Julia interviews Marcus Sakey

How has your background in ad copy prepared you to be a crime fiction writer? Has it given you any perspective on the business side of the business?

My go-to joke is that ten years in advertising taught me everything I needed to write about killers and thieves. But the truth is that advertising is a terrific training ground for a novelist. You pack the maximum emotional wallop into the minimum space, and you learn to view writing as work that can be improved, rather than as your-heart-ripped-bleeding-and-perfect-from-your-chest.

But beyond the technique, my time in advertising helped with the business side of writing. It taught me to see my book as a product, and how to find the best ways to promote that product. And I was fortunate to get a lot of public speaking and networking experience, which pays off as well.

THE BLADE ITSELF is a polished gem. Much more so than many debuts, my own included. How much rewriting did you do? How does your editing process work?

Have I mentioned that I love you? I do. A deep, passionate, and abiding love.

I actually started BLADE while I was (briefly) pursuing an MFA, and I spent four months treating it as an exercise, rather than a book I actually intended to write: interviewing the characters, playing with scenes, tugging threads to see how they changed the tapestry. So once I decided to write the book, I had a very solid hold on the characters and the fundamentals of the story, and that helped immensely.

As far as revising, I do it every day. I start the day by revising yesterday’s work, and often times the work from the day before, too. The result is that as I move forward, what I’ve done becomes increasingly polished. Then once I finish, I let it sit for as close to a month as I can spare, during which time I spend massive amounts of time watching movies and playing X-Box. When I take the manuscript up again, I read the whole thing in one sitting, marker the hell out of it, and set to work. For BLADE, my formal revision process was probably about two months

Do you think female readers will find THE BLADE ITSELF appealing?

I certainly hope so. There are more of y’all.

One of the things I always liked about Elmore Leonard’s fiction is that the women in it aren’t there for decoration—they’re often smarter and more capable than the guys. So though BLADE is primarily a story of two men, I tried to write women that were fully-realized and empowered. And since my wife hasn’t kicked my butt, I hope I succeeded.

Mainly, though, the hook of the story is the idea that the more you have, the more you have to lose. In essence, the things you value you make you vulnerable: your lover, your house, your child. I think that’s equally terrifying to both genders.

Certainly scares the crap out of me.

Voltaire wrote, “a man is guilty of all the good he didn’t do…”. Not that Voltaire is one to comment, but how might Danny react to that statement?

Damn, Julia! I lift my quotations from Jackass, and here you are breaking out the Voltaire. In the beginning of the novel, Danny would laugh and dodge the question; by the end, he’d have a sad look and a sober nod.

What’s your next project all about? And is it in the can yet?

It’s another standalone thriller, about a discharged soldier who returns from Iraq to find a similar war raging in his old neighborhood. It’s got corruption, redemption, a love story, gang warfare. All the good stuff. I’m in the process of revising it now.

Is it true you’re Paul Michael Glaser’s love child? (I know, I know…I’m ashamed, but I couldn’t help myself.)

Actually, I am Paul Michael Glaser. Michael Jackson isn’t the only one with a hyperbaric chamber.

Who are a few of your literary and writing influences?

Oh man. In crime fiction, I probably owe the greatest debt to Dennis Lehane, Elmore Leonard, and George Pelecanos. These are three guys who took the genre to places it hadn’t been before, who added an emotional texture that I find irresistible.

But I actually read “litfic” more than genre: David Mitchell, Michael Chabon, David Foster Wallace, Cormac McCarthy, Chuck Palahniuk, Michael Cunningham, Ian McEwan, etc., etc.

Anything you’d like to add?

Just a pitch for ALL MORTAL FLESH. You’re actually messing with my life right now, Julia. I’m supposed to be navel-deep in revisions right now, but I started AMF last night, and I’m dying to get back to it. Freakin’ spectacular.

Who taught you to pick a deadbolt in 60 seconds? And can you hotwire a car…And can these new-fangled electronic ignitions BE hotwired? Here in the backwoods of Maine, we just take the crank with us when we exit the vehicle…

It’s a beautiful time to be alive. I typed “lock picking” into Google and got 1,620,000 hits. I spent the afternoon reading, bought a cheap set of picks and a lock, and went to work. It took me about two hours to get the hang of it, but by the end, I could crack the deadbolt on my front door in sixty seconds. Talk about the illusion of security.

As for hotwiring, I know how to hotwire older cars, from about ’85 back, though I haven’t tried it. The more recent models have RFID chips on the key; if the engine doesn’t read that signal, it won’t start. So while I’m sure it can still be done, it’s out of my league.

For now.

Marcus Sakey


“In crime fiction, I probably owe the greatest debt to Dennis Lehane, Elmore Leonard, and George Pelecanos. These are three guys who took the genre to places it hadn’t been before, who added an emotional texture that I find irresistible.”