Okay. So it’s been a little while since I did an author interview. There’s lots of reasons for it, but we’re back now and I couldn’t be happier. There are, occasionally, those rare and wonderful moments where an author comes along that I want to shout from the mountain tops to proclaim to you. Tonight’s author, A. Lee Martinez is precisely one of those authors. He’s not someone I accidentally stumbled upon, but he’s someone I wish I’d stumbled upon much sooner.
You see, a few years ago, one of his books had caught my eye at the bookstore. It was called MONSTER and it sounded like something right up my alley. A regular Joe blue collar pest control employee who specializes in capturing monsters (oh, yeah…and depending on what color he is when he wakes up, he also has various supernatural powers (or not-so “super”, depending on how you look at it)). He’s also dating a very moody Succubus and just trying to make ends meet without stirring the pot of his life too much. Sounds great, right? Yeah, it did to me too…but for some reason, I put off reading the book for way too long. Granted, I had my own books to write. Had a slew of books to publish via Seven Realms Publishing and I had a backlog of to-be-read contenders just waiting to be slurped up as soon as I could get around to it.
Then, about a month or so ago, I finally decided to give it a shot and I’ve been kicking myself for not reading it sooner ever since. Not only was it “laugh out loud” funny, but it had a great story to boot. I quickly realized that Martinez was the MASTER of pointing out the ridiculous in our world. He sees things as they truly are and calls us out on just how ridiculously silly we can be. He’s every bit as funny as Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett, in my opinion…though I might be tarred and feathered for saying such things. But it’s true. Of course, after finishing MONSTER, I wasn’t entirely convinced it wasn’t just a possible fluke. So I quickly ran out and picked up another of his books (yes, I actually read them in paperback form because I was on a paperback kick at the time), TOO MANY CURSES.
Whereas MONSTER appeared to be some sort of urban fantasy, TOO MANY CURSES appeared to be a straight up fantasy novel. The back of the book description intrigued me. Seems an evil wizard gets accidentally eaten by one of his many strange collections and it falls on the wizard’s humble kobold servant, Nessy, to hold his enchanted castle together while all hell literally breaks loose. How on earth could I pass up reading this? I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I was certain it couldn’t top MONSTER.
And I was wrong. It was equally as funny. The story was equally as well put together and well thought out. But even more amazing to me about this silly story was just how much heart it had. Nessy was such an inspiring character. No nonsense. Practical to a fault. But determined. Although she was a very unlikely candidate for the term “hero”, I couldn’t imagine a more heroic and grand champion I’d rather have on my side. But notice the word “inspiring” that I used…I meant that literally. The true heart of this story is in the fact that she truly is someone you can not only relate to, but also wish you had in your life.
So after reading these two books, I wondered…what next? I had to have more. Well, two more books had caught my eye a while back and I scooped them up: GIL’S ALL FRIGHT DINER and EMPEROR MOLLUSK VERSUS THE SINISTER BRAIN. Holy crap! Where’s a guy supposed to start? Well, as I write this blog post, I’m currently in the middle of the audiobook edition of EMPEROR MOLLUSK and I have to tell you…so far, it’s my favorite of the bunch!
First of all, the narration is superb! Scott Aiello does an amazing job at voicing the characters, especially Emperor Mollusk himself (who sounds like a very charming, but evil genius young Cary Elwes).
But this book goes completely opposite of any of the other books I’ve read so far. It’s neither urban fantasy, nor fantasy. It’s sort of science fiction, I suppose…but not really. It’s a little like an old fashioned pulp novel, but not quite. It’s kind of a spoof on evil masterminds trying to take over the universe, but Mollusk is just too darned likeable for that to be a true assessment as well. It’s just kind of difficult to pin down…but trust me on this. It’s AMAZING. Just so I do it justice, let me share the back cover description of this book for you:
Intergalactic Menace. Destroyer of Worlds. Conqueror of Other Worlds. Mad Genius. Ex-Warlord of Earth.
Not bad for a guy without a spine.
But what’s a villain to do after he’s done . . . everything. With no new ambitions, he’s happy to pitch in and solve the energy crisis or repel alien invaders should the need arise, but if he had his way, he’d prefer to be left alone to explore the boundaries of dangerous science. Just as a hobby, of course.
