Q: Where did Heroes For My Daughter come from?
Six years ago, on the night my daughter was born, I began writing this book for her. I did the same for my sons when I wrote “Heroes For My Son.” And yes, for two years now, my daughter’s been asking, “Where the heck’s my book?” But as for where this book actually came from, in these past few years, my mother died after losing her battle with breast cancer. And in the past year, I also lost my Dad and my grandmother (who’s one of the heroes in here). It’s been a heck of a year. And as I wrote this book, I was forced to look to the world for women (and men) who, like my own parents, could serve as ideals for my daughter.
Q: What are some of the attributes you wanted to emphasize for your daughter over those you did for your son?
To be honest, I really thought both books would be the same — as a dad, I wanted to treat my daughter and sons exactly the same. But when I handed in the manuscript for my daughter’s book, the editor came back with a surprising reply. She noticed that I kept overusing one word throughout the manuscript. That word? Fighter. By my editor’s count, fourteen of the fifty profiles had the word “fight” or “fighter” in it.
As she pointed out, “Some of them, like Abigail Adams, Winston Churchill, Hannah Senesh, Thurgood Marshall, were literally fighters, so of course the term should stay there.” But I also used it with Audrey Hepburn, Helen Keller, Teddy Roosevelt, Nancy Brinker—even with Lisa Simpson and the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama! Even in the pacifist, I sought a fighter. And yes, that probably highlights my lack of descriptive ability. And how overprotective I am. But it also shows that — and I’m just being honest here — I do want my daughter to learn how to fight.
It’s the dream that links every single hero I picked for her. As I now often tell my daughter Lila, no matter what stage of life you’re in, when you want something — no matter how impossible it seems — you need to fight for it. When you believe in something, fight for it. And when you see injustice, fight harder than you’ve ever fought before.
Q: Was there anything that you found out from talking to readers of Heroes For My Son on book tours or over the web that you’ve applied to this book?
My readers know the best heroes. So many of the ones they sent me — through Facebook, or Twitter, via email or on book tour — so many of those heroes made it into the book. Alexandra Scott…Wangari Maathai…I’d never have heard of them if it weren’t for my readers.
Q: Who was the most unlikely hero that you included in the book, and why were they included?
The Three Stooges. Oh yes — I put them in there. My wife hates them. But what people don’t know is they were the very first ones to take on Adolf Hitler in film. These three subversives. Gotta share that with my daughter. (Though my wife still thinks they’re not funny).
Q: A point was made to not only include women in this book, but to also include men. Why was this so important for you?
I included women like Mother Teresa and Anne Sullivan in the book for my son. Would I really be doing any justice for my daughter if I told her only women could be heroes? Plus, I gave her really good ones. Like Ben Franklin. Few men are as cool as Ben Franklin.
Q: Were there any heroes that your wife (or daughter) specifically wanted in the book?
I did 50 brand new heroes for my daughter. But there were six heroes that I felt were worth repeating from Heroes For My Son — a sort of hall of fame that I felt needed to be there for my daughter: Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart, Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt and Lucille Ball. Plus I again included my Mom. C’mon. It’s my Mom.
Q: There’s a great deal of care given to the selection of the images used for both Heroes books, can you talk about that process?
For me, the stories we tell about the heroes isn’t about just their accomplishments. It’s also about how ordinary their beginnings were. Indeed, no one is born a hero. So when it came to pictures, I always look for ones that aren’t the “usual” ones. I like the ones that remind us they’re just like us. And thanks to the research for my novels — and for Decoded — we have great friends at the National Archives and the Library of Congress who were willing to dig for ones few people have seen before.
Q: If the book was one page longer, who would have made it in?
My wife’s grandmother, Sara Flam, who my daughter is named after. But I already had my own grandmother and mother in there — plus my wife. I couldn’t make it a family album.
Q: Any heroes you’re particularly proud of?
Sheila Spicer — my ninth grade English teacher. The first person who told me I could write. I owe her forever for that.