Steve thanks for joining me today on milorambles.com – even before I began reading “The Emperor’s Tomb” I had a strange feeling I would have a ball reading and I was right. There was something about the storyline and the Terra-Cotta army that just fires up the imagination

The Emperor's Tomb

The Emperor's Tomb

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and how much of a struggle did you initially face to bring Cotton Malone to the masses?

My road to publishing was a long one.  Twelve years passed from the day I wrote my first word, to the day I sold my first word.  Along the way I wrote 8 manuscripts, 5 of which were rejected by publishers a total of 85 times.  Finally, The Amber Room was bought, then The Romanov Prophecy, then The Third Secret. Those three were stand alone novels.  Cotton Malone came along in Book 4, The Templar Legacy, which was actually my 9th manuscript.  I wrote two other Cotton books (part of those previous eight) that never made it to print, which turned out to be a good thing since, in The Templar Legacy, he was a much different character than in those earlier incarnations.

Given that “The Emperor’s Tomb” is Cotton Malone’s sixth adventure – how has Cotton’s character changed since you first introduced him in “The Templar Legacy” and have you enjoyed the journey?

That’s the thing about a series, the characters have to evolve.  Otherwise, it gets dull real fast.  Cotton has changed quite a bit over 6 novels, as had his relationships with the other characters.  He and Cassiopeia Vitt started out as enemies but they have been exploring their relationship for several books now.  Finally, in The Emperor’s Tomb, there will be a shift.  I can’t say if that’s good or bad (don’t want to spoil things) but there’s definitely a change.

What books/authors have most influenced you most and why?

David Morrell is, to me, the best living craftsman of thrillers today.  I learned an awful lot about novel writing from reading David’s work.  I was also a Dan Brown fan long before The DaVinci Code.  Clive Cussler is another of my favorites — he’s the undisputed master of ‘high concept.’  Other writers I enjoy include, Robert Ludlum, James Rollins, Frederick Forsyth, Steve Martini, Ken Follett, Peter James, Sharon Kay Penman, Harlan Coben, David Hewson, Lee Child, and David Baldacci.

Publishing a book a year, how do you keep yourself motivated to meet the deadlines? Do you relish the writing procedure or are you prone to distractions?

Steve Berry

Steve Berry

During those 12 years of rejection I taught myself how to write a book a year since I realized that would be the case if I was ever accepted by a publisher.  In the thriller business the key is to retain your audience.  The main way to do that is to be consistent — hence the book-a-year.  I learned discipline early in life from the nuns in Catholic school, so keeping to a schedule is not a problem for me.  And I’m a bit strange when it comes to distractions.  The more the better.  I taught myself the craft of writing while operating a law office, so there were constant distractions.  Too much quiet is a bad thing for me.  Bring on the noise.

What do you find the hardest part of writing a novel – research, ideas, and characters?

All three are equally tough.  There is nothing easy about writing a novel.  Everything demands the writer’s undivided attention.  One misstep and the whole story can be in jeopardy.  For me, I spend 18 months on the research and writing of each novel.  Who tells that story is vital, so there is a period of several months at the beginning (before I start to write) where I determine who will be the point of view characters.  Then I have to fashion the story they will tell, wrapped around whatever historical perspective I’ve chose.  It’s tough, but not impossible.  Writing is an acquired skill.  But, thankfully, anyone can acquire the skill if they work at it.

It’s quite clear from reading your latest book that you have a deep love for history – do you have a favourite period or is it a case of, just like any good adventurer, acquiring knowledge more important?

I really have no favorite time period.  I’ve explored ancient times (The Alexandria Link and The Venetian Betrayal); the medieval period (The Templar Legacy); Napoleonic years (The Paris Vendetta); the Dark Ages (The Charlemagne Pursuit); and China (The Emperor’s Tomb).  Not to mention World War II (The Amber Room), Russia (The Romanov Prophecy), and the Vatican (The Third Secret). I’ve found that I like them all.

How much of Cotton is there in you – has he taken over your life yet?!

