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Interview Today's Date:

From Washington, D.C. To DC Comics
An Interview with Brad Meltzer
Calmly about to blow apart the DCU.

Editor's Note: Originally posted in 2004, this interview happened when Brad was relatively new to comics, and his status as an eminent political thriller writer was just beginning to build. Since then, obviously, he has produced and hosted television series, written many more great comics and novels, and become an inspiring children's author with his "I Am..." series of books. Oh, he also runs a charity or two.

In honor of DC giving Deluxe Edition treatment to his first comics work, Green Arrow: Archer's Quest, I thought it was a good Throwback Thursday to repost this interview, one of my favorites because it meant that I got to meet Brad Meltzer -- not just a great writer, but a good human being.

Last year, DC found a stunning new talent to replace Kevin Smith after the filmmaker revitalized Green Arrow. Except Brad Meltzer wasn't quite a "new" talent, having garnered acclaim as - dare we say it? - a serious novelist.

For most comics fans, though, he was new to us. And then, in an all-too brief six issue run called "Archer's Quest," Meltzer quickly established himself as an incredible writer. That run had to be short so the guy could get back to his day job - writing novels.

This week his latest, The Zero Game, sees release. It's a taut thriller about congressional staffers betting on motions in Congress, then getting caught up in murder and intrigue. Already producers Kathleen Kennedy and Gary Ross have optioned it for film. A movie adaptation of his first novel, The Tenth Justice, is already in production. Oh, and he sold a TV pilot recently, too. But likely you came to Fanboy Planet to read about a comics creator, and yes, Meltzer returns this year with a mini-series that already has fans drooling - Identity Crisis.

Little is known and much is speculated about the mini-series with artwork by Rags Morales. It's a murder mystery; it will change the way we think about many members of the Justice League, and it depending on which internet rumor you read, The Elongated Man will either be a crucial character or a dead man.

DC promises that it will completely rock the foundations of its universe. Meltzer? He only promises that he has delivered a great story - and from his past work, that looks like the safest bet you could make. Certainly safer than the bets made by his characters in The Zero Game.

In between bookstore appearances and radio interviews on Tuesday, Meltzer took the time to talk to me by phone.

Derek McCaw: Have you seen a lot of crossover in your fanbase now that you're one of the hottest writers in comics?

Brad Meltzer: It's funny. Everyone always asks that, but I hadn't had a book out since I started writing comics. I just got out of a Barnes & Noble, not two minutes ago, and I was in there signing books for them. And the manager came over, the assistant manager came over, and I'm just signing books, talking and kibitzing, and all of a sudden this clerk comes over and says, "hey, you wrote Green Arrow, didn't you?"

It was the first time - and it's very clear from my e-mail, because I'm getting a ton of comic book readers writing me - but it was the first time I'd seen anybody (put the two together). Clearly, different strokes for different folks, and he liked the comics. It was just one of those great moments where, wow, the two worlds collide.

DM: Have you been to any conventions yet?

BM: As a reader or as a writer?

DM: As a writer, now that you're a name in the industry.

BM: I've only been to Baltimore. I couldn't make it last year because of other commitments, but I'm going to try to get to San Diego this year. I've been to Baltimore two years in a row and signed books there.

And I say to anyone who asks me that there is no one in any genre more dedicated than the comic book reader. They are awesome. I would do anything for them. They are so amazingly supportive in every different way.

Fiction...or is it?
DM: Let's talk about the novel, The Zero Game, since, hey, that's what you're touring to promote right now. What gave you the inspiration for it? I've been given press notes that say you found real examples of gambling amongst staffers. Can you talk about those?

BM: Oh, yeah, definitely. I can't tell you who they are, but I can tell you the stories.

The book itself came from a real story that I had heard when I was an intern for the Senate Judiciary Committee. It was probably an urban myth, but at nineteen we believed it like nobody's business.

The story went like this: There were two Senate staffers who were so sick of picking up their Senator's dry cleaning that they decided to put the words "dry cleaning" in his next speech. One said, "you can't do that." The other said "watch this."

"Although many people think of the environment as an issue that is dry, cleaning it, however, should be our top priority." The one said, you can't do that. The other said sure, I can. No, you can't, and then the other said, wanna bet?

I put that story in the book, (because) it had always floated in my head. What a great idea. To do things under the Congressmen and Senators' noses that they never even know is happening. I just thought it seemed so realistic.

The crazy part is since the book is now out today, and in the past weeks when people have been getting review copies, I've gotten two calls. One from a member of a state legislature - this is an actual congress member - who called me up and said "we do this all the time up here. We bet on bills all the time."

I'm like, "are you kidding me?"

They say, "you put in a dollar, you win five bucks, whoever gets closest to the amount of votes a bill is going to get wins."

He says to me, "It's just a fun way to win five dollars."

