Author Interview – Chris Martin
This week’s author interview is with Chris Martin. He is a long-time journalist (specialising in motorcycle racing and special operations), he’s currently working on a very grounded military science fiction episodic series titled Engines of Extinction.
How long have you been writing for and what made you start writing?
I actually started a website about World Superbike racing in the late ’90s while still in college. I knew I wanted to get my foot in the door in motorcycle racing, and I saw an opportunity to do so in that way. I guess I figured the site needed content and somebody had to supply that, so I just kind of took on the bulk of the writing myself.
The site filled a void and proved to be quite popular. Before long I had professional journalists and photographers from all over the globe volunteering their efforts because they wanted an online presence. It was an incredibly low-budget (or make that no-budget) effort but it looked professional from the outside. I had boots on the ground at just about every World, American, British, Australian, and Japanese Superbike race.
Before long, I noticed that people actually really enjoyed my writing, and I started to get offers to write for others as well. That was enough to convince me to drop out of law school (no fun) and pursue writing (fun — certainly more fun than law school) full time.
Do you write for a living, or do you also do other work?
I do write for a living, although I try to be at least somewhat flexible, both to keep my options open and to keep me interested. Right now my writing career is a three-headed monster split between motorcycle racing, special operations journalism, and science fiction, although my previous experience has given me the confidence to feel I could branch out further if desired (or required).
How did you get into being a professional writer, and how much effort did it take to be able to write full time?
I touched on this above, but it did take quite a bit of effort and the help of some very supportive parents. In the beginning, I lost money for longer than I like to admit or remember, but it was rewarding when things finally got rolling.
Were you always good at telling stories, or has it come to you as an adult?
I sort of happened across it as an adult. I mean, I had quite an active imagination as a child, but I never turned those ideas into concrete stories. I think my most natural ability is as an artist, so those ideas flowed out as pictures rather than words during my childhood and teenage years. It wasn’t until I had been doing the whole journalism thing for more than a decade that I seriously got interested in branching out into fiction.
Were you good at English in school?
I guess so. I was a good student in general, but I wouldn’t say I was any more or less successful at English than I was any other subjects.
What advice would you give someone who wants to be a writer?
Focus on writing about things you really care about, even if they’re quite niche. I was really specific about my original aims — covering motorcycle road racing, which is a very small sport in the United States. There were perhaps only four people in the country doing that as a full-time job when I decided that’s what I wanted to do, and I made myself the fifth.
Admittedly, chasing something that specific might not be the best advice, but if you’re not writing about something you’re genuinely passionate about — whether it’s fiction or non-fiction — the work becomes exponentially more difficult.
Before taking on a project — especially one that’s a bigger financial gamble — I ask myself, “Even if this completely bombs, will I at least be satisfied with the process and the end product?”
What is the most useful advice you’ve been given? What’s the strangest advice you’ve been given?
These are proving tough question for me to answer. I’ve always liked to do things my way. I’ve never really had a mentor or a boss, and I don’t go out seeking advice in most cases. That said, I read a lot and I try to pick up on the teachings or practices of others. I’m sure I’ve gleaned a lot of good advice over the years although perhaps more by osmosis than anything quite so active.
How do you deal with the stranger reviews?
I try not to be overly bothered by reviews although it’s harder when a book is first released and there are few reviews to go by. The handful that have genuinely bothered me have been the ones that were simply inaccurate. Recently a reader gave a poor review of one of my nonfiction books. The reader said they liked the book but gave it a low score because they indicated the title and book description were misleading. However, reading further, it became clear they had been confused about which title they had read. It was actually another one of my books they were talking about. This was shortly after the new book was released when each review had a proportionally large impact on the overall review score. I was seriously tempted to write a rebuttal but finally held off. However, my girlfriend couldn’t resist and went all momma bear on my behalf and replied to the reviewer. I guess that did the trick as the reviewer must have realized their mistake and recanted their review.
Who do you write for?
I mean professionally, I’ve written and edited for a lot of magazines and websites (The Week, SOFREP, SPEED.com, Cycle News, Motorcycle Racing, Road Racer X, The Sporting News, ESPN, Superbike Planet, St. Martin’s Press, etc.), but first and foremost, I always try to write about things I find interesting and then hope others will be interested as well.
Engines of Extinction is most definitely written for me, although I sincerely hope others will want to come along for the ride as well.
What sort of things do you write?
In terms of topics — motorcycle road racing, special operations (Tier 1 black operations in particular) and deeply grounded and heavily researched science fiction.
You can blame my dad for the first two. He always had a garage full of European motorcycles when I was a kid and took me to my first AMA Superbike race in the early ’80s. He was also a highly decorated Green Beret with MACV-SOG in Viet Nam, so that explains my interest. As for the sci-fi… Like so many others, I grew up with Star Wars and Marvel comics (and Discover magazine) as a kid. It just kind of got embedded into my DNA at an early age and then intermingled with my interest in real-world special operations.
I’m a researcher by nature. Even if I wasn’t a writer, I’d still be reading every detail I could find about all of these things. I’ve just found that writing about them is a nice outlet to share that work and hopefully pick up a few coins for my efforts along the way.
What do you have in the drawer? (i.e. what have you written but not yet published)
Umm… nothing? At least nothing that won’t see the light of day in the upcoming months. I’ve been really fortunate in my writing career to have been consistently recruited for gigs or approached to pitch ideas. I’ve been lucky enough to have almost completely avoided the process of writing complete articles or manuscripts and then trying to sell them after the fact. However, that world is changing a bit with the rise of self-publishing. If Ben and I weren’t self-publishing Engines of Extinction, I imagine we’d be going through that process right now.
But I am working on Episodes II-VI of EoE now, so I guess you could count those as in the drawer in a way.
Describe your writing process, what, where, when and how please?
I jot down notes, arrange them in a loose outline, let it flow, and then rework as necessary. The process is largely the same for a 2000-word motorcycle racing feature or for a multi-episode novel — although rather than a half a page of notes and a six-sentence outline as may be the case for the article, the novel may have 1100 pages of notes, a 130-page bible, and multiple documents of outlines.
Where can we read your words?
How about one motorcycle racing article, one link to a non-fiction book excerpt, and a link to some fiction?
Links to blog, website, book sales etc. Maybe some good reviews