When I created Cotton in The Templar Legacy I was hoping that he might stay around awhile.  But you never know.  He might not catch on.  Luckily, he did.  So, from the start I decided use me in his personality.  He has many of my traits, habits, likes, dislikes, and even speech.  Of course, I don’t shoot guns, jump out of planes, and do the other things Cotton does.  But I do experience those through him.

What book are you reading now?

The Book of Lost Fragrances by MJ Rose.  It’s a terrific story that will be published in the United States next year.

I wrote in my review that the prologue reminded me so much of Indiana Jones when he cut the rope bridge in “Temple of Doom” – are you a fan or Indy’s or Harrison Ford’s portrayal?

Love that stuff.  It’s wonderful.  Total fuel for the imagination.

What’s the one question you wish you were never asked?!

Lots of people have stories inside them, they just don’t know how to write them down. So writers always get the question — Maybe you’d like to write my story for me? That’s one I’d prefer not to be asked.

The Emperor’s Tomb” is the first book I’ve read in the Cotton series and clear to me that you are reliant on a great deal of research. With that in mind how much time do you spend on research for your projects? Do you write the bare bones and then add relevant information so it doesn’t detract from the plot?

It’s an 18 month process from start to finish.  Six months of preliminary research before I start writing, then another 12 months of research while I’m writing. Everything is incorporated as the draft is being written, all in order, one chapter after the other.

I’m assuming that given the sharp turnaround travel to places such as China, Denmark and Paris are severely limited – if you came up for an idea for a future book is there one place in the world you would insist of visiting?

Eastern Europe holds a fascination for me.  I really want to explore there.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing “The Emperor’s Tomb”?

Two things:  First, that no one has ever been allowed inside the First Emperor’s tomb. It’s the greatest archaeological site in all of China, yet it remains sealed.  Why?  That fascinated me.  And, second, that the Chinese actually drilled into the earth 2500 years ago to depths of 800 to 1000 feet and extracted oil, which they learned to use as an energy source.  These two amazing facts led to The Emperor’s Tomb.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing but given the opportunity to have discovered a word in the dictionary what would it be?

Imagination.  That word says it all.

The Jefferson Key

The Jefferson Key

I notice that your next novel “The Jefferson Key” – out in the US in mid-May (UK later this year) – Can you give the readers a sneaky peek at your next novel?

Four United States presidents have been assassinated—in 1865, 1881, 1901, and 1963—each murder seemingly unrelated and separated by time.  But what if those presidents were all killed for the same reason:  a clause in the United States Constitution—contained within Article 1, Section 8 — that the world would be shocked to know is there?   Does that make you want to read it?

Now that you have established yourself as a prolific writer do you still enjoy meeting your readers/fans and do you relish the feedback you get – good or bad?

I love events with fans and readers.  I do at least one a month all year long.  Without the fans there would be no books, so it’s important to keep that connection strong.

My first introduction to Eunuchs was via Wilbur Smith’s “River God” and his amazing character Taitia – “The Emperor’s Tomb” takes this to a whole new level with an informative and powerful history – what made you think to add Eunuchs as a big part of the novel?

Eunuchs played a pivotal role in Chinese history.  They began as mere palace servants and ended, 2500 years later, virtually in charge of the empire.  They became so attached to royalty that they assumed control of the government.  Unfortunately for China only a few eunuchs were brilliant and visionary.  Most were arrogant, selfish, and greedy.  In the end, their faults cost them everything and led to the downfall of the Chinese emperors.  How could I not include them.

Social Media – yes or no?!

We do Facebook.  We have a fan page that helps us connect with people interested in me and the books.

And finally – given your obvious love for history if you could invite three people/characters from the past to a dinner party who would you invite and why?

Walt Disney — he was a terrific dreamer who possessed the determination to make those dreams reality.  James Michener —- one of the finest writers of the 20th century and my personal favorite.  And my aunt, Dolores Parish, who did not live long enough to see me published.  She would be proud.

Thankyou very much Steve. The Jefferson Key is out in the US on May 17th

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3 Responses to “Interview with author Steve Berry”

  1. Great interview – I may need to dust off the collection of Steve Berry’s from Mrs W’s bookcase and have a good read or two when time permits.

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