And I'm still saying, "Are you kidding me?"

Then, to top that one, I get a call that tells me that there is a member of Congress who speaks so often on the House of Representatives' floor, that there's a group of staffers who wagers on whether the person is going to speak or not. They have a betting jar, and they pass it around. If the jar is on your desk the day the member doesn't give a speech, you keep the money in the jar.

This is unbelievable. It's my exact book coming to life.

It's one of those things where it doesn't really shock me, but I'm floored by it. It just seems absolutely ridiculous that people are doing this. But the nicest compliment I've gotten over and over from every person who's read it, the people who've proofed it, they're all saying the same thing, even the capital hill staffers. "If you told me The Zero Game was being played today, I wouldn't at all be surprised."

I'm blown away by that.

DM: If you were a gambling man in Washington, what would you be betting on?

BM: Oh, gosh. I guarantee that if you take any member from Florida, any Senator from Florida, I'll wager that they're going to vote against Social Security reform. That's a pretty safe bet.

I guarantee you that all the xenophobic members of Congress are going to wind up having some issues with Bush's immigration reform and things like that.

But in truth, I think the fun stuff is in the margins. I think it's, can you get five extra votes on a bill that you know is going to pass? They had a bill, which again, I saw it on the House floor, and I loved it. It was called the Clean Diamond Act. I think it was a bill that just basically said we should have cleaner diamonds. Okay?

Now who's going to vote for the bill for dirty diamonds? "Yes, we want crappier diamonds in our society." So it's basically a 99 to 1 blowout. I'd much rather see if you can get seven people to vote against that bill. That's interesting to me.

DM: One of the mantras of the novel, Pasternak says it to Harris, is "It's all a game." Do you really believe that about our government?

BM: I think in many ways, The Zero Game is about everything I don't like about Congress. But it's also about everything I do love about Congress.

There's nasty fighting and bickering and pettiness and slapfights, even all the pessimism that goes along with Congress. But all the people I encounter there, including my wife who let's not forget worked there, are really there because they believe in what they're doing. That to me is Congress.

Somebody once said to me, Congress is us. And it's so true. It's the good and the bad. It's the pessimism and the optimism, and that's who we are. We're all pessimists, but at the end of the day we all want to believe.

And that's what I tried to get at in the complexity of the book. It's about these two jaded guys. Yes, it's about a game, and yes, it's about Congress, but the entire book is really about if you can find hope and optimism again when you've clearly left it behind. To me, that's what I think about Congress. There are some wonderful things in there.

DM: So let me make absolutely sure, your wife no longer works there?
Government security forces
couldn't stop him...
BM: She worked there until a couple of months ago. We actually just moved from Washington, D.C.

This will give you a little more perspective into everything. When I started researching the book, it was post-9/11. It was impossible to get into the capital. Security, obviously, was higher than ever, and it was nearly impossible to get in the front door.

I have a secret weapon no one else had. My wife was a staffer, a lawyer for the House Judiciary Committee. So for two years of my life, in our house it was "Take Your Husband To Work Day."

Literally, that's what she did. I went to work with her. Our Congressman let me sit in on meetings. I went to hearings; I went to mark-ups. All that stuff you see in the book is real. Why? Because I saw it.

There's a page in the book where a Senator takes out a handkerchief to wipe his forehead, and he winds up pulling out a pair of women's panties instead. And wipes his forehead with that. I didn't make that up. That's a real story that's pretty well-known - among staffers.

Someone told me about it and I put it in the book. The Senator who uses the words "Great Americans" as a code for big donors, that's a real Congressman who does that. His staffer gave it to me.

There is a real Zero Game being played. All these staffers are screwing over their bosses by giving me the information. I'm getting phone calls from people laughing that it's in there. And the members and the Senators have no idea that it's there.

DM: On a scarier note about the book, there's mention in the press notes about a scientist clamming up on you once you got too close to the possibilities.

BM: The book establishes this connection between neutrinos and plutonium. When I started researching how you can make plutonium and all these things, my source at one of the government's top scientific institutions stopped returning my phone calls.

This is the guy that helped me find the connection in the first place.

Then a couple of weeks after that, I got a call that said, "take me out of your acknowledgments. Take my government organization out of your acknowledgments."

And that's when you have to start wondering, okay, what am I really talking about here? Have I gotten too close to something I shouldn't be talking about?

I spoke to a guy last week who used to imagine doomsday scenarios for the government. He'd basically work them out, figure them out so the government could figure out how to prevent them. I told him the ending of The Zero Game and he said I was totally on to something with that. They wouldn't know how to stop it. So it's a really good question.

Obviously, stranger things have started from fiction. Does that make you rest easy?

DM: Oh, yeah, I'm going to be able to sleep tonight.

BM: And there's a man sleeping under your pillow.

page two of the interview

Derek McCaw

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