I suppose it’s somewhat meta to reach out to the author of the book that inspired The Social Network about his new book, The Antisocial Network on AN ACTUAL SOCIAL NETWORK, but when used as a force for good, platforms like Twitter can help you get in touch with people whose work you admire in record time and with near zero friction.
It was through this miracle of modern connectivity that I got in touch with one of my favorite authors, Ben Mezrich.
After last week’s Books & Biceps issue where I recommended Bitcoin Billionaires, a bunch of you wrote me thanking me for such a timely rec (bitcoin has been soaring since late last week and yes, it’s all likely because of our newsletter here). Buoyed by the fact that people were into the book, I decided to reach out to the author, Ben Mezrich, about the new book he has coming out on September 7th, The Antisocial Network, to see if he’d want to be our guest in this week’s behind-the-book Three Questions.
Within hours, he said ‘yes’, and we were on our way. Big thanks to Ben for doing this and I hope you enjoy this awesome Q&A.
THREE ANSWERS w/ BEN MEZRICH
Because I’ve read a ton of your books, from Bringing Down the House to The Accidental Billionaires to Bitcoin Billionaires, whenever a wild story involving money or technology breaks through and trends on Twitter or makes its way to national news, I think to myself, I wonder if this is book-worthy for Ben Mezrich? What are some of the hooks a story has to have for you to decide, “yes, this is my next book”?
For me to dive into a story, there usually needs to be something big, explosive, and revolutionary about it. Vegas, Facebook, GameStop, woolly mammoths, UFOs – there has to be some hook you could imagine millions of people all over the world getting excited about. There also has to be some sort of “smart young people taking on the system” element; I love David vs Goliath stories. Usually also, I have to be able to tell the story in a single sentence: “six MIT kids who took Vegas for millions” or “the GameStop short squeeze and the amateur traders who took down Wall Street” both fit the bill!
When you zero in on a story like your new book, how much research into things like GameStop, WallStreetBets and stuff like Short Squeezes do you have to do before you know it’s going to be compelling enough for a book? Do you ever start the research on a project and bail because after looking under the hood it’s not that great/interesting/entertaining?
Yes, I have to do tons of research and legwork. I’m not really an expert in anything until I write about it – so I spend a lot of time on the phone with the main characters learning everything I can. I’ve developed really good spidey-sense at this point so I know from the first few minutes of talking to someone about a story whether it’s something worth writing. So I don’t usually go far and then have to stop. If I’m in, I’m in.
One of the hallmarks of your writing is taking a true story with real people involved and writing it as if it was a fast-paced fiction thriller…. Do you have an idea about the main characters that you want to follow beforehand? Or do you conduct your research and interviews and at some point say, “alright, this is my number one guy, he’s my main character?”
A little of both. I usually know who the main characters are before I start writing a book. Sometimes when I’m researching I do meet someone or see something and realize there’s a cool subplot or segue that I want to go into. But usually my stories are driven by the characters who live them – they drive the narrative and shape the plot – so my job is really to make them come alive as best I can!
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Jon Finkel is the award-winning author of Hoops Heist, The Life of Dad, Jocks In Chief, The Athlete, Heart Over Height, “Mean” Joe Greene and more. His books have been endorsed by everyone from Mark Cuban and Tony Dungy to Spike Lee, Kevin Durant and Chef Robert Irvine. He has written for GQ, Men’s Health, Yahoo! Sports, The New York Times and has appeared on CBS: This Morning, Good Morning Texas, and hundreds of radio shows, podcasts and streams.
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