I’m a huge, huge fan of Michael Marshall (Smith) and am absolutely thrilled to have him as a guest today! His brand new book, WE ARE HERE, just came out this week, and he answered a few questions about it, and much more. In addition, courtesy of the nice folks at Mulholland, we’ve got two galleys of WE ARE HERE to give away to two lucky winners, so be sure to check out those details at the end of the post!
I’ve been a longtime fan of yours and was so excited to see that We Are Here was on the way! Ok, now that I’ve gotten the gushing out of the way… Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Thank you for the kind words, and I’m delighted to be here!
I moved around a lot as a child. I was born in England, but my family moved to America when I was one year old. We stayed there until I was seven, then spent a year in South Africa and a year in Australia before returning to the UK. I didn’t always consciously want to be a writer — I went to university intending to become an academic, like my father — though in retrospect the seeds were sown early on, and I did experiment with a few bits of prose when I was in my teens.
While I was at college I started doing a lot of performing and writing, and soon afterward this morphed into writing dark fiction, sparked by some chance encounters with seminal novels, and by meeting a few people who were already writing short stories. They were all horror writers, though my early reading choices had been SF people like Asimov, Clarke, Dick and Bradbury, and then Kingsley Amis. I supported myself in a variety of unexciting ways —working as a graphic designer, organizer of a film festival, writer of extremely tedious corporate information films — until a wildly optimistic/foolish producer hired me for a large screenwriting job. That project dragged on for two years and never came to fruition, but by the time it had fallen apart my lot was cast, I’d written my first novel (ONLY FORWARD), and knew I was never going to want to do anything else.
John Henderson, of 2009’s BAD THINGS, also is the narrator of WE ARE HERE. What made you decide to write another book with John as your protagonist? Will you tell us a little more about WE ARE HERE?
John and Kristina simply stuck in my head, much as Ward and Nina and Jack from THE STRAW MEN had. WE ARE HERE is not a continuation of BAD THINGS, and I could have gone with totally new characters, I guess — but they felt like they fitted, and I wanted to spend more time with them.
The book however starts with a man called David, who visits NYC with his wife at the beginning of what seems like an exciting new stage in his life: as he prepares to board the train home, though, a total stranger comes up to him in the station and says something rather strange — something that implies that he knows David, and has a call upon him.
“Remember me”, is what he says.
Meanwhile John (who moved to NYC after the events of BAD THINGS) gets drawn into helping a new friend of Kristina’s, who thinks she’s being stalked. John soon comes to realize it’s true, and also that there’s something very odd about the person doing the stalking. Gradually these two strands get pulled together into a thriller which looks at the power and pitfalls of friendship, what happens when these relationships are misused or abandoned — and asks questions about the reality and intangibility of our communities and groups, our emotions and lives.
There are few writers that are able to combine mystery with a hint of the extraordinary like you can. What do you enjoy most about writing your genre bending brand of fiction, and about being a writer in general?
I enjoy threading mystery with a note of the extraordinary because I think life is threaded with it. There’s a great tendency at the moment to bludgeon the magic out of the world, using the reductionist hammer of unimaginatively-applied ‘science’, but I think we all know — or at least believe, which is what counts as knowledge in the real world — that the universe is far more complicated, stranger, and more dangerous than the laboratory suggests.
Fiction needs to reflect this — interesting fiction, at any rate.
What I like about being a writer…? Good question. I guess having the freedom to live my life in certain ways, being paid to make up stories, and the opportunities for meeting people and traveling it involves. And when writing’s fun, it’s fun. It’s not a job for the faint of heart, however. If you’re very sociable, need constant positive feedback, or enjoy predictability or security or knowing what the hell you’re doing… you might want to look elsewhere for a career. When writing’s not fun, it’s really not fun.
What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Very much a pantser. I’ve tried to rigorously plot — and it worked once, with THE SERVANTS — but for some reason my mind rears away from the task like a startled foal. I’ll have a strong idea of how a novel starts, some incidents or ideas for the middle, and then a sense of the ending, but the rest is generally thrashed out on the page. I’ll break off every few weeks when it becomes clear that I need to step back from it and plan the next stages — I call this ‘going to the pad’, because I generally draw diagrams and stuff to try to clarify my thoughts — but overall the plot tends to emerge, rather than be imposed.
Did you do any specific research for We Are Here?
The only real research I did for WE ARE HERE was to spend a few periods in New York City, walking the streets for hour after hour, largely at random, drinking lots of coffee and stopping to look at anything that caught my eye. I did this partly so I could try to picture it correctly, also because I believe a novel’s location is as much a character in the story as the people, and so I wanted to become at least an acquaintance with the city before I started. Though in fact, as so often with me, the process was mainly the other way around. I spent time in the city, and so it suggested itself as a locale.
You’ve undoubtedly influenced countless authors with your work, but what are a few authors or novels that have been big influences for you?
It’s hard to tell who’ve been actual influences, over and above just liking their work, but I suspect the following have certainly helped structure what I do…
- Kingsley & Martin Amis: precision of word choice
- Douglas Adams: humor and all-bets-are-off ideas
- Stephen King: storytelling, and transparency of prose
- Jack Finney: easygoing narrative voice
- Ray Bradbury: a sense of wonder
If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
THE TALISMAN, by Stephen King and Peter Straub. That was the book that really turned me onto the idea of being a novelist. I’d love to be able to re-experience that level of engagement and awe.
What was one of your favorite books that you read in 2013?
I read terrifyingly little last year, I’m afraid. I find myself pulled away from fiction when I’m writing, and I’m pretty much always writing something or other. I did read a couple of Gillian Flynn’s, and enjoyed them, and also Donald Ray Pollock’s THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME, which is extraordinary.
When you manage to get some free time, how do you like to spend it?
As Lawrence Kasdan said, being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life. You never really turn it off — and that’s fine by me: I want a job that’s consuming, that’s a life. When I’m not writing or fretting about writing, I like to cook, take long walks to explore Santa Cruz (we moved here from London two years ago, and I’m loving getting to know some of its hidden corners), play a little guitar or piano, or just sit with a coffee or beer and stare vaguely into the middle distance. You never know what you might see when you’re not seeing anything.
What’s next for you in 2014?
Currently I’m writing the next novel, and tendering vague assistance to BBC America’s production of THE INTRUDERS, which is about to start shooting in Vancouver. I’m toying with a few other ideas in the background, mainly for TV, but the new book is the top priority.
Wanna win a copy of WE ARE HERE?
2.) Giveaway is for 2 galleys of WE ARE HERE by Michael Marshall to 2 winners
3.) Giveaway is open to those with a US mailing address only (no PO Boxes)
4.) You must enter on or before 3/11/14
5.) Giveaway books courtesy of Mulholland
6.) Please see my Giveaway Policy.
About WE ARE HERE:
An intelligent and page-turning thriller from the international bestselling author of Killer Move.
It should’ve been the greatest day in David’s life. A trip to New York, wife by his side, to visit his new publisher. Finally it looks as though the gods of fate are going to lift him from schoolteacher to writer. But on his way back to Penn Station, a chance encounter changes all of that. David bumps into a stranger who covertly follows him, and then, just before they board the train home, passes him by close enough to whisper: “Remember me.”
The stranger follows them back to where they live, and it isn’t long before David realizes that this man wants something from him…something very personal, that he may have no choice but to surrender.