Marcus Sakey is a bestselling Chicago author whose books have all been picked up by Hollywood. He was selected among Esquire Magazine’s Top 5 Books of the Year and his novel Good People was made into a movie starring James Franco and Kate Hudson. Sakey was the host of the television show Hidden City on Travel Channel, for which he was routinely pepper-sprayed and attacked by dogs. He spoke to Chicago News about his latest book Afterlife that is also in the planning stage to become another major motion picture directed by Ron Howard.
Chicago News: Can you tell us a little about your background.
Marcus Sakey: I grew up in Michigan. I worked for Turner Broadcasting in Atlanta. I worked on animation and special effects. I did graphic design. My wife and I then took out a map and decided we would come to Chicago in 2002.
CN: When did you become a bestselling author?
MS: I always wanted to write. I always wanted to be a novelist. I was burned out in the business of ad copy writing. In 2005 my wife said why don’t you write full time. I took classes at UIC and Columbia College. I then left school and started writing full time on my first novel. I completed my first novel The Blade Itself in 2007 which I sold at auction. (Afterlife) is my ninth book coming out.
CN: Can you tell us about your book Good People that became a Hollywood film.
MS: Every book I’ve written has been sold at auctioned. But I didn’t like Good People (as a movie). That is why part of my deal up front for Afterlife is that I would write the screenplay and that is what I’m working on now. I have spent a lot of time screenwriting which is hard, to bring the complexity of a novel into a screenplay.
CN: Can you tell us about Afterlife and how you conceived this latest book?
MS: It’s the most complicated book I’ve written. I rewrote the first 100 pages nine times. It’s a pretty tough book. I’ve loved the idea (life after death) which always appealed to me. I set out to write about a myth that can be true without being real. What happens after? We all presume we will get answers when it’s over. What if we find ourselves in a new world with a whole new set of rules – a little more black and white with the volume turned up. I loved imagining an existence as a series of fading echoes where you find yourself in a different place.
CN: This book has everything – history, good vs. evil, the afterlife, a terrorist attack, a love story, etc. So what kind of a book is this?
MS: One reviewer said this book is a story about the supernatural and I was pissed. This is not a supernatural story. Yes, there are gods. If people see where you are going and they’re right, then you’ve probably done a bad job. And you can’t do a surprise for the sake of surprise. A myth is trying to find an explanation. When it comes to life after death, I had to find a balance. I didn’t want to make it too black that would be too depressing. We would find a different life where we keep faith in one another.
CN: Is there an afterlife?
MS: I’m probably agnostic or I’m atheist without trying to convince people about it. I enjoy thinking about it as an intellectual exercise and that you make choices in the world you are in. Myths are fascinating to me. The Greeks were very smart people. I don’t think they believed that there was a god of the sun who rode on a chariot, but they framed it as a myth even when you can see it’s not real. You push some of the darkness away.
CN: So what does it take to become an author?
MS: You have to read everything. I’ve talked to people who want to be a writer but they don’t read. I’ve read all my life. I mostly write fiction. My brain is wired to write stories – science fiction, fantasy, crime, etc.
CN: Tell us about your gig with the Travel Channel when you hosted the program Hidden City.
MS: This was the middle of my career (2011). As a novelist I was looking for particular crimes that would tell about a city. It would reveal a lot about the city. As the host I was peppered sprayed and attacked by dogs, repelled by a SWAT team and handled a human brain. I would interview fascinating people and hear their stories. People were happy to talk to you when they see you are interested. When they see you’re genuine they open up.
CN: So what is your next step?
MS: I am writing the screenplay for Afterlife that was sold to Ron Howard. It’s a different process. Most (book to film) adaptations are awful. It’s tricky. It’s not just about cutting things out. You may introduce new things (into the film.) In a screenplay you don’t write what somebody looks like. The Good People film had good intentions but I didn’t care for it. I prefer writing books although screenwriting is fascinating.
CN: What do you think of Hollywood?
MS: Hollywood is a strange place.
CN: You feature a lot of Chicago in your latest novel. What do you think of Chicago?
MS: I love this city. It’s the perfect place to write. Chicago is America, with all the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s vibrant and alive, beautiful and corrupt. Four of my other books take place in Chicago.
By Jim Vail