Author Imprint


Panel: Steve Berry, Katherine Neville, and Jeffery Deaver

Steve Berry, Katherine Neville, and Jeffery Deaver are thriller writers who have sold millions of books worldwide. They discuss their advocacy of the Smithsonian Libraries' Adopt-a-Book program and their writing process. The three have been friends for years, and though their books are different, they all have something in common: they got published later in life, after living a little.

AIRED: May 31, 2018 | 0:23:09

Welcome to Author Imprint,

I'm your host Maddie Orton.

Today we're doing something a

little different.

We have a panel of three

best-selling authors here to

talk about their books and

their work supporting the

Smithsonian Libraries.

Steve Berry is a New York

Times and internationally

best-selling author.

History is at the core of his

novels and he created a

foundation devoted to

historical preservation called

History Matters.

He's won multiple awards for

his writing and philanthropy.

Steve thanks for joining us.

It's great to be here,

thank you.

Our next guest is Katherine

Neville a modern day

renaissance woman whose books

defy categorization and have

graced bestseller lists in 40


Both Katharine and Steve are

on the advisory board of the

Smithsonian Libraries in

Washington D.C. Thanks for

being here Katherine.

Thank you Maddie.

And the final author to join

us today is Jeffery Deaver,

an internationally bestselling

thriller writer.

He's received awards by many

different mystery writing


And three of his books have

been adapted for screens large

and small.

Thanks so much for being here.

Thanks a lot, Maddie.

Let's start with why you're

here in New York City.

You're all here to support the

Smithsonian Libraries'

Adopt-A-Book program.

Can you tell me a little bit

about what it means to adopt a


Well it - the Smithsonian

libraries if you don't know

it, there's 22 libraries.

At the heart of every

Smithsonian museum is a


They're not out on the floor,

you don't see them,

but they're tucked away

somewhere and they are

literally the heart of that


And together those 22

libraries are one of the

largest repositories of

knowledge in the world.

And we have a enormous amount

of information and there are

millions of pieces of

documents, books,

and all kinds of artifacts.

Well some of those need some


Some of those need


And so we created the

Adopt-A-Book program where you

can actually adopt a book and

pay for that restoration.

It can be as little as a

hundred dollars or 150 dollars

or 200 dollars.

Sometimes it can be a few

thousand dollars,

it depends on the condition of

the book.

But if you adopt a book it's

really kind of neat,

you get your little plaque in

the front, it's your book.

You can come visit your book,

you can bring people to see

your book.

You're kind of like the parent

- that is your book.

And we have adopted thousands

of books and we're having an

event here at the Cooper

Hewitt too to bring that adopt

a book program to New York.

I think it's really exciting

that the three of you are

friends in real life.

I was very- I was going to say

thrilled to hear that.

You're a part of a thriller

organization as well.

Tell me a little bit about


Oh it's fantastic.

Well a number of years ago

some thriller writers got


it was with David Morrell,

who wrote First Blood that

they based all the Rambo

movies on,

and Gayle Lynds who is the

first person Robert Ludlum

ever asked to co-author a book

with him,

and the two of them decided

that they wanted thriller

writers to be more recognized

because the Cold War was over

and everyone thought of

thrillers as being like Cold


you know behind the iron


Sure, spies.

And there were all these

different thrillers that were

going on like legal thrillers

and horror thrillers and

romantic suspense thrillers.

Ever-popular serial killer


So yeah ever popular serial


In his unbiased opinion.

And so 32 of us got together

and we founded International

Thriller Writers.

Now we come to the Grand Hyatt

in New York to the center of

publishing and it grew - the

original one maybe had a

hundred people now we have

over 1000.


And thriller Fest is not- it's


we do have fans that come but

it's mainly a genre conference

so we have writers,

soon-to-be-writers, editors,


We have agent fest we have 60

of the biggest agents in the

business there.


That you can pitch your book


There isn't a competitive


it's all "I want to help you.

What can I do.

Oh why don't you come with me

and be on this program.

Why don't you come with me

appear at this panel with me."

It's just, don't you agree,

just so much generosity.

I should mention by the way

you have some power hitters

here, on either side of me.

That Steve was, as I said,

our copresident of

International Thriller


And Jeff this year is the

president of Mystery Writers

of America.

