Brad Meltzer is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Book of Fate, as well as the bestsellers The Tenth Justice, Dead Even, The First Counsel, The Millionaires and The Zero Game. He is also one of the co-creators of the TV show, "Jack & Bobby" --- and is the number one selling author of the critically acclaimed comic books, Identity Crisis and Justice League of America. His newest comic book, DC Universe, was released in August, and his new thriller, The Book of Lies, was published in September.
Raised in Brooklyn and Miami, Brad is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Columbia Law School. The Tenth Justice was his first published work and became an instant New York Times bestseller. Dead Even followed a year later and also hit the New York Times bestseller list, as have all six of his novels. The First Counsel came next, which was about a White House lawyer dating the President's daughter, then The Millionaires, which was about two brothers who steal money and go on the run. The Zero Game is about two Congressional staffers who are --- literally --- gambling on Congress. The Book of Fate, is about a young presidential aide, a crazed assassin, and the 200 year-old code created by Thomas Jefferson that ties them together. For authenticity, The Book of Fate was researched with the help of former Presidents Clinton and Bush. His newest book, The Book of Lies, is about the missing murder weapon that Cain used to kill Abel, as well as the unsolved murder of Superman creator Jerry Siegel's father. Brad is one of the only people to interview Jerry Siegel's family about the murder.
His books have spent over nine months on the bestseller lists, and have been translated into over 25 languages, from Hebrew to Bulgarian. In The Tenth Justice, the opening lines are: "Ben Addison was sweating. Like a pig." In the Hebrew translation, it became: "Ben Addison was sweating. Like a horse." We're not sure if it's a kosher thing or what!
Brad has played himself as an extra in Woody Allen's Celebrity and earned credit from Columbia Law School for writing his first book, which became The Tenth Justice. Before all of that, he got 24 rejection letters for his true first novel, which still sits on his shelf, published by Kinko's.
Brad currently lives in Florida with his wife, who's also an attorney.
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January 14, 2011
Brad Meltzer is the bestselling author of eight critically acclaimed thrillers, including his latest, THE INNER CIRCLE, which follows a young government archivist who stumbles across a long-lost treasure, only to find himself caught in a deadly web of deception, conspiracy and murder --- one that leads to a secret dating back to the birth of America itself. In this interview, Meltzer gives the scoop on the conversation with a former President that inspired his new novel, elaborating on national security issues and George Washington’s top-secret civilian spy group --- which may or may not exist today. He also shares the story of how he got to hold the Declaration of Independence (and why he deliberately left it out of THE INNER CIRCLE), reveals how he got several ex-Presidents to help him with his research, and explains why he believes that our everyday choices are the most important ones we make.
Question: Where’d the idea for THE INNER CIRCLE come from?
Brad Meltzer: It all came from a private conversation I had with a former President of the United States. I'll never forget it. We were talking about how hard it was to keep a secret and make sure you're not overheard when you're in the White House. And when a real President whispers something like that to you, you pay attention. But as I looked back through history, I realized the problem dated back to George Washington himself, who devised a secret group that would serve just the President. They weren't military men. They were regular citizens. Just like us. Washington called them The Culper Ring --- and they were the secret weapon of the Revolutionary War, even though they were never in most history books. You're telling me the first president of the US had a secret spy group that saved our country? I'm interested. And as I talked to my National Security folks, we kept coming back to one idea: who says this secret group was ever disbanded? Who says it doesn't exist today? When someone in National Security said to me: "I wish we had The Culper Ring today" --- that's when I know I had the plot for the book.
Q: Your previous novels have been set in Washington, DC, in places like the White House and the Supreme Court. What made you decide to use the National Archives as the setting for your upcoming novel?
BM: I came to visit and fell in love. Truly. Lost history…secret documents…long-forgotten letters from Presidents and other big shots --- all of which tell the true history of our nation. How could a history nut not fall in love? Plus, they let me hold the Declaration of Independence.
Q: So it was all based on a visit to the Archives?
BM: A few years back, I got a call from Homeland Security asking me if I'd come in and brainstorm different ways for terrorists to attack the US. My first thought was, "If they're calling me, we've got bigger problems than anyone thinks." But they'd seen the research in my books. And they know I have good sources, so they invited me in. I was honored to be a part of the Red Cell program. They'd pair me with a Secret Service guy and a chemist --- and they'd give us a target --- and we'd destroy major cities in an hour. It's not the kind of day where you go home feeling good. You go home terrified, because you see how easy it is to kill us. On lunch breaks, I'd be talking to all the national security folks --- and they're the ones who helped me tease out the plot of THE INNER CIRCLE. They're the ones who taught me what else every President needs --- plus I had what one former President gave me. But once I saw the Archives, I knew I had a place to tell that tale.
Q: One of the recurring themes in your novels is how greatness comes from choices ordinary people make everyday. (“I don’t believe in destiny. I believe in history” --- a great line from THE INNER CIRCLE). What do you think is the origin of this ethos?
BM: Blame my parents. My Mom especially. She grew up poor (though she’d hate that term and never use it). She didn't make it past high school. But she was the most amazing person I ever knew. Once, I took her to the White House --- and as a decorator, I couldn't wait for her to be impressed by the decor. She took one look around and said, "Unga patchke," which is slang for "Overdone. Feh." It was the White House! She hated snobs, she hated phonies, she hated rich obnoxious jerks who can only talk about what kind of car they drive. And when she died and I'd see the nurses or the waitresses in places she went, all they'd say is, “Oh, your mother was the best.” As one receptionist reminded me, “Not everyone is nice like that.” The truth about you is what people say behind your back. And I love my mother so much for that: From the Queen of England to the janitor in the bathroom, she’d treat you the same.
Q: You write with such authority about the Presidency and Washington, DC. Where does that come from? How do you get real Presidents to help you?
BM: It's funny, I feel like I never used to write about the President. I always wrote about the staffer you'd never see --- the one who knew how to stay two steps out of the picture. And then one day, I got the best fan letter ever, from former President George H.W. Bush, saying he liked my novel, THE MILLIONAIRES, and could I sign one for him. I'd gotten another couple of notes from President Clinton as well. And that just makes it a little easier to say, "Can I spend some time with you for research?" The best part is, because I write fiction, I always get to see far more than what they'd show a reporter who's out to burn them.
