The Importance of Being There

The Importance of Being There

Behind the Scenes with Joel

As a writer of thriller novels, I figure I have the title, the cover, the first few lines, and maybe the first page to convince a potential reader that my book is worth their time and financial investment. It really doesn’t matter how good the rest of the story is. If the hook is not set, then the reader will get away.

Admittedly, I do have an advantage in that I have a track record of successful books in the genre. So a longtime reader of my works may give me a little more line. But even then, eventually the spool will run empty if there is nothing that pumps up the adrenaline and gets the reader invested in the story. There are very few who will read a bad Joel C. Rosenberg book just because it is a Joel C. Rosenberg book. And there is no one who will do it twice.

Writers today must earn their readership. It’s so much easier to get drawn into a movie on Netflix or Amazon Prime that’s being watched on a giant screen with a living room sound system the quality of which used to only be available in theaters. And if someone does decide they want to pick up a book, there are so many different options out there—historical fiction, sci-fi, classical works, real literature. Even within my own genre, there are some wonderful competitors who are putting out some very fun stories.

I believe that what sets my books apart is the Middle East factor. Not the fact that I set my books in the Middle East; there are many who do that. But that I live in the Middle East. My last Marcus Ryker novel, The Beirut Protocol, centered on Hezbollah, a terrorist organization that has essentially taken over the government of Lebanon. I was able to bring a very genuine atmosphere surrounding the threat of Hezbollah to the nation of Israel, because as a resident of Jerusalem I live every day under that threat.

I’m not saying that an author needs to live in the places he or she writes about. The first book in the Marcus Ryker series was The Kremlin Conspiracy, yet I’ve never lived in Moscow. By the way, a little hint to aspiring writers: Google Maps is your best friend. But living in your setting, especially in a country like Israel that is at the epicenter of the world’s epicenter, allows me to not just provide authentic sights and sounds, but genuine feel and mood. That fact alone provides a layer of depth to my thrillers that you won’t find in most other novels set in the Middle East.

—Joel C. Rosenberg