Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Writer's Block: Q&A with Marcus Sakey

Though I love doling out writing tips and discussing marketing trends, sometimes I like to let someone else grab the mic. So today, I've invited Marcus Sakey, a talented Chicago author, to discuss writing and his latest novel, THE AMATEURS.

Me: Talk a little about your writing process. How has it changed from book #1 to #4?

Marcus: More than I thought it would. That old axiom about every book being different? It's spot-on true. I've become a more organized writer with each book, which helps when the fear sets in. I outline the overall shape, and where it makes sense, I apply a three-act structure. There's less wing-it-and-pray and more take-this-hang-glider-off-the-cliff-and-still-pray.
This is a strange and scary way to make a living. You need to strike a balance between planning and inspiration. Lean too far either direction and you're likely to end up with something that's either stale or scattered. I guess the biggest change is that having done this a couple of times, I know to expect certain traps. I know that around page 200 I'm going to hate the whole damn project. I know that nearing the end, I'm going to hit problems that seem unresolvable. But I also know that (fingers crossed) if I just keep banging my head against them, eventually I'll break through.

Me: What research do you do for your novels?

Marcus: I tend to research all the fun stuff. I've ridden with gang cops, gone shooting with Special Forces, toured the morgue, learned how to make chemical weapons, practiced picking a deadbolt. Generally, if research involves a fair chance of hurting myself, I'm in.

Me: THE AMATEURS is about 4 friends; are these characters based on people you know?

Marcus: The characters aren't, but part of the setup is. When I lived in Atlanta I had a group of die-hard friends that got together every Wednesday night for drinks and conversation and laughter. It was a very intense, very intimate friendship, and that provided part of the idea of the novel. That said, there was less sex and murder in the Wednesday Night Crew than in the Thursday Night Crew. Praise be to Allah.

Me: How did the idea for THE AMATEURS come about?

Marcus: My books don't get traction in my head until an issue seizes me. In this case, there were two: first, I wanted to write a novel about how best friends could become the most effective enemies. And second, I wanted to explore the question of whether it's better to save the lives of a lot of people you don't know, or a handful you do. Those kinds of questions are what really fuel my books, or at least fuel me in writing them. I think that's why I write crime fiction: I like both playing with ideas and writing about pistol whipping.

Me: What advice would you give to an aspiring novelist or debut author?

Marcus: It's always the same. Ass in chair, fingers on keyboard. That's how it works.

Want to hear more? Stop by Marcus's launch party tomorrow, 7:00-10:00pm at Sheffields (3258 N. Sheffield). Free beer and books available for sale.

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