Q&A on Writing with Brad Meltzer


Brad Meltzer

Brad Meltzer

**text obtained from bradmeltzer.com a great site! Check it out!**

Q. How’d you get started writing?

It wasn’t until I graduated from college. I was coming out of the University of Michigan and I had a job offer from the man who used to run Games magazine. He told me, “If you love the job, you’ll stay. If you hate it, you’ll leave a year later with some money in your pocket.” Since I had some debt to pay off, that seemed like a fair deal. So I moved all my stuff to Boston. But when I got there, the publisher left the magazine. (Surprise!) The whole reason I went there was to work for him. I thought I’d wrecked my life. I had no idea what to do. So I did what all of us would do in that situation. I said, “I’m gonna write a novel.” And I just started writing. Every day, I just fell more and more in love with the process.

Q. Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

No, but I always liked writing. Even back in high school, I tried to write all my papers using tons of dialogue. But it never hit me until I left college. Where I grew up, writing wasn’t “a real job.” And, thankfully, it still isn’t.

Q. Where do you get your ideas?

Research, research, research. You can invent all the stuff you want, but if it doesn’t smell real, readers will know in a nanosecond (and rip your head off). To me, fiction is at its best when it has one foot in reality. That’s why I need to go out and see the places myself. I need to see what they look like, and smell like, and taste like (yum, hamburger)—and those details drive the ideas. Everything else is a gift from God.

Q. Locations like the White House, Congress, and the Supreme Court, even Disney World—how do you research these places?

Call up and ask. Seriously. If there’s one thing I’ve learned (besides that ice doesn’t get gum out of your hair), it’s that people are genuinely nice. Once they realize you’re writing fiction, and not looking for an expose, they love to talk. And that’s the only way to get the details real. Also, try to find people who recently left the job you’re trying to research. Those’re the ones you want to meet (funny, honest, and no longer worried about impressing the boss).

Q. How did you handle rejections from publishers?

I gave their e-mail addresses to my mother. You don’t know pain until you’ve met Teri Meltzer. Fear it.

Entertainment Weekly took one look at me and said, “Want to look like yourself, or you want us to make you look cool?” I said, “Myself.” They gave me the trenchcoat and said to put it on even though it was 102 degrees in Washington.

Q. How long does it take to write a book?

About a year, to a year and a half. I spend about two months doing character sketches (Who are these people? What are they like?) and anywhere from two to six months researching. The rest of the time, I’m writing (and playing Parcheesi).

Q. How do I get an agent?

First off, write the best book you can. Period. After that, you can find a list of agents in books like The Guide to Literary Agents. As a trick (which I recommend), you should pick out a few authors you like and check the Acknowledgements section of their hardback books. Most, if not all, writers thank their agents—and that’s one way to get a list of agents who have actually sold things.

Beyond that, write a short (short!) cover letter to send out to prospective agents. As someone once told me, write it like you’re writing the inside flap copy for the book. (Don’t say, “In Chapter One, this happens; then in Chapter Two, this happens; then in Chapter Three…). They get hundreds of letters. And the sad truth is, agents want what they can’t have, and whatever they can have, they don’t want. Also, there’s a fine line between enthusiasm and desperation. What does that mean? Don’t be a nudge (I know, because I was—and none of those agents wrote me back). Just be concise and clear, and send out the best book you can.

Q. Do you know the ending when you start?

I know what happens to the main characters simply because I have to. Each book is a journey. Ben, Sara, Michael, Oliver, Charlie, Harris, Matthew, Viv, Wes, Rogo—each of them is a different person by the time the last page hits. So I need to know where they’re going. Still, a novel is a process. It takes me over a year. During that year, I’m constantly changing my mind, adding new twists, and moving things around.

Q. Do you outline?

Only about fifty to a hundred pages at a time. That way, I’m in control, but there’s still plenty of room to let the creative process happen. If I just start typing and say “Let’s see where the day takes me,” I’ll just meander around and it’ll be a rambling mess.

