Brad Meltzer is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Inner Circle, The Book of Fate, and nine other bestselling thrillers including The Tenth Justice,
The First Counsel, The Millionaires, and The President’s Shadow. His newest book, The Escape Artist, debuted at #1 on the bestseller list.
In addition to his fiction, Brad is one of the only authors to ever have books on the bestseller list for Non-Fiction (History Decoded),
Advice (Heroes for My Son and Heroes for My Daughter), Children’s Books (I Am Amelia Earhart and I Am Abraham Lincoln) and even comic books (Justice League of America), for which he won the prestigious Eisner Award.
His newest thriller, The Escape Artist, introduces Nola and Zig, brand new characters in a setting that will blow your mind (you won't believe where the government let Brad go).
For now, we'll say this: Nola is dead. Everyone says she's dead. But Jim "Zig" Zagorsky just found out the truth: Nola is alive.
And on the run. Together, Nola and Zig will reveal a centuries old secret that traces back the greatest escape artist of all: Harry Houdini.
Raised in Brooklyn and Miami, Brad is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Columbia Law School.
The Tenth Justice was his first published work and became an instant New York Times bestseller. Dead Even followed a year later and also hit the New York Times bestseller list, as have all eight of his novels.
The First Counsel came next, which was about a White House lawyer dating the President’s daughter, then The Millionaires, which was about two brothers who steal money and go on the run.
The Zero Game is about two Congressional staffers who are – literally – gambling on Congress. The Book of Fate, is about a young presidential aide, a crazed assassin, and the 200 year-old code created by Thomas Jefferson that ties them together.
For authenticity, The Book of Fate, was researched with the help of former Presidents Clinton and Bush. The Book of Lies, is about the missing murder weapon that Cain used to kill Abel, as well as the unsolved murder of Superman creator Jerry Siegel’s father.
Brad is one of the only people to interview Jerry Siegel’s family about the murder and, with his charitable site www.
OrdinaryPeopleChangeTheWorld.com, has been the driving force behind the movement to repair the house where Superman was created.
His book The Inner Circle (and its sequels, The Fifth Assassin and The President’s Shadow) is based the idea that George Washington’s personal spy ring still exists today.
A young archivist in the National Archives finds out the spy ring is still around. He doesn’t know who they work for — but the greatest secret of the Presidency is about to be revealed.
While researching the book, former President George HW Bush also gave Brad, for the very first time, the secret letter he left for Bill Clinton in the Oval Office desk.
Oh, and yes, Brad was recruited by the Department of Homeland Security to brainstorm different ways that terrorists might attack the US.
His books have spent over a year on the bestseller lists, and have been translated into over 25 languages, from Hebrew to Bulgarian.
Brad has played himself as an extra in Woody Allen’s Celebrity, co-wrote the swearing in oath for AmeriCorps, the national service program, and earned credit from Columbia Law School for writing his first book, which became The Tenth Justice.
Before all of that, he got 24 rejection letters for his true first novel, which still sits on his shelf, published by Kinko’s.Brad currently lives in Florida with his wife, who’s also an attorney.
AN INTERVIEW WITH BRAD MELTZER
Brad Meltzer writes heart-pounding thrillers that take you on wild rides through worlds of deception, conspiracy, and murder. His novel The Book of Fate debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times bestseller list.
A longtime comic book fan, he also penned graphic novels in the Justice League of America and Buffy the Vampire Slayer series. On The History Channel, he hosts Brad Meltzer's Decoded, a new show that delves into unsolved historical mysteries.
His new novel, The Inner Circle, features young National Archives employee Beecher White who stumbles upon a hidden document. When its discovery leads to a murder, he unearths its connection to a secret organization -- the best-kept secret of the American presidency.
Meltzer spoke with Booklet contributor Grace Bello about his latest novel; his love of Agatha Christie, Superman, and Elvis; and his childhood crushes (who sparked one of his most intriguing characters).
What inspired your new book The Inner Circle?
A couple of years ago, I got a call from The Department of Homeland Security asking me to brainstorm different ways for terrorists to attack us. My first thought was, If they’re calling me, we have bigger problems than anybody thinks.
What happened was they brought me in, paired me with a Secret Service guy and with a chemist. It was kind of the A-Team of geekery. They would give us major targets to destroy, and we would have to destroy them. It was one of these things where you go home not excited by what you’ve done, but terrified because you see how easy it is to kill us.
Basically, what I was so fascinated by was simply that idea that they were calling regular people -- ordinary people like myself -- that weren’t experts in anything. I write novels, and I write these fictional thrillers. But for the most part, were just regular people that have little expertise. I thought, Where did that come from? Where did that start?
