Interview with Gail Z. Martin

Q: Without giving anything away, can you give us a taste of the story that is THE SUMMONER?

In The Summoner, the dwellers of The Winter Kingdoms live with the dead. Ghosts walk freely, intervening for good and ill in the affairs of the living. A fragile truce stands between mortals and Those Who Walk the Night, the vayash moru. Restless and raging spirits have had no solace since the death of the last great Summoner, and no one to reconcile grievances between the dead, the undead and the living. Tris Drayke, the new Summoner, may die before he can come into his full power. Fleeing for his life when his family is murdered, Tris is pursued by an evil mage and haunted by malicious ghosts.

Three true friends flee with Tris when they witness the king’s murder. Three new friends, an adventurer with a dark past, a healer with a tragic secret and a swordswoman with reasons of her own, join them on the journey. Tris must outrun the usurper’s bounty hunters and find the sanctuary of a friendly court to raise an army and reclaim the throne. His greatest danger may be his own untrained magic, which he must tame in order to avenge his family, quell the restless spirits, and defeat the reborn Obsidian King.

Q: What can readers expect from the sequel, THE BLOOD KING?

When The Summoner ends, Tris is only halfway on his quest. He has some real physical and magical training to do before he can expect to have a chance to defeat Arontala and bring down Jared. Jared’s treachery and the possibility that the Obsidian King might rise again is straining old alliances between the living and the undead, and threatens to embroil the Winter Kingdoms in war. Tris faces a very dangerous road home to challenge Jared for the crown, and the odds of living through it-even for a Summoner-don’t look good.

Q: You will conclude The Chronicles of the Necromancer duology with the release of THE BLOOD KING. Are there any other tales planned in that same world?

Yes. We’re working out details right now for Books 3 and 4, and I’m already writing Book 3. I have a lot of stories to tell in the Winter Kingdoms, and I’m looking forward to sharing them!

Q: With THE BLOOD KING already written, what’s the progress report on your next novel? Any tentative release date yet?

I’m already at work on Book 3, and we’re finalizing details on Books 3 and 4, but the expected publication dates would be February 2009 and 2010, respectively.

Q: Since THE SUMMONER is your fantasy debut, could you tell us a little of the road that saw this one go from manuscript to published novel?

I’ve written for a very long time-some of my friends have been reading my stuff since we were 12! I started out with fan fiction, and then started to invent my own characters and situations. I had the idea for a character with Tris’ name and appearance in 1981, but his characteristics, the setting and the story itself had no relation to what eventually became The Summoner. I actually wrote the draft that became The Summoner back in 1997, but a move, a new baby and some career changes made me shelve it for a while. I never stopped believing in the power of the story and the characters. So when I started my own company in 2003 after a layoff from a Fortune 15 firm, getting the manuscript into shape was a top priority. I did some major editing and adding to finalize the manuscript. It took some time to connect with an agent, and then it took time for my agent to find the opportunity that was Solaris Books. In many ways, I think the timing was perfect, and it probably couldn’t have happened any earlier.

Q: What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?

I’m probably the wrong one to ask about that, but I think that it’s the ability to write a fast-paced story with characters who have depth to them. You can take the story on the surface and have a good adventure romp. Or you can go looking for deeper things to think about, and find a few of those too. I think it reads well on both levels.

Q: What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write The Chronicles of the Necromancer series in the first place?

I’ve always loved ghost stories, and I started to play with the idea of someone who could really intercede between the living and the dead, beyond just carrying messages. I liked the idea of playing with the whole concept of death and what it actually means to be dead-or undead. And I liked the idea of a world where ghosts and the undead were accepted as fact.

Q: Were there any perceived conventions of the fantasy genre which you wanted to twist or break when you set out to write THE SUMMONER and its sequel?

I really set out to write a book that I wanted to read. I didn’t realize that the idea of a good necromancer was quite such a radical notion before readers started writing in! I think if there was one thing I wanted to consciously change it was that in many adventures the relationships between the characters-and especially romantic relationships-get very superficial coverage. I wanted the characters to be more than the sum of their hit points, to borrow language from gaming. So as we get deeper into the series, who the characters are, what they think, where they’ve been and what they want becomes very important-more so even than the skills and talents they bring to the quest.

Q: In light of the current market, are you tempted to write one of those enormous fantasy epics which continue to be the most successful series at the moment?

I have a lot of stories in the world of the Winter Kingdoms that I hope to have the chance to tell. They don’t all involve the same characters or the same time period, but they reside in the same world. I don’t know if that qualifies as “epic,” but I don’t seem to be able to write anything shorter than 600 pages. Every short story I ever wrote ended up as a novel.

Q: Given the choice, would you take a New York Times bestseller, or a World Fantasy Award? Why, exactly?

