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Weaving Real History into Your Fiction


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February 2009

February 2, 2009

I’m up to my neck in the USAF. And I don’t even live here.

I could possibly pass for an American. I wear American clothes. I drive a Chev. I chew gum. I follow American football. Only the deception crashes to the floor when I open my mouth. I’m an Aussie - Australian. Fair dinkum, mate (which means ‘I ain’t lyin’, buddy,’ in my local lingo).

So what am I doing writing thrillers with the American voice of a Special Agent in the USAF Office of Special Investigations?

Could be because Australia is the de-facto 51st state of the Union. Or maybe it’s because I grew up on a diet of American TV, American movies, American music, American magazines and American authors.

Or maybe because in a past life I was Chuck Yeager (Oh, right. He’s not dead yet. Okay - then some other war hero pilot guy).

Whatever, I have this voice in my head, which sounds American, is a little rude at times, doesn’t get on well with authority, and is a long way from being politically correct.

What seems to happen is that if I don’t put this voice down on paper, it comes out my mouth, which can be embarrassing for my wife, especially at dinner parties.
So I write it all down, and what comes out is part crime, part action, part political thriller, told in the first person by a character who is sometimes a little like watching a road accident in progress. The things he says and does sometimes make me blush.

And I don’t blush easy.

David Rollins

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February 3, 2009

Free Chapters from The Death Trust

This military thriller marks Australian author David Rollins U.S. debut, and you’ll quickly see why he took his own country by storm. In The Death Trust he creates an imperfect, globe-trotting, wise-cracking hero in Vin Cooper that you willingly let into your head. Race through this “white-knuckle read on par with anything that James Patterson or Nelson DeMille might offer” (Orlando Sentinel) and you won’t have to wait long for Vin’s next adventure, A Knife Edge hits shelves 3/24.

Here are the facts:
The hero: Vincent Cooper. That is Major Vin Cooper, Special Agent in the United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Once a star agent, he’s been scarred by battle and a recent divorce.

The situation: Cooper’s been assigned—reluctantly by the CO—to investigate the bizarre death of a decorated four-star general who happens to be the son-in-law of the Vice President. It will either be his biggest victory, or the end of his career.

A small sampling: “I’m not good with flying. Not anymore. Not since Afghanistan. But they’re into it with a passion in the USAF, as you might expect.”

What others have said: “An all-too-believable story about power, corruption, and cover-up that has shocking international consequences. … Strong characters, nonstop action, and superb suspense…Vin Cooper has a powerful, true voice that never wavers.” —Nelson DeMille

Read for yourself:

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February 9, 2009

Sean Doolittle Reads From Safer

Sean Doolittle talks about his new novel Safer and reveals that the inspiration for the book’s story was rooted in one question: would you murder your neighbor if it guaranteed your own safety?

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February 11, 2009

Blood and Ice trailer debuts at Comic-Con

Bantam Books debuted the brand new trailer for Robert Masello’s Blood and Ice during this year’s Random House panel at New York Comic-Con. Blood and Ice goes on sale February 24th, but you can read three free chapters right here starting February 23rd. You can view the trailer, that bowled over readers at Comic-Con, below.

Blood and Ice Trailer from Bantam Dell on Vimeo.

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February 16, 2009

And so, at last, I jump into the blogging pool!

This is my very first blog, ever. And I find that it’s making me extremely self-conscious. Who knew? It’s like that dream where you show up for class and there’s an exam you knew nothing about. What am I supposed to do now? Yes, I have a new book coming out, a supernatural thriller called BLOOD AND ICE, and yes, I hope that a few people pick it up and read it. (Well, more than a few, I hope, or my career prospects dim considerably.) But you can read about that elsewhere. What I can say is that I just woke up, it’s after eleven a.m., and in a nutshell, that’s why I became a writer — to sleep late and never hear an alarm clock go off. My dog usually wakes me by standing on top of me in the bed, her long black muzzle just above my face, or by whining in the doorway with her tail going like a propeller.

My commute is easy … it’s just across the hall. And waiting for me in there is the terrifying prospect of my next book. A couple of hundred pages, sitting in a pile on the floor, in desperate need of several hundred more in order to be complete. I shudder to think. And that’s one of the funny things about publishing. Because the actual process is such a long one, by the time one book is ready to come out, you’ve already, inevitably, moved on to the next one. And personally, I find it very hard to hold more than one book in my limited imagination at the same time.

