Transcript

National Book Festival: Novelist and Comic Book Author Brad Meltzer

Brad Meltzer
Novelist and Comic Book Author
Monday, September 22, 2008; 3:00 PM

Nearly 70 authors will be on the National Mall Saturday, September 27 for the 2008 Library of Congress National Book Festival.

Among them will be Brad Meltzer, author of the new novel The Book of Lies and the new comic book DC Universe. He was online Monday, September 22 to discuss his best-selling legal/political thrillers, his comic books, and his efforts to help preserve the Cleveland home where the original Superman comics were created.

A transcript follows.

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Brad Meltzer: Hi, all. Very much looking forward to coming back to DC. Plus, I'll get to eat some California Tortilla (free plug, and they didn't even pay me). Feel free to ask questions. I write fiction, I'll make up an answer. :-)

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Southington, CT: Thanks for some great reads. I have my copy of "Book of Lies" and look forward to diving into it ASAP.

I've heard that publishers and/or the market demand that authors publish a book a year. How did you manage to get the extra time to write "Book of Lies?"

Brad Meltzer: Some people can write a book a year, and they're great. If I wrote a book a year, they'd be garbage. I need 6 months just to do research and to build the characters. That's the only way I understand the craft. And my publisher knows how hard I work at it, and knows the only pace that I know how to do. I wish I could do a book a year, but I'd rather have quality than quantity.

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Vienna, VA: How does the interaction between the comic WRITER and ARTIST work, so that you both aim toward, and eventually hit a target you both agree on? As a writer, do you mention your concept for the visuals and then have the artist begin creating sketches for discussion?

Brad Meltzer: It depends on how you write your scripts. I write very elaborate scripts with every silly little detail, including the page layout (which is why I drive artists so nuts). The artist then draws from that. But as I tell every artist I work with: of course, if they see a better shot, they should take it. They're the artist, they're gonna to know what looks best. That said, comics is a true 50-50 collaboration. Art can't save bad writing, and good writing can't save bad art. It has to work together.

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Superman: I read about what you are doing to help save Superman's birthplace. Love it, tell us all about it. And why is the site called "ordinary people change the world"?

Brad Meltzer: When I was researching The Book of Lies, I went to see the house where Superman was created. It's a mess. I don't mean it just needs some paint. It's a wreck. There are holes in the walls, holes in the ceiling, and that seemed wrong to me.

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Brad Meltzer: The woman who lived there told me that Cleveland wouldn't even give them a plaque to say Superman was created there. I told her I'd get her a plaque, and that I'd be back. (Which was just the macho thing to say. I don't really know what I meant.) So I started doing the only thing I ever know how to do: telling the story.

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Brad Meltzer: We got some of the best Superman artists to draw Superman art to auction off. We got Stephen Colbert and David Letterman and even the TV show Heroes, which donated a walk-on part to the high bidder. People can donate here:

www.ordinarypeoplechangetheworld.com. I belive that ordinary people change the world. I don't care where you went to school or how much money you make. That's nonsense. I believe in regular people. That's how movements get started. And the donations from the auction prove the thesis. The final week of the auction takes place starting tonight, and if you want a great deal on some comic art, go to the site today, where the 3rd week of the auction ends tonight. What has happened is not because of me. It's because of you.

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Munich, Germany: Off the cuff, how would you write the sequel to the high tech banking story with the Caruso brothers, under the present chaotic circumstances? Would they save the banking world and make gazillions of money at the same time?

Brad Meltzer: Not a chance. Didn't you see the end of The Millionaires? Charlie Brown never got to kick the football. :)

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New York, NY: What can you tell us about what you're working on for the big Buffy finale? (Obviously, Joss would kill you if there were spoilers, but surely there's -something- you can say)

Brad Meltzer: It's gonna be good. (How's that for totally useless information?) In truth, the hardest part of talking about this is because I'm at the end, the only information I have spoils everything. And when you take the blood oath to work on Buffy, you don't cross the blood. (Kinds like in Ghostbusters when you can't cross the streams.)

