The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
Post by Jeffrey Hunter McQuain,
author of The Shakespeare Conspiracy
"I love your book," gushed an early reader of "The Shakespeare Conspiracy," my first novel. "But would you mind if I said it reminds me of 'The Da Vinci Code'?"
Would I mind? Hardly. In fact, I welcome all such comparisons to my favorite thriller, which I used as a literary blueprint in plotting my own story.
It's been 12 years, as hard as that seems to believe, since Dan Brown's massively successful thriller was published by Doubleday in·2003. But I find many readers still remember the rush they felt in reading the story of Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon as he raced to learn more about the historical Jesus. I myself recall when I first picked up the book and lost a night's sleep because I couldn't put Brown's novel down.
When I began "The Shakespeare Conspiracy," I decided I wanted to replicate that experience as closely as I could for my own readers. I had stumbled onto a little-known theory of Shakespeare' s racial background, and the progress of my research reminded me of Langdon's frenetic search for the truth.
As I started writing my novel, I was simultaneously writing the nonfiction version of the story, which was published earlier this year as "Ebony Swan: The Case for Shakespeare's Race." Each twist and turn of that nonfiction work, I must confess, pointed me toward a Brown-like fictional version of ”the biggest cover-up in literary history”.
Keeping Langdon's architecture in mind, I designed my novel similarly in four important ways.
First, I wanted readers to enjoy the same excitement I'd felt in enjoying Brown's novel years ago. To capture that experience, I chose to speed up the plot, using short chapters and frequent cliffhangers to move the story along.
Next I added as many actual locations to the novel as I could, just as Langdon circled the Louvre repeatedly in Paris. In my story Christopher Klewe, a Virginia Shakespeare professor, races with the reporter Zelda Hart to outrun a secret society of killers on two continents. Along the way, they visit the Folger Library and Kennedy Center in Washington, as well as the Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris and the rebuilt Globe Theatre in London.
I'd also been fascinated by Brown's use of codes throughout his novel, so I've built in a number of anagrams and puzzles for readers to solve and enjoy. There's even a mention or two of "The Da Vinci Code" itself along the way.
Finally, I wanted to give "The Shakespeare Conspiracy" a sense of significance, perhaps some gravitas not always found in thrillers. Just as Brown studied what's known of Jesus, I'm hoping readers will get excited about my new theory of Shakespeare, a view rarely considered but thoroughly backed up by historical facts.
Having taught and performed in Shakespeare's plays for years, I'm also hoping that my novel provides a reading experience as satisfying as "The Da Vinci Code," perhaps even inviting some readers to brush up their Shakespeare.
And, no, I promise I won't mind at all if "The Shakespeare Conspiracy" reminds you of Dan Brown's explosive thriller.
Jeffrey Hunter McQuain, who holds a Doctorate in Literary Studies from American University, is co-author of several popular books, including “Coined by Shakespeare” and “The Bard on the Brain.” For more than a dozen years, he served as the researcher for William Safire’s “On Language” column in The New York Times. A poet and dramatist, he has also taught college courses in Shakespeare and occasionally performed in the Bard’s plays. His first novel, “The Shakespeare Conspiracy,” is based on his nonfiction book “Ebony Swan: The Case for Shakespeare’s Race.” Dr. McQuain lives in Maryland and is currently adapting “Ebony Swan” as a stage play.