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Interview: February 24, 2006

February 24, 2006's Suspense/Thriller Author Spotlight Team (Carol Fitzgerald, Joe Hartlaub and Wiley Saichek) interviewed Steve Berry, author of THE AMBER ROOM, THE ROMANOV PROPHECY, THE THIRD SECRET, and the newly released TTHE TEMPLAR LEGACY.

Berry discusses how he conceived the Cotton Malone series as a new challenge for himself and speculates on reasons behind readers' renewed interest in the Middle Ages. He also shares fascinating and little-known tidbits about the Knights Templar that he discovered through his research and explains how he divides his time between penning novels and practicing law. You have stated that the "spark" for THE TEMPLAR LEGACY occurred after you read a quote about Christ attributed to Pope Leo X. Were you working on another book when you came across this quote, or just doing general research? How many times have you found a tidbit like this quote that gave you a plot idea? Do you keep a list of historical periods you would like to explore?

Steve Berry: I was working on THE THIRD SECRET when I came across the quotation, which intrigued me. Here was the pope himself making a rather damaging statement about the very religion he oversaw. However, after learning more about Pope Leo X, who many regard as one of the most corrupt, his remarkable comment is entirely understandable. Statements like this inspire me all the time. The epigraph page in my books is always thought through and changes many times during the writing of a manuscript. I try to find just the right mix of quotes to convey the essence of the book. As to the historical periods I'd like to explore, I don't discriminate and try to bounce around to all periods both before and after the birth of Christ.

BRC: The basis for the plot in THE TEMPLAR LEGACY revolves, in part, around an obscure book published in the nineteenth century, PIERRES GRAVEES DU LANGUEDOC by Eugene Stublein. Does such a work actually exist? If so, how did you happen to learn of it? And does it actually have a link with the Knights Templar?

SB: There's a great debate on that one. Many say the book exists, yet no copy has ever been seen. The one supposedly on file in the Bibliothèque Nationale, the French national library, is gone. The book has long been a part of Renne-le-Château's lore so I thought it only appropriate to include it, especially since Cotton Malone loves books.

BRC: There seems to be a renewed interest in the Middle Ages and the Knights Templar in particular. Why do you think this is occurring?

SB: It's a fascinating time in human history. It was our coming of age, a point when we started to fashion what would become modern western civilization. Of course, Hollywood and fiction have helped spur a more romantic image. Reality was far different. It was a harsh, brutal society with strict rules and extreme penalties. Much of the period's beliefs were fueled by ignorance and arrogance, yet there was an innocence too, one we like to recall with a calculated amount of affection. I love the Middle Ages. Makes for some great fiction.

BRC: What was the most fascinating fact you learned about the Order as you were conducting research? What books do you recommend for someone who may be starting out to study the Knights Templar?

SB: That they never bathed. Rule forbid it. Can you imagine? Fighting in the Holy Land in hundred-degree heat, wrapped in chain mail and armor, and never bathing. In addition, they slept dressed, both to resist temptation and to be ready for battle. As to the books to read on the Templars, I scoured about 200 sources. The trouble with the various accounts is that they all differ. A good example of this is the head of the Order --- one book says the grand master, another says only master. That label seesawed back and forth between each book. So who knows? I would recommend anyone interested in the subject either buy or check out from the library several books and peruse them all carefully.

BRC: THE TEMPLAR LEGACY opens with a graphic torture scene. As a novelist, how do you decide how much "gore" to include, or where to leave things out? Was the prologue/torture scene a historical account or was it fictitious?

SB: You certainly want to start a thriller as visually as possible. This scene with Jacques de Molay is fictional, but it could well have occurred. That's exactly the premise of Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas's SECOND MESSIAH, which is where the idea for that scene (and a latter part of the novel) came from. I invite everyone to read that book.

BRC: THE TEMPLAR LEGACY introduces Cotton Malone, a former U.S. Justice Department covert-op, who, we understand, is going to be an ongoing character in at least three of your forthcoming novels. What made you decide to tackle a series after publishing three stand-alone works? What challenges and surprises have you faced as you make the transition from writing stand-alone novels to writing novels with a recurring character?

