Sitting down in the lobby of the Langham Hotel on the North Bank of the Chicago River, Marcus Sakey smiled, noting the appropriateness of being interviewed in a location that plays prominently in his latest novel, “Afterlife.”
“Yes, it’s the perfect place to chat, though it does seem a bit like an out-of-body experience,” said the author, who calls the Roscoe Village neighborhood home. “Yet, given the ideas presented in the book, I guess out-of-body feelings are definitely appropriate.”
“Afterlife” is a supernatural thriller that focuses on ex-Marine Will Brody, now a FBI special agent, killed while trying to capture a serial killer sniper terrorizing Chicago. He discovers he has entered something Sakey calls “the echo,” the first of several post-death existences — and a place where Brody is soon joined by his boss and lover, Claire McCoy, herself killed in pursuit of that same sniper.
“Usually, I can’t always answer the question of where an idea came from, but for this one I can,” Sakey said, when asked about the genesis of the book. “It came to me in a dream I had a few years ago, where I was in Chicago. I was downtown, and everyone was gone. It was just me wandering around, and in that dream way that you know things — I knew I was dead. It wasn’t that [everyone] was gone, it was me.”
Sakey pointed out that this dream experience wasn’t a nightmare, nor particularly scary. “It was just me that was gone — and I found that interesting. When I woke up next to my wife of 20 years, I imagined being in the same place as her, being in the same city, and not able to interact with her, talk to her or hold her hand. Then that became a nightmare.”
The Chicago-based writer has now published nine novels, and he’s particularly excited that Oscar-winners Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment production company will be turning “Afterlife” into a film. “I’ve had good luck with Hollywood. One of my novels has been made into a movie [“Good People,” starring Kate Hudson and James Franco] and several have been optioned, but I’m delighted that I’ll be writing the screenplay for this one. I’ve created such a specific world here, with such defined characters, I went to my agent and asked if we could sell it with me writing the screenplay being part of the deal.”
Noting that screenplay writing is different from penning a novel, Sakey joked about the new film project. “I find myself hating the novelist on more than one occasion,” he quipped, explaining the difficulty in condensing his original work.
Being a writer in Chicago, Sakey said he’s constantly inspired by the city. “I find everything about Chicago stimulating. It’s an incredibly energetic place to be as an artist or writer. Everything from the architecture to the food to the people to the community of other writers who are here. … I like writing about Chicago. My first four novels were set here. The four following didn’t quite fit. So, it was nice to return here with this ninth book. I think Chicago is the quintessentially American city — for both good and bad — which for a novelist is quite interesting.”
Given that “Afterlife” is largely about the afterlife, Sakey, who admitted he’s not particularly religious, believes people with religious faith and those without it have something in common.
“I think we all ignore the idea of an afterlife — that great mystery — because none of us have the definitive answer. If you have a particular faith, then that’s your answer. If you don’t, you assume blackness or whatever. Yet it’s one of those fascinating things [for which] we do not have the specific answer.”