An Interview with Matt Richtel
Author of Hooked: A Thriller About Love and Other Addictions
MF: HOOKED is a work of fiction, but are there any "real life" experiences that contributed to the novel?
MATT: On the first page of Hooked, a San Francisco cafe explodes. That did not actually happen (to my knowledge). But I did a lot of my writing of the book at the cafe that I envisioned exploding on that first page. That's my way of saying: The emotions and settings that drove the book are very much real. The more fantastical elements obviously are not. But even those moments are designed to adhere as closely as possible to real scenarios. My editor impressed upon me the idea that a mystery thriller is that much more powerful if a reader has to suspend disbelief as little as possible. And so, above all, I tried to make HOOKED emotionally real and resonant, a few explosions notwithstanding.
MF: In your article for The New York Times, "the Lure of Data," you discussed the "ubiquity of technology." And of course that's certainly an idea that's carried through your novel. How do you feel about humankind's reliance on technology?
MATT: A few years ago, while covering Tech for the Times, I conjured a non-especially-profound theory of modern life: the cell-phone orthodontist principle. This axiom states that if you're driving in your car alone and run out of people to call, eventually you'll get so bored you'll call directory assistance and get the number for the person who attached your braces in Junior High. He'll say: "who is this?" You'll say: "I love what you've done with my teeth. Are you busy for the next 60 miles?"
On the whole, technology has provided many blessings, including the ability to stay in touch at will, and to better choose our manner and place of work. To say nothing of advances in medical technology and on and on (ability to play video games on handheld devices during family functions and religious services). The trouble is when our reliance turns into a kind of compulsive behavior; when we are hunting and pecking on our devices at the expense of actual meaningful human interaction, creativity, or deeper thought.
MF: Describe the role of technology in your life.
MATT: Balanced with borderline troubling tendencies. Sometimes I make phone calls whilst in my car, or check email late at night, or interrupt conversations to check the beeping in my pocket -- all things that are distractions from the task at hand, or the conversation or person in front of me. I do take pains to keep my gadgets at arm's length, because, at least for me, time apart from the device tends to correspond with more serenity and focus.
MF: How would you describe the connection between the novel and your NY Times articles?
MATT: Very intimate, but perhaps not in a way you'd expect.
I'd wish upon any aspiring fiction writer a few years spent as a journalist. The reason is that, as a journalist, you really develop your writing muscle. After all, if you don't write, you don't eat. Therefore, there is no room for writer's block. This serves a terrific purpose for fiction writers overcome with bouts of perfectionism; once you've been a journalist, you let go your fears and write. That's one intimate connection. Others include that journalism forces you to really listen, and observe and, if done well, develop empathy. Those are crucial elements in my view to great storytelling. Finally, the substance of my day job (technology) obviously lent itself to helping inform the ideas in HOOKED.
MF: How do you feel about HOOKED?
MATT: Utterly gratified. It's the kind of book I wanted to write, executed with the help of a great agent and editor (and many friends) beyond what I could have hoped.
MF: Are there any writers that influenced you?
MATT: Too many to name. I will say that there were some basic elements I drew from a lot of writers. Namely, I wanted to create a hyper-fast paced story, a compelling emotional underpinning, real substantive underpinnings, and twists and turns that would make it worthwhile to the reader to get to the last page. Hopefully, I succeeded.
MF: Any new projects in mind?
MATT: I'm working on two. One is about memory and the other about religious faith.
Read our review of HOOKED at MostlyFiction.com