Alex Michaelides, THE FURY

Alex Michaelides, THE FURY

Zibby is joined by author and business strategist Erica Keswin to discuss THE RETENTION REVOLUTION, a game-changing playbook for businesses that rethinks the workplace and puts relationships at the center of it all. Erica describes what led her to a career in workplace strategy, and then delves into the importance of rituals, community, intentionality, and human connection in the workplace. She and Zibby also discuss worker retention strategies and the importance of genuine care in company leadership, which Zibby relates to her own experience leading her company!


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Alex. Thank you so much for coming back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss The Fury. So exciting.

Alex Michaelides: Thank you very much, Zibby. I’m really happy to be back on the podcast.

Zibby: Tell everybody what The Fury is about.

Alex: The Fury is a thriller. It’s about a famous ex-movie star who invites her six best friends to spend Easter with her on her private Greek island. Then they get trapped there because of bad weather. Then there’s a murder, but that’s just the beginning. What I really wanted to try and do with this thriller was to take all of the expectations that we bring to a classic setup like that where people are trapped on an island and then try and turn them on their head. I had a lot of fun coming up with the twists and turns.

Zibby: So fun, oh, my gosh. The voice is so great. It’s told, essentially — you jump around, but Elliot is the person who’s sort of telling us the story. You get to know him as he is, over a martini, kind of talking to you about what’s going on. How did you decide to find your way into the story with that lens and then showing us and backtracking through time? You did all sorts of tricks and structural elements. Why Elliot as one narrator?

Alex: That’s a great question because that’s my favorite part of the book, really. Basically, there’s a couple of things. I wrote this in a different way to the way I wrote my first two novels. The first two books, I plotted them for about a year, and then I wrote them. It really took the joy out of it for me slightly. It becomes a chore. This time, I thought I would just try and tell myself the story as I went along. I didn’t know who the murderer was going to be. I didn’t know who the victim was going to be. I just had the characters and the situation, and I dived in. Then when I got to the end of the first draft — I wrote it in the third person. It just sort of felt lifeless to me. I don’t think I’m ever going to do a book in third person again. I just can’t seem to get inside the characters’ heads. I was walking along the beach at night where I live. I just started to recite the opening lines of the novel to myself. For the first time, I asked myself, who is talking? Then I thought, wouldn’t it be fun if it was a minor, supporting character? That’s who Elliot was at that point. He’s a British playwright. He’s kind of sarcastic and dry. I thought, wouldn’t it be fun if he’s telling the story? Then I rewrote the whole book from his perspective. He just took over. He changed the plot. He changed everything. It was really creative for me.

Zibby: Was it fun? Was it as fun as you hoped?

Alex: It was a lot of fun. Pantsing, so to speak, it leads you into other difficulties, and so there was a lot of rewriting. What it’s taught me is that next time I write a book, I’m going to try and combine them both. I’m going to plot more, but then I’m also not going to be tied to that plot. I’m going to allow myself to change. It’s been a wonderful exercise for me.

Zibby: This is like setting pretend deadlines and then changing them as you go.

Alex: I’m a master at that.

Zibby: We don’t even find out who’s been killed until the beginning of part two, basically, or the end of part one, beginning of part two. Was that how you conceived it? I know you were going from the seat of your pants or whatever. Once you figured out who was going to die — does it give it away if we talk about that? I don’t know.

Alex: Maybe we shouldn’t.

Zibby: Okay, I won’t say. Once you figured that out, did you consider — I feel like most stories would bring that up a little bit earlier so you know, okay, here’s who it was. Is that part of the charm?

Alex: Yeah, I think so for me. I wanted it to be like a character study. What I enjoyed about it was there are only six characters, essentially, because one of them dies, as you said. It becomes a very much smaller canvas. With my second novel, The Maidens, I overstretched myself somewhat. It was just too many characters. I couldn’t get into them in the way that I wanted to. This time, I thought, I really want to focus on who they are as human beings and just try and really nail the psychology of them. That took a lot of time to set up. I really worked hard at that. I wrote pages and pages of stuff about all of their childhoods, which I didn’t put into the book. It felt important that I know that, but I didn’t think the reader needed to know that. I guess my ambition is to try and merge a genre novel, like a detective story, and a proper novel. I shouldn’t say that. That’s so wrong. I mean a novel where the characters are not necessarily obeying the plot. The characters are deep and rich and real, and see if it’s possible to try and create something like a hybrid. I think the very best crime writers do that naturally. That’s what I aspire to.

