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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 is The Escape Artist, out March 6.

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.

He is also the host of Brad Meltzer’s Lost History on H2 and Brad Meltzer’s Decoded on the History Channel. The Hollywood Reporter recently put him on their list of Hollywood’s 25 Most Powerful Authors. Now, on with our discussion:

 

Please lay out your latest thriller, The Escape Artist for us. What makes this book so different from what readers are used to from you?

 

The Escape Artist opens with Nola Brown. Nola is dead. The government says she’s dead. And her body is brought to Zig, who helps put to rest the bodies of those who die on the government’s top-secret missions. Zig knows Nola since she was little. She was friends with his daughter and remembers a campfire accident where Nola lost the top part of her ear. But as Zig examines this body, he sees that her ear is intact. Confused, he runs fingerprints. This isn’t Nola. And as he opens up the body, he finds a note inside: “Nola, you were right. Keep running.” That’s the end of chapter 1.

 

You mentioned in the forward of The Escape Artist that this book helped you realize the difference between being alive and actually living. What did you mean by that? 

 

I believe the most authentic story you will ever tell is your own story. And in every book, that’s all I’m ever doing: telling my own story. Over time, I’ve realized that: 1) my life takes on new hardships and 2) I’m more honest with myself and my readers. And over the past few years, that was my own crisis: realizing that there’s a difference between being alive and actually living. Zig and Nola came out of my own need to explore it. It’s why good novels and great characters are the best therapy of all. 

 

What prompted you to use the theme of magicians in this book?

 

The opening page of the book says: 

In 1898, John Elbert Wilkie, a friend of Harry Houdini, 

was put in charge of the United States Secret Service.
Wilkie was a fan of Houdini and did his own tricks himself.

It is the only time in history that a magician

was in control of the Secret Service.

How could I not use that? I became obsessed. And weaving old Houdini lore into a modern story was just the best. 

 

In The Escape Artist, the names Rose Mackenberg, Clifford Eddy Jr., and Amadeo Vacca are all associated with Harry Houdini and via records, had shown up as dying every few years since their actual death over fifty years prior. Is that a true story, or one you invented? 


They are all real people. And what it says in the book, about what they secretly did for Houdini, that’s real too. But they only died once. I think. As for the rest, it’s so amazing, right?

 

Six years ago (and I believe, again, just recently) you went on a USO trip to entertain our troops in the Middle East. What was that like?

 

Humbling. Years ago, I went to the Middle East with the USO, then a few months back, I took another trip to entertain our troops. And that’s where I first learned about Dover and the morticians who take care of those who are on top-secret missions for the government. In their building, as you see in the book, they make sure our most honorable soldiers are shown the dignity and respect they deserve. In addition, the people there know details about hidden missions that almost no one in the world will ever hear about. Dover is a place full of mysteries…and surprises…and more secrets than you can imagine. As someone who writes thrillers, it was the perfect setting for a mystery.  Plus, in today’s world, we need real heroes. The people here are the real deal.

 

You host Brad Metzler’s Lost History on H2 that enlists America’s help in finding lost and stolen historical artifacts. What are some of the most prominent artifacts recovered from doing that show? 

 

I don’t think we’ll ever top finding the missing 9/11 flag from Ground Zero. That was our very first episode and four days after it aired, a man walked into a fire station in Everett, Washington and said, “I saw the show Lost History and I need to bring this back.” We were blown away. We spent a year working with scientists and former FBI members. Today, the flag is on display at the 9/11 Museum in New York. Go see it. It’s proof heroes still exist.

 

You also host Brad Metzler’s Decoded on H2, a show all about conspiracies. What is the biggest conspiracy that you have uncovered that you thought, “wow, I couldn’t have even thought that up?” 

 

JFK. Nothing beats it for amazing craziness. We’re still reading the released records. I also loved DB Cooper. And our episode on the Lincoln Assassination. A guy contacted me through my website and said, “I represent John Wilkes Booth’s family, as a lawyer, and we have proof that Booth actually escaped. They got the wrong guy. So you want to hear the story?” Yes. I wanted to hear that story. When the universe starts whispering to you like that, you pay attention.

 

Please explain a little about the wonderful children’s books you’ve written and what prompted you to write them. 

 

The series was born because I was tired of my daughter thinking that reality TV stars and people who were famous for being famous were heroes. I tell my kids all the time: That’s fame. Fame is different than being a hero. I wanted my kids to see real heroes…and real people no different than themselves. We started with I AM AMELIA EARHART and I AM ABRAHAM LINCOLN. But each book tells the story of the hero when THEY were a kid. We see them as children. So it’s not just Amelia Earhart and Abraham Lincoln being famous — it’s them being just like us. We’ve since done everyone from Rosa Parks, Albert Einstein, Jackie Robinson, Lucille Ball, Helen Keller, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, George Washington, Jane Goodall, Sacagawea, Harriet Tubman…and next is I am Neil Armstrong, out in September. We all need heroes today.

 

It’s been about twenty years since the publications of your first book. Is there anything you know today that you sincerely wish you had known back then? 

 

I’d tell me to just stay honest with myself. Don’t be afraid to be flawed. My first few years as a writer, in every interview I gave, I said everything was okay. All great. Just thankful to be here. And I was thankful. But I was terrified to show anything wrong – as if, if I complained, it’d all go away. Now, I realize we’re all flawed. We’re all terrified and bold and scared and amazing. All of us. All in the same day. Let it all exist.

 

As you likely know, TopShelf Magazine reaches a pretty broad spectrum of readers. However, our primary target has always been booksellers and librarians. We enjoy picking the minds of authors who’ve been successful for awhile, acquiring tidbits along the way that could prove beneficial to independent booksellers.

 

Is there a marketing strategy that you’ve seen used by booksellers that has impressed you or that you know has been successful, and why? 

 

The only reason I’m here today is because of librarians. Years ago, we didn’t have money for books. I had a library card. The librarian told me: This is your section. I thought she literally meant: These books are yours. But that woman changed my life. A few years back, I tried to track her down and say thank you. I couldn’t find her. As for strategies, the only other reason I’m here is because of booksellers. When my first book came out, it was booksellers who read it. They were the ones who built it and found it and told people. I will never stop saying thank you. It’s funny, I STILL get people who come to events and tell me: I was a bookseller when your first book came out, and you came into my store and were so nice, and I’ve supported you ever since. I owe you all forever.

 

 

In our experience, we’ve found that readers love to get to know authors. In fact, sometimes understanding more about an author can develop a lasting bond between the author and reader that is very difficult to break. Is there anything you could share with us about yourself that isn’t well known, something that may entice readers who haven’t picked up a Brad Meltzer book yet to give you a try? 

 

I know my core belief. I believe ordinary people change the world. I don’t care how much money you make or what your job title is. That’s nonsense to me. Why? Because my family grew up with so little and gave me so much. I became the first in my family to go to a four-year college because my dad took out 20 different credit cards and sunk himself into debt. So he could help me. He and my Mom were as ordinary people as can be – and proof that there’s no such thing as an ordinary person. 

 

Some might say you're a pretty public and outgoing person. You have spoken with many people throughout your career––have done many interviews. But if you’re anything at all like me, there’s always that one question that you wish would get asked, but never does. Well, we’d love to hear about it! The floor is yours:

 

How does it feel to invent jet packs for the entire world and bring the future to all? What’s next?

Flying cars! Naturally. Also, increasing teacher, librarian and bookseller pay. C’mon, how hard is that?