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Washington D.C.: In your recent MTV comments,you made a statement about your upcoming Buffy arc.

"Buffy and Xander don't need me for a new twist," Meltzer said. "You love the characters already, because they're terrific. My job isn't to show you what's not there, but what you've always seen before but never thought was there. I'm going to try my best not to screw it up too badly."

Some fans are reading into it that there is a Buffy/Xander romantic pairing coming. Are these fans reading into your comments more than they should and were Buffy and Xander's names used as random examples? Also,what are your thoughts on past relationships such as Buffy/Angel, Buffy/Riley and Buffy/Spike?

Brad Meltzer: It was totally random. I could've just as easily said Willow and Buffy or any other 2 that you want to put together.

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Fairfax, VA: I'm in the midst of Book Of Lies. Will you be doing any signings while in DC?

washingtonpost.com: Brad Meltzer will be at the National Book Festival down on the Mall this Saturday. He is scheduled to be in the Fiction and Mystery pavilion at 11:10 a.m. and then signing at 12:30 p.m.

Brad Meltzer: And of course, I'm happy to sign comics and anything else you want to bring. (I had my first person ever ask me to write something sexual in their book -- been waiting my whole life for that one.)

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Washington, D.C.: Which do you derive the most satisfaction from, writing comics or novels? Are there any difficulties transitioning between the two genres?

Brad Meltzer: I love the comics because I love the characters so much. And it's in a strange way more comforting because the characters have such fully developed backgrounds. But the novels are the house I get to build with my own hands. I'll never own Superman (without a really good lawsuit). But I own the novels. And, as anyone knows, that matters. There's nothing like building the house for yourself. As for transitioning, I treat both the same. It's just about character, character, character.

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Fairfax: Re: a book a year. I think readers should realize that most big-time authors who have started doing this (coughJamespattersoncoughcough) take on multiple co-authors, where the primary/name author sketches out the plot and the co-author fills in the details. I'd much prefer a full, well-developed book from a REAL author like Brad than an outright cash grab that these other books have become.

Brad Meltzer: Thanks for the love. You have to realize how tempting it is. I can double my salary if I write a book a year. But the last thing I ever what to be is one of authors who used to be good and is now phoning it in. As I said, some people do multiple books a year and are great at it. I'm just not one of those people.

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Fairfax: I understand that comic strips are important to you, but aren't there greater uses of your fame and name -- greater ways you can make a difference -- than propping up a house where Superman was created? I would imagine that if there was actually a demand for this house to be a museum, it would have happened by now.

Brad Meltzer: Fair question. And are there better ways to save people? Absolutely. Which is why we launched the site in the first place. (And why we've helped to start City Year's newest site in Miami this week.) The site has never been just about a house. It's been about reminding people of the greatness that is in all of us. And there has been demand to turn it into a museum. The problem is, there just haven't been the resources to make it happen. Imagine it a moment: kids from every nearby state taking a bus to see this house (with children's art hanging in it eventually) and seeing the place where a young boy dreamed that anything is possible. To me, it's the same reason we need Mr. Rogers. We all need reminders like this. As for what will eventually happen, that will be decided by others. But if we don't preserve it, we will lose it forever. And for those who want to see how to really change the world, check out www.cityyear.org.

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Reston VA: Brad,

Finished up Book of Lies last night. Another great read, I appreciate all the work you put into these, and for keeping those of us on your email list informed, not only with your literary works but in sharing other things, too.

I'm sorry that I missed both of your solo appearances due to business travel, but I'm excited that I'll get a second chance this weekend.

Brad Meltzer: Marry me.

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Reston, VA: What are the pros and cons of writing in the graphic-novel/comic medium vs. others (prose, film/TV, etc.)?

Brad Meltzer: Someone is doing the heavy lifting when it comes to all the physical description. I don't have to spend 3 days trying to figure out how to describe Armand's Pizza in DC and what kind of wood they have on the walls. I just tell the artist: draw Armand's. How good would it be if life were always that simple?

