Drew Magary Discusses "Point B," COVID-19, A World Without Sports And Coming Back From TBI
As the coronavirus pandemic drags on, do you ever wish you could zap instantly somewhere else, just to escape your living room or essential workplace? If so, you’ll probably enjoy the new novel “Point B: a teleportation love story,” by Drew Magary.
Part dystopian adventure, part sci-fi thriller, “Point B” is about a 17-year-old high school girl in the middle of a worldwide conspiracy. A lot has happened in Magary’s life since we last spoke in 2016, including a brush with death.
I've asked everybody this question lately: how is the pandemic playing out in your life? You were already someone who works from home, right?
I was. I was inadvertently well prepared for this because I work from home. My wife is a preschool teacher but only worked mornings, three days a week. So we were, I was not, my work has not been disrupted by it apart from, you know, the fact that I have to cover it and it's very depressing in that regard. But no, otherwise we're doing well. We're safe and we're, we're being responsible about keeping our hands clean and all that nonsense.
You have three children, right?
Yes, I do. But they are all age 8 and above. So they're relatively manageable. My friends who have younger kids, well, you know, if you have a 3-year-old screaming in the house all day long and they can't get out. That's a much bigger problem than what I'm dealing with right now.
How are they doing themselves?
They're doing well, although, you know, with kids, it's, it's hard. They're, they're not always easy to read. They're, you know, they're, they say they're doing well, but they don't always mean it. But you know, and they may- and then, you know, whatever frustration they have manifests itself in other ways, usually by punching their siblings. But they've been actually really, they've been good. They've been better and I have.
What are some tips for people who now find themselves working from home? Adjusting to, trying to carve out, you know that, that separation between home and work when they're in the same physical space?
Yeah, I mean, if you can, it's important to have a dedicated workspace, if you have the space to have it. So that it's, it's clear that that's where you do your work, and nothing else gets done there. You know, so that, so that it's, you know, it's dedicated for that space and that space only. So the kids know that when you're there that you're working and, you know, it takes a while for them to understand the concept- in my case it took years. But, you know, I, I always went to my office to work, and I had set working hours so I had a routine. And you know, I adhered to the routine, to the routine. So, you know, so often and so regularly that they came to understand it innately without me having to, you know, be like, "Now Daddy's going to work...!"
You love going for walks. In fact, you kind of wrote a whole novel about that. Are you able to do that in your neighborhood and still sort of stay away from people?
Yeah, we, we have. Our governor said, you can go out on walks- we prefer you stay to your neighborhood, and not, you know, not go, you know, to walk into DC or anything like that. So we've done that, and we maintain social distancing. We don't actually have sidewalks in my neighborhood. So you're walking on the street, which usually is not great because you don't get hit by a car. But for this particular, in this particular instance, it means that everyone's going to keep their distance anyway because they're out on a wide street so they're not, you know, you're not going to have that narrowing effect that sidewalks and trails can have on people.
You know, before you were a novelist, you came up as a sportswriter, and one of the first big-time sports bloggers. This is a time when sports have been shut down, much to my chagrin and others'. Are you missing sports a lot? What's life like without it?
Yeah, I miss sports. It sucks. I'm annoyed. I mean, like I just liked having the option to have it on, even if I wasn't paying attention to it. Do you know what I mean, like I would, you know, it would just be that- it's, it's the background of my life. So, you know, when it's when it's not on, you know, it feels very empty. It feels as if it's my indicator, and I think it's a lot of people's indicator, of the fact of the world outside is, is being productive and operational. And so on, you know, on- in that sense, I understand people's desire to have sports come back, and for leaders desire to have sports come back, as a big signifier that everything's normal again, even though it you know, even though it would be wildly irresponsible to hold a sporting event with a crowd right now.
You know, I wonder if you share this feeling, but every plan that I read for reopening sports, whether it's isolating baseball teams in certain areas of the country or doing games without fans or whatever, they all seem unworkable and sort of insane to me.