Q: Unlike so many conspiracy buffs I’ve met through the years, you’re not jaded, not cynical, not angry. Where does that come from?
BM: Again, blame my family. My grandfather spent his whole life wanting to be a policeman. It was his dream. And he couldn't be one because of some dumb medical reason. But he was the toughest, strongest, most amazing tough guy around. And the nicest. What I remember most about him was when he used to give all our old used toys to kids that had no money. And this was from a guy who had no money. The true toughest guy knows he doesn't have be the tough guy.
Q: President Wallace is mesmerized by the written word, as so many of us are. I know your grandmother spent countless hours in the public library with you, devouring Judy Blume, Agatha Christie, Dr. Seuss. Stories change our lives, don’t they? What does the written word mean to you, and what would you like readers to take from your books?
BM: If readers could take one message from my books? Don't let anyone tell you "No." Also, as Mr. Rogers taught me, remember how special you are. Corny for sure. But, to steal a line from THE INNER CIRCLE, we should never forget that history is a selection process. It chooses all of us. Every day. The only question is, do we hear that call?
Q: The reader follows your main character, Beecher, into the vaults and stacks that visitors don’t see. But there is very little mention of the documents that most people associate with the National Archives --- the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Was this a deliberate omission?
BM: It was. Anyone can see the gasper documents --- the documents that make you gasp. Every single tourist can see the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. What I want to show you are the places you can’t go. The places only an insider sees. And yes --- that underground storage cave at the end is real. I went there. Scaaaary.
Q: What was the most surprising job that you saw a National Archives staff member doing?
BM: I was most amazed by the fact that you still have people combing through documents from the founding of our country. In my google-influenced brain, I thought everything had already been read and catalogued. I love that there are new Lincoln letters --- and new secrets --- being found every single day.
Q: You’ve taken your love of secrets, mysteries, and conspiracies to the next level. You have a TV show about them. How did the show come about?
BM: Again, I got lucky. One of the heads of the History Channel read my thriller --- THE BOOK OF FATE --- and he enjoyed all the Freemason secrets and the Thomas Jefferson code that was in there, and simply said, "We should do a show like that." So Brad Meltzer’s “Decoded” as a TV show is just me doing exactly what I do in my novels, looking through history and trying to solve its greatest mysteries. One of my favorites is about the very first piece of the White House, which was laid in an elaborate ceremony in 1792. Within 24 hours, that cornerstone supposedly went missing. President Truman went looking for it. So did Barbara Bush. But for 200 years, no one knows where the very first piece of the White House is. Needless to say, I want to find it.
Q: What’s a secret about you?
BM: I can say the alphabet backwards. Faster than anyone.
© Copyright 2011, Brad Meltzer. All rights reserved.
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September 5, 2008
Brad Meltzer's latest thriller, THE BOOK OF LIES, intertwines two vastly disparate crimes: the Biblical account of mankind's "first murder" and the real-life tragedy that inspired the creation of a legendary comic book superhero. In this interview, Meltzer discusses the link between these two events and sheds light on the little-known details surrounding the death of Mitchell Siegel --- father of Superman creator Jerry Siegel. He also explains how his own difficult relationships with each of his parents surface in his work, elaborates on the challenges of writing for different genres and media, and shares details about his newly launched campaign to save Superman's house.
Question: THE BOOK OF LIES is based on two true stories that remain mysteries: the murder of Abel by his brother Cain and the unsolved murder of Mitchell Siegel, whose son went on to create Superman. Why do these two murders fascinate you and how are they connected in your mind --- and in this new book?
Brad Meltzer: Every writer has a story they've been waiting their whole life to tell. This is mine. We are a country founded on our own legends and myths, and in this election year, where everyone is pushing hope, what’s crazy to me is that we still don’t know which of these myths are real. Cain is known as one of the world’s worst villains, but maybe he’s not the bad guy in the story. And why did the world get Superman? Because a little boy named Jerry Siegel heard his father was murdered and, in grief, created a bulletproof man. These stories --- about Cain and Abel, about Superman --- are not just folklore. They’re stories about us. Our heroes and villains tell us who we are. And sometimes we need to find the truth, even if it means revealing our own vulnerabilities.
Q: How did his father’s murder lead Jerry Siegel to create the man of steel and why did he never talk about this during his lifetime?
BM: For the past 70 years, the public has been told that Superman was created by two teenagers in Cleveland. And that’s true. Action Comics was published in 1938. But what no one realizes is that Superman was actually created in 1932, just weeks after Jerry Siegel’s father was killed in a robbery. So why does no one know the story? Because Jerry Siegel never told anyone. In the thousands of interviews he gave throughout his life, where they asked him where he got the idea for Superman, Jerry never once --- not once! --- mentions that his father was killed during a robbery. To this day, half the family was told it was a heart attack, while the other half says it was a murder. The story goes back to the two other versions of Superman that were created before the hero we now know and love --- one of them, the first version, even has Superman as the main villain. In fact, even in the current version of Superman, when he was first introduced, Superman couldn’t fly. He jumped. He didn’t have heat or x-ray vision. All he was was strong --- and bulletproof. The one thing young Jerry’s dad needed.
Q: As a comics books author in addition to your work as a novelist, how has the legend of Superman influenced your work, and why is it the perfect myth for America?
BM: For me, the interesting part has never been the Superman story; the interesting part is Clark Kent --- the idea that all of us, in all our ordinariness --- can change the world. That theme is in every single thing I’ve ever worked on, from the novels, to the comics, to “Jack & Bobby.” I believe there is greatness in all of us and once you find what you love, and accept yourself for who you are --- that greatness comes out. In every novel, that’s always the journey. They don’t win until they lose --- and finally accept themselves for who they are.
Q: You do extensive research for each of your books. Tell us what was different about your research for THE BOOK OF LIES and how did you learn some of the arcane information that you include here?
BM: Research isn’t magic. It’s just legwork. I spoke to Jerry Siegel’s family, as well as his widow and his daughter, who told me that in all the years that people have written about the Siegels, I’m the first one to actually call and speak with all of them. During the research, I went back and searched through the old newspapers from 1932 just to see what was going on when Jerry’s father was killed. You won’t believe what’s in there.
