Interview: July 9, 1997
July 9, 1997
On July 9, 1997, TBR welcomed Brad Meltzer, whose first novel, THE TENTH JUSTICE, was just published. Our interviewer was Jesse Kornbluth (BookpgJK), editor of The Book Report. Our online host was BookpgXena.
Bookpg JK: Great to have you here, Brad. May I call you Brad?
BMeltzer: Of course. Though I will also respond to "Shirley."
Bookpg JK: How annoying is this scenario? A law school student gets an idea. Despite a heavy work load and the presumption of a real life, he writes a book. It turns out to be good and the next thing you know, a hotshot publisher has multo copies out and it's on the NY Times bestseller list. Brad -- be honest -- wouldn't you dislike a guy like that?
BMeltzer: It's so sickening it makes me want to vomit.
Bookpg JK: Seriously... Are you terrified to have to write a second book? Shouldn't you quit while you're ahead?
BMeltzer: It's the easiest thing to quit, but I'd be a fool if I ever did.
Bookpg JK: Had you ever written any fiction before?
BMeltzer: The first novel I ever wrote, I wrote when I got out of college. All I got for it was 24 rejection letters.
Bookpg JK: What was it about?
BMeltzer: What I knew at the time... a tale of friendship set on a college campus.
Bookpg JK: Friendship seems to be a large issue for you.
BMeltzer: It's something everyone can relate to. We all have friends who are old friends, we have new friends we don't trust yet, and competitive friendships we don't like to admit are competitive. That will always be fascinating.
Bookpg JK: I was very impressed in TENTH JUSTICE at how much these young careerists think friendship is important. We are led to believe that young careerists think only careers are important.
BMeltzer: Anyone who thinks friendship is not important is writing a two-dimensional character. On this planet, there is no one who doesn't think at least one friend is important.
Question: Are there any writers you look to for inspiration? Grisham? Diehl?
BMeltzer: When I write, I NEVER read within the genre I write in. So during this book, I read a lot of science fiction: Allen Moore's WATCHMAN and Gaiman's SANDMAN. Not reading other writers' stuff is the best way to keep my voice honest and true.
Question: How long did it take you to write TENTH JUSTICE?
BMeltzer: About a year, 18 months. It was hard to tell because in that year I was in law school, got married, and took the bar exam.
Bookpg JK: How many hours a night did you sleep?
BMeltzer: Few. I tried to write from 8-11 every night, but never on Friday. On Saturday and Sunday, about 5 hours each.
Bookpg JK: When did you know this one was "working?"
BMeltzer: There is a point in every novel when you stop telling the characters what you want them to do and they start telling you what THEY want to do. That is when you know it is working.
Bookpg JK: What kind of research did you do?
BMeltzer: No one on the Supreme Court would talk to me. So I tracked down as many former clerks as I could. One of them told me, "This plot could happen." With that, I knew I was headed in the right direction.
Bookpg JK: If your brand-new wife had not liked the book, would you have dumped her?
BMeltzer: Not a chance -- unless she REALLY didn't like the book.
Bookpg JK: When did she read it?
BMeltzer: She is the ONLY person who reads it as I write it. And it doesn't go out the door unless it gets past her BS meter.
Bookpg JK: Which character do YOU identify with?
BMeltzer: I'd say "Lisa" -- but I'd probably be lying. In many respects, the easy answer is true... I identified with every one of them. Tell MHanlon I do have a very strong feminine side! I know all about pantyhose!
Bookpg JK: Watch out lurkers! Brad Meltzer is EVERYWHERE! Back to the book... you DON'T see yourself doing what your main character did? Making an innocent mistake that almost ends his young career?
BMeltzer: Everyone has been in a position where they wished they could take back what they just said. I probably did that about five minutes ago. So, of course, you could blow it at a second's notice.
Question: Do you think all the advance publicity will hurt or enhance your future as a novelist?
BMeltzer: Hurt, hurt, hurt, hurt, hurt -- let the backlash begin.
Bookpg JK: Ok, so what have you bought with the money?
BMeltzer: With my first check, I paid off my college and law school loans. All we bought besides was a new couch and a new computer.
Bookpg JK: Is there a film deal?
