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The idea of putting real events into a novel of any genre can produce different responses in writers. Some might say ‘isn’t that a cop-out?’ Or ‘won’t that date my story?’ Well, not only did I build my bestselling thriller ‘Patriot’ around a real event in the future, but I also used debate about that event to inform my plot, the actions of my characters and ultimately many of the ideas within the story.
This event is the planned drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan in 2016. Not only is that due to happen almost three years after the publication of ‘Patriot’, the discussion about this on news networks throughout that time is keeping the subject of my book topical in people’s – and therefore potential readers’ – minds.
But I didn’t stop there. I also used other ‘real’ things that happen periodically, such as solar flares affecting telecommunications, or the hijacking of private motor yachts by Somali pirates. These happen more than once, so they don’t really date (unless 50 years from now, there are no Somali pirates!)
Using topical news in your book can also be kept fresh by keeping the themes big. The main theme in Patriot is terrorism; something that has been with us since the dawn of civilised society, but which is certainly recognizable to most people from the 1970’s onwards in particular. This allows readers to connect to the your story at a much deeper level; they sub-consciously drawn on a well of knowledge and put it in context for themselves.
Maybe readers have their own opinions about those events, too. The role of the US and her allies in Afghanistan has been the subject of much debate over the past few years. Giving this topic its own role in your book can create fresh ways of approaching the debate, it can also be thought provoking, without being dry or even taking a particular point of view. My heroine, Brooke, gets in so many scrapes there isn’t much time for the readers to draw breath, let alone ponder issues of geo-political significance. But, maybe after the book is finished, there is more to reflect on, as some reviewers have commented.
Ultimately, it takes skill and substantial amounts of research to incorporate real events into a novel. I hope that I’ve shown in Patriot how it can be done without falling into any bear-traps (although there is an actual bear in the story) and hopefully, kept my novel both fresh and engaging.
Author A.S. Bond writes for Southern Writer’s Magazine author blog. View the article: http://southernwritersmagazine.blogspot.co.uk/
I turned down a three book deal from an American publisher to go ‘indie’ with this, my first thriller and it’s been quite a journey! Patriot, A Brooke Kinley Adventure is self published and this was a very difficult decision for me, because I’ve been a traditionally published author of non-fiction for the past 16 years. There is a great deal written about the upside of self publishing and some of it is even true. Here’s my take on the issue, having experienced both sides.
Pro Self Publishing:
Most new authors just don’t realize that a book deal with a traditional publisher (large or small) does not mean there is a huge publicity budget assigned to you (or even any budget at all). There won’t be launch parties, national book tours or huge advances. All this is reserved for a tiny handful of (very) well established authors. Everything else you must do yourself. You then have a few weeks to make a splash in sales before your book quietly disappears from bookshelves. However, now that self publishing has become truly possible in the past few years, you still have to do all the ‘heavy lifting’, but you get to keep up to 70% of the proceeds, which is a ten-fold improvement on what a publisher offers in a traditional deal. There is also a real pleasure in retaining complete control over all the decisions, from who to hire as your editor, to the jacket and website design, to where to put the marketing budget. Finally of course, your book launch is managed by someone who believes in it 100%, i.e. you. Getting lots of rave reviews from readers about a book traditional publishers sneered at (typical if it’s a genre novel), is very satisfying. It’s even better when your novel wins awards.
There are, in my opinion, just three reasons to go with a mainstream publisher; the biggest is ‘kudos’. Nothing says ‘I’m a real author’ like the name of a familiar publishing house on the spine of your book. Secondly, most of the mainstream press is wary of reviewing self published books and that’s a real drawback, although it is changing, slowly. The same applies to most of the book awards (and all of the prestigious ones). Thirdly, maybe you don’t know enough about publishing (business, technology, marketing etc), or have the time to do all the other jobs required to launch a book.
My advice to anyone considering these two routes? The best possible solution is to be published by a traditional publisher first. Get a following and make a name for yourself. Further down the road, you can use that as real capital to launch your self-published work. Your existing profile with both reviewers and readers will then lift you above the ‘pack’ of self published titles and solve the biggest problem of self publishing, which is visibility.
A.S. Bond is the author of ‘Patriot’ A Brooke Kinley Adventure, an award-winning thriller that debuted at #13 in its category on Amazon. For more information and the latest news, visit www.brookekinleyadventures.com https://www.facebook.com/as.bond.773 Twitter: @brookekinleyadv
Read the first page for free on http://booksgosocial.com/2014/05/12/patriot/
The thing about fiction is that it is, well, made up. Of course. Especially so in genre fiction. Novels often all about escapism of one sort or another, whether it’s the delicious shiver of fear or a dreamy ‘neverland’. Thrillers are slightly different; the ‘thrill’ comes not just from the suspense of ‘will our heroine save the day’, but also in the recognition that ‘it’ (nuclear Armageddon, pandemic virus, financial meltdown of whatever the theme of that novel may be) could happen.
This is especially so in Patriot, where it is not just themes that are based in reality, but actual events, too. Several have happened since I first wrote about them (and the book did have a long gestation of around three and half years, but that’s another story). It is a thriller in which life has imitated art.