Retirement isn’t easy though. If the boredom doesn’t get him, there’s always the Venusians. Or the Saturnites. Or the Mercurials. Or . . . well, you get the idea. If that wasn’t bad enough, there’s also the assassins of a legendary death cult and an up-and-coming megalomaniac (as brilliant as he is bodiless) who have marked Emperor for their own nefarious purposes. But Mollusk isn’t about to let the Earth slip out of his own tentacles and into the less capable clutches of another. So it’s time to dust off the old death ray and come out of retirement. Except this time, he’s not out to rule the world. He’s out to save it from the peril of THE SINISTER BRAIN!
Yeah. Tell me that description doesn’t just pull you in and make you want to read it! I’m telling you, you’ll love it if you give it a shot.
And there’s quite a few other books of A. Lee Martinez I just can’t wait to scoop up…including his latest, HELEN & TROY’S EPIC ROAD QUEST.
Here’s the product description for that too:
Witness the epic battle of the cyclops!
Visit the endangered dragon preserve! Please, no slaying.
Solve the mystery of The Mystery Cottage, if you dare!
Buy some knick knacks from The Fates! They might come in handy later.
On a road trip across an enchanted America, Helen and Troy will discover all this and more. If the curse placed upon them by an ancient god doesn’t kill them or the pack of reluctant orc assassins don’t catch up to them, Helen and Troy might reach the end their journey in one piece, where they might just end up destroying the world. Or at least a state or two.
A minotaur girl, an all-American boy, a three-legged dog, and a classic car are on the road to adventure, where every exit leads to adventure. Whether they like it or not.
Are you starting to see a theme here? We’re talking about an author with an imagination that seems to know no bounds with the ability to make us laugh through the sheer absurdity of life all around us while telling us honest to goodness fantastic stories while he’s at it. That’s a rare combination these days in my opinion.
Well, recently, I had a chance to talk to Mr. Martinez about his books, his imagination and humor, as well as writing in general. Here’s what he had to say:
1. As I’ve already mentioned in the blog post, I’ve read two of your books already and just about to start on a third. The first book I read was MONSTER, about a guy named, appropriately enough, Monster, who works as a kind of animal control worker for strange and mythical creatures. Although Monster’s not the most successful, dashing, or even likable of heroes, the reader REALLY grows quite fond of him. Was it intentional at the beginning of writing the book to make him so flawed? What do you think it is about really flawed heroes that draws us to them?
Monster wasn’t just designed to be flawed. He’s designed to be unlikeable, a bit obnoxious, and gifted with incredibly poor judgment. This was intentional because I wanted to write an urban fantasy with more of a working stiff element. Monster isn’t a glamorous character. He’s just a guy who does a job he doesn’t like, struggling to get by. He’s sort of the anti-badass. He isn’t incompetent, but he isn’t the coolest guy in the room. He doesn’t impress people with his magical powers. He makes a lot of bad decisions, and he’s his own worst enemy. One of my goals in the story was to create a character who didn’t exhibit any character growth, even though he really, really needs it.
Funnily enough, I’m not a fan of flawed protagonists as they are often labeled. I’m a little old-fashioned in that I like genuinely heroic characters who do the right thing because they should. Monster is definitely my most flawed protagonist, and while I enjoyed writing him, I wouldn’t make a habit of it.
I think the attraction to flawed heroes is a logical backlash to perfect heroes who could certainly be boring. But I think we’ve swung too far in the other direction, and it’s almost as if a character who isn’t a serial killer or cannibal (or both) is considered unrealistic. It’s like people who call Spider-Man an average Joe, when he’s actually pretty much a loser who can’t get his act together. I’ve nothing against that type of character, but I think it’s just too much at this stage. But what do I know? People seem to love them.
2. The second book I read, Too Many Curses features an even more unlikely hero…or heroine, rather. Nessy is a meek, and very well mannered Kobold in the employ of a mean and nasty wizard. When he accidentally gets eaten by a monster he unleashes, it becomes her job to hold the wizard’s magic castle together…whether the castle wants to remain together or not. As I read this story, I couldn’t help feeling huge admiration for this girl. She’s almost the exact opposite of Monster in that she definitely has what it takes to be hero, yet her humility prevents her from seeing it. Easy question for you. Is there a real Nessy in your life? Was she inspired by someone you know? If not, how did her character, which seems so believable and endearing, come about?
My intention with Nessy was to create a fantasy hero who started out as an unlikely, mild-mannered character who wasn’t the most powerful and who (even more importantly) didn’t become the most powerful character in her universe in order to be a hero.
Unlike Monster, Nessy is admirable. She’s a good person (well, close enough to a person), and she cares about all those around her. She makes her world a better place and even saves the day because of those qualities that are so often underestimated in heroic fantasy. She’s sensible, organized, and polite. She doesn’t become the most powerful wizard. She doesn’t have some secret destiny. She is simply good, decent, and unassuming.
