History Behind the Book: The Atlantis Papyrus - is now available

If you enjoyed (or plan to enjoy) The Atlantis Papyrus then you should join my mailing list to get the History Behind the Book which is a short, 30 page companion that covers some of the key events in the book and tells some interesting things about that and lets you know what was real.

Many of us read novels and sometimes wonder, “hmm… which of that was true?”

Well, the History Behind the Book is an attempt to address that, for my novel.


Using Microsoft OneNote for Novels

Those trying to write a novel know the struggle. I guess we all go through the phase of deciding the right tool to write (formatting to be publishing ready is a whole new story), and I went through mine.

I eventually landed on Microsoft OneNote as my editor of choice during the writing phase. In this article, I will first walk you through

  • how I came to the choice I made

  • how I use OneNote effectively

  • what I use before publishing

For my first book, The Atlantis Papyrus , I decided to go with the following concoction — Word, Scattered Notes, Excel

OneNote - Basic.png

Initial Writing Configuration

I struggled with a number of things in this approach as my novel progressed

  • Word is hard to use especially in draft stages when you’re moving chapters around, want to re-sequence sections, want to add various annotations/chapter level notes without messing up the actual pages

  • Research was scattered around and I had multiple windows, tools open

  • You waste time on non-productive things like fixing formatting because it bugs you, rather than writing

I’m lying a bit — the above wasn’t even my first option. The true first option was I tried using Microsoft Visual Studio Code with each chapter a text file. Yes, yes, I know, can you believe that!

Then, I switched to option two, after purchasing Scrivener which is meant to be a great tool for writing novels. Somehow, I ended up with this.

OneNote - Scrivener.png

Switching to Scrivener and OneNote

So the experience got mixed — the writing portion felt harder (I know many people vouch for Scrivener, I just couldn’t get used to it) but I managed to fix my research portion by adopting OneNote.

As I began to use OneNote I began to wonder why not do everything in OneNote? Would writing feel odd?

For my second novel draft I switched to OneNote and changed my configuration in the following way

Final Configuration with OneNote

This final configuration turned out to be surprisingly productive in the following ways.

  • All my writing and research in one place — no more switching around

  • OneNote automatically syncs with OneDrive, so my writing is available immediately on my desktop, iPhone, iPad, browsers… made it so much easier to do work on the fly

  • I do other things beyond just writing, and some of that is in OneNote — so everything is in one place

  • I can move chapters around, which is hugely helpful in draft stages

  • Can draw! I tend to sketch to help in my writing

  • Yes, we can get word counts in OneNote, just use a macro add-in (I’ll show below)

So here’s how my OneNote writing is organized

My next book, The Wrath of God, is organized as a notebook by itself.

Within it are two sections

  1. Meta — this is where I put all my research

  2. Body — chapters of the book

First, let’s talk Meta. You can see all the “pages” on the right side where I capture my research and thinking. The beauty of OneNote is I can draw on the pages, and some of my work requires plotting via images, and I put that in the Imagery page. Great examples of this are the visuals of the geography of my setting and battle tactics.

OneNote - Organization.png

Organizing the Meta

Next, the Body, and this is how it looks

OneNote - Body.png

Organizing the Novel Body

I have a page called Chapter Template which I copy if I want, for each chapter. The template is configured with the font, table structure, and anything else I want for each chapter.

Then, each chapter is a page. The cool thing is I can move chapters around easily, and all my research is a click away.

There’s a great OneNote add-in called OneTastic which has macros for various tasks, of which word count is one, and I use that to keep track of chapter lengths.

Now, the disadvantages

  • Writing on a OneNote page is not… as elegant as writing on word. See for yourself! But if you’re focused on writing, hopefully the tool does not distract you.

