Behind the Scenes with Joel
How did people write thriller novels without modern technology? Obviously they did. Ian Fleming, John le Carré, Clive Cussler, and Robert Ludlum were all masters of the genre, and I am amazed at the books they were able to turn out without the assistance of all the tools that my generation of authors has at our disposal. Just the ability for instantaneous research through search engines is a complete game changer when it comes to keeping details accurate and stories authentic.
One of my favorite tools is Google Earth. I love being able to place my characters, and thus my readers, right into the streets of a foreign environment. I want to be able to say that when Marcus Ryker turned onto a certain street, he saw a mosque on his left and a hospital on his right. Google Earth allows me to walk or drive those very streets.
For example, in The Beirut Protocol, Marcus Ryker is deep behind enemy lines in Lebanon. At one point, he’s trying to escape from a terrorist organization in the capital city of Beirut and he’s jumping from roof to roof. Without Google Earth it would have been tough to bring authenticity to that scene. As an Israeli citizen, I’m not allowed to go to Beirut. Even talking to my Lebanese friends wouldn’t help, because none of them has ever spent time running from roof to roof in those very dangerous neighborhoods. Fortunately, I had the tools to see those rooftops with remarkable detail and plot out the route for Ryker to take.
Other great tools are Zoom and WhatsApp, allowing me to communicate from Israel with friends and sources around the world—for free, no less. The Signal app is especially helpful because it allows for detailed audio messages when my people resources don’t have the time to sit and type out a long message. And it’s encrypted so people can speak candidly with me on sensitive topics.
The downside of technology is that it leaves a writer without excuse. So when I didn’t realize that a Glock pistol does not have a safety, my readers rightfully let me know my error—some nicely and some not so nicely. (And before I get another influx of emails from my newsletter readers, yes, I know now that there are three safeties on a Glock. I’m just referring to the traditional thumb safety.) I should have researched the Glock online or do what I did last summer—go to a gun range and learn to fire Glock and Sig Sauer 9mm pistols. But I made an assumption. And I got caught. My fault. No excuse.
This is a great time to be an author and a reader. We who write stories have ample resources for research. And technology such as e-books and audiobooks—plus the ability to buy books online and have them delivered right to your doorstep—is making it easier than ever for readers to discover a treasure trove of great authors and great adventures.
—Joel C. Rosenberg