Steve Berry, author of THE KING’S DECEPTION
Guest of Honor at 2013 Historical Novel Society Conference
Today I have a Q & A with Steve Berry, the New York Times and #1 internationally bestselling author of eight Cotton Malone adventures, four stand-alone thrillers, and four short-story originals. His books have been translated into 40 languages with more than 15 million printed copies in 51 countries. And, by the way, he’s going to be speaking at this year’s Historical Novel Society Conference in Florida.
What got you first interested in historical fiction?
I was 14 years old and read Hawaii, by James Michener. After that, I was hooked. What a spectacular novel, with great breadth and scope. I subsequently read all of Michener’s work and now have all of his books in first editions, save his initial novel, Tales of the South Pacific. If anybody out there has one, let me know.
How do you find the people and topics of your books?
Ideas come in the strangest places and at the oddest of times. The Amber Room was born while listening to the Discovery channel. The Romanov Prophecy formed during a tour of the Kremlin. The Jefferson Key was something I noticed long ago in law school. For my latest, The King’s Deception, I learned of a 400 year old legend, about the Tudors. Finding interesting things from the past and linking them with relevant events in the present is a challenge—one that’s becoming harder and harder—but luckily I’ve got solid ideas for the next few books.
Do you follow a specific writing and/or research process?
I spend 6 months on preliminary research, before writing a word. This is done while writing the preceding novel. That way, once I’m finished with that book, I’m ready to go on the next one. While writing, which takes 12 months, I continue to research. So the process is 18 months from beginning to end. I utilize between 300-400 sources for each novel, most of which are books bought at the Chamblin Bookmine, a massive old bookshop in Jacksonville, Florida. I’ve been researching there for 23 years. Finally, there’s usually at least one trip associated with each novel, where I have to go on site and find what I could not find in the books.
For you, what is the line between fiction and fact?
It’s clearly defined. I try to keep to about 90% the truth. The closer I can keep to the truth, the better the reader will like it. In that 10% is where things have to be tripped up to accommodate the fact that this is a novel — who’s primary goal is to entertain. So all will be clear, I include an extensive writer’s note in the back of each book that tells the reader where the line was drawn.
Do you have an anecdote about a reading or fan interaction you’d like to share?
I was in South Carolina at an event and the organizer’s husband asked me if I knew anything about Kamal Salibi and a book Salibi wrote in the 1980s called The Bible Came From Arabia. I did not. So he proceeded to tell me about it and then shared Salibi’s book with me. Three years later The Alexandria Link was born from that encounter. That gentleman is thanked in the front of the novel, and Elizabeth and I returned to South Carolina and brought him a signed copy.
Where do you feel historical fiction is headed as a genre?
I hope it will once again rise. Genres do that. Up and down. For a few years they’re hot, then they run cold. Historical fiction has been running a little cold the past few years, so it’s time for a swing. There are so many talented writers out there producing terrific stories.
Is there an era/area that is your favorite to write about? How about to read?
Not really. I like them all. Each is unique and interesting and my novels have covered the gambit. The Amber Room and The Romanov Prophecy (Russian and German history); The Templar Legacy (Middle Ages); The Alexandria Link (ancient times, Old Testament); The Venetian Betrayal (Alexander the Great); The Charlemagne Pursuit (pre-civilization Antarctica); The Paris Vendetta (Napoleonic Age); The Emperor’s Tomb (Chinese); The Jefferson Key (19th century American); The Columbus Affair (1492 and thereafter); and The King’s Deception (British royalty). As to reading, it’s the same. I like it all. No favorites.
What are your favorite reads? Favorite movies? Dominating influences?
My favorite historical fiction writer still working today is Sharon Kaye Penman. I love her stuff. I have all of her novels on my shelf and have been privileged to come to know her. Sunne in Splendour is one of my Top 5 all time favorite books. James Michener remains my favorite writer of all time. His work is magnificent.
Is there a writer, living or deceased, you would like to meet?
James Michener. No question. I have so many questions. But Walt Disney is another brilliant mind I would have loved to see firsthand.
What book was the most fun for you to write?
All of them. Each was a terrific experience in its own right.
Can you tell us about your latest publication?
The King’s Deception is the 8th Cotton Malone adventure. The locale is London and thereabouts. The idea came from something I learned. For many centuries, on a certain date, in the village of Bisley, the residents would dress a young boy in Elizabethan costume then parade him through the streets. Kind of odd, wouldn’t you say? Bram Stoker wrote about this legend in a 1910 work of non-fiction. As I researched, I began to discover the truth behind the legend, so The King’s Deception was born.
For more about Steve Berry please visit his website at www.SteveBerry.org.