Danielle Grady, IndyStar
July 8, 2016
(Photo: Harper Collins)
Daniel Silva makes a living giving people what they want.
The 56-year-old journalist turned author writes a successful, action-packed book series about Gabriel Allon, an Israeli secret agent constantly abandoning his peaceful gig as an art restorer to save the modern world from terrorist groups and sinister kidnappers. Yes, Silva’s aware his books are perfect cinematic fodder. (Stay tuned for more information on that).
At 7 p.m. July 18 Silva will visit the Laikin Auditorium at JCC Indianapolis to promote “Black Widow,” the latest (and 16th) installation in his series. We interrogated Silva about his (innocent) interest in ISIS and the appeal of the espionage novel.
IndyStar: Many authors create characters that reflect themselves. Why did you choose to make your main character Israeli instead of someone more similar to you?
Daniel Silva: You know, I’m not sure if I would agree that authors necessarily create a character to reflect themselves. I’ve never, in my experience, created a character that I think is me. I think that I leave little bits and pieces of myself throughout my characters, but I’ve never set out to create a version of me on the page. I don’t think that would be very interesting to read about to be honest with you.
That said, I think it’s important to remember that when I created Gabriel, he was supposed to appear in one book and one book only. It didn’t work out that way. I was asked to write another one and another one, and now here we are 16 books later.
And you know, that said, he’s very different from every other character that’s out there on the market, and I’m glad I created him the way that I did. Writing an Israeli character definitely creates challenges for me, and I will say that no one is more surprised by the fact that an Israeli intelligence officer is a perennial New York Times No.1 best-seller. It has been a pleasant surprise to say the least.
IS: Your new book’s villain is an ISIS mastermind. Were there any risks in writing something that’s so relevant currently?
DS: I guess the main risk is that the author can be overtaken by events. I think that thrillers are at their best when they look around the corner. And when I started writing this book, I was definitely looking around the corner.
When I began to write the book in August, ISIS had not yet carried out any attacks outside the region. And I was thinking about what would motivate them to do that. I felt that they were ready to, in effect, go international, and sadly, I was proven correct. I definitely, as a novelist, like to try to catch history in the act, and I think that I succeeded wildly in this novel. But you know, to have, in effect, your story come true while you’re writing it was a very disconcerting experience. I will say that.
IS: Secret agents and spies are such an object of interest in our culture, and they’re often featured in movies and books. What makes the concept of a spy so intriguing to the average person?
DS: I think that the average person has, I don’t want to use the word delusional, but we think that the life of a spy is a lot more exciting than it really is. And sometimes it is very exciting and very dangerous, and often times, it’s quite mundane and boring, and the people who inhabit that world are unhappy, uninteresting people. And Gabriel is not one of those. He is a good old fashioned superhero, but he also has an interesting cover job. For many years, he worked as an art restorer. But what I like about spy fiction most is that the normal rules and laws of life don’t apply, at least in the fictional world of spies. A spy can do whatever he wants and whatever needs to be done. And that’s what I like about it.
IS: In 2013 you said that you had been in negotiations for a movie based on your series, but you wanted to make sure that you had control over the end product. Have those negotiations progressed at all?
DS: Yes. I can’t talk about it right now, but I’m getting very, very close to something that’s going to be wonderful.
IS: Are you excited about that? It sounds like good news.
DS: Yes. As long as … I’m interested in making sure that something really good gets made and something that I can be proud of. Writing the series has taken up 16 years of my life at this point, and I obviously hold it very dear, and I’m very protective of it, and I want to make sure that what ends up, either on the big screen or on television, is something that I’m going to be proud of — that fans of the series are going to think is sort of the Gabriel that they have in their head. And I think that I’m very close to that.
IS: If the movie happens, who do you want to play Gabriel Allon or what kind of actor would you want to play him?
DS: I have never really thought too much about that. I do not cast actors in my head as I work on things. It’s not something that I ever think about. I would hope that the actor would bear some physical resemblance to Gabriel and that he would be able to capture Gabriel’s spirit. I have a couple of dream actors in mind who I would love to see do the role, but I would never presume to say those names in public.
IS: You’ve been writing novels for a long time — since the 1990s. How has the publishing landscape changed for authors since you started releasing the books, especially with regards to the digital world?
DS: Well, the biggest change has been, obviously, e-books and in concert with e-books, the rise of Amazon as a dominant, dominant retailer. … When I first started, Amazon was a minuscule portion of my sales portfolio, and it has now grown to be if not a majority of my sales, a very large portion of them. And the other thing that’s happened is that the number of book stores have decreased, and you know, technology is touching all kinds of industries. You look at the newspaper industry over that same period. And not all the changes that have come with technology have been good ones in my opinion.
And for me, I’m fortunate in that I am an established author. I was an established author when Amazon and e-books really came to the forefront. I worry about the impact that these changes have had on up-and-coming authors. I worry about the place of the book in our culture. I worry that when bookstores disappear from the landscape, if that ever, ever happens, what will our impression of the book be. And so I’ve been a published author during a very, very tumultuous period of time in the life of the book and the life of the printed work. The only thing I’m certain of is that there’s more turmoil to come.
IS: With that in mind, do you have any recommendations for the up-and-coming authors who you talked about if they want to be successful?
DS: I don’t have recommendations, but what I would say to people who are contemplating writing and thinking about working on that first novel (is) to enjoy the process of writing your first novel. Because once you become a published author, things change, and it does become a business. It does become a job if you’re lucky enough to have it work out. So my recommendation is to really, if you’re going to write that first novel, please enjoy the process of doing it.
IS: When, if ever, do you think you’ll stop writing about Gabriel Allon?
DS: I don’t know. ... I think of myself as being at maybe the halfway point of my career. I certainly won’t write the Gabriel Allon series forever. I will write other things at some point perhaps sooner rather than later. That said, it’s a very difficult decision because each year, each new Gabriel Allon book sells more than its predecessor. And so when something is growing in today’s very difficult and competitive marketplace, a challenging marketplace, it’s really difficult to set that aside. I will write something else at some point. I don’t know when that is going to be. ... Stay tuned. I learned one lesson a long time ago, and that is I never talk about a book that isn’t written. And I’m going to keep that promise to myself now.
CHECK IT OUT
Daniel Silva will appear in Indianapolis with WFYI's Jill Ditmire, public radio's local news anchor for “All Things Considered.” Event attendees will receive a copy of Silva’s new book, “The Black Widow.”
When: 7 p.m., July 18.
Where: 6701 Hoover Road, Indianapolis
Cost: $30 on eventbrite.com