Talking with Authors: Brad Meltzer “The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington”

    New York Times bestselling author Brad Meltzer LOVES a good adventure. And, that’s all his most recent book was until he ran across some key information while doing research. See how he turned that into his latest thriller: a nonfiction page turner about a secret plot to kill George Washington in 1776. Plus, we learn more about how his kids keep him humble despite his literary and television success. And, why this mantra – Dream Big, Work Hard, Stay Humble – is so important to the Meltzer family.

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    Transcript

    Host:
    Brad Meltzer, welcome to St Louis.

    Brad Meltzer:
    Thank you for having me. It’s freezing today.

    Host:
    But you have your coat now at least.

    Brad Meltzer:
    I’ve got my coat, I’m on book tour. I came from Florida. I forgot my coat. Put it on social media and every person in every airport is like, “hey dummy, did you get your coat now”?

    Host:
    Well, we are in the Olin Library Washington University’s campus, which is fitting. I mean, there’s a statue of George Washington outside this building.

    Brad Meltzer:
    I felt like I had to come here no matter what just to keep the theme of the book going.

    Host:
    And then, I don’t know if you saw, across the hall from where we are there is a Southwick Broadside of the Declaration of Independence.

    Brad Meltzer:
    Oh, it is? It’s here.

    Host:
    Yeah. Yeah.

    Brad Meltzer:
    Oh, I’m going to see it.

    Host:
    You’ll have to go afterwards.

    Brad Meltzer:
    Oh, it’s right here, right outside?

    Host:
    Right across the hall.

    Brad Meltzer:
    Oh I’ll be there. If it’s missing, it wasn’t me.

    Host:
    We’re happy to have you here in a very fitting place to talk about your book, The First Conspiracy. Which something like that happened in 1776, you think by now we’ve learned it all. We’ve heard it all. No.

    Brad Meltzer:
    Yeah, no. And there’s always a good new story. That’s the best part of history. And that’s how it was for me with this book. But I loved the story. And I said, I need to tell this story. I was so obsessed with it.

    Host:
    So when you started on this journey, you had authors saying, “this is going to be a hard one, I don’t know if you want to …” Because a lot of it was secret.

    Brad Meltzer:
    Right. It’s not something that we’ve really read about in anything that’s modern. And I went to Pulitzer Prize winning author, Joseph Ellis, who wrote one in the great Washington biographies. And I said to him, “do you know this story? What do you think?” And he said, “this is a story about Washington spies”. And he said, “right now you can find exactly how many slaves George Washington owned. You’ll never find all his spies”. He said, “by its nature what you’re going to be searching for, Brad, will forever be elusive.” And he said, “but you got to try, because if it works, you get a book out of it. If not, you have an adventure.” And I love having an adventure. So I had to go try this. And the first thing I did is I called the executive producer from our television show, is documentarian, Josh Mensch.

    Brad Meltzer:
    And he and I working with the History Channel found the 9/11 flag that the firefighters raised at Ground Zero. We went searching for it. His researching skills were so incredible and I just said, “you ready to go down the rabbit hole, because I want to go take a look at George Washington?”

    Host:
    And so, at any point during that, did you say, this has been a great adventure? I don’t think we got a book here. Or was there a piece of information that you’re like, okay, I’m going to do it.

    Brad Meltzer:
    In the beginning I was like, I don’t know if we’re going to find anything because it was something that I’d never heard about and it was clearly so kind of buried. And the key breakthrough for me is when we found … Well, one of the things that George Washington did is he started a secret committee to look at this plot, and he put John Jay in charge of it who became the first Supreme Court justice. But at this time he’s just working for George Washington in this small committee. And they’re knocking on doors, they’re pulling people out of their houses in the middle of the night. They’re checking suspects and interrogating them. But what they’re doing in the process is they’re building America’s first counter intelligence agency. And to this day, in Virginia, in Langley at CIA headquarters is a room dedicated to John Jay, the founding father they call him of counter intelligence. And the breakthrough came when we found the transcripts of the secret committee’s tribunal. And this was the key moment, right? Because, George Washington doesn’t write about it.

