Pleasanton Weekly

News - February 19, 2010

Historical thriller author speaks in Pleasanton

Steve Berry tells his story of rejections and path to success at time of "The DaVinci Code"

by Janet Pelletier

In Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers," the New Yorker columnist spends a good portion discussing how some fortunate people meet success by being in the right place at the right time.

Bestselling novelist Steve Berry can relate. An accomplished writer of historical thrillers in his own right, he'd faced years of rejection in the book publishing industry, until a then-unknown man named Dan Brown came along. Brown's first book, "The DaVinci Code," became an international success, spawning a Tom Hanks-starring blockbuster movie of the same title and later, a second book "Angels and Demons" and ensuing movie, also helmed by Hanks.

It was during that time that the publishing industry saw a resurgence in the historical thriller novel, something for which Berry had always had a passion. Today, he has over 10 million copies of his books in print in 50 countries.

Berry, who lives in Georgia, visited Pleasanton Feb. 11 to conduct a writer's workshop for about a dozen participants at Towne Center Books downtown and a reception at Little Valley Winery, where he spoke about his career and signed copies of his novels.

Judy Wheeler, who owns Towne Center Books, said Berry donated his speaking fee and time to conduct the four-hour writer session and reception.

The visit came together after Kathleen Antrim, a local thriller author and columnist for the San Francisco Examiner, discovered Berry would be attending the San Francisco Writers Conference Feb. 12 and thought she would approach him about stopping by Pleasanton while he was in town.

Despite 12 years and 85 rejections over five manuscripts, Berry kept at it.

"For me, it's been a slow, slow, steady process," he said. "It was not an overnight success. It's been an interesting journey for me. If I had a manuscript, I couldn't even give it away eight years ago. Now, (my books) are in 50 countries."

Some of Berry's New York Times bestselling thriller novels include "The Paris Vendetta," "The Charlemagne Pursuit," "The Venetian Betrayal," "The Templar Legacy," and "The Romanov Prophecy." He'll have a new book -- "The Emperor's Tomb" -- coming out this November.

His books are said to be a mental adventure for those reading, but they're also a real life adventure for Berry while he's researching for each novel. To write a historical thriller, Berry said he has to almost get into character for inspiration, traveling to the setting of each book and taking detailed notes. Upon being asked by an audience member how he keeps track of storyline ideas, he said it's relatively simple.

"I take a zillion photographs. Actually, it's my wife who takes a zillion photographs," he said.

Berry's wife Elizabeth is the executive director for Thrillerfest, the International Thriller Writer's yearly gathering in New York City.

While working on "The Venetian Betrayal," Berry said he wanted to imagine how to break into St. Mark's tomb in Italy, so while visiting it with his wife, he tried to sneak his camera to take photos when they weren't allowed. Though it got the pair thrown out, he said it was worth it because the pictures were essential to having a good recollection of what it looked like. And besides that fact, several others were taking flash photos.

"I also buy guide books and every picture book I can find," he added. "I have about six shelves at home full of guide books from around the world and that's what I use when I go to write."

Proceeds from ticket sales of both the writer's workshop and reception benefitted the Museum On Main. The Berrys, who are passionate about history, launched History Matters to assist communities around the world with restoration and preservation.

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