Monday, June 09, 2008

Steve Berry Interview

Steve Berry is an American author with several chunky adventure thrillers under his belt. His most recent, The Venetian Betrayal is currently out and I’ve had the pleasure of reading during the course of last week and boy, he only gets better the more he writes!

Steve made a flying visit to the UK two weeks ago and I managed to get an email interview with him through his publishers, Hodder.

1. Describe your writing day for us - are you a "I have to write 2000 words a day" kind of guy or do you write until you can't focus anymore?

I work about 6 hours on and off throughout the day and try and do 1000 words or so. No pressure to do that, just work and let it come. Some days there are more, others less but, on average, 1000 words is a good day. I start early, around six a.m. and go till 11, break for awhile then work till around 3. On and off I still practice a little law and I'm a local county commissioner, so my day is full.

2. Are you a tidy writer or do you thrive in chaos?

I'm a tidy guy. I like order and I try to keep it all times. Chaos only breeds chaos.

3. Have you ever attended any writing courses or conference?

I attended a writers workshop every Wednesday night for 6 years. That's where I learned the craft of writing, through a tough critical process and I would recommend it to every writer.

4. I really like the Cotton Malone character, finding him honest, with a strong moral compass and a wry sense of humour. Have you based any of his character traits on anyone you know?

There's a lot of me in Cotton. I knew I was going to be living with this fellow for a few years so I decided to use myself. It's the only time I've ever done that..

5. I admire the amount of research you do for your books and your clear passion for history and those enigmas you use so wonderfully as plot-bunnies - which of the books was the most challenging to write from a research perspective?

The Amber Room was the toughest since, when I first wrote it in 1995 there was little or no research materials in English. So I went to Russia and did my research at the Catherine's Palace where the Russians were working to recreate the room. On all of the other books the problem was different. There was too much material and my task was to go through it all and try and find the consistencies, which is difficult.

6. What motivates you on those awful days when you struggle to get the words out?

That little voice in my head that tells me the writer, the same voice that first sent me to the keyboard.

7. What is the best thing you like about writing for a living?

That I get to do it. My goal is simple. To keep doing it, so I work hard everyday to make sure that happens.

8. Something I have noticed in your work is that you create a lot of interesting antagonists for your main characters to deal with. Do you enjoy creating them and how do you keep them believable?

I do like to create the villains. They're a lot of fun. They get to do things that most of us are never able to do. I try to make sure that each one is different and unique, but also right for the story. I also take a lot of time with their names, finding just the right label that conveys their personality.

9. Do you ever struggle to write from any of your characters' point of view?

Not once I decide that the character is going to be a point of view character. I have between 3-6 point of view characters in any one book. Those are quite precious, so I'm peculiar about who I choose. The story drives that decision and I have selected the wrong one before. The solution there is simple. Eliminate the character and find another one.

10. What are your plans for the future with regards to Cotton? More of his adventures or will you walk away and do a standalone adventure thriller or change tack on us completely?

Cotton will be back next year in The Charlemagne Pursuit, a story about what happened to Cotton's father 38 years ago. Then there will be three more adventures after that. What's next then? We'll have to see, but I imagine he's not going anywhere.

11. Who are your literary heroes?

James Michener was a writer I greatly admired. But David Morrell is the finest craftsman of thrillers alive today. I learned a lot from his novels.

12. Can you name five (or more) books on writing that you have found invaluable in your work?

How To Write Bestselling Fiction, Dean Koontz
On Becoming a Novelist, John Gardner
On Writing Well, William Zinsser
Self Editing For Fiction Writers, Renni Browne and Dave King
The Art of Fiction, John Gardner
On Writing, Stephen King

13. Any advice to struggling writers out there?

Write, write, write. There is no other way to learn the craft except by doing it.
Keep an eye out in the next day or two for both the review and the competition in which four lucky readers can each win a copy of The Venetian Betrayal.

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