Friday, May 17, 2013

Feature Friday: T. Michael Martin

T. Michael (“Mike”) Martin is a novelist, screenwriter, and YouTuber who holds a B.F.A. in Filmmaking from University of North Carolina School of the Arts. He was inspired to write his debut novel, The End Games, by his own younger brother, Patrick, and their shared love of zombie movies.  Mike and his wife, Sarah, currently live in West Virginia.

Interview:
A.L.:
What piece of advice would you give to a budding author?

Mike:
Fundamentally: Write what you love. Writing is so hard. If you don't inherently love your genre, you might not make it through all the heartbreak attendant to any creative endeavor.

And once you've chosen your genre, it's smart to seek out the best films/books/etc. that are already in that genre—and then study them, broadly and deeply. As you do, you'll begin to notice common patterns, “beats” that the stories consistently touch. The only way to surprise (and really delight) the genre's audience is to give them what they want, in a way they could never predict. And in order to do that, you need to know the genre as well as anyone out there.

I don't mean at all that you should “copy” or “rip off” other stories. In fact, once you know the intimate pulse of your genre, you'll be so much more free to experiment in a way that will still be satisfying to the audience. For instance, when I was writing The End Games, I realized that zombie stories almost always have a moment I called “The Perimeter is Breached,” which is when the heroes' final barriers/fences/etc. fall, and escaping the undead now seems impossible. I included the frightening spirit of that “beat” in The End Games, but instead of making a literal fence fall, I “trapped” the hero in another way that will [hopefully!] shock the reader.

Finally, I personally adore Robert McKee's STORY seminar, as well as Pilar Allessandra's On the Page screenwriting podcast. (Scriptshadow can be very educational, too.)

A.L.:
What's your favorite book and why?

Mike:
Probably The Stand.  It's King's best work, I think, and genuinely a pop masterpiece.  Its mix of horror, wonder, humor, joy, and mystery are everything I'd like my own work to contain.  (Also:  Maaaan, is it entertaining!)

A.L.:
Where did you get the idea for The End Games?

Mike:
I was actually at Pennsylvania's Monroeville Mall, which is where they filmed the original Dawn of the Dead!  I'd wanted to write a zombie story for years (seriously: I have an unfinished screenplay called Planet DEAD on my hard drive, which I wrote in eighth grade), but it wasn't until that day in 2008 that I found a door into the story emotionally.

My real-life little brother, Patrick, and I were walking around the mall when a random thought occurred to me: Why not write a post-apocalyptic book about two brothers, separated by ten years or so in age, trying to survive Armageddon in my home state of West Virginia?

I adore my little brother, and owing to our age difference, I acted as both sibling and semi-parent to him as he grew up. So when I started writing The End Games—which is about two brothers named Michael and Patrick—I was also writing about this question: How do you protect innocence during the apocalypse?

Or, perhaps better put: Can you?

A.L.:
Did you hit any snags while writing The End Games?  What were they and how did you fix them?

Mike:
After the book sold to HarperCollins, my editor and I decided that we should add a day to the novel's timeline.  This sounded so easy—but I realized that, in order to add that day, I kinda had to overhaul a lot of the protagonist's emotional arc.  Luckily, I have a wonderfully supportive editor (Donna Bray) and also an amazing agent and mentor (Joanna Volpe and Sara Zarr, respectively), and they helped me not only get through the revisions but also make the book far stronger than I could have reasonably hoped.

A.L.:
Which one of the characters in The End Games is your favorite and why?

Mike:
Wow, what a wonderful question!  I'd have to say Captain Jopek.  His voice was a fun challenge:  I've always been fascinated by men with the ability to be both dizzyingly charismatic and silently intimidating, so he was a blast to write.

A.L.:
Can you tell us a little bit about your journey as an author?

Mike:
I've been a book lover since before I could read: Some of my favorite childhood memories are of my mom reading Berenstein Bears to me. But the writer who made me want to become a writer was R.L. Stine. For my generation, Goosebumps was the introduction to the grand archetypes of the supernatural, and Mr. Stine sent me head-over-heels in love with horror. (That's partly why it was so thrilling to receive a blurb from him for The End Games!)