    Brad Meltzer:
    He barely says a word about it. On the day that he hanged the man in front of 20,000 people he barely mentions it. If I murdered someone in front of 20,000 people, I’d be like, dear diary had a bad day, right? George Washington places cards so close to the vest, barely says a word. But John Jay and the secret committee when they tried this man, there were witnesses called, there were people brought to testify, sworn under oath. And thankfully, there was someone writing a full transcript. And when we got that I was like, okay. The whole thing kind of cracked open.

    Host:
    And that information you found where?

    Brad Meltzer:
    The funny thing is, it’s not in the regular court system, because it was a quiet one. So it was the New York Provincial Congress Records. And I love to imagine us as like, I’m Indiana Jones and I crawl through the cobwebs and then I unearth this arcane information and present it in this book.

    Host:
    Right.

    Brad Meltzer:
    But the reality is, the information is online. You can find much of it in all these places. It’s just that no one wants to read it. We just took the time to actually read it. And there’s great stories out there.

    Host:
    Oh, it’s so interesting. It’s a great book in that you know what happens, obviously, we all know what happened with history. But you read it with anticipation of wondering how it all happens.

    Brad Meltzer:
    And there’s things you just never would ever know. One of the things that I loved is finding out that George Washington had his own personal bodyguards. And that he went to all of his top officers and he said, “give me your four best men”. He wanted what they call drilled men, the best of the absolute best. And one of the things he did is he personally, George Washington himself narrowed down to about 50 men. These were the inner circle. These are the ones he trusted, the best of the very best. And they were called the General’s Guard. They were called the Commanders Guard. But the name that stuck, were they called them the Life Guards. Because one of the things they watched was George Washington’s life. They were literally the guards of his life. And these were the men who turned on George Washington. And I don’t care how strong a general you are, I don’t care that you’re the first president. That’s a moment that’s devastating for George Washington. And none of us know that story. And you better believe I was like, this is going in the book too.

    Host:
    It really makes you realize … When you learn about history in school, it’s like the Revolutionary War, yeah it was tough, but we won. But this takes it to the nth level where you realize, oh my gosh, all the obstacles that George Washington had to kind of surmount to get to where we could win a war against this powerhouse, Great Britain.

    Brad Meltzer:
    Yeah. And what we do with our heroes today is we dip them in granite. We build statues of them, right? And we do them no good service when we do that. We forget that they’re human beings.

    Host:
    Right.

    Brad Meltzer:
    And anyone you look up to, whether it’s George Washington, whether it’s Rosa Parks, whether it’s Dr. King, whether it’s someone in your own family that you say, that’s my hero, they have moments where they were scared and they were terrified. They have moments where they didn’t think they could go on, but they kept going. And it’s the same with George Washington. When you look at this, we tell the story that George Washington, we all held hands, we dreamed of democracy, we beat the British, and took down the greatest fighting force that ever lived. The end, happily ever after.

    Host:
    Right.

    Brad Meltzer:
    Great story. It’s not the real story. If you think we’re divided today as a country, back then in 1776 there were nearly as many loyalists on the British side in New York City as there were patriots on the American side. And it was the same in our own military. You can see that that Massachusetts Regiment was fighting with the Virginia Regiment. There’s a scene where they get in this big argument in Harvard Yard, because that’s where they’re meeting up in Massachusetts. And George Washington comes racing in, big fights going on, jumps off his horse, grabs two of the guys, and he’s shaking them basically saying, “what are you fighting with each other? We’re on the same team.” If ever there were a metaphor for where we are today, this is it. And there was no United States back then. George Washington helped build it by putting his arms around this thing and pulling everyone together. And victory was not a foregone conclusion. We almost lost over and over again. And he’s not like John Adams.

    Brad Meltzer:
    He’s not like Jefferson, who are writing these flowing love letters to their loved ones saying what all their emotions are. Well again, Washington is silent. But one of the things you can see is in his actions. So there’s a scene that I love at the Battle of Brooklyn in the book. It’s one of the first great battles of the Revolutionary War when the British finally invade New York. And we don’t win, we get our butt kicked. George Washington gets out generaled. He doesn’t have the experience of these British generals. And he’s pinned down. He’s got the British in front of him, the East River behind him. There’s no way to run. This should be the moment when George Washington dies. It should be all over. And instead, George Washington does the best thing he always does. He adapts. He improvises, he plans a daring escape in the middle of the night. They commandeer every boat that’s along the East River. And slowly one by one he puts his men aboard this boat.

