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An Interview with Gail Z Martin

The Summonerinfinity plus: What do you mean when you say you believe in ghosts?

Gail Martin: Whether or not you believe in supernatural ghosts, I think that in a very real way we're all "haunted" by old fears, things left undone and loose ends. Our pasts can be a beneficial ghost or a malicious ghost. If we haven't dealt with those old fears and loose ends, they keep us from moving forward. So even though those old fears and incomplete tasks are insubstantial, they can have a very real effect, and they can torture our sleep and our peacefulness as much as any poltergeist. When we learn to deal with them, we become our own Summoner.

infinity plus: You said you were bullied as a teen. What are your ghosts?

Gail Martin: I grew up in a family that took the Cold War very seriously, and expected the world as we knew it to come to an end momentarily. I also grew up in a church that thought Armageddon was going to happen immanently. So the overall message was "we're all gonna die -- real soon." On top of that, as a smart girl who asked too many questions and wanted deep answers, I didn't fit in in a parochial school environment that valued indoctrination. So I was just in the wrong place in a lot of ways. I was different, so I got bullied -- by kids and by some adults. I've done a lot over the last 25 years to deal with those "ghosts" and I think I've been pretty successful. That different-ness is what really made science fiction/fantasy (SF/F) resonate with me -- that, plus a vision that there could be a future and a better future at that. It was a lifeline. In SF/F, usually the main character is painfully different at the beginning -- maybe the way he looks, what he can do, where he comes from, etc. But by the end of the book, that difference that was initially scorned is what's needed to save the world. The positive impact of my ghosts is I want to make sure others who feel the way I did as a teenager realize that different is good. Different might just save the world.

infinity plus: Tell me more about why you think science fiction/fantasy resonates with out of place teens, and others.

Gail Martin: We're a very conformist culture, especially for teens. Look at the news cycle -- as soon as anyone does something bad, the immediate question is: "was he, you know, different?" Of course they never say "different from whom" or clearly spell out who gets to define "different." It's simplistic to just decide that the "difference" caused whatever happened, when it might not have even been related. Often the greatest wrongs are done in full conformity with the culture. People who fit in to the culture and don't seem "different" at all can and have done really evil things. We're fooling ourselves. So there's a lot of pressure to conform.

That's rough, particularly on young teens who don't have an opportunity to go looking for a better place where they do fit in. If you're a guy who'd rather dance than play football in farm country, or a girl who wants to be a mechanic in suburbia, or someone who just doesn't fit the local mold, it's painful. That's especially true for teens struggling because they don't fit with family, gender, cultural, religious or sexual identities. What I discovered is that you eventually create your own family of friends and others whom you choose, and they become the ones who nurture you, regardless of your family of origin. You can find a place where you fit in and are valued. That difference can become a positive -- and it might just save the world. Being different is survivable with a little help from our friends.

infinity plus: So what does your main character learn about laying ghosts to rest and how does that help us in real life?

Gail Martin: In the book, my main character Tris first has to accept that he has a rare and powerful gift -- the ability to make peace between the living and the dead. That changes the whole way he sees himself. In real life, accepting our gifts as good things changes the whole way we think about ourselves, especially when other people have tried to tell us we're not Ok because we're different.

Tris doesn't try to battle the bad guys by himself. He finds people to learn from, and friends who accept him as he is. In real life, we need to seek out people who can help us heal and learn to make the most of our gifts, and surround ourselves with friends who love us for who we really are.

Tris learns that the universe has rules for how we use our gifts. He needs to bring the man who murdered his family to justice, but he fights the urge to take revenge. If we use our gifts in anger and to hurt others or to get even, we destroy ourselves. In real life, we win when we use our gifts -- the things that make us different and special -- to help others win.

infinity plus: How did you to create The Summoner and the whole world of the Winter Kingdoms?

Gail Martin: I've always loved ghost stories and vampire stories -- and haunted houses -- so I wanted to create a world where those existed. I was fascinated with the idea of a world in which death wasn't final. And there are certainly cultures today where people believe that their ancestors continue to play a role in their lives. Not so very long ago, Western Europe was one of those cultures, and we see that in the old All Hallow's Eve -- which has become Halloween. In Mexico you have Dia del Muerte. If you look at old tales -- Brothers' Grimm are a good example -- you can see a belief in liminal space -- that in some times and places the other realm is closer to our own. The edge of a forest or body of water, the mouth of a cave, dusk and dawn, the full moon, the solstice and the equinox. Most religious rituals try to open up liminal space. So I created a magical gift that could open up liminal space and cross back and forth, and a world that accepted that magic.

infinity plus: What advice do you have for would-be writers?

Gail Martin: Keep writing. I started with fan fiction back in middle school and high school, and then moved up to creating my own characters and stories, and I got better at it as I kept writing. I had a small supportive group of friends and family who liked what I wrote and encouraged me -- some people find that in a writing group or a retreat -- and then I wrote for them. But the key thing is to keep on writing. If you write, you are a writer -- even if you don't get published.

© infnity plus 2007.

The Blood King is published by Solaris in February 2008.
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The Summoner is published by Solaris (February 2007; ISBN: 1844164683).

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