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I believe every writer  I’ve ever read is a teacher of sorts to me. It’s rare though that any of my flesh-and-blood teachers are already writers. Not only is today’s interview both one of my teachers and a writer, but I’ve read his most recent book Late One Night, and I enjoyed it greatly. And in honor of Late One Night coming out in paperback this coming August, I figured now would be a good time to bring him on the show. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome one of the greatest professors in Ohio State’s English Department (mostly because he survived teaching a class with me in it) and the author of several books, Lee Martin!

RU: Welcome to the show, Lee. Great to have you here. Please tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing.

LM: It seems like I always wrote. As an only child of older parents who lived in a rural setting, I didn’t have many playmates around. I fell in love with make-believe instead. I loved living inside stories, so I suppose it was only natural that I start to tell a few of my own. Then at a certain age I decided to get serious about it, so I went to the University of Arkansas for my MFA, where I found out how much I didn’t know about the craft, but where my real apprenticeship as a writer began—an apprenticeship that continues to this day. There’s always something new to learn and to practice.

RU: I really enjoyed reading Late One Night. Can you tell us what inspired it and your writing process for it?

LM: Late One Night is based on a tragic news event from my home area in Illinois. A tragic house trailer fire on a cold winter night. I started playing the “what-if?” game. What if the husband/father of that family was living outside the home at the time of the fire? What if the fire was suspicious? What if the small town gossip started to swirl around what this man might have done? What if this all happened while he was fighting for custody of his children and trying to prove his innocence. As with most of my books, I started with that premise and then wrote a little each day, pushing the story along. I try to make myself curious, and then I try to satisfy that curiosity while not quite fully satisfying it until the very end of the book. That’s where readers of this novel find out what really happened, late one night.

RU: Your main character Ronnie Black is at times sad and sympathetic, and at other times you just hate him. Did you intend for him to be that way when you wrote him, or did he just turn out that way?

LM: I like to take characters who are put upon by life’s circumstances and their own ill-considered choices. Characters are interesting to me only if they have a balance of rough edges and redeeming qualities. An all good character isn’t interesting. Neither is an all evil one. I write realistic fiction that’s character-based, and the truth is we’re all made up of contradictory qualities. Those contradictions are what make us interesting.

RU: Who is your favorite character in Late  One Night, and why?

LM: I really didn’t have a favorite character. They all appealed to me because they were all human. They all felt great joys and sorrows, and they made mistakes, and they tried to do the right thing, but sometimes their own selfish interests got in the way. Missy Wade badly wanted children. Ronnie Black loved his own even though he was often a man of temper and poor judgment. Captain missed his own mother and yet had a big heart that led him to love indiscriminately and to even idolize Ronnie. Captain’s father, Shooter, wanted to protect his son. Brandi Tate wanted love and a family. All these characters, and others, were precious to me because of their imperfections.

RU: Are you working on anything right now?

LM: I have a couple of novel manuscripts that I’m working on, plus smaller things like short stories and essays. I have a craft book, Telling Stories, coming out in October.

RU: I may have to read that craft book. Speaking of which, can you tell us about your other books?

LM: I suppose my best known book is The Bright Forever, which was fortunate enough to be a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction in 2006. It’s the story of the abduction of a young girl in a small Midwestern town in 1972. I suppose some would call it a literary suspense novel. My novel, Break the Skin, would fall into that same category. I like to take true-crime stories from my native southeastern Illinois and let my imagination turn them into novels.  I’ve also published three memoirs, From Our House, Turning Bones, and Such a Life. They deal with family and particularly with the farming accident that cost my father both of his hands and the way that accident came to settle in our family. My other novels are Quakertown and River of Heaven. I also have a story collection, The Least You Need to Know, and another one, The Mutual UFO Network, will be published in 2018.

RU: Note to self, put The Bright Forever on my reading list. Sounds like my sort of story. Now you have a number of students who have continued writing and publishing after college and have kept in contact with you (including yours truly), and have kept in contact. What’s it like seeing that happen?

LM: It’s always gratifying to see students do well. It makes me feel that I may have had a small part in that success.

RU: Do you think the role of literature in society is changing, especially as we become more reliant on technology and our attention spans seem to shorten?

LM: I think there will always be not only room for, but a necessity for, narrative.  The forms of that narrative may change, but the importance of it in our culture won’t. We understand ourselves, others, and the world around us via stories. Such has always been the case, and I don’t see that changing.

RU: If you could give advice to any writer, no matter background, genre or level of experience, what would you say?

LM: Don’t be in a hurry. Study and practice your craft without thought of publishing. Fall in love with the process and the journey will take you where you’re meant to go. Read the way a writer must—with an eye toward how something is made.

RU: And finally, if you were stuck on a desert island for a while and could only take three books with you, which would you take?

LM: Richard Ford’s Rock Springs, Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and (I’d cheat and sneak in a fourth) Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

RU: You’re a university professor! You know the consequences for cheating! Anyway, thanks for joining us today, Lee. We wish you luck with the paperback edition of Late One Night.

If you would like to learn more about Lee Martin and his works, you can check out his website, Facebook, and Twitter. Or you can enroll yourself as an English major in Ohio State’s undergraduate or graduate program and work with him directly by taking classes with him (though that option has both pros and cons).

And if you’re an author who would like to be interviewed, check out my Interviews page and leave a comment. Who knows? Perhaps we can work some magic.

That’s all for now. Have a great day, my Followers of Fear.

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