Ben Mezrich, the bestselling author of Bringing Down the House and The Accidental Billionaires (which was adapted into The Social Network), joins Zibby to discuss his latest thriller, The Antisocial Network. The book chronicles the GameStop stock scandal that took place earlier this year. Ben discusses why his stories often read very cinematically, his unusual path to becoming a writer, and the ways in which his young kids’ internet habits reveal our society’s economic future.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Ben. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss The Antisocial Network.

Ben Mezrich: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to talk about it.

Zibby: I also love, by the way, that basically, you infuse all of your stuff with your own parenting and being a father, from your profiles about you trying to put eyedrops in your son’s eyes to, in this book, talking about Roblox and Fortnite. I have kids too. We are a Roblox family. I bought them all shares in stock when it came out. I’m like, “You guys are going to fund the rest of this.” I really appreciated that element of your story.

Ben: My kids are central to everything I do, especially in the pandemic because they’re in the same room most of the time. Now they’re eleven and nine. It’s pretty, as you know, full time. All of my books kind of have something to do with kids, at least since they’ve been around.

Zibby: It’s nice to hear. Not to make this sound so gendered, but not all male authors do that. Not all women authors do either, but it’s just very nice to see it from the dad’s perspective.

Ben: Thank you.

Zibby: Can you tell listeners who might not be familiar with The Antisocial Network, what it’s about and how you stumbled on this particular story and decided to make it into a book in real time as you did?

Ben: The Antisocial Network is really about the whole GameStop drama that people remember back in January at the height of the pandemic. Suddenly, this crazy stock, GameStop, which is the company that we all know, some of us know — it’s a video game store that’s usually in malls. It doesn’t really do very well as a company, but it’s beloved by gamers and people like that. For four days in January, the stock price just went insane. It went from a few dollars a share to five hundred dollars a share. It captured the news. It was basically all these people on Reddit, random people sitting on their couches, who decided to try and beat Wall Street by buying up shares of this stock that a Wall Street firm was shorting, meaning, a Wall Street firm was betting the stock would go down. Everyone gathered together and decided, we’re going to make this stock go up. It ended up being very revolutionary. In my mind, it really changed how Wall Street has to look at things from now on. I got involved. I was sitting at home and watching this happen. Just like everyone else, I was stuck at home during the pandemic. Still, I am. I’ve always been into penny stocks and gambling. I’ve written about Vegas and Facebook and social networks, so it kind of fit what I do. I started getting emails and phone calls. People were like, you’ve got to write this story, and so I dove in. This happened so quick that I was writing it while it was happening. Here we are six, seven months later, and the book is out. That’s kind of nuts and abnormal, but that’s how I got in. That’s the story.

Zibby: That’s so crazy. I do know about shorting stocks. I went to business school. I took a few things away, so I do know what you mean in that regard. When a story is happening in real time like this and you were at home, how did you go about covering it, and knowing you were doing it in such a unique way? Did you just start calling people? How do you just jump in and do that?

Ben: My normal way I write a book is I really dive in. I get to know the characters. I spend time with them. I’m on the phone with them. I’m usually a novice learning something. I’m not a Wall Street trader. I don’t really know that much about banking or or all these things that go into how Wall Street works. I dive in. Because of the pandemic, it was not as in person. It was Zoom calls. Really, I reached out to everyone in the story. Then I started watching YouTube. The main character is this guy who called himself RoaringKitty who made hours and hours of these YouTube streams. I watch every one of them. I get to know as much as I can. Getting sources for a story like this can be tricky. A lot of people don’t want to talk to me because I wrote the book that was The Social Network, and they’re all afraid of being Zuckerberg-ed. Some people do want to talk to me because they want to see themselves in a movie. A lot of my books end up being movies. It’s a mixed bag of whether people will talk to me or not. I dove in. I started, all day, all night for the first few weeks, trying to get all of my sources and information. Then I just started writing. A lot of it was news stories and things that were happening live. There was this congressional hearing in the middle of it where all of the main characters met face to face for the first time over Zoom. To me, that was a very central scene in the book. I really just watched it as it was happening and was writing as it was happening. It’s a crazy kind of moment. When people read the book, they’ll see. I think it feels very intense because it really was happening while I wrote it, which I think is unusual.

