Saturday, January 12, 2008

Feature: Interview with A. Lee Martinez

A. Lee Martinez won the Alex Award for his first novel, Gil's All Fright Diner and has been churning out books ever since. His latest novel, The Automatic Detective, will be coming out on February 5, 2008.

Based on your previous interviews, you don't like talking about yourself so instead I'll just ask what's the Alex Award and how does it feel to win such an award? Any other awards you're hoping you'll win some day? The Nobel Peace Prize? The Eisner Awards? The Guinness Book of Records for Winning the Most Heroscape Games? Being the last man on the planet?

Winning the Alex Award was fantastic. It was even cooler because I received it for my first book, and that sort of recognition is vital for a new writer. On the other hand, I have a tendency to be very laid back about this type of thing because there are so many steps to becoming a successful writer. I'm still not really there, but I'm working on it. And every award or recognition, no matter how big or small, is much appreciated.

I don't have any specific awards in mind for the future. I'll take anything that comes my way because not only is a nice compliment, it'll help my career. It might sound mercenary to sound like that, but I'm not just here to entertain the readers. I'm trying to make a living here.

I read in another interview that you admitted to not reading much fiction with the exception of Tarzan, but feel free to mention other authors you like or think have influenced you. How about comics? What are your favorite titles, what are you reading now, and any particular titles you think have influenced you?

My influences are varied and many, just like any other writer. Of course, there is Edgar Rice Burroughs, although I actually discovered him only about five years ago, so he wasn't an influence initially. Comic books have been a big influence on me, certainly, but I don't have many favorite writers. Walt Simonson's run on Marvel's THOR in the 80's started me as a comic fan. I enjoyed Peter David's run on THE INCREDIBLE HULK. But overall, I never paid much attention to writers in comics, perhaps because comics are a shared universe and it might change at any moment. As long as the stories were good, I was satisfied.

At this stage, I don't read many titles. There's a woeful lack of genuine storytelling quality in the medium. DC and Marvel, the two big dogs on the comic block, have both fallen victim to gimmicks, including mega-crossover "events" and labored stabs at real world relevance. They're just not very fun anymore, and it's hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys anymore.

There are two titles I'm currently enjoying very much. Both feature obscure characters. First, is DC's BLUE BEETLE. It's fantastic, a wonderful superhero with human characters, larger than life action, and some amazing writing. If the people who read this interview take nothing else away from it, I have to say I'd be satisfied if they all went out and bought DC's BLUE BEETLE!

The other title is DC's BOOSTER GOLD. I don't like it as much as Blue Beetle, but then again, it's only just started. A comedic sensibility, but some solid storytelling and a great protagonist. I highly recommend either of these titles.

Your new book, The Automatic Detective, is coming out in a few weeks. Can you tell us anything about it? Will it be in the same vein as your other books? Is there a particular genre it'll be tackling in the same way In the Company of Ogres tackled the fantasy genre? I know everyone should buy it but who do you think should buy it as soon as it comes out in bookstores (or those that'll buy more than one copy of it)?

I like to think of DETECTIVE as a retro-sci fi crime noir novel. It's a combo of old sci fi sensibilities combined with film noir crime thrillers, plus a little bit of superhero type action thrown in for extra measure. I wrote it because I love old weird science pulps, crime pulps, and I wanted to write a novel featuring a robot that didn't suffer from either Pinnochio syndrome or Destroy-All-Humans! syndrome. I'm tremendously proud of it. It just recieved a featured review in Publisher's Weekly, so yes, I think everyone should buy it. If they want to buy more than one copy, I won't complain, but I'm not expecting miracles.

On The Automatic Detective, I think I read somewhere that you wrote this a long time ago but it's only now that it's getting published. How long ago was this written and then did you shop it around or was this something the publisher requested from you?

You have some bad info there. I wrote DETECTIVE only a few years ago, which is that long from writing to publication in this biz. And my publisher actually asked to take a look at it immediately. It was a bit bizarre since DETECTIVE was the first novel I wrote since being accepted for publication. Though IN THE COMPANY OF OGRES and A NAMELESS WITCH, my second and third book, came out before DETECTIVE both had already been completed before GIL'S was bought.

A common misconception among readers is that books come out in the order they're written. Or that they come out quickly. From completed manuscript to published novel is a long, hard journey. GIL'S ALL FRIGHT DINER passed through several publishers and agents before finally being accepted for publication. The first one is the hardest though and since then I've been fortunate enough to have most everything I've written be taken by my publisher. But there's no guarantee. Like most writers, I've learned to take it one day at a time.

What were your favorite pulps?

Almost anything written by Burroughs is great. I love the Tarzan novels for the character himself and John Carter of Mars for the amazing world he created. I also enjoy a lot of crime pulp, usually for the snappy dialogue and rough edge.

Do you think you have a particular "style" of writing?

Hard to say. I don't write with any style in mind. I've been told I write visually, and that's probably comes from my comic reading background. My agent told me that the theme in my writing is "Ordinary folks doing the best that they can." Kind of funny, since I don't usually write about humans, but I agree with it. Even Mack Megaton, the hulking, indestructible robotic protagonist of DETECTIVE, is an ordinary Joe underneath his chassis.

