Author Interview With Steve Berry

Posted: April 22, 2015 in Author Interview, Books
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For years, author Steve Berry has produced exciting thrillers filled with international espionage,  high – stakes intrigue, fast-paced action sequences, and deadly political maneuverings centered around poignant moments throughout history. Berry’s reoccurring hero, Cotton Malone, is a retired Justice Department agent who finds himself drawn back into the intelligence game as a freelancer. His newest novel, The Patriot Threat, is the next great installment in this series.

I would be hard pressed to name another author who can turn a debate over the legitimacy of the United States Constitution’s 16th Amendment, which pertains to income taxes, into a deadly race to uncover damning documentation that could bring both the U.S. and Chinese governments to ruins. Cotton Malone and his team must retrieve stolen documents and unravel a century old mystery while dodging bullets.

I had the great opportunity to ask Steve Berry a few questions.

RS: You published your debut novel, The Amber Room, in 2003 after 12 years of rejections. It would have been so easy to just let the story go and focus solely on your highly successful legal career. But instead you pushed through the disappointments until Ballantine Books finally said yes. Where did you find the strength to overcome any self-doubt that must have crept over you?

Steve Berry: It was the little voice that all writers have in their head, the one that nags at us everyday and only quiets when we write.  That voice kept me going.  It still keeps me going to this day.  I used to think I was a little crazy.  But I’ve learned that every single writer in the world has that same little voice, and its command is short and sweet.  Just sit down and write.

RS: Your first few novels were standalone stories, then in 2006 the first Cotton Malone novel, The Templar Legacy, was released. How long had the character of Harold Earl “Cotton” Malone been developing in the back of your mind before you found a place for him?

Steve Berry: Once the publisher and I decided that a series character was the way we wanted to head, I began to conceive just such a character.  But he changed.  I actually wrote 30,000 words of The Templar Legacy, the novel where Cotton is born, before a new version of him came to me.  I was in Copenhagen, in Hojbro Plads, a busy square, having dinner when he appeared in my brain.  I realized that Cotton had to be retired from the Justice Department, now living in Copenhagen, running on old bookshop —- right where I was sitting.  So I went back home, tossed out the 30,000 words, and started over, creating the Cotton Malone that now exists.

RS: The Patriot Threat, your 10th full length Cotton Malone novel, has just been released; congratulations on a great series! Each installment is a standalone thriller, but every successive book reveals more of Malone’s character and history. Have you had this guy all figured out from the beginning?  Or does he develop with each new adventure?

Steve Berry: He’s definitely a work in progress.  Each book explores some new facet of Cotton, and that’s intentional on my part.  I want him to grow, develop, and change.  And he has.  The Cotton Malone from The Templar Legacy is a different person from the Malone in The Patriot Threat.  I think that’s a good thing.  Characters should evolve, otherwise a series could rapidly become stale.

RS: Your personal interest in historic events is directly reflected in your work — this is what drew me to your books to begin with. Do you feel that capturing the spirit and legend of these events presents an added level of literary responsibility, over and above creating a great thriller? Because, in essence, you are writing both a historical fiction and a thriller all in one book. How much time do you schedule for research when you sign on for a new novel?

Steve Berry: I learned early on that a lot of people are learning their history from novels like mine.  That’s not necessarily a good thing since a novel, by definition, is not real.  That’s why I try and keep my stories about 90% accurate to reality, tripping up only that 10% for entertainment value since, after all, that’s my main goal — to entertain the reader.  I also place a writers note in the back of each book that I spend a lot of time developing.  There I explain what’s real and what’s not, so there’ll be no misunderstandings.  That note reflects the research that goes into each story.  For me that’s an 18 month process with each novel.  Research consumes the lion’s share of my time.  But it’s important, and it’s even more important to get it right.

You can find all of Steve Berry’s novels on Amazon.

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