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Interview: A. Lee Martinez, Author Of ‘The Last Adventure Of Constance Verity’
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I recently had the chance to connect with A. Lee Martinez to talk about his life as an author in general and his newest book in particular. I had previously read a few of his books as my buddy Craig is/was a huge fan and turned me onto his work. It was a year or so later when I got to meet Martinez in Dallas at a Waldenbooks convention and he was so utterly nice and down to earth that I never forgot that day. So, of course, I jumped at the chance to interview him, though to be fair I may have been a bit pushy during one of his Facebook Live Chats. But being the gracious individual he is, he answered all my questions and even expanded on them a bit. Keep on reading to see what all the fuss is about and learn a little more about his new book, The Last Adventure Of Constance Verity.

Geeks Of Doom: I just finished your newest novel, The Last Adventure Of Constance Verity. I had forgotten how fun your books can be. Truthfully, I’ve missed several of your releases over the years and I was quickly reminded of why I enjoy your work. What would you cite as your greatest influence when it comes to writing?

A. Lee Martinez: I don’t like the idea of having a “greatest” influence. I have influences, and those influences are constantly evolving. Some of my favorite writers are Walt Simonson, Douglas Adams, and Robert Asprin. I love Edgar Rice Burroughs and pulp. I love comic book superheroes. I love classic cartoons. I don’t discriminate. I take whatever I find worthwhile.

I’m glad you find the stories fun. I also like writing stories that are accessible and enjoyable while still having something deeper going on. The assumption that fun and depth are mutually exclusive bugs the hell out of me.

GoD: I grew up reading a lot in the seventies and eighties, during which comedy fantasy was a relatively new thing. Robert Asprin’s Myth series, Alan Dean Foster’s Spellsinger books, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Craig Shaw Gardner, Piers Anthony were big names in that sub-genre. I feel like there might have been a bit of influence from them, but at the same time I see a lot of originality that must coincide with your own person humor. Are you familiar with any of them or is your style of writing strictly your own? I hate comparing, but in my personal opinion, all of the aforementioned scribes were spectacular in their own ways.

ALM: I rarely try to write “Funny.” Funny elements just pop into my stories. I don’t think too much about influences. They’re there. I just don’t dwell on them. Honesty, I’m not a big fan of much humorous fantasy, and I know that’s weird to hear from a writer most people will consider in that category. I don’t go out of my way to read it. I’d much rather read a traditional adventure story than a funny story. Maybe because humor is so subjective and difficult to nail down. My favorite writer is Edgar Rice Burroughs and there’s almost no humor in his stories, though there is some.

I’ve never considered myself a funny writer because I think my stories work without the humor. They wouldn’t be as fun or as engaging, but they’d still work. I could be wrong.

GoD: In your latest book, Constance is trying to lead a less adventurous life. Through a myriad of random references the reader is given the impression that she has lived through some more than amazing times. Will we see any prequels involving this character?

ALM: Who knows? Hypothetically, there are hundreds of Constance Verity adventures in her past. If I had the power, I’d produce a series of fake book covers and movie posters that were homages to different genres. Young Constance getting involved in goofy kids fantasy. Teen Constance solving mysteries ala Nancy Drew. College Constance fighting Cthulhu-esque monsters. But I’m not sure how interested I am in writing those stories. Constance’s adventures in the past would be fun, but they’re just backstory.

Expanding backstory is risky. Was Darth Vader made more interesting by the time we spent with Anakin Skywalker? Was James Bond enriched as a character by talking about his childhood? I don’t think so. But I don’t rule anything out. If there’s a demand and I think of a great idea, I’d do a Constance Verity prequel.

GoD: There’s an underlying current of psychological and metaphysical intrigue that surrounds Constance at all times. This is explained and explored, but I still came away with more questions than answers. Was this intentional, since you plan on following this book with a sequel? Or am I just missing something?

ALM: I think that’s fairly common in most of my work. I don’t think we can ever have all the answers, and Constance, with her endless adventures and the metaphysical influences on her life, is unlikely to figure them all out. There might be hints of answers to come, but some of it is intentionally vague and will remain so. We all have to live with unsolvable mysteries.

