Glenn Meade and John O’Neill grew up an ocean apart. But their worlds were destined to meet on common ground: an interest in terrorism and what motivates terrorists to kill indiscriminately.
Dubliner Meade was a writer on a mission to investigate. New Jersey-born O’Neill was an investigator who had much to say and write about.
Meade’s thriller was finished three weeks before planes were crashed into the Trade Towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.
O’Neill walked out of the FBI for the last time on Aug. 22, 2001. He was bound for a new job as head of security for the Twin Towers, where, in a matter of three weeks, he was to perish while trying to save others.
O’Neill had spent 31 years in FBI and had headed the investigation into the attack on the USS Cole. After his death, it was widely reported that he had been frustrated that his warnings of a major attack on American soil were not being taken seriously enough.
Just as O’Neill was a direct casualty of the attack, so too was Meade’s book. Though it did not predict the exact nature of the al Qaeda attack, it did describe a fictional al Qaeda operation on an American city.
Truth and fiction had just collided head on.
Meade already had three thrillers published in the U.S. by Thomas Dunne Books, a division of New York-based St. Martin’s Press. His debut, “Snow Wolf,” was described by the New York Times as a “high-powered” and “consistently absorbing” thriller. “Brandenburg” and “The Sands of Sakkara” were to follow in the wake of this debut success.
“Resurrection Day” hit the world’s bookstores a few months after 9/11. But America, this time, took a pass and the author understands why.
“Snow Wolf did extremely well in the United States,” Meade said during a recent interview in Dublin. “I had spent over two years on ‘Resurrection Day’ because it was the book that demanded most research. I remember turning on the TV and seeing the events unfold on Sept. 11. I was shocked by the audacity of the attack, the magnitude of it. But I wasn’t surprised.
“I was expecting something like it. It was only a matter of time. To be perfectly honest about it, my fear as I was writing ‘Resurrection Day’ was what if this actually happens, because I did feel that this was imminent. For me, so many of the pointers were there. I’m just amazed that people didn’t see them.”
Meade saw. What he imagined, however, was a plot with far more devastating potential consequences than even 9/11. He, for one, prays that the plot outlined in “Resurrection Day” — a terrorist nerve gas attack aimed at Washington, D.C. — never comes to pass. But that doesn’t stop him from dreaming troubled dreams.
“Having finished the book, I read through it one last time, thinking that I hope this never happens, I hope this never happens,” Meade said.
But hope is little obstacle to a fertile imagination. Meade is not the first writer who has gazed into a crystal ball and seen far more than clouds.
“During the world wars it was quite commonplace to hire writers to work in intelligence,” he said. “Writers do tend to exercise their imagination more than most, and for me, as a thriller writer, it was a case of looking to see where the dangers are down the road, what’s imminent, what’s going to be hitting us three or five years from now.
“The more I studied, the more I realized that there was really one big bogeyman and that was Osama bin Laden. He had the means to do it, the method and the intent.”
In researching “Resurrection Day,” Meade spent a number of months in the U.S., where he had established contacts with various U.S. government agencies, including the FBI and deputy director John O’Neill.
“O’Neill,” said Meade, “was blowing whistles and setting off alarm bells for a long time and the impression that I got was that he felt he wasn’t being listened to and that this kind of attack was just waiting in the wings. He was screaming and shouting and nobody was paying attention.
“The thing of it is, we’ve come to live in the time of our own fiction. Extremist terror plots are not just the domain of writers anymore.”
On the day of the attack against the U.S., Meade’s emotions were pulled more than one way. For one thing, he was glad that “Resurrection Day,” though finished, was still months away from actual publication.
“But the American publishers immediately said we can’t go with this, it’s too close to the bone,” he said. “The amazing thing was that so many people had helped me in the States. I had a number of private visits to the White House. I had spoken to terrorist experts and intelligence experts. The book had been finished but I still had some facts to verify for the third or fourth time just to be absolutely certain. But following the attack no one wanted to talk.”
“Resurrection Day” was published in Ireland, Britain, Germany, Japan and elsewhere.
“And it did sell, though it wasn’t my intention to make money as a result of what happened on Sept. 11,” Meade said. “I know some people in the FBI and CIA got a copy of it. President Bush got a copy, although I don’t know if he read it.
“My fear down the road is that what happened on Sept. 11 has become the benchmark. They’re going to try to surpass that. And that’s the scary thing, that you’re really looking down the road at weapons of mass destruction.
“There’s no use pretending it’s not going to happen, or sticking your head in the sand. It almost behooves fiction writers to write about it if they so feel. And that’s how I felt. It’s not a matter of trying to scare people, but to warn them.”
Meade is one of a growing number of Irish writers who have ventured outside their native patch to write about places and characters that are not in fact Irish. Indeed, his books have been translated into 22 languages.
“James Bond is now Irish,” he said. “Without question we’ve grown up, come of age. In the last 10 years we’ve started to become more confident and are willing to give it a go. It’s been great and I’m enjoying it, although writing books is not an easy job. You have to have the patience to do it, and the impatience to get it done.”
“Resurrection Day” is being followed by a new thriller, as yet untitled. Meade has just finished the final reading and rewriting
“It’s a change in direction for me. It must be the shortest book that I’ve written. Most of them have been 550 to 750 pages. The new one is 350 pages and one of the least researched. It has to do with CIA and Russian Mafia.
“But it’s the one I would say, that of all of them, I’ve had the most fun doing because I haven’t been so focused on research. It’s probably a lot more Hollywood, but that’s the way it happened.”
Meade travels extensively to lay the groundwork for his books. Often he takes video films of places and records his observations.
“This scene just springs to mind,” he said. “I was in Switzerland walking in a glacier. We were told to watch out for the crevasses. When I got back to the hotel I had this idea of a guy walking across the glacier, falling into a crevasse and trying to get back up. He manages to survive by climbing 30 meters back up. First, though, he sees this suitcase glued to the ice. He tears it loose and starts to climb.
“As he climbs, he suddenly comes across this face staring at him from the wall of ice. It lent itself to a good opening and I felt there was a story somewhere.”
That was a start. Meade, however, could not immediately tell where the story might lead once his central character had crawled out of a potential icy grave.
“No matter what vision you have of a book, by the time you get to the end it has changed. And rightly so. You’re learning along the way and letting the story evolve. Instead of forcing the story into a neat little package, you’re allowing it to mature. Along the way you have to have real sounding dialogue and you have to have a ring of truth.”
In the case of “Resurrection Day” Glenn Meade delivered far more than just a ring.