'Twelve' Going on 21

Talking with Nick McDonell, well-connected young novelist

Nick McDonell became a household name when he wrote his first novel, Twelve, at the age of 17. Although hailed by critics, detractors where quick to point out his family connections: His father is the managing editor of Sports Illustrated, and Grove publisher Morgan Entrekin is a close family friend, as was the late Hunter S. Thompson. Since his debut, McDonell has gone to Harvard, interned in Hong Kong, and written a second novel, The Third Brother, to be published next month by Grove.

I heard you were interning at the Daily News? I got to run around and report stories. It was fun, being a newspaper intern.

You just finished your second novel at 21. Was it easier to write then Twelve? It didn't come quite as naturally because I was swinging for things that were more difficult. Twelve was simpler because I didn't have to think as much. You're a reporter, you know better than I do—you're probably older then I am—but you have to write carefully all the time.

"It would be pretty funny if I told you, 'Oh, fuck no, I actually don't know how to read—actually I've watched a lot of television.' "
photo: Terry McDonell
"It would be pretty funny if I told you, 'Oh, fuck no, I actually don't know how to read—actually I've watched a lot of television.' "

In both of your novels the main character shares the same name. There are reasons, but I'll let people draw their own conclusions. I like the name, I think it works with the way I write.

Drugs figure largely in both of your novels. People who have money and nothing to do, do drugs, and people who are sad do drugs. People want to get fucked up, everybody wants to get fucked up.

Do you have any writers that you admire? I do. I certainly don't exist in a vacuum. It would be pretty funny if I told you, "Oh, fuck no, I actually don't know how to read—actually I've watched a lot of television." One guy who really affected me a lot [is] comic novelist Tristan Egolf. Lord of the Barnyard—that book still cracks me up. Stephen Crane, I like him a lot.

How did your friends react to the success of your first book? Oh, they were ironic about it and supportive, and they got me drunk. They were good.

New York Magazine recently wrote that you looked like a young Gary Cooper. And detractors have claimed your success comes from your family connections. I'm just doing my best. We all do our best. It's just so silly. [The] press, you guys are funny. I don't feel like this is surprising to anybody. It almost seems formulaic sometimes.

Would you ever consider publishing under a pseudonym? I've written about 10 books under pseudonyms. They're mostly romance novels. Do you have any advice for other writers aspiring young writers? I don't know. Take a deep breath before you say anything.

 
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