When I wrote my first novel, Shadow of the Rock, I wanted to subject my heroine, Sara Miller, to an assault and near-rape, but I needed help describing how a predator would approach his victim. I found an excellent description in Gavin de Becker’s book, The Gift of Fear, a book often recommended to women.
I followed de Becker’s descriptions almost to the letter, but Sara hadn’t read the book, so she missed the warning signs. She does fight back, wounds her attacker, and escapes but spends months dealing with the traumatic aftermath and the fear that she may have murdered the predator. Fighting to overcome her distress propels her into even more dangerous territory.
Writing Shadow of the Rock, an historical adventure of two women, 200 years apart, fighting for their past and their future, was an adventure for me, too. The story idea came from reading Florida history books, which often carried the story of a young Jewish woman from a family that had escaped the Spanish Inquisition and how she was captured by Barbary pirates, forced to marry the vizier of the king of Morocco, had two children, and escaped in a palace coup to Gibraltar. Her son acquired a huge tract of land in central Florida, and his son became one of the first senators from Florida.
I traveled all through Florida, St. Thomas, Gibraltar, and Morocco researching this story and used that research in the book. I had just as much fun researching the sequel, In Rembrandt’s Shadow, published last year. I had just spent several days in Paris, and Paris became one of the settings for the book.
Writing this book became a journey in time and history, beginning in 1616 near Antwerp. My character, Saul Levi Morteira, rescues a Jewish family from certain death in the Spanish Netherlands, falls in love with the daughter, but his love is doomed. Although these events are fictional, Morteira was a well-known and respected rabbi who later was
instrumental in the excommunication of the Humanist philosopher Spinoza. The rescued family is taken to Amsterdam, recoups their fortune and in gratitude to Morteira, commissions Rembrandt to paint a portrait of the rabbi.
I take this Rembrandt painting through the centuries, trying to avoid mistakes in costume, accommodations, settings, and activities. For instance, an early draft has Morteira using a match, but then realized that matches weren’t developed until the 19th century.
A parallel story set in 1999 follows Sara Miller and her friend Josh as they seek the rightful owner of the Rembrandt, buried in the Holocaust and discovered by Sara and Josh in Shadow of the Rock. Why 1999? Because of the technology. Using that year nailed down the technology to a specific time that I could check. For instance, my characters use cell phones, which by 1999 had become smaller and affordable, but they weren’t the wonders we use today. My characters use Google. It was developed in the mid-1990s and by the end of 1998, had an index of about 60 million pages, so it’s reasonable to suppose my characters used Google.
Both books required a tremendous amount of research, but the journey was exciting, fascinating and fun.