Zibby: Absolutely. You can tell, the edge-of-your-seat-ness of it all. I also read Bringing Down the House forever ago. I shouldn’t say forever ago. I can’t remember what year that came out, but I read it. Then I’ve had it forever.

Ben: 2002. I don’t want to date myself. The movie was 2007.

Zibby: I didn’t see the movie, but I did love the book way back in the day. I’ve been sort of following your career ever since then. Now I think it’s so neat you’re doing a Charles Dickens serialized book. What is that about? Tell me about that.

Ben: The Boston Globe called me up. This was, again, in the height of the pandemic. They said, “Would you do a serialized novella for us? Basically, put a chapter up a day.” This ran last spring. It ran for twenty days. I wrote a chapter a day. It was a Da Vinci Code-style thriller that takes place in Boston. It goes back to revolutionary times. It really worked. We had a quarter million readers by the end. It was one of the most successful things in The Globe. A movie company and publishers came to me. Then I developed it into a full-size novel. It’s going to be a series of novels. The first one comes out end of February. It’s going to be a movie. Spielberg bought it. It’s really cool. In The Globe, it was called The Mechanic, but it’s going to be called The Midnight Ride. It’s my attempt at a fictional thriller of that sort, Da Vinci Code style. I’m hoping people like it because I really loved writing it, and I would love to write more of these. That comes out in February. That’s a fun one too. I’ve had a busy pandemic.

Zibby: My gosh, this is why the kids are on Fortnite or whatever, Minecraft.

Ben: I know. When my wife leaves to do something, iPads come out. I feel bad because I know it’s wrong. Listen, they’re learning a lot about how to hunt things down on Fortnite.

Zibby: I actually think there’s a lot of value to Minecraft, honestly. I think that spatial relations — they’re building full-on houses.

Ben: I have to say, with The Antisocial Network and Bitcoin Billionaires and the books that I write, I’m writing about this transformation of how we’re moving online. We’re moving digital. I’m watching it with my kids. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but my son would rather buy an outfit for his Fortnite character than buy something real.

Zibby: It’s so true.

Ben: People talk about NFTs. What is this? This is ridiculous. Or Dogecoin. I look at my kids. To them, it makes perfect sense. The online stuff is just as valuable as reality. It does segue into what I write about because I’m watching it happen in real time. They’re living virtual lives now. As much as it makes me nervous, I have to say, this is the future.

Zibby: When people say screens are bad — my older son is fourteen. A lot of his social life this summer was with his friends who don’t live where we live. He would be playing video games with them. I know video games are bad, blah, blah, blah, but they were socializing all day. Is that so wrong? Is that so different than me being on Instagram, or this? I don’t know. This is a screen.

Ben: It’s tough to say, but I do think that we’re in a new world now. That’s a part of what I’m trying to chronicle with these books.

Zibby: My mother was trying to bring my older daughter to go buy some dress for the holidays or something. She’s like, “I think I’m going to take her to Bloomingdale’s.” I’m like, “Bloomingdale’s?” She doesn’t shop there. I don’t think she’s stepped foot in Bloomingdale’s. I was like, “I can’t believe Bloomingdale’s is, frankly, still in business at this point.” What on earth? She’s like, “No, it’s fabulous. We’ll have lots of options.” I’m like, “Mom, kids don’t shop at Bloomingdale’s.”

Ben: It’s a different world. When my kids walked into Toys R Us for the first time, they were so blown away because all their shopping had been Amazon and things like that, but they did love it. I do feel like there’s something real valuable about those stores. I hope they continue to exist.

Zibby: In the profile of you in The Washington Post, you said something like that you have had a bunch of doubles and one home run. You’re not a household name. You’re not like Michael Lewis who you sort of elevate to this hero —


Zibby: What did I say? Did I not say Michael Lewis?

