INTERVIEW: Neil Strauss, Author of The Game and The Truth

Neil Strauss

It’s easy for life changing events in celebrities to be swept under the rug or billed as some sort of ploy. It’s even more suspicious to some when they release a book chronicling these changes, and providing insight with how people can improve themselves and their relationships. It’s not the first time New-York Times bestselling author Neil Strauss has had to fall under these claims, though. His career began telling the stories of some of the musics industries greatest artists, he’s written a book about survival techniques and even released a collection of interviews from his decades long career. With The Game, however, Strauss found himself in a new level of success, following his immersive experience in the seduction community. Though founded on the basis of people having better relationships and improving themselves, not everyone took that away as the message.

Strauss is back with The Truth — a book which examines the failings of thinking in not just his own relationships, but also the mental health of society. Strauss may be an example to follow, as he’s recently had his first child and is happily married, all as a result of dealing with his personal issues and working to make his relationship stronger.

The Truth is available now, and in the midst of a busy tour, Neil Strauss was kind enough to join us in conversation about The Truth, his previous works, fatherhood and how to live a happy life.

Could you tell me about how The Truth has been billed as a sequel to The Game?
No, I never thought of it as a sequel ’til it was almost done. I don’t see it as a sequel, exactly, but as a continuation of chronicling a life and the challenges in that life. In the way The Game was about dating, Emergency was about fear of death and survival and this one’s about the fear of intimacy, connection and family. I see it in the lineage of those, and not directly a sequel.

Almost like a Hunter S. Thompson vibe of chronicling your life?
Right. Only when you feel like there’s something to say, versus chronicling your life in an exhibitionist Instagram way.

Do you take part in social media?
Yeah, more so, but not as an art or a practice, but just as a waste bin of cool photos and ideas.

Also, congratulations on being a father.
Thanks, it’s something really exciting. Thank you.

Neil Strauss The TruthDo you find since becoming a dad, some of the practices in Emergency seems less serious or more serious?
It’s funny, I definitely found that lots of people who read Emergency were new mothers or new fathers, and suddenly had something more to live for and protect. So I would say that’s true. But I feel for The Truth it’s the emotional health and wellbeing that affected me being a parent more than anything I’ve done. Even if I hadn’t done The Truth, everything I’ve learned from it, the qualities that make someone emotionally, psychologically healthy adults are worth it. I’m always conscious of that.

You had all these revelations, what made you decide to make a book out of it?
None of my books begin as book ideas. They begin as crises in my life that I’m trying to solve. At some point I realised I must not be the only one facing these tough questions, and maybe they could help other people.

Did you feel you were going for a different market? The Game was a more niche audience but The Truth is a relationship guide, in a market where there are plenty of takes.
I don’t think of things in niches and markets. I don’t think that serves the arts. I think “who has a story to tell – does it feel like it’s new and interesting and entertaining”. Even The Game wasn’t calculated. I always tell someone who is writing – don’t think about the marketing until it’s done, I see it as a form of procrastination. And the truth is you have no idea, you have no idea what people are going to like and what they’re not going to like. I’ve interviewed every record, publishing and film executive there is, some people think they know, but nobody knows.

Have you been happy with the reception so far?
Yeah, I have been so far. But I didn’t write it just for men, but I think it’ll even appeal more so to women as well. I hope over time it transcends The Game audience and reaches people who are struggling with relationships, people who are struggling to get into them or with heartbreak who just find themselves going through people and never being able to commit, it’s a universal problem, I think for some people The Game wasn’t right for, this book might be. And vice versa.

The most interesting reviews for the book I’ve read have been from females who come into it with a negative perception, but came out amazed by it.
Exactly. I think a lot of cases that was people who haven’t read The Game but had read the reputation of The Game. Because The Game is interesting in the sense that it’s a journey, not a book of advocacy, it’s a book of highly immersive journalism that points out a lot of positive as well as negatives in it.

And now this small culture has been taken to the mainstream.
Yeah, I suppose so.

Are there aspects of The Truth that you hope become more mainstream?
Yeah. Unfortunately, the negative aspects of the seduction community become popularised. I wish the positive aspects of The Truth become as popular. I doubt it, but I hope in the long run people’s understanding of themselves and taking responsibilities of the results of their lives and understanding themselves and relationships on a deep level, and healing the wounds in them. And more to the point, in society, if we’re sick we go to hospitals, have to go to schools, but there’s nothing we have to do for our own mental and psychological health. Only if we have major adjustment problems, and if we do there’s a lot of shame for it. If I was to hope for a goal it would be for people to get psychological education the same way they get intellectual education and healthcare.

Neil Strauss The Rules of the GameWhat was the breakthrough that you realised you’re thinking was flaw?
It was definitely the moment when I cheated on my girlfriend. I have some high-minded thoughts but the book came from a low-minded place. I thought “what kind of person am I if I’m hurting someone I love?” and breaking my own ethical and moral code. Was sex so important to me I had to lie, deceive and hurt to get it?

And you’re married to her now, right?