I was able to trace it back to a guy named George Washington. He started his own personal spy ring. And George Washington’s spy ring -- this is actually pretty amazing. He was so tired of the military people giving out these secrets that he said, Give me regular citizens. Give me ordinary people.
He started what he called The Culper Ring, this secret group that helped win The Revolutionary War for us. And I was so struck by that. I said, You know what? That’s a really cool plot idea.
I said to the guy in Homeland Security, I said, What if we found out that George Washington’s spy ring still exists to this very day? He said to me, What makes you think it doesn’t? That’s the moment where you go, Well, what are you talking about? He said, Listen, it was one of his greatest success stories; why would George Washington ever disband it? That’s when I said, OK, I got the plot for the book.
What if George Washington’s spy ring exists to this very day? And a young archivist in The National Archives finds out about it? Now, he has no idea who they’re working for, but the greatest secret about the American presidency is about to come out. And there’s The Inner Circle.
I really like the character of Clementine [in The Inner Circle]. Are your characters inspired at all by people who you know?
Its not that she’s someone I know, but the experience is one that I very much know. I think everyone has that girl in their life or that boy in their life who scares them and thrills them at the same time. For me -- I can speak for myself, but I think a lot of people are going through it Because of Facebook, you are suddenly reconnected with all these people from your past.
And I dent care where you go or what you do, when you get that e-mail or that friend request from that girl who gave you your first kiss, you’re instantly thrown back into your past. I think America is going through -- and all across the world, were going through -- this resurgence with our own past that’s just amazing to me. That’s where Clementine came from, my own past.
So someone contacted you on Facebook, and you thought
Yeah. It was the two girls that I used to have elementary school crushes on, one of them being my first kiss. I couldn’t help but be taken by that. In a way, I was amazed and kind of traumatized at how pathetic I was acting. But it was great to speak with her again.
She was, in a strange way, just as I remembered her. And its not that we care about other people so much. What we care about is ourselves, right? We care about what we ourselves were like back then. Were we as we remember ourselves or as we wish we were?
Yeah, definitely. Did she know that you were an author?
She figured it out pretty quickly because she was late to Facebook, and all of our other friends were kind of connected. She also saw a story that I wrote about her a couple years ago. The two girls, actually. One of them was dating a guy that said, You know a guy named Brad Meltzer?
OH, you mean Bradley Meltzer? which is what I used to be known as in elementary school. Yeah, he wrote about some crush he used to have on you. Its fun when you can put embarrassing details on the Internet.
You write a lot about heroes, whether its civilians exposing the truth, comic book heroes, and [your nonfiction book] Heroes for My Son. So who are your literary heroes?
Listen, if you say to me, Who’s your number one? its still got to be Harper Lee. If I could put my name on any book and steal credit for it, that’s the one I’d steal credit for. To Kill a Mockingbird still kicks all kinds of literary but still think Moby-Dick is the first book I ever read that was well researched.
But [my inspiration] would just as easily be Agatha Christie and just as easily be Woody Allen’s funny essays. We steal from everywhere in terms of where we get tone. To me, there’s no such thing as highbrow and lowbrow, there’s just one brow.
You mention Agatha Christie. Which writers have inspired you in terms of pursuing thrillers or doing historical stuff?
I remember reading Murder at the Vicarage, which is an Agatha Christie book, when I was really young. I had to be 10 years old or 12 years old. I remember opening this book and -- to this day, I dent know what a vicarage is. I dent want to know what a vicarage is, dent tell me, I dent ever want to know. But I just remember opening that book and there was a dead body.
There was a dead body and someone’s got to figure it out, and that was amazing to me. That one just blew apart my brain. And in terms of research, certainly. When I read Melville, I remember just being like, Oh, I want to go whaling. And I’m Jewish; I have no business whaling! But I wanted to do it for that moment. So I think the research side came from that.
I think, in terms of other mysteries, it was Marv Wolfman and George Pérez writing stories for [the comic series] Teen Titans. They were as much an influence as anything else. Or Paul Levitz and The Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga, which was one of the great mysteries of its time. And to me, it still is.
Cool. So you mention research. How much research do you do for your novels?
I spend about six months just going through and combing through every crazy detail I can find. And that doesn’t include -- when I get to every scene, I eventually have to bring someone else to help flesh it out. I went to The National Archives [for The Inner Circle]. Archivists are really nice people. They have the patience of librarians.
But I guarantee -- can you make an archivist angry? Yes, you can. Watch when you call them for the 95th time to say, Does that door at The National Archives open toward you or is it a door you have to push away from you? Ask that fifty times, and watch the answer you get. They did take me to the secret underground caves that they have, so that was pretty A-OK.