So I wrote and wrote for, like, fifteen years, and then had a screenplay “optioned” (where a studio “rents” the rights to develop the project) during my senior year of film school. It didn't work out, though, I think for a couple reasons: 1) the Writer's Guild strike happened, and 2) as heartbreaking as it was to admit, I just wasn't a good enough writer yet.

I worked a bunch of frustrating, minimum-wage jobs for several years after that (including a stint as a test subject in experimental drug studies). And honestly, those years were so scary: I was watching my childhood friends go on to promising careers in other fields, and more than once—as I scrubbed a toilet or got poked with another hypodermic needle—I despaired that I might be kidding myself with This Whole Writing Thing.

But one of the things I'm proudest of in my life is that I kept writing throughout all that pain. I had a feeling that a book I was writing (my third novel, called The End Games) might be a pretty good one.

When I finished the book in the fall of 2011, I sent off query letters to agents on the scariest Saturday night of my life.

I received multiple offers of representation first thing Monday morning.  The book sold to HarperCollins about a month later.

(Do I have to tell you I cried?)

A.L.:
What are you working on now?  Sequel?  Something new?

Mike:
I'm working on my next novel for HarperCollins, which will be published in Autumn 2014. It's another YA thriller that takes place in West Virginia, with lots of action and scares and humor and teenagers saving the world.  We're keeping the specifics of the plot a secret at the moment, but I will say that it isn't post-apocalyptic or a sequel to The End Games, and it also doesn't have any zombie-ish creatures.

A.L.:
Would you consider The End Games to be a "zombie" book?  Why or why not?  If so, what makes this one different than other zombie books out there?

Mike:
This might sound funny, but I don't actually consider THE ENDS GAMES a “zombie book”; I've always thought of it as a psychological thriller that happens to takes place in a living-dead world.

It's a bit hard to talk about with going into spoilers.  But basically, the undead creatures in the book (they're called "Bellows") are only one of the threats the characters face, and arguably not even the biggest one.

That said, for zombie fans, the book does still have a ton of undead action, so I think they'll be happy, too.  :]

A.L.:
The End Games is about a set of brothers.  How much of your relationship with your own little brother did you draw from for the relationship between Michael and Patrick -- who, I'm assuming, are names after you and your brother?

Mike: 
They are named after us, and they definitely started out as us in the very early stages of composition.  After awhile, though, as the book and story grew, "Michael and Patrick" became so different from me and my brother that I didn't feel weird about using the names (which I'd originally intended only to be placeholders until I could come up with something better). But even though they wound up being so different from me and my real-life brother, the one thing that never changed, in life or the book, is the love the brothers share.

A.L.:
Out of all your YouTube videos, which is your favorite and why?  Which was the most fun to film?

Mike: 
I think "Scarecrows & Nostalgia: Thoughts from Places in My West Virginia Hometown" might be my favorite.  It feels like the one that does the best job telling a full story, and it's a kind of emotional snapshot for me of the last year or so of my life.

But "THE END GAMES Book Trailer" was definitely the most fun to film:  I got to run around the woods with guns and sneak into an old abandoned coal mine.  And what could be more fun than that? :]

The Giveaway:
Mike is giving away 3 signed bookplates to three lucky winners!

End Games: It happened on Halloween.

The world ended.

And a dangerous Game brought it back to life.


Seventeen-year-old Michael and his five-year-old brother, Patrick, have been battling monsters in The Game for weeks.

In the rural mountains of West Virginia, armed with only their rifle and their love for each other, the brothers follow Instructions from the mysterious Game Master. They spend their days searching for survivors, their nights fighting endless hordes of “Bellows”—creatures that roam the dark, roaring for flesh. And at this Game, Michael and Patrick are very good.

But The Game is changing.

The Bellows are evolving.

The Game Master is leading Michael and Patrick to other survivors—survivors who don’t play by the rules.

And the brothers will never be the same.

T. Michael Martin’s debut novel is a transcendent thriller filled with electrifying action, searing emotional insight, and unexpected romance.


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