And the fact that those are

two different things I think

is amazing.


Shall I say the difference

between mysteries and


That's what I was going to ask


You beat me to it!


In a mystery,

something happens and you try

to figure out- some kind of

crime or accident...

You try to figure out who done

it, how they done it,

where they done it,

why they done it,

motive and so forth.

In a thriller,

you hear some terrorists

whispering in a back room or

plotting something or you see

a bomb ticking under a table

or something in like "High

Noon" you know.

And you're waiting for

something to happen and you

try to prevent it from


try to figure out where it's

going to happen,

when it's going to happen.

So it's just the same type of

plotting suspense technique.

But the converse of it.

I have a stack of books on my

bedside table.

If you ever hear about the

author killed because books

fell over on him in the middle

of the night.

That's you.

I keep saying "I'm going to

get to these,

I'm going to get to these."

But if I'm going to sleep at

night I'll pick up a murder


And that would be an Agatha

Christie kind of story,

or a Dashiell Hammett.

Because I can read a chapter

to enjoy it.

Oh little intellectual puzzle.

But I can close the book.

If I pick up a Katherine

Neville or a Steve Berry for


and I say "OK I'm going to go

to sleep.

Oh no I have to keep going.

I'm going to fall asleep.

Oh no I have to keep going."

So that kind of puts that in

the context of the reader's

response to the murder mystery

versus thriller.

You all had very versatile

careers before you this.

That were in some ways very

far off,

in some ways very similar.

You have two lawyers here


Two lawyers.

Jeff's former career is my




Well Which among those is- I

was a- let's see,

I'm a recovering attorney.

There was that.

I was a journalist for a time.

Are we talking about the folk

singer part?

Please let's talk about the

folk singer part.

I aspire to be a Bob Dylan

Jackson Browne,

more into the thoughtful song

writing aspect.

Now to be a singer-songwriter,

there are two components to

that right.

The singing part.

Not so good.

So that career didn't last

very long.

If Jeff had stayed with that


And I said this onstage at the

Edgar Allan Poe awards,

he might today have received

the Nobel Prize in Literature.

And Katherine,

you were a photographer,

a model, and a painter,

do I have that right?

And a banker?

And a banker.

Actually I a think I was

actually a computer wizard.

I was like a technocrat.

So all the way through school

I worked as a model because

they didn't have a lot of jobs

for girls then unless you

could type and I couldn't


And so I actually worked as a

model and then I learned so

much from the photographers

who photographed me.

I'd say,

"what lens are you using?"

You know.

Lindsay using and I became a

commercial photographer many

years later.

And actually the first female

one in Colorado I think.



Because I knew all the male

photographers and - But the

thing is I had to work,

and there was a brand new

profession starting that no

one had ever heard called data


And so I learned how to

program and how to design

systems and that took me all

over the world.


And so I got a lot of


I'll never run out of material

for novel.


And then Steve you were a

public servant and a lawyer


I was a lawyer for 30 years I

was a trial lawyer.

I was like a hired gun.

I went to court for you.

But I was also in a small


so I did all the little stuff.

Corporations, wills adoptions,

all those kind of - loan


loan closings on your house

and that kind of thing.

So I had my office and I

served in public office 14



In what position?

County Commissioner and school

board member, and I miss that.

We've touched on something

here in this strain of the


that I think writers need to

live life.

I think they need to do a

number of careers and that's

why I didn't publish until I

was in my early 30s.

Although I knew from I was -

when I was 11 years old.

I wanted to be a fulltime


There was no doubt in my life.

But I also knew it wasn't- I

couldn't do it right away.

You need to experience things,

you need to be in


look at the world a little

bit, know about conflict.

And so that's why that's one

of the reasons I picked law

and another reason I picked


Whenever I speak to young

young people who are aspiring

writers I always say- "What

are the two things that are

most important?"

They always ask, you know,

to become a writer.

And I would say get a job and

get a Eurail pass.

Well said, that's brilliannt.



How did each of you do the

transition from your previous

job to this?

It was a long process for me.

I didn't publish I was 47.

And so I was published in 0 3

with "The Amber Room" and then

subsequently got to establish

a career and I got to do it

full time.

