Submitted by Karna Small Bodman
Where do authors get the inspiration to write great novels? From history, headlines, personal experience? Of course it is often all of these, and I’d like to highlight some of my favorite novels and show how those authors were able to create characters, dialogue and descriptions that mirrored certain events and turned them into terrific reads.
When I read the previous post by my Rogue colleague, K.J. Howe, about security on airlines, it reminded me of the thriller, Nightfall by the popular author, Nelson DeMille.
The story obviously was based on the crash of TWA Flight 800 that went down off New York and was investigated by all sorts of agencies. But the mystery of the crash was never really solved. Enter the author who created characters who happened to be making love on a beach and saw the plane go down. They try to determine whether a missile shot it down — something the government types refused to consider. What a great story.
DeMille used another incident several years ago to create not just one but a trilogy based on the US bombing of Libya. In his thriller, The Lion’s Game, he does a “what if.” What if there’s a young militant type in Libya who is so furious about the bombing of his country that he manages to come to the US, and attempt to identify, target and kill the members of the bombing squad.
I remember first meeting DeMille at the big publishers’ annual trade show, Book Expo, at the Jacob Javitz Center, many years ago. I told him that when I served on the Reagan White House staff, I happened to be in the Situation Room the night we bombed Libya — and when I read The Lion’s Game it all came back to me.
Then, as I said, he followed up that story with two more thrillers featuring the same characters in The Lion and The Panther.
I kept in touch with him and when my second thriller, Gambit, came out, he very graciously read it and gave it a great “blurb” that my publisher printed on the front cover. I’ll always be grateful to him for that.
Another author I met at Book Expo was Dr. Philippa Gregory – an extremely accomplished writer who specializes in English history. One of her series features the wives of Henry VIII – and she brings that entire period to life so that the reader can visualize being right there in the court, watching the dramas play out. In fact Dr. Gregory has been dubbed the “Queen of Royal Fiction.” King Henry’s first wife is vividly described in Katharine of Aragon, followed up by The Other Boleyn
Girl, the story of his initial affair with the 14 year old sister of Anne Boleyn who actually bore him two children. We know they never married — however, if he had worked it out to marry her, think about it — he would have had an heir and would not have had to marry (and kill or exile) all those other wives. In fact, that particular novel was so popular, it was turned into a movie.
If you like to read historical novels as I do, I’d like to recommend one more bestselling author, Robert Harris, who was a TV correspondent with the BBC in England, and has written about many different events throughout history — and I have to say I learned so much about other parts of the world and what happened there so long ago — I thought you might like to check out his stories, if you haven’t had a chance to do that yet. One in particular came out several years ago, but it made such an impression on me, I wanted to highlight it here. It is Pompeii.
Harris created characters who were vacationing at the seaside resort, leading their carefree lives, never having an inkling of a cataclysm to come…..except for one young engineer who examines the famous aqueduct, sees cracks and tries to warn about a looming disaster. This author truly recreates a city on the brink of destruction.
So, yes, these and other fine authors have managed to take recent or historical events and create not just great fiction but what we should probably call “Faction.”
But what if it happens the other way around?
When I wrote my first thriller, Checkmate, that was published a decade ago, it was inspired by President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative — his program to develop missile defense.
I was so taken with this concept that I developed a character, Dr. Cameron Talbot – a brainy scientist working for a defense contractor who invents a brand new defense against cruise missiles. The only problem is that a few years AFTER that book came out, several elements of that story actually came true — which kind of freaked me out. Now, so many years later, my new publisher is planning to re-release my entire backlist beginning with Checkmate on June 1. But I said, “Wait! I have to completely revise and edit that story because the ‘bad guys’ actually carried out an attack I wrote about. So I went back to rewrite and update that thriller (I’ll tell you more about it as soon as it is released). But here is the cover art that their graphic artist created:
What are some of the novels based on current or historical events that you have enjoyed and would like to recommend to our readers? Please leave a comment – we’d love to know. And thanks for checking in here at Rogue Women Writers.
….Karna Small Bodman