A Q&A with Alex Michaelides, Author of January Indie Next List Top Pick “The Fury”

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Independent booksellers across the country have chosen Alex Michaelides’ The Fury (Celadon Books) as their top pick for the January 2024 Indie Next List

In The Fury, a gorgeous, private island in Greece becomes the site of a terrible murder. 

The Fury is a perfectly paced, charming, devious mystery novel to fall in love with. On a small, private, Greek island, mythology, history, and personal baggage put our small cast to the test. Intense, captivating, and satisfying,” said Becky Doherty of Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Here, Michaelides discusses his work with Bookselling This Week.

Bookselling This Week: I think what makes this book unique is the narrator’s voice. As Elliot relates this story, he is conversational but also self-conscious, constantly checking in with us. Would you tell us more about developing his voice or building his character?

Alex Michaelides: I’m glad you like the narrator’s voice. It’s funny, Elliot wasn’t initially the narrator of this novel. In the first draft, written in the third person, he was a minor character, essentially providing comic relief. And something about the novel felt lifeless to me. So I walked along the beach, reciting the opening lines to myself — and, for the first time, I asked myself who was speaking. The answer that popped into my head surprised me: Elliot, the playwright.

And so I rewrote the story in the first person, in his voice, from his point of view — and Elliot took over. All kinds of backstory, like his unhappy childhood and the relationship with Barbara West, emerged organically as I was writing. It felt as if he were slowly revealing himself to me. A magical process, and a first for me.

I can’t remember when I came up with the idea of him addressing the reader in a bar. I liked the idea of it being a long anecdote, with Elliot doing everything he could to retain the reader’s attention; even plying her with drinks! The fact he was a writer fed into his awareness of narrative structure and genre, and I had a lot of fun playing with that with the reader — as readers are also hyper-aware of the conventions of genre. It was a delight to write, frankly.  

BTW: I’d love to hear a little about your writing process. What’s the first part of a story that occurs to you? And how do you typically shape it into the finished story?

AM: That’s a difficult question to answer, largely because I seem to have amnesia about the creative process once I’ve gone through it. I seem to start at zero with every new project. I’m currently sitting down to plan my next novel, and I find myself wondering “how do you do this again?”

I suppose I begin with a place. Not simply a location, but a container — I always start with a closed circle, be it large or small. It could be a house, a psychiatric institute, a Cambridge college — or, in this case, a Greek island. I think this comes from my study of Agatha Christie, and seeing how each of her novels is defined by a particular location with a finite boundary to contain the mystery. I chose the locations for The Silent Patient and The Maidens as they were two locations Christie hadn’t used. I’m on her turf now, using a small island, but it’s hard to think of any — an airplane (Death in the Clouds), an archeological dig (Murder in Mesopotamia), a train (Murder on the Orient Express) — that she didn’t already use.

And then I think about the movement of the story in general terms. I think about the twist, of course, but mainly I think about what kind of book I would like to read. I’m beginning to have a better sense of my process, the more books I write, and I see now that I write very much as a “fan.” I re-read the same books a great deal. There are certain types of novels that I love so much that I want to recreate them. I don’t mean copy them — but rather fuse my imagination with that of the book and produce something that pushes the same buttons for me as a reader.

Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, for example, has been thrilling me since I was seventeen years old. Its labyrinthine plotting, its flashbacks within flashbacks, lies within lies, makes it a contender for the first, and greatest, unreliable narration in fiction. I wanted to write something that made me feel the same way that book did. So I read it four or five times in a row, underlining my favorite passages, digesting it — and then set out to write my own. Ford deals with the relationships of a small group of sophisticated people. So I chose a movie star, a theater actress, and a playwright. And I started there.

BTW: The Fury continues your tradition of examining isolated environments and incorporating Greek theater/myth. Any hints about what’s next for you?

AM: I think I will always be drawn to the same themes. Hitchcock said movie directors only make one movie, and they just remake it endlessly. And I agree in terms of theme — there are certain subjects that I return to again and again. Greek tragedy and mythology is a big part of my make-up and a main source of inspiration. And I don’t think that will change.

Where I do want to grow is to improve as a writer, to develop. In the next book I am writing, I’m working on a story that is deeply personal to me — and, I hope, will hit the same buttons that a thriller hits, but also function as a “proper” novel, with authentic, deep, living and breathing characters; and as few contrivances as possible. 

I feel this is what really great crime writers achieve effortlessly — think of Patricia Highsmith — but for the rest of us it takes a lot of work. I certainly have no desire to repeat myself — and I doubt anyone would want to read endless iterations of The Silent Patient anyway!

BTW: Could you talk a little bit about the role of books and indie bookstores in your life?

AM: The first bookstore I went to was an independent store. It was in my hometown, Nicosia, Cyprus. And I went there throughout my childhood, with my mother. Browsing independent bookstores is always my first port of call in any city I visit. And it’s the only way I really find new authors, by physically scanning the shelves. I find it hard to enjoy the process as much online.

As a writer, I didn’t really appreciate the full importance of independent bookstores in terms of my career until fairly recently. I didn’t tour with my first book, and then COVID hit before my second. So it’s only recently that I have been visiting a large number of independent stores on the East and West Coast (with more to come, on my US tour in 2024). 

I was astounded to see how much hand-selling and re-ordering simply comes down to the individual taste of a bookseller. They like a book and so re-order it, and encourage customers to read it. It sounds so obvious but I didn’t appreciate it on a human level until I started meeting booksellers face to face. I’m glad I get to look them in the eye and shake their hand and say thanks. I certainly owe them all a great debt of gratitude.