It's been a good year for author Steve Berry. His new release The Paris Vendetta debuted at Number 9 on The New York Times bestseller list (no little feat since the list was already filled with heavy hitters like John Grisham, Michael Crichton, Stephen King and Sue Grafton). The paperback release of last year's The Charlemagne Pursuit is also doing very well (entering The New York Times bestseller list at Number 13 before climbing to Number 6).
Berry's books are filled with his signature mix of history, science and adventure. (The Paris Vendetta, for example, is centered around the search for the rumored treasure Napoleon hid away during his conquest of Europe.) His friend and fellow writer James Rollins has the same three elements in his novels, including his new title Altar of Eden. Rollins, however has science rather than history at the center of his plots. Hair Balls spoke with Berry by phone in anticipation of today's An Evening of Thrills: How Science and History Make Great Thrillers, a presentation the two authors will make together.
Hair Balls: Congratulations on The Paris Vendetta, it's doing very well.
Steve Berry: It's done very well, yes. I was very fortunate last year with Charlemagne; it did very well in what some say was one of the worst markets in recent memory. And it looks like Vendetta will also do well.
HB: You're presenting a talk later today with author James Rollins, but you won't be at a bookstore, you'll be at a science museum. There aren't many fiction writers who would be as comfortable at one as at the other, but you both mix science with history with mystery and adventure for your novels, so a science museum is the perfect setting for you.
SB: My books are a lot of history and a little science; Jim is the other way around with a lot of science and a little history. The stories are similar in that we both have action, adventure, conspiracies, and international settings, but we're different in what is the priority. [At the museum] we're going to talk about history, science, fact, and fiction, and how these things meld together to make something real into a work of fiction. With just a little twisting
HB: We've seen with books like The Da Vinci Code that readers sometimes mistake a work of fiction based on fact as simply factual.
SB: That's a really bad idea. They ignore the big word on the front cover: novel.
HB: How does that influence your writing, knowing that some people are going to think everything in your books is true.
SB: I would say about 90 percent of what I use is real, and about 10 percent is where I have to twist it to make if fit, and make it entertaining. I have to remember that I'm writing a story, not a textbook. My primary goal is to entertain you, but that doesn't mean I can't be accurate.
I try to be as accurate as possible because I know some people are getting their history from my stuff, so I'm very careful. I also have a writer's note at the back of my book. I do that with each book and ... I tell you in the writer's note where I'm playing games with fact and fiction.
HB: One of the characters in The Paris Vendetta is Napoleon. In the book you have him entering the Great Pyramid of Giza and visiting the King's Chamber there. That's part of the 10 percent you mentioned, isn't it?
SB: [Napoleon's visit to the pyramid has] been reported a zillion times. There are lots of reports that he did go into the pyramid, but nothing in the an official history. He certainly saw them, he fought a battle there, so that I just had a little fun with it.
HBs: Napoleon's a juicy character, isn't he? If you created a fictional character that had done all the things Napoleon did, most editors would say you went overboard.
Steve Berry: You couldn't make a guy like that up, he's too good. He's just amazing, and what he was able to accomplish was even more incredible. This guy has had more books written about him than anybody but Jesus Christ. I knew that I was going to do a book with him one day, it just turned out that this was the one. The story came together nicely.
HB: You've started a project called History Matters. Can you tell us about that?
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SB: History Matters is something my wife and I started. We noticed that there's no money left anymore for historical preservation or restoration. It's all gone. But you have to keep this stuff up or it's going to go away and there's literally millions and millions and millions of historic artifacts that are falling apart. We're talking about land, buildings, documents, you name it. So we came up with a way to raise money. We can't raise you a hundred thousand dollars or fifty thousand, but we can raise you maybe ten to twenty thousand.
The way we do it is I go in and I teach a writing seminar ... and you buy your way into that seminar with a contribution to the historic project that we're sponsoring. Usually it's a $100 or $150 to get in. We did this in Myrtle Beach, they needed some money for an oral history project. We went up, I taught a seminar and we raised all the money they needed in one morning. It cost them nothing. I don't charge to go, don't charge expenses or anything. It's a way to raise money from people who would never give money to that sort of thing and it works.
We have five events scheduled right now, but if anybody want to see if this could help them, they can go to my website and we'll see if we can help them.
Steve Berry and James Rollins present An Evening of Thrills: How Science and History Make Great Thrillers at 6:30 p.m. Houston Museum of Natural Science, One Hermann Circle Drive. For information, call 713-639-4629 or visit www.hmns.org. $12 to $17.