I try not to lock into a very specific style. I don't think it's good for an artist to stop experimenting. It's important to keep trying new things.

Would you say your injection of humor into your stories is a particular style? Or is it simply there to serve the story?

It's part of my way of expressing myself, and so I guess it could be considered a part of my style too. The humor isn't usually there to serve the story though. It usually just springs up naturally. I believe life is absurd already, and when I write about elves, vampires, and robots, I don't think it gets much weirder.
But the humor is mostly there because it helps to keep the story entertaining. A dose of humor here or there can keep the reader interested, and I always consider it my job to entertain. I think many writers tend to forget this. They assume the reader will trudge through boring chapters in hopes of getting to a more interesting part. It's not a bad assumption as a lot of dedicated readers have learned to do just that. But I don't want a reader to skip or skim my book if I can help it. So if a natural bit of comedy arises, I'll take advantage of it.

Have you read any fantasy or science fiction that try their hand at humor such as Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams? How do you feel being compared to them in the blurbs of your book?

I've read both and enjoyed them. They are both outstanding writers. I didn't discover Pratchett until after I started writing, but HITCHHIKERS GUIDE TO THE GALAXY was one of the books that inspired me to write. Also, I'd like to mention Robert Aspirin's MYTH series. The first three or four were probably my biggest influence.

I don't mind being compared to them. How could I? They're giants in the biz, and I'd be pretty stupid to be insulted by that. I don't always agree with the comparisons. Pratchett and Adams are satarist, and I consider myself a modern pulp adventure writer. The only reason I sometimes regret the comparisons is that it can give readers the wrong expectations. But that's a danger of any comparison, so you just have to learn to live with it.

While I find your books funny (well, honestly, I've just been able to read one book so far), you don't think of yourself as a comedic writer. Can you expound on that?

It's all just a matter of degrees. I consider myself a pulp adventure writer with an offbeat approach. Sure, I have plenty of humor in my novels, but I like to think of it as natural and a by-product of the story. If you removed it, I think the stories would still be readable. Not nearly as good, but still readable. But with writers like Pratchett and Adams, I think to remove the humor would cripple the story. Without the satiric elements, their story would lose their intent.

I don't mind being considered a funny writer, especially when it comes from a satisfied reader. But I do worry about occasionally losing a potential reader who might discover one of my books because they don't like "funny" books. Perhaps the most common criticism I receive about my books from unsatisfied readers is that they just aren't "funny enough." It's always disappointing because I'm not striving for funny, but if a reader goes in with that expectation, they can often be disappointed. The other side is being considered "fluff" because I'm just a comedic writer. I don't think one equals another in the first place, but it can be frustrating.

In the end, it doesn't matter. If someone enjoys my books for the comedy and wants to consider me funny, then that's cool with me. As long as the reader is happy they read it, then I don't care why.

To indulge my inner gamer geek, what's your favorite board game? Any other gaming-related hobbies? Do you think it helps you with your writing or are they more of a distraction?

My favorite board game right now is HEROSCAPE. It's a fantastic board game involving "The Battle of All-Time!" The premise is absurd, but any game where you can have vikings versus cyborgs vs trolls vs snake men has to be cool. It's a simple game, but a ton of fun. I've introduced several friends to it over the years, and without exception, they've all loved it.

Games help me with my writing. Not directly. But they stimulate my mind and help keep me interested. I love playing new games. Just like I like writing new stories. I don't know what to expect, and I have to think on my feet. I also love to play games I've played before because it is exciting to develop new strategies. It's basically mind exercise, but in a fun way. So, yeah, I say games have been a big help in my writing.

Also, one day I'd love to write HEROSCAPE: THE NOVEL. That would be sweet!

I read that your first novel, Gil's All Fright Dinner, got optioned by New Line Cinema. Any updates on the movie?

Nothing yet. It can be a very long process. Or it might click next month. Since I have absolutely no control over any of it, I just wait and see.

How did you go about publishing your first novel? Do you have other works published ( i.e. short stories, poetry, etc.) elsewhere?

First, I wrote. I wrote a lot. Then I wrote some more. Step one of being a writer is to write. Kind of obvious, but I usually like to point that out because it really is one of the things that separates aspiring writers from published novelists.

Then I submitted. I submitted a lot. Then I submitted some more. That's step two. That's it, really. That's the story. Writing, submission, rejection, acceptance. My story isn't unique and there aren't any secrets to reveal. Aside from writing and submitting, I recommend going to conferences, joining a good writers group, and just meeting as many agents, editors, and fellow writers that you can. Then write, improve your writing, submit, and hope for the best.

I have a short story published on my official website WWW.ALEEMARTINEZ.COM. I plan on posting another soon. I also had a holiday-themed short story published as part of an anthology, but that was published in Germany. I don't write many short stories. It takes a more focuses storytelling technique than I'm used to as a novelist. And now that I'm getting paid to write novels, that's where I put most of my energies.

1 comment:

Harris said...

I have learnt that Alex Award is so special for anyone interested in publishing science fiction novels. You can just win amazing prizes if your creations excel.