All the time I was writing BLOOD AND ICE, it was like walking around with my head in a bubble that I was afraid could burst at any time. It was a big book, covering a lot of time and some difficult scientific material, and it was hard to focus, much of the time, on other things … ordinary things like feeding the dog and talking to my wife and paying the mortgage. Once or twice, when I was driving to a teaching job I held, I tried using that freeway time to solve problems in the book, and wound up missing my exit and driving five miles out of my way. After that, I stuck to listening to Ray Davies and Leonard Cohen.

And I tried shutting the book out altogether, but that’s like trying to hold your breath indefinitely. On some level, my mind is always working away, teasing out the plot-lines, struggling to come up with some new twists and turns, and occasionally — and this is the worst — jarring me with some unexpected, screaming news bulletin along the lines of “This book doesn’t work! It has insoluble problems! What were you thinking? Isn’t it time that you recognized that you have no talent (that bad review in 1985 was right!) and started training for your new career in elevator maintenance?” There are times, in my life as a writer, when it feels like my heart just sinks into my shoes.

And there are other times — when the writing is going well, and I actually think I just pulled something off — when it soars.

But you never know which one awaits you. I’m in my little office now, the dog is curled up in the kneehole of my desk, and the people in the apartment upstairs have finally stopped running on their treadmill, so it’s time to find out.

—Robert Masello

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February 17, 2009

Free Chapters from Blood and Ice

Next up: a haunting thriller than spans continents and centuries—from Victorian England to a remote Antarctic research station, where an ancient glacier yields a shocking prize—and a sinister legacy. With Blood and Ice (on sale 2/24), we welcome Robert Masello to the Bantam Dell list. Think of him as a little bit Clive Cussler and a little bit Bram Stoker.

Here are the facts:
The adventurer: Michael Wilde, journalist for Eco-Travel Magazine, pulled back into his old life after tragedy. But is he ready?

The situation: On assignment near the South Pole, Michael discovers two bodies frozen under the Antarctic ice, and his search to unravel their mystery will take him to unexplored depths of that ocean.

A sampling: “Her scream stopped dead, everything went silent, and with the chain weighting them down, they sank swiftly, spinning in circles, into the frigid, black water.”

What others are saying: “Masello is a true master at blending cutting edge science, historical intrigue, and riveting thrills, and Blood and Ice is a riotous mix of history, cryogenics, vampirism, and a chilling adventure set in the Antarctic. Park in front of a warm fire and prepare to read this in one sitting!” - James Rollins, author of The Last Oracle

Read for yourself:

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February 23, 2009

Win a free advanced copy of Barry Eisler’s Fault Line

Fault Line by Barry EislerOn March 9th, we’ll be giving you the opportunity to read three free chapters from Barry Eisler’s new novel, Fault Line, before it goes on sale the following day.

Can’t wait until then? Well then, we’re giving away free advance copies of Fault Line to the first 50 readers who e-mail us at with “Fault Line Giveaway” as the subject line. All we ask in return for this golden opportunity to read the book several weeks before its actual release date is that you send us a quick review of Fault Line. As expected, we’ll post some of the more eloquent reviews right here.

Fault Line will be the first stand alone thriller from Barry, who is best known for his John Rain series. You can find out more about Barry and his books here.

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February 25, 2009

Weaving Real History into Your Fiction

In connection with BLOOD AND ICE, I’ve promised to give a talk soon on how to weave history and fact into a fictional universe. This book is heavily pinned on both the Crimean War (England vs. Russia, basically, in the early 1850s) and on some weird, but true, biological discoveries in Antarctica today. Guess that’s why I was asked.

And my new book under way takes takes place largely in the 1500s.

So here’s what I’ve learned about the process so far. For one thing, the old saw is true — truth really is stranger (and more convincing) than fiction. The more research I do, the more I stumble upon rich and surprising nuggets that I could never have made up. For example, who’d have guessd, in respect to BLOOD AND ICE, that when Florence Nightingale recruited nurses for the Crimean battlefront, one of the major issues that almost caused a rebellion was the dreadful outfit and unbecoming cap that the nurses were forced to wear?

Or that in the Antarctic, there are fish that live in the lower depths who actualy freeze up if their scales touch the icecap hovering above them?

It’s loads of fun finding this stuff out, but the danger in all this is that you can get lost in your research, too. With Google and the Internet at your fingertips, you can spend hours, weeks, months — your whole life! — just following one link after another, making new connections, learning new things, printing out obscure articles, filing them away, thinking and rethinking. I have some writer friends, who shall go nameless, who have gone down this road … and never reappeared.