Most of the time, my characters aren’t based on people I know or have met, but Nessy is inspired, albeit accidentally at first, by my mom. She is a capable person who you can always turn to in a pinch, and that’s a highly undervalued virtue.
But mostly, I think Nessy comes across as endearing because she’s everything most fantasy heroes aren’t. It’s easy to save the day when you have all the superpowers and are cooler than everybody, but being quiet and sensible is such an unusual heroic quality that she stands out by virtue of that.
3. From what I’ve seen, they can be classified by having several common characteristics: A) They all tend to fall more into the fantasy/urban fantasy genre, B ) They all tend to focus on the most unlikely of heroes, and C) They’re all funny as all get out. Is that a fair assessment? If so, I’m curious as to your biggest influences. Who has inspired you the most in your writings? What authors do you look to for guidance? Heck, like so many, was there a single author that just compelled you to pursue writing?
To respond to the assessment:
A) I write fantasy. I don’t care if it’s urban or classic, and when I write science fiction, it isn’t of the hard variety, so it’s mostly fantasy with aliens instead of elves.
B) Some of my heroes are unlikely. Others are standard issue. But I do tend to choose slightly odd protagonists. It’s not always a deliberate choice, but it happens.
C) The humor is always a mixed blessing. I don’t consider what I write to be humor (or satire, farce, parody, what-have-you), but it does have strong elements of humor in it. Part of that is because I tend to tweak the standard fantasy tropes, and another part is that people tend to like things in neat little boxes, and when you write stories about space squids and robot detectives, people tend to automatically classify it as silly stuff.
My influences are primarily comic book writers (Walt Simonson’s Thor remains probably the most influential series for me) as well as classic pulp fiction. Also, Godzilla movies and a lot of cartoons have had their influence as well. But I don’t look to other writers for guidance. I write what I find interesting and hope to be my own writer.
There was no writer who compelled me to pursue writing. Writing was something I stumbled into. I did it because I didn’t have any other ideas, and I turned out to like it, be good enough and stubborn enough to get paid for it eventually.
4. As I mentioned above, your books are absolutely filled with laugh out loud moments. When you first started writing, did you set out intentionally to write humorous fiction or is it something that just happened organically?
Half of the humor in my books comes from acknowledging the absurdity of the situation the characters are in. The other half is how I look at the world. I rarely write to be funny, and, as I said above, I struggle with the comedic fantasy label writer quite a bit. I’m always happy to hear people like my work, but I do find myself annoyed when it gets dismissed as shallow fluff because it’s funny. But I don’t control that, and I’ve come to accept that it’s a label I’m mostly stuck with. Plus, there is plenty of humor in nearly every story I write, so there’s little point in denying it
5. Off the subject of writing for a moment. When you’re not writing, what are some of the things you like to do to fill the time? Hobbies? Interests?
I’m an avid tabletop gamer. Board games and card games. I’ve been collecting and playing them for a while now, so my collection numbers over 150 games.
I’m also an amateur cartoonist. Mostly for fun, but I’d love for that to develop into something more commercial one day. But for now, it’s just a hobby.
6. What projects do you have coming down the pike that you’d like everyone to know about?
No big projects due out anytime soon. My newest book, Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest, came out earlier last year. That’s about it at this point.
7. I try to ask this of all my guests. For all the aspiring writers out there, if you could only give one piece of advice to them, what would it be?
Don’t do it.
Being an aspiring writer is a lousy life choice, and it’s probably not going to pay off. Don’t tell me that you write for the love of it and you don’t care if you make money off of it because money means something. Money means people are reading your books and everyone who writes a story wants lots of people to read it.
But if you think you can put up with the heartbreak, the complete indifference, and the constant rejection, then go for it. However, realize that you probably won’t ever make a living at it.
You can always go the self-publishing route, and while it’s a more viable option with each passing year, you’re going to languish in obscurity and deal with an indifferent public. It’s hard to make a living as a traditionally published writer. Even harder for a self-published one.
If none of this discourages you, then I will add that be sure to finish your stories. A half-finished story doesn’t do you any good, and better to finish one average story rather than have a dozen half-finished great stories.
Above all, expect a lot of discouragement. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it (though I will stress that I DON’T recommend it), but go in with your eyes wide open about what’s coming your way.
Thank you so much, Lee, for spending time with us tonight. I wish you the very best of luck for the future.
And readers…friends…do yourself a favor and get to know this fantastic author. Read his books. Laugh. Relax. And enjoy.