A. Lee Martinez is a great writer. Funny novels are hard to write, Gil’s All Fright Diner
is warm and thoughtful and makes you care about even the most minor of
characters(I defy you not to like the sheriff). His dialogue crackles
and the places feel real, and the characters all have their own voice
and the two main characters, Duke and Earl, have a real chemistry that
most readers fail to accomplish. I’m constantly amazed at how many
writers can’t write a close friendship well relying on snappy patter
and macho posturing instead of real stuff like making fun of each other
or calling them on their bullshit. Oh yeah, it also has zombie dairy
cows. His new novel In the Company of Ogres comes out on August 8th.
Cameron/CHUD: Could you tell us a little about yourself? How you got into writing, what advice was crucial and what the publishing process of your first novel was like?
I’m going to be honest here. There’s nothing really very interesting
about me. I’m just a guy who likes to make up stories. I have an
unexceptional background and an unexceptional life. Nothing really
worth talking about. Seriously. I’m not being modest. It’s just the
cold, hard truth that though I am a cool dude who can tell a good
story, I do not have anything exciting to tell you about myself.
got into writing when an English teacher in my last year of high school
suggested I enter a short story contest. So I did. And I won. And after
that, I decided that since I really didn’t have any other idea what I
wanted to do with my life, I’d give writing a shot.
I have to
give a lot of credit to my Mom. She supported me all the way. When I
told her that I didn’t want to go to college and wanted to write, she
said she wouldn’t mind supporting me for the next four years, just as
long as I was really writing and submitting. After the four years
passed, and I still hadn’t made it, she still supported me. She’s been
a tremendous influence, and I don’t think I could’ve done this without
her. I really consider this her accomplishment as much as mine.
publishing process is long. I mean, really long. Nothing happens fast
in this business. My various novels had bounced around for years until
eventually, through a quirk of fate; an editor at Tor asked to see a
manuscript. So I sent him GIL’S because I felt it was my most
commercial work. Then I waited. And waited some more. And waited some
I waited two years. I’d actually given up on Tor and had
started submitting GIL’S elsewhere. Then I got the call. My future
editor asked a few questions about my background, and then told me he
was going to pitch it to the higher ups. Still wasn’t excited. By then,
I’d developed this sort of "whatever" attitude. I was optimistic, but
it’s never a sale until you’ve got the money in your hands. And I’d
been that close once or twice. There’s a lot of hoops to jump through
to get a manuscript published, especially with a big publisher.
two weeks later, I get the call. Tor wants to buy GIL’S. They make an
offer. I get part of my advance. Then there’s waiting. More waiting.
Really, that’s all this business is. Writing and waiting. From first
submission request to actual publication was roughly four years.
is one crucial piece of advice for all aspiring writers. Write and
submit. I know that seems rather obvious, but it’s rarely talked about.
There are tons of books on technique and grammar, but hardly any that
just tell you to get to it.
When it comes to the writing part,
be sure to finish something. Don’t get stuck in rewrites, and don’t
devote years of your life to one manuscript. If you want to be a pro,
you have to write at a reliable pace, and you have to finish. I cannot
stress that enough. And once you finish it, you must write something
else. Otherwise, it’s not a job. It’s a hobby. Which is fine, but an
The other part is submitting. Submit like
crazy, all the time, like a madman. I usually sent out four query
letters a week at least. And many writers send out more. One a week is
fine, too. But a writer who spends forever "perfecting" his work and
never getting it out there is, again, just a hobbyist.
CHUD: Duke and Earl are such vivid characters and go against the usual stereotypes and cliché’s with vampires and werewolves. They eat, they flirt, they argue like two old friends always do without ever actually being mean. Was this always the intent?
Intent is kind of a hard thing to pin down for me. Duke and Earl
evolved on their own. In the beginning, I knew that Duke was large and
quiet and Earl was skinny and grouchy. I made them friends because
often in fantasy werewolves and vamps are depicted as enemies. Other
than that, they’re interaction and personalities evolved over time.
don’t plan my stories out in detail, and I don’t have character
profiles or anything like that. I just get to know the characters the
same way the reader does. I start with the obvious and see where it
goes. Since I don’t like stereotypes, the characters almost always
change along the way. But it’s not usually a conscious decision.
said, Duke and Earl are a deliberate attempt to avoid many of the old
monster clichés and make the monsters seem like regular Joes. Their
friendship isn’t much different than most friendships I’ve had. They
make fun of each other, but they’re still good friends, still count on
each other. They’re real friends, not because they tell each other that
they care, but because they show it through their actions.
CHUD: The end of Gil’s with the characters leaving the town suggests a sequel. Do you have one in mind?
no sequel in mind. In my original draft, the last two chapters are
reversed. It was my editor who wanted them switched. I know it’s a
small change, but I think having the chapter with Tammy and
at the end really made the book seem like a complete entity. Ending
the way it does, most readers naturally assume it’s the beginning of a
Right now, I’m just not interested in getting stuck in
one world with one set of characters. What I love about writing is not
knowing what to expect, about pushing myself to create new characters
and situations. I love that in one of my stories the heroes might be
country boy monsters, in another a guy who just doesn’t die, and in
another, a hard-boiled robot. None of these characters could truly
exist in the same universe. And even if they did, I don’t see why I
should be limited in the stories I tell. Fantasy is all about pushing
It’s great that so many people have such affection for
Duke, Earl, Cathy, and Rockwood. That’s a fantastic compliment. But I’d
like to think that they’ll have as much attachment for the dozens of
other great characters I have in my head.
