There was a lot of excitement in the air at the Aaron Family Jewish Center in North Dallas on a Sunday evening in July as the audience waited for the arrival of best-selling author Daniel Silva. Ushers and staff helped late-comers find the rare vacant seat. The event had been sold out for weeks.The event, hosted by the Dallas Jewish BookFest, was moderated by Michael Granberry, arts and feature writer and Sunday columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Silva was there to promote “The Black Widow,” the latest in his very successful franchise with fictional character Gabriel Allon at the center.
Granberry and Silva are converts to Judaism, while Silva’s character, Israeli spy and world-renown art restorer Allon, was born to the faith.
The massacre in Nice had happened the Thursday before. When Silva took the stage, he spoke about the current exodus of French Jews to the Middle East.
“The third largest Jewish community in the world aside from Israel and the United States is France,” he stated. “Thousands are saying, ‘I’m outta’ here.’”
Silva said while “millions are trying to get to Western Europe, French Jews are trying to get to Israel because they feel safe here than they do in France.”
“There is some good old-fashioned French anti-Semitism going on in France,” Silva explained. “Namely these acts are being carried out by French Muslims.”
While Israel and France were “incredibly close” in the beginning, that is not the case at the moment.
Silva travels a lot doing research for his books, but says it’s a good bet that “this nice Jewish boy did not spend last summer in the Caliphate (Muslim-controlled countries).”
While he doesn’t travel into Muslim-held territories as a rule, he does have friends in the intelligence community.
“Some of my closest friends work for Mossad,” he explained. “I gather as much information as I can.”
One of the things he wanted to do with “The Black Widow” was to “dramatize and explain the rise of ISIS.
“I’m the mayor of Realville. I see the world as it is and write about it.”
To prepare for his books, Silva also does “a ton” of reading.
“When I crawl into bed in the early evening, I generally have a stack of research books that I’m reading constantly,” he noted. “I read little fiction, but I’m deeply read.”
Silva says he has little in common with his hero.
“We both prefer to work slowly,” he did say. “But in a pinch, Gabriel is the swiftest of painters. He can forge a Van Gogh in an afternoon.”
When he sets out to write, Silva uses a legal tablet, but doesn’t follow an outline.
“I know where I’m going, so I write each scene to the hilt and move forward,” he explained. “On a good day, I tend to write about half a chapter.”
Once he’s finished writing in longhand, he gets the material into the computer. Then, he reflects.
“No really important passage is ever written without a period in response on the couch, staring at the ceiling, hearing the passage in my head and hearing the rhyme and meter of it,” he confessed. “The book is read aloud over and over and over again to get the final polish I want on each paragraph.”
Silva explained that he started in newspaper and worked in broadcasting for a while.
“We were trained as newspaper writers to write for the eye,” he said. “Literature should be written for the ear.”
When a member of the audience asked why Gabriel Allon hadn’t put seen on screen, Silva said, “I’m the problem.”
After 16 books, Silva doesn’t want Gabriel to get screwed up because, he says, “I feel like he belongs less to me and more to the fans. I feel obligated that what ends up on the screen is not some weird Hollywood version of him.”
“I had a wonderful meeting with a very, very very powerful studio executive,” he noted. “The executive said, ‘What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you just take the money? Are you afraid we’re going to make a bad movie? Let me tell you something. We are going to make a bad movie. We make bad movies every day. That’s what we do.’”
Silva said the executive was “a little shocked” when he wasn’t willing to sign over his literary legacy to the studio.
Another meeting with a director ended like this: “My god, I love Gabriel, but I gotta’ ask you this? Does he really have to be Jewish? Can I give him a Muslim sidekick?”
While Gabriel might not have a future on the big screen, Silva seemed happy to announce that he is “very close” to completing a deal for his hero to be on the small screen in “long form. Each book would be like a season.”
The room was immediately buzzing with possibilities. Most of the people around me agreed Silva must have been talking about Netflix or HBO or amazonTV. How great would it be to binge watch this series?
Silva declined to talk about the next book.
“I don’t talk about them,” he said. “I’m going to stick to that rule.”
As he wrapped up the event, Silva said he thinks he’s at the “half way point” of his career.
“I’m no longer young, but I’m fit,” he said. “I don’t smoke or drink. I’m going to be around for a while. I’m not going to write Gabriel for the rest of my career, I can say that with some confidence. I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way for me to do something a little different is to publish more often. I’m probably going to start writing two books a year.”
Editor’s Note: I recommend you read the books in order of publication, as there are several important back stories to follow.
For a list of books, visit his website.