In the first half of this interview, New York Times bestselling author Steve Berry discussed his latest book, “The King’s Deception.” The interview continues with Berry discussing how he became a writer and his perspective on the thriller genre.
Many readers and aspiring writers want to know how bestselling writers got started. In Berry’s case, he said it’s important for others to realize that his interest in reading and writing started early. “My father is a reader. Always has been. When I was a kid we lived in a small house in southeast Atlanta and my hangout was the basement. For a little guy, that was a cavernous place which sometimes could be scary. But the basement was where my father kept his books, stacked on metal shelves, the only light a bare bulb with a pull chain. Hanging from floor joists all around those shelves were clothes, stored there by my mother, each bundle protected by plastic sheaths that still come from the laundry. I can recall many times pulling the string for that bulb, hearing that thin plastic rustle, then plucking a book from those shelves. My father liked everything. Fiction, biography, humor, sports. You name it, he read it. History was a particular passion. He was a salesman and traveled for his work. He left every Monday morning and returned on Friday afternoon. Most times he’d bring home new books. My mother wasn’t always thrilled, as space was limited, but that never stopped him. The books kept coming. And I kept reading.”
Berry didn’t actually start writing fiction until about 25 years later, but said, “The seed was planted there, in the basement, beneath that bare bulb.” Berry also said, “‘The Amber Room,’ my first published novel, is dedicated to the man who made it all possible. For my father, who unknowingly kindled the fire decades ago.”
Like other genre fiction, thrillers are not viewed by many as “serious fiction.” Berry talked about a book tour several years ago in Spain where that question came up. He said, “I spent two days in a hotel being interviewed by reporters. Interestingly, nearly all of the questioners posed a similar inquiry: What’s it like not to write serious fiction?
“Thrillers perform one simple task: they entertain. For a short while they allow a reader to escape their world, forget their troubles, and just have a good time. The genre is packed with a multitude of sub-genres, each geared to a particular audience who savor those subdivisions with a relish that has sustained publishing houses for centuries.
“A few months ago I received an e-mail from a reader. He’d gone through a difficult divorce, then was involved in a car accident. While recuperating he read not only all of my Cotton Malone series, but other thriller series too. He wanted me to know that my stories helped him through a difficult time. They allowed him to relax. He said without them his recovery period would have been unbearable. Nearly every week I receive e-mails from U.S. military service men and women overseas. They too want me to know that my stories are a welcome relief from the difficulties of their everyday life.
“So what’s it like to not write serious fiction? Not bad. Not bad at all.”
Steve Berry was a trial lawyer for 30 years, is a founding member of International Thriller Writers, and created History Matters, a foundation dedicated to historic preservation with his wife Elizabeth. Learn more about him on his website at steveberry.org. Learn more about how History Matters might be able to help your community’s efforts to preserve history at history-matters.org.