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A Talk with Brad Meltzer

Brad Meltzer, author of The Escape Artist
Author Brad Meltzer | Photo by Michelle Watson

What inspired you to write THE ESCAPE ARTIST? How did you come up with the idea?
The Escape Artist began with my own life, after a USO trip taught me about the secrets of Dover Air Force Base—a place I never thought the government would let me into. The Dover scenes in the book are all based in reality: Dover is home of 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. In Delaware of all places, at Dover Air Force Base, is America’s most important funeral home. 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 also found out about a little-known detail about the military. Tell us how you found it?
Years ago, when we were filming the very first episode of our TV show, Lost History, I found out about one of the most obscure jobs in the Army: The Artist in Residence. Since World War I, the Army has assigned one person—an actual artist—who they send out in the field to…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 victories and mistakes, 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 occurred, the Artist in Residence was the only artist let inside the security perimeter. From there, Nola bloomed to life in my head. Imagine an artist/soldier whose real skill was finding the weakness in anything. The Escape Artist and Nola were instantly born.

What’s your writing process like?
Every book, I plan and plan and plan. And then the characters come to life and tell me that they’re tearing apart my plans and doing their own thing. That happened with Nola and Zig. And for me, it’s the very best part of writing.

Who are your favorite thriller writers?
I wouldn’t be here without Agatha Christie, John Grisham, Robert Ludlum, and Scott Turow. Those were the first ones I read. Plus Alan Moore and Marv Wolfman. They gave me the characters I fell in love with.

If a film or TV adaptation of THE ESCAPE ARTIST were made, who would you cast as Nola and Zig?
Nola has to be an unknown. Someone we’ve never seen, but who just grabs us by the throat and demands our attention. For Zig, my wife would kill me if I didn’t pick Clooney.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

  • The most authentic story you’ll ever tell is your own story.
  • The X-factor on every page is whether the writer loves what they’re doing.
  • The more it hurts, the more you need to use it in a book.
  • The best revenge is the artful truth.
  • You’re not a writer until you think it sucks.
  • Write, write, write, write, bang head against wall, write some more.
  • Don’t be so hard on yourself. Everyone else will be.
  • When you get a bad review, watch this: “Everybody Still Hates Brad Meltzer”


The Escape Artist by