Q. How do you edit?

I give it to my wife, she tears it apart, then I pick my heart up off the linoleum and go to bed.

When I’m finished with the first draft, I start over again and continue layering, always trying to add more to the characters. A good plot is fine, but if the characters aren’t real, no one’ll care.

Q. What do you like to read?

While I’m writing, I won’t read in the genre and I try not to read novels. It’s the only way I can keep my voice my own. Still, I love to read, so I consume graphic novels. Alan Moore, Brian K. Vaughn, all the usual suspects. I eat that stuff like candy.

Again, I begged not to airbrush. She still airbrushed me. A little.

Q. Advice to other authors?

Don’t let anyone tell you “No.” I got twenty-four rejection letters on my first novel. It’s still sitting on my shelf, published by Kinko’s. I had twenty-four people tell me to give it up—that I couldn’t write. But the day I got my twenty-third and twenty-fourth rejection, I said to myself, “If they don’t like this novel, I’ll write another, and if they don’t like that one, I’ll write another.” Why? Because I fell in love with writing. A week later, I started the book that became The Tenth Justice.

Does that make everyone who sent me objections wrong? Not a chance. The best and worst part of publishing is that it’s a subjective industry. All it takes is one person to say “Yes.” You just have to find that person. If you love what you do, it’ll show on the page. If you don’t, it won’t. That’s the x-factor in every book. And that’s what helps you move forward as a writer.

Q. Do you get the plot…then the characters, or do the characters create your plot?

I start with a nugget. In The Tenth Justice, it was a Supreme Court clerk. In Dead Even, it was married attorneys. And in The First Counsel, it was a White House lawyer. Then I take the characters and throw them into the plot. If I’m doing it right, I hit a point where I stop telling them what to do, and they start telling me what they want to do. If all else fails, it’s back to Parcheesi.

Q. What’s a typical day like for writing? (Do you commit to finishing a particular scene or commit to x amount of pages?)

I get up, I walk around the block, and then I sit down with my imaginary friends. At the end of the day, I try not to count pages, but I can’t help myself. I’m sad that way.

Q. What’s going on with Hollywood? Are they making a movie?

Right now, The Tenth Justice rights are about to revert to us, which makes me happier than you’ll ever know. And The Zero Game is sold. Does that mean we’ll see a film? No. Would I love them to make it? Of course. But as far as I’m concerned, movies are icing on an already great cake. If it happens, I’m thrilled. If not, there’re more important things to worry about in life.

On the TV side, co-creating the TV show Jack & Bobby was on of the most amazing, humbling, rewarding, frustrating, fantastic experiences of my life. And the best part? Once you get cancelled that fast, you get to call yourself a cult-classic and no one argues.

And in terms of Dead Even, The First Counsel, The Millionaires, and The Book of Fate, we still own the rights to all of them.

Q. If you had to cast the movies, who do you see?

Honestly, I never see anyone. Personally, I don’t want to write someone else’s characters. I want to write mine. For that reason, I can tell you what every single character looks like, but it’d be no one you recognize. Ben, Sara, Jared, Nora, Oliver, Charlie, Harris, Matthew, Viv, Wes, Rogo—to me, they just look like people.

Q. Any new comic book projects in the works?

Buffy. Coming soon. Oh yeah.


From Wikipedia:

Brad Meltzer (born April 1, 1970) is a bestselling American political thriller novelist, non-fiction writer, TV show creator and award-winning comic book author.

  • The Tenth Justice (1998)
  • Dead Even (1999)
  • The First Counsel (2001)
  • The Millionaires (2002)
  • Identity Crisis (2003)
  • The Zero Game (2005)
  • The Book of Fate (2006)
  • The Book of Lies (2008)
  • Heroes for my Son (2010) Non-Fiction
  • The Inner Circle (2011)
  • Heroes for my Daughter (2012) Non-Fiction
  • The Fifth Assassin (2013)



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