversal of earth’s magnetic polarity preceded by a massive drop in earth’s magnetic field for a few years that will admit solar radiation. Worse still, this will coincide with the peak of the next sunspot cycle in 2012, which is predicted to be 50% higher than the previous peak. This will at minimum destroy telecommunications, plunging the planet into chaos. At worst it will admit harmful solar radiation that will cause cancer and sickness and wholesale death and destruction.
David takes this information to Charles Sherry who tries to brush him off, telling him that we know too little about the causes of geomagnetic reversal (which occurs every few thousand years) to say what causes it or when. He points out that the last one occurred in the time of homo erectus without destroying humanity or animal life. But David says that this time it will coincide with an intense sunspot peak. Sherry is still dismissive and then David realizes that Mason must have already told him. David accuses Sherry of killing Mason. Sherry calls in his hatchet man to take “take this guy out the back.”
David runs and is now in danger from Sherry’s henchmen. He is chased through a network of subterranean tunnels (part of the project). He realizes that he is going deeper into the tunnels and his only chance is to sabotage the project and force an evacuation. He gets to the control centre, where he is able to detonate the final blast that will break through to the earth’s core. But he knows that if this is done before the bore hole has been lined with insulating material, the iron will melt the surrounding rock, cool off, solidify and seal the hole, making it impossible to re-open (because solid iron is harder to drill through than rock.
He is cornered by Sherry (the others are afraid to approach). They fight it out. Although David is younger, Sherry is crazed with anger and nearly wins. But David manages to set off the explosion, causing the iron to start pouring up through the bore hole and causing violent local earth tremors. As the fight continues, David is nearly pushed into the hole, but at the last minute, he turns the tables and send Sherry plummeting into the hole. At the same time the iron is rising up and cooling off. When Sherry hits the molten iron it cools even further, starts to solidify and the upward flow gradually slows down. But the building is now in danger of collapsing and they have to evacuate. They get out just in time. But as a symbolic sign, the local Mayan temple survives the cataclysm and the locals converge there.
It was pure Hollywood and the climax was more than a little influenced (albeit subconsciously) by Total Recall. (Maybe I was secretly thinking about a blockbuster movie already.) Note also how I even smuggled in David Sedaka, the physicist son of lawyer Alex Sedaka, to create a kind of connection between the novels.
At the same time, we were still working on the edits of the second Alex Sedaka book (then called Accused) as well as talking back and forth about the third, which at that stage HarperCollins still wanted.
This latter was also turning into a big problem, because Kate thought that the story was too complicated. Given that it had to fill 400-500 pages, I didn’t see things that way, but the trouble is that it is very hard to write an intelligible synopsis of such a long story in only a couple of pages. (My working outlines usually run to 10-20 pages!) In this case, it was clear from Kate’s reaction that I had not summarized the story very clearly.
However, back to the main story. The following day (i.e. 27/02/10) I revised the Mayan story – provisionally titled The Doomsday Labyrinth – and sent it to Diane, who in turn forwarded it to Kate. I also suggested publishing it under the name Maurice Palmer. This was a pun on Michael Caine, whose real name was Maurice Micklewhite and who played a character called “Harry Palmer” in three films based on Len Deighton cold war thrillers.
On the 4th of March, we got word back from Kate that she liked the Doomsday Labyrinth and was especially pleased with the title. However it had to be looked at by others at HarperCollins (including Caroline, who heads the Avon list). What the Avon team wanted was for me to introduce a strong female element, to play down the physics element and to play up the archaeology element. The pragmatic solution, which I put to Diane to pass on to Kate, was to introduce a female archaeologist to work alongside (and sometimes against) the physicist.
This led to a revised synopsis on April the 6th, after a trip to Israel. But at the same time, Diane and I were still pushing for the Moses book to be the second in the series – and that female archaeologist was going to surface again… albeit in a somewhat different form…
In order to describe this writer’s odyssey and adventure more clearly, I am going to back up a bit.
My editor at HarperCollins (Kate) first approached me with the idea of writing a “Dan Brown” style thriller, in the run-up to the publication of No Way Out the second book to feature San Francisco Lawyer Alex Sedaka. She actually made the suggestion, shortly after I told her that I had started work on the third book in the series. This was quite sensible: she obviously didn’t want me putting in a huge amount of effort into a third Alex Sedaka book, if we agreed on a change to a different genre. And I myself had told her – on more than one occasion – that I loved conspiracy thrillers in general and the Dan Brown books in particular.