Ben: Yeah, Michael Lewis. My younger brother’s favorite author is Michael Lewis. Every time I write a book, my brother will read it and say, “You know, it’s really good, but it’s no Michael Lewis.” Listen, I love Michael Lewis. I think he’s an amazing, amazing w. It’s true. I’ve had two home runs, The Social Network, and the movie 21 was off of my book Bringing Down the House, which was my most successful book, I think. I’ve had a lot of singles and doubles and books that have made a lot of noise and stuff like that. It’s an interesting world, writing nonfiction. I think the difference between nonfiction and fiction is you can have a massive bestseller, but your next book, if the topic isn’t something everyone’s interested in, it will be more niche. It’s not that your audience will carry with you from book to book, necessarily. They’re topic based as opposed to fiction. If you had a huge book, the next book would be huge as well because everyone’s just reading you for the fiction. It’s a different type of writing. That’s how I analyze it anyway. I love what I do. I love the form of narrative nonfiction I write, which a lot of critics, they don’t love, necessarily. There will be some reviews out there that take aim at the way I write because I write it like a thriller. I want it to be like a movie. I’m very cinematic. I see each story as if it’s a movie in my head. Then I try and write it that way. Not all readers love the way I write, but I do have this core audience that seems to like it a lot.

Zibby: I love that style. You’re really immersing yourself when you read a book. You’re taking yourself somewhere else. The more visual it is, the more you can be fully — it’s like virtual reality not on screens. It’s essentially what we’re all doing all the time. We just don’t have the…

Ben: I agree. I love it. There’s multiple ways to write a scene. I interview everybody in the scene. I figure out what they said. I go there. I take pictures. I know exactly what it is. The question is, do I want to write it in an encyclopedic fashion where I basically write, this is what happened, and write quotes and things like that, or do I want to visualize it and make it seem like it’s actually happening? I choose the latter. I really try and form the scene as if it really is a scene in a television show or a movie. Sometimes when people read it, they go, wait, what actually happened here? I’ll think, this is what happened, but it’s from the point of view of all the different people who were there. I try and find the true line through it. My methodology goes back more to Michael Crichton meets Hunter S. Thompson than it does to, say, Michael Lewis who would write the scene very differently than me. I think there’s space for different types of nonfiction out there even if some reviewers at The New York Times don’t think that.

Zibby: Reviews, whatever.

Ben: I get some great ones too. It’s a mixed bag. The younger reviewers seem to love my work more than the older reviewers. That’s what I have found in the past.

Zibby: It’s just one person’s opinion. I think there are lots of more-valuable metrics which I feel like you’re off the charts in. Obviously, you don’t have to worry. How did you get started in this career?

Ben: I had wanted to be a writer since I was twelve years old. My parents had a rule. I loved television. I was always watching television. My parents didn’t want their three boys to watch TV, so the rule was, in our house, you had to read two books every week before you were allowed to watch TV. At the end of the week, my dad would actually test us because he had read everything. We would sit down at the end of the week and talk about the books we had read. Anything counted, so even anime. Anything counted as a book as long as it had writing in it. By the age of twelve, I knew this is what I wanted to do. I basically started writing. When I graduated from college, I moved into an apartment. My roommate was Scott Stossel, Scott who runs The Atlantic Monthly. Scott and I lived together in an apartment in Boston and just wrote. We had crappy jobs and wrote and wrote and wrote. I got very lucky, and I sold my first book. I think I was twenty-four years old. Nobody read it, but I had six novels that came out year after year from age twenty-four to thirty.

Then the Vegas thing happened. It was kind of life-changing. I met this group of kids who were going back and forth to Vegas and had won millions and millions of dollars playing blackjack. I hung out with them. I started going to Vegas with them. That turned into my first successful book, which was Bringing Down the House. Basically, I wrote a book a year starting at age twenty-four. My sixth book was Bringing Down the House. It exploded. That’s how I became a nonfiction writer. I never set out to be a journalist. I never set out to write nonfiction. I’d never written for newspapers. I’d never taken a journalism class. I wanted to write thrillers, but the first one that was successful happened to be true. That’s how it developed into that style. I’ve been writing thrillers ever since. I was fortunate. Also, I made a great connection to Hollywood. That became a movie, 21. In the process, I became friends with a lot of producers and people like that. From then on when I had a story, I would write a proposal, send it, and sell it in Hollywood first and then write the book. For the past fifteen books, I’ve sold the movies first and then written the book. It’s kind of a different process than a lot of writers out there.

