It’s a fitting partnership: With 28.5 million fans, Coelho has the largest Facebook presence of any author (for comparison, fellow literary giants J.K. Rowling and Stephen King have 5.3 million and 4.9 million Facebook fans, respectively). On Nov. 15 at 2PM EST, Coelho will release an excerpt from The Spy via the Facebook Notes app, and on Monday, Nov. 21 at 12PM EST, he will participate in a Facebook Live Q&A, with a later video to follow in December.
In the conversation below, Coelho tells EW how he uses Facebook to connect with his readers scattered all across the globe, and how researching and writing The Spy changed the way he saw its historic heroine, Mata Hari. Read on to find out more—and be sure to tune in to Coelho’s Facebook Page for more information about The Spy.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did this opportunity with Facebook interest you?
PAULO COELHO: Facebook has opened up a new world for writers. I mean, you can write books, and you can also write posts, and reach the whole world when you do so. For me, it is this interaction with readers that I value. Readers ask me questions about my work, and sometimes they see things in it that I do not. That is not to say my writing is influenced by readers, but rather, my understanding of the world is.
What are the benefits of being able to connect with so many of your fans at once? Do language barriers pose a problem?
It is a benefit for the reader and for the writer, because communities are living things, and we come to see each other and know each other without filters. I am glad you ask about language, because I try to communicate with all my readers. And with Facebook live-stream, it allows me to talk to them, and now Facebook has a tool that will translate whatever you post to the language the person is using.
What inspired you to write The Spy?
It was the main character, it was Mata Hari, her rebellion. She was a politically incorrect person in the politically correct world at the beginning of the 20th century. Before I wrote the book, I was fascinated by this woman—who was an icon of my generation, the hippie generation—but at that moment in my life I did not give hers a second thought, she was only a symbol.
What’s the most interesting thing you learned in your research?
One day I was sitting with my lawyer, and he was talking about people who were condemned though they were innocent and he mentioned Mata Hari. I never thought she was innocent. I saw her like everyone else did, as a spy. Then I started browsing the internet to see if there was something new about her life and little by little, I became aware that the spirit of Mata Hari is very present today and also that what my lawyer had said may have been true.
While researching her life, I came to see Mata Hari as a woman who was manipulated by the society of her time. She lived surrounded by men, and they were using her. When she had no more youth, she was discarded in the worst possible way. She was accused of being a spy, and she was so famous that her accusers were able to use that accusation to change the focus of the war for a while. She was a distraction from the real problem, which was the war.
To compliment the question: We know that now because the major European powers released all their confidential files, and you can read them. My German publisher helped me translate the German files, and I read the MI5 files online. And I thought, my god our judgment of Mata Hari has not been fair, but I was not thinking about a book on her until the day that I—well, it’s very difficult to explain this, but normally you don’t choose your character, your character chooses you. And this happened with Mata Hari. I started writing a letter as if I were Mata Hari, just to understand her better. And then that turned into a book.
Do readers from different countries tend to respond differently to your work?
My challenging moment for The Spy will be France, for that is where the book takes place. So we will see. I don’t think the readers there will be upset because it was not the French people who were responsible for the events that led to Mata Hari’s execution, but rather her accusers. Her death was a cost of the war. And the cost of war is always extreme.