Author Matt Chatelain - How to plot Conspiracy Thrillers

Today, I welcome Canadian Matt Chatelain, author of The Caves of Etretat. As a keen reader of thrillers, I asked him to tell us how he plots conspiracy thrillers.

Handing over to Matt...

How to plot a Conspiracy Thriller!

Years ago, I bought a business book called 'The Idea-Virus'. The basic concept is broadcast by its name: an idea that acts like a virus by infesting your mind until it cannot be rooted out. Rather insidious isn't it? A conspiracy is a twisted idea-virus, or, if the conspiracy turns out to be true, a straight-line idea-virus. 
Just like a regular virus, idea-viruses can be virulent or mild, sometimes even beneficial. When you think about it, all ideas are idea-viruses. They are all concepts which have found a home in your mind and will not be rooted out, no matter the extremes you go to. For example, could you rid yourself of the idea of clothing, or fire? 
No, of course not.
A conspiracy is a virulent idea-virus. It is airborne, carried by gossip winds. How it works is a series of real facts are collected together. They are assembled in a new way, using a theory as glue. You can see the trap of such a concept. The theory is what infests you but it is supported by facts. However, there is not necessarily any connection between the facts and the theory. It is this key part of the idea-virus which is missed by most people. It is why an idea-virus works.
Some people are more prone to conspiracies than others, which is why you sometimes encounter some nut shouting his conspiracy viruses at the top of his lungs on the side of some street, trying to infest everyone. That does not mean you can be immune to them. Quite the contrary, in fact. Those it does not unhinge, it molds. That's right. Any conspiracy you are exposed to will change you subtly. 
Your life approach will forever be tainted by a question, an idea-virus that will not let go.
If you're starting to feel uneasy, I don't blame you. It is upsetting to discover our consciousness can be affected by others so easily. It certainly bothered me. It is why I wrote 'The Caves of Etretat' and the three books after it. I wanted to expose and explore the idea-virus in depth, to write the ultimate conspiracy theory.

The Sirenne Saga, my four-book epic adventure is the result. The way I did it is exactly as described above. I assembled a series of facts. I molded my theory, so the facts seemed to fit my theory perfectly. It makes the theory harder to refute. I came up with the nine facts, one lie system. I would line up nine facts, each more outlandish than the last, all true. String them together and add your whopper, your big lie. By the time the readers get to it, they are primed and ready to accept it as real.
I had to be careful. My whoppers had to be logical. Later, after I wrote the stuff, research often demonstrated my whoppers were no such thing. Borne by the idea-virus myself, I had been brought to the next logical place in my mind. It had to be pure coincidence it was true. For example, I made up the glow-in-the-dark lichen in the caves. It was true. I came up with Raymonde Leblanc's name, but it turned out to be the same name chosen by Raymond Lindon, sixty years before. Coincidence.
Some of you are probably wondering if idea-viruses are dangerous. Some certainly are. Others not so much. It depends on who made them up and for what purpose. Often, an idea-virus get bits added on by someone else than the original creator. That's how some conspiracy theories come about, a hodgepodge of ideas strewn together by accident. Those are less powerful than conspiracies developed with a purpose in mind.
To explore the idea-virus, I had to try it on you, my readers. I'm not sure if it was ethical, but, heck, it's just a fiction series, isn't it? What can be the problem with fiction? It's not real. So, I developed the ultimate conspiracy theory. You'll find the Oak Island treasure, the Lost Museum, the background to Jacques Cartier's trips to North-America, the true reason for Hitler starting WW2, the answer to the Rennes-le-Chateau controversy, the origin of vampires, an explanation for Maurice Leblanc's fourteen hundred codes in his books and for Jules Vernes' coded books leading to the same place, the landing spot of Mary Magdalene, the origin of Moses' two tablets, the true purpose of the Ancient Testament, the origin of the Star of David, the origin of the secret map used by Columbus to find North America, the purpose of iridium. It's all in there, and more, much more.
I tied it all together into the biggest conspiracy theory imaginable. It makes so much sense, if I hadn't written it, I'd believe it. Even then, I have to admit that, deep inside, I do believe it. The way some of the facts fell into my hands, the way the theories all lined up, neat in a row. The way my whoppers kept proving to be true. It has to be true. But it can't be, right?
It's fiction. It has to be.
If you want to find out more about the background of the series, or just check the books out, go to my website You can enter a contest to win signed copies of the books. I have recently released Book Two of the series, 'The Four Books of Etretat', and plan to release Books Three and Four by Sept 2012, so no waiting to read to the end.
My next series will explore the ultimate idea-virus, money, through a two-book action story. I can only hope it will be as good as The Sirenne Saga.


The Caves of Etretat
by Matt Chatelain

In 2007, Canadian bookstore owner Paul Sirenne is suddenly thrust into a quest for answers, when his parents are found brutally murdered, their bodies cut up and shaped into the letters H.N. Finding a note inside his father's copy of 'The Hollow Needle', by Maurice Leblanc, Sirenne is determined to uncover the roots of his long-forgotten family secret.

