Interview with author Martha Bourke

Once again, the Haddon blog demonstrates that no journey is too far, no challenge too great to get in the way of interviewing talented authors. Martha is the author of the the excellent Jaguar Sun series which includes Jaguar Sun and Jaguar Moon. I interviewed her at her delightful New England home.

It was the duct tape that got me there in the end. The Appalachian Trail is a long and weary way to get from Maryland to New England and WalMart’s best walking boots weren’t perhaps the sensible choice. The penurious author suffers for his craft.

Late afternoon sun made artwork from Fall colors; a bluster of wind produced a flurry of golden snow from tall trees as I limped the last few yards past the old stone wall. The house was perfect for the place and the season. Deep-red, tall-gabled, its eaves reaching down as if trying to touch the ground. The center chimney looked set to defy the worst onslaught of a New England winter.

Martha met me at the door: dark eyes reflected Autumn; warm smile hesitated as she took in the tramp which I had become.

“Goodness,” she said. “Did you have a disagreement with a bear?”

“Not a bear as such,” I said. “More of a thorn bush. I was trying to have a private moment to empty my bladder.”

“TMI,” she said.

This slim woman in her vintage sweater, skinny jeans and ankle boots made me giddy. Or perhaps it was hunger.

“The duct tape is a nice touch,” she said, moving to one side and inviting me to come in. Brave woman.

A shower, several large slices of cake and the donation of proper clothes made all the difference. We sat on the sleeping porch: Martha’s spiritual home. The place where she wrote the wonders of Jaguar Sun and Jaguar Moon. I sat on the white wooden chest with cushions and gawped at the photos hanging from the picture rail. Martha sat in the wicker rocker.

“Right,” I said. “Time for the interview. Tell me how you started writing.”

She crossed her legs, uncrossed them, leaned forward, swung back. She was clearly giving the questions a lot of thought.

“It all actually started with poetry in the fourth grade. My teacher really liked some of my poems and even tried to get a few of them published in magazines. She wasn’t successful, but I was hooked! From there it was short stories around grade six. By high school I was writing novellas by hand in my spare time. I always had a wild imagination and I think writing was, and is, the perfect outlet for it.”

Percy the dog sat beside her and bit his nails.

“Is he finding this nerve-racking?” I asked.

Martha stroked his head.

“I doubt it. But who knows? The nail thing is a just a habit, I think. OCD for dogs.”

She reached out for another piece of cake.

“So,” I said. “What about Jaguar Sun? Pretty amazing piece of work, if I may say so. Where did that all come from?”

The smile was full on this time. The cake stayed on the plate.

“Well, thank you, Stuart. I’ve always loved foreign languages and cultures. I was a foreign language teacher for fifteen years. I’ve also always loved to write. For some reason, I thought my first novel would have a Hispanic theme. I read other Young Adult books, like Esperanza Rising, and continued to feel that way. As it would turn out, my first novel, still unpublished, is about a witch. In December 2011, I took a sabbatical from teaching. Over Christmas, Maya’s character popped into my head not long after. She started out as a normal teen living somewhere in the southwestern United States. I knew she was Hispanic; I knew she was abandoned by her mother; and I knew she was close to her grandmother.”

I helped myself to cake and we munched companionably for a moment. Percy gave me a look which I interpreted as, “You’re no damn use as a visitor if you don’t offer cake to the dog.” I tore my eyes from his, which now looked darkly accusing.

“What about process?” I said. “You know, from idea to final product?”

“Usually, when I write, the process is pretty much the same. A few major scenes will come into my head – action, dialogue – almost like in a movie. I take notes and write down what I can. And from there it’s all about filling in the story between those scenes. I do research as I realize I need to. So I guess that makes me a pantser with planner tendencies?”

“I guess it does. I empathise with that. My pants are worn out from all that flying.”

She laughed. “And all those thorn bushes!”

“Quite so.”

A phone rang in another room. Martha excused herself and I got up and had a look at bookshelves. Percy’s eyes followed me as if they were attached by strings. I found Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach’s sensational fable of the early 1970s. A million copies in two years. Amazing. I also found an abundance of Dickens, including A Christmas Carol. One of my own favorites. Then there were books and authors I didn’t know. Fledgling by Natasha Brown. I read the first paragraph. Intriguing. And Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. “Once upon a time, an Angel and a Devil fell in love. It did not go well.” I liked that.

Martha returned, apologetic, and we sat down again.

“Tell me about publishing and marketing,” I said. “The author’s bane.”

Martha carved out a couple more slices of cake.

“I’m a proud Indie writer, so I don’t have a publisher. Basically, because Jaguar Sun, the first book in the series, revolves around the end of the Mayan calendar this December, traditional publishing was not an option for me. I finished writing it in April 2011, and I was told by an editor at a conference that a trad publishing house wouldn’t accept it, because they wouldn’t be able to get it out in time. But he really liked it. A couple of months later, my sister gave me an article about self-publishing and I was on my way. I market my series by using social media, such as Twitter and Facebook. I’ve done a blog tour, and some KDPS free days at Amazon. Right now, I have both Jaguar Sun and Jaguar Moon at all outlets. I’m running Jaguar Sun free indefinitely, as a lead in to the series. Since the series is five books, I think it makes sense. A lot of YA series authors do that. Revelations, which is a prequel novella to the series, comes out at the end of the month and I’m considering running that free as well. But it has to be something you’re comfortable with, of course.”

Outside, darkness had ushered out the day and was in full command. A dog yipped, far off. Or maybe it was a fox. Percy broke off nail-biting and lifted his head.

“Tell me what you enjoy most about writing, and what frustrates you,” I said.

Martha grinned.

“The characters for sure! My mother calls them my “people.” She’ll say, “What’s going on with your people today?” She’s 82 and what a hoot. She does make me sound a little like Sally Field in Sybil. She means well, though. It’s the other things that go along with writing that frustrate me: editing, proofing, formatting, getting my work up on all the sites. It drives me nuts. I have people who help me with all of this, of course. But I really would rather be writing.”

I began to put my laptop away.

“You working on a new project of some kind?” I asked.

She tapped the side of her nose.

“Not saying, I’m afraid. Top secret.”

I zipped up my backpack.

“Very intriguing. I look forward to it, whatever it is.”

I stood up. Martha stood up. Now she was looking concerned.

“You’re not going, are you? It’s pitch dark out. My husband will be back soon and we can have dinner and then you’re very welcome to stay the night.”

I sighed.

“That’s really lovely of you to offer, but I gotta go. It’s a couple of weeks at the very least back down the trail and I’ve got writing to do myself.”

She held out a plate.

“Cake?”

“Thanks, and do you have any duct tape?”

 

Martha’s website is at http://www.marthabourke.com

Her Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/jaguarsunseries

Find her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Martha_Bourke

And on Google+ at https://plus.google.com/u/0/111506780154296861030/posts

5 Comments

Filed under Interview, Writing

5 responses to “Interview with author Martha Bourke

  1. Clive

    Nice to see Mr. Haddon getting about still, even against mammoth walks, and to bring us such a lovely insight into Martha’s writing world. A pleasure to read.

  2. Hi Stuart, just a note on your blog to let you know I’ve nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award. For more details see my blog, kjwatersauthor.blogspot.com.

  3. Always up to something, eh? Great interview, I’ll have to check this one out.

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