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HOME | THE LITERARY LATTÉ - Stories & Poems | ON MY NIGHTSTAND - Books reviewed |THE SCENE - Lit Events | REVIEW - Writing and Arts|SALON - Interviews, Submission, Contacts

Michelle Richmond Interview at Java Beach Café in San Francisco.

New York Times bestselling author of five novels and two award-winning story collections. Her books include her latest, THE MARRIAGE PACT, a psychological thriller which has been optioned for the big screen by 20th Century Fox.

Michelle Richmond arranged for us to meet at Java Beach Café in San Francisco to discuss her new paranoia-inducing thriller, The Marriage Pact. The book’s narrator, in a pivotal scene, met here with Vivian, from the cult-like group, The Pact. The Outer Sunset indoor/outdoor café is across the sand-swept Great Highway from the long stretch of Ocean Beach. This wide, somewhat-desolate beach is where six-year-old Emma vanished into the thick San Francisco fog. Or into the heaving Pacific. Or to a stranger’s van, in Michelle’s earlier work, The Year of Fog.

Sitting on the sidewalk patio, with the sound of the Judah St. streetcars on the turn-around at La Playa, mixed groups of people chatting, and surfers circling for parking, we held a lengthy conversation over lattes made with macadamia nut milk. At one point, as a Vivian-looking woman appeared to phone-video part of our conversation, I had the paranoiac feeling that the all-knowing Pact was indeed watching us. Interview and photos by J. Macon King.

The Conversation:

MillValleyLit: Michelle, what do you think the craziest thing is about your writer's life? You were on the New York Times bestseller list, you have movie options, you have a novel that is being super promoted and it's in dozens of languages or countries or something. Now that you’re a well-known novelist is there anything particularly crazy about your lifestyle?

Michelle: I don't consider myself a “well-known novelist.” I think that's very flattering. I like that, I'm going to keep that in my head because I like the sound of it.

MillValleyLit: A little less glamorous than “famous novelist” but it's still good. [both laugh]

Michelle: My lifestyle is very ordinary and down to earth and it hasn't changed but the one thing is, I think, "Whoa, how did that happen?" I keep getting these foreign editions of the book because it's coming out in, as you mentioned, a number of countries and when you get a physical copy of the book in a different country or in an alphabet where I can't read my name and the covers are all different—that's crazy. That's super exciting and when I started writing, there was no Instagram, so it's really cool to see posts on Instagram of someone in the Czech Republic in their apartment building with their view out of the streets, or reading my book or at a Swedish book club, that's really unexpected and fun.

MillValleyLit: I can imagine. How many foreign editions do you have?

Michelle: For this book—they just sold Korean and another one a couple days ago—so I think it's 29.

MillValleyLit: That was exactly my next question because I do think that would be very cool to see all these books lined up from here on the patio to—like the counter of Java Beach.

Michelle: Yes, that is a crazy thing.

MillValleyLit: "And another one and another..." like cobblestones. What was it that made this one, Marriage Pact, of such interest to the international trade?

Michelle: You know what I think? I think that marriage is so universal, like it's the idea of spending your life with someone and it's just sort of, people all over the world have thoughts on how a marriage should work and what your guidelines within your marriage should be, so I think it was just a topic that was right.

MillValleyLit: Makes sense. There's two Anglo covers for your hardback book. The English one has couples' hands, which I like quite a bit, and the American cover has what I would call a Rorschach, a blood feather through wedding bands. Do New York Times bestselling authors like you have any say in covers?

Michelle: I have zero say on my covers. Almost all of the foreign covers are very interesting. I have a history of bad covers with my publisher but they seem to know what they're doing. Although I love the Golden State cover but no one bought that book. That was the one cover where I got my say and people didn't really buy it. So there you go.

MillValleyLit: [Pulls out hardback copies of novels pre-Golden State] Yes, these are—they're not bad but they're kind of girly looking.

