Steve Martini talks with his publisher, Putnam, about writing and the Internet.
How did you begin writing?
I actually started writing as a journalist in 1969 for a newspaper in Los Angeles. At the time I was not a lawyer, but had just graduated from the University of California and intended to enter law school. I wanted a couple of years in the real world before plunging back into studies. What started as a brief diversion became an obsession. I found something almost therapeutic about composing at a keyboard. At the time it was an ancient manual typewriter. The news stories I wrote were converted into print for the paper on an old hot lead "Linotype" machine. I became hooked on writing, though at the time I had not ventured into fiction. All of my writing was on a daily deadline and intended for publication in the newspaper. I covered the courts and local government, and in 1970 I was transferred by the newspaper to the State Capital in Sacramento where I became a capital correspondent and ultimately bureau chief covering state government and the courts.
Did you intend to become an author, or do you have a specific reason or reasons for writing each book?
For many years I thought about writing fiction, but couldn't seem to find the time to do it. I actually crafted several story lines and started at least one manuscript in the mid 1970's. It was probably a good thing I didn't finish it. I don't think I was ready to write a good novel. You find a great many novelists who seem to launch their careers in their 40's. Every writer is different, but for me, I don't think I had the wealth of experience needed to craft a good story until that time. When I started my first serious manuscript, like everyone else I had hopes of being published, but suffered the same anxieties as every writer at that point -- could I find a publisher or an agent willing to read the manuscript? The reasons I write are both therapeutic and commercial. I enjoy the process of writing, setting thoughts to paper, and my stories generally have a theme. Often times it is the message that the law is not necessarily the best place to go searching for the truth, and that justice is sometimes a stranger in the courtroom. As much as I enjoy the esthetics of writing, I consider myself a commercial author. I write for a living. I try to tell stories that will be appealing to a wide audience in a manner that will both inform, excite and entertain the reader.
What authors do you like to read?
Most of my reading is in the field of non-fiction. At present I am reading Thomas Jefferson, a Life, a biography by Willard Sterne Randall. Also on my nightstand is A Civil Affair, by Jonathan Harr.
What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
For me it is a mix of good story tellers and great writers. Occasionally, very rarely, you find both in the same writer. In the field of fiction the book I most admire is The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald.
What are the details of your writing schedule and the process of writing?
My day is somewhat unstructured, but I usually try to start writing as early as possible. I find that to be most productive. To be successful I usually try to eliminate as many distractions as possible. When I am involved in a manuscript I will usually spend a minimum of four to five hours a day writing. When approaching a deadline I usually work for more extended periods, at times as long as eight or ten hours. I compose at a computer screen and generally rewrite as I go. Each day as I begin I usually go back over the previous day's work, polish and rewrite and then move on. I do not write a complete draft and then revise. When I reach the end of a manuscript it has usually been rewritten anywhere from eight to ten times from start to finish. At that point it should require only a few minor adjustments before sending it off to my publisher. Based on past experience I do not require heavy editing.
Do you meet your readers at book signings, conventions or similar events?
I have not done extensive touring on any of my novels to date. I have traveled in California, and on one occasion to Texas and Louisiana. When I have toured I have met with a good number of readers at scheduled autographings and have spoken at a number of these gatherings. I have found it to be a pleasant experience. I try, but am not always able to respond to all fan mail.
Do you interact electronically with readers or use the Internet for research?
To date I have not interacted with readers electronically. I have spoken to other authors who have, and on occasion they have found their E-mail being jammed with too many messages to respond. I do use E-mail for business, though I am a relative novice in this regard. I have used the Net for research and find that I learn something new about the Internet each time I do. The problem with surfing the Net for a writer is that it can become addictive. It is like going to the library to do research on a specific issue. Soon you find yourself browsing and reading things that have nothing to do with the project at hand. While it's a mind expanding experience, it may impede progress on your book. The Internet is wonderful as long as I can maintain my focus. My novels tend to involve some research. The trial stories I have written each relied in large part for their credence upon scientific forensic evidence whether it be ballistics, or the results of an autopsy. I maintain a considerable forensics library for this purpose and try to up-date and add to it regularly. What is on the Internet is wonderful, but I often find that the depth of information is not as detailed as what I might find in a text or detailed reference book. Don't misunderstand, the Net is a very useful tool, but not an end-all. Books continue to dominate as a source of information for me. That may change as more voluminous materials make their way onto the Net and the technology improves. The ability to search for specific items electronically is a wonderful time saver, but I still like to have the necessary books on my shelf.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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