When the Treasure Is Real
By Dawn Ius
Steve Berry, literally, can’t help himself.
What began as an interview about his new Cotton Malone thriller, THE LOST ORDER, swiftly became a mini-mentoring session, with Berry joyfully imparting the kind of wisdom that has given him hero status among many aspiring writers.
Berry is a natural teacher, generously donating his time—and expertise—at conferences and retreats, or through initiatives such as the Debut Authors program with International Thriller Writers.
“I know how tough it is out there,” he says.
Indeed, Berry, a former lawyer, could be the poster child for persistence, working at his craft for 12 years and fielding 85 rejections before finally breaking into the business. That was 16 books ago, with almost all of them hitting and staying on the New York Times bestseller list. But a whole lifetime could pass, and still Berry would not allow himself to forget where he came from.
“Publishing is a long and lonely process,” he says. “I had help and I want to pay that back. I owe it back. Folks did that for me.”
Which is why he never says “no”—not to blurbing dozens of books a year, not to a 9-1-1 call for advice, not to helping writers of all skill levels carve out their niche in an increasingly difficult industry. He helps, any way he can.
This generosity is one of the many reasons Berry has earned a reputation for being one of the most reliable staples in the genre. People can count on him to be a fixture with ITW—he’s actually a founding member. They can rely on him for support on issues of importance. In 2009, Berry and his wife, Elizabeth, launched the History Matters initiative to assist communities around the world with historic preservation and restoration. So far, they’ve raised a million dollars toward the effort. And readers know that every year—like clockwork—there will be a new Cotton Malone thriller.
The most recent—and arguably Berry’s best to date—is THE LOST ORDER, a story that finds Cotton Malone in search of a treasure long ago buried by the Knights of the Golden Circle, one of the largest and most dangerous clandestine organizations in American history.
“This group stole a lot,” Berry says. “They stole tons of gold and silver, then buried it across the country, and left clues on how to find it in the trees and rocks.”
As is expected from a Steve Berry thriller, the treasure is real—and actually, most of it is still out there.
“The clues are difficult to decipher,” Berry says. “It’s a language you have to speak. Which Cotton does.”
But Berry himself was not fluent. So, as with all of his novels, he spent considerable time researching the facts, including reading books by real treasure hunters who’ve gone after the caches left by the Knights of the Golden Circle. Three of those treasure hunts were combined for the first chapter in THE LOST ORDER, which true to Berry style, draws you in from page one.
Fans count on that, too.
That’s not to say that Berry’s books are formulaic or lack depth. Each tightly-written installment of the Cotton Malone series peals back another layer of his hero. In THE LOST ORDER, for instance, we finally learn the secret of how Cotton got his nickname. Berry is also dialed into what his readers expect, which is why former President Danny Daniels remains a prominent character in THE LOST ORDER, at some points almost stealing the show.
“He’s a very powerful and interesting character,” Berry says. “I needed him out of office so I could get in there and explore his brain. He could have his own book someday.”
Not that readers should expect that any time soon. Fans want Cotton Malone, and Berry is contracted for at least three more. That doesn’t mean he won’t shake things up a little, though. In fact, his 2018 release, The Bishop’s Pawn—which deals with the assassination of Martin Luther King—was written from a new point of view.
“I’ve never liked first person point of view for a thriller. But this story warranted it and I really enjoyed writing first person,” he says, noting that he studied several books—such as Steve Martini’s The Judge, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and the Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child—to understand how it’s done right.
“The experience has actually totally changed my outlook on first person,” he says.
Proving, again, that there is always opportunity for growth—no matter how many millions of copies you’ve sold.
Readers can expect The Bishop’s Pawn next spring, but if you’re craving more Cotton Malone, you’ll want to get your hands on the ITW’s MatchUp anthology, which releases June 13. Berry is paired with the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Outlander series, Diana Gabaldon, for a short story in which Cotton Malone meets Jamie Fraser in Jamie’s world. Word is, there will be kilts.
How’s that for a teaser?