Ask the Author: Dan Brown

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Dan Brown At the time I completed Angels & Demons, I never imagined it would turn into a series. After three long years writing about the Vatican, I'd had my fill of art, symbols, and religion for a while. I chose to write my next book on a topic as distant from the Vatican as possible. I wrote Deception Point, which was set in the Arctic Circle and centered on NASA, biology, and American politics. By the time I finished Deception Point, however, I found myself longing to get back to the semiotic world of Robert Langdon. That was when I decided to write The Da Vinci Code.
Dan Brown Saturday’s agenda is indeed a secret (to me, at least). The topics for discussion will be selected by our able host, WNPR’s John Dankosky. I do hope he asks me for the origin of the pseudonym "Mark Twain" — because I happen to know that one. Anyone else?
Dan Brown Hi Aika, best of luck with your writing. In response to your question, I believe that research is the most overlooked facet of writing a successful page turner. Solid research enables genuine description—that is, writing filled with specifics. Examples of “specifics" might include the exact flora or fauna of a given setting, the accurate jargon of a technician, or something as simple as the step-by-step method for cooking a regional recipe. The inclusion of specifics will increase your writing's credibility, depth, and appeal. What's more, the research process often unveils dramatic options that take your plot in directions that you (and your readers) did not expect.
Dan Brown The work of art I find most fascinating is one I’ve not yet written about…so I can’t tell you!
Dan Brown A little bit of both. I begin the process with some general ideas and themes—for example, Dante, Florence, overpopulation. Before beginning to write, I spend a lot of time researching the topics I’ve chosen. Once this initial phase of exploratory research is complete, I use the information to begin outlining and writing the novel. As the story gets tightened, the research continues, and new discoveries often pull me in unexpected directions, causing me to add another twist or two.
Dan Brown Thanks for your kind words. Yes, I often reread books I’ve enjoyed in the past. There are two reasons for this. In some cases, I’ve read the book so long ago that I’ve forgotten much of it and can enjoy it as if reading for the first time. In other instances, I remember the book well and choose to read it again to focus my attention not on the reading experience but rather on the novel’s inner workings… that is, the behind the scenes decisions the author has made on structure, tone, pace, and so on.
Dan Brown The Divine Comedy—like The Mona Lisa—is one of those rare artistic achievements that transcends its moment in history and becomes an enduring cultural touchstone. Like Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, The Divine Comedy speaks to us centuries after its creation and is considered an example of one of the finest works ever produced in its artistic field. For me, the most captivating quality of Dante Alighieri is his staggering influence on culture, religion, history, and the arts. In addition to codifying the early Christian vision of Hell, Dante’s work has inspired some of history’s greatest luminaries—Longfellow, Chaucer, Borges, Tchaikovsky, Liszt, Monteverdi, Michelangelo, Blake, Dalí—and even a few modern video game designers. Despite Dante’s enduring influence on the arts, however, most of us today have only a vague notion of what his work actually says—both literally and symbolically (which, of course, is of great interest to Robert Langdon). A few years ago, I became very excited about the prospect of writing a contemporary thriller that incorporated the philosophy, history, and text of Dante’s timeless descent into hell.
Dan Brown That’s an excellent question. Maybe Dante chose ice because fire is a consuming force, and therefore we perceive it as a finite torture (that is, we imagine we will eventually disintegrate). On the other hand, ice is a preservative force, and we perceive it as a never-ending torture. This is just a guess, and I’m open to hearing other theories if anyone has any.
Dan Brown I blend spinach, blueberries, bananas, almonds, and coconut water…and then I drink it. It’s not as bad as it sounds.
Dan Brown Other than Dante, my single biggest inspiration while writing Inferno was the following terrifying statistic: “The population on planet earth has tripled in the last eighty years.” Enough said.
Dan Brown Due to time constraints, the film adaptations can’t delve as deeply as the novels do into the ethical dilemmas that lie at the heart of these adventures. Should we consider Zobrist a villain or a hero? Should we use technology to alter the human species? These questions are at the crux of the novel Inferno, and yet they must be abbreviated in a film. As a trade off, though, movies provide wonderfully lush visuals of a novel’s locations and characters, which are always great fun for readers to experience.
