Bestselling Author Ben Mezrich Answers Your Questions…

Bestselling Author, Ben MezrichFor the last two weeks, bestselling author Ben Mezrich has been reading your questions. He answered so many (thanks Ben!) that we are going to split his responses into two posts, one this week (now) and one next week. Find out what book Ben recommends, where (and when) he writes, and what "turns him on" (when it comes to what he likes to write about!). Take it away Ben...

I lack inspiration sitting at a computer I much prefer to write old style pen and paper in the corner of a coffee shop gives me a chance to people watch! How and where do you write? --SOMEBODY BEAR

I write in my writing cave, usually late at night but sometimes early in the morning. When I’m deep into a book I’ll write all night, starting at around 11 pm through 9 or 10 in the morning. I get into a deep state of trance, almost, and can write for days on end. I kind of fall apart physically.

I was wondering how you know that you're a good writer? I guess I'm asking how I can get my self esteem up to keep writing and not give up on any specific idea? --SARAH

Accidental Billionaires Cover Yes, you have to have a lot of confidence in yourself when you’re
starting out, because everyone around you will be skeptical, and you’ll
also feel like you’re being judged when you finally submit things to
publishers. You have to believe that this is what you do, this is all
that want to do, and this is something you can do better than anyone

there room for uncompromised natural writing styles - say for instance
that which is rich in detail and digression - perhaps even pushing a
few ‘prison yard’ boundaries? Or these days, would you say minimalist
instant gratification?

Whoah, that’s a pretty intense question. There is always room for
pushing boundaries- but there’s also something to be said for instant
gratification! I will say that as a first time writer, breaking in by
pushing boundaries is much more difficult than breaking in with
something people are comfortable with.

Are there some things that you could point to in your rejected projects that I should avoid? Would you say it was the topic, dialogue, plot, writing style, etc.? --ERNEST DEMPSEY

Yes, unless it’s memoir, try and avoid the first person, it kind of screams “first novel”. There are some great books on writing -- I’d pick up Albert Zuckerman’s book on writing thrillers. Every book, at its heart, has to follow the rules of thrillers, the three act system, etc.

Are you still a "hypochondriac?" Photos of you and the Bugman tell me that perhaps, times have changed.--MERLE GORNICK

 Hah, I am a hypochondriac but it’s under control. I still wash my hands 15 times a day and avoid plenty of things I think will get me sick. But nowadays, with swine flu, everyone is OCD and it’s cool. 

Rigged Book Cover It looks like you spent your early writing years concentrating on fiction, but later made a comfortable home in the non-fiction genre. What caused you to make the switch? And after “Bringing Down the House,” what was it about writing non-fiction that has kept you going for four more books? Do you still write/ plan on publishing more fiction in the future? --MATT

I love these true, wild stories that I write now, about young people
doing wild things and making fortunes. I switched because I ran into
these MIT kids in a bar and they invited me along for the ride. Now I
feel like this is my voice, what I want to write. I’ll probably do
fiction here and there, but the true stories turn me on.

Bringing_down_the_house I heard somewhere that you first met some members of the MIT blackjack team in a Boston bar, which led to your book, “Bringing Down the House.” Is that true? If so, how did your interaction with them make you decide it would be worthwhile to write a book about them? --ANNE

Yes, true. I met them at Crossroads, an MIT dive bar on the river. These were geeky, math science guys with way too much money, all of it in hundred dollar bills. I had to follow them to Vegas. The rest, as they say, is history!!!

The second set of answers is live! Keep reading...

Ben Mezrich (@BenMezrich) is the author of eleven books, including
six novels and five non-fiction titles. His bestsellers include
Bringing Down the House, a true story about a group of M.I.T. students
who swindled a series of Vegas casinos out of millions by counting
cards (the movie version was called “21”) and most recently The
Accidental Billionaires:
The Founding of Facebook, a tale of Sex,
Money, Genius and Betrayal.


Poets and Writers: First Sentence Excerpts

PWlogosmall-2-1-2_smallThere are few things as compelling as the first sentence of a great book. When done well, its power is absolute: it virtually commands you to read on, to invest in the story, to search for more clues about the characters, the setting, the conflict.

For many aspiring writers, the first sentence of their first serious novel can be a kind of torture. You know it’s hugely important, but you also have a full story to tell. So what do you do? You tear through your bookcase, yanking out your favorite tomes to see again how they begin, hoping upon hope that inspiration will arrive in the process.

Now, thanks to a content partnership with Poets & Writers (the organization, which publishes the magazine), you can get your inspiration delivered to you monthly right here. Page One, a regular feature in Poets & Writers magazine, presents a smattering of first sentences from newly released books. Here’s a quick selection:

  • "Val Carmichael credited Pete Stenning—who was always called ‘the Martian'—with getting him off the gin and on to the vodka." Liver: A Fictional Organ With a Surface Anatomy of Four Lobes (Bloomsbury, November 2009) by Will Self.

  • "I shook his hand for the first time in the spring of 1967." Invisible (Henry Holt, November 2009) by Paul Auster.

  • “In the beginning, Drago smelled of dirt and bloom, the odor that would rise if you peeled the earth back at its seams." Thirsty (Swallow Press, October 2009) by Kristin Bair O'Keeffe.

Check out more at Poets & Writers, then add your favorite—from books new or old—in the comments area below to help inspire your fellow WEbookers.