Was it a tough conversation with this book coming out and all these things becoming public?
I think she saw me working on it for so many years. It wasn’t really a tough conversation. It might have been tough for her to read it. In the short term it was tough, but in the long term it was helpful for our relationship for her to know everything.

You write so personally she must have known you were telling the truth.
That, and intimacy is showing someone your true self as best you know it without any fear. Giving them the ability to say yes or no, to often in relationships we show someone oneself because they may not like other sides, and showing up as yourself allows someone to truly know it and make the decision to be with you. You don’t have to like everything about the person you’re with. And you accept your faults as well as you accept the good parts.

It must be good to know you helped build men and now you’re helping stabilise relationships. Not a lot of authors can say that.
Exactly! It’s full service. Fatherhood may be the next step, until I’m writing about how to gracefully go out into death.

Have you noticed a difference in the audience for The Truth?
No, in fact, the audience has been similar. Though now it’s widening now the tour is winding down. I’ve been getting a lot of emails from women who identify as love addicts and love avoidants, 3ho are trying to understand why they keep choosing unavailable men.

I wasn’t aware of the term love addicts before the book. It’s interesting, some people see it as a binary option between normal relationships and sex addicts, without much in between.
Our culture does like to see things as binary, when we are on a continuum. The safe way to say it is do you see it as a belief or a behaviour in your life that is serving you or your life? In which case you can examine it and look at it, and then you can examine it and ask why – why am I picking people that aren’t capable of intimacy in a relationship when I want one?

Do you think social media plays a role in that?
I think everything is a symptom, not a cause. If somebody is scared of intimacy and wants validation they can get it in a fake way through likes and hearts on social media. It can be like a rush of heroin for your feeling of connection, and can feel fake when it’s not serving you and built on nothing. These things can sort of prey on pre-existing conditions and speak to our wounds.

Are you more victim to this as a high profile author?
Not really, I think I’m aware of it. For sure, because you can see your influence by exact numbers, I’m sure it’s easy to have your self-esteem rise and fall due to numbers.

Like a child actor syndrome?
Yeah. And again, it was about how many stars you get in your review – certain people are wired to be more dependent on outside approval than others. I think human nature, by and large, stays the same. These things aren’t causes, they’re effects.

When you were working through The Truth did it add a level of insight to your work retrospectively? For your pursuits outside of your books like your Inner Circle and Stylelife Academy?
The biggest change was that I thought I was the normal person looking at crazy people. For Rolling Stone or writing a book about Motley Crue. In The Truth I found out I was just as crazy as all of them and had a look at myself. That changed the way I see everything and probably explains why the book took 5 years rather than 1 or 2 years like the other books.

That big a notable difference in the process?
Yeah, trying to see yourself like that. It’s like touching your right elbow with your right hand because you’re so close to yourself.

And it must have been harder to realise yourself in The Truth than a travelling pick-up artist.
Yeah, and it makes it interesting too. I mean there are things that happen in your life that you think are interesting that are boring to everyone else. Cutting those parts, I have 1,000 pages of things I cut.

Will they see the light of day?
I usually console myself by saying I’ll put them in the paperback but I think it’s fun bonuses for Inner Circle readers. The book is exactly how it should be. When creating something you want to remove as much as possible so it still works.

Can you talk about the faux leather Bible-like edition?
Yeah, that was my idea. It’s not a sequel but acts like a nice book-end to The Game. Like you’ve found that person now how do you stay with them? I felt like it was a perfect opposite. Both a continuation and a compliment to it.

Was it difficult to acknowledge to The Game but not to focus on it and appear as a cash-in as opposed to the important thing that happened in The Truth?
No, I don’t think so. It’s hard for the press to do but not for me to do.

You started covering books, initially right?
Mostly music.

Compared to The Truth was your writing process different?
Yeah, I have a strict schedule. If you notice we’re talking on a Monday.  Monday is when I do all my phone calls and reading or anything on a schedule. Tuesday to Sunday is writing and research. I try to compartmentalise my time with no interruptions. I give my phone to my wife and say don’t give it back to me until sunset. I put in a program called Freedom on the computer so I can’t get online. You have to create a lot of systems to protect me from myself so I can write.

Do you see it ironic compared to Emergency and the defence against when the shit hits the fan – and now the internet can be the most distracting thing.
No, I think they’re the same thing – focusing on what’s essential and getting all the trash that keeps you from living a life with meaning. In Emergency, the negative side of fear is probably the same thing. Living your life out of fear is like living your life out of compulsion, to looking at meaningless things on the internet. Either way you’ve fallen off your path.

Sometimes I wonder if current politics is just a manipulation of fear.
There’s a great paper called Terror Management Theory and they really explain how peoples sense of identity, and defending it, can turn into extreme behaviour. I definitely think less fear and acceptance would be good for the world.

Has being a father and husband affected your writing life?
It’s definitely readjusted my priorities.  It definitely feels like a good thing. Emotionally and physically, being a father is the most important thing I can do with my life. I used to feel like my books were important but they’ve become secondary.

