NEW YORK – In Dan Brown's latest piece of writing, you can read about his fascination with secrets and codes, his years as a struggling songwriter and novelist and his reaction to the explosive success of "The Da Vinci Code."
It's a 69-page, unofficial memoir from an author who has rarely spoken to the media since his novel became an international sensation, a document intended not for reporters or general readers but for the officials of a British courtroom.
Brown, who has been trying to complete his follow-up novel to "The Da Vinci Code," has spent the past few days on a witness stand in London. Writers Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh are suing Brown's publisher, Random House, Inc., for copyright infringement at London's High Court, claiming Brown's book "appropriated the architecture" of their 1982 nonfiction work.
As part of the Random House defense, Brown submitted a witness statement this week that not only disputes the allegations of Baigent and Leigh, but offers a long look into his private and professional life, from the treasure hunts of his childhood to the arguments with his wife over not including some of her research in "The Da Vinci Code."
"I always reminded Blythe I was trying to write a fast-moving page-turner," explains Brown, whose book has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide and remains high on best seller lists three years after coming out.
Born in Exeter, N.H., in 1964, Brown is the son of Richard Brown, a celebrated mathematics professor at the Phillips Exeter Academy, and Constance Brown, an accomplished musician. He was immersed early on in puzzles, codes and secrets, remembering fondly his father's Christmas treasure hunts and the elaborate clues Brown needed to follow.
He received an elite education, attending Exeter and Amherst College, contributing to the literary magazines at both schools. Brown also recalls a summer studying art in Spain that left him with a lasting appreciation of art as communication "between artist and viewer."
He had studied piano since age 6 and his first career choice was music. But a move in his 20s to Los Angeles, "the heart of the song writing industry," led to only "limited success" despite the "best efforts" of the National Academy of Songwriters. The Academy did provide one lasting connection — his future wife, Blythe Newlon, then the organization's director of artistic development.
In Los Angeles, Brown recalls, he felt like a "fish out of water," an ordinary guy living in an artists' complex with male models, "drama queens," and aspiring comedians and rock stars. He was inspired to compile a list of "187 Men to Avoid," which proved amusing enough for the Berkeley Publishing Group to release as a book, in 1995, under the pseudonym "Danielle Brown."
Brown had been raised on the Great Books, from Faulkner to Dostoevsky, but it was literature of a very different kind that inspired him to try fiction himself. On a fateful 1993 vacation to Tahiti, Brown brought along a copy of Sidney Sheldon's "The Doomsday Conspiracy."
"It held my attention, kept me turning pages, and reminded me how much fun it could be to read," Brown writes. "The simplicity of the prose and the efficiency of the story line was less cumbersome than the dense novels of my schooldays, and I began to suspect that maybe I could write a `thriller' of this type one day."
He debuted in 1998 with "The Digital Fortress," an intelligence thriller, and followed with "Deception Point" (a novel he found boring to write) and "Angels & Demons," the latter featuring Harvard University symbolist Robert Langdon, the protagonist of "Da Vinci Code" and, Brown hopes, many more novels.
"I intend to make Robert Langdon my primary character for years to come," Brown writes. "His expertise in symbology and iconography affords him the luxury of potentially limitless adventures in exotic locales."
Brown had signed on with Simon & Schuster, but soon learned that a mainstream publisher doesn't ensure publicity and that mainstream stores will dump a book fast if it doesn't sell within the first few weeks. By 2001, he was arranging his own tours and interviews, even selling books out of his car. The process was exhausting and expensive.
From there, the story turns. After his first agent died, he signed with Heide Lange, who impressed Brown with her literary taste and with her last name, an anagram for "Angel." Unhappy at Simon & Schuster, he accepted a lower offer from Doubleday and began work on "The Da Vinci Code."
"We've always believed in Dan Brown's exceptional talent as an author," says Simon & Schuster spokesman Adam Rothberg. "Everyone in publishing knows that sometimes it takes three or more books to reach critical mass and we're happy to have ultimately sold millions of copies of his books."
Brown's earlier novels became enormously popular after "The Da Vinci Code" was released.
As outlined by Brown, "The Da Vinci Code" was a balance of passion and discipline, scholarship and calculation. He noted a basic formula: Find a "big theme," structure it, research it and write it, a process that usually takes two years.
The son of an agnostic father and religious mother, Brown had long been torn between faith and logic and saw Leonardo Da Vinci as an ideal embodiment of his conflict. At the same time, Brown had an awareness of the kind of story that would appeal to the public.
"As with my earlier books, there is a lot in `The Da Vinci Code' that is familiar — a murder, a chase through foreign locations, the action taking place in all 24 hours, codes, a ticking clock, strong male and female characters, and a love interest," he writes.
Brown was not surprised that his novel took off, crediting Doubleday with "one of the best orchestrated (launches) in history." But he was not prepared for the "firestorm of controversy" attached to the book.
"I recall feeling defenseless because more than a year had passed since I'd researched and written the novel, and the precise names, dates, places, and facts had faded somewhat in my memory," explains Brown, who acknowledges the anger over "Angels & Demons," which includes a Pope who has a child, and "The Da Vinci Code," which speculates that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married.
"I think the reason `Angels & Demons' and `The Da Vinci Code' raised eyebrows is that both books opened some Church closets most people don't even know existed. The final message of both books, though, without a doubt, are positive."