Hollywood and popular spy novels have provided the public with a "romanticized" James Bondish view of the Intelligence business.  In reality the Intelligence business, whether NSA or even CIA, is 99% gathering information and/or processing information.  The problem for a novelist or script writer, is that making a movie, or writing a novel, about people sitting at a desk translating squiggles and writing reports is not very exciting.

Therefore, the novelist or script writer has to ad lib a bit and jazz things up to add tension and excitement to the story.  In writing THE JERICHO TABLET, and subsequent novels in the Matt Nolan series, I have tried to give readers a small (unclassified) taste of how information is collected, processed, and then used to react to geo-strategic issues on the world stage, as well as how this collected information can then inform and influence the flow of the 1% "James Bondish" activities that thriller readers and movie goers want to read about/see.

Beyond that, the key to writing a good thriller (or any type novel) is to keep five main points in mind:  1. Write a good story.  (i.e. have a decent plot and story line that serve as the backbone of your novel).  2. Be entertaining as you tell your story.  3.  Teach your readers something useful and/or enlighten them in some way (which is why I favor good historical novels and only certain types of thrillers).  4.  Get the grammar and syntax right.  5.  Get the punctuation and capitalization reasonably correct (no one on this planet can get Capitalization in the English language right because there are no consistent rules, but do use the Chicago Manual of Style as your guide).


Everyone who has read GONE WITH THE WIND knows Scarlett O'hara and Rhett Buttler as well, or better, than they know their own family members.  Even people who have not read Gone with the Wind know who Scarlett O'hara and Rhett Bulter are.  Deep characterizations are essential for a novel like Gone with the Wind to work.  But are they necessary--or even desirable--in a modern political/spy thriller, or scientific thriller?

Quick, can someone tell me the name of even one of Michael Crichton's characters?  Yet nobody writes a better scientific thriller than Michael Crichton--unless its James Rollins.  James Rollins differs from Crichton in that he uses the same 5 protagonists over and over in each novel which is common when writing a series.  I've read nearly all of Rollins' novels but can tell you the name of only one or two of his characters without doing some digging.  Does that mean his novels aren't worthy of being read?  Can anyone tell me who Dan Brown's protagonist is?

I think that the moral to the story here is that deep characterizations are not necessary in a fast-paced thriller, and in fact might serve to slow the action down.  Readers read thrillers for the ride and for being taken into a form of life much more exciting than the ones they live in, while hoping to learn something about history, science, and/or other cultures, that they did not know before.

To recap, the essentials are: story (or plot and high concept), be entertaining, be educational/informative, grammar and syntax, and punctuation and capitalization.  Get those five things down and readers will enjoy reading your material.  Get those five things down everything else, voice, characterizations, dialogue, and all the "rules" of writing that you were taught in creative writing 101 is subjective.  Your job as a writer is not to please every taste and bias that's out there.  You job is to tell a good story, tell it well, and please, offer your readers something besides just a "good story."


An example of what I am talking about in terms of biases is an article recently published by writer's digest in their annual Guide to Literary Agents.  In this article they quoted a number of literary agents about what they hate most of all in terms of how writers begin novels.  It was almost unanimous that Literary Agents hate prologues.  They were taught in Creative Writing 101 that novels must begin in the middle of the action with the main protagonist in chapter one. Period.  By golly, that's the way it better be. 

What ignorance! 

Readers love prologues, especially in thrillers.  In fact, I would venture to say that 95% of all successful thrillers have prologues.  Look at Michael Crichton's work, Jame Rollins, Clive Cussler, and on and on.  Greg Loomis once wrote a thriller that had not one, but five prologues--each in a different historical era.  As a prologue lover I was in hog heaven when I read that novel.

It is the ignorance and biases such as the above-mentioned by far too many "gate keepers" of the traditional publishing universe that not only choke off the free flow of good, entertaining, and educational novels for the public, but are also helping to bring down the traditional publishing universe--at a time when they are fighting a loosing battle with Amazon and the internet.  These are some of the reasons why the future belongs to the small independent publishers and self-publishing.  Don't believe me?  Just check the data.

So, if you are a novelist, or an aspiring novelist, go ahead and write that prologue and stick your thumb in the eyes of those who say that's a no-no.

All of that being said, Ironically, my first thriller THE JERICHO TABLET, advertised to the right of this column, has no prologue.  It is just the way the story unfolded to me. It didn't need a prologue, so I didn't write one.  However, do not despair.  The next novel in this series THE ALEPPO FILE will have a prologue, actually two rolled into one.

Prologues work in thrillers because they not only serve as the "hook" to reel the readers in (who would want to read a Clive Cussler novel without the historical lead in?), but also introduce the problem and/or mystery upon which the thriller is based.  One of the best prologues I think I've ever read was in Michael Crichton's CONGO.  That was a work of art in and of itself.  Read it and try to emulate it.