It’s the same with Cain. According to most modern Bibles, Cain thinks God’s punishment is too much --- ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear’ is what the text says, which is why Cain is seen as such a remorseless monster. But when you go back to the original text --- like in the geniza fragments from Cairo --- that same passage can just as easily be translated as My sin is too great to forgive. See the difference there? In this version, Cain feels so awful…so sorry…for what he’s done to poor Abel, he tells God he should never be forgiven. That’s a pretty different view of Cain. Of course, most religions prefer the vicious-Cain. A little threat of evil is always the far better way to fill the seats. But sometimes, the monsters aren’t who we think they are.
Q: The father-son relationship is at the heart of the Jerry Siegel story and, frankly, at the heart of most of your books. What was your father’s greatest influence on your life and how does that infuse your writing?
BM: When I was thirteen years old, my father lost his job and moved us from Brooklyn to Florida. He called it the do-over of life. He was forty years old, had two kids, no job, no place to live, and barely $1,200 to his name. Once we got to Florida, we couldn’t afford babysitters, so we’d go on the job interviews with my Dad. I still remember sitting in a Wendy’s while he was being interviewed for an insurance job --- we had to pretend we didn’t know him, and all I could think was, “I can’t believe my life is being decided in a fast food joint.” From there, my parents used a fake address to get me into the good local public school, and it was there I first started thinking about college. Seeing all those rich kids, and their cars and houses, and how little they appreciated it all... that made a mark in me. It made me hungry, and it gave me my most leaned-on, overused point of view: as an outsider. I’ve never been part of the in-crowd. And I never want to be (except on my weakest days). But in that mix of mess that built my life, all the blame and credit began with those poorly planned decisions by my father. It’s an easy joke, but I’ve been writing books to deal with it since.
Q: And your Mom?
BM: This book was born at the same time my mother was diagnosed with (now fatal) breast cancer. Every novel is shaded and filled with whatever issue the author is personally wrangling with. My mother’s impending death was clearly mine. She read this book faster than any other, and I read her the final dedication on her deathbed. My mother’s the one who gave me faith in myself and in people and in just simply being who you are. That’s all she knew how to be. The woman who was still shopping at Marshall’s on the day I called her and told her we hit #1 on the bestseller list. It was her best lesson: never ever change for anyone. So it’s no surprise to me that my mother’s best lesson --- and the issue of losing a parent --- is the strongest theme in the book.
Q: You are a bestselling novelist and comic book writer and you write for television, your most recent venture being a new show that you’ve been working on with Avenue Q creator Jeff Marx. How as a writer do you cross over to different mediums and what is the biggest challenge with each of these?
BM: When I write a novel, I paint with one palette: the palette of words. It’s just me and my editor, who keeps me from riding off the cliff. But in a comic book, you're painting with a brand-new palette. Now you have words and pictures. And you have another person --- the artist --- who’s affecting the final picture. The artist can take the worst scene and draw the best picture for it, and suddenly I’m a genius. Or they can ruin my carefully concocted geekiness and turn it to mush (which never happens). And then you have TV. There you paint with the palette of... everyone. In a TV show, it’s like trying to push water. You don’t control it. Directors, actors, studios, networks, show-runners, editors, etc. all grab the brush. So for a novelist, it’s far harder to release that control. But in the end, all the palettes rely on character. That’s the core of any craft. Today, we all love to rank which is cooler: books, TV, comics, film. But that’s just snobbery. It’s not a hierarchy. It’s a continuum.
Q: You are working with Sony on a soundtrack to go with the book. Tell us about that…
BM: Does a book really need a soundtrack? No. And neither does a movie or a TV show. But when you pull on those manipulative strings that music tugs on, you sometimes get something that’s just mesmerizing. And so we built a soundtrack. Sony Music had someone score the key chapters of the book --- they sent me the songs --- and I rejected most of them. Then we fought and pulled each other’s hair and finally settled on songs that truly evoked the mood of the novel. You can go to a certain chapter, hit PLAY, and read along with music that I believe perfectly represents that chapter. And that’s cool to me. Plus, there’s nothing, just nothing like sitting in a room and hearing someone sing the title track to your own book. That’s neater than Play-Doh.
Q: You are the driving force behind the campaign to save Superman’s house --- the house in Cleveland where Jerry Siegel grew up and where he created Superman --- and are launching a website, www.OrdinaryPeopleChangeTheWorld.com, so that others can join in your crusade. How is this going?
BM: My wife jokes and says this website is my new religion. And maybe it is. But I really do believe in it. I believe ordinary people change the world and I believe that enough of us can join together to keep Jerry Siegel’s house from destruction. I’m just a guy who went to Cleveland, Ohio and saw that the house where Superman was created was falling apart and a total wreck. So now we’re saving it. We don’t need grants, or political favors, or skeevy politicians. All of those entities let it languish. We’ll save it. Or we’ll at least try. And how could I not believe in that?
Q: And we have to ask: is this house really painted red and blue as you describe in THE BOOK OF LIES?
BM: I know it sounds hard to believe, but yep, Superman red and blue. You can’t miss it. Even if you want to. However, when we restore it, we’ll return it to the true colors when Jerry Siegel lived there.
© Copyright 2008, Brad Meltzer. All rights reserved.
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Brad Meltzer is the author of the New York Times bestselling novels THE TENTH JUSTICE, DEAD EVEN, THE FIRST COUNSEL, THE MILLIONAIRES and THE ZERO GAME. In this interview, Meltzer explains how a personal experience helped shape the protagonist of his latest thriller, THE BOOK OF FATE, and discusses how his background in and fascination with history have influenced all of his writing. He also describes meeting with two former U.S. Presidents and shares some of the fascinating trivia he learned from them.
Question: THE BOOK OF FATE begins with a bang. What inspired your new thriller?
