Please welcome Marcus Sakey to The Qwillery. Written in Fire, the final novel in the Brilliance Trilogy, was published on January 12th by Thomas & Mercer.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Marcus: Thanks for having me!
I've wanted to be an author for as long as I can remember. In fact, I made my first “sale” when I was about five years old, a rousing tale about the tooth fairy that I told my mom, who sent it in to our local newspaper, which, for reasons that are unclear to me, printed it. Bam, hooked.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Marcus: A hybrid, though I lean toward plotting. For me, the notion of just blindly sitting down and typing is akin to hopping in a boat with no provisions and no maps. You'll end up somewhere, sure, but even if the destination happens to me marvelous, the journey will be harrowing.
At the same time, I need flexibility when I write. If a new idea occurs, or a bit of dialogue that changes things, well, that's where the juice lives. So I plan, with the understanding that plans can always change.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Marcus: The days--or weeks--when you start to doubt everything, from the seed of the idea to the words you're typing. It's tricky because sometimes that doubt is justified, and your subconscious has spotted a problem. But often it's just part of the process. In my experience, the best thing to do is to keep going--while at the same time trying to diagnose the problem.
TQ: Tell us something about Written in Fire that is not found in the book description.
Marcus: Large swathes of it were written without pants.
TQ: Which question about Written in Fire or the Brilliance Trilogy do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Marcus: It's not exactly a question, but a lot of people have drawn comparisons between the X-Men and the Brilliance Trilogy, and the comparison drives me batshit. Yes, both are about a small percentage of exceptional individuals. So is every myth ever, Norse to Greek to Chinese; so are stories of the knights of the round table, superhero movies, vampire novels, Harry Potter, on and on. I love the X-Men, but this ain't them.
Okay, end rant.
TQ: In the Brilliance Trilogy who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why? Which character surprised you the most?
Marcus: I loved writing Nick Cooper, the protagonist. He's a very talented, competent guy, and yet also a full-fleshed person, a devoted father, a patriot, and someone who is doing the best he can to make the world a better place.
But probably the most entertaining was one of the antagonists, a brilliant named Soren, whose 'gift' affects his perception of time. He can't control it, nor can he move any faster than the rest of us, but every second seems like eleven to him. It makes him an incredibly dangerous foe, but also a shattered individual. It was great fun to imagine what the world would look like to someone like that--how simple joys would become unbearable burdens.
TQ: Why have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in the Brilliance Trilogy?
Marcus: Because that's the point. Books are about things. The car chases and knife fights are frosting. I love frosting. Everybody loves frosting. But it's a poor idea to eat a plate of nothing but.
The social issues are where the idea was seeded, and they are the parts that mean most to me. Questions of how we handle difference, of intolerance and xenophobia, of our seeming eagerness to embrace a twitchy sort of fear; questions of whether doing the 'right' thing is always the right course of action, and how people are to live in the shades of grey. That's why I read, and that's why I write.
Well, that and knife fights.
TQ: What are your feelings about finishing the Brilliance Trilogy?
Marcus: They're mixed, honestly. The only thing I've created of which I'm prouder has pigtails and sings about farting. I loved playing in the arena, writing an epic saga that builds one book at a time. So there is sadness at leaving that behind.
On the other hand, I spent about five years working on it, and so there is a part of me that says, "So long, thanks for everything, don't let the door hit your imaginary butt on the way out."
TQ: What's next?
Marcus: Funny thing about writing novels for a living, by the time one comes out, you're already deep into the next. I'm well into a new book, also a big-idea thriller, this one with an existential bent. It's an idea I've had kicking around my head for years, so I'm having a ball.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Marcus: Thanks for having me! Cheers.
Written in Fire
The Brilliance Trilogy 3
Thomas & Mercer, January 12, 2016
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 345 pages
For thirty years humanity struggled to cope with the brilliants, the one percent of people born with remarkable gifts. For thirty years we tried to avoid a devastating civil war. We failed.
The White House is a smoking ruin. Madison Square Garden is an internment camp. In Wyoming, an armed militia of thousands marches toward a final, apocalyptic battle.
Nick Cooper has spent his life fighting for his children and his country. Now, as the world staggers on the edge of ruin, he must risk everything he loves to face his oldest enemy—a brilliant terrorist so driven by his ideals that he will sacrifice humanity’s future to achieve them.
From “one of our best storytellers” (Michael Connelly) comes the blistering conclusion to the acclaimed series that is a “forget-to-pick-up-milk, forget-to-water-the-plants, forget-to-eat total immersion experience” (Gillian Flynn).
The explosive conclusion to the bestselling Brilliance Trilogy.
This must be what God feels like.
A single glance at my outstretched hand and I know the number of hair follicles covering the back of it, can differentiate and quantify the darker androgenic strands from the barely discernible vellus hairs.
Vellus, from the Latin, meaning fleece.
I summon the page in Gray’s Anatomy on which I learned the word and examine the diagram of a hair follicle. But also: the texture and weave of the paper. The attenuation of light from the banker’s lamp that illuminates it. The sandalwood scent of the girl three chairs down. I can evoke these details with perfect clarity, this utterly forgettable and forgotten moment that nonetheless was imprinted in a cluster of brain cells in my hippocampus, as every other moment and experience of my life has been. With a whim I can activate those neurons and scrub forward or backward to relive the day with full sensual clarity.
An unimportant day at Harvard thirty-eight years ago.
To be precise, thirty-eight years, four months, fifteen hours, five minutes, and forty-two seconds ago. Forty-three. Forty-four.
