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Best-selling author? TV host? Brad Meltzer is both — and then some.

History may never have produced a more complete Renaissance man than Brad Meltzer, who counts among his titles lawyer, comic-book writer, TV producer, respected nonfiction scribe, social activist, best-selling novelist and, oh yeah, consultant to Homeland Security. Is there anything he can’t do? “I can’t sing,” he cracks. “And my friends insist I can’t dance.”

When it comes to penning crisp, crackerjack conspiracy thrillers, however, there’s no one better than Meltzer, whose novels include 2006’s The Book of Fate and 2008’s The Book of Lies. His latest, The Inner Circle, hits stores this month. He’s also got a new History Channel series called Brad Meltzer’s Decoded, in which he uses his good-natured curiosity and solid detective work to solve mysteries. AW caught up with Meltzer about his new projects.

American Way: You’ve consulted with former presidents for your novels. How does that happen?
Brad Meltzer: A few years back, I got the best fan letter ever, from former President George H.W. Bush, saying he liked my novel The Millionaires. I’d gotten a couple of notes from President Clinton as well. [Having them as fans] makes it a little easier to say, “Can I spend some time with you for research?” The best part is, because I write fiction, I always get to see far more than what they’d show a reporter.

AW: The Inner Circle hinges on an old secret society, the Culper Ring. How did you decide to write about that?
BM: President Bush Sr. told me once how hard it was for presidents to keep secrets in the White House. As I looked back through history, I realized the problem dated back to George Washington, who devised a secret group of regular citizens that would serve him. He called it the Culper Ring — and they were the secret weapon of the Revolutionary War. As I talked to my National Security folks, we kept coming back to one idea: Who says this secret group doesn’t exist today? That’s when I knew I had the plot for the book.

AW: Tell me about one of the big mysteries you tackle on Decoded.
BM: One of my favorites is about the very first piece of the White House, which was laid in an elaborate ceremony in 1792. Within 24 hours, that cornerstone supposedly went missing. President Truman went looking for it. So did Barbara Bush. But for 200 years, no one has known where the very first piece of the White House is. Needless to say, I want to find it.

AW: What’s a secret about you?
BM: I can say the alphabet backward. Faster than anyone.

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Opening Lines

“I probably should’ve left early. She even told me to go.”

The Things That Need Doing: A Memoir
By Sean Manning
(Broadway, $15)

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Fast Facts

$50 Million

Amount the late J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, made in 2010, according to Forbes magazine