    Brad Meltzer:
    But here is the key moment. Is George Washington won’t get in any of the boats until he makes sure that all of his men, even the lowest ranking ones, are in those boats first. And they see that he’s risking his life for theirs. And that’s what leadership is. Leadership isn’t about being in charge, it’s about taking care of those in your charge. And those are the kinds of leaders we need today. Those ones that pull us together. Like George Washington, with humility, not with screaming and yelling and pointing to themselves. Is that number one, humility was a great American value, to me with George Washington, that’s what we have to demand to get back again.

    Host:
    You talk about leaders and what we have, and one of the leaders that you became quite close with was George HW Bush. And this book, you actually had the occasion to read it to him. Is that right?

    Brad Meltzer:
    Yeah. So I got a fan letter years ago from President George H.W. Bush.

    Host:
    Wow.

    Brad Meltzer:
    I got another one from Bill Clinton. I thought they were totally fake, because when I was 18 years old, I was in college, my first job was at the Senate Judiciary Committee. And we used to use the pen signing machines for the Senators, and the stationery from Judiciary Committee. I’d write to my friends and tell them they were being deported. Right? So I thought this whole thing was fake. I was like, this is totally fake. They’re getting me back. And they said, “oh you got the President’s letter”. And we became really dear friends. I went and we did a lot of work with literacy with the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. And when she passed away we wanted to honor her work with literacy, because she believed you have to teach everyone to read. You teach not just kids but adults, immigrants, people who can’t speak English. That’s how you unlock the American dream. So we were honoring in Kennebunkport, Maine a few months back, honoring Mrs. Bush. And at this point we know that President Bush is really sick. I know what’s coming. I know he’s going to die.

    Brad Meltzer:
    And they said to me that they were bringing in some of his favorite authors to read to him. So they said, “would you like to read to him?” I said, “I’d be honored, of course”. And we go to Kennebunkport, to his house. And then he has obviously an office that’s connected to it a couple of doors down. And this is it, right? It’s my wife and myself. It’s President Bush and his service dog, Sully, secret service leave. And we know this is the end. On his desk is about five or six books stacked up. I see one of them is The First Conspiracy. He’s got our book there. And it looks like it’s dog-eared he’d given it a blurb, I sent it to him almost a year ago, but it looks like it’s been read over and over. And I take my copy and I say, “sir, you want to read this?” And he’s like, “mm-hmm (affirmative)”, because he couldn’t really speak at that point. He could nod and kind of mm-hmm (affirmative).

    Brad Meltzer:
    And I brought him and I opened to one of my favorite scenes in the book where George Washington for the first time has the Declaration of Independence presented to the troops. And I’m reading to him. They say he’s going to be sleeping in 10 minutes. That’s just the way it’s going to be. And sure enough, 10 minutes in he’s sleeping. But I get to those words, “we hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal”. And his eyes open and he locks on me. President Bush is just pure clarity. Just locked on me. And it’s like the words of the Declaration of Independence are a lifeblood, right? The ultimate IV for a US president. And I get to the end of the chapter and I say, “sir, you want to do another chapter?” “mm-hmm (affirmative)”. And I get to the end of another, “you want to do another”? “mm-hmm (affirmative).” “And another”? “mm-hmm (affirmative).” Instead of 10 minutes, which is what we thought we’d be there for, we were there for an hour.

    Host:
    Wow.

    Brad Meltzer:
    An hour goes by, I say goodbye to him. I know it’s the last time I’m going to see him. But to be able to read about the first president to at that point, the oldest living president was humbling. And when he died, what struck me so much is that people used one word over and over in their tributes, which was decency.

    Host:
    Mm-hmm.

    Brad Meltzer:
    Decency. And yes, it’s because he’s a decent man, but it’s also because I think as a country and a culture, we’re starving for decency right now. And I think it’s no coincidence at the big movies this past year and biographies were Neil Armstrong, Mr. Rogers. Here I am writing about George Washington. Everyone of course about George HW Bush. Men of decency, of character, of humility. Right now we pay attention to those in our culture who are good at calling attention to themselves. People on social media. And again, no politics about it. Whether you’re on Facebook, you’re on Twitter. Who say, look at me. Write in all exclamation points and caps, I’m tired of that. I’m tired of that nonsense. I want to get back to those hard workers, to those people who are humble and who are modest. That is truly what brought this country up and what made us our best. And I think that George Washington is the perfect example of how we get back there.

