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The Sirens of Suspense





Marcus Sakey's thrillers have been nominated for more than fifteen awards, named New York Time's Editor's Picks, and selected among Esquire's Top 5 Books of The Year. His novels GOOD PEOPLE and BRILLIANCE are both in development as feature films.

Marcus is also the host of the acclaimed television show "Hidden City" on Travel Channel, for which he is routinely pepper-sprayed and attacked by dogs.

Prior to writing, he worked as a landscaper, a theatrical carpenter, a 3D animator, a woefully unprepared movie reviewer, a tutor, and a graphic designer who couldn't draw.

Marcus lives in Chicago with his wife and daughter.

Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

MARCUS SAKEY: Hide and Seek item1b

Your career seems to have a shadow of things that are hidden, from your Travel Channel show Hidden City, to your latest novel BRILLIANCE, which features people who are gifted in different ways who have to keep their gifts under wraps. What attracts you to this theme?


Nah, I'm kidding.  While I didn't really set out to make that a theme, I do love stories where discovering what's going on is part of the point; where people don't just come out and say what they mean or what they're after.  It makes for a far richer experience. 

Plus, it's more lifelike.  We all contain multitudes, right? 


I have to ask about your experiences at the Travel Channel. Did anything you experienced on the show end up in your writing? What's your favorite story about hosting the show? 

It has informed my writing, partly because I got to meet some fascinating people--soldiers, politicians, bank robbers, paranormal investigators, murderers--and partly because I got to do a lot of reckless things.  I got pepper sprayed and attacked by a K-9 dog; I rappelled with SWAT and flew a plane I didn't know how to land. Now that I have visceral knowledge of what those feel like, I can write them more accurately.

One of my favorite moments was visiting  a maximum security prison to interview a woman serving double life sentences for conspiring to murder her husband.  Every step of it was fascinating, from the security protocols the crew and I underwent, through to sitting down across from this woman and hearing her story. 

She was a tweaked one, and while she started out demure and playing for sympathy, when I questioned her about specific evidence, she stormed off and called me a homo.  A hard moment to beat. 


Neither your writing nor hosting seem to have a direct relation to your prior work - in advertising. Did you carry anything from that profession over to being an author? 

Advertising is terrific training for a writer.  You're developing a product people actively do not want: your work is what they flip past in a magazine or fast forward through on TV.  It's your job to hook them anyway.  It teaches economy and how to generate emotional appeal, skills you can apply to stories people do want.


BRILLIANCE, part of a trilogy, is a deft social commentary as well as a riveting action thriller. Can you tell us a little about the origins of the book? What led to your choice to cast gifted people as the group so feared and prejudiced against they resort to terrorism?

The book really started with an idea: what would happen to the world if 1% of the population were born with tremendous gifts, akin to savant-ism?

These 'brilliants' would be able to jump the world forward in many ways.  But they would also be making the other 99% of us obsolete...

While some of the brilliants have amazing abilities--they can sense patterns in the stock market, or read the deepest secrets from your body language--they are the farthest thing from superheroes.  They're just people for whom these gifts are an attribute, like hair color, or height.

And yet these gifts define the way the rest of us look at them, and shape the whole course of their life.


Four of your six novels are in development as feature films (BRILLIANCE is in development by Legendary Pictures as of March). The book to movie process is different for each author, as is their level of involvement and control. How has this experience been for you? Is this the first of your books which went to Hollywood prior to publication? Any tips for other authors going through the process?

Five, actually.  Or more specifically, five have been optioned for film.  The road to development is a long one, though.

I've had terrific luck with the process.  My novel Good People actually just finished shooting; it stars James Franco and Kate Hudson, and from what I've seen, it's going to be a terrific film, a stylish nail-biter of a thriller.

As for Brilliance, man oh man am I excited about that.  It went to Legendary, the company that did Inception, and Watchmen, and Man of Steel, and The Dark Knight, and 300...on and on.  These are films I haven't just seen, they're films I love, and I'm thrilled to lend them my imaginary friends.

And Legendary seems equally enthusiastic. The process is rolling already, with a script being adapted by David Koepp, the guy who did Spider-Man and Panic Room and Jurassic Park.  I really can't wait to see what he comes up with for this.


I know that you work a lot with the Team Julian Foundation, for pediatric cancer research. In fact, you donated a large portion of the proceeds from your short story collection SCAR TISSUE, to the organization. Can you tell us a little about the organization, how you came to be involved, and how readers can help?

In 2010, two of the best people I know received unimaginable news: their four-year-old son had an incurable brain tumor. Julian Boivin was a superhero in training, and fought an epic battle. But in the end, cancer stole this beautiful boy. 

Nothing can make that right. But the Team Julian Foundation is trying to give other kids a fighting chance against this devastating disease. 

To help, I’m donating 50% of the proceeds from  every sale of my short story collection Scar Tissue in perpetuity.  It’s a small, daily way to work toward a big change.  

If you're reading this, I hope you'll consider going here and buying a copy.  It's only $2.99, and the cause really couldn't be better.


What's coming next for you?

The sequel to Brilliance.  I'm about halfway done with it, and madly in love.  The series is designed to tell one epic story, a three-book arc that guides the reader through a world falling apart--and I'm having a ball destroying civilization.






Tell us or comment on the interview by using the Comments box further down on this page, or commenting on this blog entry on our Facebook page and be entered to win a copy of BRILLIANCE!



Writing ambience: Loud instrumental music, coffee.

To outline or not to outline: Outline but not obsessively.

Reading now: THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE, by Neil Gaiman.

Book or eReader? Both. I care about stories, not medium.

Book(s) he wishes he could read again for the first time: CLOUD ATLAS, by David Mitchell.

Favorite online resource: Sorry, mine are old hat: Wikipedia and Google Maps. Not sure how people wrote without them.

What he wishes he'd known when he started: Story structure. I had to learn it the hard way.

If he could have any superpower: To climb and leap and swing like a cross between a monkey and a squirrel. Without the tail.

What period in history he'd most like to visit I'm pretty happy here—it's an exciting time to be alive.