I didn't set out to do that,

because I wasn't arrogant

enough to think that "well I

can write these books and I

can write full time and and be

a novelist" and all that.

I never thought that but I

wanted to be a commercial

fiction writer but I didn't

know if I could actually pull

it off it just worked out.

Where I got to do it full time

and then I did seven books

still as a lawayer.

I 1uit on book 8.


Which was very scary.

I was terrified to quit

because you're you're cutting

a lifeline.

You have to understand,

I made a very good living as a


I didn't need a dime from

publishing, I did very well.

But I was cutting that off.

I'm selling the office,

I'm shutting down the


I mean you're not you're not

burning bridges you're nuking



It's true, it's true.

What drove you to tell those


The little voice in your head.

The only reason any writer

writes is they have a little

voice in their head that tells

them to write.

I mean every- I say this all

the time.

I don't think writers are

born.But the little voice in

your head you're born with.

And if you listen to the

little voice and you develop

the little voice,

you can become a writer

because there's a craft to it.

There's a right way and a

wrong way to write things.

It's an art,

and you can express yourself

and have a lot of fun with it,

but there are still ways to do

it right and ways to do it


And you have to learn that


but it's that little voice in

your head that tells you to

write and it doesn't say

"write a bestseller and make a

bunch of money and do all

that," no.

It just says "sit down and


If you'll sit down and write I

will shut up.

If you don't,

I will nag you to do it.

And that's what happened and

every writer has it.

Every writer,

like Paris Reviews interviews,

every writer no matter what

kind of writing they do,

they always say- if it's


they always say: you know

you're a real writer when you

start to hear the sound of

your own voice.

But it's really when you start

to hear the sound of your

character's voice,

when you start to be a court

stenographer and writing and

taking notes on what the

characters are saying.

So I always say the third

ingredient is you have to be

sort of basically

schizophrenic inclination.

Is that really what it feels

like in those moments of this

is what the character would


Yea you have to let the

characters start talking.

In the middle of my last book,

I was under deadline and I was

running late and I called my

my editor and I said,

"Well I'm really sorry but

this one character just

started talking and I didn't

know he was going to tell me

that he learned to play chess

in his mother's kitchen while

he was snapping peas." He said

"OK I guess you have to do


When I um - I'm more of a plot

driven author.

Have you heard the expression

of pantser and plotter?

A pantser is an author who

will tend to just start with a

blank page and then go forward

as in "seat of the pants"

flying that way.

And then a plotter is someone

who outlines and I do a great

deal of- I do a great deal of

outlining and yes occasionally

a character will develop a

voice of his or her own that

does not jive with where my

plot is going in which case

they become the next victim.

I'm sorry I can not take...

You don't have time for that.


I have occasionally taken them

our of that book I'm working

on and given them their own

book but it's so much easier

just to kill them.

Oh my gosh!

Well that actually brings up

an interesting question for


When you plot out a thriller

like "The Bone Collector" for

example which is, you know,

such a widely known book.

Do you know where this is

going before you start?

Well I'll explain it very very

quickly here.

I um...

The answer is no.

But I had an idea in "The Bone


" for instance about a

quadriplegic forensic


someone - a New York City

police officer,

injured on the side of a crime


And he was in retirement,

but then he had to come out of

retirement to track down a man

obsessed with bones,

a killer obsessed with bones.

That was the only idea I had.

And so then I started with

Post-It-Notes on a big

corkboard in my office and for

the next roughly six or seven

months I moved the scenes

around until I had a rough

idea of where I wanted the

story to go and what I wanted

the twist to be at the end.

Because my books have twists.

I like- all the subplots have

twist after twist after twist.

And so at the end,

then I would go back and put

clues in that would allow the

reader to come to the twist

and say,

"Oh you know that was in

Chapter 7.

I should have seen that clue,

I should have seen this clue."

So I am excessive in


I don't expect my students to

do that,

but I think it was Joyce Carol

Oates who said you can't write

the first sentence of your

book or story until you know

what the last sentence is.

Doesn't mean you have to know

the exact sentences.

But you have to know kind of

where you're going.

And I'm an advocate of that.

But you know an author like

George R.R.

Martin who wrote the Game of

Thrones books, for instance.

And I think will be a guest at


he'll be the ThrillerMaster.

