Live

Watch CBSN Live

Unplugged Under 40: Author Nick McDonell

In a 24-hour trip to Washington this week Nick McDonell had a full agenda. The freelance journalist spent the day in meetings on Capitol Hill with staffers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – He's working on a story on the International Criminal Court he says he hopes to sell. And he spent the evening signing copies of his third novel at Politics and Prose.

Nick describes "An Expensive Education" as "a combination of campus novel and spy novel, so at its best it is sort of like Graham Greene goes to the frat house, but he also has to go to Somalia and Kenya and deal with all of the real trouble that happens there. But it's a conspiracy theory book."

But what does a 25-year-old know about the real trouble in Somalia and Kenya? Shortly after college graduation, Nick ventured to Sudan with a book idea in mind. He had heard wildly intriguing stories of the region from his Harvard Prof. Alex de Waal. He asked de Waal to connect him with a few sources, and he was off. But once he arrived in Sudan he realized de Waal was a story himself. He wrote 9,000 words on de Waal's work as a mediator between the Sudanese government and the West and sold it to Harper's Magazine. Along the way, in hotel rooms and on the road, he wrote "An Expensive Education."

"I'm an inexperienced reporter and I'm still learning. So I would arrive in a place and I would have to meet somebody, say there was a Rwandan MP, and he didn't show up for a month and the lieutenants wouldn't talk to me. So I was sort of just nosing around but a lot of the day there would be nothing to do, one or two interviews a day. So for the rest of the day I would sit there and I would try to write the sort of book that I would like to read."

Nick made headlines at 18 with his debut novel, "Twelve." The story of the over-privileged and under-supervised teens of New York's Upper East Side became an international best-seller. The movie is expected in theaters next year. Nick wrote a second book, "The Third Brother," in between his college classes, though it garnered less praise than the first.

Nick writes about what he knows, whether it's growing up on New York's Upper East Side or his reporting adventures abroad, then he pushes the limits. All three books are told from the perspective of young men coming to a new understanding about the world they live in.

"The first one is a drug dealer, the second is a journalist and the third is a spy. Now if I told you actually how many Somali warlords I had to kill with my bear hands the joke would be on me, but there are consistent similarities and I identify with these characters. And the book is drawn from experiences that I have had, usually details."

Nick has experienced more than most his age. The son of a high profile magazine editor and a novelist, he never had trouble getting his foot in the door, but Nick knows connections only get you so far.

"I know that I work hard for the things that I do and I really go to the places that I report on. So I think it is a combination of being at the right place at the right time and working hard."

Nick says he'll continue write both fact and fiction. Though he says he doesn't have another novel in the works right now, he hinted that "Expensive Education" could be headed for the big screen too.

Watch the full interview above. Click here for the full show which also includes Sharyl Attkisson's exclusive report on stimulus waste in New York state. "Washington Unplugged" appears live on CBSNews.com each weekday at 12:30 p.m. ET. Click here to check out previous episodes.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue