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  • Bryan W. Alaspa

An interview with author TJ Martinson about his debut novel Reign of the Kingfisher

I love when I get to meet and chat with a new writer. I had the great fortune of being told about this new novel The Reign of the Kingfisher by a gentleman named T.J. Martinson. It sounded so interesting, I had to get it. I did get it for my Kindle and when I realized it was set in Chicago and Mr. Martinson was from the Chicago area, I had to reach out.

Turns out T.J. Martinson is an awesome guy in general. He was willing to stop by this little blog and I sent him some questions and he was agreeable to answer.

The Reign of the Kingfisher is an amazing debut novel and indicates exciting things to come from Mr. Martinson. It's crime thriller, but also a mystery, thriller, detective story and, yes, there's a bit of a gritty superhero bent.

By why listen to me? Read what TJ Martinson says about his novel in his own words and then run to your local indie bookshop or click the links below to get your copy of The Reign of the Kingfisher.

Let's start off simply and give us an idea of what your book is about.

In The Reign of the Kingfisher, a masked gunman has taken hostages and releases videos in which he threatens to kill them one-by-one unless the Chicago Police Department will admit that they helped fake the death of the city’s superhero thirty years prior, and he also demands they release files that he says will prove his claim. A retired journalist, a disgraced police officer, and a hacktivist separately decide to get to the truth in order to save the hostages. As their paths begin to cross, they are faced with the difficult tasks of separating conspiracy from fact, hero from villain, and right from wrong.

So, let's start with the question every writer gets (even from other writers) - where did you get the idea for Reign of the Kingfisher?

Several years ago when Marvel began mass-producing superhero movie adaptations, I was really struck by pretty clear formula that each of these movies abides by (the comic books do so as well, but in less striking fashion). Each follows the prototypical “hero’s journey” unerringly, and I thought it might be interesting to dip my toe into the genre to see if there was room in the superhero-world to do something a little bit different—to decenter the superhero and instead focus on characters who, in a more conventional superhero story, would otherwise play very minor roles. Doing so created a really great opportunity to explore the messiness that often goes overlooked in our superhero mythologies—for example, the lines between justice and cruelty, or even good and evil.

Now, you're a native Chicagoan, correct? How much of a part did living in Chicago play in helping you write this book?

I grew up an hour due south of Chicago proper, right on the Metra line, so I went up to there as much as I possibly could. Chicago, to me, always possessed a mythical quality to it, no matter how familiar I came to be with it. It’s an incredible mix of imposing and beautiful that I felt like it was really the ideal backdrop to a superhero novel. Moreover, it’s a city that’s often imagined or portrayed in an oppressively bleak way (i.e., Christopher Nolan’s Gotham City), but in reality it’s a sort of fantastical place that doesn’t require too much suspension of disbelief to imagine a superhero watching over its streets.

Reign of the Kingfisher has been described as a "superhero" book, but I'd disagree with that. It's much more complex. It's really a mystery/thriller and a detective story. How do you feel about the rather simplistic genre it seems to be lumped into?

I would also hesitate to call it a “superhero” book, and I also certainly see it more as a mystery/thriller/detective story. It’s tough, though, to describe it as a crime novel when, at the first mention of a superhero, people inevitably expect the standard superhero elements that this book really doesn’t deal with much. So, while I do conceive of it as a crime novel at its core, I like the idea of it also existing in the “superhero” realm as a less conventional superhero story that devoted comic books fans may also enjoy.

Were you a comic book fan? Are you still? Who were your favorite heroes?

I was a big comic book fan growing up—I read mostly Batman and The Incredible Hulk (I was too young and innocent to know of the deep rivalry between Marvel and DC). I still consider myself a fan, but because I’ve been in graduate school for six years, I just haven’t had the time to keep up, sadly. Maybe one day I’ll find the time to delve back in and see what’s been going on.

When did you decide you really wanted to write a novel? You seem to be involved in quite a few other things outside of writing.

I knew I wanted to write novels by the time I was a freshman in college. In the nine years since then, I’ve written quite a few that didn’t really go anywhere, but they were critical in my development as a writer. I also knew that I wanted to be able to teach literature, as well, so I’m getting a PhD in English, which can make finding time to write difficult, but I’ve found that my academic work and my creative work inform each other in really useful ways.

Do you have plans for more novels? Any hints?

I’m working on a new novel currently that I’m very excited about. As far as hints go, I suppose I would say that it’s about a “simple” crime gone terribly, terribly wrong.

How would you describe your writing process? Do you follow the same sort of procedure every time you sit down to write?

I try to write an hour or two each day. I think it’s really important to stay sharp and practiced, especially when you’re working on something as involved and arduous as a novel. But because I’m also working on a dissertation and teaching, it can be really hard to find that time, much less stick to a firm schedule. But regardless, I always write in my office in total silence. I get distracted far too easily to risk writing at a café or with music playing. And, if possible, I like to read a few chapters of whatever book I’m reading at the time before I write in order to relax a bit and get into a good mindset.

What's your favorite thing about writing? OK, how about the thing you hate most about writing?

Anyone who writes knows that feeling where every single word you are writing is pure gold and you are so totally “in the zone.” That’s one of the best (and rarest) highs in the world. Most days it looks much different. So, that’s my favorite thing about writing. The thing I hate most about writing is the halfway point—without exception, when I reach the midway point in the initial draft of a novel, it all begins to look like absolute garbage and I’m tempted to trash it. I’m not totally sure why this is, but I think it’s because writing the beginning of a novel is so exciting (it’s happening!) and writing the end is so exciting (I did it!) that the middle can make you begin to question the trajectory, the feasibility, and the worth of the project. It takes a lot of mental effort to keep with it and see it through despite the myriad doubts and fears and existential despair, but once I cross that midway threshold, it’s mostly downhill from there.

Who have some of your biggest writing influences been?

Alan Moore was a big influence for The Reign of the Kingfisher, but more generally, I’ve been influenced by Emily St. John Mandel, Jeff Vandermeer, Don Delillo, Zadie Smith, David Mitchell, and of course many, many others.

How do you feel about the world of writing and publishing today? You have a more traditional approach. I mostly work with small press and self-publishing. Do you think this is a good thing or bad thing?

I really don’t think that there is any one “right” way to publish. So much of it depends on the writer and their personal preference. Given that we live in a world saturated with social media, self-publishing can be a totally viable option for writers who are digitally savvy and are willing/able to put in the work to promote themselves and get attention for their work. Either avenue—traditional publishing or self-publishing—is going to have pros and cons, but for me, personally, the traditional route was preferable because I’m really pretty new to the industry and the support system that a traditional publisher has in place was really helpful for me to find my feet.

Anything else you'd like people to know about your book, writing or ... anything?

I guess I’ll use this question to ask people who are interested in the book to buy it from a local independent bookseller. It’s so important to support independent booksellers, and the folks who work there are among the most knowledgeable and enjoyable book-people there are in this world!

Finally, if you had advice for people out there considering writing their first novel, what would it be?

I’d suggest finding a writing schedule that works for you. Writing a novel is a really long, involved, and strenuous process, so a schedule that is sustainable, realistic, and efficient is crucial, but what that looks like in practice varies from person to person. And even more importantly, when you’re working on your novel, ALWAYS finish the draft. Even if you don’t think it will amount to anything, finishing a novel will make you a much better novelist, and you’ll improve your writing drastically just by sticking through to the end.

Thank you so much for stopping by and for answering my questions TJ Martinson. Be sure to check out The Reign of the Kingfisher wherever books are sold or via THIS LINK.

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