Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor
zette@cableone.net

 

Interview:

Lee Martindale, Renaissance Woman with Attitude

By Lazette Gifford
2006,
Lazette Gifford



Photo by George Martindale

 

Lee Martindale is a working writer, with the emphasis on working. As she states in this interview, she manages her writing career as a business. Her results prove paying attention to the details pays dividends.

Martindale's Such a Pretty Face compilation was publisher Meisha Merlin's first step into anthologies. The concept was a triumph of attitude over magnitude, and giants in the fantasy field pushed aside the stereotypical size 0 heroines in favor of full-sized fighters. Martindale also landed a spot in the long-awaited Low Port anthology, edited by Steve Miller and Sharon Lee.

Martindale has hammered home runs since she began professionally selling her work. Her first sale was to grandmaster Marion Zimmer Bradley, winning a spot in the fiercely competitive Snows of Darkover anthology.

Since then, Martindale's work has appeared in a variety of showcases, including a many of Marion Zimmer Bradley's annual Sword and Sorceress compilations. It is great news that Yard Dog Press has pulled together much of her work and published individual chapbooks of Martindale's work. These collections that make it easy for fans to find and enjoy her work.    

Cover by
Laura J. Underwood

Vision:  You have described yourself as "Poet, songsmith, teller of tales, lover, student, teacher, warrior... Bard."  Do you see all those aspects as being interwoven, or is there a part that stands out from the rest?


Lee:  I'm a Named Bard, and by tradition, that list is part of the job description.  Although, to be honest, "poet" is more often than not "lyricist," and when it's other than song lyrics, it's because I didn't run fast enough or couldn't chew my leg out of the trap.  As for the aspects being interwoven, it couldn't be any other way.  A story or section of prose that works practically sings, dialogue that sparkles feels like a fencing match between equal combatants.  And, to me, the best writers are those who are always learning, always teaching, and always fully engaged in life.  

 

Vision: You spend what seems like an incredible amount of time at conventions.  About how many do you attend each year?  Do you think it's helped your career?

Lee:  It's not as incredible as all that.  It works out to one and a fraction per month, 12-15 conventions most years.   And, at least for me, conventions are tremendously helpful.  First and foremost, doing conventions sells books.  They put me in front of fans -- and potential fans -- who might not otherwise find out about my work.  My publishers and several of the convention vendors have said they can tell when I've just done a panel, a reading, or a concert from the sudden increase in traffic at the tables.  And there are other benefits, such as the opportunity to network with other writers and the recharging of the creative batteries that working a convention gives me.  I consider it time very well spent. 

Vision: How do you manage a writing career over the long term?  What should new writers consider from the beginning?

Cover by
Tania Mears

Lee:  There's a multitude of things for new writers to consider.  The vast majority of working writers do not become rich, and, for most full-time writers, fiction is only a part of what they write.  Many writers -- probably most -- have day jobs that enable them to eat on a regular basis and sleep indoors.  The most important thing to consider, right up front, is that it is a business, complete with tedium, taxes, and its own equivalent of office politics.

How I manage it is how any professional manages his or her profession: professionally.  Hitting deadlines, making good contracts and adhering to them, keeping meticulous records, and keeping a realistic eye on my potential markets.  I spent quite a few years in project management, and I find that the same organizational skills translate to running what is essentially a sole-proprietor small business.  A background in marketing and contract mediation doesn't hurt, either.   

Vision: What sort of marketing do you do?  Do you think it's important for authors to have a good web presence?

Lee:  I market a new story or a reprint by reading market reports and guidelines for submission, finding one that the story fits, and submitting it in accordance with those guidelines.  Repeat as necessary until the story finds a paying home.  For things like anthologies, I query a likely publisher with a brief description of what I have in mind, then provide a more detailed proposal if requested.

For that end of the business, a web presence has, in my opinion, no value at all.  Publishers and editors do not troll the 'Net looking for new writers to make rich and famous.  At least the legitimate ones don't.

Where my own web presence -- in my case a webpage and newsgroup on SFF.net -- has proved helpful has been in the area of promoting newly published stories and projects like the filk CD and the audiobook.  Both are also good ways to communicate with my fan base, keeping them informed on what I've got coming out and what conventions I'm doing.  The bibliography on the webpage also seems to be a good idea. 

Cover by
Laura J. Underwood

Vision: You have just put out an audio recording of To Stand as Witness, a collection of three Arthurian tales.  Do you see more of these types of productions in your future?

