Daniel Silva Talks About
Middle East Espionage Novels

Daniel Silva is learning that even fictional characters can be pretty demanding.

Last year he was ready for a change in his writing. He was ready to do something different and decided to write a novel about someone other than his Israeli spymaster, Gabriel Allon. So after Prince of Fire had gone to press, he began a novel without Gabriel.

He was about 300 pages into that other novel when he had what he called a Passover epiphany. At a book signing in Michigan in August, 2006, he talked about this epiphany. "I violated my cardinal rule of never talking about a work in progress."

At a book signing he answered the question about what he was working on with the response that it would be a standalone novel with new characters. The response was a slightly disappointed, "Oh."

Then when he was having Passover dinner with friends, he got the same response. It was then that he realized he couldn't finish the book he was working on because what his readers wanted was more Gabriel — even if they were too polite to say it outright. When he informed his editor, the response was, "Thank God!"

Saudi Arabia and Terrorism

At this book signing, Daniel Silva talked about how his experiences in the Middle East as a journalist and his research since made the decision to make the Saudis the "bad guys" an easy one.

Daniel Silva lived in Cairo and Bahrain in the late 80s, though he was never allowed to enter Saudi Arabia. He talked about how the Saudi school system teaches a violent version of Islam. A Persian Gulf think tank examined the textbooks used in Saudi schools. They found that 10 percent of the material was objectionable and 5 percent was abhorrent. It contained, Daniel Silva reported, references to Jews and Americans as pigs and monkeys whom it was acceptable to slaughter.

Daniel Silva went on to say that "the war on terrorism must stop hatred and brainwashing."

When asked why the terrorists hate us so much, Daniel Silva responded that it was difficult to answer. "All the energy is on the side of those who wish to destroy Israel," he said. "We've (the Americans) made some mistakes that have come back with a vengeance."

He also added that he isn't a fan of Hezbollah, pointing out that they've killed more Americans than anyone else until Al-Qaeda's 9/11 attacks. "Clearly," he said, "Israel has no stomach for ground war in Lebanon, but they wont' get peace until they do."

Neither was it any surprise to him that Hezbollah had missiles. He had met with Ted Koppel in the north of Italy who told him that Hezbollah showed him 1400 to 1500 missiles — they'd been showing many people.

Ari Shamron and Isser Harel

Daniel Silva also revealed that many of his characters have historical equivalents that he based his fictional characters on or borrowed from their deeds. Ari Shamron is a composite of several legendary historical figures, Daniel Silva explained. He borrowed some of the actions of Mossad agents and attributed them to Shamron.

Most notably, was that of Isser Harel. Isser Harel was the head of Mossad and the man in charge of tracking down and capturing Adolf Eichmann. He put into motion an extremely complex and successful operation to kidnap him from Argentina and put him on trial in Israel.

Daniel Silva said that some of his staff members alerted him to the Gabriel Allon books and Harel expressed a desire to meet Silva. While the author was excited about the potential meeting, he couldn't arrange it at that time. This turned out to be one of his major life regrets as Harel contracted cancer and died before they were able to meet.

The Writing Process

Prior to becoming a bestselling novelist, Daniel Silva worked for UPI and CNN. Both experiences he said helped him as a novelist.

"I started at a wire service," he explained. "You have to write blazingly fast, sometimes over the telephone. I was a professional writer used to producing copy. I don't sit and stare at a blank screen. It's never like that."

His work as a writer for news network shows contributed to his skill at dialogue, "I learned to write for three or four different anchors in their voice and speech patterns. I could write in all of their voices."

He also said that characters make the story for him. There are other writers who come up with better plots than he. For him, the plots are "in service of an idea."

Daniel Silva is also not one to outline. He claims he knows next to nothing when he starts the novel. Rather, he wants to bring his character back to life, "If I can get 200 pages that I'm satisfied with, I need to get out of the way and Gabriel will tell the story. I spend two-thirds of my time on the first 1/3 of the novel. Gabriel takes the story in hand and finishes it for me."

Gabriel and Middle East Terrorism

He also talked about his fascination with his main character. "He's a guilty pleasure," Silva said, claiming to be a very selfish writer. "Gabriel Allon stands at the intersection of history: the end of World War II and the rise of Islamic radicalism."

He went on to talk about how when he was in Egypt in 1987 there were Islamic Jihad groups that have since become Al-Qaeda. They were trying to form an independent republic. "Me being a stupid reporter went down to visit even after the Army pulled out. The government said they wouldn't be responsible for what happened to us. We were promptly detained and thrown down a flight of stairs."

After they were roughly interviewed and their captors determined they weren't spies, they granted them an interview. "We spent three hours over 7-Up and figs and they said how they would destroy the United States. I'll never forget that experience. I stared at (the future) face-to-face."

"There is evil in the world. We have a cynical, barbaric enemy who loves death."

-- B. Redman