SB: Cotton will return in 2007, 2008, and 2009. I wanted to write a series simply as a new challenge and conceived several adventures for Cotton when he was "born" while I was visiting Copenhagen. I was sitting at a café in Højbro Plads, a popular Danish square, when he came to mind. I love that city and that square, so I decided Cotton would own a bookshop right there. I wanted a character with U.S. government ties and a background that made him a formidable opponent. Since I personally love rare books, it was natural that Cotton would too, so he became a Justice Department-operative-turned-bookseller who manages, from time to time, to find himself immersed in trouble. I also gave him an eidetic memory, since who wouldn't like one of those? At the same time, Cotton is clearly a man in conflict. His marriage has failed, he maintains a difficult relationship with his teenage son, and he's tired of the risks that seem to follow him even in retirement.

BRC: What, or who, was your inspiration for Cotton Malone? Is he modeled after anyone in particular? And does his biography share anything in common with yours?

SB: I will have to say that Cotton is the first character I have ever created who possesses some of my traits. But I'd like to have some of his, as well. Personally, I'd love to own an old bookshop in Copenhagen.

BRC: Will Cotton Malone in future novels continue to deal with situations involving elements of antiquity, or will he be concerned with problems that are more contemporary in origin?

SB: There will always be something from the past, relevant to something in the present, that Cotton will have to deal with. I like that connection. David Morrell and Clive Cussler are masters at this, and I'm a huge fan of both.

BRC: One of the characters asks Cotton about the significance of his name. Cotton often "grins it off," saying it's a story for later, etc. Will you shed light on the story behind his name now, or do we readers have to wait until later too?

SB: There is a story there, but that will always remain a mystery. Secrets can be a lot of fun.

BRC: Do you currently plan to concentrate exclusively on Cotton Malone? Do you have any stand-alone novels planned for the immediate future? And do you have any other character-based series planned?

SB: Cotton Malone will occupy my brain for the next three years. I'm writing his 2007 adventure right now and plotting his 2008 foray. Haven't thought about 2009 yet, but it'll come. After that, we'll see where things head.

BRC: Who was your inspiration for Stephanie Nelle? Does a department/division like the Magellan Billet actually exist?

SB: Stephanie is wholly fictional, though her name is a combination of mine (in the feminine form) with my younger daughter's middle name. I wanted a strong female character to head the Magellan Billet, so I invented her. To my knowledge, no such division exists within Justice.

BRC: Though he did not have a major role in THE TEMPLAR LEGACY, we are intrigued with the relationship between Cotton and his son. What kind of role will Gary have in your upcoming Cotton Malone novels?

SB: A surprise about their relationship will be revealed in the 2007 novel, and Gary will play a large role in that story. Cotton's relationship with Gary is complicated, and those complications will figure into the next three books.

BRC: What about your intriguing supporting characters --- like Stephanie, Cassiopia and Henrik? Have readers seen the last of them or will they return?

SB: Not at all. They will all have key roles in the forthcoming books as their characters are developed and explored. Individually, they're each interesting, but together they're quite formidable.

BRC: One of the more intriguing aspects of THE TEMPLAR LEGACY is your descriptions of such places as Rennes-Le-Chateau, places more usually associated with tourism as opposed to intrigue. Will future novels featuring Malone continue to utilize exotic locales as backdrops, or will he be returning to his former home in the United States at any point in the future?

SB: I'm a fan of international suspense thrillers that, by definition, have international locales. So Cotton's passport will acquire many more entry stamps. I do have an idea for a domestic adventure for him (that involves his dead father and what may have really happened), but we'll just have to see if that becomes possible.

BRC: Are you still practicing law? If so, how do you divide the time you spend on legal work with your writing?

SB: I still work everyday. My time is roughly divided half and half, though I have four employees at the law office who tote most of the load. I write in the mornings, early, from 6:30 a.m. to around 9, then it's time to tend to clients.

BRC: When can we expect the next book?

SB: Sometime in the spring of 2007, another Cotton Malone adventure tentatively titled THE ALEXANDRIA LINK.