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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Interview with Gail Z. Martin (Updated! Added one more answer to the end :)

Official Gail Z. Martin Website
Order “The Blood KingHERE
Read Excerpts HERE + HERE
Watch the Book Trailer Video HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Reviews of “The Summoner” + “The Blood King

One of the more surprising stories last year was the success of Gail Z. Martin’s debut novel “The Summoner”, which was a launch title for new speculative fiction publisher Solaris Books. Whether or not the author can do it again with her sequel “The Blood King” remains to be seen, but with the novel’s release date just around the corner I thought now would be the perfect time to give readers a chance to learn a bit more about Ms. Martin. So, Gail has graciously agreed to answer some questions for me and I thought the interview turned out very well. Not only do we get to learn more about the author’s ‘day job’ and what she has in store for the promotion of “The Blood King”, but Ms. Martin also shares her thoughts on fantasy tropes, the future of publishing, and even gives us a glimpse of the third book in her Chronicles of the Necromancer series:

Q: “The Blood King”, which completes the story that began in last year’s “The Summoner”, is due out from
Solaris Books on January 29, 2008. Now, for those that may not know, you actually own your own marketing firm in DreamSpinner Communications and you were very active in the promotion of your debut novel “The Summoner”. What did you learn from your experience with “The Summoner” about promoting a book, and what tactics do you hope to employ this time around with “The Blood King”?

Gail: Wow, I learned a lot. I was very glad that I had a 20 year background in corporate marketing, because even with the great promotion that
Solaris Books did, it’s hard to get the word out about a new book from a new imprint and a new author! I let Solaris handle paid advertising, and I focused on making personal connections—with readers, other authors, booksellers and reviewers/website owners. I’m also glad to be an extrovert, so the marketing piece wasn’t traumatic for me as I understand it is for some writers. I really enjoy doing signings and events.

Since things seemed to work well with “The Summoner”, I’m going to repeat most of what I did. The one exception is making a week-long tour. It was a great experience and I’m glad I did it, but I’ve discovered that it actually makes better use of time and money for me to sign at Renaissance festivals instead. (My touring and event appearances come out of my own pocket at this point.) I’m booked heavily into NC bookstores for “The Blood King”, plus some SF/F conventions and Renaissance festivals. And I may do other book signings when I travel for vacation, holidays, etc. But probably not a tour like last time, although I never say never. The online events, like the Hawthorn Moon, also went very well. This year I’d like to do something for the Hawthorne Moon again with my online partners, and also create a new event, probably a blog tour, around Halloween.

Q: Sounds like you have a lot planned for “The Blood King”, which is good! Staying on this subject, the Internet remains an important tool for authors and publishers in promoting books, but from my experience in the music industry it just seems like a lot more could be done online. I am seeing more book trailers and a greater use of audio files nowadays, but in your opinion, how else can authors & publishers use the Internet to help promote books online?

Gail: I think you’re right. Book trailers and videoblogging are so much less expensive than live tours. I’m working on getting a videoblog up soon. I already blog and participate in social networking (MySpace,, The Yack, The Herscher Project, Shelfari and I don’t get as much time to hang out online as I’d like, but I get there. Web audio is great to share personal comments and readings. I do a podcast called Ghost in the Machine with other SF/F authors, and it’s a lot of fun—I’ve got some great people already booked for 2008 and more coming. Web radio has been very kind to me. There are some great programs out there that focus just on SF/F and the paranormal, and they’ve been fun to be a guest on. I also really value creating relationships with sites like yours. It just makes sense to partner with the people who are already reaching folks who are interested in SF/F. As soon as we get the artwork for “Dark Haven” (Volume III in the Chronicles of the Necromancer), I’m planning to do another trailer.

Q: Whether it’s the Internet, videogame systems, mp3 players, home entertainment systems, computers or whatnot, technology is becoming more advanced every day. What does that mean for the printed word and what are your thoughts on ePublishing and e-Readers like the Kindle?