Zibby: Maybe you should do an offshoot when they’re all kids and call it — not The Baby Fury. What’s the name of small wind? A squall or something.

Alex: The Breeze. I love that. I love the idea of doing something about children. That hasn’t occurred to me. You heard it here first.

Zibby: You heard it here first. Give it a shot. Maybe you don’t even realize that it’s the same characters or something until later. Then you’re like, oh, wow, look, it’s the same people. You could do it as a short. It’s okay, I’ll stop. The Fury, of course, has many meanings. One that we find out fairly early on is it’s Kate’s anger because she’s just not who she really wants to be, especially in Lana’s shadow and everything. Talk about that anger and where the fury itself came from. Go from there.

Alex: The fury is the name the locals give the wind. I don’t know if you have been to the Greek islands. I grew up in that part of the world. The wind is crazy. The germ of the story came to me about twenty years ago. Actually, longer. Thirty years ago. I was stuck on the island of Mykonos for three days because the wind was so bad that no boat could leave and no boat could arrive. That was when I first had the idea. Oh, that’s a really great way of trapping people somewhere for a story. Then as I wrote the novel, The Fury became a kind of metaphor for the characters’ emotions and, like you say, Kate’s anger and the other characters’, like Elliot’s suppressed anger. It was a very happy accident. I had a lot of fun exploring that.

Zibby: I have been to Mykonos. It was insanely windy. I remember calling the travel agent being like, nobody said anything about this wind. What is going on? I can’t even sit outside.

Alex: They don’t tell you. It ruins being on the beach because you’re getting sand flung at you the whole time. I thought it’d be really fun for a novel.

Zibby: I was just moderating this panel with thriller writers and talking about, what is it about these situations that are really terrible that make some people just deal with them, they go through, and others hang onto them? They’re like, okay, this is inconvenient, but actually, let’s pretend everybody’s trapped here. This is going to be a novel. Where does that instinct come from? Is it just an anxiety coping mechanism? I don’t know. Where does that come from for you? What do you think?

Alex: I think it links into — a big part of the novel for me is that Ancient Greek philosopher who said that character is fate. Coming from a psychological background like I do where I studied psychotherapy and stuff, I find that really fascinating. Essentially, that means who we are is what we do. It’s a way of seeing that things don’t just happen to you. In many ways, you make them. I’m like you. I would be on the phone to the travel agent immediately. Somebody else would make the best of it. I think that just comes from our childhood, how we approach life, really. You and I probably had, maybe, similar childhoods.

Zibby: I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I don’t know. Oh, my gosh, all these worst-case scenarios all the time. What if this? What if that?

Alex: Totally. I live in a constant state of anxiety, which is good for my writing.

Zibby: I’m always like, no one’s going to know that I’m in this deli grabbing a soda. What if something happens in the deli? What if they can never find me? What if this happens? I’m like, why can’t I just get a drink?

Alex: Maybe it’s a protective mechanism. I’m always thinking worst-case scenario. I’m kind of prepared for the worst that happens. Maybe that’s what it is.

Zibby: Ultimately, it doesn’t work, though, because when terrible things happen, I’m still knocked off my feet. I’m a mess. I’m the biggest mess there is. I like to have tricked myself into thinking it is steeling me in some way.

Alex: I know exactly what you mean.

Zibby: Oh, well. Next time. So you weren’t annoyed at all when you were rewriting this from a different point of view? You weren’t like, this is pain? You were like, I’m just going to enjoy it and get into it?

Alex: Speaking to what we’re talking about, it was a really good lesson in not panicking because I could’ve panicked at that point, but I didn’t. I think the reason I didn’t is that I was just enjoying myself so much writing the novel. I spoke to David Baldacci once. I asked him how he chooses what book to write next. He said you just have to choose something you’re still going to be into in two years’ time. It’s the best advice anybody ever gave me. For example, with The Maidens, I chose a really sad subject matter and a grieving heroine. Then three years later, I was really depressed. This time, I thought, I want to live in that world that I love, the world of All About Eve and all black-and-white movies where people cigarettes and drinking martinis and dress beautifully and sophisticated, witty banter. That’s why I chose a movie star, a theater actress, and a playwright as the three leads. I thought, that will be a fun world to live in. I’ve just had so much fun inhabiting that world. I felt quite happy to dive back in and approach it from a different angle.

