D.J. McIntosh’s The Witch of Babylon has been sold in twenty countries, was shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger Award, and won a Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Award for best unpublished novel. It was a national bestseller, an Amazon.ca Best Book, and was named one of CNN’s Most Enduring Historical Thrillers. McIntosh is a member of the Canadian Society for Mesopotamian Studies. She is a strong supporter of Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists. She lives in
Dorothy is one of the literary friends I’ve made through social media. I became intrigued by her work with the success of her last novel, The Witch of Babylon. Now that her second novel, The Book of Stolen Tales, is about to be published, she has graciously consented to this interview on Writerly Goodness.
WG: The Babylon Trilogy features art dealer Kirkus Reviews called you “An erudite Dan Brown,” but you mentioned to me that your novels have more in common with the novel of ideas. Can you elaborate on that statement?and follows his scholarly adventures into the mysteries of the past and how they affect the modern world.
: I suppose I’m using the phrase in the broadest sense. Thrillers depend on fast paced action, strong narrative and, usually, a compelling central character. I’ve read a lot of professional opinions and blogs that maintain ideas, especially those with a political tone, should be limited or left out entirely. Added to the list of non-starters are detailed descriptions and discourse about theories and ideas. I cut my teeth on the early Victorian novelists who, thankfully, wrote before this advice was imparted. Granted, we can’t call their novels ‘thrillers’ but ‘ideas’ were central to their work. I think of Dickens whose novels amounted to a virtual campaign for social justice and whose characters often symbolized social ideals or failings. Or Thomas Hardy dismayed at the transformation of England’s rural agricultural character into an industry centered world. The idea examined in The Book of Stolen Tales looks at how stories emerge from long ago myths, travel through the ages and are transformed according to the social milieu and mores of the storytellers. I’d love to see a return to novels that celebrate ideas.
WG: What first drew you to Mesopotamian legend and mythology and how did that interest result in the idea for your novel/series?
DJM: I like to write about famous stories and give them a new twist. When I began to think about my first novel, I started with the Book of Genesis, tales that were familiar to most of us. It quickly became evident that many of these stories were based on earlier Mesopotamian myths so I turned to research Mesopotamian history and culture and promptly fell in love with it. At the same time, the Iraq war broke out. Events such as the looting of the Iraq Museum I found both horrifying and gripping. The juxtaposition of this with my research grew into my first novel.
WG: Who or what are your literary influences and how have they contributed to your work?
DJM: I love lyrical writing and would name Anne Michaels (Fugitive Pieces), Cormac McCarthy (All the Pretty Horses), Rawi Hage (De Niro’s Game) and Gil Adamson (The Outlander), among my favourites. For clever plotting and great twists you can’t beat Agatha Christie (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd). And when I started to become serious about beginning a novel, I relied on Andrew Pyper’s Lost Girls. His book taught me so much.
WG: I’m going to take you back in time, because many of my readers aren’t as advanced in their writing careers as you. When you were trying to find a home for The Witch of Babylon, did you query agents first, or go straight for a publisher? How long did it take to get a deal?
DJM: When I decided to attempt a novel, I spent a lot of time networking with writers and listened to the many stories about agent and publisher slush piles and rejection letters. So I didn’t circulate my m.s. at all but instead entered the Crime Writers Association (UK) Debut Dagger and was thrilled to learn that “The Witch” was a finalist. The CWA circulates all finalist entries to agents and publishers and soon after I was fortunate to be taken on by a Toronto literary agent.
WG: I’m a process geek. Could you share something about your writing process, please?
DJM: I’m a strong believer in outlining. Once that is complete I grit my teeth and crank out the first draft. I find this stage excruciating and often there will be whole passages I know very well will be tossed but they’re needed initially just to get a full draft. Then comes working with my editor, who thankfully has a fine appreciation for improving the copy, and we go through many revisions. I really love this stage because it’s here I can fine hone the writing and enrich characters. My books are research intensive and much of the history is also added at the revision stage.
WG: Please share your log line, or promo copy, for The Book of Stolen Tales. What is the publication date, and what plans do you have for the launch and promotion?
DJM: May 28th!! We’ve got a great launch planned on the 23rd. A reception at the Carlton cinema in downtown Toronto followed by a private screening of Jean Cocteau’s classic Beauty & The Beast as a counterpart to the theme of The Book of Stolen Tales. Here’s the novel’s description.
“In 2011 D.J. McIntosh took the book world by storm with her debut novel, The Witch of Babylon. Praised for its “stellar research” and “superb writing,” it introduced readers to John Madison, a rakish New York art dealer with a past, who uncovered a fabulous treasure trove of antiquities in the hills outside Baghdad and the truth behind a famous story long believed to be a myth.
In this highly anticipated sequel, John Madison travels to London to purchase at auction a rare seventeenth century Italian book of fairy tales for an anonymous client. Madison is warned about the book’s malevolent history. Before he can deliver it to the buyer, he is robbed by a mysterious man claiming to be the book’s author. When his client disappears and the book’s provenance is questioned, Madison must immerse himself in the world of European artistocracy and rare book collectors. As the dark origins of certain fairy tales appear to come to life, Madison discovers that a well-loved children’s story contains a necromancer’s spell and points to the source of a deadly Mespotamian plague.”
I’ll be promoting the book with some great giveaways – new Kindle, Kobo and Sony e-readers and Amazon and Indigo gift certificates. For the details when the time comes, check out my facebook page:
WG: Thank you for a fascinating and revealing interview, Dorothy. All the best for your future writing endeavours.
DJM: Thank you so much for the interview Melanie. I always look forward to your Facebook posts!
Also check Dorothy’s Author page out on Goodreads.