Since its publication three years ago, Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code has been harder to escape than lines at the Louvre. Interest in the thriller, which has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide, should only grow as the paperback edition hits stores March 28 and Ron Howard's film version starring Tom Hanks as code-cracking symbologist Robert Langdon arrives May 19. But since a 2003 interview with ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, Brown himself has mostly shunned the limelight while working on a follow-up featuring Langdon. That all changed this month when the 41-year-old author appeared in a packed London courtroom to testify in a copyright-infringement suit filed against his U.K. publisher, Random House, by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, two authors of the 1982 nonfiction book published in the U.S. as Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Baigent and Leigh charge that The Da Vinci Code lifted the ''central theme'' of their book, which claims Jesus had a child with Mary Magdalene (a theory that most theologians dispute). Though the judge, Peter Smith, had not issued his ruling at press time, the case (and a 69-page affidavit Brown filed with the court last December) provides an inside peek at the reclusive author's life and methods.
1 Brown was a code-loving boy.
The author was raised on the campus of New Hampshire's Phillips Exeter Academy by Richard, a mathematician, and Connie, a church organist. Brown's interest in puzzles was stoked by his father's tradition of Christmas-morning treasure hunts, complete with maps and codes. (Sophie Neveu and her grandfather enact a similar scene in The Da Vinci Code.) He was raised a Christian and attended church camp.
2 Before novels, he wrote songs.
After graduating from Amherst College in 1986, Brown moved to L.A. to become a songwriter. After finding only limited success, he was forced to work as an English teacher at Beverly Hills Prep School. Even so, over 10 years he wrote, produced, and sang on four pop albums. He also met his future wife, Blythe, who was director of artist development at the National Academy of Songwriters.
3 He credits Sidney Sheldon as an influence.
After reading Sheldon's Doomsday Conspiracy on a 1993 vacation, Brown recalled, ''I began to suspect that maybe I could write a 'thriller' of this type one day.'' He admitted he'd ''read almost no commercial fiction at all since The Hardy Boys as a child.'' He based hero Robert Langdon in part on religious historian Joseph Campbell, best known for the PBS series The Power of Myth.
4 His first book showed his feminine side.
While living in a ''low-rent 'artists' apartment complex, whose hallways overflowed with unusual individuals,'' Brown penned the advice book 187 Men to Avoid, published in 1995 under the pseudonym Danielle Brown. Blythe contacted literary agents and eventually got her hubby the publishing contract.
5 Brown is hardcore about his writing regimen.
He wakes every morning at 4 a.m., seven days a week a habit that started when he had to balance two teaching jobs and had no other time to write without distractions. On his desk in his New Hampshire home rests an antique hourglass, which he uses to mark hourly breaks from writing ''to do push-ups, sit-ups, and some quick stretches.'' He noted, ''I find this helps keep the blood (and ideas) flowing.''