Photo by PLGould/Images
Today Brad Meltzer releases The Escape Artist, his first new thriller in almost three years. He’s the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Inner Circle (and its sequels, The Fifth Assassin and The President’s Shadow) which are based on the idea that George Washington’s personal spy ring still exists today. Brad has written nine other bestselling thrillers including The Tenth Justice, The First Counsel, and The Millionaires in the 20 years since his first book came out. I interviewed Brad at Book Expo America and we’ve stayed in touch.
Tell me about your background. Where you grew up, where you live now, education, work experience?
I was raised in Brooklyn and Miami, graduated from the University of Michigan and Columbia Law School. The Tenth Justice was my 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 my novels.
I currently live in South Florida with my wife, who’s also an attorney.
What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?
For the past three years, the government has given me access to a place I never thought they’d let me sneak into. Not sure if you know about Dover Air Force Base, but it’s the mortuary for the US government’s most top-secret and high-profile cases.
On 9/11, the victims of the Pentagon attack were brought there. So were the victims of the attack on the USS Cole, the astronauts from the space shuttle Columbia, and the remains of well over fifty thousand soldiers and CIA operatives who fought in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and every secret location in between. Indeed, in Delaware of all places, at Dover Air Force Base, is America’s most important funeral home.
In this world where so much of the government is a mess, Dover is the one place that does it absolutely right. It is the one “no-fail mission” in the military. When a soldier’s body comes home, you don’t mess it up. And so, I’ve seen the stories of the morticians who rebuild hands (rather than giving a fake prosthesis), so that a mother can hold her son’s hand one final time…or where they spend fourteen straight hours wiring together a fallen soldier’s shattered jaw, then smoothing it over with clay and makeup, just so they could give his parents far more ease than they ever should’ve expected at their son’s funeral. And in today’s world, we need real heroes. The people here are the real deal.
What has been your most intriguing discovery in writing this book?
The book focuses on one of the most obscure jobs in the Army: The so-called “Artist In Residence.” Since World War I, the Army has assigned one person—an actual artist—who they send out in the field to, well…paint what couldn’t otherwise be seen. It’s one of the greatest traditions in our military—they call them war artists. They go, they see, they paint, cataloguing every victory and mistake, from the dead on D-day, to the injured at Mogadishu, to the sandbag pilers who were at Hurricane Katrina. In fact, when 9/11 hit, that was the only artist let inside the security perimeter. Sure, we have plenty of photographers and videographers. But what an artist does is different. Photographers take a picture. Artists…when they widen eyes and make rucksacks bigger…they tell a story.
What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?
The Hollywood Reporter recently put me on their list of Hollywood’s 25 Most Powerful Authors. But before The Tenth Justice was published, I got 24 rejection letters for my true first novel, which still sits on my shelf, published by Kinko’s. I believe that ordinary people change the world, and it is that core belief that runs through every one of my projects.
What are your interests outside of writing?
I host “Brad Meltzer’s Lost History” on H2 and “Brad Meltzer’s Decoded” on the History Channel.
Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers.