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Festival of Reading: Brad Meltzer has a theory about why we're intrigued by conspiracies

The Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading presents more than 50 authors, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 12 at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Brad Meltzer will speak at 1 p.m. in the Student Center Ballroom. Find more information here.

"I think we're scared as a culture," Brad Meltzer says. "Show me a conspiracy you believe in and I'll tell you what you're afraid of."

Meltzer knows his way around a conspiracy theory. He's the author of 11 bestselling thrillers that revolve around conspiracies, the most recent of which is The House of Secrets. Co-written with Tod Goldberg, it boasts a twisting plot built around a series of murders that seem to be associated with the long-lost Bible of Benedict Arnold.

It also features characters who bear some resemblance to Meltzer himself, particularly Jack Nash, whose TV show about conspiracies gives the book its title. "That's right in my territory," Meltzer says, "right out of my own life."

Meltzer spoke by phone just after landing at the airport in Portland, Ore. He lives in South Florida and was in Portland for a library fundraising event — immediately after which he would "get on the red-eye home. I hate being away from my kids."

Like Nash, Meltzer has hosted TV shows (on the History channel) about conspiracy and history: Brad Meltzer's Decoded and the current Brad Meltzer's Lost History.

Meltzer, though, is equally well known as a writer. His books have appeared on the bestseller lists not just for fiction but for nonfiction, advice, comics and children's books. (His next book will continue his I Am biography series for kids with I Am Jim Henson in January.)

"Ever since I was 18, I've loved history," Meltzer says. Writing thrillers has given him a way to use his love for research — and the books have opened amazing doors, he says.

"A few years ago I got a phone call from Homeland Security. They wanted me to help them brainstorm different ways that terrorists might attack. It was one of the craziest calls I ever got." (This from a man who says a fan once brought the Holy Grail to his book signing.)

"So they put me together with a Secret Service agent and a chemist, and we figured out a way to destroy a city like Tampa in an hour."

He has interviewed presidents and former presidents, toured tunnels under the White House and been in museums' secret vaults. All of it "lets me take readers inside the world of conspiracy."

That world, he says, "is not just entertainment. Conspiracy is an industry. It used to be a few people in their garage printing off pamphlets. Now it's everywhere.

"Look at the election — Donald Trump has accused Ted Cruz's father of being involved in the JFK assassination, and Hillary Clinton has talked about opening up Area 51."

Interest in conspiracy theories has flourished most recently in the wake of 9/11, Meltzer says. "We were terrified by that feeling we weren't in control. I think that's why we have all these superhero movies, too. We're a country in search of heroes."

He sees that search in fans' response to his books and TV shows, Meltzer says. "People keep coming to it, wanting to know, 'Are we safe?' "

Contact Colette Bancroft at cbancroft@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.

Festival of Reading: Brad Meltzer has a theory about why we're intrigued by conspiracies 11/02/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 1, 2016 5:08pm]
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