Zibby: Interesting. Then you also wrote the book about The X-Files.

Ben: I did. That was back in my thriller days. I almost moved into television. Although, I never really wanted to write TV at that time. The X-Files came to me and said, “Would you write a thriller, a stand-alone book staring Mulder and Scully?” I’d never been out of the country at that point. It takes place in Thailand, so I did it from a guidebook. I wrote this thriller about Mulder and Scully called Skin about a skin transplant gone bad. This professor at Columbia gets a transplant from a murderer. Then he starts murdering people. It turns out the skin comes from this monster in Thailand. Anyway, I wrote a book for The X-Files, yes, back in 2000 or something like that.

Zibby: Sorry, I know I’m digging deep into your backlist here. Sorry. You’re having a backlist conversation.

Ben: I also had a TV movie called Fatal Error starring Antonio Sabàto Jr. and Robert Wagner. It was TBS’s first movie. It was the worst movie. I remember there’s a scene in the movie where Antonio Sabàto Jr. leans over a patient’s chest. He goes, “We’ve got a subdural hematoma.” My dad, who’s a doctor, is like, “You know that’s in the head, right?” The quality of the work at that time. I was writing pop thrillers. I didn’t really know what I wanted to write. I just wanted to write. My first six books were medical thrillers. One was made into a TV movie called Fatal Error. I don’t recommend anybody go on Amazon, but it’s there.

Zibby: No, I will not.

Ben: I’m in it for five minutes. It’s kind of funny. Then The X-Files. Then the Vegas kids just changed my life. Bringing Down the House was the book. The movie was 21. That leads us into the next phase of my career where I’m finding these true stories. What happened was, that book was read by every college kid. It was one of the crazy-huge books among twentysomethings and younger. I started getting emails and phone calls from anybody who had a story, a lot of times from prison, but just tons and tons of stories coming to me. That’s how the Facebook story happened. It was two in the morning. I was sitting there. I got an email from a Harvard senior. He was like, “My best friend founded Facebook, and no one’s ever heard of him.” It wasn’t Zuckerberg. It was the other guy. I went out to a bar. In walks Eduardo. If you’ve seen the movie The Social Network, he looked kind of Andrew Garfield, but not quite as good-looking, the reality version of the movie. He proceeded to tell me this story about him and his best friend. They were kind of geeks, nerdy guys at Harvard. Mark Zuckerberg wanted to get into this finals club but couldn’t get in. Eduardo got into one because his family was wealthy.

Mark got angry and went out one night after a bad date and got drunk and proceeded to hack the computers at Harvard making a website where you could vote on who the hottest girl at Harvard was, which nearly got him kicked out of school but caught the attention of the Winklevoss twins, who you couldn’t invent if you wanted to. They’re the perfect Hollywood characters, the giant Greek gods, six-foot-five identical twin Olympic rowers. The fact that they really exist is shocking to me. They are the bad guys in the story, in The Social Network. I thought this was an incredible story. I wrote a book proposal. My book proposal leaked into the internet, Gawker, which is back alive again, I hear. They printed my entire book proposal, which I’d never seen before. Everything exploded when they did that. First of all, Aaron Sorkin saw it and was like, “I want to write this as my next movie.” David Fincher saw my book proposal online and said, “I want to direct this as my next movie, but only if we do it right now because who knows if Facebook will around in a year.” This was before it became the monster it was. I hadn’t actually written the book yet. Basically, I sold the book, sold the movie, locked myself in a room, and I wrote that book over about eleven weeks. Aaron Sorkin, from there, was handing the book — it was just crazy how that all happened. That became The Social Network. My career was in a different place than where I’d started. I was this nonfiction guy writing thrillers and just fortunately fell into a couple of really big stories.

Zibby: You also do middle grade. You also write with your wife. You do everything. This is crazy.

