Bestselling Author Saves Landmark By 'Ordinary' Means

Brad Meltzer & the Siegel House

After years of reading about Superman saving ordinary people, it's time to put a new spin on the story.

Ordinary people saved Superman's house.

Last spring, best-selling novelist Brad Meltzer started the charitable organization Ordinary People Save the World in an effort to raise enough money to restore the home where Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel grew up. Meltzer had visited the house while doing research for Book of Lies, which centers around the murder of Siegel's father.

"I entered that house the same way Cal does in the book. Me and Mike San Giacomo knocked on the front door and talked our way in," said Meltzer, whose Book of Lies novel was just released in paperback. "That visit changed my life, especially with what we found there -- not just for the plot of the book, but in terms of the condition of the house. I was just heartbroken when I saw it. Mike knew the condition was bad, but I think he was in shock too. So I kept telling everyone the story, and every person I told kept saying, 'Just tell me what you need me to do.'"

Meltzer, who writes comic books along with his novels and has always admired the Superman creators, decided to do something about saving the house. By launching his Ordinary People Change the World website and starting an outreach effort to the comic book community, Meltzer and his friends who donated comic-related items for auction raised more than $100,000.

"Our goal was to raise $50,000 to work on the outside," he said. "In the end, we raised $101,000. So work is now going on in the inside as well. It was just beautiful. For me, especially with all the petty infighting that goes on in comics, this was the best everyone-together victory in the comic book world in a long time."

Meltzer said his main motivation for saving the house was simply the history. "Joe Shuster's house was in such bad condition, they had to knock it down. We didn't want that happening to the Siegel one," he said. "And luckily, friends like Jim [Lee], and Neil [Gaiman], and Brian [Bendis], and Jeph [Loeb] and Geoff [Johns], and so many others thought the same. They donated the best stuff. We just had the site."

The writer said the restoration was also the result of a lot of hard work from the Siegel & Shuster Society. While the comic book community took care of the funding, "they did all the heavy lifting," Meltzer said. "The people of Cleveland did that. We owe them forever for getting it done."

As a result, the Siegel house will have an official ribbon-cutting ceremony this summer to unveil the restored home to the public.

"The roof, the siding, the cement...so much has been done to this place," Meltzer said. "They even repainted it back to historic colors -- honestly, I kinda liked the red and bright blue, but history won in this one. The only thing that made me crazy was the dark green trim. Green on Superman's house? A bunch of us screamed bloody Kryptonite, but again, it's good to have the history. And from what I hear, we'll have a great showing by the Siegel family for the big unveiling. So if you're anywhere near Cleveland, hope you'll join us."

Now that the Siegel project has exceeded Meltzer's expectations, he's hoping to continue the work of Ordinary People Change the World by raising money for a new cause.

"So now, if people go to www.OrdinaryPeopleChangeTheWorld.com, they'll see us raising money for City Year, an organization that my wife and I recently helped bring to Miami -- but is one of the premier service organizations around the world," Meltzer said. "It's like a Peace Corps for the United States, and it empowers kids 17 to 24 years old. All we're asking is for people to give one dollar. Just one. Watch the video on the site."

And Meltzer's efforts to honor heroes like Jerry Siegel doesn't stop there. It's spilling over into the novelist's writing career. As announced this week, Meltzer is writing Heroes for My Son, a collection of stories about people he considers heroes, such as the Wright Brothers, Jim Henson, and others.

"I started writing the book seven years ago, when my son was born," he said. "It's filled with stories of my favorite heroes. A book just for him."

The book is scheduled to be released in June 2010, just in time for Father's Day.

But with all the hero-worshipping going on, one thing that Meltzer kept repeating is that the real heroes of this story are the ordinary people in the comic book community that made a difference.

"All I can say is thank you," Meltzer said. "The government never cared about [the Siegel house]. Politicians didn't care about it. It was the writing and art community that did this. And it proves to me, once again, why I believe in the heroes I believe in."

For more details about City Year, visit OrdinaryPeopleChangetheWorld.com. And check back tomorrow when we talk to Meltzer more about Book of Lies, what he's doing to bring his novel readers to comics, and what he thinks of all the changes in the publishing industry.

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