Brad Meltzer: To me, each novel is first about the character, then the plot. So THE BOOK OF FATE began with my own sense of frustration from feeling like I was about to rewrite a character I'd already written many times before. That's what terrifies me most as a writer --- being one of those novelists who just starts churning it out. At the same time, my father was diagnosed with cancer --- and in the surgery that saved his life, he received an unavoidable scar that now marks his entire forehead. That's when the light bulb blinked. I just remember thinking: instead of writing yet another thriller with yet another young perfect hero, what if I took that hero, shattered and broke him in chapter one, and then tried to see if that shattered character could do the same things that his former self did so easily? I wasn't sure of the answer, so that's what excited me as a writer. At the same time, I received a letter from former President Bush saying that he liked one of the novels. It's a fun letter to get. And it put me on my current obsession with studying former presidents. The loss of power is fascinating. So maybe in the end, it was all just fate.
Q: Can you give me a thumbnail sketch of the book in your own words?
BM: The one sentence on the back of the book will probably say something sexy like: Wes Holloway is a young Presidential aide who helplessly watches as fellow aide Ron Boyle is killed in an assassination attempt --- but eight years later, Wes learns that his so-called friend Boyle is actually alive. I'm sure there'll be lots of exclamation points in there --- and words like gripping and stunning and brilliant. And for sure they'll mention the decade-old Presidential crossword puzzle and the two-hundred-year-old code created by Thomas Jefferson. But I think THE BOOK OF FATE is actually about the loss of power and the struggles we all have when we think we haven't reached our personal potential. Wes, the President, Lisbeth, Rogo, Dreidel, the Three, even Nico --- all of them have fallen short from what they'd planned. And THE BOOK OF FATE grapples with each of their personal theories for why that's happened: that it's an accident, that it's someone else's fault, that it's the circumstances of the moment, that it's their own fault, and of course --- the one all of us in America love to reach for --- that it's fate. All books are a reflection of the time they're written in. And THE BOOK OF FATE is, to me, a reflection of our current world: a world where we all search for heroes --- and especially after 9/11 --- where we realize that the super-perfect-idealized hero doesn't really exist anymore. In WWII, we were a country of supermen. Now we're a country of spider-men: people who want to save the day and do it all perfectly, even though we realize we're all a bit scared and terrified like teenagers inside.
Q: You've obviously gotten some unusual access to former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. How did that come about and what has it contributed to the book?
BM: It came from a simple letter I got in the mail from former President Bush. He wrote to say he liked one of the novels --- and then put up with me when I asked if I could come out there to see what life was like. As for former President Clinton, I'd met him when THE TENTH JUSTICE was published, so was happy when he signed off on me visiting his staff in Harlem. As for what the visits gave me, it gave me every one of the true details in the book that makes you think "that's exactly how it is." Because that's exactly how it is (though the book is all fiction!). My favorite was former Presidents being required to plan their own funerals right when they leave office (what a nice way to say thanks).
Q: What are some of the interesting things you've learned about the life of presidents and former presidents?
BM: How absolute the loss of power is. Clinton said it best --- when you leave office, "you lose your power but not your influence." But man, you lose your power. For me, though, the one thing that amazed me was how little we actually use our former presidents. Only recently --- with the tsunami and Katrina relief --- have we called upon these great men for service. They ran the entire country --- and yes, they've earned the rest if they want it --- but for the most part, we send them on their way and treat them like second cousins, only calling them on anniversaries and birthdays. As for what else I learned, my favorite details are in the book: from how some presidents race to get their morning briefings as their last tie to power, to how others miss the spotlight so much, they travel abroad because that's when they get briefed by the CIA. It's a subculture shared by four men. Current Bush will soon make it five. It's the greatest most elite club in the world.
Q: How does Wes Holloway compare to the heroes of your previous novels?
BM: I hope Wes is the homonym to my other characters: he sounds and is spelled the same, but he has an entirely different meaning. Of all my characters, I think I feel the most for Wes --- especially because of his link to my own father. And let's be honest, every one of my books is really about my father.
Q: You seem to be diversifying away from your earlier legal-based thrillers. Did you make a conscious decision to aim for a larger market with THE BOOK OF FATE?
BM: It's odd --- when THE TENTH JUSTICE came out, I never thought of myself as a legal thriller writer. But the publishers and press liked that box, and they thought it would sell books, and I was 27 years old, so I was more than happy to go along with it. But the books I've written have always been designed to transport readers into a world they couldn't go otherwise, from the Supreme Court, to the White House, to the Capitol, to prestigious private banks, to the world of former presidents and secrets about our founding fathers and the Masons. The books are always steeped in historical research, not law --- and I've proudly never written a true courtroom scene. I was a history major and I'll always be a history major. So to me, I'm doing what I always do --- simply writing about worlds that fascinate me.
© Copyright 2006, Brad Meltzer. All rights reserved.
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January 23, 2004
In this interview with Bookreporter.com reviewer Joe Hartlaub, Brad Meltzer discusses some of the dramatic plot lines and compelling characters in his latest thriller THE ZERO GAME. He also talks extensively about his other projects and how he was able to overcome rejection early in his career to become a New York Times bestselling author.
BRC: THE ZERO GAME begins with a couple of appropriations committee staffers engaging in some clandestine betting on the outcome of Congressional votes. You were an intern on Capitol Hill when you were nineteen. Did this type of thing actually occur? And, to the best of your knowledge, does it still?
BM: THE ZERO GAME is based on a real story I heard when I was an intern on Capitol Hill: two Senate staffers who were so sick of picking up their Senator's dry cleaning decided to put the words "dry cleaning" in their Senator's speech as a bit of revenge.
("Although many people think of the environment as an issue that is dry, cleaning it should be our top priority.")
"You can't do that," one of them said.
"Sure I can."
"You can't," the first insisted.
Right there, THE ZERO GAME was born.
As for it happening, to be honest I made it up. But so far, two different government employees have told me they've seen a smaller variation being played (i.e., people betting on how many votes will be cast for a certain bill). That's just scary. Also, I'm honestly amazed by how many staffers on the Hill, when they hear the plot, say, "I wouldn't be surprised if someone was doing that right now." God bless America!
BRC: One of the plot elements of THE ZERO GAME that continues to stick with me is the twist that occurs less than 70 pages into the novel. I'm being deliberately vague here, as I do not want to give it away, but I don't recall ever --- ever --- reading a novel where the author did something like this. Did you agonize over whether to do it --- and that should probably be "IT" --- and did you encounter any resistance to it?
