An Interview with Brad Meltzer
THE PRESIDENT’S SHADOW powerfully delves into the treatment of those enlisted in the military, the relationship between a father and child, and how ordinary people can make a difference. This complex novel explores the power of government and the military over an individual’s life, the intrigue of having a supposed history nerd, Beecher, able to save the Presidency, and the emotional pull of family relationships.
Elise Cooper: You have a dedication quote, “Today I know: I’ll never get over losing my parents. And I don’t want to. They deserve to be remembered. These books-and the characters within-taught me that.” Please explain.
Brad Meltzer: I believe our parents never leave us. Two books ago the loss of my mom affected that story. The same was true with the loss of my dad for the last book. With this book I struggled with trying to get over the feeling that I was an orphan.
EC: So are any of the scenes a part of your personal life?
BM: The hospital scenes were the experiences I had with my father. Beecher did not have an iPod and music desk, I did. I hope those scenes in the hospital resonate because that was exactly my life.
EC: When you had Beecher trying to find information about his dad I wondered, what do we really know about our family’s past? What happened before we were born?
BM: Our parents only showed so much of themselves to their children. The greatest secrets we have are from ourselves.
EC: How did you come up with the scene of finding a severed arm?
BM: I went to the Secret Service with the scenario of having the First Lady find that arm in the Rose Garden. I asked them how they would solve it. After listening to them I came up with the basis of the story. I researched from the Secret Service archives that is not a part of the national archives.
EC: You include tidbits of information like why married people wear their wedding ring on their left ring finger, or the pressed penny worn by those in the military. How do you come up with these facts?
BM: I have a curious mind. I am obsessed with finding these ideas and have a collection of odd facts. Regarding the pressed penny I got that idea from a friend in the Army. He wears it around his neck with his dog tags and told me that it is a military tradition to imprint either the Lord’s Prayer or their unit’s logo. It is used for good luck and a form of ID. I love working this stuff into the storyline.
EC: You also intertwine into the plot some history, specifically about George Washington. Was he one of your favorite Presidents?
BM: Washington is 100% a hero. He was one of my favorite Presidents. Even the children’s book I have written includes George Washington because he is one of the most extraordinary men in history. Think about it, he could have been the King of America; yet, walked away from all that power.
EC: How did you come up with the idea for the story?
BM: This all got started because I got a call from homeland security asking me to brainstorm on how terrorists could attack this country. I did some research and traced the Culper Ring back to George Washington. He had his own secret spy ring made up of ordinary people because no one looks twice at an ordinary person. I love that.
EC: Why does the number four play such an important role?
BM: Four Presidents were killed.
EC: A scene in the book talks about defining traits. What is yours?
BM: Loyalty. I am loyal to ideas, friends, and family. In all my books the themes are about trust and loyalty.
EC: What do you want the readers to get out of this book?
BM: The power an ordinary person has, the belief that ordinary people can change the world. Also, I love the idea that people can be amazing and awful, inspiring and weak. I put in the book the study that found that the genes and physical brains of brave heroes and sociopaths have a similar genetic map. This is my favorite detail in the book. I did not make that up. It is real science. Nico is seen as the villain; yet, becomes the hero of the story. Is Nico really crazy?
EC: Will Beecher and company be back?
BM: This is the end of this story. Beecher and the other characters will rest for awhile and get re-charged. I think it is time for a new adventure. I have an idea, but am not ready to talk about it yet.