Today I am delighted to join Michelle Richmond on tour with her latest novel, The Marriage Pact.
Described as ‘Gripping, sinister and full of twists, The Marriage Pact is a compulsive psychological page-turner, brimming with suspicion and paranoia’
The Marriage Pact is due for publication on 27th July by Michael Joseph (Penguin) and I am delighted that Michelle *dropped by* today for a chat with me about her writing and The Marriage Pact.
I thoroughly enjoyed finding out more about Michelle and I do so hope that you do too..
Welcome to Swirl and Thread Michelle. It is such a pleasure to have you drop by. As an avid reader, I always love to hear a little about the writers behind the books, so I’m looking forward to finding out a little about you here today.
After majoring in Journalism and English in the University of Alabama, you are now the bestselling author of five novels and two award-winning story collections, but I’m sure it wasn’t as straightforward as it sounds. How difficult was it to get your first book published and how many years did it take?
My first book was a story collection that I began writing just out of college, at the age of 22. After college, I had a number of jobs (waitressing, copywriting, even working at a tanning salon!) before enrolling in a Masters of Fine Arts program in creative writing. During my two years in graduate school, I continued writing stories, as well as a failed novel. I was 28 when I finished grad school and moved to New York City, where I worked a host of jobs; my first job there involved walking around Manhattan selling credit processing machines.
I continued writing in my spare time and sending out query letters, trying to get a literary agent. After being rejected by dozens of agents, I began sending my collection of liked stories out to contests. I was 29, employed as a private English tutor for the president of a Chinese trading company, when I submitted the manuscript to the Associated Writing Programs Award. The collection, The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress, won the award and was subsequently published by University of Massachusetts Press.
All told, it took seven years of writing and revising to publish that first book. The next book, my first novel, was published two years later. It was only after the publication of my second book that I was able to get representation by a literary agent.
Four years later, my “breakout book,” The Year of Fog, was published.
Your novels are mainly set in territory that is familiar to you, both in the San Francisco Bay area where you now call home and in the South where you grew up. How important is this familiarity of location to you when you are researching for your novels?
When I begin writing a novel, I usually know three things: who is telling the story, what trouble the character is in, and where the story takes place. The landscape is often integral to the story. The Year of Fog, in which a young girl disappears into the dense fog on San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, felt like a story that could happen only one place: San Francisco. I lived by Ocean Beach when I wrote it, and spent long days wandering in the fog, working out the plot and characters. A few scenes in The Year of Fog are set in a small town in Costa Rica where I’d spent a month at a writers’ colony.
The Marriage Pact is set in my old neighborhood in San Francisco, as well as in Silicon Valley. The exclusive, over-the-top wealth of Silicon Valley, where Pact parties are held in beautiful mansions, is part of what lures Alice and Jake to the Pact. It’s a world with which I’m very familiar, but there is also, for me as for the characters, a sense of being on the outside looking in. While the larger setting of my novels is always somewhere with which I’m intimately familiar as a resident, there are forays into other places that I may not know well am fascinated by and want to know, like the island of Rathlin in The Marriage Pact.
Michelle you have has such a varied career over the years from selling credit card processing machines to working for a Chinese Trading company. How have these experiences impacted your writing today and do you find yourself recounting some of these stories in your novels?
While my novels don’t recount the jobs themselves, the experiences I had in those jobs often inform my novels. Certainly, the places where my jobs have taken me have an enormous influence on my writing.
When I was working for the Chinese trading company, I lived for three months in Beijing and Hong Kong. I spent a lot of time traveling the country alone by bus and train, and I met a lot of fascinating people. When I got home I ended up using my time in China as the inspiration for my first novel, Dream of the Blue Room, which is set on The Yangtze River.
I spent many years teaching at university, which is a fairly dull subject to write about, so I’ve been known to cannibalize the careers of my loved ones for material. My sister was a photographer when I wrote The Year of Fog, in which the protagonist is a photographer. The novel I’m working on now is inspired by my husband’s 22-year career as an FBI agent and profiler.
In The Marriage Pact, Alice is an attorney. During my final year of college, I fully planned to attend law school; a writing professor talked me out of it at the last minute, telling me, “You’re a writer. Go write.”
And so I did!
Your latest novel The Marriage Pact is described as an ‘utterly compulsive fresh take on the psychological thriller’ Can you share a little of the premise of the book with us and also what inspired you to write it?
Certainly! When therapist Jake and musician-turned-lawyer Alice receive an unusual wedding gift–an invitation to join an exclusive, secretive organization called The Pact–they sign on. After all, The Pact promises to help them have a lasting, happy marriage. Who doesn’t want a successful marriage?
But they soon discover that The Pact is far more powerful and more dangerous than it seems. Every member must abide by the rules of a thick, detailed manual, and there are increasingly harsh punishments for breaking the labyrinthine rules.
As Jake and Alice are pulled deeper into the secret society’s dark center, they must find a way to protect their marriage–and even their lives–from The Pact.
How far will they go?
Inspiration for The Marriage Pact:
A few years ago, my husband was leading a massively complex three-year federal investigation. When the case finally went to trial, I sat in on a few days of testimony. The Federal courthouse and courtroom, the interactions between defense lawyers and clients, the back-and-forth between the attorneys and the judge, all influenced the court and prison scenes in The Marriage Pact.
During that time, we had a book at home, The Criminal Code, a massive tome that is released annually, and which lays out in detail every offense you can think of, as well as many you can’t, and the penalties for each. One night, as I was flipping through the book, I mentioned to my husband, “There should be a set of rules for marriage, with penalties for breaking the rules.”.
