Dan Brown can see the future.
Check it out: Back before he was the bagillionaire writer of The Da Vinci Code, luring legions of fans to events like the Miami Book Fair International, which he opens this Sunday, Brown was an English teacher at a tony New England prep school.
One day in the '90s, some Secret Service agents showed up on campus looking to interrogate a German exchange student. The kid, it turned out, had sent an email to a friend back home suggesting someone shoot the U.S. President. Federal agents swooped in, grilled the kid, then left, having determined he posed little threat to national security.
Schoolmaster Brown, however, was puzzled.
"I just sort of scratched my head and said, 'Wait a minute, how did they know it was in his email?" he recalls today.
Brown began asking questions, and the answers led him to a strange federal intelligence agency few knew about - the National Security Agency. Brown used the agency in the backdrop of his first novel, Digital Fortress, published in 1998. The book's big theme was the gray area between government surveillance and privacy - which, unless you've been whacked out on bath salts for the last year, probably sounds pretty familiar.
"Arguably, [the book] is more relevant now than when I wrote it. Nobody knew about the NSA [back then]. This was at the dawn of email, and people didn't know it was so easy to scan for keywords," he says. "But if you choose a theme well, it's evergreen."
If Brown does have a knack for predicting what's coming down the pipe, we're all screwed. The author's latest novel, Inferno, deals with "over-population and the state of the world," Brown explains. Featuring The Da Vinci Code's hero Robert Langdon, the book blends Dante Alighieri with biological disaster - Brown's patented blend of history and current concerns.
"The books are held up by two pillars really. One is the old, the other the new," he says. "If I do my job well, just as you're getting tired of the old, the new steps in."
Dan Brown hosts MBFI's opening night this Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets cost $15. Visit miamibookfair.com.
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