When I first got the notion to put a book idea that had germinated in my head for close to twenty years on paper, I had no idea what was in store for me. Literally…not a clue.
The Judas Apocalypse was born out of an immense love for history and adventure. It gnawed at me for years. I always thought it was a really cool and original premise and it was my kind of book. I wanted to put in everything I loved about an adventure novel – an ancient secret, a long lost treasure, action and tons of twists. After vacillating for a few years, I finally decided I would give writing it a shot.
Penning a novel…how hard could it be, right? Although I had never done anything at all like it before, I did recall banging off a three page short story for a creative writing class I took when I was about 15. Got an A for it. So yeah, I figured I could do this. Piece of cake.
So I sat down at the computer and started to write the first chapter. It played out in my head like a movie. I could see the little girl, the crowd, the agonizing trek to the Hill of Skulls, the inevitable end that marked the beginning of the story. Not a problem – let’s do this!
I had the first chapter done in about an hour. Then I was faced with the next chapter and I realized to my horror, to continue this tale and hopefully turn it into a gripping and page turning historical voyage that would ultimately take place over a two thousand year span, I would have to do some research. Some real, serious historical and (yikes!) theological research.
Suddenly it was like I was back in high school. Any idea how I felt about high school? Does anyone ever really enjoy his or her experience there? I know some people do but I sure didn’t. And just like in high school, I knew the research was going to be a pretty massive undertaking. But I knew in order to make the story believable, I needed the historical accuracy. It was the only way to make the story really come alive.
Thank God things had changed somewhat since those days. No more scouring the library for four, five hundred page tomes that would have sunk me faster than Quintus Arrius’ trireme in Ben Hur (see – I had to research that.) I now had the power of the internet before me. Information was at the tips of my fingers.
A ton of information, that is…and a lot of garbage too. Man oh man, what to use? What to ignore? Wading through it all was going to take a while. Oh, and by “a while” I mean about four years. Honestly, if I knew beforehand it would take me four years to research this beast, I would have gone back to writing mildly pleasant pop songs again.
What I did to tame this beast was to work out the basic plot in my head, then on paper. Seems obvious, right? Originally, I thought I would just start writing and see where it would lead me. But it became very apparent early on it would be absolutely necessary to at least plot out the basics because I would need to limit my searches to what was germane to the story. It is soooo easy to get lost on the ‘net. One minute I’m looking up the interior of a German U Boat from 1944 (an important plot point in the middle of the book – I needed to describe it as precisely as possible) and the next minute I’m hitting a link taking me to an article about, of all things, the Montgolfier brothers and their hot air balloons. I’m not kidding – then that particular link lead me to a Monty Python sketch called “The Golden Age of Ballooning” and then before I realized it, I was on a Monty Python YouTube page that lost me a full day’s writing.
The internet is a valuable resource, no doubt, but there sure are a lot of historical inaccuracies on it as well. Because my novel was a work of fiction (with historical elements) however, the inaccuracies were not such a huge issue for me. In fact, many times, the inaccuracies would spark an idea that proved to be, for the most part, useful or at the very least, interesting. The trick was to recognize the areas where accuracy was mandatory. That was key. There were times when the publisher and I went back and forth over a particular historical point, if incorrect, could tumble the precarious house of historical cards I had set up. What it came down to in the end was, certain events, certain locations, and even some historically real characters (for example, Otto Rahn, the famous Holy Grail archeologist makes an appearance) needed to be as factually accurate as possible. That meant finding numerous sources that bore out the information. If I found at least three, I felt I was in the ballpark. The online world also provided links to encyclopedia topics and relevant magazine articles of immeasurable help. Again, as long as I could find at least three agreeable sources, I went for it.
But historical detail only goes so far. The Judas Apocalypse and my second book, Can’t Buy Me Love (a little shameless self promotion and plug!) are historical fiction after all. The accuracy goes to fostering the believability of the plot, but you can’t get mired down in all the archival veracity. Too much detail and the adventure can fall flat; not enough and it’s not believable. It’s a carefully mixed cocktail of detail and drama I hope keeps readers turning the pages and drunk with excitement.
Although it took literally years to research The Judas Apocalypse (Can’t Buy Me Love, by the way, took much less time as it was a quite a different book and, by now, I had a better idea what I was doing ), I must say the experience did soften my view of the process. It’s a tough slog, but well worth it in the end.
Maybe, by the time I’m ready for book number three, I’ll get my nose to that historical grindstone. If, that is, I can stay away from the Monty Python videos…
Dan McNeil is a Canadian author with two novels so far to his fame; The Judas Apocalypse and Can’t Buy Me Love. Both available on Amazon by clicking here to go to his Amazon Author Page. To find out more of the man visit his website, http://www.danmcneil.ca/ and follow him on Twitter @DanMcNeil888. Also read his Author Interview here on LWI by clicking here.