Latest Title: The House of Secrets
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Release Date: June 7, 2016
He's written best-selling suspense novels, children's books, hosted his own TV show... so you might think Brad Meltzer has done it all. Not quite.
This month he released The House of Secrets which is unique for two reasons: it's the first time Meltzer worked with a co-writer (Tod Goldberg) and the first time the protagonist is female. Cross two more accomplishments off his list.
Within days of release, The House of Secrets hit the New York Times best-seller lists. The story revolves around a fictional conspiracy show host who is actually, secretly, working for the U.S. Government. When his daughter, Hazel Nash, loses her memory after a car crash, she needs to rediscover not only who she is - but why the FBI believes her father is connected to a dead man found with one of Benedict Arnold's books stuffed inside his chest.
While the plot is born of creativity, the inspiration comes from Meltzer's own life. "A few years back," Meltzer explains, "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." Not the call the average American receives, one can only assume. But when you spend most of your time dreaming up conspiracy theories, the fit seems natural. In any event, it gave him an intimate knowledge of the government's methods of research, and yet another idea for an historical mystery to embellish and and grow into a novel.
Meltzer admits that working with a co-author was difficult. "I thought we'd kill each other," he says. In the end, however, he learned a valuable lesson: "Spend more time with people who can do things you can't."
Several of Meltzer's books have been optioned for movies, but he says he's glad when the rights revert to him. "Like any good narcissist, I'd love them to make a movie. But what kills me more than anything is my book sitting on some Hollywood studio's shelf, collecting dust. So when the rights revert to me, it's simply like welcoming my baby back into a safe, nurturing home. I don't want them living out on the street with strangers."
Meltzer's relationship with television has been far more productive. His show, Decoded, explored some of the world's most impossible mysteries. It is, in fact, another aspect of his own life he borrowed for The House of Secrets. But what about that group of investigators he led? Here's a secret for his fans: Meltzer didn't actually know them before the show began. In fact, he found the casting call and audition process somewhat uncomfortable. "You're looking at people for two minutes," he says, before making a yes or no decision. "It's more awful than junior high."
Although he has written nonfiction, Meltzer finds it much harder than fiction. "The beauty of fiction is, sometimes, you can just make stuff up. That's the ultimate freedom. With non-fiction, I can't make a move unless I know it's 'truth.'"
So, with all that he's achieved, what is Meltzer's definition of success - and has he crossed that finish line? "To me, you're only making a living if they continue to pay you for the next book. If you actually believe you've 'made it,' you're finished. You'll be lazy and spoiled and suddenly be the kind of person I hate," he says. "Hunger is a better tool for happiness. Or at least for good writing, which is the opposite of happiness."
But don't let his serious work ethic fool you. There is also an enjoyably silly side of his personality. "Harlan Coben and I have a long-running game of Connect Four going at all times. Sometimes, I just prank call him late at night and whisper, 'Here... diagonally.' And then I hang up and do the same to Mike Connelly, Jodi Picoult and David Baldacci. Do it with your own friends. It's fun. 'Here... diagonally.'"