We’ve also been trained to see stories as, pardon the expression, mystery boxes. But most stories aren’t puzzles to be solved, and I don’t write with the goal of teasing mysteries for the future. Even the Constance Verity trilogy is meant to be enjoyable as individual novels, but with a larger story and character arc at work. I never have written mystery for mystery’s sake. I don’t intend to start now.

GoD: Constance never seems shaken by anything except mundane life. Is that meant as a humanizing aspect of her personality or is there more subtext to it that hasn’t been explored?

ALM: It’s all about experience. We learn to deal with the world through our interactions with it. Constance hasn’t had much of an ordinary life, so the ordinary stuff is out of her wheelhouse. If you or I were attacked by zombies, we’d freeze up. Connie would grab an axe and go to work. But dating and a regular job and all the things we take for granted can confuse and even intimidate her. It’s humanizing, sure, but it’s also just an observation that how we view the world is shaped by our experiences more than anything else.

GoD: The books itself seems glib and witty, almost to a fault. But I felt that it was more than just humor for humor’s sake. Underneath it all was a person trying to find her way in life. Was this the true plot line or am I just grasping at the proverbial straw?

ALM: I never try to write “funny.” Much of the humor of the book is simply treating the extraordinary as ordinary, which is how Connie views it. Many people will no doubt see it as me not taking the story seriously, but a warped perspective doesn’t mean I’m just in it “for the jokes.” I’m never in it for the jokes. No matter how silly or weird a story may become, I always want it to be about something more than a laugh.

Thematically, all my stories are about people trying to deal with an uncertain universe, looking for their place in it, and becoming more comfortable with who they are. Connie’s story is about aliens and secret societies and ancient conspiracies and vampires and everything else, but the heart is all about dealing with the crap we all have to deal with and finding some measure of peace with the cards life has dealt her.

GoD: The secret societies and bad guys/henchmen (and bad girls/henchwomen) were obviously meant to be stereotypes. Did you have any particular characters from book or film that you based them upon? I found myself truly appreciative of the way it seemed tongue in cheek every time we met a new one.

ALM: I really liked Farnsworth, the battle butler who crams together five or six notable James Bond henchmen into one package. Other than that, most of the minions come from central casting of whatever genre they belong to. The influences are supposed to be obvious, but hopefully, they stand out in some way beyond that.

GoD: You are an advocate for the small-audience writer, in all ways. You speak often about how people can expose others to authors and books, as well as what it takes to become a writer. Is this you paying it forward? Were you helped along the way? I know a multitude of folks trying to break into the writing business, but so very few ever make it. What advice can you give to budding writers and/or artists?

ALM: I’m an advocate for more diverse and interesting media in general. I’m annoyed that we’re stuck talking about the same five or six things that end up dominating cultural attention. I’m glad that people love Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Star Trek. Good for them. But those things (and so many others) have a choke hold on pop culture, and there’s a lot of great stuff going unnoticed. You could say it was “paying it forward” because I’d love more attention for my work, but it’s not really about that. We need to make a real effort to expand our media diet. There are tons of great books, movies, TV shows that nobody cares about, and that will always irk me, whether they’re my books or someone else’s.

I don’t know if there’s any great advice or insight I can give any aspiring artist. I’ve been doing this, in one way or another, for twenty years, and I still don’t have it figured out. My best advice to artists is to create first. Nothing else matters if you don’t do that. After that, share your work. Strive to improve. Understand you’ll get rejected, and even when you do make some headway, it’ll most likely be one step forward, two steps back. Being an artist isn’t easy, but then again, not being an artist isn’t easy either. In the immortal words of Sylvester Stallone from that underrated arm-wrestling classic Over the Top, “Life isn’t going to meet you halfway.” So keep at it as long as you think it’s worth it, and when it’s not, try something else. But always keep trying. That’s good advice for artists and non-artists alike, I think.

GoD: Which one of your novels is your personal favorite? In addition to that, who is your favorite author and what book would you say tops your all-time must read list?