What I like about my
books is so far is that they are all self-contained. You don’t have to
know anything except what’s in the book. You aren’t being sold a
preview for the next book, and you aren’t being asked to remember long
artificial histories. You just sit down and read it and enjoy.
CHUD: Let’s talk about the new book, IN THE COMPANY OF OGRES. What’s it about? Is it a comedy like Gil’s? Do we follow a single protagonist like we did with Earl and Duke?
never considered GIL’S a comedy. It’s actually grown into a little bit
of a sore spot, in a way. Of course, if someone tells me they loved
GIL’S because it’s hilarious, I’m very happy to hear it. On the other
hand, when someone complains that the book just "wasn’t that funny", I
always feel like saying "well, it wasn’t supposed to be a comedy."
me, it’s an adventure story that doesn’t take itself too seriously. But
I wouldn’t call it a comedy myself. Still, some people consider it a
"funny" book, so who am I to argue if they enjoyed it?
isn’t a "funny" book either. Although, like GIL’S there’s a lot of
humor. That’s just the way I think and usually the way I write. My
third novel THE NAMELESS WITCH is due out next year, and while it has
plenty of humor too, it’s of a more understated variety. I’ll be
curious as to how readers will react to it.
OGRES has a much
larger cast of characters than GIL’S, so yeah, it’ll bounce around a
little more in focus. While Never Dead Ned is the central character,
the supporting cast is very important. They’re all characters in their
own right. It’s just that the story isn’t really about them.
CHUD: For me, I liked the warmth in Gil’s. The story of Earl and Cathy, Loretta clumsily flirting with Duke while knowing she’s fat and not that attractive, stuff like that made it interesting. In GIL’s, there’s a love story, a road trip adventure, zombie killing, and the way two vastly different people can be best friends. OGRES crosses fantasy with military fiction. Does the mixing of genres keep it interesting and easier for you to come up with more ideas?
I think nearly every story needs characters that the reader likes in
some way. Even anti-heroes are usually likable in some manner. And I
think every good story has multiple layers. Even GIL’S, which is on the
surface a very simple story, can be interpreted in many ways, and
hopefully, be appreciated by different readers with different tastes.
Some people call it funny. Others have said it was absurd or silly.
Some people like it for the characters, and others for the action. I’ve
even had one or two people say they liked it for the realism. Which is
odd, except that I do try to make the characters as real as possible,
and the world, outside of the fantasy elements, grounded in reality.
yeah, mixing things up really opens new doors. Fantasy as a genre for
me only requires one element: The fantastic. Exactly what’s fantastic
in the story can vary immensely, and that’s why it appeals so much to
me. If I wrote Westerns or techno-thrillers or romances, then I’d be
stuck with a certain repetitiveness. But if I write a Western that has
giant ants in it or a romance between a cannibal witch and a chaste
knight, then I can really explore different stories.
really isn’t military fiction though. On the surface, it’s fairly
standard fantasy with a slightly different take on many of the
conventions. The monsters are just guys, the hero is a schmuck whose
sole talent is not dying, and the mercenary army of the story is filled
with red tape and paperwork. Sure, the accounting may be done by
demons, but it’s still beauracracy in action.
CHUD: Will you ever write a novel strictly in one genre?
Well, like I said, I consider everything I write to be in the fantasy
genre. I just try to avoid many of the clichés and keep it interesting.
My third novel, due out sometime next year, is almost a fable in a way.
And the novel after that is a combination of retro sci-fi and classic
crime noir. If I come up with a very traditional idea that really
appeals to me, then I’ll write it. I just want to write something that
is new and different, and hopefully, hasn’t been written a thousand
CHUD: What’s average day writing for you like? Is it a full time job yet for you?
do write full time now, but honestly, I don’t spend eight hours a day
at a computer. I usually write about an hour or two a day on average.
When it’s going well, I can go much longer. But really, you’d be
surprised at how much you can get written just by writing a few pages a
I write usually either in the afternoon or in the wee hours
of the morning. It seems to be the best time for me because it’s
usually when I’m alone and hav nothing more important to do. Plus, it’s
just the habit I’ve built up over the years.
I really don’t earn quite enough money to consider it a full time job though, but I’m working on it.
CHUD: Do you have a favorite character and scene from OGRES And GIL’s?
I’ve been asked this a couple of times before, and I don’t really know.
It usually depends on my mood. I try to make every character strong
and every scene worthwhile. So I guess if I had to pick something based
on my mood right now:
In GIL’S, Duke is definitely my favorite
character. Besides being a werewolf and a badass, he’s also a very
quiet character. Most of his personality is found in his body language
and brief snippets of dialogue. That’s a challenge in writing that I
enjoy. In fact, in THE NAMELESS WITCH there’s a character named
Penelope who is an animated broom. She can’t talk, and she’s not toony.
