Today is the second stop of our two stops on the Authors are Rockstars tour. We sat down to interview T. Michael Martin!
-T and E
Why we think T. Michael Martin is a rockstar!
Unlike Jess, I don't read a lot of YA. I'm normally a political science/non-fiction type of guy.
But when she told me about T. Michael Martin's The End Games, my interest was piqued. The idea of two siblings fighting to stay alive in the bleak landscape of zombies? Awesome.
And when I found out that T. Michael Martin also considers R.L. Stine one of his favorite authors like I do, I was sold.
T. Michael Martin is a rockstar to me, because he likes zombies, is an awesome writer and isn't afraid to admit that one of his biggest inspirations is a MG/YA author who cheerfully scared the bejeezus out of us when we were younger.
I'm absolutely honored to have him at the blog today, and I can't wait for you guys to see the answers to his questions.
In addition to being a fantastic author, T. Michael Martin is an all-around awesome human being. Many authors have built relationships with their fans through social media, but Martin stands out for his popular vlog series, where he deals with topics such as growing up as a self-described geek, and how reading has impacted his life. He’s been very open about his long journey to become a published author, which is so important to the many writers among his fans.
And then of course, there’s the book – he’s breathed fresh life (sorry, couldn't resist) into the zombie genre. I was honestly suffering some apocalypse/zombie figure, and so I went into the book with some skepticism over how much more interesting things there are still to do with with the genre. But that didn’t last long, and I was extremely impressed by his take on a such a popular genre (see my earlier review!)
The End Games has been has been eagerly received by readers around the world, with high praise from Booklist and such standouts as Hank Green, Pitticus Lore, Sara Zarr, and R.L Stone. Today, we’re thrilled to sit down with T. Micheal Martin.
Q&A with T. Michael Martin:
In a previous interview, you said that the relationship between Micheal and Patrick was "the heart of the story." What was it in particular about the relationship between two brothers that you wanted to explore?
Well, I think primarily I wanted to explore whether it is possible to protect innocence in the midst of rather overwhelming chaos. I “happen” to have a younger brother named Patrick, and although the book's brotherly relationship isn't based on us, I really have always felt very protective of Patrick.
One of the beautiful and terrifying things about watching someone you love grow up is, you get to see them explore an ever-expanding world. This is, at times, a magical experience that reminds you of just how much wonder there is in the world. And it is also a singularly painful one, because you are watching a child come to the realization that this life of ours has teeth, and sometimes, it likes to bite.
I think we generally have a cultural inclination to gloss over the inevitability of suffering. Which I totally understand! Suffering is less fun than, like, everything ever! But I believe these attempts to avoid the unavoidable actually lead us toward disillusionment, helplessness, and ultimately depression. (“Pain demands to be felt,” as one YA genius or another put it.)
So all of these ideas were kicking around my head when I started the book. Michael and Patrick are the heart of the story because Michael is, for better or worse, trying to protect Patrick's innocence, which is becoming increasingly difficult to do. And over time, it also has pretty awful consequences.
What are some of the challenges of writing horror for a young adult audience in particularity? Do you approach it differently than you would with an older audience?
T. Michael Martin:
Wow, that's so interesting! I'd never quite thought about it before. But there are definite differences. Generally speaking, I think the big differences have to do with the protagonists' worldviews—and those dfferent worldviews worldviews often alter the stories' thematic structure.
In a lot of horror for adults—particularly supernatural horror—the protagonists tend to spend more time being either “agnostic” about, or disengaged from, the bad things that are happening. A great example of this is Stephen King's IT: The kids know It's a monster right away, but the adults can hardly even remember what it meant to believe in magic.
YA fiction (of any genre) tends to deal with a “fresh experience” of life: I think one of the reasons for the surge in adult YA readership is that YA's protagonists are people making a special kind of direct contact with life, which can sometimes feel sadly absent in adulthood. Like real-life teens, YA protagonists are more likely (for good or ill) to let their heart trump their reason.
So thematically, adult horror fiction often deals with accepting mystery and wonder, while YA is often about taming mystery and wonder (because teens still “live in that place”) in order to beat The Big Bad.
