Bob Graham, a former Democratic Senator from Florida, is promoting his new book, a work of fiction that draws heavily from his years in government service.
First-time fiction authors often write themselves into their novels, following the age-old advice to “write what you know.” Former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) did conjure up a heroic Senator — but he kills the character off in the first few pages.
His new novel, “Keys to the Kingdom,” isn’t about dreaming up a better version of himself. Instead, Graham wrote the book as a way to share censored information. It draws on his knowledge gleaned from 10 years of service on the Intelligence Committee, which he was chairman of through 9/11 and the lead-up to the Iraq War.
Rather than focus on fictional Sen. John Billington, Graham centers the narrative on Tony Ramos, a young State Department intelligence analyst. Armed with instructions left by the late Billington, Ramos, aided by the Senator’s daughter, launches an investigation of the Saudi government and its ties to al-Qaida.
Roll Call caught up with Graham to ask him a few questions about his new thriller and his experiences writing it.
What was the process behind writing this novel? Your inspiration? I started writing the book in the spring of 2006 while I was a senior fellow at [Harvard’s] Kennedy School. The inspiration for the book was frustration and, really, anger about the fact that the effort to convey the fuller facts — facts that were not national security sensitive — had been frustrated by censorship of both the final report of the joint inquiry committee that Congress established to investigate 9/11 and a book that I wrote in 2004 called “Intelligence Matters.”
My second inspiration was that a faculty member at the Kennedy School by the name of Joseph Nye, who had been in the Pentagon in the Clinton administration, faced the same hurdles in his attempts to write a nonfiction narrative on his experiences, so he ended up writing it as a novel called “The Power Game,” so that was sort of the inspiration for me to tell this story as a work of fiction.
About 40 percent of “Keys to the Kingdom” is fact. I changed the names of most of the living people and occasionally changed the venue of an event to fit the plot, but the facts are verifiable. Another 40 percent is fiction and the final 20 percent is a mixture of fact and fiction, so those were my inspirations.
Did you reread any favorite authors? When I was in the Senate and before that as governor, you have so much mandatory reading that I didn’t find a lot of time for discretionary reading. When I did, it was mainly historical works, but I have read some [John] Grisham, a lot of Carl Hiaasen and a few other what I would call suspense or thriller novelists. And yes, I did learn some techniques from them.
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