ALM: I don’t play favorites. With my previous ten novels all being standalone novels in different fantasy/sci fi sub-genres, I’d be hard pressed to say which is my favorite. I might love The Automatic Detective a wee bit more because I love robots and noir and retro-sci fi. But I also tend to like best what I’ve recently reread. Since that’s The Last Adventure of Constance Verity, I’ll say that. And not just because I want people to buy that book, though if they do, I won’t complain.

My must-read list isn’t probably far from most anyone else’s. I love Edgar Rice Burroughs, who isn’t a great writer style wise, but came up with some great characters and settings. If I was going to pick something current, I’d highly recommend everything Atomic Robo, a series of comic book from Red 5 publishing that feature a robot hero throughout various decades. Very pulp-influenced. Very fun. And smart as hell.

GoD: You are a full time writer, I do believe. How long did it take you to get to that point? Given the chance to do it all over, would you do anything differently?

ALM: It took me 13 years from seriously pursuing writing to first professional publication. It was four or five years after that that I went full-time. It was probably a mistake. Most writers have at least a part-time job. But for a few years, I had several film options and was earning more than I ever honestly expected to make as a writer. Since then, I’ve had good years and bad years, but it helps that I’m married. My wife earns a consistent income. The inconsistency is the trickiest part about earning a living as an artist. The money comes in spurts and is unreliable. You have to be smart, and when I get a big payday, I don’t go out and buy a new car.

Would I do anything differently? I don’t know. It all worked out. I’m not great at the what-if game. I take life as it comes, and so far, it’s going well. I earn a living doing this, which isn’t something many people are fortunate enough to do.

GoD: I haven’t read all of your books, but I am curious if any have been optioned for comic or film? Is that something you would consider knowing how normally the source writer is given minimal input? That was always a big sticking point with a lot of other authors.

ALM: I’ve had several books optioned for films/TV over the years. I’ve also worked on original material as well. I’m all for it. I get that some artists might be reluctant to dive into that pool, but I’m just happy to be asked. Novel writing is a mostly a solo project. I get input from my writers’ group, my publisher, etc., but in the end, the book is mine. Film and TV is more collaborative, but that’s not a bad thing. I expect there would be changes, and I’m cool with that. If the movie/TV show is well received, then I’m happy for the exposure and a chance to reach new people. If it isn’t, it can’t hurt me much. Either way, I can always point to the books and say “Here’s what I wrote.” That doesn’t change.

I do like collaboration. It can be a rewarding process, and the money doesn’t hurt either.

GoD: What’s next on your agenda? Anything you can tease our audience with today?

ALM: The Last Adventure of Constance Verity is the first of a trilogy. My first trilogy, in fact. So I’m still working on the next books in the series.

I have a few film/TV projects on the horizon, but I don’t know if they’ll go anywhere. One day at a time, right?

GoD: I feel like I haven’t covered everything, but I hate to take up too much of your time. What else would you like to tell our readers about?

ALM: Thanks for having me. Other than plugging my own book, I’d love to reinforce the notion of personal responsibility in diversifying our media diet. Read books by authors you don’t know. Watch TV shows you wouldn’t. Give unfamiliar movies a chance. Don’t just sit in your comfortable place. Explore. We have more power to experience new things than ever before, and it’s a shame if we don’t take advantage of it.

Also, be excellent to each other.

I also emailed him back for one more answer to a question his responses elicited from me.

GoD: Tarzan or John Carter?

ALM: I’m torn on the Tarzan vs. John Carter question. I love Tarzan for the character of Tarzan, but I love the Barsoom stories for the setting, not John Carter. John Carter is kind of a boring guy, but Mars is so fun to visit I don’t care. Tars Tarkas might be my favorite character of all time.

So there you have it, folks. It’s a pretty straightforward set of questions and answers and Martinez is obviously very passionate about his work and characters. I, for one, am quite excited to find out that his Constance Verity character is to be featured in two more books! The sheer fun of his latest book is worthy of an article unto itself and will be when I review it very soon! If you haven’t taken the plunge into the amazing novels of this author, then I urge you to do so. Everything I’ve read by him has been a blast!

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