Friday, February 8, 2008

Interview: Marcus Sakey author of At the City's Edge

The Book

Summary: Jason Palmer loved being a soldier. But after returning home from
Iraq with an "other than honorable" discharge, he's finding rebuilding
his life the toughest battle yet.

Elena Cruz is a talented
cop, the first woman to make Chicago's prestigious Gang Intelligence
Unit. She's ready for anything the job can throw at her.

Until Jason's brother, a prominent community activist, is murdered in front of his own son.

stalked by brutal men with a shadowy agenda, Jason and Elena must
unravel a conspiracy stretching from the darkest alleys of the ghetto
to the manicured lawns of the city's power brokers. In a world where
corruption and violence are simply the cost of doing business, two
damaged people are all that stand between an innocent child--and the
killers who will stop at nothing to find him.

Review: This book is yet another wonderful page-turner by the brilliant newbie, Marcus Sakey. I totally love that he manages to tell a thrilling story & have it impact the way that you view the world.  His book hits clear on this  point:  There is a war going on in our country and its being led by gangsters. Okay, you might be thinking, yeah, hit me with something new. But, Sakey takes this old adage and throws it into poetic, thrilling spin. Add this book to your list of must-reads! You won't be disappointed!

The Interview

Who can resist brilliance? Modern Girl Style caught up with Marcus Sakey to learn more about his thrilling style!

Moderngirllogomini 1. Your second novel, AT THE CITY’S EDGE, had a tough  act to follow due to your wildly successful debut novel THE BLADE ITSELF.  What challenges did you face in writing your second novel and was it hard to  start? 

First off, thanks. 

The second novel syndrome is definitely tough.  You're trying to do something you've only done once before, and now you have a deadline.  Not only that, but if you have any balls, you're trying to do something a little bit different.  Which means you always worry that everything people liked about the first book is exactly what you're not doing with the second.

Eventually though, you just have to try to put that aside and write it anyway.  It's stressful, but that's probably good, because it forces you not to get lazy.

Moderngirllogomini 2. Jason Palmer, the protagonist in the AT THE CITY’S  EDGE, is an Iraq war veteran who returns home and discovers life isn’t that  different from war. In fact, gang-culture has adopted the tactics and  language of war (i.e.: The term soldier translates to the lowest  ranking member in a gang).  What kind of experience gave you the  ability to write this novel? What sort of research did you conduct to add  credibility to the situations found in your novel? 

Research is one of the best parts about writing thrillers.  I get to do and see things I'd never otherwise have been exposed to.  It's exhilarating, and fascinating, and plenty thought-provoking.

For this novel, I interviewed cops in four cities, read studies and memoirs about soldiers, cops, and gangbangers.  I spent a lot of time wandering the real neighborhood I based my fictional neighborhood on.  I even put on a bulletproof vest and rode with Chicago PD's Gang Intelligence Unit.  It was during that time I learned the saddest thing I've ever known.  The cop I was with was explaining how they gauged the power of gangs.  Since they won't exactly stand still for a census, the cops rely on secondary indicators--tattoos, known associates, etc.  But, he said, the best way to measure their power was simple:

You just count the number of schools on their turf.

Moderngirllogomini 3. In  your own personal history, I’ve read that you and your wife on a whim  decided to move to Chicago from Atlanta. In your second novel, which tackles  the impoverished social conditions, corruption, and violence found in the  inner city, I felt like I was reading a modern-hip version of Upton  Sinclair’s, THE JUNGLE. Strangely enough, Sinclair was another writer that  moved to Chicago to specifically write a socio-political novel. So, I’m  thinking there has to be something in the water in Chicago that inspires  writers to tackle such tough socio-political landscapes. Why did you choose  to include the social-political conditions of Chicago instead of writing a strict thriller? 

I think you're right, there is something in the water here.  It has to do with the fact that this is a city of dualities--rich/poor, north/south, Cubs/Sox.  It's built for stories, and it's a good stand-in for America proper.

As for why I chose to write about that stuff, it's just more interesting to me if there are other issues besides the "how will they survive" thriller aspects.  As novelists, we have the opportunity to point out things in the world that are fucked up, and while I never want to write polemics, I would find it simplistic and a little cowardly not to take advantage of that opportunity.

Moderngirllogomini 4. In  your acknowledgements, you thank plenty of talented individuals that include  members of the Chicago PD, LAPD, and a NYC Medical Examiner. How did you  gain access to these resources, how much time did you spend with them, and  what will you remember most about the experience?


You ask them.  I'm not being glib--it's really that simple.  I was stunned to discover that.  When I called the CPD the first time, I ended up spending forty minutes on the phone with a guy, asking what would happen if I dumped a body in the river.  And I kept waiting for him to ask for some real credentials, you know, to ask if maybe I actually had a body in my living room.

What it comes down to is that everybody likes to talk about what they do.  And especially people in these kinds of jobs, because they are often represented so poorly.  Cops hate CSI. 

As for what I remember, man, it's been incredible.  A former Special Forces soldier took me shooting one time, blasting away with submachine guns.  A medical examiner walked me through the morgue, explained how an autopsy was done, showed me a room full of jarred organs.  And I'll never forget the moment I first managed to pick the lock on my front door.

Moderngirllogomini 5. The  word is out that you’ve finished your third book. Can you briefly tell us  what we might expect and when is it set to publish?

The rumors are true.  It’s another crime thriller, a little more intimate this time, slated for release this August. Here's the catalog copy:

All Tom and Anna Reed ever wanted was a family and the security to enjoy it.  But years of infertility treatments, including four failed attempts at in-vitro fertilization, have left them with neither.  The costs, both emotional and financial, are straining their relationship and endangering their dreams.    So when their downstairs tenant—a recluse whose cashier’s checks were barely keeping them afloat—dies in his sleep, the $400,000 they find stashed in his kitchen seems like fate. More than fate: A chance for the fairy tale ending they’ve always dreamed of.

But Tom and Anna soon realize that fairy tales don’t come cheap.  Because their tenant wasn’t a hermit who squirreled away his pennies. He was a criminal who double-crossed some of the most dangerous men  in Chicago. Men who won’t stop until they get revenge—no matter where they find it.

Moderngirllogomini BONUS QUESTION!! What is the key to surviving winter in Chicago?

Bourbon and a fireplace.

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Moderngirllogomini And I have to add a good book!! Thanks Marcus for hanging out at Modern Girl Style!

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