Lee:  Absolutely.  In addition to being a new (for me) way to sell my work, doing them combines skills I've picked up over the years in various of the performing arts.  Another plus: they're something of a middle ground between putting a story on the page and doing a turn in a bardic circle.  And that's not even counting the fun of "playing" the characters I've created, or at the very least, suggesting to the listener how the characters sounded in my head as I wrote the story.
 

 

Vision: Do you foresee any changes coming in the book industry?  What would you like to see changed?

Lee:  The only constant in the publishing industry is change, and that's probably been true since Gutenberg inked his first plate.  The cynic in me says that the current trends among the major houses -- merger, conglomerate acquisition, and final decisions being made by editorial boards devoid of editors -- will probably continue.  The hopeful part of me looks at the growth and editorial integrity of independent publishers like Meisha Merlin, and the chutzpah and talent of small presses like Yard Dog Press, and cheers them on.  As far as I'm concerned, the jury's still out on electronic publishing.

Changes I'd like to see are mostly related to writing as a profession, as in being able to make all or a significant percentage of one's living doing it.  I'd like to see the writer's share of electronic publication calculated on the actual costs of electronic publishing, not on models using the higher production, warehousing, and distribution costs of print publication.  I'd like to see new writers stop giving their work away for free or close to it.  Establish a professional track record -- pro sales at pro rates -- and then take a chance that a low-paying market will catch fire or try a non-standard pay arrangement like a storyteller's bowl.  I'd like to see vanity press publishers and outfits like PublishAmerica put out of business. 

Vision: What suggestions would you give to new writers about the writing process? 

Lee:  Learn the basics: grammar and punctuation.  I can't begin to tell you how many manuscripts cross my desk that bear the marks of functional illiteracy.  And read.  Read in the genre you write, read the good writers -- not just the ones with famous names.

Do something every day, even if you can only snatch a half-hour for it.  And be flexible.  Sure, it's nice to have pristine silence, your favorite keyboard, a nice cup of tea, and the Muse whispering every golden word into your ear.  But I know working writers -- heck, I do it myself -- who write anytime they're sitting even remotely still.  A writer writes in waiting rooms, in airports, on planes, in the car when someone else is driving, between loads of laundry, after the kids and spouse have gone to bed or before they get up.

Don't talk about it, do it.  The person who discusses, ad nauseam, a brilliant idea for a trilogy that will rival The Lord of the Rings has, ninety-nine times out a hundred, not written a word of it, or anything else.  That's not a writer; that's a wannabe, and in all likelihood, it's a permanent condition.

Finally, learn that rejection is part of the process.  If you're the type of person for whom a rejection slip is a personal blow and a destroyer of your world for the rest of the day, you probably should be finding another hobby.  There are many reasons why perfectly good stories get rejected.  Log it, pick the next potential market, and ship it out. 

Vision: What genres do you write in, and why? And would you like to try your hand at any others?

Cover by
Laura J. Underwood

Lee:  I write primarily fantasy, a good bit of which is grounded in bardic tradition.  I enjoy venturing into Arthurian legend, snipping off a piece, and taking it on a sidetrip.  I've sold one piece that's probably classifiable as space opera, and several of my more recent sales could be considered horror and "horror light."  Lately, I've been writing and selling humor.  I write what I enjoy reading.  More often than not, fantasy is best suited for the particular story I want to tell.

As I said, I've successfully ventured into space opera once, and I have at least one sketch for a story cycle or novel that fits that category.  I've got one story making the rounds that's supernatural/horror/romance, and a couple of projects working that seem to be supernatural or paranormal mysteries with romance chasers.

 

 

Vision: Who has influenced your writing?

Lee:  My earliest influence was my grandfather; he wasn't a writer, but he was one hell of an oral storyteller.  Robert Heinlein, my introduction to SF, and Marion Zimmer Bradley, my introduction to fantasy and to whom I made my first professional sale.  I've learned a great deal beta-reading for William Mark Simmons.  And anytime Elizabeth Moon, Esther Friesner, or Selina Rosen talk writing within earshot, I take notes. 

Vision: Do you see the Internet as a good tool for upcoming writers? How should they be using it, if it is?

Lee:  How good it is depends on how well one can differentiate between solid, sound information and what gets mucked out of horse barns.  There are certainly good resources to be found on the 'Net, good places to find up-to-date market information and the heads-up on scams, problematic publishers, and agents of questionable ethics...  Unfortunately, one also finds the scammers, the problematic publishers, the agents of questionable ethics, and the guy who's never sold a word packaging nonsense as received wisdom.  I recommend becoming familiar with established, reputable sources of information -- Writer Beware, the SFWA site (there's a wealth of good stuff there accessible to non-members), Ralan.com, and Speculations.com come to mind. 