Gail: No doubt about it—people 20 and younger have gone Borg. I have two teens and a tween, and I keep looking for the USB port in the back of their necks because they are constantly online. I’ve approached
Solaris about Kindle and making “The Summoner” available in that format, and it’s under consideration. I think the printed word will always be around. The real question is—printed on what? I’m not worried about the future of books. Anyone who says movies killed vaudeville hasn’t taken a close look at YouTube, teen movies and cartoons. Live theatre is also still with us—not too changed from the days of the ancient Greeks. The town crier is now on CNN. It’s just that we’ve created more delivery channels. And we’ve been trained to receive information differently. Does a newspaper have to be printed on paper pulp to be a real newspaper? I don’t think so. In my marketing business, I’ve already created one e-book and expect to have five others on marketing topics done by the end of the year. I think the internet has done as much for publishing as the Guttenberg press. Together with digital printing and blogging, it’s made it possible for so many people to find their voice without a middleman. And I think we’ll find and refine ways to deliver books and information products profitably in more formats. That doesn’t scare me. I think Solaris is also doing some exciting things with ebooks and downloads for some of the other authors.

Q: A lot of great points! It will be really interesting to see what the future holds for books and publishing… Going back to “The Blood King”, you actually made a lot of changes from the advance reviewers’ copy to the finished version, such as adding a couple of chapters, moving stuff around and putting in more details. Was this a decision you made on your own or an editor’s suggestion, and could you talk a bit more about the changes you made and what they add to the book?

Gail: We didn’t have the luxury with “The Summoner” to have as many eyes on the manuscript as might have been nice. By the time we did “The Blood King”,
Solaris had more people in the loop. So that was a big help. As far as the changes/additions—it’s a combination of things. One of the hard parts as a writer is to make sure that the images are as clear to the reader as they are in your own mind. My husband helps a lot reading the manuscript before I turn it in, but I’ve probably read it twelve times by then and he’s probably read it at least six, so we’re jaded. Some of the new stuff came from Mark and Christian at Solaris asking for more details, more of what characters were thinking, to make the picture real. From my perspective, it’s not really “new” stuff—it all “happened,” but some details weren’t focused on the first time around. For example, if you point a videocamera in one direction, there is still stuff going on behind you, it’s just not in your picture. Mark and Christian gave me permission to widen the lens angle, so to speak, and include more that I already knew was going on. That’s really nice when it happens.

Q: For some authors, it’s easier writing their second novel, while for others it’s more difficult. How was it for you, and did you learn anything from writing “The Summoner” that helped you in completing “The Blood King”?

Gail: Oddly enough, even though my word count increased with “The Blood King” and with books three and four per the contract, I think I’ve learned to write more tightly. That means making every word count, so that I get to say more, but say it succinctly. I worked with some great proofreaders/copyeditors on “The Blood King” who picked up a lot of the important things I have difficulty focusing on, like the finer points of punctuation.

Q: Some of the criticism aimed at your debut focused on the number of fantasy clichés and somewhat weak characterization. Do you ever pay attention to readers/reviewers’ remarks and use that input when writing? Specifically, did you try to address any of these issues with “The Blood King”?

Gail: One thing I’ve learned is just how subjective an activity reading really is. It all depends on what you want. I think a lot of readers like to enter somewhat familiar territory when they read fantasy. It makes it accessible. I don’t believe that just because something is familiar it’s necessarily clichéd.

I think that ‘cliché’ is largely in the eye of the beholder. Every genre has certain stylistic conventions that make it a genre. Working with those stylistic conventions is what makes a book a genre book—I don’t think their presence automatically makes them a cliché. Characterization is also very subjective. Most people aren’t comfortable meeting a new person who barfs up their whole life story when they’re just introduced. We get to know people over time, and they reveal themselves by their actions. I think that in fiction (as in real life), we’re often quick to stereotype people at first meeting. You know—“he’s a CPA, so he must be boring” or “she’s a teacher, so she’s probably a bookworm.” Then when you get to know the person, you find out that the CPA rides a Harley and the teacher plays roller derby. “The Summoner” wasn’t written to be a stand-alone novel—it’s a gateway to a new universe. You’ll learn a lot more about the characters in “The Blood King”—and they learn a lot about themselves. That happens in each of the books, just like it does in real life. So….sure, I read the reviews and the comments. I try to look at them objectively and learn what I can. But no book is going to please everyone. I also think that what a book means to you has as much to do with where you are in your life when you read it as it does with the book itself. I’ve read books at certain points in my life that were transformational, yet when I re-read them years later, they didn’t have the same impact. I’d changed. If a book doesn’t resonate with someone, it may just mean that it’s not the right time in their life for them to be open to it. It doesn’t make it a bad book, it means it’s just not right, right now. On the other hand, it’s a glorious thing when a book does resonate and lights up the sky. I’m thrilled to have made that connection with a lot of readers.

Q: Excellent response :) So on the flipside, “The Summoner” featured excellent pacing, was passionately written, and won a lot of readers for its accessibility, charm and excitement. For you, what do you feel are the keys to writing a great fantasy novel?

Gail: Well, playing off what I just said, I can only tell you what makes the sky light up for me when I read a book—that’s not a universal truth by any means. A great book for me leaves me with a sense of sadness when I’m done because the characters have become real to me. The Harry Potter series did that for me. I’m quite sure, if I were still in middle school, that as a kid I’ve had taken J.K. Rolling up on her invitation to write fan fiction based on the further adventures of Harry and company. The Last Herald Mage series by Mercedes Lackey had the same kind of impact on me. It’s like losing a friend. I like a setting that makes me start asking, “what if?” Action is good, but not at the expense of characters that have depth and meaningful relationships. And I’ve always been partial to an element of romance in my adventure reading. Make no mistake—the adventure is primary. But I think a touch of romance humanizes the characters and creates an emotional dynamic that is often missing in pure adventure books/movies. I also like to get the sense that the author was having a good time, really delighting in his/her world and characters. I think that last piece especially comes across in “The Summoner” from comments I’ve gotten. The world and the characters are very real to me, and I love introducing them to other people. Welcome to my world!

Q: One of the best things about “The Summoner” was the outstanding cover artwork provided by
Michael Komarck who also did the artwork for “The Blood King”. How did you get hooked up with Michael and what do you think of the illustration he did for “The Blood King”?

Gail: I am absolutely thrilled to have Michael as my illustrator. As with the vast majority of traditionally published books, the publisher picks the artist and commissions the art. I never saw either piece until they were finished—in fact, I had no communication at all with Michael until the cover was done with “The Summoner”. I did get asked to supply the descriptions for the cover characters on “Dark Haven” and book four. I think Michael’s art is fantastic. And as a new author with a new imprint, I am humbly aware of just how much a great cover contributes to people picking up the book. When you’re Stephen King, you can have an all-black cover and the book will sell. When no one’s ever heard of you before, you’d better have an awesome cover!

Q: While “The Blood King” completes the story arc that began in “The Summoner”, you’re already hard at work on book number three which is set in the same world and you hope to have the manuscript done by spring 2008. Is there anything you can tell us about book three and the next story arc?

Gail: The title for book three is “Dark Haven” (at least for now—who knows?). So it will deal much more with the vayash moru, but it will also deal with the ramifications of Jared’s reign in Margolan and throughout the Winter Kingdoms. There are moments in history after which nothing is ever the same. In those moments, the world as we know it becomes fragile, and with a nudge that might have at other times had minimal impact, the whole house of cards falls. What happens in “The Summoner” and “The Blood King” changes things forever. “Dark Haven” is the beginning of dealing with the “day after.” I’m all the way through the first draft of “Dark Haven”, and working on the clean up.

Q: In another interview you mentioned that you’ve given
Solaris eight or nine different story arcs and that you “hope to be playing in this sandbox for a long time.” What is it about the Winter Kingdoms that compels you to keep returning to the world and writing novel after novel?

