The Sirens of Suspense

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An Anthony Award-nominated website on all things mystery.

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Ben Mezrich graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 1991. He has published twelve books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Accidental Billionaires, which was adapted into the Academy Award-winning film The Social Network, and Bringing Down the House, which has sold more than 1.5 million copies in twelve languages and became the basis for the Kevin Spacey movie 21. Mezrich has also published the national bestsellers Sex on the Moon, Ugly Americans, Rigged, and Busting Vegas. He lives in Boston.


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BEN MEZRICH: Cilantro, the Greatest item1b

You started writing fiction (particularly sci-fi and thriller) then transitioned to non-fiction. What do you feel is the biggest difference in the way you approach the two types of writing? Has anything you’ve learned writing non-fiction improved your skills when you write fiction?

I kind of fell into non-fiction accidentally; basically, I was a struggling thriller writer, and I ran into the MIT kids who were taking Vegas for millions, joined up with them and convinced them to let me write their story. It became the movie 21, and after that, I became known for my nonfiction – but I always wanted to be a thriller writer. So even with my nonfiction, I always approached it as if I was writing a thriller that just happened to be true. Many of my research approaches have been similar; I like to get inside the story, to try and relive it as much as possible. Fiction has to feel true, and in my head, it is true; writing Seven Wonders, I really wanted to go over the top, to create an Indiana Jones-type character, but to base the science, history, and mythology in real research.


You’re the “go-to guy for brilliant people who do crazy things” - is there some insane genius out there you’d like to write about (current or past) if you could get the interview?

I would love to write the true story of Prince Harry (of England)—if he came to me, I think it would be the coolest nonfiction thriller. He’s not going to be King, but he lives this incredible life as royalty. But the royal family would never let me write it. Otherwise, I am still waiting for that next big genius to come to me. Maybe some kid will create artificial life, or find Big Foot. I’m ready for that phone call.


Why do you think your books receive such strong reactions, from readers as well as those involved in the story?

Well, first of all, I write stories that excite me, that are usually about people who take immense risks, who live outside the straight and narrow world and get involved in exotic adventures, often involving sex and money and danger, etc. – so what’s not to love? Also I think I’ve carved out a fairly unique style- nonfiction as thrillers, but also with Seven Wonders, building a thriller with nonfictional elements. I think this blend of fact and thrill-ride works for many people and upsets many others. So sometimes my books generate controversy. The idea of Mark Zuckerberg chasing girls and having sex in a bathroom stall is by its nature, a controversial scene.


SEVEN WONDERS will be joining the ranks of your books that have been made into films (21 and The Social Network among them), what have your experiences been in the process? Have you been able to participate to any degree in the screenplay or final product?

I’ve consulted on the screenplays, been on set for much of 21 and some of The Social Network, and with Seven Wonders, I’m involved from the very beginning- Seven Wonders actually began during a phone call with Brett Ratner, the director, who suggested that if I could come up with a plot involving the Seven Wonders of the World, he could set up a franchise movie. The book came from that conversation, and now we are making a trilogy of films with Fox around this character. I’ve been very lucky— both of my films were amazing, and I had great experiences. Kevin Spacey and Dana Brunetti and Mike Deluca are the best producers you could ask for, and then Scott Rudin, Aaron Sorkin, and David Fincher, who all came on for The Social Network, are true geniuses. I got to participate in many aspects, and then ended up at the Oscars when Sorkin won for the screenplay— so you can’t ask for much more than that.


You aimed for a different demographic with BRINGING DOWN THE MOUSE, a children’s book about a young math wizard who tries to bring down a theme park. Will we be seeing more of the series? 

Yes, so Bringing Down the Mouse is about a group of young kids who use math and science to beat carnival games, and they take down a big amusement park. It’s a sort of young version of the nonfiction I write. I am planning a series involving the characters, hoping to do one a year.


What’s coming next for you?

Seven Wonders was such an amazing experience, I’m planning to write a couple more following the main character, an anthropologists obsessed with ancient cultures, through some wild adventures. I also hope to be involved in the movies, as they are developed. If Seven Wonders takes off, I would like to write those for a while. I also have a new nonfiction next year, but it’s still under wraps…


Last question, is Pharrell really happy?

Pharrell is the best, and yes, he seems very happy. I met him when I did his internet show (check it out on YouTube!), and it was a wild experience. Halfway into the interview, a naked woman came onto the set and served drinks. There was no warning, so you can see how shocked we were. Pharrell is a great guy, and I’ve stayed in touch. Would love to work with him again!





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Book he wishes he could read again for the first time: THE SUN ALSO RISES.

Greatest fear: Ebola. Not really. I hate cilantro.

One thing he wishes he had known when he started writing : That grammar doesn't really matter..

Favorite independent bookstore: I don't want to pick favorites, but I love the Harvard Book Store, also the Harvard Coop, Brookline Booksmith, and Edgartown Books in Edgartown, MV. Also there are many other wonderful ones.

If he could have one superpower: Invicibility.

If he could invite four people to a dinner party: Michael Crichton, Hunter S. Thompson, Ernest Hemingway, Jim Morrison. That would be a hell of a party.