Interviews

‘The Only Way to Improve Your Writing Is to Write’

For author Perry Martin, the art of writing did not come very easily. Although his first attempts at writing were when he was just about twelve years of age, he tells us that all he wrote at the time was a couple of ‘pretty awful’ short stories. He also started working on a full-length novel then, but it never came to fruition. ‘It wasn’t until 2010 that I actually picked up writing again,’ the Hong Kong-based author, who is also a professional musician and guitarist, begins, discoursing with the Literary Express in an exclusive interaction. ‘And I have stuck with it ever since – although I am still very much involved in the music business,’ he says with a smile.

 

Perry Martin

Uncovering a ‘Non-Existential’ Past

Talking about his debut novel Pretty Flamingo, a psychological mystery that touches on the possibility of reincarnation, Mr Martin says its story is set in 2004 Southern California, the US and 1969 Queensland, Australia. ‘The plot was inspired by a psychotherapy counselling session I had that uncovered an incident in my subconscious that I had no previous recollection of. After it had been exposed, I could see how the content of that incident affected me in later life, influencing many of the decisions I subsequently made,’ the sixty-seven-year-old, who has lived in California for almost three decades, lets us know. He adds, ‘I was fascinated by the idea of a subconscious hidden influence, and it provided the impetus for a story about a man who, little by little, uncovers a part of his past he never knew existed.’

NOTE: The Literary Express core team has unanimously decided to feature Perry Martin’s Pretty Flamingo as the Book of the Month. It’s a must-read, and we suggest you grab a copy of the book right off the bat by clicking on the book’s cover image right below.

‘Para’ Not ‘Normal’

Mr Martin, who is also a songwriter and a producer-cum-recording engineer, tells us that his second novel Savannah is another psychological mystery with a paranormal twist to it. ‘Once again, it explores the idea of a hidden influence, this time driving the main character, a musician, to constantly sabotage his life whenever it appears he is going to become successful,’ he says, adding that he drew on his experiences as a musician to add an element of authenticity to the story. 

His third novel, The Man In The White Suit, however, is a time travel drama. The author states that the premise of the novel is best described by the book blurb: ‘You are given the power to return to the past and re-experience any three twenty-four-hour periods of your life. You can simply re-experience the moments that gave you the most pleasure. Or you can change the outcome of those things you most regret. Where would you go? What would you change? A mysterious man in a white suit has just given CARL BECKER that opportunity. Where will he go? What will he change? And what does the Man in the White Suit want in return?’

The ‘Dream Job’

As intriguing as it might sound, Mr Martin tells us that the entire plot for The Man In The White Suit came to him in a dream. He says he remembers waking up, jumping out of bed, turning his computer on and immediately writing the summary down so he wouldn’t forget it. ‘And my fourth and latest novel is Eternity. It is the long-awaited sequel to my first novel. Because its plot hinges on the reader having read the first novel, all I can tell you about it is that it further explores the concept of reincarnation,’ he explains.

Planning, Plotting, Executing

On the question of whether he considers himself to be a plotter or a panster, the author says he always tends to have the basic plot in mind and who the primary characters are going to be. He elucidates, ‘I write a summary as a guide and then list out my characters’ traits, physical characteristics, desires, strengths and weaknesses. I also know how I want the story to begin and end and generally do a rough draft of both. Then it’s a matter of creating the scenes that will get my characters to arrive at the ending.’ 

Nevertheless, he underlines that along the way things often change. ‘I’ll add some elements, subtract others, sometimes add extra characters. I generally do anywhere from twelve to twenty rounds of revisions,’ he tells us.

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A Pro at Juggling

While Mr Martin makes it clear that he never really thought of becoming a full-fledged writer until Pretty Flamingo happened, he says now it has become next to impossible for him to stop writing. ‘When I came up with the concept for my first novel, I believed that would be the only novel I would write. But then I found I enjoyed the whole process and I started getting ideas for other novels, so I figured I might as well keep at it. Now here I am working on my fifth novel,’ he shares with a smile. 

Being an avid reader, the author tells us that he reads in a variety of genres, and hence, he has an eclectic mix of favourite authors. ‘I like Jodi Picoult, Stephen King, the late Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Walter Mosley, John D. MacDonald, Raymond Chandler—to name just a few,’ he says, adding, ‘Each inspires me in different ways, but what they all have in common is the ability to create believable characters, weave intricate plots and to keep the reader engaged and entertained. I try very hard to do the same with my stories.’

But what is even more interesting is that besides writing, Mr Martin manages to play the guitar, write songs, exercise, watch a movie or two, and spend time with his family on a daily basis. ‘It is discipline. really I’m also a producer-cum-recording engineer, and I have produced two CDs for my wife, singer/actress Rowena Cortes; written songs for two children’s musicals; performed as a guest artist with my wife and other local Hong Kong artists and been the mixing engineer for several recording artists in China. I keep pretty busy, and I have learned to manage my time,’ he tells us.

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The Road Not Taken

Talking about his work-in-progress, Mr Martin lets on that it is quite a departure from his usual stories. ‘It’s about a serial killer who murders twelve women over three years and the police efforts to track him down. However, as with all my stories, there is a paranormal aspect to the plot. That’s all I am at liberty to say at this point, as I don’t want to give too much away,’ he says, adding that now he considers himself to be a full-fledged author since, besides music, he has been making a living out of writing. 

Mr Martin with his wife Rowena Cortes

‘Don’t Give Up’

To budding authors, who more often than not lose motivation if their works don’t do well, Mr Martin has just one piece of advice: Don’t give up. He says, ‘Try to reignite the purpose that drove you to write in the first place. Right now, with self-publishing being so easy, it’s a very competitive marketplace. If your novel isn’t doing well, it might just be a promotion and marketing issue and not necessarily a reflection of your talent. Many successful authors were rejected multiple times before they finally found success.’

Furthermore, the author says a novice must honestly compare one’s work with the best in the business even though it might not be the easiest thing to do. ‘How does it measure up?’ is a question the authors must put to themselves, he says. He then adds, ‘Again I say: “Be honest.” Is it really as good as those at the top of their craft? If it is, then you probably just need help with promotion and marketing.’

Mr Martin also emphasises that reading more, not just as a reader but as a budding author, is important. ‘Pay attention to how the best authors use description, dialogue, etc. And then keep writing. The only way to improve your writing is to write. Ask any tennis player, basketball player, guitar superstar how they became so damn good. They’ll all tell you the same thing. Practice. Practice. Practice.’

The Parting Message

Before winding up the conversation, Mr Martin gives us a glimpse of his personal life, sharing with us that he exercises every day, handles social media accounts and answers emails while having breakfast and then sits himself down to write. His writing practice, nonetheless, is almost always preceded with an hour’s guitar practice. He spends the evenings with his friends, either shopping or watching movies.   

A strong advocate of peace and harmony, the author tells us before bidding adieu that if there exists one thing that he would want to be changed in the world, it is war, and that he wants to see a world where wars don’t exist. ‘War can never be a solution to a problem. If it was, then why has it continued in one form or another for thousands of years?’ he pronounces, ending the interaction with a thought-provoking question. 

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