At the 2013 National Book Festival
Brad Meltzer is the No. 1 New York Times best-selling author of "The Book of Fate," as well as the best-sellers "The Tenth Justice," "Dead Even," and "The First Counsel," among others. His latest work is also his first nonfiction book, "Heroes for My Son." It comprises a collection of essays on heroes – from Jim Henson to Rosa Parks – that he has been working on since his son was born about eight years ago. He says that the overall message of the book is "history doesn't just pick people. History picks everyone. … The only question is, Do you pay attention? … Do you hear that calling." Meltzer's books have been translated into more than 25 languages. He lives in Florida.
Previous National Book Festival Appearances
- 2010 Book Festival Webcast
- 2008 Book Festival Webcast
- 2008 Book Festival Audio
- 2006 Book Festival Webcast
From the 2010 National Book Festival
Can you tell us how you got your inspiration for your newest book – Heroes for My Son?
It began the night my first son was born. At that moment, I decided that I wanted to write a book over the course of my son’s life - and then when I eventually gave it to him, he’d realize what a brilliant father I was. And then a friend of mine told me this story about the Wright Brothers. Every day Orville and Wilbur Wright went out to fly their plane; they would bring enough materials for multiple crashes. That way, when they crashed, they could rebuild the plane and try again. Think about it a moment: every time they went out - every time - they knew they were going to fail. But that’s what they did: Crash and rebuild. Crash and rebuild. And that’s why they finally took off.
I loved that story. I still love that story. And that’s the kind of story I wanted my son to hear: a story that wouldn’t lecture to him, but would show him that if he was determined…if he wasn’t afraid to fail…if he had persistence (and a side order of stubbornness), the impossible becomes possible.
Since that time, I’ve been collecting heroes for this book, which has been one of the most rewarding projects of my life.
This is your first non-fiction book. And it is also written for children. Was the writing process different from writing fiction?
For sure. Now I had to finally get stuff right! I can't make it up like I usually do.
You have written many books? Do you have any special favorites among them?
The Tenth Justice, because it's my first. The First Counsel, because it shows the secret tunnels below the White House. And Heroes For My Son, because it's for my little ones.
What challenges do you face in your writing process? How do you overcome them?
I got twenty-four rejection letters on my first novel. It’s still sitting on my shelf, published by Kinko’s. I had twenty-four people tell me to give it up—that I couldn’t write. But the day I got my twenty-third and twenty-fourth rejection, I said to myself, "If they don’t like this novel, I’ll write another, and if they don’t like that one, I’ll write another." Why? Because I fell in love with writing. A week later, I started the book that became The Tenth Justice.
What tips or advice can you share with young students who hope to start writing?
Don't let anyone tell you "No." Also, write what you love.
Can you suggest a fun writing topic to get them started?
Tell me about the night you saw the ghost. Also: Tell me about the greatest adventure you had with your imaginary friend.
What is your list of favorite children or teen books?
Holes, Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie, Watchmen by Alan Moore, Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret? By Judy Blume.
How do you decide on themes for your books?
I steal from my own life.
How important is research in the development of your books? Can you explain the process as well?
The books I've written have always been designed to transport readers into a world they couldn't go otherwise, from the Supreme Court, to the White House, to the Capitol, to prestigious private banks, to the world of former presidents and secrets about our founding fathers and the Freemasons. The Research isn’t magic. It’s just legwork. Plus, now I know where the secret tunnels are below Disney World (see The Millionaires). You won’t believe what’s in there.
What is your advice to parents for passing the joys of reading on to their children?
Read what you love with them. They'll get it.
Can you tell us about any new books that you will be working on during the coming year?
The Inner Circle comes out in January and launches my first ever series character. Plus, I had some secret help with the book from a former President of the United States.
If you weren’t writing books, what do you think you would be doing?
Do you have a website where young people can learn more about you and your work?