The Bandwagon reviewer James McStravick interviews author R.L. Martinez.
R. L. Martinez writes fantasy and science fiction with dark edges and corners. She lives in Oklahoma in a house where all the doors are hung wrong and the sinks are in the shape of seashells (hello, 1983!). Also occupying her domicile are one crotchety husband of Mexican extraction; two young half-human, half-tornado creatures; one mouse-killing cat, and two naughty pooches, both of whom follow her everywhere she goes.
What inspired you to start writing?
In seventh grade, my teacher assigned our class a creative writing assignment: describe something from top to bottom, side to side. This is the first such project I can remember ever receiving. In fact, until then, I had not given much thought to writing. I certainly never pictured myself as “a writer.” Though I LOVED making up stories for my Breyer Horse figures and She-Ra action figures to act out. And I adored dressing up in costumes and making up dramas.
For my initial crack at the assignment, I chose to describe my bedroom. It was dusky pink and sick with fake flowers, including on the wall paper. About half-way through my first draft, I looked down at my paper and thought, “I can do better than this.” I crumpled up the description of my room and began afresh. This time I imagined walking through a forest – something I have always found restorative and enlivening. Here are the first two sentences from that long-ago essay (yes, I kept it): “The first thing I feel when I walk into a forest is a rush of excitement and adventure. The feeling of not knowing what could be lurking behind a tree or in a thicket of deep, rich green excites me beyond measure.” With this essay, I discovered my writing self. That was the piece that began my emergence as an artist.
Though I believe I’ve improved my technique since I was in the seventh grade, I continue to find forests, woods, and wild places deeply spiritual – and highly stimulating (there’s also a certain creep factor which adds to the excitement). To me, they are the physical embodiment of the artist’s mind. Whenever I begin a new story or poem, I have the same sensation of entering a mysterious forest filled with strange animals and plants and adventures.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Oh man, this is always a loaded question. What works for one writer/artist won’t necessarily work for another.
But one piece of advice that I think works for everyone is this: be honest about your strengths and weaknesses; and be honest about what you want. Too many writers get into self-publishing with no idea how to put out a good product and/or how to market that product. For instance, I could produce a decently formatted book with a decent cover. But I’m HORRIBLE at marketing and getting my book into readers’ hands. So, for me, going with a small press and (as I hope to one day) working with a larger publisher is my best bet for getting my work out there. Even though I get a smaller cut of the profits. So, when you are ready to send your work into the world, sit down and make a very forthright list of your skills and wants.
And, if you ARE determined to self-publish, for the love of all that is holy hire an editor! Please for your own sake and the sake of your readers, hire a reputable, thorough editor.
What do you wish you had known about the publishing process?
I’m not sure. If I had known – really known – how stacked against me it was, how little chance I had of finding an agent or big-name publisher (and how little chance I had of making it in self-publishing) I probably never would have bothered to write In the Blood. Or, if I did write it, I wouldn’t have bothered to revise it and hire an editor to help polish it. Then, I would never have discovered Lakewater Press.
I think it’s important to have huge, out-of-this-world, larger-than-life dreams. That way, when they are inevitably cut down by the reality behind publishing, you still have enough fire to keep you warm when cold, cold rejection surrounds you.
What are you currently reading?
I actually just finished a book last night! But I’ve also been delving into a lot of nonfiction lately about alternative religions, specifically paganism and Wicca. Currently I’m involved in Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance and Merlin Stone’s When God Was A Woman.
What authors inspire you the most and would want to meet them?
One of my all-time favorite authors is Sharon Shinn. God yes, I would want to meet her! But I would also be nervous of going fan-girl on her and making her run away screaming! Other favorite authors are Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Roald Dahl, and Patricia Briggs. And I’ve recently discovered a new favorite, K.J. Charles. I’d love to meet any of those great artists, but I’d likely be too shy to actually say anything meaningful to them.
Do you have a favorite genre, if so do you have any favorite authors in it?
I’d say fantasy (and its subsets) is my go-to genre, but I read across a wide spectrum including romance, some horror, science-fiction, poetry, and nonfiction.
“In the Blood” has a very unique perspective on shapeshifting: Where did you get the idea for this?
It honestly evolved as I wrote and rewrote the story. I had read many shifter stories and noticed common themes among them (immortality, near-invincibility, group/pack dynamics etc), but I didn’t want my shifters to be immortal. Nor did I want the highly structured pack system that many other shifter stories utilize.
