The Novel: Doing the Research by @DanMcNeil888

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-cover-DMThe 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 Cant-Buy-Me-Love-cover-DMlittle 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…

Can't buy me love The Judas ApocalypseDan 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, and follow him on Twitter @DanMcNeil888. Also read his Author Interview here on LWI by clicking here.

The Judas Apocalypse & Can’t Buy Me Love Q&A @DanMcNeil888

A lover of history who says his books don’t have a message, they’re entertainment. Honesty. Gotta love that, right? I will repeat that phrase later. Dan McNeil is someone I would hate if he wasn’t such a nice guy. He’s writing the dream I want and am working to achieve. He’s even picking subjects that I’m in to. If I were a betting man, which I’m not, I would bet that some of you buy at least one of his books after reading this interview. I’m still waiting on the autographed Kindle version. Personally signed no less.

RW: What is your favorite word?

DAN: Most of my favourite words are unprintable. I also make up a lot of my own words (usually when I’m driving) but they’re unprintable too. “Cacophony” is pretty cool – I like the hard “c” sounds and it sounds like what it is, in an onomatopoeia-ic kind of way…

RW: And with that answer, Dan, I have no idea where this is going to go, but I imagine it will be entertaining. You gotta love honesty. Let’s jump straight into your books. You have two to share with is. Tell us about The Judas Apocalypse first.

author Dan McNeilDAN: It’s basically an adventure story (about a treasure hunt during World War II), but there are many layers to it (secrets, hidden truths, etc.) The title refers to a hidden truth they ultimately discover. The Judas Apocalypse is the story of an archaeologist with a passion for a long lost religious group known as the Cathars. He gains possession of a Knights Templar document that, when deciphered, could lead him to the fabled Cathar treasure. After he is captured by a group of GI’s just after the Normandy invasion, they all form an alliance to hunt the treasure. However, what they find is not what they believed it would be. It was inspired by a number of things, but the main inspiration would give away too much. I will say though, that there is a definite Indiana Jones/Kelly’s Heroes influence that runs throughout the novel.

“Simply, I enjoy a book that draws me into the story and takes me to a different time and place. This book made me forget I was sitting in my own bed and had to go to work in the morning.
That is what a good book can do for you.
Loved this book!”~Amazon Review

Gerhard Denninger is the protagonist of “The Judas Apocalypse.” He is a dedicated archaeologist whose passion for the history of the Cathars has led him to search for their legendary lost treasure all of his life. I purposely made him an older character because I wanted to avoid the young hero stereotype. He’s made many choices in his life and career that may have been clouded by his passion. I think readers connect to characters like this because they are not perfect and I think more believable.

“I picked up this book as probably one of the millions for whom the genre’s pack leader, Dan Brown, leaves an aching void. I’m delighted to say this story is so much more believable than the Hollywood twaddle we are fed by the other Dan. Dan McNeil is a darn good story teller, and weaves this gripping tale from the Crucifixion itself to the Cathar tragedy of the Middle Ages then with exciting twists and turns through both World Wars.”Amazon Review

RW: So far you’ve got me and I am angry you didn’t offer a copy for me to review. Just kidding, a little, sort of. Okay, the sulking is over with. Tell us about your second book.

DAN: Can’t Buy Me Love,” is about a hapless group of crooks hoping to rob a bank during the Beatles’ Dan McNeil Authorfirst appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in ’64, so I knew it would have to be a Beatles song title. I think “Can’t Buy Me Love” is certainly apropos. It was inspired by something I read in “The Love You Make” by Peter Brown (with Steven Gaines.) In it, Brown references the Beatles’ performance on the Sullivan show in ’64. There is an urban myth that says that in the hour they performed, not one major crime was committed in New York City. In fact, not even a hubcap was stolen (presumably, because everyone was huddled in front of their television sets watching the show.) When I read that, I immediately thought “that would have been a great time to rob a bank” – hence, the plot for the book.