Another "rule" that we are all taught in creative writing classes, is never head hop.  That is, once you have established your Point of View Character, by golly you had better stick with that same POV throughout at least that chapter, if not for the entire book.  That is another piece of hogwash.  It makes me wonder if any of these people have ever read a successful novel.  Take GONE WITH THE WIND, which nearly everyone, including the self-proclaimed "literary" crowd, agree is one of the best, if not the best novel of all time.  You want to talk about "head hopping"?  Margaret Mitchell does it constantly, often several times on the same page.

Coincidentally, or not, most successful thrillers and horror novels (think Steven King) use "head hopping" as a useful tool to let the reader know something your main POV character does not which increases tension which drives your story forward. It allows your readers to get inside the thoughts of more than one player in any given scene.  The only thing you don't want to do is to switch POV in a single paragraph.  Each character, whether speaking in dialogue, or simply thinking via "head hopping," requires his/her/its own paragraph so that the reader can keep straight who is talking, thinking, acting, etc.


Be natural.  Period.  In other words, what ever station of life, level of education, and type of job your character has, use the type of dialogue that would be natural for such a person.  If most of the characters in your novel hold the same sort of job (spy, politician, etc.), they are going to speak the same way.  People are going to criticize you for making your characters "all sound alike," but so what?  You are trying to be realistic in telling your story.  

When foreigners are introduced, an occasional foreign word to add "flavor" is fine, but don't go over board.  Your job is not to impress your readers with how different you can make your characters sound, but in how great your plot is, and how well you can move your story along.

A little dialect is okay when appropriate, but for God's sake please don't over do it.  Do not make your readers struggle to understand where your story is going.   




Faced with cratering poll numbers, a U.S. president agrees to a plot having Islamic radicals kidnap an ambassador so he can "negotiate" his release in turn for the "Blind Shaykh," currently in prison for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.  The president  hopes that the Blind Shaykh's return to Egypt will strengthen the hand of the Muslim Brotherhood to corral Islam's more radical terrorist groups and unite all Sunni Muslims with Turkey in a resurrected Ottoman Empire aimed at keeping the Russian bear caged.  But when the kidnap operation falls apart and four Americans are killed at the U.S. consulate in Aleppo, the administration goes into full cover-up mode.  Only undercover agent Matt Nolan knows the full truth of what happened in Aleppo--placing him number one on the Administration's enemies list.  As Russia threatens war over the Ottoman Empire plot, Matt has to dodge numerous assassination attempts in his desperate effort to return to the U.S. to testify before Congress, put a stop to the Ottoman Empire plot, and defuse WWIII.

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What reviewers are saying about the Jericho Tablet:


 Highly original thriller by author with richly relevant background 

This thriller has movie written all over it. An ancient tablet is discovered that undercuts the foundations of both Christianity and Islam. That in itself is a gripping and original idea: imagine such a discovery in today's world, which in fact is the story's setting. But there's more. The tablet gives instructions for reawakening an older, vengeful god, who offers all humanity a kind of Faustian bargain: live forever, in peace, enjoying vast knowledge--but only in return for unquestioning devotion and surrender of free will.  This "god" is an artifact buried on the moon by ancient space travelers.

The Jericho Tablet does what a thriller is supposed to do, which in my view is: (1) keep you up all night reading, and then (2) keep you trying to mind-cast the movie.
Janis Weisbrot, copy editor for Seven Stories Press


A Great Read 

The Jericho Tablet is a fast-paced novel that is a genuine page-turner. The author uses his extensive background in archaeology, languages, Middle East cultures, and the NSA to tell a contemporary (although set in 2020) and original story that both entertains and educates. The Jericho Tablet is filled with believable characters and incidents in the USA, Russia, and the Middle East. The ending both surprised and worked for me. The author also deftly interweaves simultaneous events taking place in different locales. The Jericho Tablet has all the ingredients to make a great film.

Donald Michael Platt, former script writer and author of the award-winning novel Rocamora




Government conspiracies, religious fanatics, ancient myths, global intrigue and science fiction spice this thriller. Barry Webb has used his knowledge of ancient history, near eastern culture and US government agencies to write a fast-moving story that is peopled with believable characters. I was caught up immediately and stayed captive until the end. Recommended reading!

Fran Marian, author of Carved in Stone and The Rug Broker

“This is one Exciting Read.  The Jericho Tablet is a thriller that has many parallels and similarities between our present world and what could very well happen in the future. Rich in history and understanding of the Middle Eastern mind renders this work extremely educational as well.  I learned a lot. The tempo never slackens and the author’s masterful ability to switch scenes on a global stage while retaining plot continuity at a heated pace keeps the reader wanting more.  Like a proverbial “literary box of chocolates,” after one or two chapters of this page-turner, I can assure you that you’ll be hooked!”   

Col. Richard F. "Dick" Brauer Jr. USAF (Ret.) Co-Founder of Special Operations Speaks.

For more information please visit: www.thejerichotablet.com 

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