Vision: You are active in the SCA -- Society for Creative Anachronism.  Do you find that work within the SCA helps you in your writing as well as being fun?

Lee:  Correction: I've been active in the SCA in the past.  I'm still a member, but between deadlines and convention travel, I've only managed to get to one event in the last six or seven years.  The closest I get to it these days is being a fencing member of the SFWA Musketeers.

But I was, at one time, quite active -- as a bard, a field and camp herald, and a merchant.  Experiences, impressions, sights, sounds -- lots of them are tucked away in memory and pulled out when I'm writing.  There's nothing like knowing first-hand how something feels or smells or sounds to breathe life in the writing. 

Vision: Where do you look for your inspiration?

Lee:  Story ideas come from a variety of sources: a story in the news, a snatch of conversation, something my husband's said, something observed while being out and about.  I often start with a title or opening line.  And there's a tremendous amount of "inspiration" in market reports; nothing gets those creative juices flowing like knowing that stories on X theme are being read by Y for a particular magazine or anthology, and paying Z cents per word advance against royalties. 

Vision: How has writing changed who you are or how you see the world? Are there themes that matter most to you?

Cover by
Doug Beekman

 

Lee:  It's not the writer or the writer's worldview that the writing is supposed to change; it's the reader's.  The change can be temporary and small -- a smile, a laugh, a delicious little shiver, a change as seemingly insignificant as going from bored to entertained for the space she's reading.  Maybe in the reading, she begins to think about something not considered before or clicks on a different take on a long-held attitude.  Or finds that good cry he's been needing for too long.  Any one or more of the above, and I've done my job.

There are themes that matter to me, and they do show up in my fiction fairly often.  I let readers discover the themes for themselves, if they're ready to do so.

 

Vision: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Has your career progressed the way you thought it would?

Lee:  I never "wanted to be a writer."  I've always written.  I became a writer when I started getting paid for my non-fiction work, about ten years before I started selling fiction.  I became a fiction writer when I made my first short story sale in 1992.  No "wanting to be a writer" involved.

As to whether my "career" has progressed the way I thought it would, I'd have to say it's progressed better than I thought it would.  Part of that is having come into it in middle age, with years of experience in the business world and a fairly realistic view of the publishing industry.  No daydreams of winning a Nebula or a Hugo or being the next J.K. Rowlings.  Just goals: write good stories, sell them, get paid at a professional level, enjoy the process.  I'm meeting all of those goals. 

Vision: Do you write every day?

Lee:  Close to every day, yes.  Writing, editing, research: something in the progression from blank screen to finished story.  Some parts of the process I do almost constantly: observation, mentally working out scenes and dialogue.  I do a lot of what I call "backburner work."

I know no working writers for whom writing is just the sitting down and stroking the keys portion of the exercise,  and few who don't work on stories even when they're scooping the catbox or shopping for groceries. 

Vision: What do you have coming out that we should look for? What sort of things do you plan, or hope, to write in the future?

 

Lee:  As this goes to press, I have a story just out in the Yard Dog Press showcase Flush Fiction, one co-written with Bradley H. Sinor in Selina Rosen's International House of Bubbas, and one in the inaugural issue of the online magazine Lorelei Signal (http://www.loreleisignal.com/), edited by Carol Hightshoe.  Esther Friesner's Turn The Other Chick, fifth in the "Chicks In Chainmail" anthology series, just came out in mass-market paperback, and of course the To Stand As Witness: Three Arthurian Tales audiobook CD is now available.   There's nothing else in the pipeline at the moment, but we know how quickly that can change.

Under current projects: several short stories making the market rounds, the usual half-dozen or so in progress, notes for about a dozen others, and decent progress on that paranormal mystery novel with romance elements I mentioned before.  That one's something of an experiment.  My natural working length is the short story, but too many of those whose opinions I value have been encouraging me to try long form.  If it works, I have two other novels outlined.  I've also started recording the next audiobook -- Hell Hath No Fury...: Five Bardic Tales.  More anthology editing is also in the works -- one with verbal acceptance, the other under discussion, with Meisha Merlin.

Vision: Thank you for taking this time for this interview. Any last words you'd like to say to our readers?

Lee:  It's been my pleasure.  As for "any last words" -- what's to say but write good stories, submit them, and keep at it until you can't or until those who love you pull an intervention.

Be sure to stop by Lee Martindale's web site, Harphaven, at: http://www.harphaven.net/