Monday, June 22, 2009

Notes for June 22nd. 2009

This Day In Writing History

On June 22nd, 1964, novelist Dan Brown was born in Exeter, New Hampshire. Brown's father was a teacher, and he grew up on the campus of Philips Exeter Academy, where his father taught. He was an avid reader, but didn't care for most modern fiction, preferring to read the classics or non-fiction. After graduating college, Dan Brown went to Los Angeles, where he hoped to make it as a singer and songwriter.

In Los Angeles, Brown joined the National Academy of Songwriters and met Blythe Newlon, the Academy's Director of Artist Development. They fell in love, and later, when they moved back to New Hampshire, they were married. Brown worked as a teacher while he pursued his singing career. He released his first album, Dan Brown, in 1993. It was followed by Angels & Demons in 1994. He would later use that title as the title for his second novel.

His musical career floundering, Dan decided to try his hand at becoming a novelist after reading Sidney Sheldon's suspense thriller The Doomsday Conspiracy while on vacation in Tahiti. He began work on his first novel and co-wrote a humor book with his wife - 187 Men To Avoid: A Guide For The Romantically Frustrated Woman - under the pseudonym Danielle Brown. Dan Brown's first novel, a techno thriller called Digital Fortress, was published in 1998.

With Digital Fortress, Brown first began exploring his fascination with cryptography. In the novel, NSA (National Security Agency) cryptographer Susan Fletcher is called upon to stop Digital Fortress - encryption code software that the NSA's code-cracking supercomputer TRANSLTR is incapable of cracking. If Digital Fortress spreads through the Internet, it could cripple the NSA. The novel addresses civil rights issues in the Internet age, like government agencies hacking into citizens' private data, such as messages in e-mail accounts, and reading it.

In Dan Brown's second novel, Angels & Demons (2000), Harvard symbology professor Robert Langdon is called upon to help in the investigation of a bizarre murder. A respected nuclear physicist has been found murdered, with one eye removed and an ambigram of the word Illuminati branded on his chest. Langdon is an expert on the Illuminati - a secret brotherhood of scientists founded during the Renaissance dedicated to advancing science and challenging the authority of the Church.

At the time of the murder, the Pope has died and a papal enclave has convened at the Vatican to elect the new pontiff. The Preferiti - the cardinals who are candidates to become the new Pope - turn up missing. They are being murdered, one by one, in the same way as the nuclear physicist. Langdon discovers that the fabled Illuminati brotherhood still exists and are planning to destroy Vatican City with an antimatter bomb as retribution for the massacre of their predecessors, which was carried out by the Church centuries ago.

Angels & Demons
was a huge success for Dan Brown - a bestseller. He followed it with the sci-fi suspense thriller Deception Point (2001) which told the story of Rachel Sexton, an NRO (National Reconnaissance Office) intelligence analyst sent as part of a team of experts whose mission is to authenticate findings made by NASA deep within the Arctic's Milne Ice Shelf. The findings are fossils of insects within a meteor, which NASA claims may constitute proof of extraterrestrial life. What the team doesn't know is that their activities are being secretly monitored by a Delta Force unit.

Rachel suspects that the meteor may be a fraud. But who would want to discredit NASA? Could it be her own father, ruthless conservative Senator Sedgewick Sexton, a presidential candidate running on a platform of reducing government spending? He wants to scrap NASA and turn space exploration over to the private sector. His opponent, the incumbent President, is a huge supporter of NASA. If the meteor is real, will the Delta Force unit assassinate the team of experts to hide the truth?

In 2003, Dan Brown published The Da Vinci Code - a prequel to Angels & Demons - that proved to be a runaway bestseller, selling over sixty million copies and causing a huge controversy. In The Da Vinci Code, Harvard symbology professor Robert Langdon is called upon to assist in the investigation of another bizarre and brutal murder - one that took place in the Louvre Museum in Paris. Jacques Sauniere, the museum's curator, was found murdered, with a strange cipher near his body. Teaming up with Sauniere's granddaughter Sophie, Langdon follows a bizarre trail of anagrams, ciphers, number puzzles, and other brainteasers, as he tries to solve the murder.

The trail also leads the pair to mysterious clues hidden within the paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci, a cryptex invented by Da Vinci, and the Holy Grail - proof that the foundation of Christianity was a fairytale propagated by the Church. Jesus Christ actually escaped crucifixion and fled to France with his pregnant wife, Mary Magadelene, where she bore the child, whose descendants became royalty. Mary Magdalene was the real rock upon which Jesus built his church, not Peter, which infuriated the fiercely misogynistic disciple. Years later, the Church tried to exterminate all of Jesus and Mary Magdalene's descendants to conceal the truth. But some of them survived, and a secret brotherhood (whose members over the years included Leonardo Da Vinci) pledged to protect them and the proof of the "con of Man."

Blending thrilling, intriguing suspense fiction with historical facts and theories, The Da Vinci Code became hugely popular and hugely controversial. The Vatican denounced the novel as anti-Catholic. The Christian Right called it blasphemous, and both factions published numerous non-fiction books dedicated to debunking the historical facts and theories Dan Brown based his novel on.

After a movie adaptation was released in 2006 (directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon) and became hugely successful itself, some disgruntled writers filed suit to get a piece of the pie. First, Lewis Purdue sued Dan Brown, claiming that Brown plagiarized his novels The Da Vinci Legacy (1983) and Daughter Of God (2000). Then, writers Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh filed suit, claiming that Brown based The Da Vinci Code on theories put forth in their noted 1982 non-fiction book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Dan Brown won both lawsuits, as the plagiarism claims were ruled to be baseless.

Brown's third book in his Robert Langdon series, The Lost Symbol, is due for release in September, 2009.

Quote Of The Day

"If I'm not at my desk by 4 AM, I feel like I'm missing my most productive hours. In addition to starting early, I keep an antique hour glass on my desk and every hour break briefly to do push ups, sit-ups, and some quick stretches. I find this helps keep the blood (and ideas) flowing." - Dan Brown

Vanguard Video

Today's video is the last in a three part series about the evolution of the word processor, taken from the 1980s TV series, The Secret Life Of Machines. Enjoy!

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