    Host:
    You wrote on Instagram that he taught you one of the greatest lessons, and was that it? The humility, the decency?

    Brad Meltzer:
    Yeah. I mean, he taught me a million of them over the years. But yeah, he had a decency unlike anyone else. In fact, when I used to always talk, when I first met him, you always talk to the secret service agents. They’ll tell you the truth. They don’t love everybody, right? They don’t love everybody. They’ll tell you, oh this one’s a pain in the butt. This one’s real.

    Host:
    Yeah.

    Brad Meltzer:
    And they would always say, “President Bush knows my name, knows my kid’s names, knows my grand kid’s names, they’ll ask about them.” He once in fact, they told me the story that one of them had to stay because their kid was sick, and President Bush stayed back and then heard that the kid was sick and shaved his head out of solidarity with this kid who had cancer. These amazing stories. And never called attention to it. Never said, “look at me, let’s go get press”. Never said, “look what I did”. Just did the kindness for being kind, was good because it’s right to be good. And I think these days we lose sight of that. We don’t do it unless we can post it, and share it, and make sure everyone sees us.

    Host:
    Right? You have all these views on these Ted Talks that you did. And in one of them you talk about how when you put your kids to bed at night, there are three things that … And I don’t know if you still say this to them.

    Brad Meltzer:
    Oh, every night.

    Host:
    Do you really?

    Brad Meltzer:
    Dream big. Work hard. Stay humble. If you met my kids right today-

    Host:
    Yeah.

    Brad Meltzer:
    If you said dream big, they would go work hard, stay humble. I mean they’ve heard that-

    Host:
    It’s ingrained.

    Brad Meltzer:
    It is ingrained. Every single night. Even when I left for tour to come here, that’s the last thing I said to them.

    Host:
    And they are how old now?

    Brad Meltzer:
    My oldest is now 17. I mean I’ve been saying this and drilling this into their heads over and over. And I stole it from a friend of mine who said that his dad used to say to him every night, dream big, work hard, stay humble. I love that idea. I think it just kind of … It’s everything that is right, in terms of what I wish for my kids. And there’s a million things we all wish for our kids.

    Host:
    Right. Did you have those ideas kind of in your head when you wrote these books, the Heroes for My Daughter, Heroes for My Son? We went so much for our kids. We want them to be good people. And I know in that book there are so many instances of all the things-

    Brad Meltzer:
    Yeah.

    Host:
    You want them to emulate. Is that kind of what you had in mind?

    Brad Meltzer:
    Yeah.

    Host:
    Those three?

    Brad Meltzer:
    And for me what happened was is, I was just tired of my own kids looking at people who are famous for being famous, and loud mouth athletes, and reality TV show stars. And I was just like, there are so many better heroes out there. So we started with Heroes for My Son and Heroes for My Daughter. And then we did the I Am series.

    Host:
    Right.

    Brad Meltzer:
    The Ordinary People Change the World series. And we started with, I am Amelia Earhart, did the I am Abraham Lincoln. Because if I tell my daughter that Amelia Earhart flew across the Atlantic Ocean, she’s not impressed. She’s like, “big deal Dad, everyone does that”. But if I tell her the true story that Amelia Earhart when she was seven years old built a homemade rollercoaster in her backyard.

    Host:
    Right, right.

    Brad Meltzer:
    Right? Took a wooden crate, put roller skating wheels on it, shoved it off the roof of a tool shed, my daughter’s like, “oh my gosh, she’s amazing”

    Brad Meltzer:
    And now Amelia Earhart’s alive again. She’s not some black and white picture in a history book, but she’s just like her. She’s daring and amazing. And we did, I am Rosa Parks and Albert Einstein. For my son who loves sports we did I Am Jackie Robinson. And we did, I Am Lucille Ball, because I wanted my daughter to have a female entertainment hero who wasn’t just famous for being thin and pretty. That Lucy stands for the idea, it’s not just okay to be different, it’s spectacular. We did I Am Helen Keller put real braille in the book. We can feel the dots and see her name. She says, “my name is Helen” in these dots. “What’s your name?” And something amazing though happened, a couple of years ago as the presidential election was approaching between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. And Hillary and Donald Trump are bashing each other’s heads open every night on TV. We see it all coming in November. And in that same November, this amazing thing happened.

