Over the last several months, Glenn has emphasized the importance of bringing together individuals who share the same goals and unifying principles so that we can learn from one another. GlennBeck.com is working to fulfill that goal by sitting down with some of the most interesting minds to give you an inside look at who they are and what they are working on.
#1 New York Times bestselling author, host of History Channel’s Decoded, and award-winning comic book writer Brad Meltzer opened up to GlennBeck.com assistant editor Meg Storm about the high school teacher that changed his life, what it is was like to brainstorm terrorist plots with the Department of Homeland Security, and why his favorite superhero is Batman.
Below is a transcript of the interview:
Hey Brad! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us.
Happy to do it!
So I wanted to start with your background. Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
What’s crazy is that I never thought I would ever be a writer because I didn’t think that was a real job. I grew up in a very working class family, and I always thought I would go to high school and go to work. My mom and dad didn’t go to any type of four-year college, so I didn’t think college was even an option. My dad, when he was 40-years-old, lost his job. He lost everything. He had $1,200 to his name. He had no job. We had no place to live. He picked everything up and moved us to Florida, and he said it was the ‘do over of his life.’ He was going to start his life over from scratch on that day.
When we got to Florida, my parents gave a fake address so I could go to the better local public school. When I went to that school, people were talking about going to college and taking the SAT. I didn’t know what the SAT was. But because of my parents and that moment, I suddenly had my life changed.
It really is. And what made it more incredible is my English teach in 9th grade was a woman named Sheila Schweitzer. She told me: You can write. She said, ‘I can’t put you in the honors class because of a conflict in your schedule.’ But she said, ‘You are going to sit in the course the entire year. You are going to ignore everything I do on the blackboard.’ What she was really saying to me was: You’re going to thank me later.
Sure enough, 10 years later, I went back to her classroom when I got my first novel published, and I said, ‘My name is Brad Meltzer, and this novel is written for you.’ And she was crying. I said, ‘Why are you crying?’ And she said, ‘I was going to retire this year because I didn’t think I was having an impact anymore.’ And I said, ‘You changed my life.’ My life was changed by an English teacher who took a chance on me.
That is such a great story.
True story. Can’t make it up.
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You ended up going to law school though, correct?
I didn’t go to law school for plot ideas or to write political thrillers. I went to law school because I was terrified. I was terrified of having the life my father had and shoveling for money all the time. I just figured if the writing thing never worked out, I wanted something to fall back on because my father never had anything to fall back on.
I will say, I found the law interesting and it showed me how the world works – where the strings are in the universe. I remember the first day I sat down in law school, the dean got up in front up everyone and said, ‘Open up any newspaper, and any story that is on the front page – a lawyer is involved in that story.’ I will never forget that moment.
Were you writing while you were in law school?
I was. I graduated college at the University of Michigan, and I had debt to pay off because my parents couldn’t get me the whole way through. A guy in Boston said to me, ‘I want to be your mentor. I want to take you under my wing. I want to teach you all the ways of the world.’ He said, ‘Move yourself to Boston. And if you love the job, you’ll stay. If you hate the job, you’ll leave after a year with some money in your pocket.’ So I moved everything to Boston, and the week I got to Boston, he left the job. I thought in that moment I had wrecked my life. So I did what anyone would do when they thought they had wrecked their life. I said: I am going to write a novel.
And the first novel I wrote, I got 24 rejection letters. There were only 20 publishers at the time, and I got 24 rejection letters. So some wrote to me twice to make sure I got the point. So I figured if they didn’t like that book, I would write another. If they didn’t like that one, I would write another. It was my second book that became my first published book: The Tenth Justice.
What was it like to face that rejection?
I am stubborn. The moment they said I couldn’t do it, all I wanted to do was do it. I think it is why Glenn and I have always gotten along – we have a real commitment to what we believe in. And the moment anybody says, ‘It’s not possible,’ is the moment where we kind of double down and say, ‘This is it.’
Can I ask you how you first met Glenn?
We met when he was on CNN. He had me on for one of my first books. He just liked my thrillers. We hit it off, of course.
