Steve Berry has always been a history buff, but it wasn’t until he started writing historical novels that he also became an advocate for historic sites and museums. Berry is the New York Times bestselling author of historical thrillers, including The Emperor’s Tomb, The Jefferson Key, The Paris Vendetta and The Templar Legacy. His works have been translated into 40 languages and sold in 51 countries. His most recent book, The Admiral’s Mark, is the eighth book in the popular Cotton Malone series.
As Berry traveled the US and the world to research his novels, he became increasingly aware of the number of historical sites, museums and archives that deal with financial hardships while preserving important pieces of history. In 2010, Berry and his wife Elizabeth founded History Matters, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping raise funds for historical preservation projects.
As a famous author, Berry is in a unique position to help historical preservation organizations, and he approaches this task with creativity equal to that seen in his plots. Steve and Elizabeth Berry make use of their personal talents to hold workshops and other fundraising events for organizations that request their help. While they sometimes hold open houses and galas, their most popular events are writing workshops. Steve teaches three hours of writing technique and structure, and Elizabeth teaches one hour of writing business. All of the proceeds from their events go directly to the hosting organization.
Berry speaks modestly about their accomplishments, but it is clear he is passionate about their work and is proud of what they do. So far, Steve and Elizabeth have visited 22 sites since they founded History Matters and have 10 more visits planned for 2012. An event might bring in between $5 and $15 thousand for an organization, which can be a huge boon. The Oberlin Heritage Center in Oberlin, Ohio was able to purchase collection management software and complete some important conservation and restoration projects with the proceeds from a History Matters event.
The Berrys are a busy couple, traveling 4 to 5 months of the year for History Matters and Steve’s research. They are currently able to reach nearly every organization that requests help with some limitations. “The most important thing is fitting them in the schedule—timing is what’s important,” Berry says. Beyond that, “need, location and project.”
Berry relies on historical organizations for his research, and at least one or two of their trips every year are dedicated solely to research for a novel. He limits his research trips to a few days because “you have to have a short time or you could be there forever.” Researching a book is like a treasure hunt, and Berry often finds that the plot of a novel changes dramatically as he does on-site research. “Writing books is not fun, but it is very satisfying. It’s a stressful experience—you have to find something and you don’t know what.”
For The Jefferson Key, Berry visited several historic sites in the US, including Monticello. Some of his visits work their way into his novels in dramatic ways. Berry writes thrillers, so his protagonists don’t hesitate to take their life and death situations into any location “and Cotton Malone has a bit of a problem where he keeps damaging UN World Heritage sites.” Berry reminds us that the damage done in the name of adventure is made up for a work of fiction, but he hopes that the inclusion of historic sites in his novels will draw readers’ attention in some way. He stresses that what he writes is fiction but also that the best way to get interested in history is through a good story.
Steve Berry’s work in support of preservation organizations led the American Library Association to ask him to be the first national spokesperson for Preservation Week 2012. Preservation Week is April 22-28, 2012. Berry attended the ALA Midwinter Conference and provided the keynote address for the Preservation Week 2012 Kick Off on January 23.
Steve Berry's Website
Learn more about Steve and Elizabeth Berry's organization, History Matters
Find More Information on Preservation Week