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A Book for Everything

by bdietrich on October 25, 2015

Years of oddball book buying have turned my home library into a treasure hunt for titles I forget I ever had. It’s a reminder of the unsung passionate projects that authors tackle, often with little hope of fame or fortune.

Scattered on three floors and five different clusters of bookshelves are not just mainstream reference works for my novels but quirky books that might have informed a single paragraph. I’m wary of giving them away lest they prove useful once again.

Examples include “Scalping and Torture: Warfare Practices Among North American Indians,” or “The Sex Life of the American Indian” (not as racy as hoped), or, “Indian Use of Native Plants,” or, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Voodoo.”

The first three were consulted for The Dakota Cipher, and the fourth for The Emerald Storm.

Some are fairly obvious for my Ethan Gage series of Napoleonic thrillers, such as “Walks Through Napoleon & Josephine’s Paris,” or “Soldiers at War: Firsthand Accounts of warfare from the Age of Napoleon.”

But others are singular works, occasionally self-published, that illuminate corners of my novels in odd ways. Internet book searching has made it far easier to find such help.

“Napoleon and the Jews” was used for The Three Emperors, “Napoleon and the Dardanelles” for the upcoming The Trojan Icon, and “Napoleon and Persia” might inform a future volume in the series.

“Birds in the Land of the Bible” was one of several brief natural history books picked up in Israel for The Rosetta Key. Being specific in naming birds, trees, or flowers is one of many details that can give authority to a narrative.

“White Slaves, African Masters: American Barbary Captivity Narratives” helped fuel The Barbary Pirates. First-hand memoirs add immediacy to research, so I relied on “The Enemy at Trafalgar” to provide the French-Spanish point of view for the climactic sea battled in The Barbed Crown.

Authors can also help you see places visited in new ways. The lyrical “Magic Prague” inspired descriptions in The Three Emperors even after I’d been to the city.

“The Hadza: Hunter-gatherers of Tanzania” helped inform my cave people for The Murder of Adam and Eve, and “Bush Foods” helped keep my characters alive in Getting Back.

Some narrowly focused books are for projects that haven’t come to fruition yet, like “The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941,” or “Nazi Plunder” or “The Cavalry Maiden,” about a disguised woman who served in the Russian army against Napoleon.

“Footprints of the Welsh Indians” and “The Hooked X” were just two of many speculative histories that contributed to The Dakota Cipher’s tale of Norse artifacts in the Upper Midwest.

Blood of the Reich was informed by reading that ranged from “Topography of Terror” (about the Gestapo and SS headquarters in Berlin) to “Dinosaurs in the Attic,” a historical description of New York’s Museum of Natural History.

Ethan Gage has frequently been tangled up with occult societies and alternative interpretations of history. Reading the literature, such as “Freemasonry of the Ancient Egyptians” or, “The Secret History of the World,” or “The Philosopher’s Stone” is a bit like falling down the rabbit hole.

“How to Read the Tarot,” “The Secret Lore of Egypt,” “Pyramid Quest,” and “Solomon’s Builders” are just a few of the titles acquired to lend background to the Ethan Gage series.

And while Ethan gambles, I do not. “Roll the Bones,” “Play the Devil,” and “Dice, Cards, Wheels” are some of the histories of gambling acquired that are used to inspire his games.

I can’t claim any special wisdom from this eclectic reading.

But it has been enjoyable and enlightening.

And I can promise that if a reader is curious about a subject, no matter how obscure, someone has probably written a book about it!

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Kurt November 1, 2015 at 1:09 pm

Did you create the Spymaster Sir Sidney Smith in the image of a specific person?


William Dietrich November 1, 2015 at 2:03 pm

Yes, Sidney Smith was a real person and appears in several Ethan Gage books. Fascinating guy. Tom Pocock’s “A Thirst for Glory” is a good biography.


David Welch December 29, 2015 at 11:42 am

I am a huge fan of the series and eager to see where Ethan goes. I first found your work while in the navy and enjoying roughly 80 novels a deployment. Hadrians wall was one such gem consumed during my travels across the American Empire (we follow the eagle standard, so why not). Fortunately, I have sought more of your work and enjoy the Ethan Gage series. Though I am no longer in the Navy, I still conqure a few chapters a night. So, I have run into the same dilema that you are currently facing with your vast amount of books. I did a purge of my young adult literature, which felt great when considering the destination, but at the same time they were very enjoyable. As a budding writter now, I have to ask, when composing a story like Ethan’s do you start with a destination in mind or keep rolling like one of my other favorite authors Alexander Kent? Also, have you read his work? It covers the same era you are diving into with Ethan.


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