They're all unworkable and insane. That said, if they actually do it, I'll be the first one to watch it and propagate. I mean, the problem is that all of these, all of these plans linger under the idea that the players would have to be essentially removed from their families and their loved ones and would have to live inside like a bio-dome with their, with their teammates and with their coaches. And with any of the necessary staff, which I'm not sure players are particularly fond of, unless, unless, you know, what ends up happening is that owners use their salaries is a cudgel and force them to report to work. Which is happening right now in places like Texas and Iowa with just regular people, so it wouldn't surprise me to be honest with that. The other thing is that the second that one player in a league gets coronavirus, which Von Miller did with the Broncos, and several NBA players have, then all the sudden it falls apart. Because, you know, what are you going to do? How, how will you know that that everyone, you know, that the person who contracted corona, you know, in your little, you know, isolated league that he wasn't able to, you know, pass it on to other people before he tested positive.
So how are you filling the sports void in your life?
I play Madden, that usually helps. I smoke weed and listen to music, and that's probably like the bulk of it, right? I just, I just did the standard yuppie thing where I learned how to make bread by myself, and that that got tiring quickly. But you know, you just, you know, it's like it's like any other NFL offseason where it's you know, I just watch movies and catch up on things that I didn't get to because I was too busy watching football.
Have you made any interesting foods while you've been stuck at home?
Sticky toffee pudding was my favorite. I'm gonna make that again sometime. Required, though, so much butter and cream, that you know, it would not be particularly helpful even now if I, if I made it too often. It was, it was a pain in the ass to make. So I'm busting out for special occasions. And whenever, whenever I can get to the grocery store, which is not terribly often. I'm being a good boy about not getting out too much.
I have one more question about working at home. And it's interesting to me, I don't have children. But I can imagine for people who do, that, you know, making sure they're doing something school related, while they're learning remotely. That seems like a hard thing to keep track of and to, you know, to sort of measure if it's effective at all, if people are, you know, staying on the ball. What's been your experience with that?
I've actually had a pretty good experience with e-school. I knew immediately that there will be problems with Zoom at the beginning, just tech problems- and tech problems with your kids are the worst because they bitch about it even more than you do. Otherwise, they settled into a groove where they have e-classes in the morning, they do their work in the afternoon, and then they're free at night. So it frees us up from the usual school day cycle of, you know, complaining to them to do their homework or you know, nagging them about, or helping them with it- sort of in the late hours when they're already exhausted from a long day at school. They're, they're, they have adapted pretty well to that. And what's nice is that, you know, we get a lot of you know, a lot of pep talks from teachers and from other parents also like, " It's OK to be at home. It's OK, you know, for them to kind of do nothing and sort of relax and all that stuff." And really that advice is wrong. You know, it's, I don't want them you know, cuz if my daughter had her druthers, she'd just sit around and Tik Tok for hours a day. Which you know, it's fine you get a little screen time and all that stuff. But it's, it's nice if there is some productivity and some basic learning, even if it's not a complete school day, the way it should be. And plus, they also they miss school, so it's as good a facsimile as you're going to get. So they you know, they're happy to be part of that process, too.
Well, that's a good segue to start talking about your new book, because it's sort of based on a technological addiction. And people are teleporting from area to area instantaneously, and, and mostly safely, although there's a nefarious side to that. So where did the idea for this book come from?
Well, it started as, it started out as a bot novel called "Point B" about teleportation. But there was a different main character and a different plot. And it didn't exist inside a school where students were not allowed to teleport. So it had all these things, all these other different elements to it, and it wasn't really a workable novel, plus I had this other un-workable novel that I liked the characters from. So I took those characters and, and placed them into the concept of teleportation. And then, and then I had the idea to take a school, which was the school that I went to, and make that sort of a safe haven from teleportation. So It wasn't just the cheese that anybody can teleport, you know, the pitch was anyone can teleport except for these people who very much want to, and then you're innately rooting for them to go ahead and teleport. Which maybe they do, maybe they don't.
I was a little surprised that you wanted to revisit, in a way, your own prep school experience. Because you've written about it before and those were not necessarily happy times for you.