BM: Yeah, it's the big surprise of the book, and to be honest I don't think it's ever been done before --- which was exactly why I thought, "I have to try this --- let's see if I can pull this off." It's either the best part of the book or the worst, but so far, reader response has been amazing. For me, you have to always try new things as an author; otherwise you just start churning the books out.
BRC: Some of the most dramatic events in THE ZERO GAME take place underground, whether it's a supposedly deserted mine in South Dakota or in the nether reaches of the Capitol building. Obviously you had the opportunity to explore the basement of the Capitol during your stint as a Capitol Hill intern. But you demonstrated an equal level of familiarity with deserted mines while describing the action in the Homestead Mine in South Dakota. Did you do on-site research for that particular portion of the book?
BM: I did. I went down 8,000 feet into an abandoned gold mine. The first time I went, because of a flood, we could only go down two thousand feet. I went back two weeks later and they took me to the very bottom. Two weeks after that, those miners got trapped in that Pennsylvania mine. They were 240 feet down; I was 8,000. That's six Empire State buildings straight down. I'm a moron for doing that one, but I think it makes for one of the scariest scenes I've ever written. My wife wanted to kill me --- but for my readers, I'll risk my life.
BRC: Martin Janos was an extremely interesting character in THE ZERO GAME, kind of a cross between James Bond and Michael Myers --- the Halloween protagonist as opposed to the actor. What was your inspiration for Janos?
BM: I just wanted a real, true villain. No faceless government entity as the bad guy ... or some mega untouchable corporation. I wanted a villain. A real villain. One who was smarter than anyone in the book. And one who loved antique cars. Janos was born.
BRC: You mention Senatorial hideaways in the Capitol Building. Fact or fiction? And did you ever personally see one?
BM: Fact --- I saw many from the outside and one from the inside. They're the secret places the Senators and Congressmen use to hide from staff, etc. But one really did have a dimmer switch --- all those details in the book are real.
BRC: John H. Campbell is widely regarded as the father of modern science fiction. He published a story in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction in the early 1940s, which, unbeknownst to him, came uncomfortably close to describing an atomic bomb. He was visited by U.S. Intelligence agents who were extremely interested in how he came to acquire his knowledge of what was called "The Manhattan Project." You apparently had a marginally similar experience when you were doing research concerning a possible connection between neutrinos and plutonium for THE ZERO GAME. Can you tell us about that?
BM: As you know the book is fiction, but as I researched neutrinos and called scientists, I eventually started asking about the subatomic connection between neutrinos and plutonium. That's when my source at one of the government's top scientific facilities, and my best source, stopped returning my calls. A few weeks later, the source asked that his name --- and the facility's --- be pulled from my acknowledgments. That was just scary. It's one of those moments where you start listening for clicks on your phone to see if your phone's being tapped.
BRC: Your web site contains a "lost chapter," so to speak, from THE ZERO GAME. You have named it "Chapter 4.5." Can you tell us why this portion of THE ZERO GAME wasn't included in the published novel?
BM: To be honest, it just slowed the book down at a point where it needed to speed up. I always have a hard time balancing the "character" parts and the "thriller" parts because I prefer the "character" parts. But with the Internet, voila...the lost chapter is free for everyone to see at www.bradmeltzer.com.
BRC: You recently had a very eventful week involving work in films, television and comic books. What happened, and what can we look forward to from you in those media?
BM: In one short period:
- we got the green light on the pilot for a new TV series called Jack & Bobby, about a young boy who will grow up to be President (which I'm working on with Greg Berlanti, Scoop Cohen, Vanessa Taylor and Tommy Schlamme, who did The West Wing).
- we sent in the outline for the TV series I co-created with Scoop Cohen and Frank Spotnitz of The X-Files, called The Thirteenth Floor, about a law firm that defends dead clients who are fighting to avoid hell and get into heaven.
- I saw the arrival of the script (by director Justin Lin) for the film version of THE TENTH JUSTICE, my first novel.
- we had our new comic book, "Identity Crisis," (the Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman murder mystery I'm writing for DC Comics) crowned "The most anticipated comic book project for 2004" by Wizard magazine.
- And now I have a new novel, THE ZERO GAME, that has been released (with film rights sold to Kathy Kennedy and Gary Ross, the team that did Seabiscuit).
Trust me, it still seems silly --- I just feel blessed to be involved with any of these projects.
BRC: Between THE MILLIONAIRES and the publication of THE ZERO GAME you wrote several issues of the comic book GREEN ARROW. How did you become involved in that project?
BM: They asked me. I thought about saying no. My wife reminded me I'd been waiting my whole life to do this. I --- as always --- listened to her. And she --- as always --- was right. Otherwise, taking over the book from director Kevin Smith was one of the true highlights of my professional career. The only reason they asked me was because Green Arrow is named Oliver in his secret ID --- and Bob Schreck, GREEN ARROW editor, saw that I had named the main character in THE MILLIONAIRES "Oliver" after Green Arrow. He realized my love for all things Oliver and made the offer.
BRC: With the screenplay for THE TENTH JUSTICE, the television series Jack and Bobby, and DC Comics' "Identity Crisis" it would seem that you have been pretty busy. Do you have any ideas for your next novel. And have you started working on it?
BM: If I don't, my publisher will be plenty mad, so...uh...yeah, I got it all worked out.
BRC: What sort of daily work routine do you practice? And do you do anything in particular for inspiration?
BM: I do sit down every day and take some time to remind myself how lucky I am to being doing this for a living. 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. So whatever you do with your life, as cliché as it sounds, don't let anyone tell you "No."
BRC: What books have you read in the past six months that you could recommend to our readers?
BM: I finally read KAVALIER & CLAY, which I bought when it came out but never read (out of spite for all the people who told me I HAD to read it). But they were right. I loved every page. I also read WHERE THE TRUTH LIES by Rupert Holmes and THE EYRE AFFAIR by Jasper Fforde. All original. And loved them all.
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January 11, 2002
Brad Meltzer, author of THE MILLIONAIRES reveals his discovery of "dumpster diving," private banks of the rich, and the secret tunnels of Disney World in an audio interview presented by Bookreporter.com and TWBookmark.com.
