Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Interview with Marcus Sakey

Joe sez: I've known Marcus Sakey for years. He's a great guy, a great writer, and is currently doing something very worthwhile with his re-release of his ebook short story collection, Scar Tissue, now available on Kindle for $2.99.

One of the reasons I still blog is for occasions like this. A terrific book, and a terrific cause.

Joe Konrath: Scar Tissue contains some stellar short stories--stuff that really sticks with the reader months later. How did it come about?

Marcus Sakey:  It came about because I find writing short stories brutal.  They need to be so damn perfect.

With a novel, there’s a certain freedom to play.  You can try things: flirt with a style, dance with a quirk, toy with a notion.  Now, understand, I’m tenured faculty in the Kill Your Darlings School of Writing, so I believe that ultimately an experiment has to succeed to survive, and that failed attempts should be shot in the head and dumped in the garbage.  It’s just that the breadth of a novel gives you room to maneuver.

Short stories, on the other hand, are themselves an experiment.  By definition they are almost certain to leave a reader wanting.  They’re one night stands.  And so they have to be stellar, or all you’ll be left with is annoyance and regret and in the worst cases, blue balls.

I’ve written dozens of short stories.  There are exactly seven that I’m satisfied with.

And that’s ScarTissue.

Joe:  You’re doing something unusual with this release.  What is the Team Julian Foundation?

Marcus:  In 2010, two of the best people I know got unimaginable news: their four-year-old son had an incurable brain tumor. 

Julian Boivin was a superhero in training.  He was sweet and bright and joyful and incredibly tough.  He and his parents fought an epic battle: surgery, radiation, chemo, things no child should have to experience.  But in the end, cancer stole this beautiful boy.

Founded in his honor, the Team Julian Foundation is trying to give other kids a fighting chance. To help, I’m donating 50% of the proceeds from every copy of Scar Tissue sold to pediatric cancer research. 

Joe:  But that’s not all…

Marcus:  No.  For the next two weeks, I’m going to donate 100% of the profit.  Every cent from every sale.  The reason is simple: your blog.

I’ve been reading A Newbie’s Guide for six years.  I know how many readers you have, and how influential they are.  If we all pitch in, we’ll not only raise a lot of desperately needed funds, but hopefully build momentum that will encourage others to help.

So please,  if you’re reading this, consider buying the anthology.  It’s $3.  It’s not even a latte.  But every bit of the profit will go to helping kids like Julian.

Joe: And besides doing good, you get the book.  I’ve read it, and it gets my highest recommendation.  And others agree.

Marcus:  First off, thanks.  I’d say the check was in the mail, but I know you prefer payment in beer.  Which I admire.

The stories have been well-received, with a lot of critical praise and some Hollywood interest.  The most successful, “The Desert Here and the Desert Far Away,” was nominated for the Macavity and the Lovey, as well as being shortlisted as the best short story of 2009 by the International Thriller Writers.

But I think one of the most memorable honors I’ve received was for my shortest story ever, the 25-word tale “The Time Before the Last.”  The anthology that published it was used as source material for an artists’ competition, with individual painters choosing the story that moved them most.

Several people selected my story, and it was just the coolest thing to see artists take inspiration from a story I wrote and then go on to create something completely different. 

I tried to buy one the pieces, but they’d sold the opening night.  Which is pretty cool too.

Joe: What's your writing background?

Marcus:  Lying to people. 

For me specifically, it was advertising.  There’s no better way to prepare for writing about criminals and thieves than a job in advertising.

I enjoyed it for awhile, but the business eats its young, and one day I realized I was at best an appetizer.  So I decided to quit, and the next morning, I went to see my boss.  Before I could get a word in edgewise, he fired me.  With severance. 

Talk about a karmic kick in the pants.

Anyway, I threw myself into writing short stories—the fact that they need to be perfect is the exact reason you should start with them; you’ll miss more than you hit, but you’ll learn from the swing, and you can swing a lot—while taking classes towards an MFA.  My plan being that if I failed as a writer, I could become a teacher.

Then this hot-shit newcomer spoke to my class.  He was all fire and energy and system-breaking, and he laid some serious business on us: how the industry worked, the truth about money, the need for focus, the idea that you can either talk about wanting to be a writer or you can write.  After class, I asked if I could buy him a beer. 

Our bar tab, five hours later, was $96.  Joe let me pay.  Bastard. 

It was worth it.  I dropped out of my program and wrote my first novel.  The Blade Itself sold at auction, won some awards, and was bought for film by Ben Affleck.

Joe: I hope you wrote that off on your taxes. :)

Besides buying Scar Tissue, how can people contribute to the Team Julian Foundation?

There are a hundred ways.  For a checkbook liberal like me, the easiest is just that: write a check.  Team Julian is completely volunteer managed—Julian’s parents Brad and Nettie, along with their amazing friends, handle everything—so your money goes pretty much directly to pediatric cancer research.

But there are lots of other things you can do to help as well.  Check out TeamJulianFoundation.com for more details.

Joe: I already have the ebook (hell, I wrote the foreword for it) so I just donated directly to Team Julian. If you have Scar Tissue, I invite you to do the same. If you don't have Scar Tissue, get it for $2.99 and as previously stated, Marcus will donate all profits to the foundation for two weeks, and after that half the profits, forever. Marcus's short fiction is every bit as good as his novels, which is to say it's spectacular.

Spread the word.