Thursday, August 5, 2010

SCAR TISSUE - Marcus Sakey

We're going to play like we're in college and start the weekend early. Didn't you all do that? Thursday was the unofficial night at the bar?  Well, when I told Marcus we were going to celebrate him at the blog, he said, "all right! Close all the schools and open the bars." I originally told him "Marcus week," but this is actually going to be more of a Marcus week-end. I think he'd approve. We can celebrate a little grander since we won't have to be at work on Saturday or Sunday.

Anyway, the reason that we're celebrating is two-fold. First I got my act together and interviewed this phenomenal writer and second he put his short stories together in an e-book anthology. Usually I talk about audiobooks on Thursday, and next week I will be back to audiobooks, but this week I'm going to talk about Marcus e-book. More on that in a couple paragraphs. First I want to do a little introduction.

Most of you know I'm a fan of Marcus Sakey's crime novels. You can see my rave reviews of THE BLADE ITSELF, GOOD PEOPLE, and THE AMATEURS for more on those. And incidentally, THE AMATEURS was just nominated for Best Novel in the 2010 Crimespree Awards. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Marcus, allow me.  Marcus is originally from Michigan but resides presently in Chicago with his wife g.g. Before turning to crime writing, Marcus studied the craft in his position in advertising. He recently completed a climb of Mt. Rainier, so when he says he loves traveling, "especially if there's a chance of hurting myself" you know that's true. He also claims to be a great cook, but since I've not experienced it, I can't speak to that personally. I have had the opportunity to meet Marcus on several occasions and hear different panels he's spoken on, and I can say personally that he's an exceptionally rare kind of person. He's genuine and kind and funny. He's also one of the most intelligent people I know. Obviously, I highly admire this man and am very excited to dedicate the next few days to him and his writing here on the blog. I won't say too much more about Marcus now since we'll have a couple of days of interview, but what I am going to do today is review his short story anthology SCAR TISSUE.

(Revert back to more formal mode)

Sakey explains at the beginning of SCAR TISSUE that he's been asked to write short stories on different occasions but they don't end up having a very long life, as opposed to the novels. So, he put this anthology together, not to make money but rather to breathe life back into these stories that he really likes and is proud of.

There are seven individual stories, plus some bonus material from his novels PLUS a sneak peak of the new novel that isn't due out until next summer.

I don't real a lot of short fiction and it isn't because I don't like it. I'm just not very good about making time for it. Reading this collection reminded me how powerful a short story can be. Sakey takes grand themes and idea and compresses them into several pages, so every sentence, every word matters. What's more, Sakey is a master at finding not just the right words but extraordinary words. His images are vivid and sometimes heart-wrenching:

"Everyone talks about how a kid changes you. How there's this whole sense of wonder, like, I don't know, like you woke up and could see colors that hadn't been there yesterday. Everything is still the way it was, bit it all looks different." (The Days When You Were Anything Else)

"I need a different sort of confession booth. So instead of a kneeling pad, I have a ladder-back chair with a broken slat. Instead of a choir, I've got Etta and Billie and Dinah keeping me company, the radio turned to blues, the only station I get. There's still a screen separating me from my confessor, but this one shows the keystrokes as I type." (No One)

In each story Sakey creates rich, distinct characters. They aren't characters every reader would instinctively know and understand, but through their creation, every reader can connect with them. In "The Desert Here and the Desert Far Away" Sakey takes a unique twist and writes in second person. The character is a young male serving in the military; can't get much different from me than that. However, his second person point of view and lines like

"But walking around the Stryker that will be yours, the one you share will share with ten other men, the one in which you will serve your country, it doesn't matter. You run your hands gently along the armor."

pulled me right into the role of young male in the military. I could feel what Nick felt and identify with Nick. And at the conclusion of that story, it took me a minute to recover; I had to step back out of that character after I had been pulled so firmly into it. But when I stepped out, Nick kept a little piece of my heart. It doesn't surprise me in the least that the International Thriller Writers named it one of the best short stories of 2009 and that it was nominated for a 2010 Macavity award.

In addition to giving the readers images and concepts they can relate to, Sakey also offers up new ways to look at ideas. One of the most intense images for me came from "The Days When You Were Anything Else":

"She turned to take the locket from the bedside table. Dangled it from her right hand and used her left to open it. Inside were two pieces of tan paper, cut to ovals and glued in place. Us. On the left, her thumbprint; on the right, mine. Whorls and spirals marked in black ink, two one-of-a-kind."

That image alone is intense, but the intensity is ramped up when the reader knows that the narrator is a thief. Fingerprints are the identifier that can imprison him. And these do imprison him, just in a utopia as opposed to a hell hole.

Every reader brings personal experiences to their reading interpretations. I found my personal experiences adding to my enjoyment of "Cobalt," which Sakey wrote as a reaction to his personal experiences running a web and graphic design shop.

Each of the seven entries in this anthology is a strong representation of Sakey's talent. Their uniqueness makes each story a fresh experience. Sometimes I laughed, sometimes my heart ached, sometimes anger possessed me; isn't that what great story telling is? Evoking emotion? Even now, days after finishing the last story, I find myself day dreaming of monkeys or a Ford Bronco or a bridge, and I'll always remember a locket with fingerprints tucked safely inside.

If you've experienced Marcus Sakey's work before, you will definitely want to get a copy of this anthology. If you haven't experienced his work yet, this is a great opportunity to be introduced to it. As I mentioned, it's available as an ebook either through Amazon for the Kindle or at Smashwords for anyone else. You can buy the whole anthology ($2.99) or buy the stories individually ($.99/ea). And if you hold tight for our interview, you may just find yourself a special surprise as well.

And before I wrap up this post, I neglected to mention a project that Hilary Davidson was encouraging folks to participate in earlier this summer. She was encouraging it for a month, but I think it's something we can all be thinking about anytime, and that's sharing your opinions with others on what you read. I don't consciously think to talk about it because I simply do it every day. And not everyone needs to have a blog, but when you really enjoy someone's work, first and foremost the author's enjoy knowing. Let them know! And there are all kinds of ways you can share your thoughts with others as well. Leave a little review at Amazon - it doesn't have to be anything long or elaborate. Goodreads and The Library Thing are other places you can share your book thoughts with others. Tell people about it at work or family gatherings or where ever. We have so many hidden gems, like Marcus Sakey. In an age when publishing can be fickle, the way to ensure we keep our gems is to show them off! So, I say to you, GO FORTH AND TALK GOOD BOOKS! And make sure you come back tomorrow to hang out with Marcus and me, while we talks book!

Happy Reading!  

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Jenn's Bookshelves August 5, 2010 at 8:59 AM  

I'm starting this tonight! I can't wait!

Pop Culture Nerd August 5, 2010 at 8:18 PM  

This is terrific, Jen. I haven't had a chance to read it yet so I'm glad you've written such a detailed review. I linked to this.

BTW, I daydream about monkeys all the time.

dining tables August 6, 2010 at 5:13 AM  

Wow! I never thought that this book is already released. I can't wait have this book and read it. I am sure that I will be having a great time reading it.

Hilary Davidson August 6, 2010 at 12:04 PM  

Great column, Jen! I need to start reading Marcus Sakey ASAP. Also, I wanted to say thanks for the shout-out. I feel sad when I look at books on Amazon and see many truly wonderful novels getting little attention. I think posting even a short review helps, and reviewing those books on GoodReads and other sites is important, too. (I've become a huge fan of GoodReads lately.)

Naomi Johnson August 7, 2010 at 4:37 PM  

Nice. Now how'm I supposed to write a review of this same collection? You're a tough act to follow, Jen.

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