Monday, August 16, 2010

Davis Bunn

Author Davis Bunn: The Black Madonna, Treasure Hunters, and Advice to New Writers
Stolen art and international intrigue in exotic places fill the pages of The Black Madonna, author Davis Bunn’s next spellbinding novel scheduled for release in September. Treasured art, steeped in historical significance, dramatically changes the lives of art historian Storm Syrrell, treasure hunter Harry Bennett, and U.S Treasury agent Emma Webb.

For those of you who’ve read Davis’ previous novel, Gold of Kings, these names—Storm, Harry and Emma—should sound familiar. They return in The Black Madonna to locate another historic art treasure that will have international repercussions. And their efforts shed more light on the killing of Storm’s grandfather, Sean Syrrell, an art broker found murdered in the first novel.

There is another aspect of The Black Madonna that I found fascinating. Davis conducted intriguing research for both these novels; rubbing shoulders with real-life treasure hunters, talking to intelligence sources, and visiting exotic locations. Readers will travel from an auction house in London, through hostile mid-eastern countries, to the Monastery of Jasna Gora, located near Czestochowa, Poland.

Do you have an urge to travel? Davis takes you on a journey that won’t gouge your wallet—places like the Herodian dig above the Judean Desert; whirling through European cities of intrigue; or traveling a bumpy Jordanian road from Madaba  to Mt. Nebo, where God gave Moses one last look at the promised land. This author seems to have taken a modern-day Indiana Jones journey to be able to write this thriller.

Again, Davis demonstrates why he is a bestselling author. Needless to say—but I’ll say it anyway—he’s one of my favorite authors. I became hooked on his novels after reading The Great Divide several years ago. I’ve enjoyed reading a number of his novels ever since. It is a great pleasure to interview this gifted writer.

MARK: Davis, thanks for taking the time to visit us as The Black Madonna is about to be released. Tell us about this thriller, keeping in mind there are a few readers out there who’ve missed an opportunity to read Gold of Kings for background.

DAVIS:  The Black Madonna is a sequel to Gold of Kings,  carrying forward some key characters and pursuing further mysteries tied to religious relics.  It is a thought-provoking adventure story, with the external quest for treasures mirroring the internal quest for spiritual truths.

The story opens as a venerable Catholic priest, charged with preparing the icon of the Black Madonna for public display in a Polish church, draws closer to the painting for inspection.  Whatever he witnesses leaves him stumbling from the altar, clutching his chest.  He lies motionless on the ancient marble floor, as an old woman cries out for help for a dying man.

Storm Syrell’s flush of notoriety over discovering the treasures of the Second Temple has done little to pay the mounting debts of her arts and antiques business.  Her situation is exacerbated by the global economic crisis and investment scandals, which have left her lofty Palm Beach clientele with little appetite – or indeed cash – to spend on their next trophy.  So she is delighted to hear from an out-of-town buyer, anxious to secure a Russian oil painting.  The portrait itself appears to be of secondary quality, so Storm surmises its cachet must be due to some unsubstantiated stories.  The painting is linked to superstitious tales of sudden healings and answered prayers.   After intense bidding at auction, she manages to secure the work for the secretive new client.  Then another assignment is phoned in—another relic, this time in Spain.  And then still more relics, taking her to England and Switzerland and Italy.

Storm is forced to contend with a number of bizarre encounters.  Is someone out to get her – to keep her from succeeding in collecting these artifacts?  Or is she just imagining such threats because of the dramatic turn of events with the temple treasures?  When her friend Emma Webb turns up, an agent now on detail with Homeland Security, Storm’s doubts coalesce into fear.  National security, Emma explains quietly.  A master-forger is at work.  Together they must track the clandestine commerce in certain religious artifacts and determine the motives of their buyers and sellers.  Other whispers reach Storm –  strange voices of Russian oligarchs, and Vatican emissaries, and Rasputin-like figures promising miracles.  This is no small game of mis-attributed canvases.  Storm is taken to Poland, to a monastery which houses one of the most powerful icons in all Christianity – the Black Madonna.  As she gazes upon the scarred image with the open-handed invitation to trust in something beyond herself, Storm resolves to see the mystery through to the end.  But when she feels a strong grip upon her shoulder, she turns to face a future she could not have imagined.   

