Bob Graham, one of Florida's most high-profile politicians, now adds novelist to his resume with "Keys to the Kingdom," a political thriller that suggests a 9-11 cover-up.
Since retiring from the U.S. Senate in 2005 after three terms, Graham, 75, has served on a number of national committees. He chaired the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism.
He also was co-chair of the 9-11 Congressional Joint Inquiry, which included members of both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
He served on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, and currently is a member of the CIA Executive Advisory Board. Graham, a two-term Florida governor (1979-1987), also has written three nonfiction books.
We caught up with Graham, who lives in Miami Lakes, before his book tour began. The book was published by Vanguard Press.
Q: What prompted you to write "Keys to the Kingdom"?
A: I was angry at what I thought were the undisclosed secrets of 9-11. I was angry that there appeared to be an organized and so far effective effort to cover up information important to the American people. I had written nonfiction about those events, both in the final report of the Congressional Inquiry Committee and in the book "Intelligence Matters." In both of those, there was a degree of censorship of what the public could learn. In a novel, I could tell much of the story in a way that would be both educational and entertaining.
Q: How did you research the novel?
A: Much of it is based on my personal experiences and as co-chairman of the Joint Inquiry into 9-11, so a substantial amount comes from that. In 2008, I was chairman of the Commission of Weapons of Mass Destruction and that added to the (novel's) background. I have visited almost all the places described in the book and think my portrayal of both the physical appearance and the cultures are accurate. I also spent a month in London during the summer of 2009. I talked with newspaper reporters, met with British intelligence agencies and Scotland Yard representatives.
Q: What was the hardest thing to research?
A: Dealing with the clothing, especially what women wear in the Middle East and being sure that I had the right description of the appropriate dress in the different countries under different social conditions. I am not a fashion guru anywhere, especially female dress in the Islamic world.
Q: In "Keys to the Kingdom," the character of retired U.S. Sen. John Billington, a co-chair of the 9-11 Congressional Inquiry Commission, appears to have a lot in common with Sen. Bob Graham, doesn't he?
A: Yes, he does, but he only survives three chapters. Billington is somewhat immodestly drawn from my own experiences. My wife (Adele) is proud of the book and admires that I got through it, but she doesn't like the fact that I killed myself so early and in such a gruesome way.
Q: In real life you have four daughters -- Gwen, Cissy, Suzanne and Kendall -- each of whom has a minor role as Billington's children. But you also gave Billington a fifth daughter who, to say the least, has little regard for her family.
A: She's the not-so nice daughter. None of my other daughters would have come close to fitting the profile of Laura Billington, so she had to be a fictional character.
Q: Did you base Cuban-American Tony Ramos, the hero of "Keys to the Kingdom," on anyone?
A: Tony probably is the least based on any individual. He is all fiction. But my father was a great baseball fan. When I was growing up, we went to baseball games almost every night during the season. We often watched the Florida International League and the Havana Sugar Kings. Dad admired the Cuban players. That was the inspiration to make Tony the son and grandson of Cuban baseball players.
Q: Did you enjoy writing it?
A: Very much so. I learned a lot. I had a dictionary and thesaurus at my elbow while typing and I added to my vocabulary every day. It was enjoyable to see the characters and the plot develop.
Q: What did you like least about being an author?
A: At the end, you've written this sweep of a novel, but then you're down with a proof editor going over it word by word ... that got tedious.
Q: The ending hints at a sequel; will there be more novels?
A: That depends on how well-received this one is. But if there is a second novel, Tony will be the central character, trying to find biological weapons pointed at the United States.
Q: Do the numerous references to Osama bin Laden still being alive date your novel?
A: I hope it is a cautionary tale. The chapters have dates by month, but (the novel) doesn't have dates by years. You can use your own imagination to decide if this (plot) happened in the past, the present or the future.
Q: In this day of the co-author, did you actually write "Keys to the Kingdom"?
A: Absolutely. My laptop computer has all the iterations of the book. It took me five years off and on. Twice, I had to put it aside (because of other duties). I wrapped it up at the end of last year.
Q: Your book tour takes you throughout Florida and around the country. Is that like being back on the campaign trail?
A: Yes, sort of. I see this as being like a political campaign in that you want to have something happening just about every day. I told the publicists they weren't working me hard enough, so they added some extra events to keep me occupied.
Q: What legacy do you hope your novel will leave?
A: I hope that people will be both entertained because people read for enjoyment but also will be educated. Many events (in the novel) which are totally factual may come as a matter of first knowledge to a lot of people and (I hope) that they will begin to ask the question "Why didn't I know this before?" Fox has done a documentary called "The Secrets of 9-11" and much of what I say in the novel is in that documentary. I also am interviewed in the documentary. This documentary is pretty accurate of those unrevealed secrets of 9-11.