    Brad Meltzer:
    Two of our I Am books started selling more than any others. And they were, I Am Martin Luther King Jr and I Am George Washington. And it wasn’t a Democrat or Republican thing. It was that parents on both sides were tired of turning on the TV and seeing politicians. But they wanted to show their kids we’re leaders.

    Brad Meltzer:
    We all know there’s a huge difference between a politician and a leader. And I love that people use our books to fight back and build libraries of real heroes for their kids, their grandkids, their nieces and their nephews. And we’ve done Neil Armstrong, we’ve done Jane Goodall, we’ve even done Jim Henson and Gandhi, and Sacagawea, and Harriet Tubman and you name it. We’re trying to help people build libraries.

    Host:
    Wow. So I mean, your kids know that these things were for them.

    Brad Meltzer:
    They do. The thing is my kids aren’t impressed with anything I do. Right?

    Host:
    That’s what I was going to ask.

    Brad Meltzer:
    One of my kids said to me, my daughter said, she said, “I hate to read.” And I said, “you do know what I do for a living, right? You understand what feeds you every night.” But again, I wasn’t impressed with my parents. Right? Whatever they did, I was like, that can’t be that good. Because it’s like the moment your parents like a band that you like-

    Host:
    No longer cool.

    Brad Meltzer:
    It’s not longer the cool band.

    Host:
    Right.

    Brad Meltzer:
    So I hope one day they’ll realize that writing a book for someone is a fun endeavor. But right now they’re like, “Dad wrote another sappy book for me.” But one day I’ll make them feel bad.

    Host:
    I read somewhere that shortly after … You mentioned the 9/11 flag. After that flag was found and that amazing story, I read somewhere that your son’s teacher had them write an essay.

    Brad Meltzer:
    Oh yeah, you saw that.

    Host:
    Is that right? Is it true?

    Brad Meltzer:
    Let’s talk about that. So this was the craziest thing. So, we help find the 9/11 flag that the firefighters raised at Ground Zero. It was one of most amazing moments of my life. We unveiled it in the 9/11 Museum. Crazy amazing. And my son a couple months ago, on 9/11 comes home with a homework assignment, that basically is about the finding of the 9/11 flag, and he has to write an essay on it and he says to me, “haha Dad look, they didn’t even mention you in the article. It just says a TV show found it.” And he just thought it was the greatest that they cut me out.

    Host:
    Oh my gosh.

    Brad Meltzer:
    And so, I put that on social media. And it got picked up, and people started writing about it. And then the next morning at 6:00 in the morning, I got an email from his teacher who was like, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know that was you.” And so I of course was like, “son, you’re going to crush homework today. You’re going to win all homework.” And yes, he got a very good grade on his essay. I was like, “okay, and tell her I directly said this, and here’s another quote and here’s another one.” It was very funny.

    Host:
    That’s so funny.

    Brad Meltzer:
    I was stunned. Truthfully. I really was shocked. I said, “I cannot believe that this flag is found and that it’s here, and that it’s really the flag.”

    Host:
    When that happened, when it came about that this was the flag, and there was lots of research done and everything to make sure it as the flag. I mean, what was that like for you? I mean, there’s still some mystery surrounding how it got to the person, right?

    Brad Meltzer:
    Yeah, so what happened was is, I went to the History Channel and said, “I want to make a TV show where we use a show as a wanted poster and tell people about lost historical artifacts. We’ll have them bring it back.” And I went on the first episode and said, anyone who has the 9/11 flag from Ground Zero, we want it back, I’ll give you $10,000 if you bring it back. Four days later a man walked into a fire station in Washington state and said, “I saw the show Lost History, this is the 9/11 flag, I want to return it”. Now, we spent the better part of a year authenticating it, making sure it’s the right one.

    Host:
    Right. Did he get the reward?

    Brad Meltzer:
    Well, I’ll tell you, he never took the reward.

    Host:
    Oh.

    Brad Meltzer:
    Everyone’s like, “oh, he’s stolen it and he got the money”.

