I once thought Steve Berry’s Cotton Malone novels captivate me because they have a dashing, but ethical, super agent hero and intriguing historical puzzles. Now I know the real secret of their appeal: Berry writes Hardy Boys mysteries for grownups.
Berry’s love for thrillers began when he read the adventures of Frank and Joe Hardy, youthful detectives. When he first tried to write a novel, legal thrillers were popular. Despite his law degree, Berry had trouble bringing Grisham-type plots to life. Finally he began writing the type of novels he wanted to read, even though the market for international spy thrillers was dead. Before his first book was published, Berry had drafted eight novels and gathered an impressive collection of rejection slips. Then the success of The DaVinci Code encouraged a publisher to accept his 86th submission. The Amber Room became a national bestseller.
Aspiring authors can take heart from Berry’s long road to publication. “I’m just sort of the living, breathing poster child for it-can-be-done,” he told The Oklahoman. Even more heartening is Berry’s hard-won wisdom about his craft. While writing is difficult, “it’s not impossible; it’s an acquired skill and if you want to acquire it and you stick with it … you can teach yourself the craft of writing.”
Key elements of Berry’s craft are creating suspense and using background from hundreds of historical sources without slowing the plot. To develop these skills, he read thrillers by authors he admired and sought feedback from his writers’ group. He indulges in no mystique about the writing process. Instead, he says he learned to write in much the same way he learned to practice law: he identified key skills, such as talking to juries, and practiced them.
Not everyone is willing to practice as much as Berry. But he’s living proof that writing skill isn’t a magical gift or a mysterious talent. It’s a craft, and it can be learned.
“Best-selling author Steve Berry to speak at Oklahoma writers conference, publish new Cotton Malone book ‘The Jefferson Key'”: http://blog.newsok.com/bamsblog/2011/05/06/best-selling-author-steve-berry-to-speak-at-oklahoma-writers-conference-publish-new-cotton-malone-book-the-jefferson-key/
Interview with Steve Berry (December 14, 2007): http://www.bookreporter.com/authors/steve-berry/news/interview-121407