MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And Im Michele Norris.
Brad Meltzer is 38 and the author of six bestselling suspense novels. Theyre what you might call pot boilers or page turners, and they include The Tenth Justice, The First Counsel, The Book of Fate. His latest book is The Book of Lies. One thread running through Meltzers work is detailed research. He weaves in real events, locations and life experiences.
This time, he writes about the origins about American comic book character Superman. I asked Meltzer how he came up with the Superman story.
Mr. BRAD MELTZER (Author, The Book of Lies): The story actually found me. I was at a book signing two years ago and a woman stands up and says to me, I know more about Superman than youll ever know. And I think to myself, lady, there is no way you know more about Superman than I know. And she says, sure, I do. She said, Jerry Siegel, who created Superman, is my uncle.
And shes the one who introduces me and takes me into the entire family and unveils to me this unsolved murder from 1932 that nobody knows about. I mean, its not a couple of geek circles, but nobody knows the story because in 50 years of interviews, when they ask Jerry Siegel whered you get the idea for Superman, he never tells anybody that his father died in a robbery.
I mean, you create the worlds greatest crime fighter right after your father dies in a crime and you never tell anybody? And thats why the world got Superman. Not because Americas the greatest country on Earth, but because a little boy lost his father.
NORRIS: Now, Mitchell Siegel is a haberdasher, tell me about the circumstances of his death.
Mr. MELTZER: Yeah. The circumstance of his death, it depends who you ask. Half the family is told that he works in his haberdasher - that hes a tailor and that someone comes in, pulls a gun, takes some clothes, and shoots him in the chest. The other entire half of the family will tell you that a man comes in, pulls a gun, ask for some clothes, but that Mitchell Siegel has a heart attack. There is no shooting, there is no blood.
To this date, it doesnt matter whether he died of a heart attack or whether he died of a shooting. What matters is that Jerry Siegels father died in a robbery. He died in a crime.
NORRIS: You know, people who follow Superman are sometimes obsessive about Superman trivia. So Id like you to help me distinguish between fact and a fiction involving the story now that youve actually dug into this. You went back to Cleveland, there really is a red and blue house back in Cleveland?
Mr. MELTZER: Its incredible. I said to myself, if Im going to do the research for this, I need to see where Superman was created. Its in Cleveland, Ohio, and I go back to the house. I assumed it will be something out of Norman Rockwell painting - that the apple pie would be right there on the porch. The place is a wreck. And Im not talking about it needs a little bit of paint. It is has giant holes in the wall, holes in the ceiling, its painted bright blue and red, real Superman colors, this is absolutely
NORRIS: Who painted these colors?
Mr. MELTZER: The owners, I think, who are currently there painted it Superman colors years ago. And you cant miss it. Its a rough place.
NORRIS: There are also interesting details in the story. Theres one in particular that I love. Theres a search for a weapon. And someone goes into a series of fast food restaurants, and they go straight to the mens room and then they sort of feel around inside the ceiling tiles looking for a firearm. And after a series, I think its four, or maybe five restaurants, they finally move a ceiling tile and they find one. And you write: Its hardly a perk of my job but its the same in every crap neighborhood in America. Show me a local fast food joint and Ill show you where the kids are hiding their guns. Did you make this up or is this
Mr. MELTZER: I didnt make
NORRIS: something you tripped upon your research?
Mr. MELTZER: No, I didnt make it up. Thats absolutely true. I went out with homeless outreach workers and I said, I need to know how your job works. And I said, where do you find weapons? Where do people hide weapons? And they said, oh, go to Burger King. Go to any Burger King, go to any McDonalds in a bad neighborhood, go into the bathroom, push up the ceiling tile and feel around, and eventually, youre going to find a gun. Because these kids cant bring them to school, they wont bring them home and they need some place to hide them, put it right in the book.
NORRIS: Brad, when you talk about Superman, I see in here not just a 38-year-old man but some shadings of an eight-year-old boy. You love Superman, didnt you?
Mr. MELTZER: I love Superman. I love Batman. I, you know, anyone who loves these characters loves them from when they were child. And I know that part of this is just me and some vain attempt to regain hair and youth. But its what I love. And I dont love it because I just want to play with my action figures and sit in the corner and read my books like I used to. I love them because of what they say about us. The first morality tales we ever read are superhero comics. Thats where you first see whether the good guys win and whether the bad guys win. And it matters. It shapes us as a society.
If you look back at the Great Depression and you look at which comic strips were popular, they were Flash Gordon and Tarzan - characters designed to transport us elsewhere. It was the Depression, no one wanted to be in the reality. And then here comes World War II, Americas scared and terrified and suddenly, Superman arrives, ready to save us all, takes off.
Now, here go we are 9/11. Remember the first big blockbuster after 9/11? It was Spider-Man. Once again, were a country thats terrified and we want someone to save us. Now, look who weve nominated for the president of the United States. We havent nominated politicians, were looking for heroes. McCain is someone who has - fought the bad guys with his bare hands, Obamas someone whos the great hope to half of America. This is all not coincidence. We are starving for heroes.
NORRIS: Brad Meltzer, its been a pleasure to talk to you. Thanks for coming in.
Mr. MELTZER: Thank you.
NORRIS: Brad Meltzers latest book is called The Book of Lies.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.