Javier Sierra’s ‘How I Write’ Interview: A Room of One’s Own
With no windows! The popular mystery writer and Dan Brown predecessor tells Noah Charney he writes in a room without a view in order to concentrate—and it works. The Lost Angel is out in paperback.
Javier Sierra’s The Secret Supper, was a smash hit just before The Da Vinci Code raised further interest in Leonardo’s The Last Supper. Sierra is one of Spain’s best-selling authors. He’s also an art historian who writes non-fiction and presents television programs on historical mysteries.
Where did you grow up?
In Teruel, a cold and small city in Northeastern Spain. During Middle Ages, it was a meeting point for Muslims, Jews and Christians, and their fingerprints are still visible there. An exciting place to be born in.
Of which of your books or projects are you most proud?
Probably The Lady in Blue. After the publication of this novel, which rescued from forgotten history the life of a Spanish cloistered nun who had been accused by the Inquisition of being in the southwest of the United States and in Spain at the same time. The state of New Mexico and the nun’s home village, Agreda (in Spain), signed an official sisterhood agreement because of their magical common roots.
What’s your day like?
I love to wake up my children and bring them to school. Afterwards, I have breakfast. I read, update my emails, and do some “office tasks” in the morning. Evenings are for writing. I love to pick up my children from school, so I work till 4 and take my time to be with them. My priorities were clearly expressed by Stephen King in his book On Writing: first I am a husband, then a father, and after that, a writer. This keeps me busy till 7, when I have some extra time for reading or updating my last texts.
Do you have any unusual habits?
To start a new notebook at the beginning of any new novel I write. I take my time to select the best notebook for me: plain sheets, hard cover, and big size. Next step is to select the CDs that I will listen to during the writing process.
What is your favorite item of clothing?
An old beige jacket that I use only for my travels to Egypt. It reminds me of the spirit of adventure.
Please recommend three books to your readers.
What book do you wish you had written?
Many. But recently, The Swarm, by Frank Schätzing. A wonderful, mammoth novel halfway between The War of the Worlds and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
What is a place that inspires you?
The Southwestern United States is one of my places. For some unknown reason, my brain needs deserts to feel inspiration.
Name a work of art that inspires you.
Las Meninas, the masterpiece by Diego Velazquez, is a frequent refuge for my mind. It gives me food for thought.
What’s your process for conceiving a book?
I try to jump into my next fiction by traveling to the locations and handling some of the pieces that are going to appear in my book. It takes time to do that, but the final result will be more than a book—it will be a personal experience.
What’s your writing routine?
No routine, except to be available 24 hours a day for writing. Since I have children at home, I should be open to write when my mind is clear enough and they allow me to do it!
What’s your work space like?
The wall I have in front of me is a metallic one. I placed there a big piece of metal because I use magnets to fix clippings to it: pictures, maps or other relevant “memory devices” (such as bills and tickets) for my work.
What do you keep on your desk?
A small 3000 year-old statue of Thot, the Egyptian god of scripture. It works like an amulet.
What is the view of?
I decided to stay in a room with no windows, surrounded by books, in order to focus myself better on my task. And believe me, it works!
What do you do when you have writer’s block?
It’s easy: change my mind and focus on another project. Usually an article on a very different topic, or a small script for radio or television.
Describe your ideal day.
To wake up early, after a long and deep rest, and to start reading and writing after a nice breakfast. No phone calls. No doorbells. No disturbances from the outside world.
What is your favorite snack?
Manchego cheese—a particular kind of it that comes from central Spain.
What phrase do you over-use?
“Wait and see!”
If you could have a meal with any author you do not already know, who would you choose?
I have met most of my favorite authors, in one way or another. But one of my dreams will be to meet Umberto Eco.
If you could bring back to life anyone, who would it be and why?
Jules Verne! I have lots of question for him. But one in particular: why he burnt all his notes about his books two years before his death. What he was trying to hide?
Is there a fictional character with whom you identify?
Yes, but from the comic world. His name is Martin Mystère, a “detective of the unknown” created in the 1980s by Italian artist Alfredo Castelli.
Tell us a story related to a book event.
I have a very recent one. It happened to me in China, during my book tour for the launch of the Mandarin version of The Secret Supper. After a conference about Leonardo in downtown Beijing, a Chinese girl approached me and started to ask me questions about a never-translated book of mine, very local, entitled The Strangest Spain. That day I realized forever that globalization is a fact. No matter how local your writing might be, it can go everywhere in the world!
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Only one: to write only about subjects that are really important to you, whether or not they are “fashionable” or “popular” today. If you become the best in your field, your books will find their way!
What would you like carved onto your tombstone?
“Javier Sierra, now closer to the Truth”
What is your next project?
A novel about the space program… I hope.