Interview with Steve Berry
by Agnes A. Rose
Steve Berry is an American author and former attorney. He is a graduate of
F. George School of Law. His passion is history so it lies at the heart of
every one of his thrillers. A practicing attorney at the time, Steve Berry had been
writing fiction since 1990, and it took him 12 years and 85 rejections before
selling a manuscript to Ballantine Books. His first novel was The Amber Room, which was published in
2003. His next book, The Romanov Prophecy,
was released a year later. He now has more than twenty million books in
print, which have been translated into many languages and sold in more than
fifty countries. Steve Berry is also the author
of the Cotton Malone Series, which is very popular and loved by readers. In Mercer University we
can read a lot of his books published by SONIA DRAGA. So far he has won many
awards for his work. He is a founding member of International Thriller
Writers. This is a group of more than 3,800
thriller writers from around the world. For two years he was its co-president. Steve
Berry and his wife travel the world both researching and promoting his books.
One comment they hear repeatedly concerns the dwindling supply of funds
available to preserve our heritage. So Steve and Elizabeth launched History
Matters to assist communities around the world with restoration and
Agnes A. Rose: A very warm welcome to you, Steve, and can I thank you, for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to me today. When a few years ago I read your first book “The
”, I thought: “What
a fantastic historical thriller!” Could you tell us what motivated you to
create this kind of story? I want to add that I have been your huge fan since
then. Amber Room
|photo by Kelly Campbell|
Steve Berry: In 1995, I was listening to a program on the Discovery channel, not watching, only listening from another room. The narrator was talking about the
. I caught only the last few minutes
of the show, but the idea fascinated me. Unfortunately, not enough information
came from the television show for me to even know what the Amber Room was. I actually, at first, thought
it was a painting. All I learned from the little I heard was that it was stolen
from the Amber Room in Tsarskoe Selo and had not been
seen since 1945. So I went to the bookstore and thumbed through Russian travel
guides until I found a reference. It took several more months of research to
formulate the novel’s plot. Catherine Palace
SB: Nothing was really wrong. It was all about timing. I was writing what was then called a spy thriller. But that genre died in 1991 when the Cold War ended. Consequently, editors in the 1990s weren’t buying those kind of books then. Then, in 2003, the genre was reborn with The DaVinci Code. It came back not as a spy thriller, but as action, history, secrets, and conspiracies. Exactly what I was writing, so I was able to make it to publication. Timing is everything.
SB: I knew I wanted to be a commercial fiction writer and sell a book-a-year to a
publishing house. But I had no idea
if I would be able to actually accomplish that. It all depended on readers
liking the books. Thankfully, they did. New York
SB: I look for something from history that no one has dealt with before, something lost and forgotten, but true. It has to be true. I keep my novels about 90% accurate to history, with only 10% speculation. No writer wants to write what someone else has already done. So I search hard for those unknown bits of history that I hope readers will find interesting. The characters select themselves, depending on the story. Sometimes Cassiopeia is there, sometimes not. Luke Daniels has become a series regular now, appearing in many of the books. The hardest part is fashioning the bad guy since each one has to be different than the one before.
SB: The past is our roadmap to the future. Studying it is important. Forgetting or ignoring it can be disastrous. And I really have no particular favorite era. My novels have been across a wide spectrum from ancient times to the Cold War, but always with a modern twist.
SB: The reaction to the The Third Secret by some Catholics was hostile. I received a few thousand e-mails damning me to hell. The book was an idea I had way back in parochial school. What would happen if God was a liberal? Not a flame-throwing ultra-conservative. Instead, he’s progressive and we have it all wrong. It’s a good story – and readers have to keep that in mind. It’s a story, made-up, not real.
SB: He was born in
while I was
sitting at a café in Højbro Plads, a popular Danish square. That’s why Cotton
owns a bookshop there. I wanted a character with government ties and a background
that would make him, if threatened, formidable. But I also wanted him to be
human, with flaws. Since I also love rare books, it was natural that Cotton
would too, so he became a Justice Department operative, turned bookseller, who
manages, from time to time, to find trouble. I also gave him an eidetic memory,
since who wouldn’t like one of those? At the same time, Cotton is clearly a man
in conflict. His marriage has failed, he maintains a difficult relationship
with his teenage son, and he’s lousy with
|photo by Rana Faure|
SB: His personality is pretty much mine.
SB: The research for each novel takes about 18 months and involves 300 to 4000 sources. So there’s a lot. Of that research, only about 20% makes it into the novel. The vast majority is never used. There’s a reason for that. I’m writing a novel, not a textbook. Its primary purpose is to entertain. If along the way the reader can also learn some things, that’s just an added bonus.
SB: “Action, history, secrets, and conspiracies.”
SB: Absolutely. It’s the best writing advice to can take. Always write what you love. When I began writing I gravitated straight to action, history, secrets, and conspiracies. The seed for that was probably sown when I read my first adult novel at the age of 15.
by James Michener. He remains my favorite
writer of all time. Hawaii
SB: I’m a thriller junkie. I read a lot of them. But my main reading is non-fiction, the research materials for the book I’m working on.
SB: Money for historic preservation and conservation is one of the first things to be cut from any budget. My wife, Elizabeth, and I thought it was time to come up with an innovative way to raise money, and that’s what History Matters is all about. The most popular method we use is a 4 hour seminar we teach where writers, aspiring writers, and readers buy their way in with a contribution to the cause. All of the money raised from the workshop goes to the particular historical project that we are there to support. No expenses or appearance fees are charged. In fact, I pay all those myself. So far we’ve taught over 3000 students. Other ways History Matters raises money is through meet and greets, speaking engagements, gala events, receptions, luncheons, dinners, club meetings, or a cocktail party. All total we’ve raised nearly a $1,000,000 for historical preservation. You can find out more at history-matters.org.
SB: It’s an organization of 3800 thriller writers from around the world, the guild for thriller writers. I was fortunate to be one of the founding members and I served as co-president for two years. I still serve on the board of directors today as vice-president of Publications. Membership is free to any working thriller writer. You can find out more at thrillerwriters.org.
SB: I’m finishing up the novel that will be published in April 2018. It will be Cotton Malone’s 13th adventure. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what it’s about yet, but I can say that involves a subject-matter that will be quite topical then. The next Cotton Malone story releases in the
on United States April 4,
called The Lost Order.
SB: Only that I appreciate them, one and all. All of my books have been published in
by Sonia Draga. I’ve had a great
relationship with them. I will be visiting Poland in late November 2017 as part of a
publicity tour for Sonia Draga. Hopefully, I’ll get to say hello to some of my
If you want to read this interview in Polish, please click here.