I lower my hand, feeling the extension and contraction of each individual muscle.
The world rushes in.
Manhattan, the corner of 42nd and Lexington. Cars and construction noises and throngs of lemming-people and cold December air and a snatch of Bing Crosby singing “Silver Bells” from the opening door of a café and the smells of exhaust and falafel and urine. An assault of sensation, unfiltered, overwhelming.
Like descending a staircase and forgetting the last step, empty air where solid floor was expected.
Like sitting in a chair, then noticing it’s the cockpit of a fighter jet going three times the speed of sound.
Like lifting an abandoned hat, only to discover it rests on a severed head.
Panic drenches my skin, panic envelops my body. My endocrine system dumps adrenaline, my pupils widen my sphincter tightens my fingers clench—
Mantra: You are Dr. Abraham Couzen. You are the first person in history to transcend the boundary between normal and abnormal. Your serum of non-coding RNA has radically altered your gene expression. A genius by any measure, you are now more. You are brilliant.
People flow around me as I stand on the corner, and I can see the vector of each, can predict the moments they will cross and bump, the slowed step, the itched elbow, before they happen. I can, if I wish, screen everything down to lines of motion and force, an interactive map, like a fabric weaving itself.
A man jostles my shoulder, and I entertain a brief whim of breaking his neck, picturing instantly the steps to do so: a palm on his chin, a handful of his hair, a foot planted for leverage, a fast, sharp swivel building from the hips for maximum force.
I let him live.
A woman passes and I read her secrets from her sloped shoulders and the hair falling to screen her peripheral vision, the jump of her eyes at the taxi’s horn, the baggy jacket and ringless finger and comfortable shoes. The hairs on her pant legs are from three different cats, and I can picture the apartment she lives in alone, the train ride in from Brooklyn, perhaps, thought not the fashionable part. I can see the abuse as a child—an uncle or family friend, not her father—that framed her isolation. The slight pallor and trembling hands reveal she drinks at night, most likely wine, judging by the teeth. The haircut indicates she makes at least sixty thousand dollars a year, the handbag assures she makes no more than eighty. An office job with little human interaction, something with numbers. Accounting, probably in a major corporation.
This must be what God feels.
Then I realize two things. I’ve got a nosebleed. And I’m being watched.
It manifests as a tingle, the kind fools attribute to notions of “the collective unconscious.” In truth it’s simply indicators gathered by the senses but not processed by the frontal lobe: a tremor of shadow, a partial reflection in a glass, the almost-but-not-quite undetectable warmth and sound of another body in the room.
For me, the original stimuli are easily examined, focused like a blurry image in a microscope. I call up my sense memory of the last moments, the texture of the crowd, the smell of humanity, the movement of vehicles. The lines of force tell a tale, much like ripples in water reveal rocks beneath the surface. I am not mistaken.
They are many, they are armed, and they are here for me.
I roll my neck and crack my fingers.
This should be interesting.
Excerpted from Written in Fire by Marcus Sakey. Copyright 2016. Published By Thomas & Mercer. Used by permission of the publisher. Not for reprint without permission.
The Brilliance Trilogy 1
Thomas & Mercer, July 16, 2013
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 452 pages
A 2013 Edgar Award Nominee for Best Paperback Original
In Wyoming, a little girl reads people’s darkest secrets by the way they fold their arms. In New York, a man sensing patterns in the stock market racks up $300 billion. In Chicago, a woman can go invisible by being where no one is looking. They’re called “brilliants,” and since 1980, one percent of people have been born this way. Nick Cooper is among them; a federal agent, Cooper has gifts rendering him exceptional at hunting terrorists. His latest target may be the most dangerous man alive, a brilliant drenched in blood and intent on provoking civil war. But to catch him, Cooper will have to violate everything he believes in—and betray his own kind.
From Marcus Sakey, “a modern master of suspense” (Chicago Sun-Times) and “one of our best storytellers” (Michael Connelly), comes an adventure that’s at once breakneck thriller and shrewd social commentary; a gripping tale of a world fundamentally different and yet horrifyingly similar to our own, where being born gifted can be a terrible curse.
A Better World
The Brilliance Trilogy 2
Thomas & Mercer, June 17, 2014
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 390 pages
The brilliants changed everything.
Since 1980, one percent of the world has been born with gifts we’d only dreamed of. The ability to sense a person’s most intimate secrets, or predict the stock market, or move virtually unseen. For thirty years the world has struggled with a growing divide between the exceptional...and the rest of us.
Now a terrorist network led by brilliants has crippled three cities. Supermarket shelves stand empty. 911 calls go unanswered. Fanatics are burning people alive.
Nick Cooper has always fought to make the world better for his children. As both a brilliant and an advisor to the president of the United States, he’s against everything the terrorists represent. But as America slides toward a devastating civil war, Cooper is forced to play a game he dares not lose—because his opponents have their own vision of a better world.
And to reach it, they’re willing to burn this one down.
From Marcus Sakey, “the master of the mindful page turner” (Gillian Flynn) and “one of our best storytellers” (Michael Connelly), Book Two of the Brilliance Saga is a relentless thrill ride that will change the way you look at your world—and the people around you.
Marcus Sakey’s thrillers have been nominated for more than fifteen awards. They’ve been named New York Times Editors’ Choice picks and have been selected among Esquire’s top five books of the year. His novel Good People was made into a movie starring James Franco and Kate Hudson, and Brilliance is currently in development with Legendary Pictures. Sakey lives in Chicago with his wife and daughter. For more information, visit www.MarcusSakey.com.