September 22, 2010

Influences - In Touch with Author Dan McNeil

The Writer

Dan McNeil was born in Toronto, Ontario but grew up in the nation’s capital, Ottawa. He was a television news editor for the past twenty-four years but discovered a passion for writing four years ago. His first book, “The Judas Apocalypse” was published in 2008, and he just finished his second, “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” a light hearted romp about a heist during the Beatle’s first visit to the United States in 1964.

You can learn more about Dan on Twitter and at his official website.

The Book

It’s the eve of the Second World War and Dr. Gerhard Denninger, an archaeologist working in Germany’s Heritage Bureau is approached by famed Grail hunter Otto Rahn. He weaves a fantastic story of the Knights Templar, church scandal, and assures Denninger that he holds the key to the location of the famous lost treasure of the Cathars. With his appetite whetted and a mysterious Templar scroll in hand, Denninger begins a quest that ultimately leads him into the middle of a war zone. When he is captured by a rag tag group of American soldiers and his goal in sight, he grudgingly lets them in on the hunt. With dangers dogging them at every step, will they find what they're seeking? And will they be prepared for the shocking discovery that awaits them?

Click the cover above to order your copy of THE JUDAS APOCALYPSE today!

What three books have inspired you as a writer and why?

Books are a particular passion for me and over the years, I’ve read hundreds of them. Here are three that definitely pushed me towards writing my own.

I must preface this selection with a little background info. I love old movies. Now, I know nowadays, old usually mean the 80’s, but I’m talking the classics – Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Spencer Tracy – I just love that stuff. When I was a kid I went to a Bogart retrospective at the Britannia 6 (it’s gone now) and I got to see, for the first time ever, “Casablanca,” “The Maltese Falcon,” “The Petrified Forest” and “Angels with Dirty Faces” on the big screen (yeah, I know Angels was a Cagney flick but Bogie was a co-star). Anyway, I was immediately infatuated with the classics and watched ‘em whenever they were on TV.

When I was in high school, a friend of mine, who knew about my old movie fixation, lent me a copy of David Niven’s “The Moon’s a Balloon” about Niven’s life and his career in Hollywood. I knew who David Niven was, having seen a number of his films, but had no idea that he was a writer, too. I remember starting it that night and finishing it about two days later.

I think it was the first time a book ever made me laugh out loud. I’ve read a lot of books that made me smile but none that made me guffaw (I swear to God, at times I actually guffawed). It was written in a wonderfully breezy and conversational style that I found very refreshing. It was as if you were at an old time Hollywood party and he was regaling you with his terrifically funny anecdotes. It was personal and endearing and the way the words just fell off the page in such a simple and straightforward way, it made me think, for the first time, that writing might be something I might be interested in doing myself. I had never, ever thought about being a writer before, but this book really made me believe that if I ever decided to put pen to paper, I would like it to be as enjoyable as this one was.

It is still one of my all time favourites.

Because I was so horrendous at maths and sciences in high school, I wound up taking a number of English courses instead. I took one called English Novel and Drama. It mainly focused on older literature, but you were encouraged to read as much as you could. Two books in particular stood out – “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz” by Mordecai Richler and “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger. Richler’s book was amazing, and the film adaptation with Richard Dreyfuss is phenomenal, but “The Catcher in the Rye” remains to this day my favourite book. I must have read it about 20 or 30 times, no bull****. I’m always stunned when I find someone who hasn’t read it and invariably wind up lending him or her my copy which I also invariably never get back (I’m on my 12th or 13th copy now).

I knew that the book was controversial in its day and some schools had even banned it at one time. I really wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Keeping in mind that when I read this, it was the 1970’s and Holden Caulfield’s world appeared much tamer then, but I was still blown away by the narrative. Like just about every reader of the story, I could identify with Holden Caulfield. What a kick-ass opening line - “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

Well, I couldn’t put it down. When I finished it, the thought of writing a book occurred to me again. I knew that I couldn’t come close to the brilliance of Salinger, but I understood the writing and the style and if I could write something a tenth as good as this, I would be proud.

Oh yeah, the last line – “Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody” is, in my opinion, the greatest last line ever written. I think I want it on my gravestone…

A few years back, friend of mine turned me on to author Jeffery Deaver. She told me to pick up “The Bone Collector,” which I bought and read over that weekend. Holy crap, what a page turner! The idea of a flawed hero (Lincoln Rhyme is a quadriplegic) and a killer leaving historic clues to his crimes really appealed to me. This sure wasn’t your average thriller and resonated with me for a long time.

What really got me with this book though, was how Deaver made every chapter a cliff hanger. To me, that was the key to making a really enjoyable book – hook ‘em at the end of every chapter. I thought, “Okay, let’s give this a shot.” I had finally found the resolve to try writing something myself. I already had the idea for the book I wanted to write, but all I needed was a kick in the pants to do it. Thanks to these books and books like them, (as well as a special on the Shroud of Turin that planted the seed of the idea in my head years ago), I began to write my first book, “The Judas Apocalypse,” which was published in 2008. I’m now putting the finishing touches on my second novel, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” about a heist during the Beatles’ historic appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964.

Thanks for the inspiration.


Read an excerpt of The Judas Apocalypse below through BookBuzzr!

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