Michelle: Yes, they're super girly. The one thing they did with The Marriage Pact was change that. After they told me they were going to market it as a thriller, I said, "Well okay, put a thriller cover on it." I said, “Just no hair, no pastels,” so at least they did that. And then, I don't love the cover but I do love the colors, but they didn't give me any say on the cover.

MillValleyLit: You know what I think the creepiest, scariest, weirdest cover is?

Michelle: What?

MillValleyLitThe Czech cover.

Michelle: Isn't that cool? I love that cover. Do you like it?

UK Czech

MillValleyLit: I do, but…

Michelle: Or do you think it's just too creepy?

Michelle: I mean it’s a just a little misleading, because the book is not a slasher book.

Michelle: No, it's not. I know what you mean because there’s a lot of blood on the cover.

MillValleyLit: Because the wedding bands are really bleeding. I went, "Wait, is this the same book?” I thought maybe there's a special, creepier version for Girl With the Dragon Tattoo-loving Czechs.

Michelle: [laughs] Yes. I know, it's really not a slasher book at all. Even my son said, "That is so creepy." My favorite cover is the Swedish cover because I think that's the most subtle—it's really cool, dark and subtle. The Chechcover isn't subtle, but I just love the sort of red and the cream. I think it's so, so crazy looking that I like it.

MillValleyLit: It even sayspsychothriller” on the cover, and when I saw that the Talking Heads song Psycho Killer played in my brain. Qu'est-ce que c'est?

Michelle: [both laugh] That is what it says, you're right. But that's what's so fun about the foreign publishers, you just never know. The Turkish cover is like that, too. The Turkish cover is just this crazy, scary looking thing. You just never know what they're going to do with the cover. But I have also seen people say that The Marriage Pact crosses into horror. Usually they say that in an uncomfortable way and I can see where the horror comes from. Not the sci-fi, although I think the book can be read…you can read it literally, or it can be read sort of as a Catch-22-surreal situation, like The Trial.

MillValleyLit: Kafaesque, for sure.

Michelle: So I think you can read it as all of these things are literally happening to these people, which in my mind these things were happening to these people, but also I think there's a point where it goes so far that you can think of it as sort of the situation that we're all in. I mean this, us, having coffee, that could end up on a stranger’s Facebook.

MillValleyLit: Or that! [referring to the surprising, booming loudspeaker, possibly high on a pole, spoken in a woman’s voice - a public alert test that just went off.] All that needs is a TV monitor with Big Brother. Dystopian…sounds like something out of Blade Runner. I mean all of it can make one feel watched and paranoid.

Michelle: Yes. And in my book, the characters begin to suspect that everything they do is monitored.

MillValleyLit: Right, like Big Brother watching Winston Smith’s budding romance with Julia in 1984, and taking him to the Ministry of Love where he is tortured and humiliated. I think that book should be required re-reading for our politicians. Well, maybe not, I’m beginning to wonder if that’s the how-to manual for some. [laughs]

Michelle: In The Marriage Pact there's a punishment for my characters, there's torture…

MillValleyLit: Yes, first the not so veiled threats of corporal punishment, maybe even capital punishment, then more.

Michelle: This organization, The Pact, that ostensibly has the best interests of married people at heart, actually engages in these brutal tactics and their feeling is the end justifies the means. And Jake and Alice or Jacob at least, thinks that the ends don't justify the means. I hope that people think about that as well, if what you're attempting to achieve is something very good, then is it okay to do these horrible things? I don't think it is but I think that's sort of what they say and also do in The Game. Did you ever see the movie The Game? With, was it Michael Douglas?

MillValleyLit: Michael Douglas, yes. Sean Penn, too?

Michelle: Yes, you're right.

MillValleyLit: Sean, who used to live in Marin County, is appearing at the Mill Valley Film Festival next week. [Oct. 7] The Game was just so labyrinthine, right? Set in San Francisco’s financial district.

Michelle: Yes, Wall Street looking, but yes it was, and I think some scenes were also shot on the Peninsula, like Woodside, but, and I didn't see it until after my book. I loved even the weird clown scenes. It's so horrific that you think, "Oh, is this really happening?" This mind game the Michael Douglas character gets caught up in and that building goes into.

