First of all, I am NOT Dan Brown.
Four months ago, I received a disturbing bit of email from one of my readers: "Ah-ha! I've cracked your code! You must be Dan Brown writing under a pseudonym!" My first reaction was to smile. How flattering. Who wouldn't want to be compared to such a potent figurehead atop the best-seller's list? I didn't give it much thought-especially when the specific book the reader had been commenting upon (Ice Hunt) happened to have been written three years ago.
Yet then, over the next months, a strange phenomenon began to grow. First, an article appeared in Publisher's Weekly, naming five contenders for the Da Vinci crown. And to my shock, my upcoming novel, Map of Bones, was one of those listed. Then a month later, CNN.com does an article on the two-year anniversary for The Da Vinci Code and again my book is named as one of the books "riding the wave of success" of the current trend. My initial blush of flattery slowly began to cool into icy terror.
Now I certainly suspected my next book might draw comparisons to Dan Brown's books, as Map of Bones deals with mythology, religion, ancient relics, and Catholic history. But then again, so had ALL my previous books. All of my earlier thrillers churned these same basic themes. From my first book, I sought to blend historical mystery, breakneck thriller, and scientific adventure. In my second book, written years before Dan Brown's Angels and Demons, I even dealt with issues surrounding the Catholic Church (in that case, a rogue sect of the Spanish Inquisition still operating in South America). Yet now I found myself being pigeonholed as someone attempting to clone Dan Brown. The Da Vinci phenomenon was swallowing me whole.
So in fact, where did this story come from?
The germ for this idea actually started about ten years ago. I had come across a text while vacationing in Rome, about Vatican history and intrigue during the Great Schism where Europe was split by popes and anti-popes and the papacy was driven out of Rome to France. I found this bit of history fraught with possibility. But I didn't yet have the fictional thriller to go with it. So over the course of the past decade, I began collating ideas, bits of character, trickles of storyline until the larger story gelled into existence. This became Map of Bones.
Still there was another underlying reason I decided to tell this story now. Many modern thrillers, when collided with the Catholic Church or the Vatican, paint the Church, faith, and belief in a disparaging light. In Map of Bones, I sought to show the Church and its past in a manner that is both realistic and acknowledges some of the Vatican's corrupted past, but also stresses the role of Church as a fundamental factor in forming Western Civilization, and how faith in all its forms is as part of human nature as our own biology, whether it be the belief in God, a Higher Power, or in the substantive good in mankind.
So I finally wrote the book, delineating the age-old struggles between science and faith. And whether the adventure is compared to Dan Brown or not, it was a story I wanted to tell. It is my story.
And yes, despite all the above, a part of me is still flattered to be compared to Dan Brown. Perhaps I should talk to a psychiatrist about this incongruity…but of course, I'll have do so under an assumed identity, preferably something simple and plain… hmm, maybe Dan…Dan Brown.
James Rollins is the author of four previous nationally bestselling novels: Subterranean, Excavation, Deep Fathom, and Amazonia. An amateur spelunker and scuba enthusiast, he holds a doctorate in veterinary medicine from the University of Missouri. He currently lives and writes in Sacramento, California.