Something thing that has -spookily- happened since I first wrote about it is a period of solar flares. These natural phenomena vary in intensity over a cycle of roughly 11 years or so. One of the characters in the book talks about this (and everything he says is accurate scientifically). Since I wrote Patriot, we have passed through another cycle and I woke up one morning to hear a news commentator talking about the threat to our electronic networks from solar flares!
What was most challenging for me was the technology side of the novel. A couple of readers have commented that aspects of this are a bit far-fetched. I have some bad news for you guys; it’s a lot closer to the truth than you realize.
A weapon of mass destruction features in this book (no spoilers!). This weapon, as described, is entirely accurate. The detail of how it is brought into America is the part I made up, but the thing you should worry about is the fact that this could also be carried in something as small as a rucksack. The effects would be more contained, but this particular threat is something on which many military and science researchers around the world are working, right now.
In fact, there is only one small piece of technology in this book that isn’t absolutely accurate, which is the discovery of a piece of advanced military hardware that kicks off the story. Even this is about half-true; there are very similar weapons being used by America and its Allies right now. Only some of the details vary slightly. And – so far – the fact they have not fallen into enemy hands. I wonder how long it will be before some version of the horrific opening scene in Patriot involving an American apache helicopter, plays out for real?
The other big truth in the novel is the ability of governments and their intelligence services to ‘listen in’ on the ‘phone calls of private citizens anywhere in the world. I knew this was possible when I wrote the novel – and the real network of listening stations is an open secret – but it was Edward Snowden who told the world the reality and extent of the snooping. After I’d written about it…
For many of the details in the book, I went to great lengths to ensure they were correct. This included talking to aircraft and marine engineers, studying plans for motor yachts and, one of my favourite pastimes, poring over maps to ensure the locations I use in the book are accurate. Brooke can walk from Foggy Bottom metro to the Kennedy Centre in ten minutes and small planes can crash in Labrador and never be seen again. The reality of the settings in the book is another topic, but they are all places I know personally (except Afghanistan).
In fact, the only fictional things in Patriot are the characters and the plot itself. Everything else is true. Now there’s a shiver down your spine!
When I began to think about settings for Patriot, I remembered the old advice “write what you know”. Therefore all the key settings of Patriot – Labrador, Washington D.C. and London – are familiar to me. The only exception is Afghanistan, which features in the prologue only. For that, I spoke to ex-military personnel who have fought in desert situations and I also watched a lot of YouTube footage. As a journalist myself, research is second nature!
Yet I needed to do very little of that when it came to the North American settings. I used to live in Washington D.C., so I know its pace, the people, the locations. Perhaps however, the stand-out setting for Patriot is that of Labrador, where a large part of the novel – and the action scenes in particular – takes place.
Labrador is that huge chunk of Canada on the eastern seaboard that’s the size of much of Western Europe, but which has the population of a small town. It’s a place I know pretty well, as I led a canoe expedition across part of it a few years ago. Travelling with just my Innu guide, Jean Pierre Ashini, we paddled through some of the harshest country in North America, following the pioneering route of Edwardian explorer Mina Hubbard. That’s another story however, but it is one I tell in my travel memoir, Lost Lands, Forgotten Stories, published by HarperCollins in 2002.
I chose Labrador as a key setting in Patriot for several reasons. Primarily of course, because it is beautiful, remote and intriguing. Intrigue is always good in a thriller! Its remoteness also means that it is ‘believable’ (in thriller world) that the events depicted could really go unnoticed there, thanks to the lack of people.
Also useful from a thriller writer’s point of view, is the fact not many people outside of Canada (and not that many inside, either!) know Labrador very well. This really gave me a ‘blank page’ on which to project my story, as many readers will have no real preconception of the place. As it happens, my own familiarity with Labrador means that I was able to describe it authentically; how it feels, smells, sounds. The bugs really are huge and plentiful and the backcountry really is mainly frequented by fishermen, hunters and prospectors.
For many people in the 21st century, life is very technology dominated. Most live in big cities and the wilderness is – and to some extent always has been – a threatening, frightening place. This also is very useful in a thriller! As Brooke travels through this unknown land, she faces many kinds of threats, both known and unknown. The reader’s unfamiliarity with it and that unspoken menace all add to the suspense.
The story of Patriot is also orientated around technology, in everything from modern communications via satphone to the nature of the threat against America. This is another reason why I chose to place so much of the action n Labrador. This wilderness, where the weather, the landscape and the animals are dominant, is a huge contrast – and counterbalance – to these technology based themes.
Although I impose a fictional story on a very real landscape, anyone familiar with Labrador would recognize places referred to in the book. The cliff over which Kyle finally throws off the assassin sent to kill him is a figment of my imagination (although there would be countless that would pass for it in a movie – take note, Hollywood!). Yet Goose Bay and its huge airport do exist, as do the pretty painted wooden houses of Happy Valley. Even Okak is a real place, although it is little more than a name on a map, marking a deserted cove in the far north.
It is really that sense of an ‘empty’ map that inspired my own original expedition there and therefore the setting of this, my first novel. Originality is vital for any literary work and I think – I may be wrong – that Patriot is the first thriller to be set in this vast corner of the continent. I hope readers find it as intriguing and enthralling as I do!