10 Questions for Dan Brown

Author and secret-code enthusiast Dan Brown on futurists, gravity boots and his ritual for launching new books

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Lee Towndrow for TIME

One of the themes of Inferno is overpopulation. Why that issue?
There is a statistic I heard a number of years ago: if you know somebody who is 85 years old, that person was born into a world that had a third as many people as the world does today. The population has tripled in the past 85 years. Futurists don't consider overpopulation one of the issues of the future. They consider it the issue of the future.

Is there a population solution that you favor in particular? Perhaps a one-child policy?
No, that is for readers to debate. I certainly have no solution to that problem. If I did, I should not be writing novels. I'd be on the Council on Foreign Relations right now.

Your villain is a transhumanist. Can you explain what that is?
Transhumanism is an intellectual movement that deals with the ethics and science of using advanced technologies, like genetic engineering, to improve human physiology. Some people consider it the most progressive and exciting philosophy out there, and some consider it the most dangerous idea in the world.

Do you have a crazy wall like Carrie in Homeland to keep track of your plots?
There's a little bit of Carrie. There's a madness to it--there's an order, and there's also a chaos. An enormous amount of planning goes into these books. I've heard I have a formula, but I'm hoping somebody tells me what it is, 'cause I'd like to write these a lot faster.

Before you were a writer, you had a musical career. Do you still pursue music?
To call it a career is probably overstating it. I was a failed musician for many years. I still play piano every single day.

This book is more serious than your prior works. Are you trying to use your popularity for something other than entertainment?
I don't know if you can say this book's topic is more serious than the divinity of Jesus Christ, but it is more timely. Certainly I'm now aware that when I write something, a lot of people read it, a lot of people talk about it. On some level I feel that if you've been given a podium of any sort, you should say something meaningful and powerful.

A reader, Jean Bolduc, asks, What was your favorite book when you were a teenager?
The book I remember most clearly was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. That was the book that made me say, Wow, reading is fun.

Do you still hang upside down as part of your writing process?
I do use gravity boots--initially for physiological reasons, because I sat a lot and I found it made me feel better, and later, realizing that hanging upside down can really make you think in different ways. It probably inspired all the ambigrams in Angels & Demons. A lot of upside down in that book.

A parody of your writing style went viral recently. Do you find that kind of thing insulting?
On some level you have to take it as a compliment. Of course, you hope and you wish everybody loved what you do. In the creative arts, that's just not how it works.

What do you do when you finish a book?
There are three triangular boxes that I bought when I was in Costa Rica, made out of rosewood. As you remember, rose and rosewood played a role in The Da Vinci Code. One of these three boxes is held by myself, one by my editor and one by my agent. On the night before a book is released, the three boxes come together and form a giant blade and chalice, and we just thank each other for all the hard work and cross our fingers that the world likes what's about to be born.