Do I have to choose? Awards and lists are certainly nice when they happen, but I’ve never been big on chasing them. I am absolutely thrilled when I hear from readers for whom the characters and the world have become real. To be able to share a very personal vision with readers around the world and have them enter into my fantasy and enjoy exploring the Winter Kingdoms is just amazing-that’s the best “award” there is.

Q: What authors make you shake your head in admiration? Many fantasy authors don’t read much inside the genre. Is it the case with you?

I don’t get to read as much for fun as I used to or as I’d like to-it’s a side effect of having a family, running a company and trying to write a novel a year plus promote a book! So where I used to read a 100 or so books over the summer when I was in school, I’m lucky to get the time to read a half dozen or so for fun in as many months. That said, when I read for fun, it’s always fantasy. I love getting lost in someone else’s world for a change! I hate to list favorite authors because I’m sure that I end up leaving off someone. What makes me admire an author is the ability for me to care about the characters so much that I almost go through a grieving period when I’m done with the book. Characters, situations and worlds that stick in my mind and come back to me later to think about and mull over-that’s what I admire.

Q: Cover art has become a very hot topic of late. What are your thoughts pertaining to that facet of a novel, and what do you think of the Michael Kormarck cover for THE SUMMONER?

Michael’s artwork is absolutely awesome! I’m very fortunate to have him as the cover artist, and I’m thrilled that he’s doing the cover for The Blood King as well. He is very, very talented. Every time I look at the artwork I see new details-you can even see the tooling in the leather of Tris’ cloak! Cover art is so important for a book-and critical for a new author. When no one has ever heard of the author, it’s going to be the cover art that makes readers pick up the book. No one will discover what’s inside if they don’t pick it up. I think SF/F readers especially expect and appreciate great cover art. I know that Michael’s cover is what prompted many, many readers to pick up The Summoner.

Q: Honestly, do you believe that the speculative fiction genre will ever come to be recognized as veritable literature? Truth be told, in my opinion there has never been this many good books/series as we have right now, and yet there is still very little respect (not to say none) associated with the genre.

Whose opinion are you courting and why? I tended to shy away from literature classes in school because I figured I could read books just as well on my own without having to answer essays about them! That said, I remember some books that I did not enjoy that have attained the status of “literature”-Moby Dick and Lord Jim come immediately to mind. I think that SF/F has succeeded in becoming more “mainstream” than ever before-we live in the world that the SF greats of the 30s and 40s imagined, for good or ill. So plots that today get shelved with “action/adventure”-about high tech weapons, mutated viruses, the supernatural, etc. would have been called “SciFi” 40 years ago.

In terms of “respect,” I think SF/F has had the last laugh because we foretold the future, inspired the futurians who made it happen and now live in that brave new world-for good and bad. I’d rather have readers read my books because they enjoy them than because they’re on a moldy reading list as “literature.” Or, to put it more simply-I’d rather have the respect of people whom I respect. And those people are SF/F readers.

Q: The fact that there is a website dedicated to your work is an indication that interaction with your readers is important to you as an author. How special is it to have the chance to interact directly with your fans?

Hearing from readers is absolutely awesome! Writing a book is a very private, solo effort. At best, a few people in your inner circle see the book before it’s launched. So finding out that you’ve written something that touches people all over the world is just amazing. Finding out that people want to share this private world you’ve created and that they experience the world and the characters as “real” is as good as it gets!

Q: I have to admit that I’ve never seen anyone do as much self-promotion as you’ve been doing, particularly online. Did you want to be involved in that process from the very beginning?

For over 20 years, my “day job” has been marketing, and I own my own marketing and PR company, so the promotion piece comes pretty naturally to me. Solaris Books has done a great job of promoting the book, and I’ve been very well supported by them. I offered to go above and beyond that because I wanted to know that I gave this opportunity my best shot. I didn’t want to look back and think that there was something else I could have done better. I really want to have the chance to write these stories for a very long time. That requires getting the word out!

Q: THE SUMMONER is the living proof that the internet can provide a lot of exposure for a book. Do you feel that most publishers don’t yet understand the full potential of this tool, in terms of exploiting the wealth of fantasy-related websites, message boards, and blogs?

Traditional publishers have been slow to go online, but I think that’s changing. Book videos are becoming popular on YouTube and MySpace. There are more and more Podcasts. I think that many book people weren’t traditionally into technology, but as that changes-part of which is generational-I think we’ll see more authors and publishers online. The sad thing is that it will probably reshape the online venues in a more corporate way, which I think takes away from the fan-generated and user-run nature of a lot of book sites today. So there’s a good and bad side to seeing technology become better utilized.

Q: Solaris being a new imprint, are there any of their titles you feel we should keep an eye on?

I’ve been very impressed with the other authors I’ve met and the books I’ve read or skimmed. The folks at Solaris Books really love the genre, so I think that carries over into the types of books they choose to present. I’ve been very pleased and I don’t think you’ll go wrong with any of the new titles coming out!

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Interview by Patrick
fantasyhotlist.blogspot

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