Zibby: It turns out your next novel is going to be a rom-com.

Alex: Maybe. It ends in death, of course.

Zibby: You do have a moment in here where Leo is alone, and he has a moment where he knew, for sure, that something terrible was going to happen. He could just feel it in every sense. He was convinced. Then nothing terrible totally happens in that moment, but he can’t shake the feeling. Instead, he just gets sick or whatever. Tell me about those moments and putting your characters — you had him be so afraid. It’s like the foreshadowing thing. Is that what you were trying to do there?

Alex: Yeah, I think I was. I think I was also touching on this slight supernatural vibe that’s going through the novel. I’m always fascinated by Greek mythology. It’s something I weave into all my books just because it’s where I grew up. It’s a really great heritage to draw on. At school in Cyprus, they teach you Homer and Euripides, not Shakespeare. You learn about the myths from a very young age. The very first thing I did when I knew I was going to set a novel on an island and it would have wind, I looked up the goddess of the wind. They don’t have a goddess of the wind, but they have a goddess of the breeze. She’s called Aura. I named the island after her. Then the more I looked into her, she’s not a benign goddess at all. She’s quite terrifying. She hated men. She would go hunting for them with Artemis. Then when she gave birth to a son, she ate him. That, again, fed into the metaphor of the wind on those islands being quite devouring and being quite scary. She plays a part later on in the novel too, so I wanted to weave that in in terms of occasionally scaring the characters, like she does with Leo at that moment. That was a lot of fun to put in.

Zibby: Interesting. Your talk of martinis and old film stars, have you seen the movie Maestro yet with Bradley Cooper?

Alex: Not yet, no. I’m looking forward to that.

Zibby: It’s so good. It was robbed of the Golden Globe. Anyway, they do it so that in each decade, they film it the way it would be filmed at that time. When they’re in that time, it’s black and white and very mood-like and exactly the way you’re depicting. Then it moves on to the next decade. Then the seventies are all cool.

Alex: That’s great. I love that. I should definitely see that. I watched All About Eve and Vertigo again and again while I was writing. I was just trying to get in the right mood for that kind of world. Also, I was a screenwriter. I worked in Hollywood. I was around a lot of famous people. I saw a lot of quite outrageous behavior from who shall remain nameless.

Zibby: I bet.

Alex: At the time, I just kept my eyes open and my ears open. I thought, one day, I’m going to write about them all. When The Fury happened, I thought, what a fun idea, to take these badly behaved film stars and then trap them on a Greek island and then throw in a murder. It felt like a good world to live in.

Zibby: It’s a good recipe. It sounds like it should be one of those assignments you get in an MFA program or something. Here are the elements. Go ahead. Now do something with them. Try to mess it up. The title is The Fury. What are you angry about these days?

Alex: Oh, wow. The state of the world, pretty much. What am I angry about? I get angry sometimes. I think I have a very long fuse, but then when I lose my mind, I go crazy. It’s very much a Greek thing as well. What am I angry about? Nothing, really. I’m in a really good place right now. Ask me again in six months when I’m writing my next book.

Zibby: Do you have an idea for your next book?

Alex: Yeah, I’ve got it all plotted. I’m on tour in the US right now, which is a lot of fun. I’m in New York currently, as you can see behind me. Then I’m about to go to North Carolina tomorrow and continue. I’m on tour until March. Then I start traveling around Europe. I knew that while I had a couple of months off before all this started, if I didn’t plot my next book, I never would write it. It was a really creative time. I did what I always do when I write. I don’t drink. I meditate a lot. I exercise and walk. I wrote an eighty-eight-page outline by hand. I’m really excited about it. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from this last writing experience. I can’t wait to get back and write it.

Zibby: Do you take, then, screenshots? I feel like I would be worried that I was going to lose the document.

Alex: Zibby, you have no idea. When I was in Cyprus a few months ago — it was a year ago, maybe. There was the terrible earthquake in Turkey. It was close enough that we felt it. I’m on the twenty-nineth floor of a building. I woke up swaying, like being in a tree. I thought I was going to die in that moment. The very last thing I thought when I left now to come on tour was, what if there’s an earthquake and the building is destroyed and my masterpiece is destroyed in the building? No, I didn’t take screenshots, but I worry about it frequently. I hope it’s still there when I get back.

Zibby: I would be worried too. Maybe I’d bring it with me. I don’t know.