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Bestselling Author Ben Mezrich is Now Listening…

BenMezrichCTracyAiguier[1] Ben Mezrich is the author of eleven books, including six novels and five non-fiction titles. He’s been writing — not always successfully — since he left college and allegedly still keeps all 192 of the rejections he received pinned on the wall in his writing den. But Ben kept at it and success came. He sold a few novels then finally hit it VERY big with Bringing Down the House, a true story about a group of M.I.T. students who swindled a series of Vegas casinos out of millions by counting cards (the movie version was called “21”). The book sold over two million copies in twelve languages. Most recently, Ben published The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal, which spent 12 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List.
Now, here’s where you come in. For the next week (or so), you get to ask Ben questions Accidental Billionaires Cover_smallin the comments area below. About what? Well, anything, but Ben is a working writer who struggled to make it at first — like so many others — so maybe start there. In any case, Ben will pick the questions he finds the most compelling and answer them, Q&A style. If the questions are really good (or quirky or straight bizarre), maybe they’ll even be two parts to the Q&A. It all depends on you, the asker. Want to know a little more about Ben, to fine-tune your questions? He wrote a piece for the Boston Globe a while back that details how he got his start in writing.

So ask away. Ben is now listening...


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The Hard (but Fun) Part: Getting the Words Out


Continuing this week, Esther Cohen, author of five books, including Book Doctor, Don’t Mind Me And Other Jewish Lies, and God is a Tree,
will be contributing her new column entitled “My Writing Life.” In it, she'll be discussing everything and anything involved with the writing life...which pretty much includes everything and anything. Last week, she wrote about what makes a writer

“A story has no beginning or end: one arbitrarily chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.”

--Graham Greene       

Thank you all for writing to me last week. And for sending me your always interesting stories. I’ve been thinking about you and me all week: how we can help one another to write it all down, to tell the stories we all deserve to hear.

Telling stories is wonderful, and hard. If we are the creative types (and it seems like the people on WEbook fall into this category – at least the people are who I’ve met online this past week), we probably don’t know the story until we begin to tell it. We might know a few details of the characters lives: like, he was much too thin; her voice was gravelly and unpleasant; they never liked one another much, although they’d been married for years; her work was hard; she took care of sick elderly people. But she loved it; nearly as much as she’d loved her first husband, remarried the fourth time. Still living in Trinidad.

That we write it down, and how, is what we’re going to try to do together. Here’s a little about how I do it:

I’m sitting now in an actual writing room, in a library not far from my apartment. Many people are here with me. They all look anxious. Some seem as though they are writing interesting sentences, though it’s always hard to tell. You can’t tell just by looking at the writers what they’re actually writing. It’s possible to find out, if you have the patience. A woman near me holds what appears to be l,000 index cards. They are in light colors -- yellow, purple, blue, green, Dentyne red. Her system of paper clips is equally elaborate. She looks as if she’s turned OCD into an amazing art form. I have always admired organized people. I write on everything. Once, I had a paper bag full of poems. A roommate thought, she said later when she explained why she threw out the bag, that my poems were just scraps. I’d even written one along the outside of a white paper cup, a poem for drinks: cold hot, and luke. “I think/ I’ll have/a paper cup drink.” My roommate, a chanting Buddhist from Kansas City named Kelly, often cleaned up. For years, I imaged that my poems burned, and entered the clouds where my words spread out in a way they couldn’t have if chanting Kelly hadn’t made her mistake.

My real-life apartment, where I have lived for more than half my life, is rent-stabilized. In New York that sentence is equivalent to another: I will NEVER move. I can’t because I can actually afford my rent. Had I known I would live in my apartment forever, I would have chosen a larger apartment. But I didn’t know that. Not then.

I was in my 20’s. My friend Emily and I looked at nearly l00 apartments. Yes, there were that many apartments then. And I have always loved walking into other people’s lives, and the excuse to do just that: to see their coffee mugs, their books, their pens, all the details that they’d chosen to surround them, to accompany them, to be there with them while they lived. We found the apartment where I still live, over 30 years later, on a block that was called iffy by those people who knew about blocks. A couple lived here before me, with their daughter. Their taste was more or less opposite to mine: they had a bright gold shag rug, many mirrors, a neat couch tightly covered with see through plastic. The word for their space was clean.

My central criteria then, before I knew anything about what to look for in a home, was that the shadows in my bedroom crossed in the corners. How I came up with that as a criteria I actually don’t remember. But I had an idea that I wanted to sleep in a room with crossing shadows. I’d probably seen one once. The couple worked in a liquor store down the street. Their daughter was going into high school. They decided, they told us (Emily and I were dressed in gold and silver) that this was not a good place to raise a child. They were moving to Florida, and buying a Carvel concession. They would sell us their perfect couch for $25.00.

We took the apartment. We asked the super to remove the rug and the mirrors and the plastic covering from the couch. (He kept all three.) The couch was the oddest color of green: kind of pea soupy. Over the years hundreds of people stayed on that couch. That couch became their temporary home. I often thought the neat couple of origin would have been wildly unhappy to know what their space had become. (I think their name was Clark. Maybe not.) My building itself is so many stories: my first neighbor, Mrs. Israel, who confessed to me the week before she died that there had never been a Mr. Israel (she always said he died); the beautiful woman from Columbia who was actually a prostitute, and who counted a few famous men among her clientele; my friend Richard who suggested, nearly 30 years ago, that we have a secret building newsletter that we distribute to every other apartment, just to see if we’d get a reaction.

I promised you all a weekly poem. Here’s one, from a recent book I published about getting older, called God is a Tree.

Everyone is
And thinner
Than I am.
So what
So what
So what


Now it’s time for you to tell me your stories. Can you tell me something about who you are? Where would you like to begin that particular story? I’m very happy to be here with all of you, and anxiously await all you have to say.

Yours in Words,

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