She basically floats around. And that’s what I love about her. Duke
has more options that that, but otherwise, he’s much the same. You
rarely really know what’s going on in his head, but he still comes
across as consistent and likable. At least, to me.
favorite scene in GIL’S is when Earl and Cathy dance in the cemetery. I
don’t know why, but I just love that one. Something about it really
always gets to me. Guess I’m a wussy romantic at heart.
OGRES, my favorite character would probably be Ace. He’s just a little
goblin whose job is to pilot giant birds. He’s tiny, foolhardy, and
determined. And I just love the image of this twenty five pound goblin
trying to control a thirty ton monster bird.
My favorite scene
in OGRES has to do with the climax, so I’ll just mention one of my
other favorites. There’s a scene with two ogre gravediggers, minor
characters really, that I enjoy because I love the dialogue between the
two of them. There’s actually two scenes involving these ogres and
their grave digging duties, and I really like both of those scenes
immensely. The interaction between the two ogres is just fun.
CHUD: Who have you been influenced by in writing? There’s a very Joss Whedon/Coen Brothers feel to GIL’s.
Funny you should mention the Coen Brothers, who I have tremendous
respect for. They’re movies are all so different, I respect their
willingness to take chances and not repeat themselves. That’s what I
hope to imitate as a writer.
I wouldn’t consider Whedon a
tremendous influence. I actually wrote GIL’S several years before BUFFY
hit it big. Just a lucky coincidence that I had it ready when he opened
that door for me. Thanks, Joss.
My biggest influence would
probably be found in comic books and cartoons. Both are great examples
of absurd storytelling that, when executed properly, becomes genuine
and real, regardless of the ridiculousness of it. I love Batman and
Superman because of the absurdity of the characters and the complete
implausibility of superheroes in general. But rarely in comics are they
treated in a condescending manner. It’s a world where anything goes,
but where good characters and good stories can really shine through.
Same with cartoons. What makes the Looney Tunes so solid and
entertaining is that these are real characters. Silly, yes, but
consistent and always well done. No matter how crazy the storyline, how
bizarre the situation, they are always true to themselves. And I think
that’s the most important quality in writing a good story. Not
believability, but consistency and never looking down on either your
work or your audience.
CHUD: Do you ever read books as a writer and find ways that you think they would be better?
try not to. Every writer writes differently, and I try to judge any
book on whether it accomplishes what I feel the writer is trying to
accomplish. And I try not to nitpick the details.
But yeah, I do
have pet peeves. And I feel a lot of fiction nowadays is just not
written with entertainment in mind. I can tolerate almost anything in a
story except inconsistency and boredom. And there’s a lot of that in
modern fiction. But I’m not naming names, so let’s move on.
CHUD: Who are you reading these days?
This is always a bit of an awkward question because I read very little
written after 1990. I do try to keep up with what’s being done
(especially in fantasy), but since I have very little interest in
series books or books based on licensed products, there’s not much left
I love EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS and am always reading
something of his. The guy wrote a lot of books, and I haven’t even
cracked most of them. I’m also fond of JOHN SCHWARTZWELDER, who has
written a couple of extremely silly books called THE TIME MACHINE DID
IT and HOW I CONQUERED YOUR PLANET. Both are exceptionally nonsensical
and funny. I also recently read a terrifically funnybook called THE
AREAS OF MY EXPERTISE by JOHN HODGEMAN. A non-fiction "almanac" that’s
just full of the strangest "facts" you will ever read.
CHUD: Any final advice to aspiring writers?
M: Write. That’s it. If you don’t write, you’re not a writer. If you do, then you are.
course, I should add a few qualifiers that separate the amateur writer
from the professional. Finish something, and don’t spend twenty years
perfecting your masterpiece. If you can’t write at least a book a year,
then you probably won’t be able to make a living at this.
regularly and often. Send query letters to any and every publisher you
can. Don’t worry about rejections. If you can’t take the idea of being
turned down, then you will never be a professional writer. And if you
expect the world to tell you you’re a genius, then you probably won’t
be a professional writer.
Be stubborn. Realize that it will
probably take a while. Took me fifteen years, and that’s not at all
unusual. It’ll be a long, hard journey, and it will be frustrating
every day. If you can’t deal with that, then you probably will not be a
But, if you can handle sacrificing your
personal life in hopes of achieving a dream that 90 percent of the
world shares, where there is incredible competition, years of
disappointment, and then, if you’re very lucky, finally some reward,
then go for it.
I also recommend finding a great support group
if you can. I have the DFW Writers Workshop, and I would not be
published today without them. But find a good group. It’s not worth
much to find a group that’s just a mutual admiration society.
line: There’s a huge difference in the goals and motivations of someone
who writes as a hobby and someone who aspires to be a pro. Hobbyists do
it for fun and because they like the idea of being a writer. Pros do it
because they’re stupid or optimistic enough to believe they can get
paid for it. But they also realize it’s a job, too. And just like any
job, you’ve got to take the good with the bad.