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Vienna, VA: How do you and the other writers of Buffy Season-8 ensure continuity and direction of the overall season while still preserving the flexibility to be creative within your own episode/arc? I.e., how do you know what teasers to plant in YOUR episode(s) to set the stage for later episodes? (Example: the whole "Dark Willow" mystery...)

Brad Meltzer: Make no mistake, Joss is the one driving this bus. His hands are, thankfully, always on the wheel.

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Washington, D.C.: Thanks for all your great works, both comics and novels. Is there any possibility of a Meltzer-penned Green Arrow film script? Ollie needs to find his way to the big screen.

Brad Meltzer: Would kill to do it. All they have to do is ask.

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Athens, Greece:- Of what nature is the biggest surprise/twist in your arcs? (Plot-related? Relationship-related? Character-related?)

- Favourite "Buffy" character(s)? (From the televised series and/or Season 8.)

- Favourite episode from the "Buffy" televised series? Favourite arc from "Buffy: Season 8" so far?

- Are we going to find out whether Buffy knows Spike is alive in this season? (If you could give us a hint as to "sooner" or "later", too...)

- Will you be joining us for Season 9, as well?

Brad Meltzer:- The same as in every one of my novels: a mix between plot and character.

- Favorite character from the TV series, always loved Willow transforming like Dark Phoenix over all those years.

- Favorite episode from the TV series -- it's so cliche to say, but the music episode still beats the pants off everything. Look at how many people have ripped it off.

- As to the last 2 questions, ask Joss. He'll tell you right now.

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Chantilly: Any of your previous books up for TV/movie treatment yet?

Also, now that it's in the past, can you reveal which First Daughters you spoke to for First Counsel?

Brad Meltzer: Wow, great memory. There's a new TV project called The Romeos, which I'm working on with Marco Pennette from Ugly Betty and Jeff Marx, one of the co-creators of Avenue Q. It's a show set in the '60s and about the world's biggest band, but whose members are now just kids. (We basically stole the Jack & Bobby idea and resold it without them knowing it.) We're working on the script right now, so no idea if it will ever air, but we'll give it a try.

And still not saying who the First Daughter was. Don't want to be that guy who rats her out.

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Fairfax: I've been a longtime reader of your books, back to The Tenth Justice, and one of the first people to sign up for your email list and post on your message board.

However, I still wasn't excited about Book of Lies and only borrowed it from a friend after they finished reading it. I'm sorry to say, but I'm glad I didn't pay for it.

What's with the increasing trend towards the barely believable? Both of your last two books have been way out there in the realm of believability, whereas before that one could at least imagine the situation happening. But Cain and Abel? Masons, The Three, and a killer with Messianic aim? Come on, now. Why have you moved away from the exciting and logical to the fantastical? Is it your comic book upbringing? My pet theory (as someone in publishing) is that you're too high up as a great author to be edited correctly, so too many of your ideas are flying by when they shouldn't.

Brad Meltzer: Dad, is that you? As for story line, I just don't want to write the same book over and over again. When you're going to the movies, would you just want to see romantic comedies for the rest of your life? Some books will be grounded, some will be fantastic, and then others will come right back to grounded. The one thing I never want to do is repeat myself. And let me just say the most important thing I can say: thanks for buying that first book. Means more than you realize.

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Alexandria, Va.: How do you feel you have grown as a writer, from your first published novels, to your recent stints in Comics to your current releases? Have you ever looked back and thought, what was I thinking when I wrote that?

Brad Meltzer: See the above question. Ten years ago, I would've never answered that question. I would've pretended it didn't exist. I don't know if I'm a better writer, but I certainly know that I'm a more intellectually honest one. I will say, though, that I never look back at the books. I've never re-read any of them since I wrote them. All I want to do is look forward and find that intellectual growth.

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Washington, DC: Why do so many current comic book writers, yourself included, only hop onto a series for 6-12 issues or so, and then leave? Don't you ever look at some of those really great, long runs from when you were a kid (Levitz on Legion, Claremont on X-Men, etc.), and think about giving it a shot?

