Washington, D.C. To DC Comics
An Interview with Brad Meltzer
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.
about to blow apart the DCU.
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
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
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.
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.
bookstore appearances and radio interviews on Tuesday, Meltzer
took the time to talk to me by phone.
McCaw: Have you seen a lot of crossover in your fanbase
now that you're one of the hottest writers in comics?
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?"
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.
Have you been to any conventions yet?
As a reader or as a writer?
As a writer, now that you're a name in the industry.
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.
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.
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?
Oh, yeah, definitely. I can't tell you who they are, but I
can tell you the stories.
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
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."
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?
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.
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."
"are you kidding me?"
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."
to me, "It's just a fun way to win five dollars."
still saying, "Are you kidding me?"
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.
is unbelievable. It's my exact book coming to life.
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."
away by that.
If you were a gambling man in Washington, what would you be
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
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
So let me make absolutely sure, your wife no longer works
She worked there until a couple of months ago. We actually
just moved from Washington, D.C.
couldn't stop him...
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
is the guy that helped me find the connection in the first
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."
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?
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.
stranger things have started from fiction. Does that make
you rest easy?
Oh, yeah, I'm going to be able to sleep tonight.
And there's a man sleeping under your pillow.
two of the interview