Brad Meltzer wants to talk to you about his heroes. And he wants to hear about yours.
In his new book, Heroes for My Son (HarperStudio, $19.99), the father of three writes vignettes about famous people who inspired him, including the Wright brothers, Mother Teresa, Jackie Robinson, Nelson Mandela, Miep Gies, George H.W. Bush, Eleanor Roosevelt and - not surprising from a true comics enthusiast - Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, the creators of the first superhero (Superman). Meltzer also writes about more personal heroes, such as his grandfather Ben, who taught him to love stories, and his mother Teri, who told Meltzer on the worst day of his professional life, "I'd love you if you were a garbage man.''
"This is a book about great people,'' says Meltzer, who's well known for his bestselling legal thrillers (his next novel will be published in January). "The goal was to show the moment that makes someone great. . . . The Wright brothers crashed a lot. They knew they were going to fail. I want my son to hear that story.''
Meltzer, who appears 8 p.m. Friday at Books & Books in Coral Gables and 2 p.m. Saturday at Barnes & Noble in Boca Raton, is a South Florida boy through and through. Ask him how he felt after hearing that Hollywood's famous Deli Den closed, and he'll say, "I felt something go out of the universe.'' He's hoping readers will submit stories about their heroes at HeroesforMySon.com.
And don't worry, he hasn't forgotten his little girl.
"My daughter comes into my office every day and says, 'Where's my book?' '' he says, laughing. "She's worse than my editor.''
Q: How did you decide whom to include in the book?
A: It wasn't just like I said, îI need 14 entertainers, 14 historical figures, 14 sports figures.' I picked who I liked. Sometimes I'd pick who I liked, and the story wasn't there. And sometimes I learned something. Houdini has always been inspiring to me as a guy who could get out of anything, but I discovered this allegory to his life. I didn't know how horrible his life was that he had to escape it.
Q: Why is it important for kids - and adults - to have heroes?
A: I think what a hero is is an example. You can have morals. You can say 'Be good,' and that's fine. But when you have a hero . . . you have proof of that moral. Look at someone like Einstein or Rosa Parks or even Jim Henson. They're proof positive anything is possible. They're real examples of how someone does something impossible.
Q: How have your kids reacted to the book?
A: I was reading the book with my son Jonas, the intended audience, and I was reading him Roberto Clemente's story, the story about him helping earthquake victims and getting on the plane himself to personally ensure the medicine and food get to victims, and then the plane crashes. And I get to the part, and I'm all excited to have my son experience this moment … and I feel him shrink in my arms. I feel the air leaving his lungs; he's getting smaller. I realize that he's scared. He says, 'Dad, this is sad.' Now I realize it's the first time I've broken my son's heart. But at the same moment I know you can't teach the highs without the lows. The next day I was all terrified, but he comes in and bounces on the bed and says, 'Who are we gonna read tonight, Dad?' I love that he's excited to learn.
Q: You write that your kids are your heroes now. Why?
A: I just think, as any parent knows, you set out trying to teach your kids everything, and they wind up teaching you everything. You get a moment to relive your life, not through them but through all the things we pass as we get older and say, 'I've seen that a million times.' But for them it's new.