On the left is writing on Word, and on the right, OneNote

On the left is writing on Word, and on the right, OneNote

  • With the right template, you can go quickly from the Word document to Kindle Publishing. With OneNote, you would need to pull all those chapters into a word document first. But this is negligible — you will spend months writing, and it only takes a few hours to transfer it to a word template


There’s no conclusion — this isn’t a recommendation. This is how I’ve organized my writing and it works nicely. If it helps you, great! If not, find a method to your writing madness. Good luck!

Update: Jan 2019. Since this article, I have switched over to Ulysses for Mac, which I found to be very productive for my writing. You can follow my Five part posts on my use of Ulysses, starting with Part I.

Read the novel that did parts of its journey on OneNote!  It’s 323 BC. Alexander the Great has died, and a vast empire waits nervously for what comes next. But Captain Deon has other worries, his family will be sold to slavery…  (read more)

Read the novel that did parts of its journey on OneNote!

It’s 323 BC. Alexander the Great has died, and a vast empire waits nervously for what comes next. But Captain Deon has other worries, his family will be sold to slavery… (read more)

Writing Challenges: Literature on Alexander the Great

Did you know that so much is known about Alexander The Great, and yet almost no contemporary literature of his time exists? And that what we have learned about him is almost all from works written hundreds of years after his death?

The best-known sources for Alexander, in order of how close they were to Alexander’s lifetimes, are

  1. Diodorus Siculus — who wrote in 1st century BC, about two hundred years after Alexander, using now extinct works from Cleitarchus and Hieronymus of Cardia

  2. Curtius — 1st century AD, borrowed from Cleitarchus

  3. Justin — 2nd century AD

  4. Arrian — who wrote The Anabasis of Alexander in 2nd century AD, nearly five hundred years after Alexander’s death, is one of the most extensive sources for Alexander history

  5. Plutarch — 2nd century AD, about five hundred years after Alexander’s death

The works of original sources, Cleitarchus, Ptolemy, and Hieronymus, have been lost, so we are left with interpretations and retelling, hundreds of years after the events. In some cases the sources themselves do not agree, which leaves us to our own interpretation of events and characters.

I’ve always found such facts fascinating because when we read about ancient history we often forget that the documentation of those times is rife with inaccuracies, assumptions, gaps, confusion and that what we read is often one person's view of what really happened by cobbling together a whole bunch of fragmentary works.

Of course, this also makes it possible for someone (like me) to write a novel that can take advantage of certain gaps and build certain stories around them.

Roman Emperors and Their Rule

The Roman empire is a fascinating period in history. We mostly read about the “famous times” of Caesar, Antony, and Octavian (later Augustus), but not much about the long reign of emperors, starting with Octavian in 27 BC, all the way close to 500 AD. It’s a period rich with colorful characters and world-changing events.

When we watch TV serials or movies about Rome, we rarely get an idea of the numbers behind the period — how many emperors were really there? How long did they often rule? It sometimes feels like someone came to power, got murdered 6 days later, and *boom* the next guy’s on and so on.

Wasn’t really the case.

This post is an attempt to give the reader an idea of the scale and times, with some interesting facts and tidbits to go along with it.

A few notes first

  • The source for much of the data is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Roman_emperors — so the responsibility of the choice of source and any inaccuracies is mine

  • There are always exceptions — some emperors ruled jointly, the period of some is unclear, how some died is unknown, and I’ve rounded their rule to the nearest year — so those who were in power for 3 months would be 0

  • We start with Augustus Caesar as the first Roman emperor starting in 27 BC

There were about 70 Roman emperors from the beginning (Augustus — 27 BC) until the end (Romulus Augustus — 476 AD). Let’s look at the rule of the first 25 emperors, and the ~number of years each one ruled. Keep in mind that while the period is chronological, some emperors were joint rulers.

Years in rule

The first 25 Roman emperors and their ruling periods in years

The first 25 Roman emperors and their ruling periods in years

  • Augustus, the first emperor, was also the longest ruling emperor — it’s impressive that once he took control after the civil war, he was able to rule and control a growing empire peacefully for over 40 years. That’s a long time when you think about it!

