A day late and a dollar short…
This Rookie Rogue blew her first solo outing. My post was supposed to be up yesterday. Hoping for a bit of leeway here. Did I mention I was still a rookie?
But… if I could tweak history, the post would be on time, right?
Speaking of tweaking history, the Rogue Women were discussing fact v. fiction and real history in our novels. (See Karna’s Rogue post on 4/29: Is it Fiction or Faction?) A timely topic, since Clive Cussler and I have a new book coming out. Cussler, of course, is known for his real world historical connection tweaking (or as Karna puts it, “faction”) as a plot component in all of his novels.
I think that might be one of the reasons Cussler felt I’d make a good addition to his writing team. I’ve also taken real historical events and tweaked them for plot devices.
In FACE OF A KILLER, the first book in the Sydney Fitzpatrick FBI forensic artist series, I tweaked the real-life world-wide scandal of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), which was known in law enforcement circles as Banks of Crooks and Criminals, turning it into the central plot of the novel. (You can read the first chapter here.) I include a Fact or Fiction author’s note in the back of the book as well as other books in that series. It’s a good way of letting the reader know where the author has blurred the lines.
Cussler was a master of tweaking historical facts into fantastic fiction decades before I ever started writing thrillers. Every one of his novels has some connection to real history, often archeological, and often (especially in the Fargo series) with a treasure attached. In THE ROMANOV RANSOM (9/2017), we tackle the question of what happened to the missing Faberge eggs. There were 7 missing eggs, not seen since the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. One, however, was recently found in America just a few years ago, and allegedly nearly sold for scrap gold. I say allegedly, because the egg is worth 33 million dollars, which makes me wonder how and where this scrap gold dealer “found” the thing.
Sorry, flight of fancy on my part. It’s the writer in me.
The key to making a good thriller out of something like this is asking the question of how does it tie into present day? In THE ROMANOV RANSOM, Cussler and I added a sleeper cell of Nazis waiting to be called back to action should these eggs be found and sold for profit. It’s not hard to tweak history. You need only find a way to intertwine historical facts (Romanov royal family, Bolsheviks, Nazi history) with folklore (missing treasure and speculation as to what happened to it or where it might be found).
Our third book, THE GRAY GHOST, comes out at the end of this month (5/29) and we’ve used this technique again. This time, however, Cussler wanted to try something different. Instead of the Fargos hunting for missing treasure, they’re chasing down a historical car. Cussler, an avid car collector, was intrigued by the first-ever Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost which made its public debut in 1907. The car, worth some 50 million dollars today, is still displayed at various car shows. Cussler wanted to explore what might happen if the car was stolen. And what if that theft occurred right beneath the noses of, well, everyone? Personally, I wasn’t sure how we’d come up with a plot to steal the actual Silver Ghost. But Cussler is the boss, so after hashing out our plot at his home in Arizona, I returned to California and started researching the real-life Silver Ghost. Then I started reading up on Charles Rolls and Henry Royce and how they started their company in Manchester, England. During my research of the Silver Ghost, which boasted the first-ever 40/50 six-cylinder engine, I made an interesting discovery: there was a single 40/50 chassis unaccounted for in their lineup of RR 40/50 chasses (one of which was used for the Silver Ghost). Each chassis had a serial number, and one was actually missing.
Sometimes you have the greatest success in the smallest details.
It occurred to me that before the Silver Ghost would have debuted in 1907, they’d surely have to have made a prototype of the newest, greatest driving machine to be found anywhere. After pointing this out to Cussler, we decided that the mystery wasn’t about the Silver Ghost at all. Instead, it was about this missing chassis (and the car attached to it). That’s how we came up with the Gray Ghost, the namesake for our book, along with the idea that the Gray Ghost (atop the missing chassis) was the prototype of the Silver Ghost. (Imagine if you’d found that in some old barn!) Essentially, the history tweaking had to do with the real Rolls-Royce company substituting the Silver Ghost as the debut car after the Gray Ghost was stolen. Of course, any Cussler thriller contains plenty of bad guys chasing after the good guys, all interested in the same treasure, so there’s plenty of action.
An early review from The Real Book Spy declares: “Think National Treasure on steroids… The Gray Ghost is everything you want in an adventure novel and then some.”
Granted, Cussler and I didn’t have to do a lot of history tweaking to make this plot work. We merely created a fictional car after learning about that non-fictional missing chassis. But sometimes all it takes is one little known fact to really open your eyes to the greatest fiction writer’s question of them all: What if?
(See how I’ve distracted you from the fact I’m a day late?)
So, Rogue Readers, what books have you read where history has been tweaked and intertwined into the plot? And did it work? Were you entertained because you were familiar with that period in history?