Another Author of the Month at MyShelf.Com

Author of the Month
Brad Meltzer [February 2004]
Chosen by Kristin Johnson, MyShelf.Com

     I chose Brad Meltzer because we both have Carolyn Feleppa Balducci, screenwriter, author, and professor, late of the Residential College at the University of Michigan, to thank for encouraging us on the path to becoming writers. Additionally, there’s the consideration that Brad has established himself as the author of the contemporary political bestseller (Go Blue!) with such page-turners as the Tenth Justice, Dead Even, The First Counsel, and The Millionaires. Finally, and most shocking, Brad explores what gets lost in most bestselling thrillers: the human cost of “politics as usual.”


Kristin: While this is my first experience with your writing, I can see right off why you belong in the privileged elite known as “Balduccites.”   I doubt anyone coming out of one or more of Carolyn Balducci’s classes, or anyone who’s sat down with her over a glass of wine at Dominick’s in Ann Arbor, could be anything less than talented.   Would you tell everyone what they missed by not taking Carolyn’s writing instruction?  How did she inspire you?  Not to give anything away, but Harris Sandler does decide to be a teacher at the end of THE ZERO GAME.

Brad: What Carolyn did for me as a teacher was simple, but so, so vital:  she told me I could write.  She believed.  And that was immensely important for me.


Kristin: Obviously!  You have great discipline, and a passion for what you do, not to mention a sense of humor since you poke fun at thrillers and other literary genres in your book.  How did you learn to love writing and what is your routine like? 

Brad: I'm sitting by 9:30, and I write until I peter out -- usually by 6:00 pm, sometimes by 8:00 pm -- whenever my imaginary friends stop talking to me.


Kristin: I love the way you express that.  Do you intend to continue writing about politics?  If not, what other subjects intrigue you?

Brad:  I like anything interesting:  the White House, Congress, Disney World -- all not as different as you think.


Kristin: No argument there!  Speaking as a relative of five lawyers and a sister to an intern in Vice-President Dan Quayle’s office, I understand law school and the litigation world makes you a bit jaded, much like your young protagonists.   The shocking part is, many writing programs make you blasé too through one too many critiques from professors who, unlike Carolyn, are not gifted writers…“those who can’t, teach.”  Yet you still maintain in your realism a kind of idealism much like Viv Parker, the seventeen-year-old heart of THE ZERO GAME.  Talk about that.

Brad:  If you hate what you do, don't do it anymore.  I love what I do.  I love writing.  And I love that I get to do it for a living.  So...if you love what you do, it'll show on the page.  Viv's idealism is all my own.


Kristin: Switching to realism…Although you address terrorism and 9/11 briefly in your book, which you can’t avoid in today’s world, you drive the nail home that the real issues tend to get lost in “the zero game.”  The zero game isn’t the bet that Harris and his friend Matthew Mercer have going.  It’s a metaphor for the whole of politics, possibly throughout the ages but especially now.  The ending of your novel leaves no doubt that although “the good guys win,” there’s still a hefty price.  Talk more about that.

Brad: The one thing I love most about The Zero Game is the ending.  No just for the shock, but for its realism.  So glad you dug it.


Kristin: I did indeed!  Harris Sandler and Viv Parker learn the human cost is your soul, like the Faustian Bargain.  Eric Rabkin of the University of Michigan English Department talked about that in his Science Fiction class.   It’s succumbing to hubris, which Harris has right down to the end when he tries to save Viv from the consequences of the game.  Hubris is one thing we all learned about in those writing classes.  Talk more about how your writing instruction influenced you to produce a bestseller with a soul.

Brad: The one thing I learned in my writing classes was to always be yourself.  Forget the Hollywood ending where the guy always gets the girl -- be true and be right and let your character live...and that's how you show their soul -- and your own.


Kristin: In this case, if the guy got the girl it would cheapen the story, not to mention incite people to rip you apart in reviews since Viv is seventeen.   I love that Harris and Viv have a non-sexual friendship.  It’s deeper than romance.  She helps him grow up and vice versa.

What else influenced you to express the viewpoints in your novel?  Your family and parents?  Do you come from small-town America and did you have a mom like Viv’s mom?   I would be remiss if I left out your wife Cori, who you so sweetly thank in the dedication. 

Brad: I come from a very normal American working class family. And THAT is what is hope gives realism to my characters.  They're real because I grew up in reality, not some wealthy, dream-life that never saw hardship.  And I wouldn't trade that for anything.


Kristin: Reading your book, I would hope not!  Did you encounter any heroes while you served as an intern on Capitol Hill?  Are there still “good guys” out there? 

Brad: They're everywhere.  All throughout the government.  My wife is one.  The others are in my Acknowledgments.


Kristin: And another round of applause for your wife!  You also don’t neglect the grunt staff on the hill: LaRue the shoeshine man, the elevator lady, the secretaries, and the Capitol Hill Police.  Speaking of which, talk more about the epigraph you use in the beginning, a quote from Howard R. Ryland, Capitol police officer: “If the American people found out what was going on there, they would tear it down brick by brick.”  What good does come out of the United States government?

