I read two of Brad Meltzer’s early novels, The First Counsel and Dead Even, and was impressed but not enough to keep reading his other books. I wrongly pegged him a writer of legal thrillers.
But he is so much more. Besides writing novels on a variety of topics, Meltzer also co-created the television series Jack & Bobby and writes the Justice League of America comic book series.
I was a little nervous when his latest book, The Book of Fate, arrived, as it conjured up reminders of The Da Vinci Code, especially with a conspiracy involving Freemasons. But this book is more gripping than The Da Vinci Code. If you like good thrillers, especially with a political or espionage angle, you’ll love this book.
Scott Butki: How did this book come about?
Brad Meltzer: To me, each novel is first about the character, then the plot. So The Book of Fate began with my own sense of frustration from feeling like I was about to rewrite a character I'd already written many times before.
That's what terrifies me most as a writer – being one of those novelists who just starts churning it out. At the same time, my father was diagnosed with cancer – and in the surgery that saved his life, he received an unavoidable scar that now marks his entire forehead.
That's when the light bulb blinked. I just remember thinking: instead of writing yet another thriller with yet another young perfect hero, what if I took that hero – shattered and broke him in chapter one – and then tried to see if that shattered character could do the same things that his former self did so easily? I wasn't sure of the answer, so that's what excited me as a writer.
At the same time, I received a letter from former President Bush saying that he liked one of the novels. It was a fun letter to get. And it put me on my current obsession with studying former presidents. The loss of power is fascinating. So maybe in the end, it was all just fate.
What went into researching this book? How much time did you get to spend with former Presidents Clinton and Bush and how much of what you learned did you use?
So many of the details about former Presidents came from my visits there. I spent nearly a week with the Bushes in Houston, and part of a day in Clinton’s offices (Clinton got called away that morning, though I've met him a number of times before). Those visits informed so much of the book, from characters, to plot, to simply details about the President's offices.
How would you describe the narrator, Wes? I saw one review that complained they could not feel compassion for a character so young and cocky. How would you respond to that criticism?
They couldn't feel compassion for him? I shot the poor character in the face and shattered him. Now that I think about it, they're right. Unless he's shot in the face and heart AND four more times in the face, I feel nothing for him.
In an interview on your Web page you write:
"I think I feel the most for Wes – especially because of his link to my own father. And let's be honest, every one of my books is really about my father." Can you elaborate on that?
My relationship with my Dad is the most complex, wonderful, twisted relationship I have. When you read all the books, it makes more sense, but I do believe that relationship feeds so much of me – as writer and person.
Are any of your books going to be made into movies?
Time'll tell – though that doesn't stop my mom from picking out what she's wearing to the Oscars next year.
I find it interesting that you also write comic books. Which do you prefer – writing novels or penning comic books?
Writing characters like Superman, for instance, is easier because he's so well defined: for almost 70 years writers have been defining him for us. But the difficulty is that you can't do whatever you want to him.
In The Book of Fate and in my novels, I can do anything I want to any character. I own them. They're mine. And when you don't have that power, beyond my own ego, there are creative limits to that. But as to which I prefer, the novels are like building your house and putting down the bricks with your own hands. So that's always what I favor in the end.