Author Charles Martin: Havin' Fun With Life – Part I
- Randall Murphree AgapePress
- 2005 6 Jun
Charles Martin's passion plays well, even over the telephone. This interview reveals his thoughts on several things: life and laughter (he loves both and laughs a lot), his wife (nearly everything important begins with "Christy and I "), his three sons (coaching T-ball is better than the World Series), his writing (it's how he makes sense of life) and his readers (he keeps a scrapbook of their letters).
The Jacksonville, Florida, novelist's first title, "The Dead Don't Dance" (WestBow Press), is a finalist for a Christy Award for excellence in Christian fiction. The winner will be revealed in July. The down-to-earth Martin talks in stream-of-consciousness fashion, answering questions before they have a chance to be asked, laughin' and talkin' and jumpin' from subject to subject – and, yes, leavin' the "g" off every time. And almost makin' one think, "This guy's just havin' too much fun!"
Q: When did you first know that you wanted to write novels?
A: When I was 15, I started realizing that the way I made sense of stuff, of my life, was writing short stories.
By the time I finished high school, I had 10 or 12 really polished short stories. At least, I thought they were polished. I'd show them to family members, and pretty soon I got up enough gumption to send one to the Saturday Evening Post. When I was in college, I tried the New Yorker and I never got published anywhere. Ever. All my queries, all my short stories – nothing ever got published.
Q: With all that polish?
A: (With a hearty laugh at himself) … I thought they were polished! I didn't have a lot of encouragement to keep writing, at least from a professional standpoint. I had one teacher in college, a doctoral student teaching one of my writing classes. I wrote a story about my uncle who had passed away.
When I got it back from her, it didn't have a grade on it, but it looked like somebody had put it in the shower. She cried on it. When I asked her about my grade – I was kind of worried about the class – she said, "I can't grade that. We don't put grades on stuff like that." I said, "Am I going to pass your class?" And she said, "Yeah, you're going to pass my class."
That was one of the first times that I knew my stuff touched people outside my family. I just kept working on my stories. I was afraid to say I wanted to be a writer, because how are you going to make a living at that? There's not a roadmap for doing this.
And I wanted to get married. Christy was a year behind me in school, and I needed to save money to buy a ring. So I moved to Atlanta and started waiting tables at Houston's Restaurant.
Q: What was the genesis of "The Dead Don't Dance"?
A: Fast forward three or four years. I'd finished my masters [at Regent University]. They'd taken me in the doctoral program which was a wonder of wonders. I was driving to work one morning at UPS where I worked the morning pre-load. I had to be at work at three in the morning, and would get off about nine, come home and study, and go to class at night.
I was driving through a tunnel and a scene flashed across my mind about a guy standing in a ditch. There was a car next to him, and it was upside down. And I knew that he knew there were some people in it, and they were somehow close to him, but I didn't know who was in it. That was the first scene that I saw in "The Dead Don't Dance."
I started making notes that morning on the way to work. Over the next year – that was probably 1996 – I kept making notes on scenes. I finished my dissertation in 1999, and I quickly finished my novel after that. That was the first time I'd kind of had a full story that long come to mind.
Q: To what extent are your characters patterned after real people?
A: All of my characters are certainly a composite of people I know, have met or can dream up. Let's take for instance, Bryce. Everybody wants to know where Bryce comes from. There is one fellow in this world, who I have yet to identify, who I love dearly, who is the genesis for Bryce. He's also very different [from Bryce]. This guy doesn't even drink, so that's one obvious difference.
Q: Tell me about a favorite response from a reader.
A: I got an e-mail the other day from a guy I had met in our church. He asked, "You write?"
I said, "Yeah." He found my book and read it. And he wrote me an e-mail and told me his story. He said, "Charles, what I didn't tell you [when we met] was that I'm a recovering crack addict. I've been clean six years. It took three tours in prison to straighten me out. I love to read. I read all the time."
He went on to talk about how much he liked my book. That e-mail went in my scrapbook. It struck me that while that guy was in prison, I was writing "The Dead Don't Dance." He made my day; he made my week.
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