Meeting Steve Berry – Author of the Cotton Malone Historical Thrillers

Author Steve Berry Last night, author Steve Berry was in town promoting The Patriot Threat, his tenth Cotton Malone novel (one of my Favorite Series). He had a talk and book signing at a local library. Prior to last night, I’ve been to two book signings. They were each a themed event that I was attending where an author happened to be there. Last night is the first time I’ve been to see an author I love, in person. It was so cool.

Steve Berry writes the wonderful Cotton Malone series (I’ve read them all!) – thrillers deeply seeped in historical events (with a twist, of course), typically in an international setting. He also has a few non-Cotton Malone books which are on my to-read list. Cotton’s world is exciting, and the historical element always makes for an enjoyable read. Mr. Berry takes real historical events, meetings, people, and weaves them into the story with just a little spin to create the plot.

Author Steve BerryThe audience got to listen to Mr. Berry speak for a little over an hour. He is a wonderful speaker – very funny. He has a bit of a Georgian drawl which makes you want to sit down, drink some sweet tea, and just listen to a story. He started out for about 20 minutes talking to us about the history he’s using in the Patriot Threat (the 16th Amendment) and the setting of the book. (It sounds fantastic!) The remainder was an audience Q&A.

Afterwards, he had a book signing. He was so generous with his time, answering people’s questions and taking pictures. There was a man a few people in front of me who had a copy of every book he had written – and Mr. Berry smiled and signed every single one. After he signed my book, I asked him to sign a second book for my mom. I explained that she was watching my boys for me so I could attend. He signed her book “Thanks for babysitting!” I took his picture while he was signing and Mr. Berry asked if I would like one with him, which was so sweet – I wasn’t going to ask, but of course I took the opportunity he gave me. Great author, and a great person.

Meeting Steve BerryI did not take any notes or recordings during the session, but here are some highlights that I remember. The one that really sticks out in my mind is this piece of advice he had:

Don’t write what you know. Write what you love. If what you know and what you love are the same, then even better.

The Patriot Threat

  • The Patriot Threat is based on the 16th Amendment, passed in 1911. Mr. Berry told us the history behind the amendment, very interesting stuff. The 16th Amendment is the law that requires us to pay income taxes, and while it passed, if you actually look at the history it may not really have passed at all.
  • The first chapter in The Patriot Threat is a conversation between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Andrew Mellon. In reality, this meeting really did take place with several other people attending, who documented the meeting and what was said. For his story, Mr. Berry made it a private meeting between the two, and added his own contribution into their personal feud. (Not sure if feud is the right word here, I haven’t read the book yet. Maybe dislike?) The majority (75%) of the dialogue in this chapter was actually said at the real meeting.

Cotton Malone Series

  • He has just finished and sent his publisher the next Cotton Malone, which will come out this time next year in 2016. Elements in this novel include the Cold War and the 14th Colony.
  • I believe he said his current contract is the book he just sent to the publisher, and then two more Cotton Malone’s after that. He has ideas for more Cotton stories and is hoping his publisher will resign him. 🙂
  • The earlier Cotton Malone books were mostly international, with a little US thrown in. He and his publisher made a conscientious shift on these last few books to mostly US, with a little international (The Jefferson Key, The Lincoln Myth). The books will be moving back towards more international intrigue after the next one.
  • He likes to use names of people he knows as minor characters in his books (who typically get killed, LOL). The characters themselves don’t represent the person in any way – physically or characteristically. He just likes to use the name. His cousin was reading The Patriot Threat, and was surprised (and delighted!) to see his name in this one.
  • There is one exception to this rule – and that is President Danny Daniels, based off of real life Danny Daniels in name, looks, and character. He said the real Danny Daniels enjoys being the president. Mr. Berry bases Cotton Malone off of himself, he says it’s just easier to write it that way.


  • Mr. Berry is always working on three novels in his head. He is actively writing the one due the next year, plotting the one for the year after that, and researching the one for the year after that. (I could have the plotting/researching mixed up a bit in my memory, but you get the idea.)
  • As a writer he keeps a strict schedule. Once he has the book plotted, he writes it in chronological order and tries to write 1000 words a day. If he gets stuck writing someplace he does not jump ahead. He is stuck there until he works it out.
  • He spends 90% of his time thinking about the book and 10% actually writing it.
  • It sounded like Mr. Berry does all of his own research. For instance, he read hundreds of books regarding the 16 Amendment just to write The Patriot Threat. He also does approximately one research trip per book. There was one book he described where he was sitting in a cold cathedral (30º F) for four days trying to plot something for one of his books (I didn’t hear which title). He said everything that Cotton discovers is something he discovered during that time.
  • Mr. Berry was rejected 85 times before The Templar Legacy was accepted. His publisher knew Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code was in preparation for publishing and felt this genre was making a big comeback. Mr. Berry was very humble saying he happened to have the right manuscript sent in at the right time.
  • He has written three independent (non-series) books and one day would like to go back and visit these characters. As a writer, he can only do one book a year, so it would have to be once he was done with Cotton Malone (or taking a break). He doesn’t see that happening soon because the readers want more Cotton!


  • In 2013 they started a Steve Berry trip, sounds like they are doing one every other year. It sounds like so much fun! The first one was a cruise of 22 people traveling down the Danube. They have one going this year (of course full) – 32 people will be with Mr. Berry in France, his wife will lead the group with an orange paddle and the group follows along like ducklings with Mr. Berry giving the tour of different historical locations that factor into The Templar Legacy.

6 thoughts on “Meeting Steve Berry – Author of the Cotton Malone Historical Thrillers

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