Dan Brown fans have waited four years for a new book to decode. At last, Origin has been announced for publication on October 3, one of publishing’s most anticipated (and most secretive) events. In fact, Doubleday has only released a single sentence about the novel: “Origin thrusts Harvard symbologist or symbolist Robert Langdon into the dangerous intersection of humankind’s two most enduring questions, and the earthshaking discovery that will answer them.”
BookCon caught up with Brown, uncovering a few clues about the new book.
Your books have the best puzzles and codes for readers to solve. What is your favorite puzzle or code that you haven’t managed to crack yet?
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 republished in a spectacular new edition, 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.
My favorite Dan Brown novels include at least one famous painting that readers need to study very closely. Which modern art paintings or artists should I 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 Gauguin and Picasso. In this novel, as he moves 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.
For every novel, you have a team of fact-checkers working on the manuscript. What’s it like to be a fact-checker for Dan Brown?
I have great admiration for the fact-checking team. Considering it takes me years to gather all the facts in my books, it’s a daunting task for the fact-checkers to review all of that material in a matter of weeks. They tell me it’s great fun learning about exotic locations and esoteric history. And, yes, the fact-checkers always catch a few things that have slipped through the cracks during the writing process, so I’m very grateful to them.
Three years ago, you did an “Ask Me Anything” interview on Reddit. What is it like to tackle more than 1,500 comments in a single interview? What was the most bizarre question you received?
The Reddit “Ask Me Anything” was surprisingly enjoyable. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it turned out to be fairly well-controlled chaos. The hardest part of the process was having to bypass many great questions. I felt bad not answering everyone, but the inquiries were flowing in so fast, I could barely read them all.
As I recall, the most bizarre question I received was simply: “Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton?” I responded: “Nicola Tesla.”
During that interview, you wrote: “I’ve toyed with writing about ancient aliens, but cannot do it because I don’t buy it. Sorry. If anyone out there can convince me, please do.” Has anybody managed to convince you?
Nobody has ever convinced me that ancient aliens have visited Earth. Not even close.
Back in the 1990s, before you were a household name, you would write to individual readers personally. Do you miss those days?
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, so I am always excited to go out on book tour and meet readers one-on-one.
You said 4 a.m. is the best time to write. How does that work?! Do you wake up early? Or stay up all night?
I’m in bed by 10 p.m. (boring, I know) and at my desk no later than 4 a.m. For me, the early hours have fewer distractions. I also believe that there is a close correlation between the writing process and the dream state (both of which require your mind to create something from nothing), so I like to transition from sleep to writing as quickly as possible... without checking my email or the headlines.
I love your 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.” How many times have you thrown out drafts? Have you ever thrown out a whole novel?
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 10 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. 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.
I find your prose very soothing when I fly on airplanes—I’m flying with Digital Fortress tomorrow, in fact. What do you read on airplanes?
For me, flying has always felt like the perfect time to read—a forced hiatus from life, a welcome disconnect from all the communication below. (I fear the arrival of in-flight internet may be changing all that, though.) When I fly, I’m generally reading relevant research books, highlighter in hand.
Today, 11–11:50 a.m. Dan Brown discusses his books, making movies, and his interests in codes, science, religion, and art on the Main Stage.