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Brad Meltzer is an author extraordinare --- not only can he write hair raising legal thrillers full of complex characters and enticing plot lines, but he can also conduct interviews in cars on his cell phone during a hectic author tour. Bookreporter.com's Senior Writer Joe Hartlaub wrote the in-depth questions and managed to impress the author in the midst of traffic. Find out the details about Meltzer's new book, THE FIRST COUNSEL, how he dug up so much dirt on the White House, where you can find his cleverly inserted references that our eagle-eye reader Joe already discovered, what he has planned next, and much more.
BRC: One of the many highlights of THE FIRST COUNSEL is the incredibly detailed description it contains on the White House. Assuming that your description was accurate --- and it certainly had the ring of truth to it --- how did you manage to acquire this information, especially that about First Daughters?
BM: THE FIRST COUNSEL is actually one of the most intensely researched books I've ever attempted and that's why it took longer for me to write than anything else [three years]. I started by trying to track down every former First Daughter that was out there. I became obsessed with First Daughters, I contacted as many as I could find and every single one of them slammed the door in my face expect for the one who actually agreed to be a source. She's the one who gave me details about what life is like in the White House. I know the big question is: who is she --- but I'm not saying. And it's not because she said, "Please don't say anything," it's because after two years of researching First Daughters, I realized that these girls get their lives ripped apart. If I said her name then I'd be part of that. Also, people might assume that my character Nora is based on her, which she is not, and I felt I owed this daughter more respect than that.
As far as the secrets, I got those from friends who worked in the White House and took me around and showed me everything, as well as from a former secret service agent, who had actually read THE TENTH JUSTICE and was very amenable to helping me.
BRC: THE FIRST COUNSEL deals with an interesting concept --- a First Daughter given to extreme mood swings and behavioral excesses. Nora Hartson was not, however, reminiscent of any particular first daughter; I actually was reminded more of an infamous intern than anyone else. Given that you began writing THE FIRST COUNSEL shortly before the Lewinsky scandal broke, what was your inspiration for this story? Was it influenced at all by the Lewinsky scandal?
BM: Not at all, it kind of creeped me out. I designed Nora way before I started writing the book and I always knew what I wanted her to be like. Nora on some level is every president's daughter. Each one of them reaches a moment when she wants to scream, but the problem is you don't scream in the White House, you can't scream in the White House --- but in THE FIRST COUNSEL you actually see and hear the scream.
BRC: THE FIRST COUNSEL is written in first person present which works very well for the book. Did you experiment with different voices for THE FIRST COUNSEL, or was it obvious to you from the beginning that this story could only be told in that voice?
BM: I was determined when I started the book that it would be in first person. The other books I've done have always been in third person. I really wanted to try it out. My agent warned me and said, "You think it's going to be easy, but it's not." I found it very freeing since I love to write dialogue, and the whole book becomes a conversation with the reader, so on that level I was concentrating on my strengths. The hard part about writing first person, especially in a thriller, is that your reader never gets to peer over the shoulder of the villain. In every thriller you have that moment where you look over the villain's shoulder; you see him stroking his cat and thinking about taking over the world. In this one I had to think about how to scare the reader without counting on the formulaic tricks.
BRC: On a similar note, did you heavily outline THE FIRST COUNSEL before you began writing it, or was this a novel that moved you along as much as you moved it?
BM: The second is definitely the better way to describe it. When I outline I only do 50-100 page installments, after that you have to let creativity turn the pages. If you outline the whole book at once you lose the spontaneity.
BRC: I'd like to spend a little time on your penchant for inserting --- quite cleverly --- little references in each of your books for readers to pick up on. Joel Westman, for example, is referenced not only in THE FIRST COUNSEL but also in THE TENTH JUSTICE and DEAD EVEN. Similarly, Richard Rubin is a (very) minor character in each book. Do you have any plans to make either of these people a major character in a future novel?
BM: Wow, you are the first person to find Joel Westman, I'm very impressed! I look at it this way --- Joe Westman is the person who links all of us together in the web of life and he's meant to be that person. One day I'll tell his story but not now. But there are some things you may not have noticed... He's Ben's co-clerk IN TENTH JUSTICE, Sarah's upstairs neighbor in DEAD EVEN and Ben's next door neighbor in the FIRST COUNCIL. I do have plans for him, but not yet. Richard Rubin is mentioned for a personal reason and so far no one knows why --- yet. That's all I'm saying.
readers will also notice that the law firm that Ben is recruited
by in the TENTH JUSTICE is the same law firm that Jared works at in DEAD EVEN. And the best one of all is that there's a moment in DEAD EVEN where Jared's secretary is giving him a pep talk and says, You won this case and that case and the Wexler case --- Wexler is the real name of Rick, who is the villain of THE TENTH JUSTICE. So at that moment it's revealed what happened to the villain --- Jared is the lawyer who gets him off.
BRC: I was also knocked out by the fact that you paid quiet homage to Alan Moore's graphic novel THE WATCHMEN by naming the justices in THE TENTH JUSTICE after each of The Watchmen. I've read elsewhere that you are a big fan of graphic novels. Which other ones have you enjoyed?
BM: Anything by Frank Miller or Neil Gaiman. Garth Ennis also. But DARK NIGHT is still one of the best ones, I reread it every two years or so. If you want more references see if you can figure out who the President's senior staff are named after in THE FIRST COUNCIL.
BRC: You also named one of the justices in THE TENTH JUSTICE after your wife, your high school sweetheart and also a lawyer. Does she have any inclination toward writing a novel?
BM: No, but I think if she did I would love it. Right now I drive the both of us insane enough as it is. As a lawyer she does the real writing, I do the make believe.
BRC: You are presently in the midst of an author's tour in support of THE FIRST COUNSEL, and have a really interesting contest going on your website (www.bradmeltzer.com). You are letting visitors to your website vote for the final stop of your book tour. I love this idea, and have already cast my vote. What led to this idea? And if you were picking the stop, where would it be?
BM: Hawaii! But my publisher told me it had to be one of the 48 continental states. My mom, of course, is voting for Florida every day. Right now it looks like I'm going to Austin, Texas, which is fine by me. I'd love to go to Austin.
BRC: Are there presently plans to adapt any of your novels to film? Is there one you'd particularly like to see on the big screen?
