When I began writing fiction, I had a dream to write a particular kind of suspense novel. It would be similar to the historical suspense in Ken Follett’s book The Pillars of the Earth, and somewhat like the historical action-adventure fiction of Wilbur Smith’s River God, but it would be set in first-century Jerusalem.
I told myself I wanted to be “the Tom Clancy of first-century Jerusalem.”
Why first-century Jerusalem? Because that place and time set the direction for the next twenty centuries of western civilization. Something big happened in Jerusalem in the first century.
Not just one big thing. Not even two big things. Three big things—the Jesus movement, the Jewish revolt, and the birth of rabbinic Judaism.
And they were related.
My gut instincts told me that the Sunday-School version of those three things wasn’t quite right.
As I dived into my research, I found that my instincts were correct. I discovered an amazing and exciting world. I felt sure that many people would care about this world if only they could see it the way I saw it.
My First Novel, Transgression
In my first novel, Transgression, I got off to a good start in showing that world. Transgression is a time-travel novel that I originally sold as a standalone novel. The plot was simple—a rogue physicist travels back in time to kill the apostle Paul. The book got good reviews and won a major award.
But I was a novice writer, and there were two things I didn’t know:
- Readers like to read books in a series.
- Publishers like to publish books in a series.
Smart authors write their novels in a series. But I didn’t know that.
How I Sidetracked Myself
When my friend John Olson asked me to co-author a couple of science fiction suspense novels about Mars with him, neither of us realized that this was a bad idea. Mars has nothing to do with ancient Jerusalem. Writing about first-century Jerusalem and about Mars just confuses people about what kind of fiction I write. All of this should have been obvious, but somehow it wasn’t.
So John and I wrote two novels together. We had a great time. We won some major awards. We got a contract for a third novel (which I eventually ended up writing alone, because John also had some other contracts for his own books).
About then, I figured out that I had wandered away from my original vision. I realized that I’d gotten far off track from the one thing I really wanted to do in life, which was to dive deep into ancient Jerusalem.
I tried desperately to get back on track.
City of God
I wrote two sequels to Transgression—Premonition and Retribution. I named the series City of God. I felt like I was getting some traction at last. The three books covered the last ten years before the disastrous Jewish revolt that began in the year AD 66.
I really wanted to do more books in the series. But then things went south.
My publisher for the City of God series decided not to do the fourth book. And without a publisher, there was no way for me to get that book to market.
Looking back now, I can see that I was mostly to blame.
I confused my readers about what kind of fiction I write.
I confused my publishers.
I even confused myself for a while.
The End of the Line?
I thought that was the end of the line for me.
Years went by, and I became a well-known teacher of how to write novels. People all around the world began using my “Snowflake Method” of writing a novel. I published a best-selling book on how to write fiction.
Which was kind of cool, except I wasn’t actually writing fiction. I was writing about how to write fiction.
I never lost my love for first-century Jerusalem. I spent a lot of time day-dreaming about the City of God series and another failed project that I had started long ago, a series of novels on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
But as far as I could see, there was no way to get them published. Because getting published meant finding a large corporation to finance the book.
It had been that way for hundreds of years.
The Indie Revolution
Then, several years ago, the indie-publishing revolution exploded on the publishing world.
Suddenly, authors didn’t have to depend on big corporations to publish their books. Authors could be their own publishers. They could make decent money doing it.
And I realized I had a second chance at writing fiction.
I edited all my novels and rereleased them one by one as e-books.
And I was thrilled to see that my City of God series did better than any of the others. Those books sold, and they sold well. They earned me some money.
I used the money to go work in Jerusalem on archaeological digs. I spent a lot of time in Israel, doing research for my novels. Let’s not kid ourselves about archaeology — it’s exhausting work in high heat for no pay. The cartoonist who did my picture at the top of this page has no idea how an archaeologist should look. The photo at left shows the reality — it’s me at the end of a brutally hot day during the first year I went to Jerusalem to work on a dig. If you think this is fun, then you’re absolutely right. Maybe you should join us some year on the Mount Zion dig.
In Progress Now — Crown of Thorns
And I began work on the project that was burning a hole in my brain—my series of novels about Jesus of Nazareth, now titled Crown of Thorns. It’s a huge project, and it’s consumed my life now for several years. I released Book 1 in April, 2020. And Book 2 is now in editing. I have Book 3 and Book 4 mapped out in my head. I’m fired up to get this done.
So that’s where I’m at now.
Here’s the plan:
I’m going to finish the Crown of Thorns series. It’ll be four books, each covering roughly one year.
Return to the City of God
When Crown of Thorns is done, I plan to return to City of God and finish it. I can imagine several more books in the series that take us right up through the great battle at Masada that ended the Jewish revolt.
That’s the plan. I’m pushing forward. And I’m looking forward to seeing what happens to my characters.