MillValleyLit: Yes, I haven't seen it for years so I kind of have a vague memory of the overall story, just some scenes.

Michelle: Yes, I kind of have a vague memory, too, but I remember this building that he goes to and it's like, "Is this real? Is she really going to betray him?" So, I don't mind if people have that sort of reading in my novel.

MillValleyLit: Sure. The Game reminded me of the paranoia of Coppola’s The Conversation, with Gene Hackman, a fantastic more artsy film, also set here in the City.


Michelle: Anyway, sometimes the publisher changes the book’s title, especially for foreign editions, and a lot of writers don't like to have their title changed, but I don't mind because I think it's so interesting, the titles they come up with. Like Dream of the Blue Room, I remember was published as The Little Boat Down by the River in German, which is so bizarre but I liked it and then no one knew.

MillValleyLit: Maybe they wanted another A Yellow Raft in Blue Water.

Michelle: Maybe. I just like how they change names.

MillValleyLit: Authors hope these localization people know more than they do, right? OK, could be horror for some, and I read several people saying Marriage Pact had sci-fi elements. Sci-fi is huge now; it’s become legit, like thrillers that I’ll bring up later. Your book had cool tech, like the prison, which you described so well, but hi-tech is not the same as sci-fi. I'm thinking if you set your book in the future, then it could be more sci-fi. It does have paranoia-inducing surveillance like The Conversation, which was not sci-fi, either. Your book could have had it in the future with, I guess—Philip K. Dickian flying Pact cars like Blade Runner—it could easily become sci-fi, but I think the scary aspect is more Hitchcockian—ordinary people right now dealing with an extraordinary threatening situation. When I saw comments on the sci-fi aspects of your book, I went, "Did I miss something?"

Michelle: Doesn’t seem like you did!

MillValleyLit: Your first novel, Dream of the Blue Room was rejected for like a year or something?

Michelle: Well, I did have a lot of rejections during my very first novel, which finally came and went with absolutely no fanfare. It was rejected a lot. Then The Year of Fog was my next one and at the time my publisher considered it my breakout novel. But yes, that was rejected by everyone at first, too. Then, a young editor at Bantam decided to take it on.

MillValleyLit: That’s what budding authors want, right? Bells to go off and lights flash in an editor or agent’s brain. But you didn’t say, as a child, “Mama, I want to be a well-known to semi-famous author when I grow up.”

Michelle: No, when I started my goal was always to be a teacher and I thought I would write on the side. After The Year of Fog came out, it was like a real mind shift for me to realize the opposite, that I could write and teach on the side. And that has been the most unexpected thing for me, the ability to make a career out of writing.

MillValleyLit: Is that what you thought your writer's life would be, a little writing, a little teaching? You were initially interested in journalism, right?

Michelle: I always knew I would be a writer but I assumed a journalist. My major was in journalism, so I thought I would write like for newspapers and magazines and then it turned out I didn't really have the proper skills I don't think. My first internship out of college was with a magazine and I applied for a bunch of newspaper and magazine jobs and never got one. I got a couple of advertising jobs and then as I started getting little teaching gigs, I thought, "Well teaching would be a great career," to make a living and that would allow me to write my books. I guess that's the biggest surprise.

MillValleyLit: You've published short stories, five novels now, two have movie options. That certainly qualifies you as a successful writer.

Michelle: I guess it's a lot better than I expected but I think that's because I’ve been writing for 30 years. It's just sort of the whole package. When you're very young, you don't know what the whole package is going to turn out to be. For example, when I was growing up in Alabama I didn't know anyone who lived in California. My family visited California when I was 13. We visited San Francisco, we went to Ocean Beach and I loved it here so much I thought it'd be great to live here someday. I had no idea that in graduate school I would meet a guy from San Francisco and fall madly in love and that we would end up living in San Francisco.

