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June 19, 2011

Steve Berry: My Father, the Man Who Made it All Possible

Posted by Anonymous
Steve Berry’s Cotton Malone thrillers, among other novels, have earned him worldwide praise. His most recent addition to the series, THE JEFFERSON KEY, sees former Justice Department operative Cotton at dangerous odds with the Commonwealth, a secret society of pirates first assembled during the American Revolution. Today, on Father's Day, Steve discusses the man behind the infamous Cotton Malone --- his very own dad.
Photos: Steve and his father during Steve's childhood
Steve and Dad01.jpgMy father is a reader. Always has been. When I was a kid we lived in a small house in southeast Atlanta and my hangout was the basement. For a little guy, it was a cavernous place which sometimes could even be a tad scary. But the basement was where my father kept his books, stacked on metal shelves, the only light that of a bare bulb with a pull chain. Hanging from floor joists all around those shelves were clothes, stored there by my mother, each bundle protected by those plastic sheaths that still come from the laundry. I can recall many times pulling the string for that bulb, hearing that thin plastic rustle, then plucking a book from those shelves.  
My father liked everything. Fiction, biography, humor, sports. You name it, he read it. He was a salesman and traveled for his work. He left every Monday morning and returned on Friday afternoon. Most times he'd bring home new books. My mother wasn't always thrilled, as space Steve and Dad02.jpgwas limited, but that never stopped him. The books kept coming. And I kept reading.  
It would be about 25 years before I actually wrote my first word of fiction, but its seed was planted there, in the basement, beneath that bare bulb.
My father's name is Harold Earl Berry. Everyone calls him Sam and no one has ever really explained why. When I created Cotton Malone, I decided to name him Harold Earl Malone but to have everyone call him Cotton. I say all the time that there's a lot of me in Cotton Malone, but the truth is there's a lot of Harold Earl Berry in him, too. Cotton is strong, loyal, with a sharply defined character. He's also relatively mild mannered and practical and possessed of a B.S. tolerance level that generally hovers around zero.  
That pretty much sums up Sam Berry.  
My father played professional baseball in his younger days, so athleticism was also a part of his make-up. He could have made it to the majors, but a wife and child came along and ball players didn't make a whole lot in the early 1950s, so he hung up his glove and spikes and became a husband and father.  
That also says a lot about him.
The Jefferson Key.jpgMy father is now a grandfather and a great grandfather. I too am a father and grandfather. A lot of time has passed, but I often think about that basement, where I first dreamed of places far away and tales that seemed fantastic. I read a lot of history there, and now I'm lucky enough to be able to write about it. I've never really spoken much about how it all started. That kind of public analysis is not my way, nor is it my father's. But THE AMBER ROOM, my first published novel, is dedicated to the man who made it all possible. The words that appeared in the front of that book, published nearly eight years ago, still say it all.
For my father, who unknowingly kindled the fire decades ago. . .