They weren't. But that doesn't mean it's not worth writing about, you know what I mean? It's you know, you go back and re-evaluate. You know, I, I almost died of a brain hemorrhage that wasn't terribly fun but I, I got- I felt good writing about it. You know, like, it's OKto use those things. It's not it's, oddly not traumatizing. And I, you know- cathartic is the wrong word for it too. It's just very, you know, interesting because I lived through it, and so I know the details of it intimately. So I can, I can go to that setting, and know enough about that I can put it on paper and it'll feel real to the reader, because it was a real place.
I also love the fact that one of your characters says he's become a "robe guy," which is a trend you've been on.
Yeah, that's one of the wonders of self-publishing is that, you know, the, the lag time. You know, you know, when you work with a traditional publisher, the lag time between your submission of manuscripts, and when it goes on bookshelf is like a year, you know. Whereas with self-publishing, it is, you know, 24 hours. So, you know, when I, you know, when I've gotten into robes and being a "stupid robe guy" and all that stuff, I could put a little gag about that into the copy, you know, like a week before it was released. So the so that it's, you know, so you can scratch that itch if you if you feel like it. That's, that's kind of the cool thing about it.
You don't have to answer this if you don't want to, but why did you decide to self-publish this one?
Because no one else would buy it. That's actually, it's actually a little less true now. For reasons I can't disclose. But it the beginning, at least for the print edition of the book, publishers just did not really have much interest in it. But I loved the book. And so I went ahead and self-published it. It's a bit bittersweet that we're talking about this today, because I self-published it on Amazon, and the big Amazon boycott is today. And so I made pains to make sure I wasn't telling people to buy it from Amazon today because of the general strike and because of the boycott. But, but ultimately, that was the best place for me to go in order to reach readers, particularly now, because you can't even go into to a bookstore. But to me, for me to get the book out and people really like the book. So in that way, I don't feel like my instincts were wrong to put it out. You know, publishers may have reasons to- that they felt like they couldn't sell it, but I don't think the novel being bad was one of them.
Tell us a bit about the main character, Anna Huff.
Ah, Anna Huff is very resourceful, old, too online sometimes. She's 17 years old, and she gets to this prep school that she's going to because her mom thinks would be safer there because they won't be able to teleport. She had lost her sister the year prior to an unknown menace, who was teleporting directly into her room and bullying her, and essentially, you know, eventually, murdered her. So she has this sort of grief she carries, but also a determination to find her sister's killer, and then it all gets screwed up. Because she also happens to fall in love with her roommate, the mysterious Lara Kirsch. So now she has to both figure out how to get this other girl to fall in love with her, but also avenge her sister, all at the same time, which is very complicated. It's a lot on top of your regular school though.
It takes place in the near future. Did this book reflect your own anxieties about, you know, your children's use of technology and where that might be going?
I mean, it's sort of- I mean, it's more about- and you can, you can, you- it's pretty blatant from the copy that, you know, the teleportation is an allegory for the internet as it stands now and that a lot of the stuff in the book is reflective of the times we're going through right now. So I have general anxiety about that, that couldn't help but be put into the world building element of the book. But in terms of my own children, I mean, I have anxieties about them on screens, but they used to be a lot more pronounced. Like I just, I know now innately, that the way they're growing up is just a way that I was not- that I did not grow up. But that doesn't mean it's worse. I think one of the one of the big things that parents have done throughout my life and through lives past, you know, before mine was always assuming that the way their children grew up ought to be the way they grew up. Otherwise, it's flawed and bad and dangerous, and all that stuff. But even though there are obvious dangers about the internet, and so I tell my kids that to strangers online or, you know, or to post nudes or anything like that. It's just, they just have a different way of, of, of experiencing growing up as a generation. And I have respect for that. And the other thing is that, frankly, it's necessary right now they're stuck at home. Like, I need them online with their friends, so they feel like they have some contact with the outside world.
Yeah. Well, you mentioned your brain hemorrhage a couple minutes ago. That all happened since the last time we had an interview. You were hosting the Deadspin Awards in New York City. And what happened next? I mean, take us through that.
Well, I don't really know. I went to an after party, at a karaoke lounge. I went out into a hallway to go take a leak and I collapsed, inexplicably. Suffered a brain hemorrhage, was in a coma for two weeks, I was in the hospital for two more weeks after that- in New York. I don't live in New York. And then finally got out and recovered. I was left half-deaf and it had some other you know, sensory disabilities and things like that, but fully got my sea legs back and now I'm often about, and relatively functional. So you know, the doctors described as the most favorable outcomes. Well, I can't I can't complain about that.