What’s your creative process like? What’s the ratio of research to actually hunkering down and writing?
I do about six months of research and about a year and a half of writing. It takes me about two years to write a bookism just slow. My publisher would love for me to write a book a year, and I guess that’s what you’re supposed to do in this genre.
But if I did, it would turn out to be garbage. And that’s the thing I’m most afraid of. I would never want to do that. So I would much rather put out the best book that I can put out. To me, it’s quality over quantity.
Yeah, definitely. Who reads your first draft?
My wife reads the first one. Its not even written until my wife reads it.
How influential is she in editing your work?
Sheds ruthless. And I mean that in a very good way. Sheds not afraid to say to me, you know, That’s not funny. That doesn’t work; I dent believe it.Women dent act like that. Anything that I do that’s wrong, she -- for the most part -- won’t hesitate. And that’s what you need.
I think that some writers want someone to tell them that they’re geniuses at every point of the story. But if I want to hand in a book and everyone says, Looks great, my first reaction is sheer terror. Because nothings great at first. Nothing.
What is it like to work on graphic novels? I know you’ve written for The Justice League series and the Buffy comic, so how was that process different from writing a novel?
You know, to me, it’s just different muscles. But it’s the same thing; it has to be a good story. That’s it. At the end of the day, yes, it’s more collaborative because the artist can do the heavy lifting in some parts. You can say to the artist, Oh, this is going to be a scene where were in a really bad neighborhood. Draw a bad neighborhood.
And it’s much easier than trying to describe a bad neighborhood and not making it sound like one giant cliché. All that physical [description] stuff that drives me bananas when I write a novel because I see it in my head and I dent want to take the time to describe it. Its great to just pass off onto somebody else.
The nice part is when you get a drawing back of a scene [that you wrote] that was pretty interesting, but [the artist] turns it into something that’s just Rock Me Sock Me Robots because it’s so spectacular in its execution. And then you look like a giant genius when, in reality, I did nothing for it. I love that.
If you’re asking what the difference is between them or what they have in common I think -- at the end of the day, whether it’s Superman or whether it’s George Washington, it’s still part of the American mythology. And I dent care that one was real and one was not. They are characters that tell us who we want to be.
Did you write comic books as a kid at all?
You know what I did, actually? I was so pathetic; I never wrote them. I dent know; I just didn’t think about writing them. But I used to take tracing paper, and I would trace my favorite covers. So there was this amazing, oversized Justice League reprint that I remember that had The Justice League on one side and The Justice Society on the other.
I think it was Dick Giordano who drew it. I started to take tracing paper to that. It was just one of those things where the characters were flying at you in some iconic way. And [I remember] thinking, after I traced it, that I drew it. I would take full credit for it, make no mistake. Even though you were just a tracer. Even though it was on tracing paper and really horribly done.
You mention pop culture -- Superman and all that -- and I mean this question earnestly: Do you have any plans to investigate pop culture conspiracies? Who killed The Notorious B.I.G.? Or whether Elvis is still alive?
To me, what we do on Decoded every week is we get to be explorers. We get to explore these different parts. But what we try to explore is something we can bring something new to. If were just going to regurgitate what’s already out there, I feel like we shouldn’t do it. When we did a show on D.B. Cooper [the mysterious Boeing 727 hijacker who escaped by parachuting away],
it was because we found something that we felt was new and that we could contribute some part to that giant quilt that is history. I feel like if we could bring something new to something, I would love to do that.
I went to Graceland. I saw the three TVs. I saw the carpet on the ceiling. I would love to get back to that. But you’ve got to find something new. You’ve got to find a mystery there.
Yeah, that makes sense.
The great mystery could be, Why does a man have carpet on his ceiling?
[Laughs.] I read somewhere that The Truman Show is one of your favorite movies. So I was wondering if you have plans to explore some more psychological rather than political themes.
You know, it’s funny. In a strange way, that’s what I feel like I do. When I wrote legal thrillers, everyone was like, Well, you’re a legal thriller writer. Then I wrote a financial thriller called The Millionaires, and everyone said, Oh, he writes financial thrillers.
And now I did this [The Inner Circle] and they’re like, Oh, he loves history. Its just shorthand that the publishers use to make it easier to understand what you [the reader] are getting.
But to me, all the books are all about the characters. And the characters are always searching for -- they’re not fighting bad guys. The greatest battle well all have is the battle within ourselves.
And that’s what all of them are fighting. Every single one of them, in every single book I’ve done. But, because there’s no shrink in them, I dent write psychological thrillers. But, you know, put a shrink in them, and then take that one.
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