Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing Martin Roy Hill, author of Eden: A Sci-Fi Novella, and three other books.
Hi Martin, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Thanks for having me, Lawrence.
I’m a native Southern Californian and have lived there my entire life except for military service. I currently live in the San Diego area with my wife and son. I was a journalist for twenty-some years, working as a police reporter, investigative journalist, and editor before switching careers. I left journalism to become a civilian analyst in the field of combat casualty care thanks to my experience as a medic of one sort or another in the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy reserves, the local sheriff’s department, and a couple disaster response teams.
So, what have you written?
I’m the author of four books in the suspense, mystery, and thriller genres. The Killing Depths is a military mystery thriller involving an investigation into a murder aboard an American submarine with a joint, or male and female, crew. Empty Places, my second novel, is mystery thriller written in a sort of dark noir style, and involves an emotionally- and physically-scarred war reporter who returns to the U.S. to hunt the men who killed his ex-wife, a woman he still loves.
Duty is an award-wining collection of new and previously published short stories dealing with service, sacrifice, and suspense. My latest book is a bit outside my normal venue. Eden: A Sci-Fi Novella is a science fiction story about American GIs in Iraq who stumble onto an ancient secret about the origins of mankind. It gets its name because the portion of Iraq between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers is believed by many to be the location of the Biblical Garden of Eden.
Where can we buy or see them?
All of my books are available in print or Kindle versions from Amazon www.amazon.com/Martin-Roy-Hill. I also have a few Kindle Shorts available for the Kindle. The Killing Depths is also available in various e-book formats from most major e-book retailers.
What are you working on at the minute?
I have two books in the works. One is a sequel to Empty Places and is nearly finished. The other is a sequel to The Killing Depths, and I am nearly finished with the first draft.
What are they about?
The sequel to Empty Places takes place in 1993, a few years after the original novel, just after the end of the first Iraq war – that is, Desert Storm. The main character, Peter Brandt, is assigned to investigate a lawsuit filed over the death of an American civilian by friendly fire. In doing so, Peter uncovers a plot to rearm a defeated Iraq.
The follow-on to The Killing Depths is about a Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) agent who goes rogue. NCIS agent Linus Schag, the hero in The Killing Depths, is brought into the case because the rogue agent is a close friend, and Schag quickly learns his friend may not be the bad guy after all.
Your latest book out is?
My latest thriller will be available shortly and is available for pre-order at TheLastRefuge. It’s the sequel to Empty Places.
How much research do you do?
A great deal. In writing The Killing Depths I had to learn a lot about modern submarines, which meant reading several books and government reports, talking to submariners, and even talking the Navy into letting me tour a Los Angeles-class attack sub. Being a former investigative journalist helped in doing all this research. Of course, these days the research is a lot easier thanks to the Internet.
When did you decide to become a writer?
I started writing short stories when I was in high school. Like most writers, I love to read, and the books I was reading inspired me to try my hand at creating my own stories. I decided to major in journalism as part of my plan to be a writer – a course, frankly, I would not recommend to aspiring writers today.
Why do you write?
Wow, that’s like asking why do you breathe? When I’m writing something – anything really – it sooths my mind. I guess it’s the concentration. It’s like meditation. After a good writing session, I feel happy, refreshed, and energized.
Do you write full-time or part-time?
Alas, only part-time. I have a family to support. As I mentioned earlier, I work as an analyst in combat casualty care.
Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
I write whenever I can. My schedule is hectic with work and family obligations, plus I’m still serving in the reserves and have obligations there, too.
Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?
I aim for 500 words a day. Sometimes I make it, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I write a thousand words. I try to work in an hour of writing each day, but let me tell you, it ain’t easy.
Do you write on a typewriter, computer, dictate or longhand?
I use technology to help me make my writing quota. I carry a Kindle Fire tablet and a small Bluetooth keyboard with me everywhere I go. When I get a chance, I take them out and write. I also use apps on my iPhone and Kindle to help get in a little writing time. When other people are checking their email on their smart phones, I’m writing fiction on mine.
Where do your ideas come from?
Anywhere and everywhere. Both The Killing Depths and Empty Places were inspired by real life events. Sometimes I see something on TV or read something in the newspaper that makes me start thinking, “What if?” The plot for Eden was sparked from watching the History Channel’s “Ancient Aliens” program and reading in a newspaper article about some researchers who, using satellite imagery, thought they found the site of the Garden of Eden in Iraq. That started me thinking, “What if some American soldiers in Iraq stumbled onto the Garden of Eden? What would they find? Maybe ancient aliens?”
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
I never start writing a novel until I am sure I have a story, so I plot. I research the idea, and start to develop scenes, conflicts, and so on. I only start writing when I’m satisfied I have a beginning, middle, and end.
Now having said that, novels have a way of taking on a life of their own. In one of the books I’m working on now, I knew I was going to kill off one of the characters in a certain way. But when I finally got to that scene, the character seemed to say, “You can’t do that!” So I changed it – for the better, I think.
I always compare plotting to planning a road trip. You study a map, and decide where you’re going to go and what roads you’ll take to get there. But when you start driving things happen. You run into a road closure and have to take a detour. Something catches your eye and you decide to turn left instead of right. Eventually, you get to where you were going, but you just don’t get there the way you thought you would.
What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
Getting the proper voice for the narration. When I started to write Eden, I wrote in it the third person. I was half way through the second rewrite when I decided it wasn’t working. It just didn’t sound right. I nearly scrapped the project. Then one day, I heard a first person voice in my head speak a sentence, and I knew that’s the point of view I had to use. That sentence I heard actually opens the book.
What is the easiest thing about writing?
Nothing. Nothing at all. Unless you count giving up.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Usually a year and a half. It’s taking longer on the two I’m working on now.
