Message From The Author
A fourteen hundred year old cover-up.
All who threaten this secret die.
A race through the Middle East to uncover evidence buried in plain sight.
Cultures clash and emotions soar as Arab researcher Mohammed Atareek and American professor Angela Hall race away from death towards discovery. Will they succeed in their journey to expose the truth, or will the opposition terminate them first?
Would you like to look behind the scenes of an exciting and surprising new book?
In The Topkapi Secret readers follow modern characters on their adventures to uncover the history of the Koran and escape villains trying to keep it hidden. In the story, Arab researcher Mohammed Atareek and American professor Angela Hall seek the Topkapi Codex: an early version of the Koran kept off limits within the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul, Turkey. Atareek’s research leads him to believe that the Koran has been changed many times. Part of that evidence lies within the Topkapi Codex, but the risks of getting a hold of it increase as Atareek’s fellow scholars begin to turn up dead.
If you gather from the above description that The Topkapi Secret is a novel, you are right. If you think it might have something to do with the real-life origin and preservation of the Koran you are right again. Books are categorized, and reasonably so, as fiction or non-fiction. The Topkapi Secret is both. Those who analyze novels classify them as either plot-driven or character-driven. The Topkapi Secret is both. So you can see the balancing act required to produce a book that squares off all four sides – fiction with non-fiction, plot and characters.
First, for the fiction aspect, the story has adventure with lots of suspense and action. The plot brings to attention overlooked non-fiction about the sketchy origin and imperfect preservation of the Koran. This is an explosive idea which goes against the currently propagated dogma. The action of the novel needs to reflect this dynamic intensity. At the same time The Topkapi Secret is a novel, so its non-fiction facts shouldn’t get too drawn out and dry.
Claims made in The Topkapi Secret are bound to draw critics. Knowing that experts will fine tooth comb your writing for errors assures that you pay attention to detail. So not only are all the claims made about the Koran referenced, but every detail of history and the settings are portrayed as accurately as possible. OK, I invented one historical character – a Victorian adventurer named Emily Eliot – because I needed her for the plot, but this is explained in the introduction.
Even the action scenes need to be authentic. For example, positioning of the characters at the beginning of the Lebanon War of 2006 is timed to the minute that events actually occurred; and stunts staged in notable settings (I just can’t spoil it by telling where) actually could happen that way. Details of things like harem life, Turkish baths, and ancient calligraphy had to be exact.
Part of what people enjoy about traveling is exploring different culture and meeting local people. As one of my writing instructors, best selling novelist Angela Hunt said, “I’m surprised when people say novels are just for fun. I’ve learned a lot from novels.”
The Topkapi Secret is set in wonderful sites around the world, and it seemed natural to let some of their color bleed into the story – both for their own sake as well as for relief from the action. Geography, culture, and architecture frame the plot.
As heroine Angela says when overlooking a Mediterranean landscape toward the sea,
“… a moveable feast is some beautiful thought that you can always remember to cheer you, to feed your soul when you feel weak…
that’s what I say about a good book. It should in it have a moment that you would want to slip yourself into.”
Besides colorful settings, I wanted to spice up the story with glimpses into Middle Eastern thinking and lifestyle. For example, when Angela, Mohammed Atareek and others argue politics and other topics, they replicate actual discussions of Middle Easterners. And of course for you food lovers, there are descriptions of delicious Middle Eastern and Turkish cuisine. (Look for recipes on www.TerryKelhawk.com.)
Finally, a good novel shows how characters meet a challenge and grow from it. When I read thrillers based solely on plot, all the characters seem meld together into one generic grey bullet. That makes them unfulfilling, and a little boring.
As a male friend advised me when I started writing The Topkapi Secret, “One thing that disappointed me in The Da Vinci Code, is that there were no sparks between the two leads. I suggest you do more with the characters.”
It was a real challenge bringing Mohammed Atareek to life. To my knowledge there has never been a hero like Mohammed Atareek in a Western novel, and I wasn’t sure I could pull it off.
Have you ever read something that so validated your personal experience that you felt like bells were ringing? That’s how I felt when I read the description of the Fahlawi personality in Raphael Patai’s classic work The Arab Mind. I’m not saying that Mohammed Atareek fits every trait in Patai’s analysis, but I’ve frequently seen Fahlawi traits in action and created Mohammed Atareek to be that kind of man – big personality, big heart, big mouth; not the “strong, silent type” often favored in Western stories.
One goal was that the book should read like an American wrote it to Americans and at the same time like a Middle Easterner wrote it to Middle Easterners. Atareek is such a Middle Eastern personality that I wasn’t sure Americans would get him. In fact, at the first reading they didn’t.
Authors routinely pass a polished first draft by readers to see how the story flies. The Topkapi Secret’s initial reviews came back great, but there seemed to be a miss-hit with Atareek. One reviewer called him “a real wahoon”. Whatever that was, it did not sound like the kind of hero I wanted. Mohammed Atareek is supposed to be… well I’ll let you figure that out for yourself when you read the book.
The only initial American reader who understood him had lived extensively in the Middle East, and called him, “Totally believable!” But this background would not be typical, so I reworked Atareek – not so much his character as how he expressed it – in hopes that American audiences would read him and know him.
Thus, I went out on a limb creating Atareek. If it worked, I knew we would have a unique and dynamic character. If not, if poorly modeled, it would be disastrous to the plot as well as the characterization. Thankfully, post-revision reviewers got him. As an industry reviewer said, “Mohammed is a great character. No wonder…” (sorry, I can’t finish the sentence or I’ll spoil the story; but it’s something good).
With Angela the task was different: how do you make a character that is approachable, yet rich and beautiful and smart and fashionable? Well, nobody’s perfect; she had to be vulnerable somewhere.
To grow, characters must be stretched. Angela is challenged by her encounter with Middle Eastern culture, Mohammed Atareek must face what he hides within, and neither one ever expected what would happen when they met up with each other.
If you want to find out what happens with Atareek and Angela, or if you want to know more about the origin of the Koran, pick up a copy of The Topkapi Secret.
- Terry Kelhawk
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