Once you realized what had happened, how scary was it?
It was like, because I was- you have to understand that I was put in a medically-induced coma. So when I came out of the fog, I was still under heavy, heavy sedation, from fentanyl and all these terrifyingly strong drugs. So I, you know, I sort of didn't understand it. I mean, I did. I mean, I knew it happened, but I was so, you know, blazed out of my skull, that I didn't really- I couldn't sit there all day in the hospital and just sort of existentially grapple with it. I had to sort of transition to just more practically needing to get out of the hospital so that I could just get back on my feet and get back to living. But you know, time since then, going over and oddly, you know, obviously, the scary thing was what it- you know, how it affected my kids and, my, my wife particularly because they had to go through it and they thought I was gonna die. My parents and my family, and so my fear was less about myself, then, you know, for what they had to go through, and I hope they never have to go through that again. And of course, I don't want to, you know, almost die again. Yeah, I'm gonna do it. If gonna die, I'm gonna do it right next time, for darn sure.
A lot of people who go through something like that, it serves as like a clarifying event for them. Has it changed your perspective on things in any way?
In certain ways, yes. But took me a long time to get there. In other ways, no, and in fact, that's been part of the problem with my recovery. Was just, you know, almost being too resentful, that, you know- and being told over and over again, "You're lucky to be alive, you're lucky to be alive." And I'm like, "Yeah, yeah, I know, I'm lucky to be alive. That's, that's a given. But some things still suck though and I'll bitch about it." And plus, I also, you know, I had some mood changes, because when you- it's a very, very common thing with people who suffered traumatic brain injury, over 50% of people, suffer from depression or some sort of, you know, or mood swings, things like that. And I was, I'm among that 50%. So I, you know, you know, the perspective is not isn't really a factor in the equation, because I've had to deal with the real physiological ramifications of what's happened and that, you know, that's been my priority just so that I can, you know, be a useful husband and father in the house.
I don't know if these things are related, but from my perspective as just a fan of yours who reads your stuff all the time, it seems like you started writing about politics a lot more after this incident.
Well, yes and no. I, I was writing about politics, you know, you know, before the 2016 election for GQ, and it just sort of fell into that groove with them, sort of naturally. And then, when my contract expired with GQ, I was, I was hired by GEN, which is a magazine within Medium, to exclusively about politics, and so I have to write about politics. So if it seems like I'm writing about politics more, it's because well, I was hired to do so. But also you know, we live in a country right now where it's just suffocating, and you can't not talk about politics- because it just dominates everything. There's not even any sports I can retreat to anymore, which is again, ironic because I quit Deadspin because we wouldn't stick sports. But it's, but it's just. it's just unavoidable right now. You just, you can't avoid it. It's a fact of life. It sucks that you can't avoid it. But you know particularly if you're someone at my age- like if you're 18 you can, you can really not give a crap about this stuff and still, you know, still sneak into daddy's liquor cabinet and all that, and text your friends, and whatnot. But you know, you get older you get more responsibilities you have no choice but to become something of a political animal, even if you don't want to be.
Have there been any discussions about getting the the Deadspin gang back together and in another format? I know you do the occasional, "This is Not a Sports Blog" web post together, but you know, Deadspin exists in name only at this point, the talent's gone elsewhere. You know, what's the future there?
Oh, no, no, we would like to do something. If you got like $5 million. Let me know, and we can. But no, nothing yet.
And what are you working on next, Drew?
I'm working on a book about my brain. So there you go. That one, that one was, was picked up by publishers. So I'm working on that, that'll be sometime in the near future. But for now, you know, "Point B" is out, and I get to bask in that for a little bit, but then it's back to the grindstone so I can crank out more stuff.
Well, Drew, I am so glad that you're OK. As one of your fans and, I know they are legion, we were really worried about you. So glad to have a new book from you, "Point B", and looking forward to the next one. Thanks so much.
Thank you and stay safe. Keep those hands clean, all right?
I will, OK.