It must be a rewarding experience.
It is. It makes you realise that when a parent says that the child owes them, they’re saying they’re a bad parent. Parentings a total joy from it and he owes me nothing. My parent’s sacrifice to raise me was a thought for me, but it’s a choice they made, and if it didn’t fulfil them it’s sad.

Do you think these revelations will help you raise your son?
Absolutely. One of the things I’ve learned that parents use their children to meet their needs. But to meet my child’s needs I need to model healthy emotional behaviour around him. So, for sure, everything I learned in The Truth is crucial to everyday parenting.

Other than interviews for Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead, what made you do the transition away from biographies?
I don’t think it’s a transition. I just turned in a biography, I can’t say who it is yet, but it’s a larger than life figure in the music world. To me, John Cage, the composer, has a life philosophy saying be open to whatever happens next. I’m not open to a plan, just whatever happens next – and if it captures my excitement.

So you don’t plan your career, just focus on art?
It’s like what do I have a calling to do? If I die tomorrow would I regret these opportunities to put this forth into the world? I think it’s for everything, listen to yourself. That’s the only thing you know.

Are you still running the publishing company?
I put it on the backburner. I felt creating other people’s books was taking away from the creation of my own. It’s called Ignitor.

The book about the two brothers was great. Oh, the Louvin Brothers. It’s funny, we put out two books and got to tell the story of people before they passed away. And Bozo the Clown was the other one.

Sets a worrying precedent for your third author.

A short post on the purpose of life (it’s not what you think):

Posted by Neil Strauss on Thursday, 19 November 2015

Do you feel it’s worth signing all these non-disclosure agreements or do you find it annoying not being able to talk about projects?
It’s exciting because when it comes out I can talk about it. It’s fine – I think it serves the project for it to be revealed accordingly.

Right, so you don’t get caught up in the publishing rather than the writing.

Especially after chronicling some of the people you have.
I also only work with people who would only tell the truth and put it all on the line, and who would only tell the real story.

Do you ever get into projects and realise it’s not going to work?
No, usually I realise it’s not gonna work right away and get into the project. Worrying about what they’re family will think. A lot of people I’ve turned down who are very popular and would have huge bestsellers and it wouldn’t be a story that lasts.

Also it seems like some of your earlier books, like The Dirt, have a huge following
I think the key is to focus on the human elements versus anything else. The title of The Dirt says it all. We had a lot of ground rules about keeping to the integrity of the story.

It must have been nice to make that change compared to most biographies that say something shocking and focus on parts to grab the audience’s attention.

What else are you working on?
I’m already setting up the next book. TV and film stuff – running the society where I take 100 people and bring them on a huge transformative journey.

I remember that cool picture of you in North Korea.
It’s been really fun. They’re in Antarctica right now running a marathon. I half-wish I could have gone and half-grateful that I’m here.

Either way you’d want the opposite. Have you ever been to Antarctica?
No, that’s why I wanted to go, it’s the only continent I’ve never been to.

Is it less wild being on book tours than music tours?
Definitely less wild. But it depends on the band and the musicians.

I suppose there must be different after-parties depending whether it’s Hilary Mantel or Bret Easton Ellis
Right, exactly. How old are you?

Right, so you’ve got time. But the book definitely dives into some of the alternate relationships communities, polyamory, open relationships and different variations on monogamy.

It seems like you’re attracted to telling the stories of smaller communities.
True. I really just enjoy people and get curious about hidden areas of life.

The day and age for it, too.
Less so, so much stuff is out in the open. There’s a subreddit for it somewhere. A lot of the stuff that makes this culture so scary is that there is always a subreddit that you can read to terrify the living daylights out of you.

Two Truths and A Lie With Neil StraussWe played “Two Truths and A Lie” about relationships with the author of ‘The Truth’ Neil Strauss. Which one do you think is the lie?

Posted by HuffPost Live on Saturday, 7 November 2015

One of my biggest thanks is that I wasn’t young enough to put so much stupid stuff on the internet. I wonder if future politicians will be haunted by their online past.
Yeah, I really think a lot of people destroy their political careers before the age of 14.

Are you looking forward to your first Christmas as a husband and father?
It’ll be great. I can’t wait until he’s at the age where he can experience it for fun and really appreciate it, but honestly everyday, even though it’s early, waking him up and watching his sleepy head lift up and blink and break into a huge smile is the best thing in the world. And I never thought I’d say that, again you’re 22 and I definitely didn’t think at 30 think I’d want to do that or it’d be incredible. But that’s a message, the things we’re most scared of, as long as they don’t kill us or hurt us, are probably the things we should do it.

I think if people could hear your voice they’d be pretty excited to try it too.
In the right time when you’re ready. If I had a kid before The Truth, I wouldn’t have been a good father.

Was there a worry about your child reading The Truth or The Game?
No, because that would be censoring ideas and thoughts. When I wrote for the New York Times I was a big believer in freedom of speech and expression. I would hope they could read any thoughts and ideas and be balanced enough to take what’s good for them.

I suppose it’ll be an insight for their father at points in his life.
Exactly! There aren’t gonna be any secrets.

The home truths will spill pretty early. Thanks so much for speaking to you, Neil.
Not a problem, it was a great conversation. Thank you.

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