He said you can't plot it out,

writing is like a garden,

you plant a seed and you kind

of nurture the seed but you

never quite know where it's

going to go.

So it's you know it's just

it's very subjective whatever

you're most comfortable with.

And actually to that end,

the idea of planting a seed

and seeing where it goes.

Steve and Kathrine you both

work with historical fiction.

Oh yea, I have to know.

I'm like John Irving.

John Irving stood up.

He's the only person I've ever

heard say this,

and he said he always has to

write the last sentence first

sentence first.

Do you?

He doesn't care what happens

in between.

As long as he knows where he's

headed because you can't-

otherwise you can end up

getting so fascinated by your

research that you paint

yourself into a corner.

Jeff said it but I say it

another way I say - I'm asking

where do you start a book?

You start a book as close to

the end as possible.

How do you mean?

Just that.

You started a book as close to

the end- So what does that


You got to know the end.

So you know the end and you

get as close to that moment as

you can get.

In my case it's between 24 and

48 hours.

How close can I get to that,

to start the story?

You have 12 months to produce

a book you don't have a lot of

time to sit around and gaze at

it and think about it and all


You've got to get moving.

You've got to get going and

you've got to produce that

book and get it done because

publishers have this rule,

it's the worst rule in the

world they will not change it

under any circumstance.

They will not give you a check

unless you give them a book.

And they will hire me and

modify that rule for anybody.

I don't care who you are.

What folly, I'm shocked!

And so you have to produce.

And we're commercial fiction


This is what we do.

We do this for a living and

we're entertainers.

I mean I say that all the


my books aren't going to win

the National Book Award or the

Nobel Prize or any award


they're not going to do it.

They're not designed for that.

But if you can read my book

for a few hours have a little

fun and forget where you are

and just have a good time.

I've done my job.

But so here's the question,

if you're balancing art and

commerce and you have a year

to do it.

That's right.

That's a great question.

How does that work for you?

I mean do you believe in

writer's block?

What do you do when you get


Just barrell through it

because you have a timeline?

For me it takes me five to ten

years to write a book.

I was about to say,

we have to-.

They have to just have to


But it terms of page count,

we're pretty similar.

I mean your books are long.

Yea they're long.


Yea Jeff and I do one a year.

Basically we do the- we're in

the one a year group and so we

have to-.

Well he is the speedy bullet.

He really is,

he can write - we were

discussing this earlier and he

said "Oh you need a short


well give me two or three


Well I do- I do write a lot of

short stories.

But you know one of the keys

in that is knowing what to

write because,

I think Terry Pratchett said,

there's no such thing as

writer's block.

It was invented by people in

California who can't write.

Right - that's correct.

Now that's being a bit


However if you are working in

a genre that you're

comfortable with and you plan

your book out ahead of time to

make sure it's a viable book,

you won't be blocked.

So where do you get your next

idea then?

Well I mean I think we can all

agree that ideas aren't really

a problem.

Do you agree with that?


I mean that I have lots of


The time, I find that,

getting a bit older now,

just the energy.

I mean I do a book a year,

I probably do eight or nine

short stories a year,

and I'm working on a- I'm

writing a script now for an

independent film.

So it's just getting a little

more tired to do that.

So to sit in the chair for the

eight or ten hours isn't as

much fun as it used to be.

Yea you have to get a lot of


Yeah well I should get more


I studied with chess masters,

they have to get up and

exercise because they

sometimes sit for twelve hours


Is that right.

Is that right?

I didn't know that.

You studied with chess


I studied because I don't play

chess well but my books all

have chess plots.

The entire plot of the book is

a giant chess game.

"The Eight" of course had all


And I have chess in I think

almost every book.

And Steve what about you?

Because you have a specifice

piece in history see that

you're pulling from,

how do you choose that piece

of history?

That's why it's becoming- it's

more difficult for me because

I have to find that thing and

they're becoming more

difficult to find.

You can find things from

history but making them

relevant today.

And how do I find it?

All kinds of places, books,

TV, magazines...

Mainly from traveling.

You go there.

Mainly from being somewhere

and someone says something.

And that's where "The

Alexandria Link" came from,

it's where "The Romanov

Prophecy" came from.

The one place the ideas never

come from is when you go and

look for them.

They must find you.