I think the whole package of my life was not what I expected. It’s probably a lot better because, not that I expected bad things, but growing up in —not a small town— a medium-sized town in Alabama, you have certain sort of expectations for where things will lead. It was really never on my radar that I would sell a novel. I always knew I would write and that I would enjoy writing but I never thought that it was even a possibility to have a novel that sold. It wasn't something that I considered, and I never knew that who I would meet—the person that I would get to spend my life with—would be so great. Or about having children. I didn't know what to expect, no one does, in terms of being a parent.

MillValleyLit: I see several themes run through your novels, complex relationships, including the family, music, coffee, missing people or ideals and of course a lot of it in San Francisco. I'm going to try to touch on these along the way. Golden State began with a single idea, a married couple breaking up, a last night spent in a radio station as a deejay. I have read your three concepts behind The Marriage Pact, but was there a single spark for it before the concepts?

Michelle: I think the single spark was the idea of a powerful organization that promises to help you have a great marriage but that is sinister underneath. That was what I wanted to write about, although lots of things came into that—about a couple sunk in this organization. So I mean I always end up writing— well not always, but frequently, as you noted— I do end up writing about marriage. It was always a married couple up against this organization. It wasn't one or the other, in my mind the two had to exist together. This couple—because whenever I think of a book, it's always about a relationship of some type, against the odds.

MillValleyLit: It went a lot of back and forth along the way though, right? The husband is driving the relationship and really working at it, and then she gets caught up in the, let’s say game, or kind of competition to win, like a court case since she’s an attorney, of making it work… And she seems likes she’s working it maybe more just for The Pact organization, and then it looks like she drinks the Kool-Aid, and you switch back and forth with them to keep readers guessing for the outcome. OK, I’ll try to shut up and ask you a question. You're right, this coffee is really good here! In The Marriage Pact, Alice and Jake, this relationship basis for your stories and novels, I've seen have now gone more towards the thriller, starting with Golden State. Is this an agent or publisher or market influence or just the way it came out or more fun for you?

Michelle: Well, I think part of it, is just always trying to find something new to write and part of it is what I read. I read a lot of suspense because I really enjoy it and 10 years ago I didn't read much suspense at all, and now I do. I love being pulled along by suspense stories. I write short stories and my short stories now are probably in a lot of ways quite similar to the ones I wrote when I was in my late 20s, although I hope they're a little bit tighter than those. But I think with novels I'm just always trying to do something different, so with this book I became aware that I wanted it to be extremely suspenseful and I was writing from my own point of view, which I've never done before.

MillValleyLit: No pressure to be more commercial?

Michelle: My agent is on board with me whatever I do, but my publishing house, I had an editor for Year of Fog and No One You Know, who always wanted me to insert more emotion. She was great and I adore her, but she really came from a place where she wanted more emotion all the time.

MillValleyLit: Was she involved with your new novel?

Michelle: No, she was not involved in that one, she was involved with The Year of Fog and No One You Know and she always wanted to bring out more of the sister relationships or things like that. I actually started writing Golden State when I was with her and she never really liked it. Then she left the company and she started a really successful business on her own. She was a great editor for my first two books but after she left and I was passed onto another editor at Random House who really likes suspense. I had already Golden State so she got that and she actually liked it. She liked what I was doing with it and so I was able to do things that I hadn't been able to do before. That’s because I had been sort of pushed into what you see with the covers of Year of Fog, and they were trying to push me into this women's fiction niche.

So there were certain things that I would try to do and they would cut. The scenes would get cut or they would say, "Well that's not really what your readers want." With Golden State and The Marriage Pact, I wasn't being restrained from writing the sorts of scenes that are more suspenseful. I shouldn't say suspenseful because Year of Fog, hopefully is suspenseful, so I’ll say, I wasn't being restrained from writing scenes that are darker.