    Host:
    Right.

    Brad Meltzer:
    No, he to this day, never took the reward money at all. He thought it was the right thing to bring it back. And we worked with the former head of the FBI’s art crimes unit to verify and authenticate it. And he said to me, “Brad, this flag is now more authenticated than most Rembrandts in museums.” And I said to him, “what’s wrong with the Rembrandt in the museums?” You’re like what? But again, to unveil that in the 9/11 Museum where it’s currently on display.

    Brad Meltzer:
    And someone sent me a photo of a Pearl Harbor veteran saluting it. To play a small role in that, again, one of the most rewarding moments in my life.

    Host:
    Yeah, because I mean, you’re from Brooklyn originally?

    Brad Meltzer:
    Brooklyn originally, yeah.

    Host:
    And I mean, you knew a flight attendant on one of the planes?

    Brad Meltzer:
    Yeah. So what happened was, is our neighbor, when we were living in Washington DC, our neighbor Michelle Hindenberger lived across the street from us and she was one of the flight attendants in the Pentagon flight, who was killed in the Pentagon flight. And when we were searching for the flag I went on TV and I actually added a line to what was written in the script. And I said, “I want this back”, because I couldn’t focus on the 3,000 plus people who died. It was just too big. It was too much of a disaster.

    Host:
    Right.

    Brad Meltzer:
    But I knew my friend Michelle Hidenberger had died, and I just focused on her, it was for her. And so if you watch the show I said, “I want it back because I want it for my friend Michelle Hidenberger who we lost in that day.” And the part was is, when the flag was finally returned, I said to everyone in the office, I said, “can I talk to the guy who brought it back?” And they said, “sure”. And they gave me his number and I got on the phone with him. And I said, “I just want to say thank you on behalf of the American people. We finally authenticated it. This thing’s been unveiled. We went public with it.” And I said, “I just want to thank you for what you did.” And he says to me, “you want to know why I brought it back?” And I said, “yeah.” And he said, “because when I was watching the show, you mentioned your friend Michelle. It really got to me.” And I was like, oh my gosh, that’s it. That’s the whole reason, right?

    Brad Meltzer:
    It’s that one person that makes the difference in the whole universe. And that’s how I always believe. It’s my core belief. I believe ordinary people change the world. I don’t care where you went to school, I don’t how much money you make. That’s nonsense to me. I believe in regular people and their ability to affect change. And right there on that day it was proven once again right.

    Host:
    Did it ever come out how he got this flag?

    Brad Meltzer:
    Yeah, he was a flag collector. And someone … The story he told us was, is that a woman from 9/11 who lost … I forget. I think lost a loved one. I don’t know if was a brother or a husband. And someone felt bad and said, “here, you take this flag.” Now don’t forget, when the flag originally was taken down and put up, it wasn’t a famous flag.

    Host:
    Right.

    Brad Meltzer:
    It was a flag. It doesn’t become famous until two days later when that picture runs. So everyone’s like, oh my gosh. They knew it. They stole it. It was a plot. I’m like, how would they know anything? No one knows any of this is going to be popular. No one cares. It’s only important two days later. And so she basically was given it as a, I’m sorry for your loss. And she had it, and clearly either didn’t know what she had or was scared to return it. That’s the part we don’t know. That’s the mystery we don’t know is, did she know what she had, did she not? And he was looking for flags. He collects them, and asked people, and she gave it to him. I don’t know. And I actually don’t even remember if he bought it or if it was just given. But that’s how he got it. And he saw the episode. And saw the Halyard, which is a that thing you kind hoist and clip onto the flag and that’s where we got lucky, is that the Halyard matched perfectly. And so he knew, oh my gosh, that’s like the one I got.

    Host:
    Such an interesting story.

    Brad Meltzer:
    Crazy, crazy story.

    Host:
    Yes. I have to wonder, when we talked about your kids a little bit ago, as a child-

    Brad Meltzer:
    Yeah.

    Host:
    I have to wonder … I mean, because you talk about collecting stories, you like to hunt for signs and secrets… I mean, as a kid where you like this inquisitive kid that asked why all the time? Did you like treasure hunts and the Goonies?

