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He's a spy with insider knowledge of international intrigue--or is he?
Today's guest columnist, author Olen Steinhauer, shares the secrets of being a successful crime and espionage novelist. The author of nine novels, Olen's most recent book is The Cairo Affair.
Today's mission, if you choose to accept it--will you be the winner of one of five copies of The Cairo Affair? You need to enter to win. Send an email to: email@example.com
Welcome to the book club, author Olen Steinhauer...
"Novelist" is a peculiar occupation. Strangers aren't entirely sure how to approach you--what does a novelist like to talk about? Will he put me in his next book, unflatteringly? Is she going to realize I've never read her books, or can I fake it?
Add to that the word "espionage"--as in espionage novelist--and the adjective becomes more important than the noun. "Are you, or have you ever been, a spy?" No, but I am and have long been, a novelist. People with interesting knowledge confidently explain that they've got your next book ready to go. "The Israeli vegan subculture is connected directly to the rise of nationalism in Eastern Europe, if you look at it the right way." In these cases you smile and back slowly toward the exit.
"Did they make any movies out of your books I might have seen?"
What surprises me most is the assumption that I actually have insider knowledge of international intrigue. People ask me about the CIA and NSA and, as I desperately try to put together an answer that won't make me look ignorant, I'm shocked by the respect that grows in my interrogator's eyes. "Don't listen to me!" I want to yell. This isn't just true for espionage novelists. An old professor of mine once dated a Japanese woman, and was inspired to write a literary novel with Japanese characters, though he knew little about the country. Through a series of questionable decisions by others, he ended up appearing on CNN as an expert discussing some current piece of news out of Japan.
Yes, novelists research their subjects, but seldom more than is required for a story to feel authentic. We seldom become experts, because a novelist's interest is less in the general subject of the novel than in the interaction of its characters--the story, in other words. Many of us--Stephen King is one example--write a story first and then research it afterward just to make sure it works. Some of us do enormous research and then forget most of it once the book's finished. I know I've forgotten more than I've learned over the course of writing nine novels, though I enjoy pretending otherwise. Still, if a novel is written well, and the research is placed seamlessly into the story, then it's no wonder that people mistake novelists for experts. Because that is the magic of fiction. It creates a self-contained world that feels as real as our own, sometimes more real.
Thanks for reading with me. It's so good to read with friends.
P.S. Congratulations to the Chocolate Chip Cookie winners: Terri S., Marie D. and Amanda T. I'll be baking soon.
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Seeking divine inspiration? Here's a tantric love story for the yogi in your life. A 21st century retelling of an ancient Vedic tale from India. Brimming with romance, this delightful tantric love story offers an engaging introduction to yoga as a powerful tool for transformation and love.
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