MillValleyLit: I can see a definite change from Year of Fog and No One You Know to Golden State, and you upped the ante, the narrator having a broken ankle and running across town, the shooter, the crazy guy, the sister’s pregnancy, so you really kind of amped everything up, going towards more of a suspense thriller. So, I saw the turning point…

Michelle: Yes, it's also, around the time I was writing Golden State, my husband starting giving me these Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö books* and it's crime fiction from, I think it's Sweden and it was a couple. I mean I don't think they were a married couple but it was a man and woman who wrote together and they wrote this really cool crime series for years. I started eating those up and I loved it and I did want to see if I could do it. I think what you read seeps into your mind and as you age maybe your tastes expand. When I was in my late 20s, publishing my first short story collection, I could have never imagined that I would ever write suspense. I was, as many grad students and grad graduates, I was a little snobby about it.

MillValleyLit: An intellectual, literary, or poetic snobbery?

Michelle: Yes, I mean I think that you can maintain your same voice and write the sentences that you want to write and play with different subject matters and genres. You don't have to stick to one thing.

MillValleyLit: It seems to me suspense, thrillers are more accepted as literature. Thrillers and cross genre are super popular right now. Then there’s a subset of literary thrillers. Dennis Lehane comes to mind, like Shutter Island, which is a fantastic read, which is a detective/mystery thriller. There's more cross genre books now, including your new one which is going to be on the suspense shelf. Books seem to be harder to classify. What are your thoughts?

Michelle: I think that's true, that's definitely true and I love the fluidity of it. I love that. I think in Europe, traditionally they don't have these classifications. If it's suspense then it's not literary and if it's literary then it's not suspense. So I think in my mind what makes something be literary is the writing. So, is the writing up to par? And are there characters who are really portrayed with some degree of care instead of characters who are just there to move through the plot? So I don't see any real battle in an actual book between being literary and being a genre book and I think it's wonderful that that's more accepted now. That writers can—what's an example? Dan Chaon had a book about a missing brother, maybe eight years ago, Await Your Reply, but he's considered a literary writer but wrote a book about a missing kid.

MillValleyLit: I always thought of him more as a short story writer.

Michelle: Yes. Stewart O'Nan is something similar. He wrote Snow Angels, which was made into a movie with Sam Rockwell, and co-wrote a novella with Stephen King

MillValleyLit: And those are cross genre?

Michelle: Well yes, I mean they're just literary writers or people that are considered literary who then write subjects that are typically considered suspense, like a missing kid or a crime. I think that's much more accepted now.

MillValleyLit: Even Isabel Allende, who’s literally sold 57 million books, tried that with Ripper, also set in San Francisco. To be polite, since I’ve met her a couple of times, I’ll say it received mixed reviews. But I guess novelists are trying to reach a bigger audience and sell more books! Speaking of Stephen King, he had very little respect outside of his genre and following, initially.

Michelle: I think cross genre is good, I appreciate the opening up. I remember in grad school, just sort of this thing and actually I did an event at the University of Miami, which is where I went. I did it a few years ago and there was a man on a panel with me who was just ripping New York Times bestsellers as being trash and I was like, "Well if you look at the New York Times bestsellers for this year…" I don't remember who it was but someone like Tony Morrison was on it, or Michael Chabon was on it. I asked, “Are you saying they are trash because they're New York Times bestsellers?"

So I think there has been resistance against that assumption that if something sells well and is therefore commercial, because selling well means it must be commercial in some way. I think there's a push back against the idea that just because it sells well means it's garbage, which is kind of what I used to think when I was really young: if it sells well that means the writer's a sellout. I'm sure it's to my own benefit now to not think that way anymore. But I don't think it's just rationalization, I think it's the real world, and can’t just be intellectual idealism. I mean Joan Dideon has had New York Times bestsellers. It doesn't have to just be… or all the light we cannot see just because it sells well and that's historical fiction. If it fits into a genre it doesn't mean that it's not good literature. I like that broadening up.

MillValleyLit: But you also have the Danielle Steeles who pump out four, five, six bestsellers a year, and had a New York Times best seller listing for 381 consecutive weeks running! She was a best friend with my in-laws in the City, so I’ll leave it at that. And there’s the Catherine Coulters who put out three books this year, and Catherine, who I know…

Michelle: Is she as quirky as she seems? [laughs]

MillValleyLit: She's funny, in a “ha-ha, huh, what?” kind of way.

