An Interview with Matt Richtel, author of HOOKED

I became acquainted with Matt Richtel several years ago by way of the New York Times, where he’s a reporter and I’m a freelance contributor (which is to say he makes more money and enjoys health care benefits).

Matt was enthused about my first novel and did his best to get it covered in the Times, however the editor at the time took a pass to Matt’s pitch. I always appreciated the effort.

Now that Matt has published his own first novel it’s my turn to return the favor, giving Matt a little electronic ink here on JOEyGADGET.

The novel is the well received high-tech thriller Hooked, and here are Matt’s answers to my couple of questions about the writing life, the married life, and whether Hooked is a once-in-a-lifetime effort or will we see more fiction by Matt Richtel in the future.

JG: Rather than raised by wolves as I was, you were raised by readers. Have you always been a reader of fiction yourself, or more a non-fiction man, on account of your career as a journalist?

MR: Fiction Man (sounds like an ad for a cologne, or the name of a superhero who confuses people into submission by reading to them from James Joyce). I love getting swept up and lifted away by great fiction. Non-fiction, when I connect to it, is a great experience too. That usually entails very accessible writing and a compelling narrative. Also, I have to have enough brain space to permit engagement. But those are high hurdles in my book, and I don’t get over them as often in non-fiction.

JG: Were any particular novelists influential as far as style or voice
or in any other way?

MR (a.k.a. The “Fiction Man” cologne man): At this point, I don’t think I draw from others’ voices or styles but there are things I hope to accomplish – that I’ve particularly appreciated in other books:

– stories based on emotion and character
– fast, compelling reads
– a satisfying, even surprise, ending
– that sheds light on the rest of the book and even makes you see the book differently

These are basic tenets I hold to. I’ve loved a lot of books that I’m sure have influenced me in some way:

As a kid, I read Robert Ludlum and imagined myself a spy. And tried to read non-fiction history, and imagined myself as serious and scholarly as my father. I once was influenced by Douglas Adams and Rick Reilly (from Sports Illustrated) but have long since seen the limitations of my sense of humor and the fact they can’t be mimicked. Favorite fiction works over the years that have stuck with me include Confederacy of Dunces, Lolita, Catch 22, The Magus (John Fowles), Catcher in the Rye, various things by Kurt Vonnegut, and a ton of other books I can’t seem to recall at the moment…

Non-fiction: In Cold Blood, Into Thin Air, The Executioner’s Song (transcendent), and some anthropology, The Third Chimpanzee and The Selfish Gene. My tastes lately are varied and voracious In the last year or so, I’ve particularly enjoyed: Cormac McCarthy (the road, no country for old men, blood meridian), David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas); Jonathan Lethem (motherless brooklyn, guns with occasional music); Jonathan Safran Foer (everthing is illuminated, exremely loud and incredibly close); Jeannette Walls (The Glass Castle – GREAT non-fiction), Walter Mosely (the only writer whose books I collect; otherwise, our house is a library where you don’t have to return what you check out). Recent thriller/mystery reads: Lee Child, David Liss, Dennis Lehane, T. Jefferson Parker.

JG: Phew, that’s quite a list. Let’s take a breather from fiction for a moment and change the subject to tech. You’re a tech-savvy guy, so what do you think of the iPhone?

MR: Neat. Cool. Futuristic. Wouldn’t spend the $600.

JG: You know Madonna was pissed when Kevin Costner said her concert was “neat” in her film Truth or Dare. I wonder if Steve Jobs is touchy that way too. Anyway, speaking of movies, any chance we’ll see a movie adaptation of Hooked?

MR (a.k.a. Kevin Costner impersonator): Always a chance, but so far no one have stepped up to buy the movie rights and the chance to make zillions of dollars on what clearly is a zillion-dollar project just waiting to be made (perhaps we should upgrade our “make a zillion dollars” marketing pitch.

J.G. Your editor is the esteemed Jonathan Karp, who is also publisher of Twelve – an innovative press that which aims to fully focus all energies on one book per month. You were June’s pinup boy. Did the Twelve come through as promised?

MR: Karp. The Twelve. It was like having a Porsche for my first car. First class all the way. Attentive editing, a strong publicity and marketing effort, easy back-and-forth with Karp. I’d recommend it for anyone. From that perspective, I feel blessed by my association with the Twelve. The book has had a solid commercial run but has not been a national bestseller. Does that mean that things could have been done better? I tell you in all candor that I have no idea. I would imagine, given Karp’s track record, that he second guesses himself at times. I do not know for a fact. I think the reality is that it is not possible to will or create a bestseller, particularly something perceived as mystery/thriller genre. If that sounds passive/aggressive, I don’t mean it to. I have been incredibly fortunate.

 JG: Since you’d recommend it for anyone, I accept. Though with only 12 books a year I’m sure they’re booked out for the foreseeable future. Oh well… Anyway, getting back to you! June has come and gone. Without being too passive/aggressive, can you tell us what’s life like now? MR: The six months that surround a book release are the most narcissistic of the author’s life. He cannot believe that everyone in the world is not focused on this momentous event – how sales are going, where the book is placed in bookstores, how handsome the author is. Waiters, bus drivers, still-life on billboards – how come they’re not all thinking of this topic at all times. Then, one day, six weeks later, said author awakens and goes: holy #&^&, have I been this self-absorbed? What came over me? Will I ever be the same? What must it be like to be J.K. Rowling. In short, it’s good to be me again, though it was a hell of a self-absorbed ride.

It’s very flattering/encouraging/gratifying to have so many people step up to support and share the experience – friends, family, friends of family. I think they get just a little swept up in the excitement, but mostly are looking to lend encouragement and $24.99 to a friend. That’s nothing to take for granted. Outside of my wedding, I’ve never had this kind of community come to my side and I don’t look askance at it.

JG: Ah, I’m glad you mentioned marriage. On your site you describe the ending of a relationship as the inspiration that started you writing Hooked. You also state you’re now married, but you don’t state whether it’s happily so or not. Does that mean you’re unhappily married?

MR: Talk about nit-picky. First off, I never expected anyone to get to the last line of my bio, or I would have thought my language through more closely. Second, what other kind of marriage is there, other than happy?
does that clear things up?**

JG: Okay, okay, sorrrrr-yyyy for asking. Since I now seem to be skating on thin ice with my probing questions I’ll take only another minute of your time. Inquiring minds want to know: Is there another novel in the works? If so, can you tell us a little about it?

MR (a.k.a. Mr. Happy <see ** footnote>): I’m 108 pages into a book called “Idle’s Mind.” It’s about memory. And commitment. And living in the digital age where our gadgets are much better at remembering things than we are. But without the human touch.

JG: And a nice finishing touch to our Q & A. Thanks, Matt, and keep on writing fiction so someday you can quit your day job.


Also by Matt Richtel:

Rudy Park: The People Must Be Wired

Peace, Love, Lattes: A Rudy Park Collection (Rudy Park Collections)


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