inspiration for novels
I was a spy
BRAD MELTZER IS known for his fast-paced
thrillers that all have a foot in history. He’s written nine novels, including The Book of Fate,
The First Counsel and The Inner Circle. He’s
also penned five comic books and two nonfiction books and hosts the History Channel’s
Brad Meltzer’s Decoded.
By Brad Meltzer
“WHERE DO YOUR ideas come from?”
It’s the No. 1 question I’m asked. So here’s
the answer: They come from research, from
reading the newspaper, from divine inspira-
tion and once, in this case, from a phone call.
A few years back, I got a call from the
Department of Homeland Security asking me
if I’d come in and brainstorm different ways
for terrorists to attack the United States.
My first thought was, “If they’re calling me,
we’ve got bigger problems than anyone thinks.”
But they’d seen the research I do. They know
that in my thrillers, when I write about the
secret tunnels below the White House, I show
the real tunnels. And they know I have good
sources, so they invited me in.
I was honored to be a part of what they
called the Red Cell program. They’d pair me
with a Secret Service agent and a chemist
and they’d give us a target and we’d destroy
major cities in an hour. It’s not the kind of
day where you go home feeling good. You go
home terrified, because you see how easy it
is to kill us.
But what struck me more than anything
else was this: Why me? Why’d they pick me,
of all people? The government has access to
the top brains and the best connections. So
why were they recruiting ordinary citizens?
Intent on finding an answer, I traced it back
through history and found that it started with
a guy named George Washington. Exactly.
That George Washington.
Like other prolific authors, Meltzer is often
asked about the source of his ideas. In this
Connection exclusive, Meltzer sheds light on
how he finds inspiration for putting pen to
paper—or fingers to keyboard—and offers some
behind-the-scenes information about his new
novel, The Fifth Assassin.—Stephanie E. Ponder
Back during the Revolutionary War,
George Washington had his own private spy
ring called the Culper Ring. With so many of
his military officers getting captured or intercepted by the British, Washington asked for a
group of regular, ordinary people to help him
pass information and secret letters. In
Washington’s eyes, no one would look twice at
Fascinated with Washington’s awesome
idea, I went to my friend in Homeland
Security and said to him, “Wouldn’t it be cool
if, in my new novel, you found out that
George Washington’s spy ring still existed
There was a long pause. Then he asked,
“What makes you think it doesn’t?”
“Think about it,” he added. “It was one of
Washington’s greatest success stories. It argu-
ably helped us win the Revolutionary War.
Why would Washington ever disband it?”
And there it was. The idea for my last
novel, The Inner Circle. But what’s truly insane
is that when it came to my new novel, The
Fifth Assassin, the inspiration came again
from someone telling me about their secret
government location. This time, it came from
a longtime friend and reader, who told me
that I needed to come to a museum that
almost no one knew about.
Once again, I was suspicious. Between
my thrillers and our TV show, Decoded, I get
sent every wacky thing under the sun. (At a
book signing once, someone brought what
they claimed to be the Holy Grail. Really.)
The Costco Connection
The Fifth Assassin will be available in most
warehouses on January 15.