Living the story

Screenwriter and novelist Dan Gordon discusses his latest suspense novels, intimately based on his time in Israel.

DAN GORDON in the late 1970s, while he was a sergeant in a reserve Hermesh unit. (photo credit: Courtesy)
DAN GORDON in the late 1970s, while he was a sergeant in a reserve Hermesh unit.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Imagine this: Hamas, teamed with Islamic State, hatches a plan to infiltrate the US via tunnels used by Mexican drug cartels. Once the thousand or so heavily armed terrorists get to San Diego, they will invade a sporting event, kill hundreds of spectators and take hundreds more hostage.
That is, unless an international team of counterterrorism experts finds a way to stop them.
Sound far-fetched? Not according to Dan Gordon, author of the new novel Day of the Dead, Book One: Gaza, which tells this story.
“America is more vulnerable to this kind of attack than Israel,” Gordon says in a recent interview in Jerusalem.
The conceit of this book, he says, is that Hamas makes a deal with the drug cartels to build their tunnels, and then uses their knowledge of the passageways to plan a savage attack on US soil.
If this story sounds like the basis for a major motion picture, that’s no accident: Gordon is a Hollywood screenwriter who has written many screenplays, among them The Hurricane, starring Denzel Washington; Passenger 57 with Wesley Snipes; Wyatt Earp with Kevin Costner, Dennis Quaid and Gene Hackman; and Murder in the First with Kevin Bacon and Christian Slater.
Right now, he’s working with Hollywood producers who are in the process of turning Day of the Dead – both the first book and its sequel, Day of the Dead, Book Two: America – into a movie.
Still, he insists this story is no Hollywood fantasy, but the product of his own knowledge of Israel, the Middle East and terror organizations – knowledge he has gleaned while serving in the Israel Defense Forces, where he is a captain.
Gordon, who grew up in California, moved to Israel on his own as a teenager, living on a kibbutz while he finished high school. He joined the IDF and was in basic training when the Yom Kippur War broke out. Later, he served in an IDF unit that made training films for the air force, as well as in an armored infantry unit and as a sniper.
Although he moved back to the US years ago, he now divides his time between Israel and California. At 68, he does reserve duty in the IDF Spokesman’s Office, and spent much of last summer’s Operation Protective Edge in the South of the country. Over the years, he has served in such dangerous operations as the fighting in Jenin in 2002, the Second Lebanon War in 2006, and the Gaza operation in 2009.
On his current trip, before giving interviews to promote his book, he received his purple beret from the Givati Brigade after completing a grueling training course, at what he calls “the silly advanced age of 68.”
His military experience, combined with his American perspective, has made him passionate about trying to set the record straight about Hamas’s crimes in the region, and to explain to Americans why it is not only countries in the Middle East that are vulnerable to acts of terror by Hamas and Islamic State.
“I want to get an American audience to understand the obstacles we face [in Israel]. I want them to see Hamas without the mantle of victimhood they cover themselves with while they carry out terrorist acts,” he says.
It was while serving near Gaza last summer that he began to come up with the plot for the Day of the Dead books.
He heard two stories, which turned out to have come from the same source, “about Mexican drug cartel tunnels that were found that looked like Middle Eastern tunnels.” Apparently they were “created by an enterprising Hamas engineer.”
That part of the plot “isn’t in doubt,” he says.
But the discovery of these tunnels wasn’t all that sparked Gordon’s imagination.
He knew that following the conflict last summer, Hamas was in dire straits financially.
“They needed money, and Qatar hadn’t cut the check for them yet,” he explains. That led him to imagine what would happen if Hamas made a deal with Islamic State, then used that group’s funds (much of which have come from plundering the natural resources and antiquities of the territory Islamic State has conquered in Iraq, Syria and other places) to gain access to the Mexican cartels’ tunnels.
In the novel, “the Kurds capture a Hamas operative who tells them about this plot.” The US president – a thinly veiled depiction of Barack Obama as a procrastinating, indecisive leader who prefers to avoid getting more deeply involved in the Middle East – won’t act on the intelligence tip from the Kurds without sending his own team of experts to investigate it.
This team is what Gordon calls “our magnificent five”: a gorgeous, blonde female CIA analyst; a devout Christian who is fluent in Arabic and has a profound understanding of the region; an African-American Navy SEAL; a DEA agent who grew up as a hidden Jew in a Hispanic community in New Mexico; and an Irish Catholic FBI agent with a drinking problem.
They are joined by an IDF officer, who is haunted by the loss of his wife and son in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem.
This band of brave heroes (and one heroine) leads the action-packed story to a tense conclusion.
Gordon says that researching and writing these two books, the second of which will be released soon, was “both difficult and cathartic.” But one aspect of the story he never forgot was that “the first job of a writer is to entertain.”
Hence the colorful, multicultural heroes.
And to keep the suspense level high, the author has grounded it in reality and meticulously researched every aspect of the story. Although some of the novel is based on his own military experience, he interviewed retired and active IDF personnel, as well as Navy SEALs, and agents from the CIA, FBI and DEA.
“This book is meant to appeal to anyone who likes a good Tom Clancy read,” he says, referring to the famous suspense-thriller author. Although obviously readers with an interest in Israel and the Middle East will be especially curious about the book, it is very much intended for mainstream audiences.
He has already started promoting the book – which is available for purchase on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, in both paperback and ebook formats – in the US, and he was recently interviewed by Jeanine Pirro on the Fox News Network show Justice with Judge Jeanine.
Although Gordon himself sounds a bit amazed that he has managed to complete both novels in less than a year, they aren’t his first books. He is the author of several novels, among them Wyatt Earp, Murder in the First, The Assignment and Davin, as well as some plays.
Davin is a children’s book that he cowrote with his son Zaki, who died at the age of 22.
Until a few years ago, Gordon ran his own film school in Sedona, Arizona – the Zaki Gordon Institute, which he founded to honor the memory of his late son, a filmmaker. He has also given a scholarship in his son’s name to the Sam Spiegel School for Film and Television, Jerusalem, as well as to other institutions throughout the world.
As the interview at a café in Jerusalem’s Mamilla Mall draws to a close, he prepares to head off for a military event in the North, and then return to the US.
If you’re curious as to when we can expect to see Day of the Dead on the big screen, Gordon, a veteran of the generally slow-paced Hollywood process, doesn’t have an answer yet.
“They’re trying to attach an A-list director. It’s a $50 million-$100m. movie,” he says. “Someone once said, trying to get a movie made is like trying to shoot an arrow through six moving hoops.”
But if anyone has the aim, ambition and experience to hit this target, it’s Gordon.