Alex: I know. Then I think that too, but I thought, what if I lose my bag? You can’t win, really. You just have to hope for the best, but it sounds like we both expect the worst.

Zibby: I’ll knock wood here that your building is still standing when you get back. You never know. What is up with film, screen adaptations, everything in that world?

Alex: Good. There should be some news about The Silent Patient very soon, I hope. It’s going to be a movie. It’s taken a long time, but films always take a long time, which is part of the reason that I wanted to write novels instead. You just end up constantly waiting when you’re doing movies. The Maidens might be a TV series. I’m not too sure about that. The Fury has been optioned to be a movie. I’m going to be involved in that. That’s going to be a lot of fun to film. It’s a no-brainer, really. The directors and actors are like, a few weeks in Greece? Everyone’s up for that. It’ll be a fun film to make as well.

Zibby: How do you get the wind to be a fake wind but not actually be so windy if you’re filming in Greece?

Alex: That’s going to be a problem for them, I think. Presumably, the wind will show up.

Zibby: Maybe not at the right times.

Alex: Not at the right time. I also think about, how are they going to do dialogue and stuff like that? Thankfully, that’s not my problem.

Zibby: You don’t have to worry about that. You won’t be involved with those details. Are you going to write the script?

Alex: I’ll be by the pool with a martini. I’m thinking about writing the script. I’m going to see if I have time. I’ll see.

Zibby: Exciting. Do you have time for anything else besides touring and writing and swaying in your building?

Alex: Writing is what makes me happiest, honestly. I get such joy from it. I lead a very quiet life. It’s funny — I’m sure you know all about this. It’s almost like you have to be two different people. I’ve never been on tour before because they didn’t tour me with The Silent Patient. Then The Maidens was during COVID, so that year, it got canceled. This is my first experience of realizing quite how different a skill set — I presume that most writers are not super equipped for it because we’re happiest when we’re alone with our laptop. Then you suddenly throw us into a room of four hundred people. It’s lovely to meet them and say hello to everybody. I’m really enjoying it, but it does make me quite nervous at the same time. I keep thinking, I can’t wait until I can go home and start writing.

Zibby: The good news is most people don’t have a lot of expectations. They just want to meet you. They just want to see authors. I don’t mean to say that they have very low expectations of you in particular. I just mean the expectations of a book audience, they’re not so judgmental. They just want to see what you’re like.

Alex: It’s funny you said that because what I’m being amazed by is, I thought people would be nice, but people are so nice. Also, the temperatures that I’ve been traveling through — Chicago was freezing. So was Pittsburgh. The amount of people who come out in the snow and then are so incredibly warm and so lovely — people have said such nice things to me. I’ve been almost moved to tears on a couple of occasions. People are just lovely. It’s great. Readers are just the best.

Zibby: They really are. They really are. Get a room of readers together, and you’ll have a good time.

Alex: Unlike writers.

Zibby: Some writers. Most writers. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Alex: Two pieces of advice. The first one is that — somebody famous said this. Writing is rewriting. When I was younger, I would send out screenplays after a first draft and then be surprised that nobody wanted to buy them. They were terrible. First drafts are always terrible. You just have to redo it again and again and again and polish it. I think of it like oil painting where you have layer after layer. Finally, you add the details. Nobody wants the first layer. It’s just a blurry mess. You have to really finesse it. The second piece of advice is just to keep going and not give up. I wrote The Silent Patient for nobody other than myself just as an act of love for the genre of the detective story at weekends and odd hours. It’s why it took me five years. I kept putting it in a drawer thinking it was terrible and then not taking it out for a few months. I’m so glad I did take it out. I didn’t have my first book published until I was forty. I think it’s a really big lesson in perseverance. I just always encourage people not to give up on their dreams. It’s so important.

Zibby: I have my first novel coming out in March, and I’m forty-seven. I’m even behind you. Almost a decade.

Alex: No one is behind me. That’s incredible. You’ve done a few other things in the meantime, so that’s okay. Good luck with that.

Zibby: Thank you very much. Good luck with the tour. I hope you survive in this terrible — this is not the best season to tour, I have to say. Next time, pick spring or something.

Alex: I know. Good idea.

Zibby: You’ll have to time your book release to a better season. Anyway, congratulations. The Fury, fabulous. Good luck.

Alex: Thank you so much, Zibby. Thanks for having me on.

Zibby: Of course. Anytime. Bye, Alex.

Alex Michaelides, THE FURY

THE FURY by Alex Michaelides

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