Writing advice is never in short supply. Most of it seems to be either a chronicle of a successful writer's personal experience, or a formula produced by someone searching for writing success. Many nuggets of advice I run across make sense, but the fact is that when it comes time to actually write something I don't have a lot of advice or rules buzzing around in my head. Keeping the story straight takes up about all the cranial capacity I have. My personal experience has been that a story can be teased out of one or two ideas that can be related or not, and factual or not. For instance, when, after completing Switchback, my first Nick Temple novel, I was looking for the foundation for another, I circled back to a generally accepted historic fact of a Russian desire for a warm water port. Having spent a couple of weeks on Crete back in 1985, I settled on a target for the Russians. That's really all it took to bring the The Heraklion Gambit to life. Likewise, when I was kicking around ideas for the next Nick Temple File, I started thinking about the Cuban Missile Crisis. I imagined the crisis as a head fake from the Soviets to cover a different, more clandestine attack on the U.S. Again, that's about all it took, that and a few months of furious work, to turn Silent Vector from an idea into a book.
My personal favorite combination of disparate historic events and imagination is my screenplay "The Holy Lance." When reading Robert Massie's biography of Peter the Great I ran across an intriguing footnote regarding the child of Peter's first son Alexei and Alexei's Finnish mistress, Afrosina. Massie notes that the child, if it was born alive, has been lost to history. Wow! What if the child survived, and what if it was a male, and what if for the last 300 years an unbroken chain of male children continued from the ill-fated union of Alexei and Afrosina? Well, I'll tell you "what if." That would mean that a direct descendant of Peter the Great, a Romanov, could be wandering around Russia today with little or no idea of his lineage. That fact and the resultant idea got pulled into another mystery that's been floating around for two millennia: what became of the spear that pierced the side of Christ during the crucifixion, the so-called Holy Lance, a relic rumored to have enormous power? I put the Romanov story together with the Holy Lance story and created a screenplay about Russians looking to reestablish the Tsar, DNA, the CIA, murdered Romanovs, Shin Bet, Armenia, holy men, and a successful search for a relic at the heart of the story of Christianity. It may go without saying that I like the story. One of the things I like the most about the screenplay is that were I too wrapped up in seeking and following writing advice, I likely never would have written it. Okay, so maybe if I followed the advice that's out there I'd be a commercially successful writer. Maybe, but I'd be writing what someone else wants me to write, and that's not even close to as much fun as writing what I want to write.