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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Tips On Small Presses and Punchy Writing From Mystery Author Dr. Martin Hill Ortiz (Alt Title: Inside The Mind of A Man Who Writes About Murder!)

Hey friends, I've got a treat for you today! Dr. Martin Hill Ortiz, a friend of mine and a multi-published mystery author, joins us to share some insight into his writing process and his experience with small presses. One of Dr. HIll's particular strengths is punchy, fast-paced writing, and I know a lot of you out there have questions about that, so I asked him for some tips to share with you all!

Ahem, is this mike working?

Dr. Martin Hill Ortiz, also writing under the name, Martin Hill, is the author of four mystery-thrillers, most recently A Predator's Game from Rook's Page Publishing and Never Kill A Friend from Ransom Note Press. Also the recipient of a number of poetry awards, Dr. Hill joins us today from sunny Puerto Rico, where he currently works as a medical science researcher and Professor of Pharmacology, blending the analytic with the poetic side of his mind.

Dr. Hill, what brought you into writing, in general--and, more specifically, what kindled your interest in mysteries?

Even now I can hear my father's basso profundo
 voice as he reads aloud adventure stories as he once did for me and my brothers. Leiningen Versus the Ants, The Problem of Cell 13, Doc Savage! The singular comfort of written words woven into a net in which to catch both dream and a dreamer: that was my first love of story. The mysteries which I enjoyed were those that created a sense of order, both structural and moral.

I enjoy plot. That draws me to mystery.

You've had a number of eclectic life experiences to draw upon as a writer. Can you tell us a little bit about your murder research?

I spent about a dozen years researching the case commonly called the West Memphis Three. Why? The sheer injustice. The fact that it had become a crowd-sourced investigation and that it was possible to gather more and more clues over an extended period of time. 

As I understand it, your research assisted in getting the case overturned.

I assembled a large website, jivepuppi.com, dedicated to my research and that of others. I have appeared as an expert in the documentary West of Memphis. Because of this experience, I better understand the justice system, police and criminal behavior, and the meaning of evidence and its limits. 

That's really amazing experience to have under your belt as a mystery writer. You also directed a theatre for a while, correct?

I wrote for the theater before my ventures into short stories and novels. It has an artifice, but it also has disciplines that translate into other writing forms. You must set the stage. You must invest the audience (i.e. reader) in what is going on. If I lose my audience, it is my fault. Directing was a hair-pulling experience.

You've also got a lot of experience working with small presses, and a lot of my readers are looking into small press publication themselves. Do you have any tips for them?

After writing several novels for which I could not find a publisher, (about half of them didn't deserve to be published), I turned my sights on small publishers. Almost immediately I received three responses back from three different presses for three different projects. They all were eventually published. What did I learn? 

Small publishers have different levels of professionalism. It is relatively easy to get a novel published (it actually is) but to get a professional small publisher is more difficult. 

A novel needs editing and professional packaging. That's the minimum to ask for from a small publisher. The next matter is publicity. To be in a small press, you are responsible for a fraction of your publicity, from between 50% to 100%. Be prepared for that.

What about writing-related tips? What are your writing strengths, per se?

Writing tips? You'll read a bunch of them on-line. Here's a couple. Choose the strongest, most vivid verb that is supported by what you are saying. When in doubt, be clear.

For more forceful writing, arrange a sentence so that the most meaningful words appear at the end as a punch. Look at this bit of Shakespeare taking into consideration the final word and its adjective or just the final word. 

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Tomorrow, day, recorded time. Then fools, brief candle, poor player, stage, tale, fury - ending with - nothing.

Or if you insist on following the punctuation: dusty death, brief candle, no more, nothing.

It works out to be a bunch of quick punches. I often use this technique to make flaccid sentence firm. Shakespeare also employs another powerful technique here: using a variety of words to convey the same theme. (And other than the triplet of tomorrows, the words are always varied.)

The first theme, time. Tomorrow, day, recorded time, yesterdays, brief, hour.

The second theme, futility and insignificance. Petty pace, fools, shadow, no more, idiot, nothing.

The third theme, story. syllable, player, stage, tale.

My writing strengths? An ability to envision the story I am telling. An ability to hold in mind the big picture while compounding the details. I have a facility for poetry.

That's really helpful, I think. What about weakness--what's a word you overuse, or something else you're trying to beef up about your writing?

My storytelling is somewhat breathless. I generally don't give the reader enough character development and motivation.

I overuse "get" and "give." I have to pore over my stories to look for instances where these words can be changed. I put together my own thesaurus with about fifty words which I can overuse and alternative choices. 

That's actually also a really good tip--a personal correction thesaurus! Writing that one down! Now, for something more fun, to close this out: if you had to describe your writing in one sound, what would that sound be?

If I made this sound, your ears would fall off.

Who's your favorite writer right now?

Right now? At this very instant? Me, since I am busy writing this and I am not reading something else.

Ha! And finally, what are you working on? What kind of cool things do you have coming down the pipe or already out? 

I'm almost done with the sequel to Never Kill A Friend [a police thriller about an African American policewoman taking on DC corruption and human trafficking]. Then on to a short story or two that have been waiting to come out. Then I'll weigh my options on my next novel.

A Predator's Game by Martin Hill Ortiz
Looking forward to it all. Thanks very much for doing this interview with us--I know my readers will want to check out your work,  so I've included a link to your novel about Nikola Tesla, Arthur Conan Doyle and Dr. Henry H. Holmes in this nifty picture here for the history mystery buffs. I also encourage readers to check out your blog, where you analyze New York Times bestseller data for authors and break down historical fact and fiction about Tesla, et al, for history fans. 

Thanks for stopping by, everyone! Feel free to share more questions for Dr. Hill below, or tell me this: what are your favorite mystery stories?

Looking for more? Read more author interviews here, or request your own interview with me via twitter, @petr3pan. Looking forward to hearing from you!

1 comment:

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