MARK:  As illustrated in your novel, The Black Madonna of Czestochowa is actually one of Poland’s holiest relics as well as a national symbol. What drew your attention to this work of art as an intricate part of  your story? What did you find most interesting about its history?

DAVIS: For many writers, the seed of an idea germinates for some time before being brought to fruition.  The Black Madonna captured my imagination some fifteen years ago, on a visit to the ancient walled monastery at Czestochowa.   My wife, Isabella, is of Polish heritage.  As I came to know her family and the traditions of the Catholic Church, I learned about the importance of images and rituals in sustaining faith.  While we were in Krakow one summer, her ailing uncle Marian expressed a desire to go on one final pilgrimage to Our Lady of Czestochowa.  This turned out to be an extraordinary journey, awhirl with equally astonishing legends.    It is said that the Black Madonna was painted by Luke the evangelist on the wooden board that served as a table for the holy family.  From Jerusalem the painting made its way to Constantinople and eventually to the church in Poland.  Since the early 1400s, the painting has sustained the Polish people though occupations and division and Nazism and Communism, and was linked to the Solidarity movement which eventually brought about Poland’s independence.
The Black Madonna depicts Mary holding the baby Jesus, who extends His hand in a blessing to the viewer.  The surface is darkened by centuries of smoke and incense.  Seven hundred years ago, the mother’s face was scarred by a Tartar’s sword thrust.  Today, the Black Madonna remains Poland’s holiest relic and one of the country’s national symbols.   The church that houses it is an elaborate Baroque-styled structure with worn marble floors.
And what of Uncle Marian --  did he receive the miracle he was praying for?  Surely he still felt frail upon settling back into the car for the journey home.  But he whispered to Isabella, “Now I can die in peace.”  So I, too, can appreciate the power of the Black Madonna  – not so much as a source of victory – but as a symbolic reminder of divine protection. 

MARK: Treasure hunter Harry Bennett seems to be part rascal, part saint in these stories. I understand that you used a real-life treasure hunter as a model for Harry’s character. What kind of insights did this gentleman provide about this treasure-hunting business?

DAVIS:  Harry was fashioned after Bob Marx, the most famous living American treasure hunter.   One of the great thrills of researching this story was getting to know Bob, and share in his adventures.  Bob is in his seventies now, and his health is not good.  But there still burns in his heart the spirit of a thirty-year old treasure dog. 

MARK: In a way, you and treasure hunter Bob Marx share common interests or experiences—love of history and archeology, love of the sea, and yes … both have been bitten by sharks. On the other hand, I can’t imagine two guys who are more polar opposites. I visualize Bob as being a rather rough and tumble kind of guy, similar to your Harry Bennett character. And you, a writer in residence at Regent’s Park College at Oxford University, an international bestselling author, graduate studies in economics and finance. Can you tell us about this man and how the two of you crossed paths?

DAVIS: You are absolutely right there.  Bob has been imprisoned nine times, been blown up underwater five times, and even had the wall of a submerged city fall on him off the coast of Barbados.  We have nothing whatsoever in common, except our fascination with lost treasure and the mysteries that surround them.  Bob loves to talk, I love to listen.  Bob does not teach.  He doesn’t have the patience.  But his passion for the sea is so strong, and this is another thing we share.  I started surfing when I was fifteen years old.  My first job, at the ripe old age of eleven, was as a dock-hand at a marina on the coast of North Carolina.  The first time Bob and I met, we clicked.

This is one of those remarkable things that happens quite often during the writing process.  I have been a published author now for nineteen years, and it still amazes me.  I love this opportunity to see the world through different eyes, to come to grips with a vision and a lifestyle utterly different from my own.  I leave Bob’s company feeling enriched.

