Monday, June 13, 2011

Western Writer L.J. Martin

 What was your first Western novel or story and was it published? My first novel was actually a historical, Shadow of the Mast, and I finally made a buck off it 20 years after writing when it was brought out in audio.  I’ve since published it with my own imprint and it’s on Amazon and does okay.  My second, the first sold to a publisher, was Tenkiller, picked out of the slush pile at Zebra.

What Western writer or writers of the past were the biggest influence on your work?  L’Amour, off course, but all the great old writers and some of the new, Leonard and Parker.  But as important, Sidney Sheldon, Wilber Smith, and many thriller and mystery writers.  Writing is writing, and compelling novels are just that.  It’s only time and place and lexicon that changes.

Is there a particular scene from a Western novel that was so powerful when you read it that it stuck with you? Perhaps has become a scene you've tried to live up to/equal in your own writing? Although I disagree with the basic premise of High Noon (a short story), I loved the juxtaposition of the characters and conflict.  It’s a great drama.

What's the first Western you remember reading from cover to cover?  Probably a Zane Grey, but it was a long time ago.  I began reading fiction in the 7th grade and by the end of high school had read most of what was then published of Steinbeck, Hemmingway, Rand, Shelton, MacLean, Spillane, and others.

Who is your favorite historical Western figure, and why?  No question, Edward Fitzgerald Beale, who I think was the quintessential western man.  His exploits eclipsed those of even Kit Carson and certainly of John Fremont.  Beale crossed the country horseback 13 times, riding from California to D.C. one time to knock cold George Moneypenny, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, who accused him of malfeasance as an Indian agent.  He was a record setting sailing master of Stockton's ship; the hero of the battle of San Pasqual; carried the first evidence of California gold, a seven pound nugget he bought with his own money, to President Polk, thus starting the gold rush, and beating the Army to D.C. with the news, even though he left four days later; he was an early Indian agent in California, and an honest one; the surveyor general of California, keeping California in the Union as he convinced Lincoln that California would go with the south if conscription was ordered; he was the leader of the great Camel expedition; he built the first wagon road to California; he consolidated four Spanish land grants into what's still the largest private property ownership in California, the Tejon Ranch; he was a friend and confidant of Grant; he ran guns to the Mexicans during their struggle for independence; he ended his career as the Minister to Austria Hungary; and so, so much more.  He ended life successful and never sought praise, and didn't have a wife to chronicle his exploits as did Custer and Fremont.  Kit Carson said "I can't believe this guy Ned Beale," which is high praise indeed.  He was happily married, having made his wife a wedding ring from that huge nugget.  He was the subject of my biographical novel RUSH TO DESTINY, which elicited my favorite compliment as a writer when a high school history teacher said, "my students learn more California history from your novel than from their texts, and love doing so."

How much historical research do you do, and how do you go about it?  Biographies and auto-biographies, journals, diaries, and old newspapers are my best source of material and provide great time and place.  I have one wonderful 3 volume set of Alfred Doten journals that I always refer to.  Doten arrived in Virginia City, NV in 1854 and was the newspaper editor there for 50 years.  He kept accurate journals of day to day life.  Unfortunately when he married he went back and erased all the parts about visits to the city’s brothels.  The editor, however, was able to reconstitute some. 

How important is setting? How important is it to get setting right? What's the best use of setting in a Western as far as you're concerned?  Setting is another character.  But more than that, if you use an actual area or town you MUST be accurate.  Hitler said “tell them three truths and they’ll believe your lie.”  Well, in fiction, tell them three truths and they’re more likely to believe your fiction.  Involving the reader is your first responsibility if you want to write compelling, can’t-put-it-down, fiction.  And if they see something they know is wrong, it breaks the reading trance and you’ve lost “compelling.”  Western readers are very knowledgeable.  I once put a cigar type in a tale and got a letter from a reader, “You used that cigar in 1873 and it wasn’t on the market until 1875.”

How do you choose where to begin your story? Do you use prologues?  I don’t use prologues, I begin with a hook if possible (and it’s always possible if you’re clever enough to figure it out).  My last western, NEMESIS, began with  “It’s been fifteen years since I’ve killed a man.”  Let’s hope that compels the reader to keep reading.

Do you do all your research ahead of time, or as you go along?  As I go, I don’t always know the questions yet.  I do know the setting and some of it I research as settings change.

Which of your characters do you identify with the most, and why?  Was there a role model for this particular character?  With the hero, of course, who else?

Do you outline and plot your story or do you write as the inspiration or MUSE leads? I know the beginning and the end (usually).  Then all I’ve got to do is fill in the middle without getting a “saggy middle.”

Are you a conservative in your writing and stick with traditional ideas for your characters and plots or do you like to go beyond the norm and toss in the unexpected and why? Interesting characters make for interesting reading.  My last hero was attracted to a whore and a preacher’s daughter, and the whore ended up having a good heart and the preacher’s daughter’s was a little on the black side.  One of the most compelling western characters I’ve read was a humpback.

Do you need quiet when you write, listen to music, or have the TV on and family around?  I raised four sons, what do you think?  I almost always have something on the TV or music channel.  If it’s too quiet, when you’re raising sons, they’re up to something.

Have you experienced the "dreaded" writer's block and how did you deal with it?  As I relate to young writers, when I hire a carpenter to build a new garage and I walk out to see him staring at a pile of lumber, does he have carpenter’s block?  If you claim to be a writer, write.  Sit down and start typing, and soon, you’ll be writing. 

Who is your favorite fictional character that you have created?  Kind of like asking me who’s my favorite son.  Sorry, can’t choose.

Who is your favorite fictional character that someone else created?  Too many to name, however Shane is way up the list.

Do you address "modern" issues in Westerns? Racism. Feminism. Downs Syndrome. Mental disabilities. Genetic disorders. Sociopathy. Immigrant questions. Brutality. Pedophilia. Any more?  You don’t think Billy the Kid was a sociopath?  I didn’t know those were “modern.”  Seems like they’re humanity issues and have been with us always.

What are you writing right now? I’m working on a thriller and a non-fiction on promoting your work on the internet.  Then it’s a sequel to my last western.

Have you found that being able to self publish through Kindle and Nook, that you find yourself writing more of what you want rather than what the agent, editor, and publisher wants?  I never wrote what they wanted, only told them I was.  By the time they get the book they can’t remember what you were supposed to write, and if it’s a good book, they don’t give a damn.  But, yes, I love not having to deal with publishers, although many of them are still friends.

Do you make a living writing? If not, what is your day job?  Yes, and so does my wife, far more than I do, thank God, and my day job is promoting her career which makes me more money than writing.  If you figure out how to work more than ten or twelve hours a day, please advise.

What do you plan to write in the future?  Fiction and more fiction and work on my cookbook which is an ongoing project.  The problem with a cookbook is your waistline.

What made you decide to write Western fiction?  Even though I was born and raised in central California, my town was the Oklahoma and Texas of California, where many of the dust bowl folks landed.  In high school I worked in the fields.  I was a western guy, a hunter, a packer and wrangler (at a boys camp in the high Sierra), and always wore Levi’s and boots.  We have three horses now, and have to pull fence and trim hoofs.  My town was Nashville west, the home of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard (who I picked up hitchhiking one day about a half century or more ago).  I spoke the language. My wife’s family was old time rodeo, her dad a PRCA team roper, and her uncle one of the sports finest bullfighters.  It was the easiest genre to step into.

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