    Brad Meltzer:
    Yeah. It’s funny. Right, it sounds like that. I don’t know if this will make you think I’m crazy or not, but my favorite game when I used to play … I always loved anything creative, of course. You give me Legos and you leave me alone, and I’ll be happy forever. I’ll make a whole universe. And my parents would be like, he could just sit there forever. And it was a whole story in my head.

    Brad Meltzer:
    It was not just me clicking Legos and action figures.

    Host:
    Oh, so you would make up play.

    Brad Meltzer:
    I would make up whole … I’d take action figures and Legos and build whole scenarios. And I would watch this universe. No one else could see it, but my imaginary friends were always talking to me. But the thing that I think was more telling-

    Host:
    Perfect for an author, right?

    Brad Meltzer:
    That’s the author side of me. And then the thriller writer, when I used to ride my bike, my favorite game to play was chase. And I would just imagine someone was chasing me. It’s totally a crazy game. It makes no logical sense. But I think there was something in my head that just loved that thrill. And it was always a human thriller, it wasn’t the blowing people’s heads up and knocking down buildings. That doesn’t scare me. What scares me when it comes to telling a good story is those things that could really happen. So what scares me is you go into your bathroom and on the opposite side of a closed shower curtain you hear a noise, that scares me. Which also guarantees that the next time you go into a bathroom, you’re going to think of me.

    Host:
    Yeah. Check behind it.

    Brad Meltzer:
    Right. You know you’re pulling that curtain aside.

    Host:
    Thanks. Thanks for that. I guess the biggest question a lot of people have for you is, what’s next? I mean, we talked about thrillers, nonfiction, children’s books. What’s next?

    Brad Meltzer:
    Yeah. So obviously First Conspiracy is out now, and the paperback for The Escape Artist just came out. So I’m working on the sequel to The Escape Artist right now.

    Host:
    Okay.

    Brad Meltzer:
    It’s one of my favorite thrillers I’ve ever done. And people really responded to the characters. I fell in love with the characters and so I’m working on that. And then the next I Am kids’ book that comes out is I Am Billie Jean King. And I love that we got to do Billie Jean King. And one of the things that was great is when we finished the book, we of course sent it to Billie Jean King’s office. And to her people there to proof it, and make sure they were all comfortable with everything we said. And I get a phone call and it says, Billie Jean wants to talk to you. You don’t want that call. Right? Because if I mess up George Washington, what’s he going to do?

    Host:
    Right.

    Brad Meltzer:
    Right? If you mess up Billie Jean King, she’s coming to your house with a tennis racket. And so, it was amazing because she went through it. For two hours I was on the phone with her. So lovely, amazing, and helped us figure out … She’s like, “see my shoes in this match?” I’m like, “yeah.” She’s like, “they’re not white, they’re blue.” Every detail we’ve got perfect. And at one point she said, “the background here, I wasn’t in this spot when this thing happened. I was actually here.” And I said, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I got that from your autobiography.” And she said, “yeah, but I was so busy back then, I didn’t proof it.” And I love that our children’s book is now more correct than her own autobiography.

    Host:
    Oh my gosh.

    Brad Meltzer:
    Which is spectacular to me. And then in November we’re doing the Ordinary People Change the World book series becomes a cartoon show on PBS. And it’s called Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum. It’s about a boy named Xavier, his sister Yudina, and their best friend Brad. And they go on adventures through time and meet all these amazing heroes and bring back their lessons to today. And then after that I’m going to take a nap is what’s going to happen.

    Host:
    That sounds good. Seems like that’s well deserved. Although, readers don’t want him to take too much of a break.

    Brad Meltzer:
    Yes.

    Host:
    Can you please write some books faster?

    Host:
    They want more. Despite all these titles. Crazy to think, none of them would have without a little perseverance.

    Brad Meltzer:
    I got 24 rejection letters on my first book. There were only 20 publishers and I got 24 rejection letters, which means some people were writing me twice to make sure I got the point. But I said, “if they don’t like that book, I’m going to write another. And if they don’t like that, I’m going to write another.” And I can tell you even today, I don’t look back on experience and say, well, I was right and they were wrong and ha ha on them. I look back and realize whatever it is your dream is, right? Whatever you dream of, don’t let anyone tell you no. Don’t let anyone tell you no. You’ve got to find the one person to change your life. That’s the goal. One person can always change your life. Your job is to find the one person.

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