Michelle: Does she say things to be provocative?

MillValleyLit: Um. Er, in her writing, do you mean?

 Michelle: I mean in her. Does she believe the things that she says out loud or does she only say them to be provocative?

MillValleyLit: I think she likes to elicit a reaction from people; maybe it's just her “eccentric writer” persona. Like by being provocative she can make a pithy interaction very quickly without engaging? She does have her own style of innuendo humor, really like British humor, but without the charming accent. Once you get to know her and realize she’s just having a go at you, you just kind of go with it. I mean she’s bloody Catherine Coulter, right? I've been to her house a couple of times, and she gave my wife Perry, this magazine’s editor, an acknowledgement in her book Power Play, so… I hear you're writing another novel set in a small town on the Peninsula.

Michelle: Yes.

MillValleyLit: Is this going to be another mystery suspense story and do you have a single spark for that one?

Michelle: I hope it's suspenseful, it's probably not entirely a thriller in the way that The Marriage Pact can be called a thriller, but yes, without saying too much, it's centered sort of on academic culture.

MillValleyLit: Stanford again? [referring to No One You Know]

Michelle: No, with kids, like at the middle, middle high school level and it was inspired by the sort of ultra-testing mentality that certainly isn't unique to Northern California, but that whole testing mentality.

MillValleyLit: Okay, yes the STAR testing, standardized testing and all that. Interesting. Well I got more than the last interviewer did with you. You didn’t give him that much. [laughs]

Michelle: Oh really? Who was it? I wouldn't tell them what I was working on?

MillValleyLit: I forget but yes, you said, "I won't say anything more.” So I feel special. Next question: Your books that I know of, are all in the first person, which seems to be trending, also third person close up or whatever they call it. Is that the format you're sticking to in your next book and why do you favor first person?

Michelle: Yes, I mean when I start writing that's what feels natural to me. Now my short stories, although I do have a number of short stories written from the third person…

MillValleyLit: In your book Hum?

Michelle: Yes, exactly.

MillValleyLit: I haven't read those. 

Michelle. The titular one is first person but there are stories in that collection that are third person. With the short story, it's more like just sort of a voice come to me in the start of the story and that's what I go with. But to sustain a novel for me the first person is necessary. I just like the intimacy of it, I don't feel comfortable writing any other way. So a short story, I don't need to feel very comfortable because it's not going to last that long, but the novel I'm going to be working on it for three years. So it helps me. I prefer like reading books in the first person too.

MillValleyLit: You said you're not an outliner. Other authors swear by them and I read an interview, with Amor Towles who wrote The Russian Gentleman and… 

Michelle: Oh, I have it but I haven't read it yet. Is that good?

MillValleyLit: Rules of Civility, I read. My wife read the Russian one. Towles said the Russian one didn't get published right away because he didn't outline it first, which he called a big mistake.

Michelle: Oh, that's interesting.

MillValleyLit: You say you're not an outliner. Neither am I. I always think if I could outline a book that well, then I could get interns or monkeys or somebody to write it for me and I just have to polish it up because it's already all figured out and that easy. But you're not outlining, you just like to flow and change and ebb, or?

Michelle: Yes, I mean it's probably not the most efficient way to write a book and it's not that I don't do any planning, I write sort of the first 50 or 60 pages with no planning and just go with flow and on inspiration and coffee and then I start thinking about of setup, like what kind of ball is up in the air and like what do I have to do logically to make things get worse before they get better? Or maybe they won't get better. At that point, sometimes I'll start making lists of kind of scenes I want to write or themes I want to sort of drill down on. I do have lists at some point in most novels but I never have an outline and I never know the ending until I'm writing the ending. I know I usually change the ending a bunch of times, so I rarely have the ending that I first wrote. The Marriage Pact, I certainly don't.

MillValleyLit: Yes, that seems like it had a number of possible endings. Who knows what they'll do in the movie? I could see if Jake tried to, oh I don’t want to spoil the ending. You want to keep people guessing because it's suspense, so you want to kind of keep the big finish or reveal loose in your mind, too?

