THE BLOG
06/10/2013 04:31 pm ET Updated Aug 10, 2013

A Talk With Steve Berry

Steve Berry is the highly acclaimed, bestselling author of historical thrillers, including the Cotton Malone adventure series. His novels have been translated into forty languages and have sold in fifty-one countries. His newest novel, The King's Deception, as do his other works, combines history with current day events and intrigue.

The King's Deception is another historical thriller. How and when did you develop such a profound love of history?
It started when I was a teenager. When I began writing, I naturally gravitated to what I loved. When I'm teaching writing, I always say to my students, 'Writing what you know is really bad advice. Instead, write what you love.' I love action, history, secrets, conspiracies, and international intrigue.

How did the idea of The King's Deception come to you?
The King's Deception notion came about when my wife, Elizabeth, and I were at a cathedral north of London. I heard a local legend about the village of Bisley. On a certain day, for centuries, the locals would dress a young boy in an Elizabethan costume and parade him through the streets. That's really odd behavior. I looked into it and began to see there was some historical fact behind this ritual. Bram Stoker, in the early 20thCentury, came across it too. He wrote about it in a book called Famous Imposters. I read that book and realized there was a novel there. So I started putting it together.

History is integral to all my books, and particularly this one. It deals with Elizabeth I. She was fascinating. All her life she wore wigs; heavy makeup; clothes that didn't flatter her body; refused to marry; refused to have a child; wouldn't let doctors examine her; and forbade an autopsy when she died. She even proclaimed herself The Virgin Queen. She was then buried with her sister Mary in the same grave, which had never happened before or since with an English royal. All this adds up to she may have been harboring a great secret, and that's what The King's Deception deals with--a legend that could well be true.

And that oddity becomes central to what's going on hundreds of years later with Cotton Malone. You always weave together occurrences of centuries ago with current events.
That's what I strive for. I've got to have something from the past--something lost; or something forgotten. But it must be relevant today. After all, what does it matter if there was a problem with Elizabeth I's reign? That was 400 years ago. Actually, it matters a great deal when it comes to Northern Ireland. It could actually change Northern Ireland completely and reignite a war there. When I came across the connection between Queen Elizabeth and Northern Ireland, I knew I had the thing that makes this secret relevant today. I love the connection between then and now.

So history really matters. And you've founded an organization called History Matters. Tell us a bit about that.

History Matters is a foundation my wife, Elizabeth, and I created. We raise money for historic preservation. So far we've raised about $600,000 for various projects that include buildings, documents, rare books, and libraries. History matters because history is who we are; it's where we came from. How can you know who you are, or what you are, or where you're going if you don't know where you came from? That's what I hope people take away from my novels.

Do you feel history matters not only for the identity of a nation state, but for an individual as well?
Even more so than for a nation. Where people came from; their backgrounds; ancestries; families; how they got where they are today. What could be more important to any individual? Look at it from the standpoint of an adopted child. The child longs to know, 'Where did I come from?' It's a natural human instinct. It's an insatiable quest for one's own personal identity. That's even more important than the greater historical picture of nations.

Do you think in today's world we're losing touch with our history?
I actually think we're getting closer to our history. There's a greater fascination today with where we came from and who we are than perhaps at any other time. With technology we possess the ability to actually discover these things. You can sit in your living room and learn where you came from simply by surfing the internet.

If you could have dinner with some figures from all of history along with any writers, either living or dead, who would those people be?

I would include James Michener. He's my favorite author and I never got to meet him. I learned so much from him. I would have to put him in there.

I would always love to chat with David Morrell. He's my favorite thriller writer of all. I've enjoyed so much having dinner with him over the years. He's forgotten more about writing than any of us will ever know.

Dan Brown has to be on the list. I owe him a lot. He and Doubleday took a great risk with The Da Vinci Code. In the end, their success brought a genre back to life and gave me a chance to be published. I need to thank him. I went through twelve years and 85 rejections before I was published. The Amber Room, my first novel, was bought because The Da Vinci Code was coming out and Random House was looking for something to go with it.

I never was able to speak with Robert Ludlum. I learned so much from his books. I've talked to people who did have dinner with him, and he would definitely be a guy I'd like to ask some questions to.

As for people from history, number one would be Walt Disney. He was absolutely a genius, a visionary. I enjoy everything about Disney and I've read many biographies about him.
Elizabeth I is another. I have many questions for the queen. Even if perhaps the secret I've written about in The King's Deception is not true, I'd like to know, 'Why did you do all that stuff? What was going on in your brain? At her death she left the country in turmoil. The Stuarts were incapable of ruling and, two monarchs later, they lost the crown in the English Civil War. Her father broke with Rome and changed everything, yet she apparently had no desire to keep the Tudor family in power. Why? Maybe because Henry VIII wasn't her father?

I would also love to meet Charlemagne. This guy changed everything. The concept of modern Europe goes all the way back to him. He was a remarkable individual. When I wrote The Charlemagne Pursuit I studied him in detail. He was fascinating.

You research your next novel while writing the current one. What can we expect from Steve Berry next?

It's already written. It's Cotton Malone's ninth adventure. He's going to come home for another American adventure. It's called The Lincoln Myth. It deals with something about Abraham Lincoln that will probably surprise most readers. I'm now starting Cotton Malone's tenth adventure for 2015. You try to stay a year ahead in the book business.

You were a trial attorney for 30 years. Does your courtroom experience influence or inform your writing?

Not really. I handled thousands of divorces and also did criminal defense, so there's little that would shock me. That experience did spur me to write because I watched people at their worst. For me, writing was an escape--a way to get away from that. That's what a thriller is--an escape. It's not going to change the world or re-invent literature. But it will entertain you for a while.

Millions of your novels are read all over the world. Have you ever been in a public place and seen someone reading your book? If so, what does that feel like?

Yes, many times. It's just a complete thrill. You would think that after thirteen years, you get used to it. But you absolutely don't. You write alone; you create these stories alone; you don't know if anyone's going to read them or care about them. And then, when you actually see someone reading your book, it's such a rush. One time, I was on an airplane and right across the aisle--not two feet away--was a guy reading my book. My picture was on the back in full color, yet no one made the connection. That's the great thing about being a writer. No one recognizes you. There's anonymity. It was great watching this guy being enthralled. He forgot his flight and read for two hours. I never, ever say anything to anyone. But seeing people reading my books is gratifying.

Steve Berry's website is http:// www.steveberry.org

Subscribe to the Culture Shift email.
Get your weekly dose of books, film and culture.