Author Interview ~ Charles Martin, Part II

Charles Martin earned his B.A. in English from Florida State University, and his M.A. in Journalism and Ph.D. in Communication from Regent University. He served one year at Hampton University as an adjunct professor in the English department and as a doctoral fellow at Regent. In 1999, he left a career in business to pursue his writing. He and his wife, Christy, live a stone’s throw from the St. John’s River in Jacksonville, Florida, with their three boys: Charlie, John T., and Rives. When he’s not writing, Charles fishes with his boys, works in the yard with Christy, coaches T-ball, and kneels by his boys’ beds at night. Right now, the boys are praying for two things: a boat with space for a cooler, three or four people, and five or six rods because they’re not catching any fish off the neighbor’s dock, and Daddy’s book.

Interview April 2006 via telephone:

Gina: When you wrote The Dead Don’t Dance, you talk about a hundred rejections, which means you weren’t just aiming at CBA publishers. There aren’t that many.

Charles: I actually bought the 2000 Writer’s Market and pulled out the names of any company who would publish anything remotely close to mine.

It got expensive. I was sending out proposals not just queries. Even today, I don’t really know my stories well enough to just write a query. Even now, I’m writing my fifth novel, I have to wrestle with it for three months before I can even tell you what it’s about.

Gina: Is writing your full-time job?

Charles: We’ll see if enough people buy my book, but yes for now this is my full time job. The Dead Don’t Dance debuted in ’04. Shortly after Hallmark Hall of Fame called and optioned the movie rights. Quickly there after my publisher called and offered me a second contract. So since then I’ve been writing full time. The Hallmark movie never got made and I now own those rights. I don’t know what happened. I never will.

Gina: Do you still have doubts as a writer?

Charles: Yes, but they’re different doubts. Kind of matured doubts. Have I said what my heart wanted to say? Can I say this better? A lot of times with me, I’ll write ten thousand words that need to be deleted to get to the story. There have been days where I’ve written six or eight thousand words, and literally hit delete. And start over the next day. Sometimes you’ve just got to clear off the table before you get to what needs to be there.

Gina: If you could have the attribute of another writer, what would you take and from whom?

Charles: I love the way John Grisham does dialogue.
The way Hampton Sides (Ghost Soldiers) paints scenes.
The simplicity of Louie L’Amour.
The ideas of Walker Percy.
The humor of Flannery O’Connor
The style of John Dyson.

Gina: You talk about having mentors yourself. Is there anyone you mentor?

Charles: That’s a great question. As a writer?

Gina: Yes.

Charles: No. In the last two years I’ve been asked to speak more and more. I enjoy seeing the folks like I was just six years ago, wanting someone to believe in them. Wanting someone to say that their stories are of value.

I love talking with those folks, encouraging them to finish their stories.

Gina: What are a few of your favorite books?

Charles: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is probably my favorite. I don’t like books as much as I like scenes in books. The scene where Huck is laying on the raft deliberating whether or not to set Jim free is one of my favorite scenes in literature.

If you’ve read any of my stuff outside my novels, you’ll realize Robinson Crusoe is one of my favorites. The scene where he walks along the beach and sees his footprint. I just love that.

Most of what I read is non-fiction. I don’t know why but I don’t read a lot of fiction. I read everything put out by Clive Cussler. But most of what I gravitate toward is non-fiction.

Gina: Other authors are naming you as an author to watch. Is there an author you think others should know about?

Charles: Good question. Two writers have become friends of mine and I’m a fan of their work. They’re as accomplished, if not more so than I. Michael Morris who I appreciate as a friend and as a writer. The second is Denise Hildreth. Her voice is distinct. I like hearing it and reading it.

Gina: Speaking of marketing/publicity.

Charles: Ugh!

Gina: What do you do publicity wise and how important do you think it is?