But we became real friends when we discovered our mutual love of Superman. I wrote a book about the origins of Superman, and where Superman came from. And I went to the house where Superman was created and it was in disrepair. I wanted to help repair it, and Glenn said, ‘I want to help you with that.’ And he gave us the platform to really promote the book to America.
The house needed a new roof. And we ended up raising – in one month – over $100,000. A few Christmas’ back I got a Christmas card from the family that lived there that said, ‘Thank you for saving our house, Brad. This is the first Christmas where there is no water coming in, no snow coming in from the roof.’
Glenn and I really bonded over that mutual love of a real hero of ours. And we have just been friends ever since.
Your writings cover a wide range of topics and genres – from fiction to nonfiction to comics! Where do you look for inspiration?
For me, everything that I work on has the same exact theme. It is my core belief. I believe that ordinary people change the world. I don’t care where you went to school or how much money you make – that’s nonsense to me. I believe in ordinary people and their ability to change this world. So whether I writing a thriller set in the White House or a kids’ book about Abraham Lincoln or a comic book about Superman, they all reflect my belief of the power of an ordinary person. To me, the most important part of the story is never Superman. The most important part of the story is Clark Kent. We all know what it is like to be Clark – to be boring and ordinary and want to be somebody beyond ourselves.
On the day I was born, my dad went to the liquor store and bought a bottle of champagne and said, ‘I am going to open this bottle on the day my son Brad gets married.’ When my dad lost his job, he threw all our stuff in a moving van. But there is some stuff you never put in a moving van. When we drove from New York to Florida, behind the headrests he put two bottles of champagne – one for me and one for my sister. My parent’s didn’t know anything about taking care of champagne. They were rolling back and forth and in the Florida sun. But we were their lives and they took care of us.
What was amazing to me was years later, when my kids were born, I said, ‘I don’t care about champagne. What I want to do is write a book for them that will last their whole lives.’ And that is where Heroes for My Son and Heroes For My Daughter came from. They are profiles of American heroes like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Amelia Earhart, and Mr. Rodgers.
As my kids got a little older, I realized I needed to tell even more of their stories. I was so tired of my kids looking at reality TV show stars and loudmouth athletes and thinking of them as a hero. I said to them, ‘That’s being famous, and being famous is very different than being a hero.’ And that’s when I decided to do illustrated children’s books that tell the story of Abraham Lincoln and Amelia Earhart. But not just the stories you know. It is the stories of when they were kids – the story of Amelia Earhart when she was 7-years-old, Abraham Lincoln when he was 10-years-old. And as a result, you see the power and the potential that is in all of us. That’s where I am Abraham Lincoln and I am Amelia Earhart were born.
Your books offer historical stories that aren’t necessarily mainstream. What is the research process like?
You know, I found this amazing place. It’s called the library.
I honestly think what happens today is we are so used to going and looking for things on the Internet. The Internet is a beautiful, powerful tool. But anyone who has ever tried to do research on the Internet knows it is filled with noise and filled with mistruths. I try as hard as I can to go back to the original sources.
There is a story of Abraham Lincoln as a little boy. He came upon a group of boys that were torturing turtles. He loved animals, and he had to figure out what he was going to do in that moment. He stands up to the bullies and saves the turtles. And I tell that story because a professor and Abraham Lincoln scholar sent me that story and the original sources – letters written by people who knew Abraham Lincoln. And it is amazing what we found. It was a story that I never found in any Abraham Lincoln book. It had been buried over the years.
What was it to work on your History Channel series Decoded in addition to all the writing you do?
The fun part of that is it let’s me do the things I can’t cover in the books. The TV show feeds my own love of history. And the research we do on the TV show ends up feeding the novels. You will see we did a show on Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and then the next book that I did was about a conspiracy theory where you find out all of the presidential assassins – from John Wilkes Booth to Lee Harvey Oswald – were all working for secret cause. They were not lone wolfs, but working for a secret society. Obviously, I made that last part up for my thriller, but all the research in the book is real. And I get to have that research because of some of the work we do on the TV show.
I read on your website that you were once recruited by the Department of Homeland Security to talk about terrorism and things of that nature –
Yeah, a few years ago I got a call from the Department of Homeland Security. They said they wanted me to come in and brainstorm different ways terrorists could attack the United States. My first though was: If they are calling me, we have bigger problems than anybody thinks!