On the other hand, I didn’t want to drop Alex Sedaka before No Way Out had even been published. To abandon him at that stage would effectively be to decide in advance that the book wasn’t going to sell – and that’s the last thing a writer wants. I wanted commitment from the publisher to the success of the second Alex Sedaka book, and abandoning the recurring character before publication would therefore have been a retrograde step.
Secondly, I liked the idea of expanding my writing career by writing two series of books, one about Alex Sedaka and another about a recurring character in the Robert Langdon/Indiana Jones mold. I knew I could do it and I hope you won’t think me immodest if I say that I write fast – typically, dashing off a first draft in three months after doing some preliminary research. I could easily write two books a year without breaking sweat. In fact generally speaking the faster I write, the better I write: because then I’m “in the Zone.”
In retrospect, I think that HarperCollins wanted me to write the “Dan Brown”/conspiracy thriller and forget about poor Alex Sedaka. There was even some discussion about whether I had submitted the synopsis for the third Alex Sedaka book at the time we negotiated the original contract. I had, of course. But at the time, it was with a different editor (Maxine) who had since left. So the confusion was understandable.
It was at that stage that I started working on plot ideas for the book. As I explained in the first part of this saga, my first idea was for a thriller with connections to ancient Crete and the undeciphered writings there. Initially this was going to be Linear A, but then I settled on the Phaistos Disk. I sent an eMail to Diane (my agent) on 29/01/2010, saying the following:
I am in the process of preparing a synopsis for a Dan Brown style book, to be called The Phaistos Disk (after a clay disk found at Knossos that is believed by some to be a forgery). The book will also involve a group of French mathematicians, prominent from the 1930s to the 1980s called the “Bourbaki” (after a French general of Greek descent. it involves the customary Dan Brown elements of a chase, a hero and heroine, ancient knowledge, a modern conspiracy and betrayal by some one close to the hero.
What I am having problems with are the locations. I can bring in certain locations in Crete, but to do an authentic job, I need to go there. Now if we could get a separate contract out of this, I would be ready to spend part of the money on a visit there to do my research 😉
Meanwhile, I’ll try and have a synopsis ready by Monday.
As you can tell, being a writer, I never stop hustling. However, things were now starting to move fast. Three days later, on the 1st of February, I sent my Diane another eMail, outlining my ideas.
Here are two synopses for “Dan Brown” type stories. The Phaistos Disk is highly developed but details of parts of it have yet to be mapped out. The Moses Legacy is only about 25% developed in detail but I indicate where the story is going in a passage in italics at the end of the synopsis. In the Moses story I will be drawing on my existing knowledge and in both stories I will be doing extensive research. My chief research assistant will be my older sister who has an MA in Classics as well as being a veteran of several archeological digs.
I have made the main character an archeologist, which gives him scope to go to exotic locations and get involved in these kinds of adventures. The risk here is in making him too much like Indiana Jones. The other element is undeciphered scripts and texts. There are MANY of these in a wide variety of locations – Middle east, Greece, Far East, South America, offering plenty of scope for these stories.
A third possible element for these stories – that I have held back from using in the synopses – is the possibility of including flashbacks to the events in the ancient times. This device was used to good effect by James Michener. This would serve to make the stories slightly different from the Dan Brown books, but in my opinion more interesting. It depends how closely HC want these stories to follow the Dan Brown formula. If they want to follow the formula precisely, I can do so (and I have attached my 10 Commandments for a Dan Brown style book). I am open to whichever way HC want to do this, but my gut feeling is that if we follow Dan Brown down the line, people will say “Oh it’s just a Dan Brown clone.” If we include the parallel past/present narrative approach, we come up with something more interesting, whilst still drawing on the Dan Brown audience.
A third story that I have in mind, is not yet developed, but will centre around the claims made by Tony Robinson in a BBC documentary to the effect that Edward IV was illegitimate and that according to the rules of succession Anglo-Australian Mike Hastings is the true king of England. The premise of the story will be that archeological excavation provides documentary evidence of this.
As you can see, from this eMail, the title that we finally settled upon was my original choice that we came back to after considering various others. At this stage, The Phaistos Disk was still my preferred option for me to launch myself into this new genre, but the following day – after some additional research and that talk with my friend – I was writing to Diane again, expressing my change of heart as to which book to write first:
I have made further efforts to develop the Moses Legacy, which I think should be the first of the series.
Then two days after that, on February 4th, I wrote to Diane again, expanding – not to say expounding – on my newly-found enthusiasm for the project.
I just wanted to tell you that I have been doing more research for The Moses Legacy, and the more I read the more I am warming to this project. Although I want to complete the third book in the Alex Sedaka series, I really like the idea of this new project.
