A Conversation with New York Times Best-Selling Author, Charles Martin
Friday, 29 August 2008

Mike Parker - Entertainment Examiner

Charles Martin burst onto the literary scene with "The Dead Don't Dance," a poignant, heart-wrenching tale of love lost and found that earned him comparisons to Nicholas Sparks and Don J. Snyder. Five more novels have dropped from Martin's pen since then. His latest, "Where the River Ends," landed on the New York Times Best-Seller list. I recently had a chance to chat with him about his rising star.
Mike Parker – You started out writing for the CBA market, but your latest novel, "Where the River Ends," is solidly in the ABA. What are the challenges of structuring a story for those different markets?
Charles Martin – I didn't started out trying to write Christian fiction. It wasn't my thing. It seems to me that Christian fiction starts out with message and then gets a story strapped to it. It is agenda driven. I never set out to do that. With my first novel, "The Dead Don't Dance" I set out to write a story about one man loving one woman, regardless of the adversity.
The same is true in my new novel, "Where the River Ends." I haven't changed how I look at art. I still try to write about a man and a woman trying to work out their love. I haven't changed the lens through which I write.
I'm grateful to Nelson for giving me that first contract, but as I wrote more novels I wanted to see if I could write for a broader field.
Parker – You've been called a writer of 'God-haunted Southern literature.' That puts you in the same company with folks like Flannery O'Conner, William Faulkner, Cormac MacCarthy, and John Grisham. What is it about that region of the country that seems to ingest God with the water supply.
Martin – It is the fabric that gave birth to me. It informs how I see the world. When I sit down to write I don't try to fit a message into a story. I am not trying to thump you on the head and convert you. But I talk to God all the time about my stories. My desire is not so much the message as it is the characters. Hope is a dying commodity. I want to hold it up so people can see it and know that it is real. I want to get my characters from a place of brokenness to a place of wholeness.
I don't know what it is about the whole 'God-haunted South' thing. I think if you dig deep enough in Oregon you'd find Him there too.
Parker – You're novels seem to have a recurring motif of water. And water appears to be a metaphor for God. Am I right, or am I just reading something into it that is not there?
Martin – I don't know why water is always there. I grew up around water and it is a part of me. My settings often becomes characters. In "Where the River Ends" the river changes the same way Abbie does. The more she is physically drained by the cancer, the more beautiful she becomes. It is the same with the river. I never set out to make the river a metaphor of God, but if it bubbled up from somewhere down inside I won't deny it.
Parker – You are a highly educated man with a Ph.D. When did you decide you wanted to write for a living?
Martin – I decided I wanted to write long before I decided to get my Ph.D. I went to school because I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life.
I didn't learn to write in school. I first tapped into the idea that a writer can have a voice through a series of letters that my uncle wrote to me while I was in high school. His letters sounded just like he talked. That was when i first realized writing could be unique to the writer.
I wanted to be a writer, but there is no book that tells you how to do it. Everyone gets there differently.
Parker – Your novels tend to deal with loss. Why is that?
Martin – Great question. My next book is a rescue story. I think all of my books are really rescue stories, but I guess there is some loss in that, too. If you don't understand loss, how can you understand the joy of gain? I write about rescue because I am in need of it. As a man, as a dad, as a husband, I am in need of rescue as well.
The Seven Questions
1. What's your favorite sound?
Martin – The voices of my children.
2. What makes you happy?
Martin – See answer #1 (laughs).
3. What makes you angry?
Martin – That I am powerless to get my work into people's hands. I think my novels can touch people in a deep place and give them hope. It is frustrating because I can't force people to pick one up and read it.
4. What is the secret of success?
Martin – I got here not because I got me here, but because a whole lot of people got behind me. The secret of my success was Christy, my wife, who gave me the freedom to be a writer. If I have found success it is because she gave me the freedom to chase it.
5. If you could have dinner with anyone in history, living or dead, who would it be?
Martin – King David. He is also my favorite writer.
6. What is written on your tombstone?
Martin – I have no idea. I'll have to think about that one.
7. When you get to heaven, what is the first thing you want to hear God say to you?
Martin – "Sing for me."
Charles Martin will be signing "Where the River Ends" in these cities in the upcoming days. Visit http://charlesmartinbooks.com/events/ for times and locations.
Memphis, Tennessee - August 26
Nashville, Tennessee - August 28
Lexington, Kentucky - September 03
Cincinnati, Ohio - September 04
Atlanta, Georgia - September 16
Birmingham, Alabama - September 18
Montgomery, Alabama - September 19
Sea Island, Georgia - September 23
Brunswick, Georgia - September 24
St. Simons Island, Georgia - September 24
St. Petersburg, Florida - October 24
St. Petersburg, Florida - October 25
Hilton Head, South Carolina - November 05

Mike Parker is an award-winner freelance writer, reviewer, playwright, author, editor, and actor. He loves great entertainment, hates lousy entertainment and is not afraid to say "the emperor has no clothes."

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