He heads to the town of Etretat, France, on the trail of a hundred year old mystery hidden in the pages of the 'Hollow Needle'. Falling in love with Leblanc's great-granddaughter, he deals with puzzles, theories, codes and historical mysteries, leading him to believe that Leblanc held a secret war against Adolf Hitler, fighting for the control of an incredible complex of caves hidden in Etretat's chalk cliffs.

'THE CAVES OF ETRETAT' is the first in a four-book epic adventure following Paul Sirenne, an average man unknowingly manipulated into becoming the key in the final phase of a complex conspiracy spanning millennia. Inextricably woven into history, the series re-writes everything we know in a non-stop rollercoaster of a ride where nothing is ever as it seems.



The moment his eyes dropped, I took off running, knowing exactly where I was going thanks to Coulter’s map. I had never broken any speed records before but, at that moment, I felt as if I were moving like a train, barrelling non-stop across the landscape, increasing my momentum and distance with every second. His pistol's barrel was too short for any type of accuracy. If he wanted to shoot me, he would have to catch me and I wasn’t planning to give him the chance!

Coulter kept scrolling the map on the screen, showing me exactly where I had to go, cheering me on all the while. I heard Norton yelling and risked a single glance backwards. He was hobbling after me at a decent pace, using his cane to lop forward, his pistol waving around with every step. 
He looked angry.
I heard some car doors slam and more screaming in the distance. The Vallin brothers were in the parking lot, running all out toward Norton. They were both brandishing bats and waving them madly. I kept running, aiming directly for the cleft. I headed down, mostly sliding on one foot, dangerously out of control. Norton was closer behind me than I would’ve liked. 
“Watch it, you’re going to lose it, you’re going to lose it... No... You’re fine, doing good, now be careful, here’s the stairs...” Coulter yammered on in my ear, keeping up a running commentary. I had to slide to a desperate stop right above the rusty steps. They were clogged with silt and sand that had come down from the cleft. I saw signs warning tourists off and bars blocking the staircase. Coulter screamed:
“Just go for it, Norton’s right behind you.”
Incredibly, Norton was sliding down the cleft on his good foot, using his branch to balance himself. He was coming down fast, still holding his gun, determined to catch me.


AUTHOR Bio and Links:

Born in Ottawa, fifty-two years ago, I have been the owner of a used bookstore I opened in Ontario, since 1990. I have been writing since I was ten. Beginning with poetry, I quickly moved on to short stories and non-fiction pieces. I stayed in that format for many years, eventually self-publishing a franchise manual (How to Open Your Own Used Bookstore), as well as a variety of booklets, such as 'How to Save Money at Home', 'Build a Greenhouse with Style' and the ten booklet series of Eddy Brock, Brockville Detective.
Having semi-retired from the bookstore, I embarked on the project of writing my first serious novel, which I expanded to a four book series after discovering an incredible mystery hidden within Maurice Leblanc's books.
My interests are eclectic. I like Quantum Physics, Cosmology, history, archaeology, science in general, mechanics, free power, recycling and re-use. I'm a good handyman and can usually fix just about anything. I'm good with computers. I love movies, both good and bad, preferring action and war movies. I can draw and paint fairly well but am so obsessed with perspective and light that I cannot think of much else. I am too detail oriented. Takes too long to finish anything.


Matt will be awarding a $20 Amazon GC to one randomly drawn commenter during the tour as well as to the host whose post receives the most comments (excluding his or the host's) during the tour.


  1. After reading this I just wonder how you sleep, Matt? And how long it took to write any one of the conspiracy series if you are very detail oriented. I'm betting the last revisions/edits were pretty harrowing.

  2. The idea-virus is an interesting concept that I hadn't considered before. I guess money probably *would* be the biggest one.


  3. Nancy Jardine: I got better at it as I went along, hence faster. Edit of books two, three and four were almost complete revisions. I already know of errors in books one and two, after printing of course. Grrr

    Vitajex: The idea-virus is central to the series. It is playing with certain key idea-viruses, but more in the spiritual world. My next series will focus on money specifically... in the middle of a pile of action, of course.

  4. Fascinating!! The Idea-Virus is ever present when you think about it.


  5. Thank you all for visiting - and for Matt to enlighten us about his method of writing. I do love a good conspiracy!

  6. When the victim of a corporate scam finds himself deep in hostile Africa, his discovery of a rare-earth mineral sparks a chase for evil riches; greed and lust must be overcome to keep an arcane tribal secret from revelation.

    The catalyst is a corporate fraud. An innocent man on the run where danger of every kind lurks – and where brutal love joins a pair of fugitives in a quest to hide a shocking discovery from being exposed to corruption and greed.
    An exciting thriller with lots of twists and turns in a forbidding landscape.


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