Mike Sager is a best-selling author and award-winning reporter who once worked as a Washington Post staff writer under Watergate investigator Bob Woodward. In this interview, Sager describes how three decades of working behind the scenes in L.A. and Hollywood for publications like Rolling Stone and Esquire led him to write “High Tolerance.”
“High Tolerance” is a novel about our culture’s worship of Hollywood celebrity and materialism; the clash of races and points of view in a rapidly changing world; and about love and losing love, both parental and romantic. Sager said the idea for the novel came to him during the Writer’s Guild of America strike in 2008. “My first act of research was to walk the picket line for a few days with a writer/producer friend. For research I also worked for a while in a medical marijuana shop in Malibu, hung out and smoked pot with Snoop Dogg, and spent three days and nights with Paris Hilton.”
Sager added that he was also able to draw on his past journalistic experiences for the novel. He described those as “living with a crack gang in Venice, covering the War on Drugs; and writing extensively about the beating of black motorist Rodney G. King. And, of course, I spent nearly two decades as a husband and remain a father to this day. They say you should write about what you know. Well, this is what I’ve learned in nearly forty years with my boots on the ground.”
High Tolerance is about sex, race, celebrity, and marijuana. It takes place in Hollywood in 2008, during the Writer’s Guild of America strike. The main characters are a beloved super starlet, a controversial billionaire hip-hop mogul, and a television writer—all of them linked improbably by murder, domestic heartbreak, a sex video . . . and their inclusion on a secret subscription list for an exclusive designer strain of medical marijuana. Over a span of three seemingly ordinary days and nights in Los Angeles, the world wobbles on its digital axis, and futures are forever changed.
“When I’m working as a journalist,” said Sager, “every one of my non fiction stories is finely audited by fact checkers and lawyers. The art to being a literary journalist is to make great story while staying within the facts. Over the years it has taught me that there’s nothing stranger than truth. I give that line to one of my characters in High Tolerance. At the time he says it, he’s in a bit of a pickle.”
One of the aspects of writing fiction that concerns Sager is realism. He said, “Because I’ve spent a lifetime working in “fact,” my fiction has to have plausibility. It has to feel real, the emotions genuine—I’ve been in some tough spots; things have to ring true.”
It’s that aspect of reality Sager believes will earn reader loyalty. “I want my readers to come away satisfied. I want them to be entertained; I want them to learn some great weird and interesting stuff; I want them to be touched by something universal that makes them identify with the characters and situations in the story. More than anything else, I want to make a reader so delighted that he or she will try another of my books.”
Mike Sager is the author of four collections of nonfiction, two novels, and one biography. He has served for more than fifteen years as a writer at large for Esquire. In 2010 he won the American Society of Magazine Editors’ National Magazine Award for profile writing for his article “The Man Who Never Was,” which became an Emmy-nominated documentary on ESPN. His popular column, Go Ask Sager, appears across Playboy’s internet offerings and on Gawker. For more information, please see www.mikesager.com. For information about other offerings from The Sager Group, visit www.TheSagerGroup.net.