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An Interview With Brad Meltzer About His New Book, Heroes For My Son

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If you were listening to NPR this evening you may have heard an interview on that station with Brad Meltzer, talking about this book. I just wrote and submitted for publication here a memoir piece sparked partially by that moment. I had already planned on finishing up and submitting this interview this week, but hearing him on NPR made me decide to do it soonest, so here it is.

Most people know Brad Meltzer from his thrillers and those books are good. Today, though, I want to focus on his inspiring, moving new book.

In the book's forward, Brad explains that when his first child, a boy named Jonas, was born he decided to write a book telling him about some of his personal heroes. As he mentioned on NPR he is now working on a second book, this one for his daughter, who is quite chaffed that her brother has a book but she does not. She is more impatient than his editor, he joked.

While his daughter will have to wait for "her" book, we can now check out the book for her brothers, which was released today.

This book is definitely worth reading. Obviously, it is much different than his thrillers: This one you want to read more slowly, enjoying the wonderful stories and the great quotes from the heroes selected.They are not essays but rather one page vignettes.

Are you having a day when you are feeling down about the problems in the world, from the mid-east to the oil spill? This book will inspire you, giving you hope for the future for there are always new heroes coming along.

The book, eight years in the making, has two blank pages for people to list other heroes not included. Brad is also taking advantage of the Internet with a way for people to publicize other heroes they know.

He also posted this video for his book at YouTube.

Here is my interview with Brad: 

How did you decide which heroes made the cut and which didn't?

I started just collecting stories. First came this story about the Wright Brothers: Every time 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 love 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 would become possible.  And then from there, we found more.

Sometimes, I just liked someone, like Charlie Chaplin or Lucille Ball — and their stories would be even more inspiring than I ever thought.  And sometimes, we'd find out what a jerk someone was.  But the goal of the book was always the same.  This wasn't about fame.  It's about what we are all capable of on our very best days.

How have your kids reacted to the book?

In my entire life, there has been nothing — absolutely nothing — that's been like the moment where I took the bound galley, crawled into bed with my boy, and we started reading this book.  He picked Roberto Clemente (a baseball player who died while helping earthquake victims) first.  It wasn't the story he expected.  But now he says he likes Clemente.  A lot.  He knows that man risked his life for other people.  I love that that story has somehow stuck with him.

Normally your books, the thrillers, are read fast by their fans. This might be one of those books people should read more slowly so they can take it all in. Would you recommend readers read this at a slower pace?

To me, this is a book you share with someone… a father, a parent, a grandparent.  It's when you read it together and fill in the personal side that you get the full experience.  In the past two days, I've had two fathers tell me about their experiences sharing this with their kids. That's the whole point.

What was the biggest surprise you found while doing research for this book?

That Thomas Jefferson never took credit for writing the Declaration of Independence because he wanted it to be from the People.  That Lou Gehrig had seventeen fractures in just his hand — but never complained about it.  That Anne Sullivan risked her own eyesight to read to Helen Keller.  The details are just amazing.

What do your parents think of you doing this book for your kids?

My Mom passed away two years ago, and she was the real reason I decided to finish the book.  In fact, when I was born, my parents bought a bottle of champagne that they saved until the night of my wedding.  When my Dad lost his job and we moved to Florida, I still remember the two bottles of champagne (one for me, one for my sister), rolling back and forth just behind the headrests in the backseat.  It was the one thing they were determined to take with us.  So when my son was born, I just communicated in the way I know how:  by telling stories.

What are your plans for people submitting their own heroes? Will those be added to future editions? Listed online somewhere? Either way I like the idea of keeping it open ended.

At www.HeroesForMySon.com and on our facebook page, people can submit their own heroes.  Some may go in future books.  But I love that there are so many heroes out there.

I finished the book today and paused when I reached the page about Eli Segal, the founder of AmeriCorps. Can you elaborate on what you wrote? He was your first grown up job? He lied about your age? Do tell.

When I was 21, he used to take me to meetings and say, "This is Brad Meltzer, graduate of Michigan Law."  He knew I hadn't gone to law school.  But we were talking to CEOs.  So when we were alone, he'd say, "Y'know why I told them you were a lawyer?  So they'd listen to what you were saying."  Love that he had faith in me even at that young age.

Is this book equally appropriate as a gift to daughters/girls?

As for girls, every hero in here is someone I'd give to my daughter (and I'm working on her book now). :)

 

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About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.