When you combine Canada and mystery, you speak to my heart. Mike Martin does just that in his books, and I’m so pleased to have him visit my blog again. Welcome, Mike. Please tell us a little about yourself.
I was born in Newfoundland, on the east coast of Canada and I currently live and write in Ottawa. I have been a freelance writer for a long time but only started writing fiction about 8 years ago. I am the proud author of the Sgt. Windflower Mystery Series which has been celebrated for its connections to the ocean and the way of life in small fishing communities. The last book in the series, A Long Ways from Home, was shortlisted for the Bony Blithe Award as one of the best light mysteries of the year. The latest book in the Sgt. Windflower series is A Tangled Web.
Congratulations! Talk about the books you’ve written. What was the first seed of an idea you had for your book? How did it develop?
For me, every book kind of starts the same way, with some connection to a picture or scene. In the case of A Tangled Web, I actually did see a truck parked near the brook in Grand Bank one day and thought that some small child could climb inside, without anyone noticing. Months later, when I sat down to start the new book, that image was still there.
This is from the opening chapter of A Tangled Web
“Sarah had that great fearless attitude of a child who grew up in a small and very safe community. She knew most of her neighbours, and they all watched out for her. She also had the natural curiosity of little children, especially when she saw something new. The truck parked on the roadway above the brook was new, so Sarah went to take a closer look. Even better, the back door of the truck was open, and there was a ramp leading inside. This was certainly worth a closer inspection.
Sarah Quinlan was having fun exploring the back of the large truck when she heard a loud, rumbling noise. She didn’t know it, but the driver had started the engine. It was so loud, and Sarah was so frightened by it, she froze. The next thing she remembered was everything going almost completely black and the back door of the truck slamming shut. She cried out, but by then it was too late. Seconds later she, the truck and the unsuspecting driver were barrelling out of town and onto the highway.”
(Sarah ends up okay btw)
Was there a scene that was more difficult than others? One that you pondered whether or not to include it? Talk about that.
I worried about putting in the missing girl at the front of the book, mostly because I know that it is the worst fear of all parents. And I could not have written it without knowing that she would be okay. But it seemed true to the story and needed to be there. I also struggled with a set of scenes in the book that focused in on the relationship between Sgt. Windflower and his long-time sidekick, Corporal Eddie Tizzard. The emotions were deep, and real and raw and I found myself crying every time I read them over. The Sgt. Windflower books are known and loved for their lightness and tints of humour, so I didn’t want to bring anybody down. But after reflection, the scenes stayed because even though they might be a little difficult, they too are true to the story and the characters
How do your characters influence your writing? Do you have disagreements with them?
The characters are the story. I get to set the scene for the story but once the characters show up they tell me the story. All I do is write it down. I wouldn’t say that I have arguments with the characters. But they certainly do among themselves. Again, my job is not to interfere, but I do get to choose how much space each character gets in the book. I have been very fortunate in that Sgt. Windflower walked out of the fog in Grand Bank one day and started telling me his story. Some of the other characters are amalgams of me and others, and while I would have difficulty betraying my personal beliefs in a book, the characters really do have a life of their own, and as long as they don’t use foul language, they get to say what they want.
How would you describe your writing process? Do you outline? Let the muse lead you? Or something else?
I am definitely not a plotter. I connect to the great creative flow and let the story carry me along. My job is to remain open to this flow and not let everything else from the outside world, and inside my head, creep in. I also do not have the temperament or patience to sit in front of the computer and to plot out the whole story from beginning to end. To me, that sounds like too much work. The fun of writing, IMHO, is in watching the story unfold from your imagination, just like the reader does.
When I am writing a book, I try and write around 1,500 words every day. Early morning is the best time for me, but if I don’t get my quota in the morning, I just have to make it up later in the day. I let the words and pages accumulate until I have about 25,000 words. That starts to feel like a book. I start reviewing at that point to see if it makes sense and if there are any holes in the plot or unbelievable scenes. Moving forward from that I continue to write and review periodically until I reach the end.
I love how you said that—you connect to the creative flow. I do the same, but I’ve never described it so beautifully. Tell us about the funniest/craziest/most interesting thing that has happened to you as a writer.
I don’t have a particularly amusing story to tell about being a writer but I do want to share about how important readers are to my writing and to the process. I hear readers in my head all the time telling me to look after Windflower or Sheila, and how committed they are to even the secondary characters. I believe that writers have a special relationship with their readers because without them, writers would just be yelling words down into a canyon. The echo that they hear comes from the readers.
I love hearing from people who have read my books. They write to tell me how much they enjoyed the last book or how much they are looking forward to the next Sgt. Windflower Mystery. Others have told me that they felt calm and relaxed when they were reading the stories, as if they were walking along beside Windflower and his partner Sheila. Or imagining the meals that they were eating and even trying out some for themselves.
Last year I got a message from a reader who told me the sad news of her mother’s passing. She was not looking forward to the next few days and saying goodbye, but she had the new Windflower book, and said that at least would give her something pleasant to look forward to when those hard days were over. And the year before I got a phone call from a reader on the east coast who called to tell me how much she liked the series and that she had shared the books with a friend who was suffering from cancer. That friend had to go through the misery of chemotherapy, but before they went, they would read a few chapters from one of my books. That relaxed them enough to go through the pain and come through to the other side.
How wonderful that your books have brought pleasure and solace to so many people. What is the best piece of advice about writing that you have ever heard or read? What would you tell aspiring writers today?
I had no idea of where to even begin writing a novel so I did what was suggested to me, which I offer as advice to all aspiring writers: Read about how other writers did it. One book that really helped was Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and in this book and others I learned that the way to write a novel was to start and then to keep at it until it was finished. It didn’t matter about the weather, or money, or the economy, or relationships, or even family or sickness or anything. If you want to write a book, you just get up every day and you do it. Good luck with your writing.
Thanks so much for visiting me today, Mike. I wish you and Sgt. Windflower all the best.
Mike’s books are available at:
Visit Mike at his website https://sgtwindflowermysteries.com/