Dan Brown “Although its juvenile dial often drew odd looks, Langdon had never owned any other watch; Disney animations had been his first introduction to the magic of form and color, and Mickey now served as Langdon's daily reminder to stay young at heart.” – Angels & Demons
Dan Brown Rather than outlining your plot in chronological order, try outlining your plot as if it were a candle burning at both ends. Begin the process by writing your first and last chapter simultaneously. It may be helpful to make the protagonist’s circumstances in these two chapters as different from one another as possible. This will require your character to undergo a series of changes between the beginning and end...changes that can serve as pillars on which to construct the middle of the book.
Dan Brown That tendency of the human mind to work harder to avoid pain than to find pleasure is something I first noticed in my own life, and so I was not surprised to learn that it is a widely accepted axiom of human psychology. Apparently, our pain receptors (both physical and emotional) are more highly developed than our pleasure centers. This imbalance is to help encourage self-preservation. While the pleasures of eating and procreation are clearly important to our survival, it is more urgently required that we as animals avoid the pain of being injured, killed, or abandoned.
Dan Brown Reading great novels is crucial to the development of any novelist, and there is no substitute for reading voraciously. At the same time, it is important that a novelist develop his or her own distinct voice and writing style. From the standpoint of giving your mind the creative space to find your own voice, I would recommend that you not read other novels while writing your own novel. Some writers will strongly disagree with this notion, but I believe that nature abhors a vacuum; that is, the less you read (while actively writing), the more eagerly your mind will strive to create. In my experience, a distinct voice will more readily emerge from silence than from cacophony.
Dan Brown I particularly enjoy the beginning of the process and also the very end – that is, I love the couple of weeks while I’m formulating my first ideas and having the initial inspiration for a novel…and then the couple of weeks surrounding the book’s release. I imagine my least favorite part of the publishing process would have to be the final set of galley edits -- a critical time when I am carefully reading material that I’ve been staring at for a couple of years and yet I need to stay very focused and read with as much perspective as possible.
Dan Brown By all means, I find reading non-fiction very inspirational. In fact, I never start outlining a new book until I’ve read as much as possible about the locations and themes that I intend to employ. Of course, while I’m researching one set of ideas, I invariably learn about others and am inspired to include them whenever possible. In this way, reading nonfiction becomes a crucial part of my research and inspiration.
Dan Brown I certainly remember that initial phone call from St. Martin’s Press telling me that they would be publishing my first novel Digital Fortress. I was thrilled simply to be published, and the fact that they were printing only a few thousand books did not bother me in the least. I felt like I was on my way.
Ten years and three books later, I was still publishing novels, but I was struggling with low sales. I worked two teaching jobs to pay my rent while I wrote my next manuscript – an art history thriller. After submitting the manuscript to my new publisher Doubleday, I embarked on a much needed vacation into the rain forests of Costa Rica. I had virtually no connection to the outside world, but several weeks into the trip, my agent managed to reach me through an email sent to a tiny internet café; she told me to come home right away because the pre-orders for my recently submitted manuscript were growing quickly -- faster than any of us could imagine.
By the time I got home, the pre-orders had outpaced the sales of my previous three novels combined, and it became clear that my upcoming book – The Da Vinci Code – was going to be my first successful novel.
Dan Brown I enjoy writing books set in the real world because I’ve always enjoyed researching real places and real issues (overpopulation, genetic engineering, Vatican politics, and so forth). The fiction I enjoy most is that in which the characters teach me something about the world in which we live. For this reason, all of my novels, including the non-Langdon books, are set in the real world and in present day. If you’ve read Inferno, then you know that the world was left in a drastically changed state at the end of the novel; this is something I intend to address in future books.
Dan Brown Hi Arlind!
It’s funny how many people ask me this question. It’s true that Langdon and I share a fascination with history, symbols, and codes, but this is where the similarities end. Langdon leads a far more adventurous life than I do, and he is certainly more daring than I am. He is, in many ways, the hero I wish I could be.
Dan Brown

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