Steve Berry has made a career out of writing about what he loves.
The Georgia native has made the topic of history a central theme in 14 novels — namely the 10 featuring Cotton Malone, including the newly released “The Patriot Threat” — that have collectively sold more than 19 million copies in 51 countries around the world.
Berry, who was a trial lawyer for 30 years before trying his hand at novel writing, described Malone as an ordinary guy capable of extraordinary things when called upon.
“What you know is wonderful,” said Berry, who will share his passion for history and literature while in town this month, “but what you love is better.”
In 2009, Berry and his wife, Elizabeth, established History Matters, a foundation dedicated to helping communities preserve their past. To date, they’ve helped raise nearly $1 million.
Your Nashville appearance is a History Matters event. How will that differ from your other appearances?
We’re going to be at the Nashville Public Library, so we’re going to be there to help bring awareness to their organization. … We’ll be dealing mainly with “The Patriot Threat,” the new book that’s out, but we’ll hopefully also be talking a little bit about the library as well.
Where do your stories keep coming from?
“The Patriot Threat” came when I was doing some research for something else one day and I just stumbled onto this whole concept of the 16th Amendment and whether or not it had been properly ratified back in 1913. It just wove in nicely and made for a great thriller. It fit nicely into the whole Cotton Malone world.
The concept of government secrets and North Korea couldn’t have come at a better time.
I always wanted to get the reader a little familiar with North Korea — the government, how it works, a little bit about it and to also make it a viable threat. In reality, North Korea is not a serious threat to us.
It’s an aggravation, but it’s not a serious threat to our security, per se, but in the context of this novel, it is because they find a weapon more clever and more potent than bombs.
This story takes place within a 24-hour period.
I’ve been wanting to do a story in under 24 hours. My books usually take place in, I don’t know, 30 to 48 hours, 36 to 48 hours, and I’ve been trying to get it down to 24. I finally did. This was 23. The whole story happens really, really fast. There’s a lot going on in a short period of time and this whole thing unravels so quickly.
Does that timing help with the pacing of telling your stories?
When I’m teaching writing, I get asked all the time, “Where do you start a book?” You start a book as close to the end as possible. What does that presuppose? Well, first of all, you need to know the end.
You get the end and then you go back as close to that moment as you can go. The longest one I’ve done is two weeks and that was “(The) Charlemagne Pursuit” and that was a big story. I needed those 14 days to unravel that story.
Were you always fascinated by history and then discovered literature?
History came first. I read history as a teenager. The first adult novel I ever read in my life was “Hawaii” by James Michener. I was absolutely hooked because that’s just loaded with history. History is always something that’s interested me. When I started to write, I adhere to the philosophy that I teach all the time, and that is never, ever write what you know. That’s very bad advice. Instead, write what you love.
It seems to me that as much as you enjoy writing and unraveling these thrillers, you’re still a student of history.
About 90 percent of my story is historically accurate. I keep it pretty tight to history. I only trip it up a little bit where I have to, because I am entertaining you and it is a novel.