Gail: The characters and the world are very real to me. They’ve been with me, knocking around in my brain, long enough that I know them very well. So I’m emotionally committed to telling their stories. I guess it only stands to reason that when I get to build the world, it’s full of things that fascinate me—magic, ghosts, vampires, haunted houses. I’ve loved this stuff for as long as I can remember. So for me, it’s like making my own theme park—I get to design the rides and then ride them!

Q: Aside from the many different Chronicles you have in mind, do you have any other story ideas that you’d one day like to write and could possibly talk about?

Gail: In my “day job,” I do a lot of writing. I’ve got one e-book out on marketing tips and I’m working on several other e-books on marketing, some in collaboration and some on my own. I do have a couple more “mainstream” books in development. One is in draft and one is in outline. They’re stories that mean a great deal to me, but it’s not the right time to tell them. Because of that, I can’t really give you more details. They might be my Oprah books! :)

Q: What about trying your hand at a different medium like a movie or television script, comic books, videogames, et cetera?

Gail: In my marketing world, I’ve written menus, video scripts, phone message responses, annual reports—you name it. So I’m pretty adaptable. I’m not overly driven to explore other aspects in fiction right now, but maybe the day will come. I think it could be fun. I’m certainly open to opportunities.

Q: Speaking of which, has anyone approached you about adapting the Chronicles of the Necromancer?

Gail: Not yet, but who knows?

Q: How would you adapt “The Summoner/The Blood King”?

Gail: I think it could be fun to do the books as manga, and as a Japanese anime video. I am just in awe of the art of manga/anime when it’s done well. Tris has the hair for it. :)

Q: That would be interesting :) So in speculative fiction, authors, especially female writers, seem to get little respect from the more ‘literary’ side of fiction. Have you had to deal with any such problems and what are your thoughts on the subject?

Gail: I came up through corporate America in the 1980s, so being a woman in an all-guys club really doesn’t faze me. I think fantasy has generally been more welcoming to female authors than hard SF, probably because most hard SF writers came from engineering and the physical sciences, which until very recently tended to be all guys. That’s changing, and it’s probably also going to change the SF genre. It’s always nice to win awards and get glowing reviews, but they’re not the reasons I write. I write because I’m in love with the stories. To worry about respect from the literary side of fiction would mean that I’ve ceded them authority to decide categorically what a book is worth. I think they’re entitled to their opinions, but it doesn’t make their opinions unequivocal truth.

Q: Are there any preconceived notions that you’d like to dispel about being a female speculative fiction author?

Gail: Like what? I guess I don’t have any particular notions about female speculative writers, so I’m not really sure what you’re asking. I think that in the U.S. particularly, and probably elsewhere, there is a huge ambivalence about what women are supposed to be, especially intelligent women. There’s the Ugly Betty/Velma Dinkley stereotype, with a culture that pays way more attention to what women wear than to what they contribute. I grew up with some extremely limiting stereotypes about what would happen to women who succeeded too much, earned too much, got too much education, were different or spoke out. Fortunately, I got over them. So if you’re politely asking am I “normal”—yeah, as much as I choose to be. Married, three kids, pets, house in the suburbs, respectable day job, PTA member, soccer mom. Why wouldn’t I be?

I have run into more stereotypes about fantasy writers in general than about fantasy + gender. There are some people who oddly believe that if you write about something you must actually be like that in real life, which would make every crime writer a cop or a murderer. There are folks who will make amazing assumptions about your religious beliefs (or lack thereof) and the status of your immortal soul. Oh well. And there’s our culture, which thinks it’s way more cool to be able to throw a football than to write a book. I did a radio interview last year and the host kept trying to get me to talk about how “weird” SF conventions were. I asked him if he’d ever been to a Big Ten college football game or a NASCAR race—the frizzy wigs, the body paint, the costumes, the tailgate craziness. It would be nice if we’d let people have fun in their own way without needing to judge.