BM: THE TENTH JUSTICE rights have been bought by Fox 2000. And I think it would make a great movie, but to me Hollywood is icing on already great cakes. I'm just happy people pay me to write novels. As far as which one would make the best movie, THE TENTH JUSTICE or THE FIRST COUNCIL, and I'm not sure which, it depends on who does it.
BRC: I have read elsewhere that you are presently working on a new novel, which is ---good news! --- a thriller. Will the new novel have a legal theme, or are you going to venture into uncharted waters?
BM: All I'll say is that it has a lawyer, it is a thriller, but not how you think....
BRC: You and your wife are quietly but extremely active in a number of charities, one of which is highlighted as a subplot of THE FIRST COUNSEL. Could you tell us a little about some of the charities you work with?
BM: Sure, the Arc is a charity that deals with people who are mentally retarded and it helped me do a lot of research for THE FIRST COUNCIL, but beyond that it's one of the most extraordinary organizations I have run into. Their work is absolutely humbling and I'm honored that I get to be mentioned in the same sentence as them. You can find them at http://www.thearc.org
We're also involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters and I had a Little Brother who I still volunteer with. This is why Sarah had a Little Sister in DEAD EVEN.
BRC: Could you share with us your working habits when you are writing a novel, from beginning to end?
BM: : I always start with a nugget, in this case a White House lawyer. Then I start doing as much research as I can --- going into the White House, snooping around, meeting with anyone who will talk to me, contacting former presidential daughters, etc. Based on the research I'll hone the plot a little more, and in this case it's --- What if a White House lawyer was dating the President's daughter? From there the most important part of the process is building the characters. I'll spend weeks determining everything I know about the characters --- from what foods they like, what their favorite movies are, what their home life was like, what kind of cereal they eat --- because it's the minutia of life that makes us who we are. And when I finally figure out who they are I throw them into the plot. If I've done my job I don't have to tell them what to do, they tell me what they want to do. From there I work from 9AM to whenever I peter out, sometimes 4PM sometimes 7PM. Writing is like squeezing a sponge --- you can only squeeze so much before it goes dry.
BRC: What authors have been a primary influence on you, both personally and professionally?
BM: Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Garth Ennis --- I don't read novels within the legal thriller genre, in fact, I don't believe in genres. I think genres are a trap. On some level the legal thriller lives and dies in the courtroom. I think there are things we've seen a hundred thousand times already and if we keep seeing them no one is going to care. I'm proud to say I'm a legal thriller writer who has never written a true courtroom scene. Even in DEAD EVEN they're only in court for two minutes. That's all on purpose. The only way to keep any genre alive is to do what hasn't been done before. As long as there is some young writer out there who is clicking away at her keyboard or playing around with something new, the genre will always have a future.
BRC: So you don't read legal thrillers --- do you watch any court related television dramas?
BM: I actually don't watch any courtroom TV shows, but I do watch The West Wing, and they do a really good job. But it made me nuts when I was finishing THE FIRST COUNCIL and that show suddenly came on the air :)
BRC: Can you tell us a little about your educational and professional background?
BM: I went to college at the University of Michigan, studied history, took one Great Novels class and a few creative writing classes. Then I went to Columbia law school and learned how to write like a lawyer. Add six months. Add 24 rejection letters. Get lucky. Get a novel published. Mix. There you have it.
BRC: Are there any books you have read in the past six months which you could recommend to our readers?
BM: I finally read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. It's cliche and obvious to say it's great, but it's just that good. And then I also read PEDRO AND ME by Judd Winick about the Real World San Francisco cast member's experience with fellow house mate Pedro, who died from AIDS-related complications after the show aired. Read it; you'll thank me later. Judd is actually my old college roommate. There's a reason why one of the law firms in DEAD EVEN is called Winick and Trudeau.
Check out Brad's website at http://www.bradmeltzer.com
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July 9, 1997
July 9, 1997, TBR welcomed Brad Meltzer, whose first novel, THE
TENTH JUSTICE, was just published. Our interviewer was Jesse Kornbluth
(BookpgJK), editor of The Book Report. Our online host was BookpgXena.
Bookpg JK: Great to have you
here, Brad. May I call you Brad?
BMeltzer: Of course. Though
I will also respond to "Shirley."
Bookpg JK: How annoying is this
scenario? A law school student gets an idea. Despite
a heavy work load and the presumption of a real life, he writes
a book. It turns out to be good and the next thing you
know, a hotshot publisher has multo copies out and it's on the NY
Times bestseller list. Brad -- be honest -- wouldn't
you dislike a guy like that?
BMeltzer: It's so sickening
it makes me want to vomit.
Bookpg JK: Seriously... Are
you terrified to have to write a second book? Shouldn't
you quit while you're ahead?
BMeltzer: It's the easiest thing
to quit, but I'd be a fool if I ever did.
Bookpg JK: Had you ever written
any fiction before?
BMeltzer: The first novel I
ever wrote, I wrote when I got out of college. All I
got for it was 24 rejection letters.
Bookpg JK: What was it about?
BMeltzer: What I knew at the
time... a tale of friendship set on a college campus.
Bookpg JK: Friendship seems
to be a large issue for you.
BMeltzer: It's something everyone
can relate to. We all have friends who are old friends, we have
new friends we don't trust yet, and competitive friendships we don't
like to admit are competitive. That will always be fascinating.
Bookpg JK: I was very impressed
in TENTH JUSTICE at how much these young careerists think friendship
is important. We are led to believe that young careerists
think only careers are important.
BMeltzer: Anyone who thinks
friendship is not important is writing a two-dimensional character. On
this planet, there is no one who doesn't think at least one friend
Question: Are there any writers
you look to for inspiration? Grisham? Diehl?
BMeltzer: When I write, I NEVER
read within the genre I write in. So during this book,
I read a lot of science fiction: Allen Moore's WATCHMAN
and Gaiman's SANDMAN. Not reading other writers' stuff
is the best way to keep my voice honest and true.
Question: How long did it take
you to write TENTH JUSTICE?
BMeltzer: About a year, 18 months. It
was hard to tell because in that year I was in law school, got married,
and took the bar exam.
Bookpg JK: How many hours a
night did you sleep?