BMeltzer: Yes. But if you want to know what TENTH JUSTICE is about, read the book.
Question: Did you always want to be a writer? Did you always have the inkling?
BMeltzer: Never saw it -- even though it was in front of my face. In college, I did all my essays, regardless of the course, in dialogue form. When I graduated college, I had so many student loans to pay off that I took a job at GAMES Magazine. My boss's offer was: Stay here for a year... if you like it, continue... if you hate it, leave. The week I got to work, my boss got a call from an old friend named Bill Clinton. And Clinton said, "How about running my campaign for President?" My boss left. I was alone in Boston. I knew almost no one. I figured: "I have a lot of free time. Everyone has one novel. I'll take my shot." I took my first paycheck and instead of paying loans, I bought a Mac. I pumped out an 800-page monster over a year. I threw out the first 300 pages and got an agent. We sent it out to publishers and got those 24 rejection letters. That novel is still sitting on my shelves... "Published by Kinko's."
Bookpg JK: Will it get published now?
BMeltzer: I don't see the need to clean my closet yet. I think you should put your best work out. Question: What do you in your free time -- when you are not writing?
BMeltzer: I'm a movie freak. And I spend a lot of time with friends.
Bookpg JK: And these friends -- do they suddenly like you more? Do they hope to be in your next book? Or do they see themselves in TENTH JUSTICE?
BMeltzer: My friends are smart. They certainly don't like me more.
Bookpg JK: When I interviewed John Grisham, he said, "The best thing about the law was getting out of it." So did Richard North Patterson. What is it about the law that makes lawyers not like it, and will you ever be the lawyer you were trained to be?
BMeltzer: The worst part is all the noogies and purple nurples. As for practicing law... I'll do everything in my power not to.
Bookpg JK: Did you know this while in law school?
BMeltzer: I went to law school because I thought it would be intellectually interesting. But I much favor my creative side -- which I get from writing.
Bookpg JK: Really annoy us and tell us you're halfway through your next novel. BMeltzer: I will now annoy you. I've been working on it for awhile.
Bookpg JK: Are friends in it? Is the law?
BMeltzer: It's a legal thriller, but I'm bound by contract not to talk about the plot. You know how those lawyers can be!
Question: What has been the most rewarding result of being a published and critically acclaimed writer?
BMeltzer: Watching my wife open the book and read the dedication.
Question: Do you watch Court TV?
Bookpg JK: Why not?
BMeltzer: Too many lawyers. Question: Where do you get your ideas?
BMeltzer: Good ideas are usually right in front of your face. You just have to know where your face is.
Bookpg JK: It often happens that a young writer turns out a popular book and is besieged by offers that seem terrific: write for VANITY FAIR, do a script. Has this happened to you?
BMeltzer: Nope. Question: What do you think of the online chat format? Are you much of a surfer in your free time?
BMeltzer: E-mail fiend. But I surf rarely.
Bookpg JK: Do you use the Web for research?
BMeltzer: Yes. That's what I use it for most.
Bookpg JK: So if we could hack your account, we might figure out the plot of the new novel.
BMeltzer: That's cute. And yes, SMDMDW, I agree... my picture is way too serious. And they airbrushed my birthmarks!
Bookpg JK: Should Matt Perry be in this movie when he gets out of rehab?
BMeltzer: Ask the director. (I'll play that one safe!)
Question: Do you write for the sake of plot and intensity, for the sake of entertainment? Or do you write with the intention of educating, or addressing justice, morality in the O. J. age?
BMeltzer: I enjoy it the most when I'm writing characters. If the characters are real, everything else takes care of itself.
Bookpg JK: I thought we'd get through this without any mention of O. J., but as long as we didn't... let's find out. How many O. J. books have you read?
Bookpg JK: If you won a date with Marcia Clark, would you go?
BMeltzer: Depends on who pays for the date.
Bookpg JK: Her advance was bigger. Can you handle that?
BMeltzer: As I said, I have a strong feminine side.
Bookpg JK: On the strength of this experience, do you see yourself haunting chat rooms in search of characters?
BMeltzer: Who says I haven't?
Bookpg JK: On that ambiguous note, let me say how much fun it's been to have you here.
BMeltzer: Thanks. And thanks to everyone who has supported this book.