Any tips on how to get through the dreaded writer’s block?
Work on multiple projects at the same time. When I get stuck on one book, I go work on another and let the first book stew in my subconscious for some time. Then I get an idea and go back to working on the first book.
Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors.
You must read if you’re going to be a writer. That’s how you learn to improve your writing, by analyzing what each author did to make a successful book.
In my formative writing years – high school and college – I read a lot of the Lost Generation authors, Hemingway, Dos Passos, Remarque. I also read a lot of classic science fiction, especially H.G. Wells, who is still one of my favorite authors.
Among contemporary authors I read are David Morrell, James Rollins, Bob Mayer, Lincoln Child and Doug Preston, and many others. My tastes in reading are pretty eclectic.
For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or traditional paper/hard back books?
These days I do more reading with my ears than my eyes. I listen to audiobooks while I drive. But if I get time to read a book, I usually read an ebook.
Do you proofread/edit all your own books or do you get someone to do that for you?
I do several rewrites on my books, then hand it off to my wife, Winke. She literally grew up in the publishing industry. Her father was Robert Wade who wrote some thirty or forty mystery novels under his own name and the pen names Wade Miller and Whit Masterson, among others. He helped me on my own novels, too, and I dedicated Empty Places to him. Her step-father, Ed Self was considered the grandfather of the city magazine publishing genre. Winke edits the manuscript then, once proofs are available, they’re read again by Winke, myself, and our son, Brandon. It’s kind of a family affair.
Do you let the book stew – leave it for a month and then come back to it to edit?
Yes, I when I finish the original draft or a rewrite, I set it aside for a while before starting back on it. I need to get some distance on the piece. Otherwise, I will gloss over stuff because the writing is too fresh in my mind. I’d be seeing what I meant to write rather than what I actually wrote.
How are you publishing this book and why?
I am an independent author. I publish through Amazon and other ebook retailers.
I originally tried the traditional way of getting published – find an agent who would sign me on as a client and hope the agent could sell the manuscript for some small advance, and hope the agent doesn’t take too much of that advance. I had three bad experiences with that formula. I signed with one agency to sell Empty Places. After a year with no progress I contacted her and she informed me she was too busy writing her own novel to sell mine. After that, I signed with a second agency and a month or two later I got a letter saying they were going out of business.
I also had a very well-known lit agent contact me about writing a book based on an investigative magazine piece I wrote about Iraq’s attempt to build a nuclear weapon back in the late Eighties. I wrote a book proposal and sent it to her. She decided it wouldn’t fly because Iraq was old hat and no one cared about it anymore. Then came Operation Desert Storm. Then she asked me to write a book proposal about a certain controversial scientist who had been working for Iraq and was allegedly assassinated by the Israeli Mossad. When I turned it in, she changed her mind again, saying no one was interested in this guy because he was already dead. Since then, there have been at least two books written about that scientist as well as an HBO documentary.
To say the least, I became a bit jaded about the whole “literary agent as the gatekeeper of publishing” concept. So when I learned about independent publishing, I jumped at it. As an added plus, I don’t have to share any of the royalties with an agent!
How do you market your books?
I use pay-per-click advertising on Google and Goodreads, social media like Twitter, and an occasional media buy on a website. I don’t have a PR agency because I can write a press release myself – I’ve worked as a military public affairs officer in the past. I distribute the releases via direct email and on free PR websites. The latter has done well for me. A lot of book blogs use those free PR services to add content to their sites and they’ve picked up my press releases.
What part of your writing time do you devote to marketing your book?
Well, there’s the rub, as old Willy wrote. You really end up spending more time marketing your work then writing it. At least it seems that way. Social media takes up a lot of time, and I use some web-based services to automate some of that. But I still need to put in human time in order to connect with my followers.
What do you do to get book reviews?
Before I launch a book I offer free advanced reading copies to people who have reviewed my work before as well as other reviewers. Unless you already have a good working relationship with a reviewer, most of those requests will go unanswered, and some who request a copy will never actually review your book. Maybe a ten percent return is the best you can hope for. On the other hand, I’ve had people I contacted say they’re too busy to review the book but they offer me an interview or a guest post on their blog or web site instead. All publicity is good.
I keep track of all my requests on an Excel spreadsheet that I create for each book. I record who I contacted and when, whether they accepted or declined, and when and where the review was published. It might sound a little anal retentive, but it keeps me from going insane.
Do you have a trailer or do you intend to create one for your own book/s?
I have a video trailer for three of my books. I need to have one made yet for Eden. Your readers can view the ones I have so far on my Youtube channel.
Do you think that giving books away free works and why?
I’ve tried give-aways a few times without much success other than distributing a few hundred copies of my work. I don’t think I got a single review that way. A writer friend of mine theorizes when people get a book for free, they don’t feel compelled to read it because they don’t have any money invested in it. On the other hand, he says, if you pay for the book you’re going to read it and, one hopes, review it. I think he may be correct.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would say to my younger self, “Listen to your father, dumb ass.”
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. The art is not in the writing, but in the rewriting.
Where do you see publishing going in the future?
I truly think independent publishing is making big changes in the publishing industry. Think about this: two of the biggest novels in recent years – E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Gray and Andy Weir’s The Martian – were originally independently published. More than that, many – and I mean many – best-selling authors are dropping out of traditional publishing, buying back the rights to their back list titles, and going independent. What we’re seeing in publishing is exactly the same thing we saw when new technology made independent film and music production possible several years ago. Traditional publishing isn’t going to go away, but it’s no longer the only avenue to being published.
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
Amazon Author Page: amazon.com/Martin-Roy-Hill
“Are you an author?”
If you’re an author and you’ve enjoyed Yani’s interview, you might want to visit my ‘Author Interview Questions‘ page and get your own interview loaded up.