Based on the publisher's summary, the story centers around John Madison, a Turkish-American art dealer who is caught up in a race to recover a "priceless relic looted from Iraq's National Museum" when Baghdad fell in 2003. Working with an archaeologist and a photojournalist, John is forced to solve a puzzle—which involves witches, Assyrian lore, and alchemy—all the while trying to stay two steps ahead of the villains.The Witch of Babylon involves revenge, treasure, and an ancient prophecy, promising a lot of action.
I haven't started the book yet, but when I was looking through it, I noticed it's illustrated with maps, photos, and clues to the puzzle. Reviewers have commented that the story has satisfying twists and turns and is a smart thriller that's hard to put down. The Witch of Babylon is the first in a planned trilogy.
To help celebrate the U.S. release of The Witch of Babylon (October 16), I'm pleased to welcome author D. J. McIntosh to Beth Fish Reads. Today she is talking about learning to bend the rules.
Thanks so much, D.J. I think it's fantastic that you were able stick to your instincts and still come out on top. And as for rule number one: I bet John Madison displays a few rule-breaking behaviors himself during his Iraqi adventure.Writing What You Know
How many times have we heard new writers advised to "write what you know"? Well-meant guidance, I'm sure and the thought has a lot of merit. When writers draw on their own experience, their novel is often richer and the more convincing for it.
But here's another common adage "rules are meant to be broken." And when I sat down to write my first novel, The Witch of Babylon, I did break a lot of rules.
This didn't transpire out of sheer rebelliousness but was a result of luck, circumstances, and that author's inner voice it's always wise to pay attention to. Professionals I'd sought advice from recommended I choose a gutsy female protagonist. They were trending well in current literature, and being a woman myself, well, I'd be writing what I knew! But as I began the book, the inner voice that came to me was that of a thirty-something guy, an art dealer and risk taker who wasn't averse to crossing the legal line—as long as he didn't get caught of course. He came fully formed, I could see his image in my mind readily: European looking with a close cropped beard, dark hair and eyes. Even his name, John Madison, came easily. Especially when you're writing in first person, you need to feel a bond with your central character, and that's just what I felt. I'll leave it to others to decide whether this was successful, but I'm happy to say that a great many men who've read the book really like Madison and don't sense anything out of place.
Rule number two that I broke—the setting. The first part of The Witch is set in New York. I made several trips to that wonderful city to research all the locations, so in a sense, I was writing what I knew. But the second part of my novel is set in Iraq at the start of the 2003 war. Absolutely no way could I go there. So these circumstances required me to spend months researching everything I could find about life in Iraq. In this I will be forever grateful to the many journalists and photographers whose articles, books, and reports made it possible for me to tell my story convincingly. I was nervous about using a place I'd never even visited, but it's interesting that I ended up finding the Iraq portion easier to write than the rest.
Rule number three relates to getting one's book published rather than the book's content, and in that regard the most commonly recommended course of action was to circulate query letters in the hope your work will catch at least one literary agent's eye who will go on to sell your book for a six figure advance (well OK, maybe five figures to start with). Hearing about all the dreaded slush piles towering in agent's offices, I chose again not to follow the good advice. Instead I entered a competition called the Debut Dagger administered by the estimable Crime Writers Association in the UK. It was a moment of pure euphoria when I learned my submission for The Witch had been shortlisted. In the weeks following, I received expressions of interest from a couple of agents and signed on with one of them.
So yes, write what you know and follow the rules, but only after you've listened to your inner voice and chosen to write the book you feel passionate about.
To learn more about The Witch of Babylon, visit the novel's interactive website. For more on D. J. McIntosh, visit her Facebook page or follow her on Twitter.
The Giveaway: Thanks to Tor/Forge I am able offer one of my readers a finished copy of D. J. McIntosh's debut novel, The Witch of Babylon. To enter for a chance to win, all you have to do is fill out the following form. I'll pick the winner via a random number generator on October 22. (After the winner is confirmed, I'll delete all data from the form's database.) Because the giveaway is being handled by the publisher, it's open to only those with a U.S or Canadian mailing address. Good luck!
Published by Macmillan / Tor . Forge, 2012