Ben: My wife and I do a middle-grade series called Charlie Numbers. The latest one was called Charlie Numbers and the Woolly Mammoth, was the last one. There’s been four so far, Bringing Down the Mouse, Charlie Numbers and the Woolly Mammoth, Charlie Numbers and the Man in the Moon. Three are out so far. Our fourth one is coming. We write together on that. It’s aimed at twelve-year-old, somewhere in the middle-grade age range, but kids as young as nine or ten all the way up to, I’d say, fourteen. I love writing it. It’s fun to write for kids. It’s fun going to schools and talking to kids. My kids are in that age range, so they can read my books now. My wife Tonya and I have a great writing relationship. She remembers every detail in life. I have no memory of my grade school, high school. The school in the book is kind of based on her grade school. Writing women characters, for me, has always been difficult. Bringing Down the House, anyway, was basically from the point of view of the main character, who was a guy. The Social Network‘s a little bit more broad, but again, it’s nerdy guys. It’s great to write with her because it’s sort of a different feel when she is writing the girl characters and stuff like that. It’s been great. I want to try my hand at all sorts of things. We’ll see what takes off.

Zibby: After all these books, if there’s one thing you could change about the publishing industry, what would it be?

Ben: Wow. There’s a lot of things I’d change about the publishing industry. I think it’s interesting now that a lot of books are dominated by political stuff. I get it. I get why people are interested in it, but do people really need ten books about Donald Trump? We did one. Let’s be done with it. It just seems to me like the landscape of bookselling revolves around celebrities and politics, which I totally understand because we all love celebrities and we’re all stuck in this political drama. When you’re trying to get a book out there that’s a book, you’re competing with — I remember my first — the BEAs are this big book conference in New York, at Javits Center at the time. Every person with a new, big book comes there. You do little talks. You have little groups of booksellers you’re talking to. It’s really important. I remember I was there. This was years ago. I was there. I had my little group. Then there’s this massive crowd of people walking by all excited to see someone.

It was Sting. I love Sting, but that captured, to me, the book industry. Every bookseller in the room and every publishing worker and everyone wanted to go see Sting. All of the authors were over here with like three people, three people, three people. To me, I understand that because I consume pop culture as well, but I wish there was a separate world where the authors are. Then the celebrities are over here. Authors have to become celebrities to get people to read their books now. I love being out there. I love doing the social stuff. I love doing publicity, which is really a big part of the fun. The reality of the business is it’s very pushed towards, how do we sell this book to the biggest market? Then you look at — The Today Show used to have authors on. When was the last time you saw an author on The Today Show? The author is like the fifth person down on the list after the sports people and the actors and everything like that, which I totally get. I totally understand. If I were to change something about the publishing industry, The Today Show would have authors on every morning. It would be awesome, wouldn’t it?

Zibby: That would be awesome. My whole thing is, I feel like authors are rockstars and should be treated as such.

Ben: We’re nerdy rockstars who never leave our houses, so it’s kind of a different form of rockstar.

Zibby: There’s so much about authors that’s just — I don’t know. I think as a group, it’s so underrated, introspective, verbal, sensitive, have such amazing perspective on things. I could spend my — I do, I spend all day with authors.

Ben: It’s an interesting time to be navigating it. As things turn digital and in the podcast world and stuff like that, authors do get a chance now to talk more to people who are interested. Slowly, the mainstream is definitely celebrity and political. That’s pretty much what sells.

Zibby: Yes, and that a lot of books depend on celebrity endorsement to break out, which, also, I find problematic. Just a shame because there’s so many other amazing books too.

Ben: It’s tricky. Exactly. It’s tricky to find new voices and new books you want to read because the books that get front and center, the Rock is talking about. That’s just the way it works. It’s a different world.

Zibby: That’s true. Got to get our books to the Rock.

Ben: That’s what I try to do every day.

Zibby: Amazing. Aside from the books you’ve already mentioned, what else can we look for from you?

