Backstory

Authors tell you what inspired their work

Marcus Sakey, author of "The Blade Itself"

I was starting to feel like Milton from Office Space, the character who walks around mumbling, "I... I... I could set the building on fire." Ten years in advertising can do that to you. Finally, one ordinary February day in Chicago, I came home and told my wife I was fantasizing about smuggling an automatic weapon into work. We split a bottle of wine and discussed options that didn't involve jail time. By the end of the night, I'd decided to quit.

The next morning I was fired.

Clearly, the universe agreed that it was time for me to do something different. And as writing a book had been my dream since I was old enough to see Spot run, I decided now was the time.

But the actual idea for the novel didn't materialize until an evening when I was walking home from the El, down the nice block where my nice apartment sits, knowing my nice wife was waiting for me. Looking forward to a quiet evening at home. And all of a sudden it occurred to me that because I had those things, they could be taken from me. In other words, what we love defines our vulnerability -- the more you have, the more you have to lose.

By the time I climbed the steps to my apartment, the rudiments of my story were born. I would write about a character who was fully aware of what he had. A guy who came from another world entirely, a harder one. A protagonist who had suffered some rough times, come out the other side, and built a better life for himself. The kind of smart, decent man who used his lousy past as the foundation for a better future.

And of course, I would also write about the guy who wanted to take it all from him.

At the time I was pursuing an MFA in creative writing, so I was able to explore the characters before I mentally committed to writing the book. For the next months I scribbled pages about what was in their closets, about their first kiss and their favorite song. Searching for the rhythm of the piece, the heartbeat, I imagined the houses my characters grew up in and invented childhood games for them to play. I even interviewed them, literally freewriting scenes with me talking to each of them individually, asking how they felt about the story, where they saw it going.

Then one day, as an exercise, I wrote a scene with the two of them squared off in the hero's kitchen. It was a moment of narrative backstory, where my antagonist related something he'd witnessed in prison. I wrote it without planning, in a fevered rush. The thing had a pulse and I was just transcribing it.

And when a friend later told me that he started sweating while reading it, I knew I was ready to dig in for real.

Six months later, the first draft of the book was done.

That scene?

It's Chapter 10.

To learn more about Marcus Sakey and The Blade Itself , please visit his website.


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