BMeltzer: Few. I tried to write
from 8-11 every night, but never on Friday. On Saturday
and Sunday, about 5 hours each.
Bookpg JK: When did you know
this one was "working?"
BMeltzer: There is a point in
every novel when you stop telling the characters what you want them
to do and they start telling you what THEY want to do. That
is when you know it is working.
Bookpg JK: What kind of research
did you do?
BMeltzer: No one on the Supreme
Court would talk to me. So I tracked down as many former clerks
as I could. One of them told me, "This plot could happen." With
that, I knew I was headed in the right direction.
Bookpg JK: If your brand-new
wife had not liked the book, would you have dumped her?
BMeltzer: Not a chance -- unless
she REALLY didn't like the book.
Bookpg JK: When did she read
BMeltzer: She is the ONLY person
who reads it as I write it. And it doesn't go out the
door unless it gets past her BS meter.
Bookpg JK: Which character do
YOU identify with?
BMeltzer: I'd say "Lisa" --
but I'd probably be lying. In many respects, the easy answer is
true... I identified with every one of them. Tell MHanlon I do have
a very strong feminine side! I know all about pantyhose!
Bookpg JK: Watch out lurkers! Brad
Meltzer is EVERYWHERE! Back to the book... you DON'T
see yourself doing what your main character did? Making
an innocent mistake that almost ends his young career?
BMeltzer: Everyone has been
in a position where they wished they could take back what they just
said. I probably did that about five minutes ago. So,
of course, you could blow it at a second's notice.
Question: Do you think all the
advance publicity will hurt or enhance your future as a novelist?
BMeltzer: Hurt, hurt, hurt,
hurt, hurt -- let the backlash begin.
Bookpg JK: Ok, so what have
you bought with the money?
BMeltzer: With my first check,
I paid off my college and law school loans. All we bought besides
was a new couch and a new computer.
Bookpg JK: Is there a film deal?
BMeltzer: Yes. But
if you want to know what TENTH JUSTICE is about, read the book.
Question: Did you always want
to be a writer? Did you always have the inkling?
BMeltzer: Never saw it -- even
though it was in front of my face. In college, I did all my essays,
regardless of the course, in dialogue form. When I graduated
college, I had so many student loans to pay off that I took a job
at GAMES Magazine. My boss's offer was: Stay here for
a year... if you like it, continue... if you hate it, leave. The
week I got to work, my boss got a call from an old friend named
Bill Clinton. And Clinton said, "How about running my campaign for
President?" My boss left. I was alone in Boston. I
knew almost no one. I figured: "I have a lot of free
time. Everyone has one novel. I'll take my shot." I took
my first paycheck and instead of paying loans, I bought a Mac. I
pumped out an 800-page monster over a year. I threw out
the first 300 pages and got an agent. We sent it out to publishers
and got those 24 rejection letters. That novel is still sitting
on my shelves... "Published by Kinko's."
Bookpg JK: Will it get published
BMeltzer: I don't see the need
to clean my closet yet. I think you should put your best
Question: What do you in your
free time -- when you are not writing?
BMeltzer: I'm a movie freak. And
I spend a lot of time with friends.
Bookpg JK: And these friends
-- do they suddenly like you more? Do they hope to be
in your next book? Or do they see themselves in TENTH
BMeltzer: My friends are smart. They
certainly don't like me more.
Bookpg JK: When I interviewed
John Grisham, he said, "The best thing about the law was getting
out of it." So did Richard North Patterson. What
is it about the law that makes lawyers not like it, and will you
ever be the lawyer you were trained to be?
BMeltzer: The worst part is
all the noogies and purple nurples. As for practicing
law... I'll do everything in my power not to.
Bookpg JK: Did you know this
while in law school?
BMeltzer: I went to law school
because I thought it would be intellectually interesting. But I
much favor my creative side -- which I get from writing.
Bookpg JK: Really annoy us and
tell us you're halfway through your next novel.
BMeltzer: I will now annoy you. I've
been working on it for awhile.
Bookpg JK: Are friends in it? Is
BMeltzer: It's a legal thriller,
but I'm bound by contract not to talk about the plot. You know how
those lawyers can be!
Question: What has been the
most rewarding result of being a published and critically acclaimed
BMeltzer: Watching my wife open
the book and read the dedication.
Question: Do you watch Court
Bookpg JK: Why not?
BMeltzer: Too many lawyers.
Question: Where do you get your
BMeltzer: Good ideas are usually
right in front of your face. You just have to know where
your face is.
Bookpg JK: It often happens
that a young writer turns out a popular book and is besieged by
offers that seem terrific: write for VANITY FAIR, do a script. Has
this happened to you?
Question: What do you think
of the online chat format? Are you much of a surfer in
your free time?
BMeltzer: E-mail fiend. But
I surf rarely.
Bookpg JK: Do you use the Web
BMeltzer: Yes. That's
what I use it for most.
Bookpg JK: So if we could hack
your account, we might figure out the plot of the new novel.
BMeltzer: That's cute. And
yes, SMDMDW, I agree... my picture is way too serious. And
they airbrushed my birthmarks!
Bookpg JK: Should Matt Perry
be in this movie when he gets out of rehab?
BMeltzer: Ask the director. (I'll
play that one safe!)
Question: Do you write for the
sake of plot and intensity, for the sake of entertainment? Or
do you write with the intention of educating, or addressing justice,
morality in the O. J. age?
BMeltzer: I enjoy it the most
when I'm writing characters. If the characters are real,
everything else takes care of itself.
Bookpg JK: I thought we'd get
through this without any mention of O. J., but as long as we didn't...
let's find out. How many O. J. books have you read?
Bookpg JK: If you won a date
with Marcia Clark, would you go?
BMeltzer: Depends on who pays
for the date.
Bookpg JK: Her advance was bigger.
Can you handle that?
BMeltzer: As I said, I have
a strong feminine side.
Bookpg JK: On the strength of
this experience, do you see yourself haunting chat rooms
in search of characters?
BMeltzer: Who says I haven't?
Bookpg JK: On that ambiguous
note, let me say how much fun it's been to have you here.
BMeltzer: Thanks. And
thanks to everyone who has supported this book.
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