Michelle: Yes. There's another ending that I wrote that I liked better and then I really reconsidered before it came out and then I switched to this ending because I felt this ending felt right and I felt really confident and good about this ending. And after it came out— before it came out, so by the time it was obviously late for me to do anything, when it was going to press, I thought, "I wonder..." and then I kind of in my mind, I think the other ending that I had written, which is totally different than this one- I mean it ends in the same physical place but other than that there's nothing similar about it. I kind of think that that was the one I should have gone with but it's too late.

MillValleyLit: There were a lot of comments on the, shall we say, “controversial” ending in Goodreads and Amazon. Regarding resolution. Did you ever watch any of the True Detective series that were on TV? They're like true crimes but they’re not. The first series had Matthew McCaughey and then the last one Collin Farrell, and Vince Vaughn playing against type as a heavy.  

Michelle: I haven't watched but I know what you're talking about. I've tried but they're scary.


MillValleyLit: They're very scary, usually serial murders or torture and horrific things happen. At the end of the last True Detective, Vince Vaughn is wandering around the desert.

Michelle: Oh really?

MillValleyLit: With no happy ending in sight.


Michelle: That's interesting. I still want to watch that. I love crime shows but I can't watch serial killer things, they're too scary.

MillValleyLit: Okay, marriage and relationships, you're literary in areas where they have such interesting significant others: deejay husband Tom, crime writer Andrew Thorpe.

Michelle: From No One You Know.

MillValleyLit: Yes. He was a would-be boyfriend to the narrator, who called her his muse, and was a little bit of a stalker. There was also the married mathematician\murder suspect, Peter McConnell.

Michelle: Oh yes, I like him; he's one of my favorites.

MillValleyLit: Yes, he was cool and now in Marriage Pact, the main man is a marriage therapist. In The Year of Fog, fiancé Jake, another Jake, is a history teacher and a single dad.

Michelle: That's right, Jake was living somewhere in this neighborhood.



NO ONE YOU KNOW - All her life Ellie Enderlin had been known as Lila’s sister—until the day Lila, a top math student at Stanford, was murdered, and the shape of their family changed forever. Twenty years later, Ellie is a professional coffee buyer who has never put down roots. When, in a chance meeting, she comes into possession of the notebook that Lila carried everywhere, Ellie returns home to finally discover the truth about her sister’s death—a search that will lead her to Lila’s secret lover, to the motives and fate of a man who profited from their family’s grief, and ultimately to the deepest secrets even sisters keep from each other.

The Marriage Pact Swedish cover.

The Marriage Pact: “An excellent, emotionally intelligent literary mystery.” London Daily Mail

The Marriage Pact: Sold in 29 languages. Film rights optioned to Twentieth Century Fox. An August 2017 Indie Next pick; a Library Reads and Loan Stars selection, chosen by librarians across the U.S. and Canada as one of the top 10 books of July. A Northern California Independent Booksellers Associations (NCIBA) Bestseller. One of BBC Culture’s 10 Best Beach Reads of 2017 and’s top 17 beach reads.


HUM Reviews

“These stories are mesmerizing – sensual (and often wonderfully sexual), beautifully imagined tales that lead us from the familiar to the intimately strange. Richmond writes as if she lives comfortably in this world and another dreamy, concurrent dimension that is achingly just beyond our ken.” Brad Watson, author of The Heaven of Mercury and Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives

You can’t hide from Michelle Richmond. She knows your secrets, she gets under your skin. Few writers expose the mysteries of relationships–and love itself–as cannily, and with as much honest and deadly humor. Each story is a unique and unexpected journey. Taken as a whole, Hum is an exceptional collection.” Peter Orner, author of Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge and Esther Stories.



Recent MillValleyLit interviews include:

Anne R. Dick, Lyle Tuttle, Catherine Coulter, David Harris, Tom Barbash, T.C. Boyle, Louis B. Jones, Peter Coyote, Beat expert\biographer\poet Gerald Nicosia, rockin' writer Deborah Grabien, DeLorean Auto CFO Walter Strycker, audiobook narrators Simon Vance and Paul Castanzo.


