Thursday, November 29, 2007

Marcus Sakey

In July 2007 John Kenyon of Things I'd Rather Be Doing interviewed Marcus Sakey, author of The Blade Itself and the forthcoming At the City's Edge.

Here are some of Kenyon's introductory remarks and two of the exchanges from the interview:

The Blade Itself is a taut, edgy thriller that lives up to the considerable hype, and marks Sakey as a new voice to watch in the world of crime fiction. It is the story of Danny, a southside hood who runs with Evan, a gun-happy thug. A botched burglary at a pawn shop sends the two in separate directions: Danny cleans up and goes straight while Evan heads to prison. Of course, nothing good lasts forever, and Danny has a hard time fitting a newly released Evan back into his life.

There is plenty of action here, but Sakey also salts his tale with considerable food for thought, riffing on second chances and the penal system in particular. The author spent 10 years in advertising and marketing before taking the plunge as a novelist, so he had to do significant research to promise verisimilitude in his story. He writes on his web site that he “shadowed homicide detectives, learned to pick a deadbolt in sixty seconds and drank plenty of Jameson.” But this is no term paper; he weaves this newly gleaned information into the story seamlessly.

Sakey's next book is another stand-alone, At the City’s Edge, about “a discharged soldier who returns from Iraq to find a similar war raging in his South Side neighborhood.” Set in Chicago, like The Blade Itself, it is due in 2008.

TIRBD: It seems to be a somewhat risky move to start a career writing stand-alones in the mystery/thriller genre rather than to initiate a series, but you've managed to succeed. Did you give any thought to this when starting out, or was this simply the book you needed to write?

MS: I'll tell you a secret: you give everything thought when you're writing a novel. It takes a year, and it's on your mind the whole time, which means that you have months and months to not only identify all the stupid mistakes you're making, but also to flagellate yourself raw for them.

I worried about a lot of things, including not writing a series. However, at the end of the day, I didn't see a way to be faithful to the characters I had created and the story I was trying to tell, and yet also make it a series. So I took them through the worst experience of their life, punished them for old mistakes, tried to give them a brighter future, and then said goodbye.

The style works well for me, though. After a year of living with a group of characters, I tend to want a little relief, to move into someone new. So for now, I'm planning to continue writing stand-alones.
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You did some significant research for The Blade Itself; did you do similar work to prepare for writing your next book, At the City's Edge, which deals with a soldier returning from Iraq?

Research is one of the most rewarding parts of writing thrillers. You get to experience a life that is a hundred miles from your everyday, from the daily life of most people. I've ridden with the police numerous times. I've toured the morgue and learned how an autopsy was performed. I've taught myself to pick a lock.

For At the City's Edge, I had two main areas of research: the common soldier's experience, and the life and structure of metropolitan street gangs. Both were fascinating. I interviewed soldiers, spoke to cops in Chicago, LA, and New York, read numerous memoirs, kept up with daily blogs, even borrowed a bulletproof vest and spent a couple of days shadowing Gang Intelligence units. I love doing that stuff; my wife, not so much.
Read the full interview.

At the City's Edge is due out in January 2008.

--Marshal Zeringue