Ben: The Antisocial Network is out now. That’s what I’m running around talking about. I’m a on the show Billions on Showtime. If you like the show Billions, I’m involved in season five of that. I had a great time in the writers’ room for season five. Then The Midnight Ride comes out in February. Those are my main projects right now. I’m running around. I don’t know what the next book after The Antisocial Network will be, but this will be a movie. We’re actually going into production shortly. We have a script in. They’re looking at a shortlist of directors and actors now. I believe you will see The Antisocial Network on the big screen within a year, which is very exciting. I had book called Seven Wonders which I sold to NBC as a television show. I’m slowly beginning to develop that as well. I’m around. I’m doing a lot of stuff. I hope people read the books and check it out. It’s fun to talk about. I love doing this stuff.

Zibby: What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Ben: Wow. I have a lot of advice for aspiring authors. I think the key is, obviously, to read as much as you can because you have to develop your voice and figure out what it is that you can write. Personally, I think that you should keep in mind an audience. You should try and write things that people want to read. I do think it’s a business to some extent. If you like to write super literary and poetry, I think that’s phenomenal, but it’s difficult to have a career in that. You should try and find ways, if you want to do this for a living, to write that in a commercial fashion to some extent. I still believe in the traditional route of sending out query letters and getting agent and selling your books that way rather than the self-publishing route because I feel like there’s just a free-for-all there. It’s very hard to break out. Then the other thing is, you have to write a great first book. How to do that, outlines. They’re hateful. Everyone hates them.

I hate them, but the outline, to me, has been the key to my career. Before I sit down to write a book, I write an outline that’s so specific that I know the page numbers of every chapter from beginning to end of each chapter. I never miss by a page. My outlines are ridiculous. I have two outlines. I usually write a full outline and then a line-by-line outline where each chapter is just one sentence. I feel like you can sum up the chapter in a sentence. That one, I write the page numbers at the beginning and end of each chapter. I’m just telling you this to tell you how crazy I am about outlines. As much as I hate them and I hated learning about them in school, I have found the outline is the key to a book for me. That’s why when you read my books, they’re constructed on a very strict, almost screenplay outline with three acts where something’s going to happen in each book. You can analyze it that way. That’s another .

Zibby: Do you ever share your outlines? Do you post them anywhere?

Ben: No. Interestingly enough, because I work with Hollywood a lot, I have to often send the more rigorous outline to the producers because I usually have a screenwriter writing the screenplay as I’m writing the book. I can give them the outline so they can get started even before they see the book. That’s probably why I developed it this way. I use them as pitching tools. One day, if I ever taught a course, I would probably bring in the outlines. You could see the development of the book, how it starts from the synopsis, which is like fourteen pages long, to a brief outline that I do on my phone to a full outline, then back to a single-sentence outline, and then start writing. My goal is when I start writing, everything is done. The work is done. The research is done. I’ve compiled thousands of pages of research. The outline is done. I can just sit and write so that it only takes eight weeks. That’s how I can write a book so quickly. Basically, all of the hard work is done before I start writing. The writing just booms out over a couple months with kids flying by and playing and my wife yelling at me. It’s a crazy process, but it’s quicker that way. I highly recommend the outline, as hateful as it can be.

Zibby: I love it. That’s very cool. Amazing. When you start teaching your MasterClass, let me know. I feel like you need to sign up for that right away.

Ben: I think I could at least give you the idea in a MasterClass of how I do it. Then if you want to be crazy enough to attempt this, you have to be a little crazy because it’s nuts.

Zibby: When it goes live, you have to email me or something. I’ll take it. Awesome. I’m sorry, I feel like I somehow ignored your current book, but this is also great. I hope people are reading The Antisocial Network. I’m sorry. I am so in admiration of your whole backlist. I just had to go there. I apologize if I’ve ignored the book today a little bit.

Ben: That’s all right. Listen, it’s about the GameStop drama. If you were hearing the word GameStop and wondering, “What the heck? What’s going on?” pick up The Antisocial Network. Every high school kid knows the story. I’ll tell you that. It’s a fun, wild one. It involves really crazy characters, a dude in his basement in Brockton, Mass, who launched this revolution and made fifty million dollars. Meanwhile, a hedge fund lost billions. It’s one of those types of stories. It’s a fun one. Hopefully, people will check it outZibby: Perfect. Thank you so much for all your time.

Ben: Anytime. I love it. Thank you. I appreciate it.

Zibby: Take care. Buh-bye.



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