Today we're talking with James Conroyd Martin, author of The Warsaw Conspiracy
FQ: The Warsaw Conspiracy was a book filled with the rich, historical details of the Polish people. Is there a specific reason you tend to lean toward this subject (i.e.: Polish Trilogy/Push Not the River), even though you, yourself, are not of Polish descent?
MARTIN: You could say it was fate that led me to write historical novels set in Poland. Many years ago, a good friend asked me to read his ancestor's diary. Anna was a young countess in Poland at a critical moment in history. It was a fascinating read and changed the course of my life. Her diary was transformed into Push Not the River.
FQ: You are both an American historical fiction author and teacher; therefore, is historical fiction the genre you wish to remain in, or are there others you would like to explore?
MARTIN: I have just retired from teaching, so I am going to be writing full time. I am working on another historical set in Poland, one that explores the Battle of Vienna in 1683. That battle occurred on September 11-12 as the Turks attempted to take the city and all of Europe. The Turks' loss then may be the reason why they chose 9-11 in 2001. As for other genres, the paranormal interests me.
FQ: The family saga is definitely a difficult plot to write. Each character must offset the other, and a wide, grand range of opinions, strengths, and battles between loving someone and having to dislike them at times, is a balancing act. Were you a fan of that type of intricate storytelling before becoming a historical fiction author?
MARTIN: Yes, I think I read a number of multi-viewpoint stories and so felt comfortable with that format. In working with Push Not the River, my source was, of course, a single viewpoint diary and I tried to keep to that. However, I felt it too constricting and wanted to get into the minds of Anna’s scheming cousin Zofia, her Aunt Stella, and her love interest, Jan. In due time, the story became a four-character viewpoint telling.
FQ: Do you have a mentor who gave you the inspiration to move forward with a writing career? Along that same line, was there a teacher who inspired you to delve into education?
MARTIN: As far as teaching, all my teachers inspired me along the way. Regarding writing, there is one particular person who moved me forward inspirationally. After years of working in a vacuum on Push, I sent it to the great science fiction writer, Piers Anthony, who told me he would read it but that he almost never puts his name to others' books. In part, this is what he wrote back after reading it: "I am profoundly impressed. [Your story] is a well-written historical romance with all the elements of love, scheming, violence, irony, and tragedy to provide impact ... It left me aching to know more of the subsequent life of Anna ..." Piers gave me my first blurb, but more importantly, he validated years of struggle.
FQ: As a teacher, is there any advice you would give to a student of history who may perhaps be looking for a future career in writing?
MARTIN: In teaching my creative writing course, I encouraged students to read, read, read. To find the authors they would like to emulate and read all their works. So, to the writer of historicals, I would add histories to that admonition.
FQ: I always ask this one question of everyone: If you could have dinner with a writer (or even a historical character), alive or dead, who would that be and why?
MARTIN: Somerset Maugham, I think. Of Human Bondage had a huge impact on me in college, and I think he led an immensely interesting life.
FQ: Can you tell readers what the next project is that you are either working on or thinking about?
MARTIN: Before I finish the Battle of Vienna story, I will be publishing a ghost story with a unique aspect to it (no spoiler here). It's called Hologram: A Haunting and I hope to see it arrive on the scene in late July or August, if not before.
FQ: Do you have a particular time in history that you would like to explore?
MARTIN: The times are many, the places more limited. I’d like to finish something I started on sixth century Constantinople and also explore my own ancestral roots in Ireland and Norway.