Q: Sorry I wasn’t more clear about the question, but I think you handled yourself very well :) Moving on, last year was tough for writers of speculative fiction. Several authors passed away including Robert Jordan, Madeline L’Engle, Lloyd Alexander, Leigh Eddings, Fred Saberhagen, Alice Borchardt, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. while Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. As a fan of the genre, did any of this affect you and is there anything you would like to say?

Gail: It’s always sad when there’s an end of an era. Writers speak out of the times in which they live, and their passing is a signal that the times have passed as well. Writers have a greater degree of immortality than most people, because their voices live on in their work. They’re never really gone. On the other hand, there are new writers finding their voice, and they’ll speak of this time, our time. Those iconic writers were once new writers, too. Some of today’s new writers will eventually become icons. As Bruce Springsteen says, “If you’re not busy being born, you can feel the dyin’.” I think we honor the legacy of the past when we build on what they’ve left for us and steer it to new and exciting places.

Q: Looking back on 2007, what would you say was the highlight of the year for you?

Gail: Walking into a bookstore and finding my book on the shelf for the first time was pretty much as good as it gets.

Q: Lastly, what are your New Year’s resolutions for 2008?

Gail: To finish “Dark Haven” before I have to turn it in April 1st, and to get a good head start on book four.

NOTE: One question I didn’t ask Gail about in the interview was the concept of death, which plays such an important role in the author’s Chronicles of Necromancer novels. Looking at other interviews, I thought the subject had already been covered pretty thoroughly, but Gail proved me wrong and I just wanted to share what she had to say:

Gail: No one's ever really thrown a hard ball yet on the real questions around Summoning. What we believe about death has an amazing influence on what we believe about life. If we fear death, we will ultimately sell out any values to hold on to life at any cost. The less we believe in something after life, the more mortal toys matter to us. Americans believe death is optional—that if you have enough money or good enough science you won't have to die. Our culture hides death like something shameful—they don't even use a hearse to take a body away, they use an unmarked panel van to avoid depressing the neighbors. We outsource the handling of death to professionals at funeral homes instead of holding the wake at home. (By the way, to counter the old practice of holding the wake in the front-room parlor, clever marketers renamed the room the 'living room.'—no lie). Is death something to be scared of by definition, or just another transition? And if age is a state of mind, why isn't death in the eye of the beholder? Maybe you're only as dead as you feel. My mother told me when she was 80 that she would look in the mirror and wonder who the old lady was, because inside she felt the same as she did when she was 16. Will we look across the room and wonder who the stiff is because we don't feel any different because we're dead?

On a related subject, I love old cemeteries. I have always loved to read the old stones and let them tell me their stories. I read the inscriptions, look at the type of monument and the dates and wonder—who was this person? What did they accomplish? Who loved them? What was their heartbreak? How did they die? Whom did they left behind? Our stories die with us. Sometimes, the clues are tantalizing. In my hometown there is an old cemetery—over 100 years. The rhododendrons are amazing in the late spring. There are six identical headstones for six unrelated teenage girls who all died on the same date back in the early 1900s. I even called the cemetery to find out if anyone knew the story and it's been lost. Was it a fire? An outbreak of disease? A boating accident on a warm summer day? Someday, I'm going to write a story for them.


Anonymous said...

Great interview! This is Amanda from Shelfari and I just wanted to invite everyone to visit Gail Z. Martin on our site: Thanks!

SQT said...

I just picked up The Summoner, and how lucky am I that the new one comes out within the next week?

Unknown said...

This was just a wonderful interview, Robert! Good for you!

I actually belonged to The Herscher Project but stopped going/was kicked out, for lack of posts.

I think Summoner should be on my short list.

Excellent interview!

Constance Brewer said...

Wonderful interview! Thanks. :)

Robert said...

Thanks everyone for the comments! I'm glad you enjoyed the interview :) I thought it turned out very well, and I'm sure Gail will appreciate the support. Theresa, the sequel officially comes out on Tuesday, January 29th, but you might be able to get it at some places now :)


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