Name: Brad Herzog
City: Pacific Grove
J.: You’ve done a lot of different sorts of writing, but you’re primarily known as a travel writer, specifically about road-tripping by RV. How did that start?
Brad Herzog: My wife and I were living in Chicago and had been married about two years. I turned to her one day and said, “How would you like to quit your job and buy a big RV and travel around the country for a year, and I’ll try to write a book about it?” And to my surprise she said, “Sure.” We traveled through 48 states, about 35,000 miles over 314 days. It was a magical, enlightening experience — especially for a young writer. I was 27; it was a good age to do it. You’re still open to wonder but old enough to appreciate the journey.
You wrote a book about that experience and got to promote it during a game show appearance, which led to a long-running gig with the RV Industry Association. Sounds like an interesting evolution.
For the first 10 months “States of Mind” sold sporadically. Then in the spring of 2000 I wound up a contestant on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” at the very peak of the phenomenon. I made it into the hot seat and wound up winning $64,000. I bantered with [host] Regis Philbin and mentioned my book. And within 24 hours, it was the seventh best-selling book on Amazon. Over the next month, I saw my photo in People magazine and Time magazine. I did an interview with Matt Lauer on the “Today” show. My wife and I were on “Oprah.” My 15 minutes of fame got extended a bit. And the folks at the RV Industry Association saw me on TV talking about how much fun we had on our RV journey and offered to test us out as national spokespeople. They rehired us year after year for 17 years, during which we did more than 300 local and some national TV interviews. And I wrote hundreds of blog posts on their behalf.
You got yourself in hot water with the RV group recently over a fundraising campaign you and your wife started to fund a picture book for adults, “D Is for Dump Trump: An Anti-Hate Alphabet.” What’s the story there?
Over the course of those 17 years, I published about 25 books on a variety of topics — everything from civil rights to soccer — for kids and adults. Amy and I started a little publishing venture called Why Not Books. One day last spring I started writing a satirical alphabet poetry book about one of the most public figures on the planet, Donald Trump. And Amy, who had been taking art classes, started drawing illustrations to go with each poem. We printed it on demand for several weeks and got great feedback. So we decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise $7,500. That campaign started on June 28. On June 29, we were fired [by the RVIA].
Our goal was to promote exploring and love of exploring to all Americans. But when our higher-ups in a fairly conservative industry found out that we’re “California liberals” and that we had another life aside from our RVIA roles, they scrubbed entirely my blog posts from the GoRVing.com website. That’s pretty chilling.
So how’s it going with “Dump Trump”?
A lot of people were ticked off about how we were treated and what that might imply about freedom of expression away from the workplace. So it became a local and then national story. We had about 50 backers when we were fired. But by the end of the Kickstarter campaign, we had 975 backers from around the world who had pledged more than $40,000. I wouldn’t recommend losing the bulk of your livelihood to boost a Kickstarter campaign, but I suppose there’s some bittersweet karma.
Why Not Books works closely with a number of nonprofits, right?
We usually partner each of our publications with a nonprofit organization, and from the beginning we planned to donate $1 for every copy sold of “D Is for Dump Trump” to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization teaching tolerance and fighting hate.
Where did you grow up? What was your family like?
I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago with a twin brother and a little sister and happy suburban childhood. I was bar mitzvahed, we went to synagogue a few times a year.
Do you see Jewish values or your Jewish background come into your work at all?
I’m not a religious person at all now. I’m a cultural Jew, but the values with which I was raised and the awareness of historical intolerance against the Jewish community certainly have played a role in informing who I am today.
“Talking with …” focuses on local Jews who are doing things we find interesting. Send suggestions to email@example.com.