We talked about the fact that criminal laws are one part of the machinery that keep our society running smoothly. Most of us do not want to commit crimes; but for those who might be inclined to do so, laws act as a boundary, and oftentimes a deterrent. But for marriage, the only real rules are our own morality, and the agreements, both spoken and unspoken, that we make with our spouse. What if we had rules and regulations for marriage, enforced by an organization outside of the marriage?
We started hashing out what the rules, and then we started talking about what could happen if you broke the rules. It quickly occurred to me that this would make a great novel, and it would be a lot of fun to write. Thus, The Marriage Pact was born.
I read the exciting news that it has already been optioned to 20th Century Fox. As a writer that must a dream come true yet rather nerve-wracking I would think? How do you cope with news like that?
Hmmm, how do I cope? I pop open the champagne!
It’s thrilling when a book is optioned, and I immediately start casting it in my head, you know, imagining my beach vacations with my new BFF Ewan McGregor, or having tea with Dame Judi Dench. That said, The Year of Fog has been optioned numerous times—in fact, it has been under option now for ten years, renewed over and over again. So I am keenly aware of the difference between the option phase and the actual moment when the film begins shooting.
Nonetheless, I feel very optimistic about The Marriage Pact’s future with 20th Century Fox. The brilliant team behind it happens to be on a roll at the moment.
So I heartily encourage readers to include the line, “This book would make a great movie!” in all of your blog posts and tweets. (A little wagging the dog never hurts).
Also, The Marriage Pact is to be released in 26 languages??? Michelle that is just amazing!!! I know from speaking with other authors that the Cover Image can change according to the country creating some very memorable designs. Do you ever get over that initial feeling of excitement when you travel abroad and see your novel translated into an unfamiliar language but with your name on it?
That’s true! (It’s now up to 28!) I’m grateful to all of the publishers and translators who are bringing The Marriage Pact to readers around the world. One of my favorite parts of foreign editions is seeing all of the different covers. Each publisher and cover artist offers their own unique take on the book. And yes, it definitely gives me a thrill to see my book in other countries, in a language I don’t speak or read, but with my name on the front.
The most exciting thing for me is when readers tweet or Instagram photos of my book in bookstores around the world. I always think, “That’s amazing! How did THAT happen?” It never gets old. And I go nuts when someone sends me a photo of someone reading one of my books on an airplane. Several years ago, a writer friend sent me a photo of a large poster of L’Anne Brouillard (The Year of Fog) in a bookstore window in Paris, and I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
You now live in a small town near Silicon Valley with your husband and son. Do you have a strict writing routine when you are at home? Can you share with us any tips and tricks?
I usually get up at 5:30 in the morning, make my first cup of coffee, and begin my writing day while everyone is asleep. (I used to grind my own coffee every morning, but after visiting Iceland a few months ago and being introduced to the joys of the Nespresso machine, I now have my own Nespresso machine, so I can get to the coffee part of my morning immediately.) Until recently, this early morning habit gave me an hour to an hour and a half of privacy to really concentrate. At the moment, however, school is out for summer, and a strange thing is happening.
My 12-year old son has transformed suddenly from an early riser to a late sleeper, which gives me an extra hour or two in the morning to write. When school is in session, I write for a couple of hours each day after dropping him off at school. The rest of the school day usually involves the business aspect of writing, such as writing essays, articles and blog posts. I also do a bit of teaching and consulting for aspiring writers, which happens in the afternoon.
My advice to writers is simply to make time where you can find it. One hour doesn’t seem like a lot when you want to write a whole novel, but an hour a day adds up. I’d also encourage writers to never sit down at the desk with the thought, “Today I’m writing a novel,” but instead to think, “Today I’m writing a scene,” or even “Today I’m writing a page.” Breaking the work up into manageable chunks is key.
And finally Michelle, a question I ask most writers…who would be the greatest literary influences on your writing and why?
I am a huge fan of Ian McEwan, Grace Paley, Per Petterson, and the Swedish crime writing team Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. Each has offered something different to me at a different point in my writing life.
I love the intricacy and intellectual grace of McEwan’s novels; the distinctive, sharp voice and exquisite dialogue of Grace Paley’s stories; the haunting atmosphere of Petterson’s work; and the taut plotting of Sjowall and Wahloo.
I also love Graham Greene’s ability to weave a smart story with multiple human layers.
For suspense, I can’t get enough of John Le Carre and Camilla Lackberg. I love Patricia Highsmith’s novels, but also her writing on writing. Christopher Isherwood offers any writer lessons on how to write simply and directly.
Thank you so much Michelle for such wonderful answers…
Thank you for having me on your blog, and thanks for the thoughtful questions! It’s an honor to have the chance to connect with you and your readers.
About the book:
Alice and Jake are the perfect couple – sort of. On the day of their wedding, a stranger offers them the chance to join a mysterious group, known as The Pact. With its promise of a lifelong marriage of happiness, Jake and Alice are persuaded to accept. The goals of the society seem sound – and the couple are initially seduced by the glamorous parties, sense of community and like-minded couples. But then one of them breaks the rules.
Alice and Jake are about to discover that, like marriage, The Pact is for life. The members will go to any lengths to ensure nobody leaves.
Under The Pact, ‘Til death do us part’ has a whole new meaning…
Purchase Link ~ The Marriage Pact
About the author:
Michelle Richmond is the bestselling author of The Year of Fog, No One You Know, Hum: Stories, Golden Stage, Dream of the Blue Room, and the award-winning The Girl in
the Fall- Away Dress.
She lives with her husband and son in San Francisco.
Website ~ http://michellerichmond.com/
Twitter ~ @michellerichmon
(Images of Michelle Richmond courtesy of Nick Elliott)