Interview with the Publisher of The MILL VALLEY LITERARY REVIEW

J. Macon King with BFF John Steinbeck

John Macon King is Publisher of The MILL VALLEY LITERARY REVIEW. John wrote and directed for Rhubarb Revue Theatre and his writing has been featured in the Marin IJ, San Francisco Marina Times, San Francisco's Beat Museum and various magazines. He has given many readings at the Mill Valley Depot Café, as well the Sweetwater, Sausalito Women’s Club, Mill Valley Outdoor Art Club, O'Hanlon Center for the Arts, Novato Community Center, and Words Off Paper. He is co-founder of Gerstle Park Writers Salon, member of Marin Poetry Center, and a charter member of Live Poet Society.

King explains how MillValleyLit came to be:

Q. What was your background for this literary venture?

A. I have always enjoyed a passion for reading, writing and the creative community. While earning a Creative Arts degree I worked in a library and then as a manager at the bustling SFSU bookstore. In Marin I found a niche as a marketing consultant for LucasArts and basked in the creativity at Skywalker Ranch. In 2000 I revived the Rhubarb Revue community theater, after its seven year closure, to encourage regular folks to take to the stage and perform along with seasoned performers. This same concept I applied to MillValleyLit - mixing emerging and established writers. The Rhubarb continues to be a venue for local writers and talent.

Q. You have had previous experience as Editor of a community newspaper and web site?

A. Yes. Four friends and I put out an underground newspaper in high school when our work was censored in the school paper. This was small town midwest in the early 70's, and the paper and our audaciousness were very controversial. No students had ever done that in the entire school district. We had freshmen passing them out at the Homecoming Parade! The principal grilled the prime suspects and really wanted to expell us, but he couldn't prove it was us. Emboldened, we printed two or three more issues. Ironically, the bigger secret was we were printing them at a local church! A sympathetic minister believed in our 1st Ammendment rights. The premier issue was called "The Dove" (you know, anti-Vietnam) and then we changed the name to "The Cynic," I suppose more properly reflecting our bad attitude. At our 20th high school reunion teachers and classmates were still talking about it.

With that depth of experience ; ) I became Editor in Chief for The Progress TVIC newsletter which at times went to 2,500 homes in Tam Valley. After negotiating with Marin County to assume the name and site, we launched as our own Tam Valley Improvement Club site. It was really the first neighborhood web site. I soon gave up on expensive paper, printing and mailings.

Q. Besides the poetry readings did you participate in other groups?

A. I took several writing seminars including Syd Field and Robert McKee. McKee's was a huge group, but a handful of us went to lunch with him every day of the seminar. I knew the Van Ness\Polk (SF) area well so I helped pick the spots. That was fantastic. For a number of years I was the only male in an engaging Mill Valley book club led by Barbara Nelson. The women were supportive and interested in hearing a masculine perspective, which I did my best to uphold. MillValleyLit developed from all those experiences. 

Q. What other contributions have you made in the community?

A. Besides the Rhubarb Revue, my community activities formerly included: Vice President of the Tam Valley Improvement Club (TVIC), Founder and Chair of T.V. Services District's Revitalization and Safety Commission, President of the Marin BNI Power Lunch, Tam Valley School Technology Coordinator, and consultant to three successful local political campaigns.


click: Marin Independent Journal Paul Liberatore interviews King

San Francisco Magazine Feb. 2014

Marin Magazine June issue: "Local Literature" at top of page 30. Marin Magazine is available by subscription, on select newsstands, and a snazzy digital version at:

Mill Valley Herald's front page interview with King:


Weathered tree trunk. Photo: Gary Topper

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Photo credits:

Side photos\textures: Gary Topper

Michelle Richmond: J. Macon King


Uncredited photos: J. Macon King, except some stock promotional book jackets, posters, archival, or credited.

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All writing, submissions, and comments are the views of the respective authors and interviewees do not necessarily reflect the views of MillValleyLit or Editorial staff.