By Marty Mulrooney
Michael Marshall (also known as Michael Marshall Smith) is an award-winning British novelist, screenwriter and short story writer. AMO recently reviewed his latest novel Killer Move, describing it as an “engaging thriller written by a heavyweight of the genre.” Nearly two years have passed since Michael first joined us for an exclusive online interview. Today, we are delighted to welcome him back to AMO once more!
Hi Michael, welcome back to AMO! It’s hard to believe it has been over two years since we did our last interview isn’t it?
Time… it waits for no person. It just keeps galloping on. Particularly since we had a child in our lives, I’ve been positively alarmed by how fast time goes. Better get on with stuff, I guess…
What have you been up to since we last spoke way back in 2009?
Writing. That’s what I do all the time… except when I’m not writing, but supposed to be. Since we last spoke I wrote KILLER MOVE, and before that, BAD THINGS, a slew of short stories – and at the end of last year I wrote a TV pilot set in New York called THE RANK, which is currently now in some kind of complicated development purgatory.
You have just released your latest psychological thriller, Killer Move. What can you tell us about this book?
KILLER MOVE is a book about a man who’s out there trying to make the best of himself, sometimes in slightly dubious ways… and who discovers that someone, somewhere, has a very different plan for his life. It’s about the connections between people – both obvious and hidden, real and virtual – and about how quickly the edifice of our lives can collapse. What happens then is down to fate, and the character of the person involved.
Does the book’s title allude to anything in particular?
To be honest with you, it wasn’t my first choice. I originally wanted to call the book MODIFIED, but was eventually semi-convinced that while it’s a good title once you’ve read the book, it might not work from a sales point of view. KILLER MOVE was my best alternative – hopefully suggestive of the gamesmanship running throughout the book.
How would you describe the book’s protagonist, Bill Moore?
It’s funny – Bill Moore is a character who quite a few readers have found very hard to like, at least initially. This was partly deliberate. I wanted to evoke the kind of go-getting, can-do, socially-networking and brand-building chancer that seems so prevalent at the moment, especially on the Internet: the people who sell themselves as ‘entrepreneurs’ and evidently believe that they can forge success purely through force of will and through presenting themselves in positive ways. Kind of an asshole, bottom line. But he’s very human underneath all that, and as the book progresses – and his social carapace gets stripped away – I hope that becomes evident.
Technology plays a key role in Killer Move. Do you feel that people’s growing reliance on computers and the Internet is a dangerous thing?
Not ‘dangerous’, but something we need to keep a very close eye on. We place so much unthinking trust in the new ways of being enabled by the Internet and computers: but we still don’t take them seriously. It doesn’t feel quite ‘real’ – and yet the repercussions of what we do online can be very real indeed when they bleed into the concrete world.
Computers and the net have also become where we both try to present ourselves as we’d wish to be seen (self-celebritizing through social networking), and also conduct our more secret selves (the sites we visit, the emails we send and receive). None of this stuff is as private as we choose to believe, and it’s entirely possible for these virtual acts to break through the wall and modify our actual lives, too. Humans take new technologies and use them for both good and ill. It pays to remember that – and I wanted to write a book that deals with these issues while hopefully keeping the focus on real people, and the real world.
Bill’s job in the book is to sell condos in the Florida Keys. How much research was involved to make this aspect of the novel believable?
I tend to do accidental research, in the sense that I already knew a bit about the Keys, and had a previously-existing interest in realty, and eventually found an idea to base them around…
You lived in Florida for a short period as a child, right?
Actually a fairly long while – I was in Florida between the ages of one and seven, and then revisited many, many times in my teens.
To what extent are the locations used within Killer Move real places?
A very large extent. Two years ago I went back with my family to places on the Gulf coast where I’d often been as a child – Sarasota and Longboat Key in particular. I was struck both by what had changed and how much remained the same – or felt the same, anyway. Most of the locations in KILLER MOVE are either real or firmly inspired by real life.
There is a lovely moment later on in the book where Bill recalls a date in McDonald’s with his girlfriend (now wife) as a teenager. Where did this idea come from?
I don’t know. 🙂 Like most of the parts of my books that I’m happiest with, it just popped into my head. I’d love to take more credit for it than that, but I think a writer’s job is very similar to that of a cook. The best cooks take natural ingredients and try not to mess with them too much. Writing is often a case of being thankful for moments of inspiration, and trying not to screw them up too much on the way from your mind to the page.
After the massacre in McDonalds at the beginning of The Straw Men, I thought Bill’s date in Killer Move offered a quite nice contrast!
Despite the way he might at first appear, Bill’s human – and this is a very human moment, the kind we all have dotted through out lives. Small events can have big repercussions, and resonate for the rest of our lives.
Speaking of The Straw Men, there is a nod to that very same book near the end of Killer Move. Was this intended merely as a subtle wink for fans, or does it perhaps hint at an overarching universe between books?
It’s a bit of both. There is a connection, albeit a subtle one.
Could it also suggest that you may still return to Nina, Ward and John Zandt at some point in the future?
I’ve had increasingly vocal inquiries as to whether the Straw Men might reappear. I didn’t want to do another book in the series just for the sake of, though I have genuinely missed writing about those characters. I’ve recently started to believe that I have a strong enough idea for another full-on Straw Men book, however, so… it’s very possible.
When I interviewed you in 2009 you mentioned that the BBC had plans to turn The Intruders into a TV drama. Do you know if that is still going to happen?
It’s still rumbling on. THE INTRUDERS has a pretty complex and challenging-to-dramatise idea at its core, and the development process has not been easy. Two sets of writers have already had a go at it – doing great work while not quite getting it to the point of being able to pull the trigger – and we’re now on another. This one seems to have a very strong take on the story, and is a great writer, so… fingers crossed. Maybe this time.
Are you still planning to write another Michael Marshall Smith science fiction novel at some point in the future?
I don’t know if it would be science fiction, as such, but I’d love to write another out-there and more humorous novel. The problem lies with the realities of publishing, especially now. I’m on quite a schedule with the Michael Marshall books, which doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for other major works. Publishers are also very wary of authors varying their work too much, on the grounds it can lead to problems with EPOS and audience perception. I’ll most definitely do something along those lines, however… and hopefully soon.
What’s next for you Michael?
Well, quite a lot. I’m in the middle of writing a new novel – it’s kicking my ass at the moment, but I have hopes of starting to wrestle it into submission Any Day Now. I’m about to start collating a new collection of short stories, which should be coming out from Earthling next year. There’s various story and screenplay projects simmering in the background, as always, plus in a few weeks we’re moving to California for a year (for the hell of it, basically), so preparation for that is keeping us pretty occupied…
Thank you for your time! I really enjoyed Killer Move and it has been a real pleasure interviewing you once again!
I’m delighted you liked the book, and it’s always a delight talking with you, too!
Author Photo: © Adam Scourfield