Wednesday, January 16, 2013
He's Brad, He's Brad, He's Really Really Brad
Hank Phillippi Ryan: Whoa. Brad Meltzer. I have to say—he’s cool. He’s funny, he’s smart, he loves comics and he has a TV show. And his books—well, two things. One: he’s written I don’t know how many number on New York Times Bestsellers. And two: he’s an inspiration. He says he sent his first manuscript, all those years ago, to twenty publishers. And he got 24 rejections! Why? Read on.
And now, his newest book is out. THE FIFTH ASSASSIN –which Kirkus says has a “double whiplash bombshell conclusion”—is about—well, read on.
If you attend one of his book tour stops, ask him about Batman, and he’ll love you forever. And leave a comment today—because two lucky winners will win personally signed copies of the FIFTH ASSASSIN—I’ll get them for you myself!
Brad’s the king of research, too. You know what I’m gonna say. Read on.
HANK: Hey, Brad. Welcome to Jungle Red. The Fifth Assassin sounds so tantalizing--did you find any evidence of real connections between the four successful presidential assassins?
BRAD MELTZER: Hey, Hank. Hey, Reds. Officially, there have been over two dozen attempts to murder the President of the United States. Only four have been successful. Of the four men that succeeded, here’s what they had in common: Most of them weren’t drinkers. None of them did drugs. All four of them were surprisingly...and outrageously...neat. And none of them - except for that moment when they pulled the trigger - was ever identified as a troublemaker.
Beyond that, they each planned their act for weeks. And of course, they were all blessed with patience. But when you lined them all up, the true cause of success came from the one attribute that can never be contained: All four were men with a cause.
HANK: So? A connection?
BRAD: Here's their real connection: You can divide assassins into two categories: Howlers and Hunters. The howlers threaten us by sending scary notes and calling in bomb threats, but the good news is, they rarely follow through. They just want attention, so for them, howling and making noise is enough. It’s different with hunters. Hunters act on it. They research, prepare, plot - and follow that path to a goal. But howlers aren’t interested in hunting. And hunters aren’t interested in howling. Needless to say, from John Wilkes Booth to Lee Harvey Oswald, all four assassins are hunters.
HANK: Have there actually been copy-cat assassination attempts?
BRAD: When Timothy McVeigh blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City, he was wearing a t-shirt that said Sic Semper Tyrannis. And back in 1994, a man named Francisco Martin Duran tried to kill President Bill Clinton by firing twenty-nine shots at the White House. But on his drive from Colorado to Washington, did you know he stopped in Dallas, Texas, passing the Book Depository…and that when he got to DC, he even stayed at the Hilton Hotel where John Hinckley shot Reagan? These assassins have never been forgotten.
HANK: You’ve actually had former Presidents Clinton and George HW Bush help you with research for your novels. How was that?
BRAD: President George HW Bush let me ask him some of the most macabre questions I’ve ever asked. I'll always ask him about little details about White House life that only he and a few others could possibly know. But asking a President about the hidden staircase in the White House Residence is different than asking him about what it's like to know that someone's out there planning your death.
HANK: Your research is so legendary--a museum that held the body parts of Abraham Lincoln and the bullet that killed him? How did you ever…
BRAD: Thanks to our TV show, I get the craziest email of anyone. Once, I had someone bring the Holy Grail to one of my book signings. The real Holy Grail, he insisted.
So for The Fifth Assassin, I wasn't surprised when one of my longtime readers told me that I needed to come to a museum that almost no one knew about. I asked him what they had there. What made it so important? And then he told me: We have pieces of Abraham Lincoln's skull, the bullet that killed him, and even the bones of John Wilkes Booth...as well as the body parts of some other people I'd be interested in. The museum was run by the Army -- it's the National Museum of Health and Medicine. And yes, the government has all these items. You better believe I went there.
HANK: Did you know what you were looking for at the museum for THE FIFTH ASSASSINS? Which came first, the plot or the info?
BRAD: I had no idea that I'd be holding onto the bones of John Wilkes Booth or the brain or one of the other Presidential assassins. But when someone shares a brain with you, you pay attention. Needless to say, sometimes you plot the book, but sometimes, the book takes you for the ride. I also think, after recently burying both of my parents, this book had no choice but to be about growing up.
HANK: Ah. Yes…Over the course of the past four years, you’ve lost both your parents. First, your mom to breast cancer, and then your father died suddenly. Can you talk a bit about the bond you shared with your parents and how losing them influenced the writing of THE FIFTH ASSASSIN?
BRAD: My parents came from nothing and gave me everything, making me the first in my immediate family to attend college. Needless to say, as I wrote THE FIFTH ASSASSIN, I wasn't at all surprised to see that it was about...growing up. Burying them, I had no choice but to write about growing up. I didn’t plan it that way, but that's where the book decided I needed to go. I owe them way more than that.
HANK: Your first book came out when you were 27. What would 42 year old Brad say to the young Brad now that you’ve had so much experience under your belt?
BRAD: Enjoy your hair. Your hair is your friend! Also, when a reader brings the Holy Grail to your booksigning, run the other way.
HANK: Aspiring writers are often curious about how bestselling writers make it. You received 24 rejection letters for your first novel. Huh?
BRAD: When I started writing, my first book got me a quick 24 rejection letters. To be clear, 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 love those 24 rejections. To this day, when I sit down to write, I think of that moment when I got my 23rd and 24th rejections. It inspires me to start the day – and reminds me to never take any of this for granted. And I'll see you in a week or so in Boston at Brookline Booksmith!
HANK: Ah, Brad, that’s wonderful. Okay, gang, questions for Brad? And don’t forget, two lucky winners will get personally signed copies of THE FIFTH ASSASSIN!
And Brad will be coming to a bookstore near you! (And he often brings decoder rings...)