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
  • Stigmata?

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…

 

 

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