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INTERVIEW: Gail Martin

Although Gail Martin has experience as a marketing executive, a consultant and a teacher of public relations writing and public speaking, her passion has always been writing – particularly writing science fiction, fantasy and ghost stories. Her first story – written at age 5 – was about a vampire. Her favorite TV shows as a preschooler were Dark Shadows and Lost in Space. In college, she launched her own fanzine. She still enjoys attending science fiction/fantasy conventions, Renaissance fairs and living history sites. Her first full-length novel, The Summoner (published by Solaris Books…read a sample chapter!), is described as “an epic, engrossing tale of loss and revenge, of life and afterlife – and the thin line between them.” SF Signal had the opportunity to talk to Gail via email about the The Summoner, influences of her writing and what lies ahead.

SF Signal: Hi Gail. What inspired you to become an author?

Gail Martin: I decided to become an author when I was 14. I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember, and I’ve written stories for as long. One of the wonderful things about being a writer is that you get to write the stories you want to read!

SFS: What authors do you most admire, and why?

GM: There are so many! Mercedes Lackey, Douglas Adams, J.K. Rowling, Spider Robinson, Barbara Hambley, David Drake, Katherine Kurtz, David Eddings, Anne Rice, Anne Lamott, Piers Anthony.

SFS: Which authors had the greatest influence in your own writing?

GM: I went through a period in my life where I had to completely rebuild my world view, self perception, religion, politics from the ground up-everything had been blown apart and I had to start over. Books helped me tremendously at a time when people had let me down. From a SF/F perspective, I remember the first SF book I read — Destination Universe by A.E. Van Vogt. I remember having felt so different and out of place and then discovering that at least one other person glimpsed the same kind of world. It was like having a flood light go on. I had the same kind of reaction when I read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand – I think the original copy of the book has tear stains on the pages. I have come to have some serious issues with some of her philosophical assumptions, but I will always love her for telling me that it was OK to be a smart woman. I read My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok at that same period in my life. I thought I was the only one who was misled to believe I had to sacrifice who I was to satisfy other people’s views of God. I had the chance to meet Potok at Penn State about 20 years ago and I was so overcome I couldn’t speak!

SFS: How did you get the idea to write THE SUMMONER?

GM: I started to think about how it would be different if we had the power to finalize the unfinished business with those who have died. And I realized how powerful it would be to have that kind of closure. The characters came together over a period of time-they present themselves in my imagination almost fully realized-I can be as surprised as anyone else as they reveal more about themselves.

SFS: THE SUMMONER is a quest fantasy that avoids the usual quest fantasy tropes like elves and trolls. Why the decision to populate the novel with ghosts and vampires?

GM: Well, I’ve always loved ghosts and vampires. One of my earliest favorite TV shows was Dark Shadows. Even as a kid, I always bought or borrowed ghost stories-and I liked the real ones best of all. I’ve been fascinated by the idea of souls who stay behind to complete something, or who are trapped here by something holding them back. I’ve never believed vampires to be any more evil than mortals. They, like us, need to make a choice on how to deal with their pain and how to cope with the reality of a traumatic change they did not want. They can choose to seek to regain the qualities that are most valuable about being human, or they can choose to lash out and perpetuate the pain.

I don’t have anything against elves and trolls, but I have just always been fascinated by ghosts and vampires.

SFS: What influenced the idea of using a single deity with multiple representations?

GM: Every person is seen in many simultaneous roles-daughter, sister, friend, teacher, wife, mother-but is still one person. The roles influence how someone else interacts with the person, but the roles are all true. So different people will see the same person differently because of the role they interact with-my kids see me differently than my mother does, or than my husband or clients do. But I’m still me. I think that the way we see the deity influences everything about our world view and our self view. The different characters and kingdoms in the Winter Kingdoms see different aspects of the Lady, and it both defines and provides insights into their character, values, fears, weaknesses and world view.

SFS: Which characters in The Summoner were the most fun to write? Which ones do you most identify with?

GM: I have to admit that Tris and Jonmarc are my favorites. I really identify with them. Tris because he overcomes a dysfunctional family and must figure out what to do with a powerful gift that has a history of destroying its bearers. Jonmarc because he has his whole world turned upside down and had to consciously choose what to make of himself and what to believe about people, himself and the deity. As far as fun-Cam and Jonmarc play off each other well in several scenes. The sparring between Jonmarc and Carina is fun. Maynard Linton is such a vivid character to me-he’s fun because he just walks in and takes over. In The Blood King, a new character named Jolie was a blast to write because she is also such a vibrant personality. And Berry was fun just because she was pulling one over on all of them and enjoying every minute of it!

SFS: Editors often play a major role on books, what was the role of your editor on your project?

GM: Mark Newton and Christian Dunn at Solaris Books have been wonderful to work with. They make very insightful suggestions that I think really add to the book and make things seamless. When you are the writer, you become so close to the work that it is difficult to see when you haven’t explained something quite enough or made too much of a leap for the reader to follow-or sometimes, just missed a comma. My husband is my toughest editor.

SFS: What other aspects of the fantasy genre do you enjoy? (movies, games, etc.) Do you have favorites?

GM: Before I had kids, I used to play Dungeons & Dragons (I married the dungeon master). I still enjoy fantasy quest PS2/3 games like Champions of Norath and Castlevania, but I don’t get enough time to play to be any good! I hope to be able to go back to role playing games at some point-just not sure when! I love most SF/F movies, especially Blade Runner, the Harry Potter movies, and the original three Star Wars movies (especially The Empire Strikes Back). Other favorites are the X Men movies, Labyrinth, The Fifth Element, and Ladyhawke. A really good weekend is when I can sit down with my kids and watch one of the series (Star Wars, Harry Potter, X-Men) back to back. I’m trying to learn about anime and get more exposure to those movies. I am also looking forward to having an excuse to attend conventions again, and I enjoy going to Renaissance Festivals. I’ve finally joined Society for Creative Anachronism, but have yet to be able to make it to a meeting!

SFS: What are you working on now?

GM: Well, I just turned in the manuscript for book 2-now officially titled The Blood King. I’ve gotten comments back from Solaris, so I have some editing to do. And I’m working on the outlines for more stories…

SFS: Thanks, Gail! Is there anything you’d like to add?

GM: I really enjoy hearing from readers on MySpace or my web site and at signings. It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to share the world I’ve invented that means so much to me, and have it also be meaningful to other people. So please, email me or post on the site! And if you’re in the neighborhood for a signing or can join in on one of my reader calls-please stop by!

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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