Charles: It’s my biggest weakness. I’m horrible at it because I don’t think marketing. I love talking to people about my stories but I don’t walk up and down the streets thinking, ‘that person ought to have my book.’

Word of mouth has opened up opportunities for me to speak to book clubs and most people find me through my website.

My publisher has done a great job getting my story out and getting it before the right reviewers.

We writers talk about this a lot. We prep postcards. We mass mail to our email list. We try everything in the world. The best success I’ve had is through my website and talking to book clubs.

Christy is far more marketing oriented than I and it drives her crazy, but I just don’t think this way. I really need people to think this way for me. But I’m still so unnoticed that I can’t afford the people I need to think that way. Every writer’s that way I think. I could improve in this area.

Gina: What advice would you give to an aspiring novelist who is sending their manuscripts out now? They’re where you were a few years ago. What would you say to them?

Charles: I don’t believe I’m the greatest writer in the world or tell the best stories, what I’m good at doing is showing up and writing. Show up and write. I’m living proof that rejections won’t kill you. They ding you and don’t make you feel too happy. I still get them today. If God put a story on your heart write it. We buy into this idea that everyone has to buy our writing for it to be of value.

I heard this great interview with George Lucas. The interviewer asked him, “When you wrote the screenplay for Star Wars who were you thinking of? It’s obvious you tapped into an audience. What audience were you aiming at?”

George said, ‘Don’t take this the wrong way but I wrote it for me. It just so happened that millions of people liked it too.’

If you don’t like your story, no one else is going to like it.

When I wrote The Dead Don’t Dance, I was in love with the story and wanted to know what happened. Same thing with my other stories. I wrote them wanting to know what happens.

I told a guy yesterday who’s trying to write a book, set your alarm for four. Get up and write from four to seven and do that every day.

Grisham wrote 2 legal pad pages a day and at the end of a year he had A Time to Kill. Anybody can do that. Turn off one episode of Seinfeld and write for thirty minutes.

So my advice, and please don’t take this the wrong way, is show up and write.

Gina: What is the dream for the future of your writing?

Charles: You’re asking me to take a helicopter ride over my career.

I’d like to hit the NY Time best-seller list and stay there. If you’re going to dream, dream big. Secondly, I see a lot of guys who are tough and callused because of life and age or whatever. If I could write stories that got through all that to the tender part of their hearts, and touch them, then my books will have done what I’d hope they would.

Gina: Are all your novels in first person.

Charles: [laughs] Yeah, that’s ‘cause I don’t know how to do anything else.

Gina: My question was going to be why first person. Is that really the reason?

Charles: I can write third person. I’ve done it but I’m more comfortable in first person. I always start with a character who is in a rough place. My stories are getting them from that rough place to a place of hope.

First person fits that usually. For me anyway. That may change in five years. Maybe I’ll learn how to do that in third person like so many other writers are able to. But in all seriousness first person is more comfortable for me.

Gina: It sounds like for you writing in third person is like writing with your left hand.

Charles: I’ll accept that analogy. You know I’ve written a C.S. Lewis type of fairy tale, though I’m not on the same level, but this story is in third person. But I’m not trying to show you the transformation of the heart. It’s a quest.

Gina: Is this going to be published?

Charles: I don’t know. It’s just for me and the boys.

Gina: Do you want to write children’s books?

Charles: I don’t think I’ve got a good enough grasp on what I’m doing now to branch out like that. I’m still trying to figure out what book I’m currently writing. And in all seriousness I have yet to be discovered. I’m not a household name, I’m not even a Jacksonville name.

Gina: [laughs] Parting words?

Charles: I’ve rambled enough already.

Gina: (jokingly) That you have.

Charles: [laughs] I’ll finish with this: there’s not a path or corporate ladder you can climb up in this quest. Everyone gets to the shelf differently and that’s part of the fun. But if the Lord gave you a drum to play—beat it. If He have you a story to tell, write it.

Visit Charles’ web-site@ www.charlesmartinbooks.com