The onkai spirit individuals are blessed with (or cursed with depending on who you ask) are divine helpers, partners, and guides to their human halves. The human and animal are completely separate souls who happen to share a body.
My shifters are lone agents because they are so rare. And most of them are born that way, not made. But not all children born to an onkai would also be onkai. Often it skips a generation; or one sibling will be born onkai while another won’t. This is all backstory that I didn’t include because I wasn’t sure anyone would be interested in it. But the onkai have their own mythology and roots in religion that have been obscured or out-right changed by current governments and religious leaders due to prejudices and misunderstandings.
The only semi-invincible quality the onkai have is the ability to heal an injury or sickness during a shift. But they don’t live forever and they have a very small window in which to transform and save/heal themselves.
I’m a big believer in ‘no magic without sacrifice or consequences’. So my shifters had to play into that belief. I don’t like creating all-powerful beings because, to be frank, they’re boring. Yes, my shifters have this extraordinary ability, but they can’t escape death nor does their supernatural nature allow them to just dance through life’s difficulties.
Which of your characters do you particularly relate to?
I suppose Wilder would be character I understand the most because he’s a bit of curmudgeon. I relate to his impatience when people interfere with his job as I get cranky when I’m interrupted in the middle of a task.
But Oriabel has long been a favorite of mine because she tries so hard to do the right thing. The fact that her life basically implodes while she tries to protect her home and people is something I think any human being could relate to. Sometimes our best intentions lead us down the path of destruction.
Do you have any plans for book tour?
I guess you could say I’m in the middle of a truncated book tour right now! I did a signing at a local independent book store in May. In June I did SoonerCon. And in August I’m attending MidAmeriCon II. When the book was released we did a blog tour to celebrate its introduction to the world.
Is there anything in particular we could expect to see or you can hint towards in the sequel for “In the Blood”?
Okay, I’ll try to do this without giving any spoilers – for In the Blood as well as its sequel. First off, the title of the sequel is Beneath the Skin. Second, Beneath the Skin expands on the dark themes I introduced through In the Blood.
A few reviewers have said (see, criticized) that In the Blood is too dark. That the violence is very disturbing. To me, that is not a criticism. I don’t like to write violence for violence’s sake. I don’t enjoy it or seek it out in my own life – I’ve never fired a gun or punched someone. But when someone finds the violence in my writing discomfiting, it means I’ve done my job. It means I’ve created characters you don’t WANT to see get hurt.
That being said, Beneath the Skin contains some pretty horrid deaths and other violence. You’ve got a character suffering from PTSD, escalating hostilities between countries, certain ambiguous characters from In the Blood reveal their intentions – few of which are good. The world of the Witchbreed is headed towards world war. And all wars includes lots of death, suffering, and mayhem.
BUT… But, all of that darkness serves to make the bright moments stand out. Suffering gives love and sacrifice a deeper meaning. And I hope I’ve accomplished that with this next book.
The Bandwagon is a big advocate of female authors and women in general, particularly with the Inspiring Women campaign. With this in mind, I thought it would be great to ask: Do you feel that being a woman has affected your career in any way?
When I was in college, I worked a couple of summers at a Christian summer camp in Ohio. During one of those summers, the camp staff brought in a guest pastor to minister to the campers. One morning, this guy described life and faith as a big adventure and that men/boys are always looking for a woman/girl to save and women/girls are always waiting to be saved.
I think fury actually made me black-out for a moment after hearing that. I approached the pastor later with another female counselor and, together, we tried to explain to him why teaching young people in that way is harmful, why it robs women and girls of the opportunity to find their own strength and puts an unfair burden on men and boys. He listened to us with a blank-faced expression and then condescendingly told us that his teachings reflected the natural and Biblical way of life for men and women.
My writing and characters are, in part, a big SCREW YOU to that view of life. I love manly men as much as anyone and male heroes will always have a place in literature and art as will damsels in distress. But something that is often forgotten is men sometimes need nurturing and rescuing too; women need to flex their muscles and be the rescuer every once in while. But most important, men and women need to learn to act as partners – both equally important, both in possession of their own unique gifts.
As a writer, I want to create an array of well-rounded characters that don’t fit into molds. I want men to read my female characters and see a bit of themselves in there. The same with female readers and my male characters. This, like every aspect of writing, is an ongoing process. I’ll never get it exactly right – no one will. But the effort is the important thing; the attempt to create real people, with real needs and goals, real passions, real weaknesses who are reflective of the world we live in.
Read James’ review of In The Blood here.
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