Some books seem, on reflection, totally inevitable. And I think Brad Meltzer would be among the first to say that his new book, Heroes for My Daughter, just had to happen. I, for one, am glad it did.
I last interviewed Brad for his New York Times best-selling book Heroes for My Son, which he wrote for his first-born, his son. But if you were Brad’s daughter how would you feel if your older brother had a book for him but there was not one for her? Thus my mention of the feeling of inevitably. As Brad says in the interview his daughter has been nagging him for this book for two years. So now the companion book has arrived.
These two books about heroes are not, though, Brad’s usual cup of tea. Normally he writes thrillers, often involving conspiracies. His books have included The Book of Fate, The Inner Circle, and six other bestselling thrillers. He also hosts the television program Brad Meltzer’s Decoded and has written some of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics. He also co-created the television series Jack & Bobby and wrote the Justice League of America comic book series.
This great new book is moving and inspiring. In it Meltzer not only writes eloquent vignettes about 60 heroes, most of them female, but he also reminds his daughter of an important lesson he wants her to never forget.
“Women are not weaker,” he writes in his opening letter to his daughter. “Read that again. Women are not weaker. They are just as strong, just as resolute, just as creative, and are filled with just as much potential as any man … Remember,” Meltzer adds, “that you are not a damsel in distress, waiting for some prince to rescue you. Forget that prince. With your brain and your resourcefulness, you can rescue yourself.”
Heroes For My Daughter has moving vignettes about the story of pioneers like aviator Amelia Earhart and astronaut Sally Ride alongside the story of four-year-old cancer victim Alex Stone, who opened a lemonade stand to raise money to find cancer’s cure, sparking a national charity in the process .
The book’s overriding theme is humanness, from those overcoming adversity (Helen Keller and Temple Grandin), to those standing up to authority (Rosa Parks and Sojourner Truth), and those breaking down barriers (Golda Meir and Dolly Parton.)
For this interview by email I asked him a variety of questions about his busy career.
How did this book come about both in terms of what was the impetus and when did this start compared to the one for your sons?
Six years ago, on the night my daughter was born, I began writing this book for her. I did the same for my sons when I wrote Heroes For My Son. But as for how this book actually came about, in these past few years, my mother died after losing her battle with breast cancer. And in the past year, I also lost my Dad and my grandmother (who’s one of the heroes in here). It’s been a heck of a year. And as I wrote this book, I was forced to look to the world for women (and men) who, like my own parents, could serve as ideals for my daughter.
Put another way, was your daughter’s reportedly daily demand for this a factor? Please tell the anecdote you put on the postcard about her asking “Where’s MY book?”
Yes, for two years now, my daughter’s been asking, “Where the heck’s my book?” She drives harder than my editor.
I noticed in the introduction you didn’t allude at all to the book you gave her brother–was that intentional, to keep it all focused on her?
I wanted her to have her own thing. Just hers. Not something that would be defined by anyone else.
Was this one harder or easier to write than the one for the boys? Why
To be honest, I really thought both books would be the same—as a dad, I wanted to treat my daughter and sons exactly the same. But when I handed in the manuscript for my daughter’s book, the editor came back with a surprising reply. She noticed that I kept overusing one word throughout the manuscript. That word? Fighter. By my editor’s count, fourteen of the profiles had the word “fight” or “fighter” in it.
As she pointed out, “Some of them, like Abigail Adams, Winston Churchill, Hannah Senesh, Thurgood Marshall, were literally fighters, so of course the term should stay there.” But I also used it with Audrey Hepburn, Helen Keller, Teddy Roosevelt, Nancy Brinker—even with Lisa Simpson and the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama! Even in the pacifist, I sought a fighter. And yes, that probably highlights my lack of descriptive ability. And how overprotective I am. But it also shows that—and I’m just being honest here — I do want my daughter to learn how to fight.
It’s the dream that links every single hero I picked for her. As I now often tell my daughter Lila, no matter what stage of life you’re in, when you want something —no matter how impossible it seems—you need to fight for it. When you believe in something, fight for it. And when you see injustice, fight harder than you’ve ever fought before.
How did you decide how many to include and who to include? Was there discussion about whether to only include women as heroes?
To pick a hero, it’s like the Supreme Court definition of pornography: You know it when you see it. But in the book, there’s one thing every hero has in common. They all had to do this: Help someone. Some people help thousands of people directly, like Marie Curie or Susan B. Anthony. Others help us by inspiring us, like Amelia Earhart. But you do have to help someone.
As for men vs. women, it’d be silly to just put male heroes in my son’s book. And I felt the same about just limiting it to women for my daughter.
I love that you included Lisa Simpson in there. And the ones about your own mom and grandma and English teacher were especially touching. Do you want to say a little about each of those?
My grandmother, who passed away last year, would’ve been 94 years old on the day the book came out. Years ago, when my grandfather died, everyone thought my grandmother wouldn’t be able to go on. But she did. And when she went blind, they thought she wouldn’t be able to go on. But she did. And when she went deaf—barely hearing with her hearing aids—they thought she wouldn’t be able to go on. But she did. I’d go visit her on Sundays and says, “how you doing, Na?” And she’d say, “I can’t complain.” She was wrong. She was blind and deaf and living without her beloved husband and daughter, who both were already dead. She could’ve complained all day long. But to her, as long as she had her family, she had everything.
As for my English teacher, she was the first person who told me I could write. She changed my life. And my Mom… C’mon. It’s my mom.
What does your daughter think of the finished product? Does she let her brothers look at her book or are they even interested? Does she have a favorite hero among those you included? I’d ask for your favorite but that may be too hard a question.
She loves Lucille Ball. Loves her. After reading about her, she made me get the DVDs, so she’s now the only girl in America watching black and white TV. She also loves seeing the last hero in there: My wife, her mom. But to me, the most important page in my daughter’s book is the last one—because it’s blank. It says “Your Hero’s Photo Here,” and “Your Hero’s Story Here.” I promise, if you take a picture of your mom or grandparent or teacher, and you paste it in the book and write one sentence on what that person means to you, it will be the most beautiful page in Heroes for My Daughter. It will also be the best present we can give our children: the reminder that it is ordinary people who change the world.
Oh, and is that your daughter on the cover?
I read somewhere that Adam Sandler is going to play you in a movie about your Heroes For My Son book? How’s that going to work?
He’s not playing me. He simply optioned the book. But don’t tell my son that. He loves Adam Sandler too much.
While I have you let’s talk about your other projects. Are you working on a new novel?
Working on the new novel now—a sequel to The Inner Circle.
What’s the status of the Decoded show? Was it renewed? I asked friends and colleagues what they wanted me to ask you and one asked this: ‘Did he really believe the answers he got from the officials’ on the Decoded shows?’
Waiting to hear about season three now. And for me, on the show, it depends on who’s telling the story, when it comes to whether I believe them.
Lastly, what’s the craziest or dumbest pitch you’ve heard for a sequel: Heroes for my pets? Heroes for my parents
Enemies For My Son. It’ll have Hitler. And Mussolini. Fun for all.