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“How Fantasy Sports Explains the World”: A Talk With AJ Mass

Listen, guys. Not all nerds hate sports. Prove it? You want me to prove it? Fine! Read How Fantasy Sports Explains the World: What Pujols and Peyton Can Teach Us About Wookiees and Wall Street by AJ Mass. You’ll be a believer. And if you already love fantasy sports (I loooove me some fantasy baseball, I won’t lie), you’ll really appreciate this.

Recently, I had a little email chat with Mass and thought it would make for a better book review than I could write because, let’s face it, the title is pretty self-explanatory. I want to preface this by saying: How Fantasy Sports Explains the World is definitely not just for sports fans. This is a book any nerd can get into. Maybe not knitting nerds. I lied.

So, here’s the — well, let’s loosely call it an interview — chat I had with Mass:

Tell me about your book (in your own wonderful words).

From the title of my book you can probably figure out that it’s about fantasy sports, but that’s only the jumping off point. To me, fantasy sports is really a metaphor for anything people are passionate about, and how we’re all looking for a sense of control in a world where we truly don’t have that much.

I decided to talk to experts from all walks of life: legal experts, biblical experts, economists, the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, romance expert Steve Ward (Tough Love) as well as pop-culture figures like Jane Espenson (Buffy), Alec Sulkin (Family Guy), and Survivor contestant Yau-Man Chan.

What I found there was that life lessons could be taken from playing fantasy sports and could be applied to other parts of our lives.  You don’t even need to know anything about fantasy sports to relate to a majority of the stories in this book. If you’ve ever picked up the phone to vote for American Idol, been called for jury duty, attended Comic-Con, gone out on a blind date, or been in a meeting at work where you couldn’t wait for a certain co-worker to shut up… you can relate to this book.

It’s meant to be a fun, entertaining book for anyone who has a passion about anything, full of anecdotes that take you from the boardroom to the courtroom, from charred Connecticut campgrounds to the world of psychic charlatans and to the edge of a galaxy, far, far, away.

What was it like to get the (pardon the pun) ball rolling on this project? There are so many interviews and interesting stories here, was it difficult to get it started?

I had a few stories I knew I wanted to incorporate into the book — for example, my encounter with basketball player Allen Iverson at an Atlantic City casino (I used to work as a dealer). I also had a few ideas on fantasy sports topics that I knew from experience (I write about fantasy sports for ESPN.com) lent themselves to analogies in particular areas. However, most chapters existed in theory only, and I wasn’t quite sure what shape they’d ultimately take.I simply reached out to people I thought would be fun to interview, who had a certain expertise that fit into these areas. For example, I knew I wanted to discuss time travel, so Dr. Tyson was first on my list. Not everyone I asked was willing to help, but for the most part, the response was very positive.  And in many cases, something came up in the interview process that struck a mutual chord and suddenly became the centerpiece of the chapter.The one chapter I am most proud of is the last one because it came together at the very last minute. I had been trying to get an interview with Damien Echols of the West Memphis Three, and it just never seemed to come together. Simply put, it’s hard to get access to a death row inmate!  However, thanks to his wife, Lorri Davis, I was able to get some questions to her via email and she took them on one of her prison visits. Finally, she emailed me his responses the day before we were due to go to press.

Two days after my book was released, the West Memphis Three were released. It was incredible, given the message of that final chapter about never giving up hope…

That’s AMAZING! It sounds like you were incredibly persistent in getting this done. Is there any advice you can offer to other writers about getting their own book ideas off the ground?

Write. Some chapters of my book seemed to write themselves and remained pretty much unchanged in the final book from the first draft. Others, I avoided like the plague, unsure of how to approach them. Interestingly enough, forced to confront my deadline, I eventually had to suck it up and dive in. As hard as the writing process was, in terms of feedback, it is usually these difficult chapters that get the most praise from readers. So, waiting until you have everything figured out in terms of what you want to write results in nothing but blank pages and stress. Taking a leap of faith that you’ll figure it out as you go often takes you in directions that you never would have thought of until you were right there in the moment. In other words: write.
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Pick the book up, you won’t be disappointed. I want to thank AJ Mass again for being a wonderful email buddy and patient experimental interviewee. You can follow AJ Mass on Twitter and, if your fantasy sports interest is piqued, wander on over to read his article on getting started in Fantasy Baseball.

 

As always you can find me on Twitter, email me at booknerdist@gmail.com or leave a comment here. OH! Oh! And stay tuned for a forthcoming podcast by yours truly and friends, called No Math Allowed! A Podcast About Books. Sorta. It’ll be coming in April, we hope, and should be a good old fashioned book nerd festival of fun….

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4 comments

  • Hi Eric,I’ve been playing fastany baseball for nearly 12 years now, but I’ve used your site for the past 3.You have great articles and very helpful insight. You’re site has been extremely helpful. Keep up the great work and I wish you luck in your league this year!!Dave

  • There are plenty of nerds who enjoy sports in general, and fantasy sports in particular. I grew up a fan of several sports, but (in true nerd fashion) was never good at any of them. So I resigned myself to watching the pros on TV. Fantasy sports are perfect for people like me; the statistics component plays right into our analytical nature, and the interactive component gives us an outlet to feel like we are actively participating in the sport. I’ve also found that my knowledge of the game has expanded as a result.