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The Jewish John Grisham
Bethesdas Brad Meltzer writes one best-seller after another

by Aaron Leibel
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
January 11, 2001

WASHINGTON, Jan. 11 — If Brad Meltzer weren't writing books, he'd probably be working in a large law firm, repaying college loans.
Instead the Bethesda resident may be on his way to becoming the next John Grisham.
Meltzer, 30, already has cranked out two novels The Tenth Justice and Dead Even that were on The New York Times best-seller list, and his third, The First Counsel, which came out last week, seems to have the ingredients needed to make him and his publisher more big bucks.
He credits his Jewish background with helping him succeed in the literary world. Someone once asked me if any of my characters are Jewish, Meltzer says. I said, 'They're all Jewish because that's what I know.'
For example, is Ben Addison in The Tenth Justice Jewish? No. But his mother loves to overfeed him and all his friends and loves to take out baby pictures when his friends come over. And he loves to roll his eyes and say, 'Oh, come on, mom.' Is that Jewish? Of course, it is.
In a conventional sense, however, Meltzer concedes his Jewish background has been a little shaky. He was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and became bar mitzvah in an Orthodox shul. But he had to read his Haftorah in English phonetics, for he had failed to learn to read Hebrew.
However, his wife's influence and a visit to Israel have him learning to read Hebrew (I wanted to be able to go to services without remaining silent) and the two are synagogue shopping now.
His first venture into the world of book writing was less than successful. After finishing undergraduate school at the University of Michigan, he took a job at a Boston magazine called Games to pay off some of his college loans. However, the person at the magazine who had induced him to work there left shortly after he started working.
Frustrated, Meltzer began to work on a novel in his spare time.
It was published by Kinko's, he says, joking. After receiving his 23rd and 24th rejection letters in one week, he was determined to write another book. If they didn't like that one, I'll write another, he remembers telling himself.
Meltzer began writing The Tenth Justice (Warner Books), a story that examines the power of U.S. Supreme Court clerks, while a student at Columbia Law School. I was daydreaming in class and the idea came to me, he says. It was published in 1997.
Meltzer stayed with the law in his next novel, Dead Even, which dealt with a New York City assistant district attorney.
He was researching White House lawyers when he wondered, What would happen if a 'first daughter' dated a White House counsel?
The result is The First Counsel, in which, he says, the attorney sees something he wasn't supposed to see on their date and that has an effect on everyone including the president.
I wanted to write the best book I could and legal thrillers came out, he says.
I don't know where the ideas come from, the author says. I just say 'Thank God for that.'
Meltzer says success hasn't changed him. Success doesn't make me a better person," he says. ``It just means that I get to sit at home and write. If it means more than that, smack me in the head. ``Writing is all that I want to do," he adds. ``How lucky am I!'' Indeed.

© JTA Inc., 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission


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