Dan Brown Interview Writing Assignments
Dan Brown is one of America’s most notable author. Known for writing thriller fiction, Brown has produced numerous award winning novels including Angels & Demons, Inferno, and, one of the best-selling novels of all time, The Da Vinci Code. The Da Vinci Code challenged the publishing community, which ultimately led Brown to be named Time Magazines' 100 Most Influential People in the World.
|Brown has always provided readers with page-turners, and his forthcoming novel, Origin, will continue to do the same. Set in four cities in Spain, Origin investigates the two fundamental questions of mankind: Where do we come from? Where are we going? This exciting novel places Robert Langdon, his signature character, in yet another exhilarating adventure full of history, mysterious symbolism, cryptograms, art, and science. |
With only a few weeks before the novel’s release, Dan Brown discusses his inspiration and creative process.
Q) Art history has been crucial to The Da Vinci Code, Inferno, and Angels & Demons, with famous paintings playing key roles. Which Modern Art paintings or artists should readers study to prepare for your new novel?
I’d prefer to preserve the mystery by withholding the names of any specific paintings, but I will tell you that Langdon is a great admirer of Modernists Gaugin and Picasso. In this novel, as he moved into the world of Contemporary Art, Langdon must come down from his ivory tower, set aside his classical predilections, and navigate a landscape of avant-garde works that challenge his very definition of art.
|Q) You once gave the writing advice: “Create something and throw it out before anyone can see it. Repeat the process until you create something you can’t bear to throw out.” Have you ever thrown out a whole novel?|
A) I’ve heard that some writers “get it right the first time,” but I am definitely not one of them. For every page printed in my novels, I have invariably written at least ten that are discarded. When I speak to aspiring writers, I try to share with them my belief that the single most important skill they can learn as a writer is that of separation – that is, being able to read their own work as an “outsider” and ruthlessly delete anything that does not serve their story. I have never thrown out an entire novel, but I once had a computer crash that deleted the first one-third of Angels & Demons back in 1998. That was a very hard day for me. Ironically, when I finally gathered myself and went back to rewrite the novel, the story evolved into something better. And yes, I now back up on multiple machines.
Q) Your books are dense with history, art, conspiracy theories, and always set in culturally rich cities. Can you describe your research process and how research fits into your book-writing process?
A) For me, research always begins with reading – gathering ideas from history books, newspaper articles, websites, and beyond. Once I’ve read enough to choose a topic for a novel, the next wave of research is done in person – interviewing historians, visiting possible locations, and gathering the details that I’ll need to write the book. The research process is great fun but also very time-consuming, and I always end up with far more information than I could ever use in a novel. For that reason, researching and writing an informative yet compact thriller always feels a bit to me like making maple sugar candy: First you have to tap hundreds of trees, and then you must boil down the sap until you’ve distilled a bite-sized nugget that encapsulates its essence.
Q) For readers interested in the fascinating aspects of art history, conspiracy theories, and secret history that fill your novels, where would you suggest they go to learn more?
A) My original interest in secret history sparked while growing up in New England, surrounded by the clandestine clubs of Ivy League universities, the Masonic lodges of our Founding Fathers, and the hidden hallways of early government power. New England has a long tradition of private clubs, fraternities, and secrecy. For young readers interested in learning more about secret history, I recommend they begin with Manly P. Hall’s “The Secret Teachings of All Ages” – a beautifully illustrated book packed with codes, mysteries, and lost history.
Q) Your books are filled with puzzles and codes for readers to solve. What is your favorite real-life puzzle or code that you haven’t managed to crack yet?
A) I’ve always been captivated by the Voynich Manuscript – the mysterious, 15th century, encrypted codex that still baffles cryptologists, linguists, and historians. The illustrated manuscript was just re-published in a spectacular new edition, actually, and I’ve spent a lot of time studying the text, images, and diagrams. Sadly, I’ve come no closer to deciphering the document’s meaning and purpose. I really hope someone can crack it in my lifetime.
Q) Your books have been described as riveting thrillers that are difficult to put down. Do you set out to write page-turners?
A) Yes, I work hard to construct fast-paced stories with lots of suspense. For me, the goal is always to create a plot with just the right blend of surprising facts, exotic locales, cliff-hanging intrigue. When I hear that a reader can’t put down my book, I know I’ve done my job.
Q) History is clearly something that you are passionate about. What is it about understanding global history and stories that you find so compelling?
A) For me, the single most compelling aspect of history is that history is not always as accurate as we might believe. Throughout the ages, our trusted tales of “what happened” have always come from the same source – the winners. In other words, when cultures clash, the surviving people decide how their story will be told. For this reason, I am passionate about examining hidden histories and secret documents in an effort to unearth alternate viewpoints, lost facts, and new ways to interpret the stories we’ve all believed since childhood.
Q) Did you always want to be a writer?
A) I’ve always loved writing. When I was five years old, my mom helped me write and publish my first book. I dictated, she transcribed, and we did a print run of one copy with a cardboard cover and a two-hole punch binding. The book was titled: “The Giraffe, The Pig, and the Pants On Fire!” I still have it today.
Q) Back in the 1990s, before you were a household name, you would write to individual readers personally. The author-reader relationship has obviously evolved since then. Do you miss those days?
