An Interview with Gail Z Martin
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
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
In honour of the summer
solstice - the Hawthorn Moon - advance promotions of The Blood King
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The Summoner is published by Solaris (February
2007; ISBN: 1844164683).
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