First off, congrats! We loved Most Dangerous. Can you tell us a bit about how you came up with the idea for the book?
Thanks so much! The idea came from a photo of a file cabinet. Seriously. A photo in Smithsonian Magazine. What got me was the dent in the top, where someone had obviously tried to break in. Then I learned the burglars were working directly for the Nixon White House, and that they were cracking open the cabinet to get information that could be used to destroy a man named Daniel Ellsberg. From there, I was hooked. What had this guy done to warrant this incredible – and incredibly illegal – reaction?
Have you always been drawn to nonfiction?
Not really. As I kid I liked sports books, and anything about shark attacks, but most history I learned came from fiction. I guess I was always drawn to stories, and for a long time I thought history was just about memorizing information.
Most of your books have interesting opening scenes that actually occur later in the book. How do you select which scene to use?
In short, trial and error. I think that opening scene is super important, mostly to set the mood for the story, and hopefully to hook the reader. But I never seem to be able to get it right without writing about five or six different options, and then showing them to a few trusted readers. My amazing editor for Most Dangerous and my previous books with Roaring Brook, Deirdre Langeland, always asks, “What’s this book really about?” So we try to craft an exciting, cinematic scene that lets the reader know what the book is going to be – in the case of Most Dangerous, a political/crime thriller.
Did you unearth a piece of information (new to you) that influenced or changed your anticipated direction for Most Dangerous?
This was the first of my books for which I was able to talk to the participants. Other books I’ve written have simply taken place too far in the past for this to be possible. I was able to interview Daniel Ellsberg, Patricia Ellsberg, and several other key figures in the story. They shared some stories and details that aren’t available anywhere else, and that definitely enriched some of the scenes.
If you don’t mind telling us, what are you working on next?
Total change of pace – an underdog sports story. The next book is about the Carlisle Indian School football teams of the early 1900s, and their biggest star, Jim Thorpe. It’s not a happy story, because this school was founded to sever young Native Americans from their families and culture. But what’s amazing is how some of the young men at the school responded – by forming a football team and audaciously challenging the powers of the football world, elite schools like Harvard and Yale and Army. Should be out in early ’17…
Thanks so much for your time!