  • An interest observation is the “period of good emperors” from the beginning of Trajan. Domitian was a good administrator but hated by the Senate, and after his murder and short reign of Nerva, Trajan came to power. He’s known as among the best emperors in Roman history. Starting with him we have almost 80 years of consecutive, stable rule. Romans born in this time would have experienced a relatively peaceful period for almost their entire generation — from grandfather to grandchild, considering the life expectancy during the period

  • Those who watched Ridley Scott’s gladiator would have thought that Commodus killed his father Marcus Aurelius and became emperor. Though, in reality, Aurelius died of old age, and Commodus had already been a joint emperor with him for 3 years. Lucius Verus wasn’t in between Aurelius and Commodus — he was a joint emperor with Aurelius though he wasn’t too well known

    Now let’s look at those that ruled the longest periods

The top 25 emperors by their years of rule

The top 25 emperors by their years of rule

  • If you were born when Augustus assumed power, chances were you died before he died! (life expectancy was on an average of 35 years). Now imagine living under a modern democracy with the same president or prime minister your entire life

  • Constantine the great, the Roman emperor who made Christianity the state religion, was the second longest ruling emperor

  • How many of us have heard of Constantius II? While he ruled a few years as a joint emperor, he was there for nearly 25 years

  • It feels like the 15–20 band is a threshold even for powerful emperors. I think it’s because unless they became rulers quite young (like Augustus), they ran against old age, and with the absence of medical technology that we have today, they seem to have run up against mother nature if they didn’t get murdered as they got old and/or senile

  • Nero wasn’t a great ruler, so imagine living 14 years under him. So if you graduated university when he ascended the throne, you were there until you had nearly 15 years of job experience — a long time

  • Valerian, having ruled 7 years, was the only Roman emperor to die in captivity (how he was treated by the Persians is disputed)

    Now let’s look at causes of death


Roman emperors — causes of death and years in rule

What were the chances you died unnaturally (murder, suicide, battle, captivity) if you were emperor? Turns out, pretty high as expected

  • 28% of the Roman emperors who died of natural causes ruled for just over 50% of the total time- it bears that those that had stable, long reigns were because they were pretty good emperors and figured out how to keep assassins at bay

  • Those who died of natural causes ruled ~12 years each, and those murdered only 5. It’s almost as if the nature of those emperors caused their short life

  • A full 51% died unnaturally, and when we include the ‘unclear’ it becomes 73%. If you were a Roman emperor, there was a 3 in 4 chance of you dying not the way you really wanted to (Domitian was stabbed in the groin — ouch!)

  • There is a potential slight skew here — I’ve classified Augustus’ death as natural, though there’s some speculation that his wife Livia poisoned him, of his own accord


The Roman empire ruled for a long time, with many emperors lasting for decades in their rule and not days like we sometimes feel it is. While this article is about the Roman period, there are many other interesting empires one can research—Egyptians, Mauryans, Macedonians, Assyrians, Chinese—and so on. It’s a fascinating world!

I hope you found that interesting. Thank you for reading.

Love fast-paced, exciting historical thrillers?

Save two. Let a million die.

Writing a Novel on Ulysses

Follow my five-part blog series on Medium, on my usage of Ulysses for Mac. While I did start with OneNote, I have since moved on to Ulysses which is great for Novel writing.

PART I — Rationale — Why I went to Ulysses

PART II — Organization — How I’ve organized my work for Ulysses to be as productive as possible.

PART III — Customized Export — How I’ve organized and customized my stylesheets so I can publish eBooks and Paperbacks, each further customized for the specific book.

PART IV — Workflow and Automation — Little useful tricks that reduce the pain in managing our work. I will also share a few time-saving actions that aren’t built into Ulysses, but can be done in a Mac.

PART V — Wishlist — Features I’d like to see on Ulysses to supercharge this great software