Much of the power of "The End Games" comes from the voice of the narrator. How did you take yourself into the mind of a seventeen-year old boy?
T. Michael Martin:
Thanks so much for saying so! I always wanted THE END GAMES to be the kind of book that never really lets off the gas, and I wanted the narrative style to reflect that. This will sound crazy, but I genuinely never tried to make the “voice” sound like a teenager's voice. Really, I was thinking much more about the novelists William Goldman and Cormac McCarthy, whose books read like lightning storms.
The prose style in THE END GAMES has certainly been the novel's most controversial aspect, and the criticism can sting sometimes. But I also have to admit that I always knew that the book’s kinetic style — inspired by Goldman and McCarthy — would be controversial. (And in fairness to the book, an equal number of people — including Booklist, who gave THE END GAMES a starred review and named it the Top Youth Horror Novel of 2013 — have had hugely positive things to say about the voice. And that does make me feel really good.)
You've talked before about your long struggle to become a published author. What's been your experience so far of being a successful author? Has it changed your approach to writing?
T. Michael Martin:
I've been really blessed to have received so much support these last few months: THE END GAMES has done better than I think anyone expected, and that's largely thanks to the book's passionate fans (like y'all, and Booklist) and also to the YouTube community, which got behind the book in a huge way. (I mean, THE END GAMES was in PEOPLE Magazine this week. What the! http://tmichaelmartin.tumblr.com/post/58453098561/this-weeks-people-magazine-page-49-my-book )
So for me, the best part of this year (by far!) has been the relationships I've been able to form because of the book.
I think it has changed my approach to my writing, too. I'm unreservedly proud of THE END GAMES (honestly, I kinda love that book), but I also learned a lot from the market's response to it. Consequently, as I've been finishing up the first draft of Book 2, I now write with a much greater awareness of—and spirit of generosity toward—the audience. I still ultimately write “for myself,” but I rewrite for y'all, and I think I've grown a lot since writing THE END GAMES. And I can't wait to see what you think of my next book. :]
You're known for being very active on social media. What's it like constantly interacting with your fans?
T. Michael Martin:
I am?! I did not know this! But thank you!
Getting to interact with readers is lovely. Writing can be a frustrating, lonely job, so I treasure the opportunity to chat with all you awesome folks.
I also love talking with the YouTube community (both viewers and creators). I started vlogging last winter because I was feeling really lonely; I didn't have any intentions of building an audience or anything. But YouTube has sort of changed my life: It's allowed me to become friends with a lot of my heroes, and I think THE END GAMES owes much of its success to YouTube. (If y'all would like to check out my videos, you can do so at youtube.com/tmikemartin)
I noticed that you are a fan of R. L. Stine's "Goosebumps" series, which focuses on children and teens in very unconventional sci-fi and horror stories. What appeals to you about "Goosebumps" and did it have any impact on "The End Games?"
I’ve been a book lover since before I could read: some of my favorite childhood memories are 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!)
There has been a resurgence in dystopic fiction in the last few years in not only books, but also films and television shows, such as "The Hunger Games" and "The Walking Dead". What do you believe it is about these stories that makes them so appealing to consumers, especially given their darker content?
Well, I do think that there's something to the old "rollercoaster theory": Many people love the transcendent emotional rush that they experience while being simultaneously petrified and safe.
But for me, there's another way to answer the question.
I think that, at their best, "dark" or scary stories don't just make us feel fear; I believe that they invite us to encounter wonder. Modern technology has improved our lives in countless ways. But I can't help but feel that it has also robbed our world of much of its mystery. The ability to instantaneously dial up the answer to almost any question often makes me feel like there are no more lands to discover, no places remaining to sail toward and chart.
So tales of the extraordinary offer us a very precious thing: the re-enchantment of the world around us. They don't even have to be strictly supernatural! Any well-rendered story dealing with life lived at the extremes offers us an enriched sense of meaning in our own human struggles.
Thanks so much for having me, y'all, and for all the fantastic questions!
About the author:
The End Games is out NOW.