But I was honored to be part of what they called the Red Cell Program. They brought together what they labeled ‘out of the box thinkers,’ and they paired me with a Secret Service agent. They would give us a target – like a major city – and they would ask us to destroy it. Within a half hour we would find a way in or we would find a way to destroy it. It’s not one of those days where you go home feeling good. You go home feeling terrified because you see how easy it is to kill us. It is one of those moments where you sit back and realize how blessed you have been because that is a crazy way to spend a day of work.
Not many people can say they have been asked to destroy a major city by the U.S. government.
Not only that. They asked me for other ones as though I was on to something. They were basically saying: You’re good at this. And that’s scarier!
Switching topics a little bit, GlennBeck.com’s managing editor, Wilson Garrett, is a huge comic book fan and a big fan of yours. He would kill me if I didn’t ask you about your work in the genre and what that process is like.
When you write a novel, you have one palette to paint with. And that palette is words. You use different permutations to tell your story, but you are still painting with one palette. When you write a comic book, you have a whole new palette – pictures. You have to learn how to shut up. You have to let the pictures tell the story.
When I write a comic book, I will tell the artist everything I want him to draw. I will tell him in panel one I want to be up close to Superman’s face. In panel two, stay close to his face and pay attention to the sweat crawling down is forehead. In panel three, I want to be really close on his forehead and the sweat crawl. In panel four I want a little tiny bead of sweat coming down the Man of Steel’s face. And now I haven’t used a single word, but you know he is nervous because you see that single bead of sweat. The beautiful part of writing a comic book is that you get to lean on that new palette of using pictures.
To write the word S-U-P-E-R-M-A-N and get to put words in Superman’s mouth is a really cool day of work.
Can I assume that Superman is your favorite superhero?
My favorite superhero is actually Batman because I will never be Superman. I will never have lasers fly out of my eyes or lift a car over my heads. But Batman is just a stubborn guy in a costume committed to a cause. And you know what? I can do that.
Do you have any writers that you personally admire or read?
It’s funny, I don’t read thrillers anymore because I end up taking them apart and trying to figure out how they were built. It’s like a mechanic driving a rental car. I am just trying to figure out what is wrong with them.
I tend to read a lot of young adult books. I read a book called Wonder by R.J. Palacio that I just loved. It was about a boy who was trying to deal with going to a new “normal school.” And I read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I read The Book Thief, which I loved as well. I have been on a real young adult slant for a while.
But I read comic books. I read non-fiction. I read Lincoln biographies and Jefferson biographies... And just about anything else I can get my hands on.
Do have any projects you are working on right now that you can talk about?
Absolutely! We did I am Abraham Lincoln and I am Amelia Earhart. Now we are doing I am Rosa Parks, which will be out in June. And then we are doing I am Albert Einstein, which will be out in September. My real goal is not to just put out a book or two, but to help people build a library of heroes for their kids, their grandkids, their nieces and nephews. The long-term goal is we can give them heroes in America that they can be proud of. So those are the children’s projects.
That is something to look forward to! When you are now writing and traveling and working on your TV show, what do you like to do in your spare time?
For me, it is all about family. I love reading. I love history. I love going to movies and being entertained. But there is nothing to me that lives up to the hype of being a father. I have three children.
Before we finish up, we have a ‘lightening round’ that we like to include. One or two word answers will do.
One word – got it!
What’s your favorite book?
What’s your favorite movie?
What’s your favorite TV show?
Come on! Decoded! Duh…
What’s your favorite food?
My mother’s chicken parmesan
What’s your favorite place to visit?
My old high school
Who is your favorite music artist?
Good one… If I have to name one I would say James Taylor takes me to my youth. I took my kids to the Billy Joel concert to show them what the previous generation thought was rock ‘n’ roll. And definitely Prince too.
Keep up with all of Brad's upcoming projects by 'liking' his Facebook page or visiting BradMeltzer.com. And be sure to check out Brad's new children's books I am Abraham Lincoln and I am Amelia Earhart and his latest thriller The Fifth Assassin.