David James Pelzer was born 29th December 1960 in California. The second of five boys, Dave is the son of San Francisco fireman, Stephen Joseph Pelzer and Catherine Roerva Christen Pelzer. His origins and traumatic childhood can be followed through his first memoir A Child Called “It” (1995), which tells the story of his abusive childhood at the hands of his mother and brothers.
After years of abuse (much of which has been reiterated to shocked readers in his brother Richard’s book, A Brother’s Journey), Dave’s teachers took action in March 1973, meaning that the then 12-year-old Dave was placed into foster care. Years later, in 1979, Dave joined the Air Force, but later, in an attempt to make sense of these experiences, he decided to write about them, thus beginning his career as a world-renowned author, speaker and recognised humanitarian.
So thank you for agreeing to chat to us today, we’re very proud to be able to meet someone who has been through difficult times but who has come out the other side brighter and happier than most people can claim to be!
Q: So we’ll start with an easy one- being so busy, how often do you make time to relax and what does this involve?
– I relax all the time. First off, I have a job I so enjoy and with every day I find something to laugh about or take in a light hearted way. When off duty, I sit outside, pray and literally count my blessings and this helps keeps me grounded. And, I love movies, playing piano and of course, having a cigar.
Q: You have quite the reputation- “Dave is a living testament of a self-made man, who as an optimist exudes resilience, service to mankind, personal responsibility, and faith in humanity”. How do you feel about being seen in such a light?
– For years I was labelled as “The Child Abuse Guy,” and I was really trying to push the boundaries way beyond that label. The point I was trying to convey was EVERYBODY at one time or another faces situations that can be unfair, overwhelming and devastating, yet, if we, as individuals can muster the fortitude and courage to try to better ourselves, we in fact become better and stronger from the challenge, which to me is a far more universal message that everyone can hopefully draw from.
Q: You often give speeches and talks across America. What generally are people’s reactions to these?
– For the most part the reactions are very positive! I always try to do something folks aren’t expecting. By that, I may talk partly about my past as a child, but only use it as a qualifier, stepping stone, on what I learned from the situations and how I can therefore offer advice to others that are facing challenging episodes. With every presentation I do, I try my best to offer everyone as much as I can while being light hearted, and throwing in some humour as well. Over the last twenty plus years presenting, I’ve learned if I’m relaxed speaking on a subject that can be horrendous for others to hear, then hopefully they can walk away with an unexpected message that can better their lives.
Q: What has been the most touching/inspirational fan letter than you have received?
– After so many, many years and literally hundreds of thousands of letters, I don’t know if there’s that single one that sticks out, and, because our office receives correspondence from all walks of life- kids, survivors of abuse, and military members just to name a few. At times, I’ll actually carry letters with me wherever I go as a form of having that personal connection. Even after all these years I’m amazed that folks would take the time to sit down pick out a card and speak from their heart.
Q: It was undeniably brave of you to write your memoir A Child Called “It”; did you ever dream that this personal account of your horrific childhood would become a best-seller on an international level?
– A Child Called “It” was basically a “thank you” letter to my teachers that I gave them on the 20th year of my anniversary of being rescued. And while I knew that the book had an impact with folks who passed it around to family and friends in an almost voracious manner, I never in my wildest dreams thought that book would obtain the levels that it did. It is nothing short of amazing, as well as an absolute honour.
Q: We can imagine such a success would have been bitter-sweet. How does the success of your books make you feel?
– The success of the books is bitter-sweet. I’d rather be known for my other efforts, my humanitarian efforts, only so I can accomplish more and truly make a difference.
Q: It seems fair to say that since the release of A Child Called “It” in 1995, there have been a large amount of similar memoirs published by other people who have haunting stories to tell. Do you feel your work set a precedent for basically a new/never released before genre of writing?
– I’m not sure if A Child Called “It” set any precedent per-say, as I always believed the book was about resilience and the triumph of the human spirit on the most basic level. Yet if others can tell their story, and step-up, and truly wish to help others, I think that’s great!
Q: Who is your hero in life?
– I am basically an old fashioned romantic, so I love my teachers, social workers, foster parents, and anyone who gives of their heart to assist others. I also love fire-fighters and those in law enforcement, as well as those in the military who always perform their duties without any fanfare and against enormous odds. In other words, I’m for anyone (and I mean anyone) who might be the underdog who everyday summons the courage to carry on!
Q: What is the current book on your night-stand?
– Besides my extremely worn bible, I read a lot of history, looking for how past events influence our future. I just completed the book 15 Minutes by Steve Young. It is about the intensity of the Cold War and now I’m reading War by Sebastian Junger.
Q: Finally, here at World of Books we are dedicated to providing good-quality second-hand books to the public. By sourcing a large amount of our books from charities, we are also able to support their cause, often sending books out to developing countries and recently to UK based Army barracks. Any book we can’t sell, we recycle; last year alone we saved 12,500 metric tonnes of waste from going to landfill sites. In a world with an ever-growing digital media base, and increasing environmental concerns, do you believe in the importance of giving each physical book the chance of a new home?
– I’m proud to say that after reading thousands of books I have a small, but what I consider a rather rare, library. It’s a life-time collection, including books from my childhood. And while I understand the new commercial aspects of the publishing field, to me nothing will ever replace the sensation of picking up and flipping through pages of one’s favourite story while sitting in a quiet corner.