And I know other writers who make the mistake of disgorging too much of their raw research and material, interesting though a lot of it was, into the telling of their story. Nothing kills a narrative faster than a massive, overwhelming infusion of non-essential fact. (I’m sure I’ve been guilty of this myself at times, but I read over my stuff as objectively as I can to see what I really need, and what I slipped in just to show off, or because I was in love with it for some reason.)

What I think readers want is a sense that you, the author, have done your work, and that the history or science you’ve incorporated into the book is sound — up to a point. That point being the place where you depart into the flight of fancy that is your story. I have no actual proof, for instance, that the hemoglobin-free fish of the Antarctic could provide a cure for vampirism, but I’ve done my best to make it seem … plausible.

And that, I think, is a key concept. If you’ve done your job right, your reader will be carried along on a tide of plausibility. You have to try to lay things out so that even the most outlandish developments have arrived by way of an apparently logical concatenation of events or revelations.

What I try to achieve when writing fiction isn’t actually veracity, but verisimilitude. (I think it was the writer Richard Rhodes who came up with that distinction, but I could be wrong.) What I mean by that is simply, not everything in my made-up story will be true, but it will be true enough, and sound believable enough, to carry my readers along without breaking their faith in the story. I recently read a novel in which a female archaeologist in the 1920s said something like “You relationship skills need work,” and that was enough for me to lose faith in the story and in its author. Even a simple anachronism like that can break the spell.

Finally, because I’ve already hogged too much space on this blog, I want to offer up just one more small, practical tip. When doing your research, reading dry historical or scientific material can get wearing after while. For instance, you have no idea how many textbooks and histories I’ve read about the Renaissance for the book I’m working on now. But here’s a secret I’ve learned: once you find a novelist you trust, who seems to have done his or her research pretty scrupulously, read his or her novels to gather the information and local color you need. It can be such a relief! In my case, it’s been like letting Irving Stone (“The Agony and the Ecstasy”) or Sarah Dunant (“The Birth of Venus”) along with several other authors, do a lot of the heavy lifting for me. I don’t rely on them without checking things later — they could be taking liberties the same way I do — but by and large they afford pleasurable perspective and atmosphere and, yes, the occasional bit of very useful information that I can then use in my own work. Writers all owe each other a lot. I certainly know that I do. #

— Robert Masello

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February 26, 2009

Fault Line giveaway now over

Fault Line by Barry EislerWe cannot thank our readers enough for the great response to the free giveaway of Barry Eisler’s new novel, Fault Line. We were only giving away fifty copies, but based on the amount of e-mails received, we know fans a hungry to read Barry’s new novel.

Below is the list of lucky winners who received free copies of Fault Line. Look for their comments and reviews in an upcoming post. In the meantime, be sure to check back on March 9th when we’ll have three free chapters from Fault Line for everyone to read.

Julie P., Mechanicsburg, PA
Zpydah V., Pine Knot, KY
Robert B., Fife, Scotland
Julie H., Plattsmouth, NE
Lisa E., Winsted, MN
Kelly S., Elmendorf , AK
Sandy C., Prospect, OR
Ted W., San Francisco, CA
Debbie B., Langhorne , PA
Eric W., Charlotte Hall, MD
Ian-Mykel B., Albany, NY
Kevin S., Santee, CA
Ash B., Byron, MN
Scott M., Midlothian, Scotland
Marta H., Wapakoneta, OH
Amy P., Daly City, CA
Michele W., Bogata, TX
Soren V., Palo Alto, CA
Melanie R., Cornwall, England
Brenda M., Circle Pines, MN
Mischa C., New York, NY
Jason B., New Caney , TX
Annise M., Palmyra, NJ
Bridget C., Port Charlotte, FL
Al L., Londonderry, NH
Deborah W., Alpena, AR
Elayne C., Devon, PA
Javier L., Maitland, FL
Paskalita F., Cornwall, NY
John J., Kilgore, TX
William C., Casreoville, TX
John H., Albuquerque, NM
Stephanie S., Denver, CO
Dan K., Andover, NJ
Priscilla G., Clyde, TX
Paula L., Brooklyn, NY
Nancy S., Hampton, TN
Andrea W., Lebanon, NH
Matthew W., Axis, AL
Robert F., Silverdale, WA
Stacey P., Las Vegas, NV
Jolene G., Altoona, PA
Jon B., Seattle, WA
Donna M., Ambler, PA
Charles F., Brooklyn, NY
Gregory J., Jersey City, NJ
Shelly L., Lynden, WA
Brian C., Houston, TX
Kenna N., Riverside, CA
Robert B., Foster, OR

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