A) I do miss the days of interacting personally with readers. I think it’s because I spent so many years as a teacher and loved that face-to-face process. Writing is a solitary journey, and so I am always excited to go out on book tour and meet readers one-on-one. I learn so much by listening to the questions they ask.
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This Interview conducted by Doubleday Publishing.
Dan Brown has sold more than 200 million books worldwide.
Dan Brown shared his thoughts with Publishing Perspectives on the writing life after already selling 200 million-plus books.
By Roger Tagholm
Dan Brown, who was guest of honor at last week’s Sharjah International Book Fair, may be one of the world’s wealthiest authors, able to fly anywhere at the drop of a conspiracy theory, but he had never been to the Middle East before, having by his own admission, “spent so much time in Europe researching Christianity and western cultural history. So, on a personal level I needed to start stepping out in the wider world to learn about other things. That was part of the reason why I came, but of course, I also wanted to meet my Arab readership.”
His appearance at the fair was a huge coup for the organizers, to say the least. Brown is not on the circuit in the way some writers are, and he is a somewhat reclusive author. “I don’t speak often and I don’t go to book fairs,” he explained, before being whisked off to lunch with Sharjah’s Ruler, His Highness, Dr Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi. “Book fairs are wonderful, but my feeling is the best possible thing I can do for my readers, and for the book business, is to write, and if I get caught up going to book fairs and interviews and all that, I don’t write as well and I don’t write as quickly. And I’ve really decided that when I’m in writing mode I’m in writing mode and I just pull the shades and live a very simple life.”
Brown’s Writing Process
That simple life involves rising at 4am and working through until noon in a room with no access to the Net. He is not opposed to technology, and says the Net has transformed research, but he keeps it at arm’s length. “If I’m writing a scene in a restaurant in Dubai and I want Langdon to pick an item from that exact menu, that’s easy because of the Net. And if I’m some place I’ll shoot some pictures and send them to the person who looks after my Facebook page. But all of that can be an enormous distraction if you let it. There is an addictive quality about technology, and I very intentionally say no, this is a time to write – it’s a very analogue experience.”
I still face a blank piece of paper every day.
Brown believes location to be vital in his novels – “almost the most important character” – so it was obvious to ask him if Sharjah or Dubai might feature in the next book. “Now you’re sounding like a conspiracy theorist!” he said. “I’ve been many places this year, and what a treat to be invited to one of the biggest book fairs in the world. I’m in the research phase at the moment. There will be another Robert Langdon book, but it’s a ways off.
“As far as the writing process is concerned I still face a blank piece of paper every day. The characters don’t care how many books I’ve sold…”
Being Dan Brown
So what is it like being Dan Brown, whose books have now sold 200m world-wide? After all, it’s fair to say that his life changed considerably back in 2003 when The Da Vinci Code was published. “It changed in a whole lot of ways, and in a whole lot of ways it stayed identical. Certainly, from the point of view of my private life, there were dramatic changes. I had to get used to a lot less privacy [and traveling with security from time to time], and when I started The Lost Symbol after The Da Vinci Code there were a couple of months when I became very self-aware and thought ‘the next sentence I write a whole lot of people are going to read,’ and that was a little bit awkward for a month or two. Then I realized that I just have to do what I did before, which is write the book that I would want to read and suddenly it was good and I was able to write freely.”
While in the UAE he was given the whistle-stop tourist treatment, seeing “the world’s tallest building, the world’s biggest crocodile and the world’s biggest shopping mall, and I’ve only been here 24 hours.” His excursion to Dubai also took in the city’s Kinokuniya bookstore in Dubai Mall which blew him away. Appropriately, the store’s circular shape reminded him of Dante’s Inferno, and he described the store was “spectacular, absolutely spectacular,” which the store must surely use in its publicity.
On the Book Trade
When he isn’t in his closed off writing periods, he pulls the blinds up as he puts it, and lets the light in. This includes being aware of book trade issues. “I care about the book trade enormously, for obvious reasons. I want the book industry to thrive and authors to thrive. And it was interesting being at the book store in Dubai and thinking ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe that so many places like this have disappeared. What a crime’.”
But he wouldn’t be drawn on Amazon and was understandably careful not to been seen to be taking any sides. “Obviously I want the book industry to be vibrant. I want authors to survive, I want publishers to survive, I want bookstore to survive. I don’t dive into things too quickly. I don’t feel I have all the information, but it’s an important topic to me. I’m still trying to figure out how it will all play out. I think we’re feeling growing pains. Everyone here loves books and wants everyone to have books and have them quickly and easily, and however that happens I’m sure everybody will eventually figure it out. I’m more the creative guy.”
He is someone on whom success sits comfortably and modestly. Perhaps because such incredible success came to him relatively late, he comes across as a very grounded individual– and frankly, someone more interested in living s quiet life with his wife in the woods in New Hampshire, putting those blinds down and cracking on with the next Robert Langdon adventure. For which booksellers – and his many publishers – must surely remain thankful.
About the Author
Roger Tagholm is based in London and has been writing about the book industry for more than 20 years. He is the former Deputy Editor of Publishing News and the author of Walking Literary London (New Holland) and Poems NOT on the Underground (Windrush Press).