MARK:  These exotic locations in The Black Madonna really come alive in your story. Readers can clearly see these places as your words paint pictures in their minds. What kind of traveling research did you do for this background, and what places did you actually visit?

DAVIS: All of them. 

MARK: Any interesting stores come to mind during these travels?
DAVIS: The crossing from Italy into Switzerland, across the Smuggler’s Pass, was my first foray into what is known as glacier hiking.  It was something I had never even heard of before this trip.  Getting to the tongue of the glacier was a four and a half hour hike, basically like climbing a set of uneven stairs.  Up and up and up and up.  My lungs were burning and my legs were like jelly.  All I could think of was, where is the bed?  Finally, at long last, the man I was roped to turned and pointed ahead.  He said, we can stop and have a hot meal in the mountain hut just up ahead.  My first thought was, thank goodness, I might have enough strength for another five steps.  No more.  Then I realized I couldn’t even see the hut!  I craned and searched and realized he was pointing to this teeny-tiny little stone cabin way on the other side of the glacier, it had to be another three or four miles, and each step meant testing the ice with the steel-tipped pole, and carrying a pack that by this point weighed seventy thousand pounds. 

MARK: Tell us a little about your life as an author. What kind of writing discipline do you follow—up at dawn, writing late at night, something in between? Daily word count?

DAVIS: I like to be at my desk by six, or a little earlier.  I rise around five, stretch, have my morning devotional, and get straight to work.  I love to have at least one scene completed before the rest of the world wakes up.  There is a sense of starting the day really well if the sunrise finds me already pushing hard.
Generally I can only do about five hours of writing, otherwise I am not much good the next day.  The only time I stray from this is when I am approaching the climax of a story.  Then all the rules go out the window.  I write until I drop.

MARK: There are at least a few aspiring authors who will read this interview. You’ve been in the writing business for several decades, and you’ve survived many changes in the publishing industry. Right now, there seems to be even more challenges facing new authors trying to break into this industry. What can new authors do to prepare themselves to meet these challenges and be competitive? What one piece of advice would you share with a writer just starting out?

DAVIS: It remains a great pleasure to work with new would-be authors.  Truly.  I wrote in the lonely wilderness for nine years and finished seven books before my first was accepted for publication.  Anything I can do to assist other authors to avoid some of the pitfalls I struggled through is a genuine pleasure.

The most important advice I can possibly offer a Christian author is this:  Attend one of the major five-day Christian writers’ conferences.  Seven are listed here.  I have selected these because they are large enough, and so well-established, that every major publisher and agent will attend at least one of these each year, and perhaps more.  This is a crucial component of a successful conference.  Do not be swayed by one that is quicker, closer, or cheaper.  You need to have the connection to the commercial world, and see your work through the eyes of those people who have the power to offer you a contract.

There are a number of significant differences between one of these Christian conferences and the mainstream counterparts.  Most of these began as church-based ministries, and ALL of them see their work as a service to our Lord.  The same is true for the teachers.  We come in order to serve God and further the Kingdom’s work.

The days are basically split in two.  In the mornings are ‘major tracks’, ongoing classes designed to cover the basic nuts and bolts of your chosen direction—fiction, non-fiction, song and poetry, magazine articles and greeting cards, and screenwriting.  The afternoons are focused upon the commercial side of the writing world—meetings with agents and publishers, classes on pitching and presentations and marketing, and so forth.

Two other advantages come from attending such a conference.  The first is, you have the opportunity to discuss your work with other authors, and know what it means to translate a private dream into a commercial reality.  The second is, you are granted a set of realistic expectations and tools for change.  Both of these are vital components to growth and success.

The main Christian writers conferences are as follows

MARK: I know readers will enjoy The Black Madonna and other novels written by this bestselling author. For more information on Davis and his writing career, visiting his website at


  1. Thanks for the in-depth interview... a blessing.

  2. You're welcome, Wallyce. Thanks for joining us.