The return of Dan Brown: An interview with the author of 'The Lost Symbol'

Everybody has an opinion about Dan Brown. Some love the 45-year-old best-selling author of The Da Vinci Code and have already snapped up their copy of The Lost Symbol, which went on sale Sept. 15. Others suggest that he represents all that is bland and over-processed in publishing today. When I met with Brown, I found him pleasant and likable, even comfortably dorky. Here’s some of what he had to say (you can read the complete profile in this week’s EW).

You published two novels to little fanfare before The Da Vinci Code. At what point did you realize your days of obscurity were over?

I was out in Portland on book tour when I got news that it was debuting at #1. And I was all alone. I don’t even remember if I had a cellphone. I walked into the hotel where I was staying and the front desk said “Mr. Brown, we have a fax for you.” And it was just a huge number one. (wiping tears from his eyes) I still have that fax. It’s in a scrapbook.

With all the hoopla surrounding the publication of The Lost Symbol, do you miss that sensation of being newly discovered?

Now there’s enormous anticipation, enormous expectation. If the book weren’t good I’d be terrified. There’s so many critics who complain that I’m not William Shakespeare or William Faulkner or whoever it is. That’s exactly the point. They’re right. I write books in a very specific and intentional way, blending fact and fiction, writing in a very modern, efficient style that just serves the story. Some people understand what I’m doing and other people should just go read somebody else.

You have some very aggressive critics.

If The Da Vinci Code had sold 10,000 copies nobody would hate it. The first month The Da Vinci Code could do no wrong. All the reviews were spectacular. And then the book had the audacity to park at number one for a little bit too long and the whole tide turned.

Does it sting when people say you stink?

Yes of course it hurts. But I wouldn’t expect everyone to like what I do. When you’re a creative person, you’re creating something that you like and it’s all just a matter of taste. I’m almost amused that people go so far out of their way to say I hate this guy’s writing. It’s just a strange sort of thing for people to do. It comes with that level of success. You just have people gunning for you.

There’s this perception in the press that you’re some squirrelly recluse.

I just found that if I’m constantly stepping out of that cocoon into the light to deal with whatever crazy story the press has decided they’re going to say about me it does a great disservice to my writing and to my fans. The funny thing about authors is we’re not like musicians and actors. We’re not the celebrities—the books are the celebrities. And yet when you have a big hit suddenly the author becomes part of the mix and you become a publicly traded commodity and people can say all sorts of crazy things about you that seldom have any relation to reality. And you can either choose, okay, I’m going to step into the spotlight every day of my life and refute this or comment on this but if I did that I would just stop writing. I wouldn’t have any time or energy to do what I do.

You chose to fight a very public battle in the plagiarism lawsuit that was brought against you.

Everybody knew what that case was about. They were shaking a tree and hoping something would come out. You know what? They called me a plagiarist. They said I stole from them. And that was something I won’t tolerate. The game plan was pretty simple. Go to court, tell the truth, trust the system. And it worked. It was a huge relief when it was over.

Your publisher suffered severe layoffs last year and the press speculated your overdue manuscript was partly the reason. Did you feel guilty?

Of course. The reality is one book can’t save an industry. One book can’t support an entire country, I mean an entire company. And Doubleday called me and said, “Look, people are running these crazy stories. What happened at Doubleday has nothing to do with you. Even with your book in the budget we were in trouble.” Doubleday and Random House publish a lot of authors, a lot of big authors, and I’m one of them.

That’s not how it feels this week!

(laughs) Demand for this book is very high. I’m grateful. I went away for six years. I’m grateful my fans remember who I am.

Comments (7 total) Add your comment
  • Amanda

    I enjoy Dan Brown’s books, and I totally agree when he says that his books aren’t for everyone – if you don’t like it, read something else! Another one of my favorites is Meg Cabot, who’s known for her chick lit. She told an awesome story about a writing class she had, and she always wrote funny stuff, and when she tried to write something really serious and dramatic, no one liked it. Her teacher took her aside and said, “look, it’s easy to make someone cry, but it’s hard to make someone laugh – embrace your talent!” And I think it holds true for Dan Brown! He writes enjoyable thrillers that combine history and adventure. It’s not classic lit, but it’s a great read, and what’s so wrong with writing something people enjoy?

  • Alena

    As I often do with books I really enjoy, I “wolfed” this one down in less than 24 hours, pausing only for naps!

    The book was excellent and everything I’ve come to expect from Dan Brown. I loved it and am eager to dig in again. Also got Unlocking Mysteries With Solomon’s Key which has some great back story info and pixs.

    If you like Dan Brown’s books, you’ll love this. If you love non-traditional thought, you’ll love it even more!

    If you don’t I agee with Dan and Amanda, go read someone else. I’m in awe of those reviews that say “this is the 4th Dan Brown book I’ve read and it’s terrible.” Why would someone read 4 if they didn’t like the first one…

  • Lee

    I’ve read all of Dan Brown’s books and am so excited about The Lost Symbol. I’ve been trying to read it slowly to savor the story. He’s a great storyteller and I hope he keeps writing more Robert Langdon stories for years to come.

  • raingods

    So according to his logic, he doesn’t understand why people say they hate his books, is he equally mystified by those who say they like it? I know I am. He has an ability to take an interesting premise and bury it with cliches and poor writing.

    With as much money as he makes, and the amount the publisher spends on marketing his work, I’d think they could afford an editor who knows what they’re doing.

  • Joseph Glaser

    I read The Lost Symbol in a little over 24 hours. A real page turner.
    I can see Robert Langdon lasting for another book or two, but then he will have had more adventure than any reasonable man can expect.

  • Blerg

    Dan Brown’s books are to literature what CSI is to TV.

  • AmyCata

    Vicki Gundrum1:06pm, 11.Jun.10When I was growing up to be ahcgut reading meant you were doing nothing and so were assigned a chore. Anyone who interrupted a TV show was scolded no interruptions for that! But a book meant you were wasting time so had to work. I grew up to be a book editor, primarily scholarly and academic texts, which meant I edited subjects such as how to remove cyanide from amaranth or quinoa (I don’t remember which) but one of these is the third most important crop in tropical countries, right after rice and maize. With work like that I had little time or eyeball energy to read for pleasure, but at least I was reading, at one with my calling. Now I read for pleasure and there is no stopping me. I’m writing too. And, people still denigrate the way I spend my time while they do their important recreations.{}

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