Brad Meltzer: That's why I wrote Justice League and stayed on for 13 issues -- a few of them oversized -- instead of just coming in for the quick kill. I wish I could write that book forever. But if I did, I'd never write another novel. I can't do 2 things at once. I give all my energy to one project and do everything I can to make that the great one.

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Washington, D.C.: What is the "Book of Lies" about? In DC, it is going to hard to distinguish a book with that title from most of the other locally written books.

Brad Meltzer: In Chapter 4 of the Bible, Cain kills Abel. But the Bible is silent about murder weapen that Cain used to kill his brother. And that weapon is lost to history.

In 1932, a man named Mitchell Siegel is killed in a robbery. In grief, his young son creates a bulletproof man called Superman. And that weapon is still lost to this day.

The question is: what do these two murders, thousands of years apart, have to do with each other.

The answer is in The Book of Lies.

(How's that for stealing from the back cover of the book?)

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Silver Spring: I'm posting this early in the hopes of getting this in.

As a kid, I liked to draw and got into comics based on who was drawing them (Kirby, Perez, etc) and only later noticed the writer.

After not reading comics for a few decades, I got back -- have enjoyed quite a few things you've written -- and wondered if it is now a writers' market? It sure seems that way as comics buyers frequently gravitate toward certain writers: yourself, Bendis, Moore, etc.

I find this interesting for what is essentially a visual medium.

I read The Kingdom paperback and the weak art in the concluding parts of that saga really soured me on the whole thing -- great writing cannot cover up for bad art in comics but the reverse -is- true -- Kirby's writing was frequently silly and downright ridiculous and his art was always interesting and vibrant.

And are you going to the Baltimore Comic Con beginning this weekend?

Thank you.

Brad Meltzer: Everyone says it's a writer's market right now -- and maybe that's true. No question, some of the best writing is being done on these characters right now. But don't undersell artists like Jim Lee, Rags Morales, Gene Ha, Maleve, and so many others. It's always a partnership.

As for Baltimore Comic-Con, I'm so bummed it conflicts with the National Book Festival -- the exact same weekend. So go to Comic-Con in the afternoon, but come see me and Gaiman in the morning.

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Reston, VA: What's the Brad Meltzer work pipeline got coming up in the next few years?

Yeah, I'm a dedicated and sometimes impatient fan.

Brad Meltzer: Thanks for the dedication... and the impatience. It really matters to me. Right now, working on The Romeos. And when the tour is over, will jump right into the new novel. Then Buffy. Then start breathing again. But, no joke: Could. Not. Do. This. Without. You.

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Ashburn, VA: Brad,

I've read all of your novels, and I am particularly enjoying Book of Lies right now. I am fascinated by the level of detail with which you have described the facts surrounding Mitchell Siegel's death. Clearly, you done a great deal of research in this area. I am wondering how much of your description is fictionalized and how much is historical.

Brad Meltzer: The book started when a women came into one of my signings and announced that she knew more about Superman than I did. I thought: Security! Crazy lade in aisle two. She then revealed herself as being Jerry Siegel's (the creator of Superman's) niece. She was the one who introduced me to the family and helped me get so many of the great details. As for what's true in the book, wait till the end. There's an author's note that actally explains it. But, almost always, the best parts are the real ones.

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Anonymous: When the "house where Superman" was created was shown in "Funky Winkerbean", was that drawn the way the actual house looks?

Brad Meltzer: Unsure. Haven't seen the exact panel. But you can buy original art from Funky Winkerbean at an incredibly cheap price -- and help save the Superman house in the process -- by clicking here: www.ordinarypeoplechangetheworld.com.

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Brad Meltzer: Let me just say the most important thing again. Thank you for what you all have done for me in supporting these books, comics, Buffys, and Jack & Bobbys. More than any other time, this book tour has taught me just how many people are pulling for us from so many different places. It means more than I can express.

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