The Moses Legacy, or whatever we decide to call it, will be exciting, intellectually challenging, controversial (but within the bounds of acceptable discourse) and will get the chattering classes chattering – and the cash registers going k’ching!
I don’t know if you can say any more to Kate/Caroline without us sounding desperate, or if we just have to sit tight and hope they go for it. But I really hope we get the green light for this. Maybe if they want to balance caution with long-term prospects, they could make it a two-book deal – as I have fairly detailed plans for the first two books.
As you can see, Diane and I were still pushing for a separate contract for these new books.
It took a while, for Kate to write back to Diane, but when she did, on the 24th of February, the news was mixed. On the one hand, HarperCollins (Avon) was committed to continuing with the Alex Sedaka series, and told me to go ahead with writing Book 3. But on the other hand, they weren’t happy with the ideas for conspiracy thrillers. Whilst they were “intriguing” and “intricate”, they weren’t “instantly recognizable” or based on a simple premise. I was also, somewhat “cerebral” in my approach. To illustrate what she had in mind, she sent a list of possible themes:
- The Turin Shroud is fake / real
- The Illuminati
- Secret Societies ruling the World
- Noah’s Ark was real
- 2012 is the end of the World / Mayan Calendar
I was not at all happy about the rejection of my ideas or about this selection. But I am a mid-list writer and not (yet) an author of blockbusters, and so this had to be handled tactfully. Rather than write back to Kate in state of such disturbed equanimity, I wrote to Diane, my agent, outlining the issues as I saw them.
And more to come – Part 3 when I can overcome my inertia…
When I got my three book deal with HarperCollins, the original plan was that I would write three legal thrillers, set in California, centering around the recurring character of Alex Sedaka, a lawyer who runs a one-man band with his paralegal Juanita Cortez. However, for various reasons Mercy and No Way Out did not set the world on fire and only sold moderately well.
My editor, Kate, remembered that I had expressed a liking for conspiracy thrillers, including those which involved reference to the past and secret societies – like those of Dan Brown. So she asked me if I would like to have a go at writing such a thriller, offering such examples as Atlantis, the Turin Shroud and the Templars. Whilst I felt that the latter two themes had been flogged to death by other writers, I liked the idea of Atlantis because I was fascinated by ancient Greece. Atlantis, the sunken continent, could be linked to the eruption of Santorini circa 1600 BCE and that in turn could be linked to Knossos in Crete and the two ancient scripts that were found there by archaeologists: Linear A and Linear B.
I jumped at the chance and wrote back to Kate suggesting this, pointing out that Linear A had still not been deciphered, whilst the man who had deciphered Linear B had died relatively young in a car accident. After a phone discussion, I proceeded to work on various ideas. I came up with two in particular that I liked. One involved ancient Greek writings in Greece, such as Linear A, the still-undeciphered script at Knossos in Crete. The other involved Moses and the Ten Commandments. In particular, I was thinking about an old theory that there was a link between the Biblical figure of Moses and the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten, who attempted to reform the ancient Egyptian religion by introducing the concept that there was only one God, or at least one true God.
Initially my preference was for the one set in ancient Greece. My initial research for that project even made me aware of another ancient Greek script, the Phaistos Disk – a clay disk with hieroglyphic type engravings on both sides. However, a friend of mine pointed out, during one of our long talks, that I actually know far more about Moses and the Bible than I do about ancient Greece. Even if the Moses book required research into ancient Egypt, at least I had a head start with the Biblical narrative and could therefore hit the ground running. When I told my friend about Akhenaten the monotheistic Pharaoh, he was even more convinced that this was the book I should write – and his confidence was contagious.
I decided not to go literally with the theory that Moses and Akhenaten were the same – the theory is rejected by serious scholars – but rather with a subtle variation on the theme. However, I still needed a modern story. My editor didn’t want me to write a Robert Graves style I, Claudius, set entirely in the past. They wanted a Dan Brown style thriller about a modern-day conspiracy that links up with events from the past and threatens to change our view of history. I promptly thought about who might object to revelations that threatened the religious view of the Bible as well as such related issues as academic jealousy, spun the yarn out of the raw fibres and then wove it into a rich fabric.
Thus was born the provisionally titled Moses Tablets, a complicated conspiracy thriller consisting of a hundred chapters. I developed this story confident that my editor would like it. Unfortunately, upon reading my convoluted synopsis, she decided that it was too complicated.
It was clearly not going to be plain sailing.
More to follow…