Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Author Spotlight: Steve Berry

History matters. For an example of how profoundly our yesterdays intertwine with our todays in the art of writing modern historical thrillers, you needn't look further than the work of our Gazalapalooza Author Spotlight guest, perennially bestselling author Steve Berry. From his breakout 2003 novel The Amber Room, to his new book released just yesterday titled The Columbus Affair, humanity's heritage always plays a seminal role in each story Berry writes. Berry and his wife, Elizabeth, feel strongly enough about the importance of sheltering mankind's past from the ravages of its present, that they've established a charitable foundation called History Matters dedicated to assisting communities around the world with historic preservation and restoration projects. Combining his foundation's work with the approximately 11 million copies of his historical thrillers Berry currently has in print in 37 languages in 50 countries, and it's easy to see the man clearly knows his stuff, both historical and authorial.

Assiduous historical research is as much a hallmark of Berry's storytelling as is deft writing. Ancient secrets and hoary traps bedevil the unwary and unschooled alike in each of Berry's seven Cotton Malone novels, as well as in his three eBook original short stories, and his five stand-alone thrillers (of which The Columbus Affair is Berry's latest entry). A man so intimately familiar with unspeakable dangers past and present should fare well under the unrelentingly hot beam of the Gazalapalooza Author Spotlight. The Klieg lights are blazing. Without further ado, let's see how Mr. Berry handles the heat.

Gazala:    In my omnipotence, I've sentenced you to be stranded alone on a desert island for offenses best left unnamed. In my beneficence, I've decided to allow you a limited amount of reading material to make your stay a little less bleak than it would otherwise be. I'll spot you your religious text of preference, and the collected works of William Shakespeare. In addition to those, name the one fiction book, and the one nonfiction book, you'd choose to take with you, and why you choose them.

Berry:    Centennial by James Michener would be my fiction choice.  A superb novel of history that is Michener's finest work. That would keep my mind occupied a long time. Non-fiction would be the best dictionary I could find. I've always wanted to study the English language in more detail.
Gazala:    Your latest book, titled The Columbus Affair, is an excellent and gripping thriller about a mystery five centuries old that challenges everything we think we know about the discovery of America. I enjoyed it immensely, and recommend it highly. Shockingly enough, however, from time to time my bare recommendation doesn't always motivate a book's potential reader to become a book's actual reader. Tell us something about The Columbus Affair, and why its potential reader should make the leap and become its actual reader. 

Berry:    On the night of August 2, 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain with three ships and 87 men. Contrary to what Hollywood has portrayed, not a single priest was among those who made the journey. The Spanish Inquisition had begun. After midnight, on August 3, 1492, no Jews were legally allowed to reside within Spain, having been expelled six months earlier by Ferdinand and Isabella.

But that is only the beginning of the mystery.

Though he was called many things, no one knows the true name of the man who called himself Christopher Columbus. Where he was born, in what year, who his parents may have been, and where he was raised -- none of these are known with certainty. Columbus himself only publicly discussed his birth twice -- and used a different year on each occasion. Never did he chronicle his early life, and those third-party accounts that exist radically conflict. No true portrait of him was ever made. The few that are displayed in galleries around the world were painted long after his death. Only one was created by someone who actually saw Columbus during his life, and that image is distinctly different from all of the others. Columbus always wrote in Castilian, not Italian. He was clearly an expert seaman, but how he became one remains a mystery. He wanted to sail west, across the great ocean, to find India and Asia. Why he came to the conclusion that such a route might exist and how he found his way is unknown, as the chart he utilized disappeared after his first voyage. The log book that is cited by nearly every historical account dealing with Columbus is not an original; that too disappeared after his first voyage. What is wrongly called The Journal of Christopher Columbus is a copy of a copy, and whether it is complete or accurate is not known. 

Christopher Columbus, a man who changed the course of human history, is an enigma. Little to nothing is known about him. What is known, is suspect. Which seems to be the way Columbus himself wanted it. Was there a reason he cloaked himself in such contradictions? Some believe that there was indeed a purpose to his plan, and that intriguing possibility (which is becoming more and more plausible) led me to write The Columbus Affair.

Gazala:    What are books for?

Berry:    To enjoy, savor, and cherish.

Gazala:    W. Somerset Maugham said, "There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." Do you agree, or disagree, and why?

Berry: I actually adhere to 11 rules, which I taught myself during the 12 years that it took me to go from novice to published writer. I try to always keep those rules in mind.

Gazala:    The frenzied tribal drums suddenly outside my house tonight are booming too loudly to delay investigating them any longer. Ask yourself a question, and answer it.

Berry: Q: How can your readers learn more about Steve Berry and his books? A: Go to The website has it all.

It's always rewarding to discover what you think you know, you don't know -- especially within the pages of an absorbing thriller. Read Berry's new book, and start thinking very differently about Christopher Columbus. You can get your copy of The Columbus Affair from Amazon by clicking here.

1 comment:

  1. I read this book last spring and loved it. It was my first book by Steve Berry and I've since heard quite a few good things about him. I'm thinking about picking up a copy of The Jefferson Key next.