Brad: See, the myth is that no good comes out of government.  That's untrue. Good is there every day.  The bad just gets the headlines. 


Kristin: Amen!  It’s one of the things that annoy me, our scandal-driven news media.  There are so many bombshells, from Strom Thurmond’s daughter to Enron to the 9/11 Report to the Iraqi WMD intelligence.  How much should the public know, even in the age of 24-hour news and the Internet, about what goes on in the Senate halls?  What is the writer’s role in informing and exposing politics, and even more importantly, transforming people’s minds?

Brad: I take what I do seriously -- and if people come to my books to see how the government really works, that's fine.  I love to entertain -- and I love to take readers into worlds they've never seen before.


Kristin: Great words.

Not that I’m going to spoil the ending, but terrorism enters into it, and it’s pretty clear that the terrorists are still plotting to get us.   Where do you stand on the War on Terror? 

Brad: Where does any sane person stand on terrorism?  Terrified by the unknown, concerned by what is known, and angry to see the suffering as so many innocents.  It's the one war I wonder if we can ever "win."


Kristin: Since you write about politics, would it be impolitic to ask what you think of the candidates in the 2004 presidential race?  How about 2008 predictions?  And what do you think of California’s new Governator?

Brad: I write fiction -- that's politics in 2004.


Kristin: That’s funny! One thing everyone has learned from Hillary Clinton and Maria Shriver is, to quote Viv, “What’d you think—you could beat me because I’m a girl?”  I admire the fact that the toughest and most moral character in the book is a seventeen-year-old girl, and black to boot.   You obviously took Women’s Studies at Michigan, and your respect for your wife is evident.  Talk about writing for female and minority characters, not to mention writing villains.

Brad: Viv was the hardest character I've ever written, which is why I'm so proud of how she came out.


Kristin: I also love about Viv that her faith helps sustain her.  Harris’ secularism and initial denial of who he is gets him lost in the game, a point Bill O’Reilly would applaud wholeheartedly.   When will you be on the Factor?  Your book itself is a No Spin Zone.

Brad: Sorry, not on this time.


Kristin: You’ll be there and I’ll be watching.  Turning to publicity, I must get at least one postcard a month from you.  How does the Michigan alumni network help?  You have an extensive tour coming up.  Can you talk a bit about marketing and promotion?

Brad: Michigan alums are just the best.  Period.  I couldn't do this without them. 


Kristin: To end this interview with Michigan as we began, Carolyn will get the first notice when this gets published—one Balduccite interviewing another!  Brad, thank you for talking to


The Zero Game
By Brad Meltzer
Time Warner Books
January 2004
ISBN: 0-446-53098-0
Political Thriller
Buy a Copy
Read an excerpt

Reviewed by Kristin Johnson,

       What do two House and Senate interns have to do to escape the endless C-SPAN?  It’s not as if you can always count on partisan bickering, campaign finance shockers, political scandal, racist senators’ controversies, and Ted Kennedy showing up soused…oh wait a minute, yes, you can.  But apart from Teddy, as P.J. O’Rourke says, “the real problem is that government is boring.” 

       Fortunately, Brad Meltzer’s The Zero Game, which opens with the O’Rourke witticism, not only might get people watching C-SPAN again, it might even drive the apathetic voters who don’t know John Kerry from Jim Carrey (here’s a tip: even if they did once have the same bad hair, Carrey’s funnier) to turn off the Super Bowl and care what their representatives are doing.

      However, as Monica Lewinsky proved, you also have to watch the interns.  And as Harris Sandler discovers, defending betting con congressional legislation won’t work if all you have for your excuse is “It was just a game,” which in Meltzer’s view seems to be a whopper equal to “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”  Furthermore, Meltzer makes a point as old as Faust: The moment you forget that politics is a game that has no clear winner, you’ve already lost your very soul. 

       You can bet on seventeen-year-old Senate page Viv Parker, who’s got plenty of soul and as much kick as Jennifer Garner, to teach Harris that lesson.  Unfortunately, the wisdom is too late for Harris’ friend Matthew Mercer, Harris’ mentor Bud Pasternak, and “the next Colin Powell” Lowell Nash from the US Attorney General’s office.  But the slimy villains (who prove,  perhaps unintentionally, that yes, Virginia, there are WMD) Viv and Harris foil learn the lesson Enron and Co. have yet to understand, for as Lowell’s assistant says, don’t mess with the Justice Department.  Also, as Harris discovers, don’t underestimate a seventeen-year-old black female who may herself be “the next Colin Powell”.  And don’t, before you vote in the primaries, caucuses and Decision 2004, pass up this heartfelt adrenaline rush (with the obligatory run-for-your-life chases) coming out of Brad Meltzer.


Booklist -AmazonCom-
The Tenth Justice
Dead Even
The First Counsel
The Millionaires
The Zero Game

2004's Honorary List

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