A really long time, I promised you an interview with this author of great historical thrillers - Steve Berry. Despite many technical difficulties (purchase of a new operating system, loss of data, etc.) and health problems when I had tendinitis and called tennis elbow, well finally I can show you.
Although I'm huge fan of your books and I was on your conference in Prague last year and I heard about your books and writing, let's start with it. What was your first book and when did you write this story?
My first printed novel was The Amber Room (2003). I actually wrote it in 1995, but it was rejected by 18 publishers, not bought until seven years later in 2002. The idea came from a program on the Discovery channel that I listened to from another room. The narrator was talking about the Amber Room. I caught only the last few minutes of the show, but the idea fascinated me. Unfortunately, not enough information came from the show for me to 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 Catherine’s Palace in Tsarskoe Selo, Russia 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.
Your next book The King’s Deception is coming, so let's talk about it. What is the mystery in this book? In which century we'll start?
The King's Deception is the 8th Cotton Malone adventure. The locale is London and thereabouts. The idea came from something I learned while in England. For many centuries, on a certain date, in the village of Bisley, the residents would dress a young boy in female Elizabethan costume then parade him through the streets. Kind of odd, wouldn't you say? Bram Stoker wrote about this in a 1910 work of non-fiction called Famous Imposters. As I researched, I began to discover the truth behind the legend, so The King's Deception was born.
Where do you look for inspiration and information about it?
They 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 appeared during a tour of the Kremlin. The Alexandria Link was suggested by the host at a book event. The Jefferson Key was something he noticed long ago in law school. As I mentioned above, The King’s Deception came from a comment made to me. 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 have solid ideas for his next few books.
You write about history that extends to the present days, changing lives of main characters. Which historical times or historical moment, secrets do you like most?
I really don’t have a favorite time period. I like them all. Each is unique with its own contribution to human heritage. I’ve dealt with ancient times (The Alexandria Link, The Venetian Betrayal); the medieval period (The Templar Legacy); Napoleonic times The Paris Vendetta); and even the pre-historic (The Charlemagne Pursuit).
Your characters are multicultural, except Cotton Malone. But he also has an unusual name. Where and how you are looking for the names to match the nationality?
I try and match the name to the nationality so the reader knows the connection but I also make sure that the reader can at least sound out the name in their head. It may not be exactly correct, but at least they can associated a word to the name. If not, the reader will start to skip the name and ignore the character.
Is there any name that you'd like to use, but you know that would be hardly readable for readers (especially in USA)?
I come across those all the time but, unfortunately, they can’t be used.
Do you travel to all the countries where the main scenes of the books are? Or where you looking for descriptions about these places? Because I have to say, that description of Prague and streets leading to the Jewish Community was precise. (book The Columbus Affair )
There is at least one trip associated with each book where I have to go on site to find what I can’t find in books. We made one of those to Prague for the writing of The Columbus Affair, and we’ve returned twice since then.
As a writer of historical thrillers, which genre you prefer for reading in free time? What book currently reading?
I’m a thriller junkie so I read most anything in the genre. But I also like straight historical fiction too.
It's a long time, but how did you enjoy time with Czech readers last year?
It was wonderful. We had a super event in Prague, with lots of fans. Elizabeth and I enjoyed it. We love Prague and the Czech Republic. So much history there.
Please, could you tell us something about project "History Matters"?
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. So far, the most popular thing we do is a 4 hour seminar that we teach where writers, aspiring writers, and readers buy their way in with a contribution. Usually, that’s somewhere between $75 and $150. All of the money raised from the workshop goes to the particular historical project that we’ve been invited to help. No expenses or appearance fees are charged. In fact, I pay all of those himself. History Matters offers a way to raise money from a group of people who might not normally contribute to historical preservation — writers — with me acting as the conduit, providing education and expertise that might not normally be available in their area. So far we’ve taught over 2000 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. In quite a few communities these have worked well in conjunction with a writer’s workshop, as it allows a broader base for contributions. To date, over $600,000 has been raised for various historical preservation projects and we’ll continue to do 6-8 events a year.
Thank you so much for this interview. At the end is there anything else you'd like to tell to Czech and Slovak readers?
Just that I hope everyone enjoys The King’s Deception, and if you want to learn more about me and my books, go to www.steveberry.org.