You cannot find them.

They're completely impossible

to find if you go hunting for

them but they will find you if

you'll get yourself in the

places where you need to be to

hear those things.

And occasionally I'll be

walking down the street.

And it used to be I had a

little pad of paper and


now you can use your

smartphone of course and

dictate things,

but I remember I had this-

when I woke up in the middle

of the night,

it's just a brilliant idea and

I wrote it down and fell back


And I woke up and I'm so

excited and it was like


I knew it would have been the

next bestseller and it was oh


And you know I blame the fact

I was too lazy to put the

light on.

That'll do it.

But you know what?

In every culture,

and I say this over and over,

in every culture there is this

fairy tale about a rock in the

middle of the road,

and people are going down the

road and they're breaking the

axle wheels and they have to

detour and they're cursing the

rock in the road.

And finally this young boy

comes along and he goes "oh

someone might get hurt I'd

better move that rock so with

great effort he pries the rock

out and moves it,

and under there is the pot of

gold or the- or the map to the

pot of gold or the map to the

rainbow that will lead to the

pot of gold.

And if you don't pick up that

rock you're not- the story


The minute you pick up the


if something plops into your


you really have to follow it.

And if it plops into your


not when you're asleep but...

So what's the next thing that

plopped into each of your


What are you all working on


I'm working on the 2019 novel

cause you stay in a year ahead

in the book business,

so I will turn that book in

January-February of 18,

to publish in the spring of


So I'm working this Cotton

Malone adventure and it deals

with Malta,

which is one of my favorite

places in the world.

I've been wanting to set a

book in Malta and deal with

something there that's very

interesting and that's real

from history and something


Anything you can tell us


I don't want to give that


But the 2018 book I could tell

you about.

It's called The Bishop's Pawn.

It's a Cotton Malone


deals with the assassination

of Martin Luther King.

Because next year is the

fiftieth anniversary of that,

so I've been holding that

story for a long time and it's

my first dalliance into first


So this will be all Cotton

Malone first person.

I've never been a first person

novel and it was a lot of fun

I enjoyed.

I enjoyed doing it.

That's exciting.


Well I have been working on

this book for a really long


It's about painters in the

1600s and modern times.

And I was a painter when I was

really young and I realized

that that was when art


You know everything changes

with new technology.

But that was the moment when

the Flemish had invented oil

paints just a short time

before that,

and all of a sudden,

instead of having to compete

for these big church

commissions on walls and

frescoes and egg tempera on


all of a sudden the painters

could put their pigments in

their pocket and their their

linen canvas on their back and

they could go to Venice and

wait for the ships to come in

and bring the,

you know things from India and


All of a sudden,

there was transparency and

light in art and women could

paint because they didn't have

to compete for the big church


they could go live in the

harem and many of them did go

live in the court,

and you know and paint all the

families of the kings.

So there's travel going on all

of a sudden they could see

each other painting.

It was a revolution and it was

very exciting to me.

But the problem is no one's

doing that kind of painting


So I really had to do a huge

amount of research on how they

used to do it you know how you


hands-on so that- so anyway,

it's really fun.

It's a really fun period for


Very cool.

"The Cutting Edge." It's a

Lincoln Rhyme novel,

the character from "The Bone

Collector" and it takes place

actually not too far from

where we are right now,

on 47th Street in the diamond


And that's what- all of my

books have a little bit of


"The Broken Window" was about

data mining,

"The Kill Room" was about

targeted assassinations

extrajudicially by the US

government of of US citizens.

"The Burial Hour,

" my most recent book,

is about immigration asylum


This one is about the world of


and not blood diamonds because

that's been done,

but the whole economic

socioeconomic aspect of the

diamond industry which I found

fascinating, just fascinating.

Well that sounds like a lot to

look forward to.

Thank you so much for being


Thanks a lot Maddie.

You can check out books by

these prolific writers

wherever books are sold.

Steve Berry's atest is the

"The Lost Order,

" Jeffery Deaver's is "The

Burial Hour" and Katherine

Neville's is "The Fire" which

is the sequel to her first


"The Eight." An adventure is


Let us know which authors

you'd like to hear from and

what you're reading on

Facebook or Twitter at WLIW21

hashtag Author Imprint.

Thanks for tuning in.


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