Marcus, first of all, congratulations on all of your successes. Your website is filled with great news. So my first question is—is this a dream come true? Have you always aspired to be a writer? Or did you happen into it and find that you were quite good at it? Or some other thing I didn’t mention?
Thanks! I’m delighted but a little dizzy. I’ve had an awful lot of luck.
It’s a dream come true. I’ve wanted to do this pretty much my whole life. So, knowing that, I promptly went to college to study something else, then got a job doing something else still. Ten years later, hating my job, I decided to quit, and was fired before I could get a word out. True story. So it seemed like an opportune time.
Your reviews have been terrific. I was struck by the quote from the Chicago Tribune on your website, indicating that your work is “even better than they say.” I would be happy if someone said this about my talent in any context. But—weird as this may sound—are good reviews ever intimidating?
You know, they are, because by the time you get them, you’re deep into something else. So you get about ten seconds of happy glow followed by a double handful of pressure. While I like my finished work, in process I’m wracked with doubt—is this interesting enough, big enough, new enough, good enough. And someone saying nice things about something I’ve already done adds to that.
That said, to any reviewers out there, please, don’t feel the need to “help me” by gratuitously bashing my books.
You give much good advice on your website about how to sell a novel. One of the memorable lines is “New ideas are the lace lingerie of writing, but novels aren’t made of one-night stands.” Why do you think it’s tempting for writers to dump the project they’re working on to pursue something else?
Thanks. I got a lot of good advice from people when I was starting, so I wanted to try to give back.
New ideas are always tempting because whatever you’re committed to is hard work. Simple as that. It’s 300 or so pages of hard work, and so the greener-grass factor comes into play. I recommend writing down those new ideas and then getting back to your novel. No other way to make things happen.
Plus, to be dead honest, when you come back to them clean, you’re going to realize they weren’t all that magical anyway.
Before I ever met you, I attended the Madison Bouchercon and some of the men
in the bar were grumbling about your good looks. The word "breathtaking" was used, as I recall. Do you have fans who feel this way?
The men were saying that? Damn that plastic surgeon. I knew he screwed me.
As I once told you, I read The Blade Itself after drinking a 20-ounce Diet Coke, and it was sheer torture trying to finish the book before my bladder exploded. Do you consciously try to create suspense, or do you just tell the story in your head and let the suspense emerge?
I love that compliment. While I’m glad you didn’t suffer internal damage, there’s no nicer thing to say to a writer than that you simply couldn’t stop reading.
I work hard to create suspense. Every scene, every page, should have something that propels the reader forward. It doesn’t have to be a gunfight—in fact, it definitely shouldn’t be—but suspense is what makes most people read. You can have anything else in there you want, use it as a pulpit, explore your characters or your ideas, so long as you make sure suspense is always present.
Your book At the City’s Edge also won raves, but you suggest that Good People, which comes out in August, is your favorite so far. Why?
Partly because it’s my last, I suppose, and partly because it went more easily than either of the others. But mostly because I just like it. Sorry—not too technical an answer.
In your list of favorite authors, there is only one woman. Are you branching out and reading more books by female writers?
Yikes. I’ve been busted on this one before, and I really should update that list. I swear, I like and respect women.
Rather than go into it again, let me direct you here, to Marshal Zeringue’s fine blog, where I answered this at some length.
You love traveling. Is there a location that would earn your “most beautiful place” award?
Wow. Most beautiful?
Call it a tie between SCUBA diving in Belize, rock climbing in Utah, wandering in Amsterdam, café-sitting in Prague, and watching monkeys in Costa Rica.
Oh, and café con leche in Sevilla.
And strolling New York in winter.
Swimming in Greece.
The producing duo of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have purchased the rights to your first novel. This is cool on many levels, but I can’t help but reflect on this: Jason Bourne bought your book! What was your feeling after you made that sale?It was something like this:
Sorry. I swear a lot.
Funny thing is, and I have no idea whether he’d be interested or their company would want to take it this way, but Matt Damon was one of three people I pictured in my head while writing the book.
That sounds odd.
Pictured playing the roles, I mean.
The other two were Mark Wahlberg and Edward Norton. Any of them could just kill as either of the major characters.
Do you know when the movie will be made? Will they keep the title?
Well, I don’t actually know that it will be made. It’s only optioned at the moment. Things are looking positive, but I’m not counting on it until I’m sitting in a seat. As for the title, I have no idea. I’d like for them to keep it, but it wouldn’t upset me if they changed it. I worked in advertising for years, so I got over my moral compunctions about whoring some time ago.
Do you want a role in the movie? Any interest in making a brief Hitchcock-like appearance in all of your future films?
Hell yes. There’s a scene where a character gets his throat ripped out with a set of keys—I’d love for that to be my debut.
Gross--but it would be memorable. What are you reading now?
I just finished an ARC of Ken Bruen’s forthcoming novel ONCE WERE COPS. Blew my hair back. I read it in a day, 50 pages in the morning, another 250 at night, until 3 a.m.
This morning I started Pete Dexter’s THE PAPERBOY. Loving it, of course. He’s a black magician.
Are you at work on a fourth book, or are you letting yourself have a vacation?
I wish. I’m 65 pages into book four, as yet untitled. Still in the part where I like it—around page 150, I’m sure I’ll lose all faith.
But I have learned how to make Sarin gas. It’s easier than you’d think.
Your books have come out in rapid succession; do you ever suffer from a dearth of ideas?
That’s been a quirk of the publishing industry more than anything else. I finished BLADE in 2005, if I recall. Basically, I’m a book a year guy. GOOD PEOPLE is something of an exception, but it has to do with me following my editor to a new publisher. Still wrote it in a year, they just shortened the lead time to publish it.
One last thing: what was the most influential book you read as a young person, mystery or otherwise?
Way, way too many to mention. I got through school by sitting in the back row with a book held under the desk. At the time, I thought I was pulling one over on the teachers, but lately I’m thinking they were smarter than I realized.
Thanks for chatting with me Marcus, and good luck with everything. :)
Thank you! It was a pleasure.