“I read this in 2 days, couldn’t put it down. Absolutely a great story with the a moment in history as a backdrop. I think it would make a great movie. Great job, hope Dan has more stories to tell.”~Amazon Review

Sonny Carter, the protagonist of “Can’t Buy Me Love” is also an older “hero” but it was necessary to make him this way because of his twenty five year incarceration. Like Gerhard Denninger, he’s made some questionable decisions in his life (like trying to rob a bank, for instance). His single mindedness in knocking over the same bank he tried to rob in 1939, and his quest for revenge against the stool pigeon who ratted him out, while not exactly heroic qualities, I think make him, in strange kind of way, a rather fascinating character. The reader essentially pulls for him to be successful.

“With an action driven plot, characterisation often takes second place, but I thought some of the characters here were well drawn and very believable. My favourite was Provenzano the mob boss whose command of English gave Dan McNeil the chance to show that he can also write comedy with the best of them.
And the Beatles? I expected their inclusion in this book to be no more than window dressing. In fact we meet the boys on several occasions, where they are not only characters in their own right, but become an intrinsic part of the plot. If you want to know more, well you’ll just have to invest in a copy of Cant Buy Me Love yourself, won’t you? It really is money well spent.
In short, this is an excellent book which is not only a thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable read, but one that deserves to take its place in the library of literature inspired by the Beatles.”~Amazon Review

RW: It’s official, I am one unhappy guy. Not a single book given to me. Sigh. I may have to actually buy them at;

The Judas Apocalypse



Can’t Buy Me Love



(Just so people know, I am joking about being upset about no book. I never asked for one. But in truth, they both look great from what I can see of them. He nailed the subject to catch my attention for sure. I know that’s why he picked what he did. Just for me!)

RW: Dan, you have a very unusual path to becoming a novelist. One I can appreciate. Share part of that with our Readers today.Dan McNeil Author Photo

DAN: My cousin and I used to write songs, hoping to strike it big with a #1 hit. Although we seemed to do very well with contests, winning five for five different tunes, the big hit song somehow still eluded us so I decided that I would try my hand at novel writing. Very different beast but just as satisfying creatively.

RW: Where did you write these undiscovered #1 hits?

DAN: I was born in Toronto, Ontario but I’ve made Ottawa my home since 1970.

RW: What does an Ottawan like to quench his thirst with?

DAN: I have a couple – it all depends on my mood. Given the choice, if an exceptional scotch or bourbon came my way, I wouldn’t say no. Alexander Keith’s Pale Ale is my go-to beverage.


That one gave me my “search for this” moment for the interview. “Alexander Keith arrives in Nova Scotia from Scotland in 1817 and opens his brewery in 1820.”~From the Alexander Keith’s website.


RW: Who are your favorite authors?

DAN: My favourite book is “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger and I am a big fan of Jeffery Deaver. I also love Stephen King’s early work.

RW: And what’s on the nightstand for reading at this moment?

DAN: I’m actually helping a fellow writer friend (Jasmine Aziz, author of Sex and Samosas) edit her current manuscript so I’m not actually reading anything at the moment. The last book I read was Jeffery Deaver’s “The Cold Moon.” After I’m done with the manuscript editing, I have about 4 or 5 books to get to.

RW: Writing, editing, and a good deal of time with the social network aspect, I can attest to that, with all of that writing aspect what do you do when you need to step away from it for a bit?

DAN: I used to go to movies all the time, but all that CG stuff they’re making these days really bores me. I prefer the films of the 60’s and 70’s. I also love music (I used to write songs many years ago) so that’s a really big passion of mine.

RW: Since I mentioned the social networking thing, this is how to connect with Dan:

Twitter –

Facebook –

Website –

Blog –

RW: What did you learn about yourself from writing this book?

DAN: I really surprised myself with the fact that I was able to write a book. I always thought writing would be a tough gig, and of course it was! After I started, I wasn’t sure that I could even finish it so when I typed the words “The End,” I was both shocked and absolutely pleased with myself. I learned that I could do it and so I wrote a second book.

RW: What is your biggest tip for someone to getting published?

DAN: This may sound flippant but make sure the book is as great as it can be. Make sure you rewrite it as many times as necessary and get a copy editor to go through it. I can’t stress that enough.

RW: Describe your book in one word.

DAN: “The Judas Apocalypse” – provocative

“Can’t Buy Me Love” – entertaining

A big thank you to Dan for the interview and giving all of us books to add to our to read lists. Make sure to click and get those books at the links above and watch the Book Trailer for The Judas Apocalypse Book Trailer.












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