A New Novel, a Psychic Protagonist, and a Head Full of Writerly Aspirations: interview with Sophia Martin

Good news for paranormal mystery enthusiasts! Yesterday, self-published authoress Sophia Martin put the finishing touches on The Plane and the Parade, which will be available for electronic purchase EXTREMELY SOON!

In Plane, the third in the Veronica Barry series, the reader will find our psychic heroine right where we left her: same house by the train tracks; same loyal BFF; same dashing, detective boyfriend. And, of course, Veronica still has visions, this time featuring both plane crashes and bioterrorism. Additional dust is kicked up with the return of an old flame, known among the characters for his past mischief in the novella, Veronica in Paris.

Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing Martin via email…

KB: What inspired Veronica Barry?

SM: I've always felt a little psychic (and that phrase always brings to mind Daphne Moon from Frazier: "I'm a little bit psychic."). And I love the show Medium, as well as Law & Order. Plus, I liked the chemistry between Melinda and her husband Jim in Ghost Whisperer, and have had a crush on Daniel Dae Kim since he was on Angel. (I watch too much TV.) Since I couldn't find novels to read that had all (or even most) of these elements, I wanted to write a novel that let me include them. It's actually pretty surprising to me that there aren't more psychic detective novels. There are a few, but not many. Of course, having your detective be psychic does make keeping her from unraveling the mystery too soon pretty challenging.

KB: How did Plane come about?

SM: I think the main inspiration was how angry I felt (and still feel) about the behavior of the Westboro Baptist Church's fanatical leaders and congregation. I realize Westboro disavows violence. I made sure that my pseudo-Westboro church's pastor clearly stated that as well. However, I think the actions of fanatics like Phelps and his followers embody another kind of violence, and I could see some member of the congregation deciding to take things a step or two further, as a result.

I also had decided a while ago that the next book would see the return of Eric.

KB: Okay, I gotta ask: bioterrorism... where in your milieu and imagination did that sprout from?

SM: That actually took some hammering out. At first, I just wanted a bomb, but I needed a reason to have one of the villains be in a plane. I did a lot of brainstorming and asked for help on AbsoluteWrite.com's forums, and eventually hit on bioterrorism instead.

KB: Veronica lives in Sacramento. Why the state capitol? In a future novel, will Veronica have visions about the government?

SM: I lived in Sac for six months and really loved it. It's a city but it's not as overwhelmingly large as say, San Diego. Veronica's duplex is pretty much exactly what my place looked like.

Veronica is probably going to stay out of politics, but really, you never know. If a politician manages to do something that gets under my skin, we might end up seeing Veronica go after a character loosely based on him or her.

KB: How do all these teenagers manage to crawl into your books?

SM: I'm a high school teacher, and the students my school serves often come from very disadvantaged backgrounds. They are frequently hard to work with, both on a day-to-day level in terms of cooperation, but also because I hear the most awful stories. Writing about them is a way to both attempt to get past my frustrations or distress over the interactions I'm having with them (Lola was very much inspired by a student like this) and to process those terrible true stories.

KB: Murder mysteries have a bit of a reputation of being mind candy. Am I right to surmise that it can be hard writing about murder? How difficult was Plane compared to the others?

SM: It's certainly hard for me. I can't speak for all authors, and my impression of some of the violence I read is that it's a game for the authors to write it. They don't see it as something real. But who am I to judge? Speaking for myself, violence always gets to me. So when a story calls for a scene that involves violence, I really have to push myself to get through it, and to reread it. I also think it's important not to sugarcoat it, although I may not get into minute details when I describe it. It's important not to downplay suffering. Even though it's a fictional story, these are situations that really happen to real people, and I want to recognize that. I think I have this compulsion to write violence despite the fact that it bothers me so much because I'm trying to honor victims of violence and hold perpetrators accountable. There's something I like to tell my history students: "Sometimes the only justice you can give someone is to remember them." Again, these are novels, so it's a little different. I just really want to say something real with the violent stories I tell.

Plane wasn't different than the rest of my novels in this respect. My writing often arises from outrage when I write about someone experiencing violence, and Plane definitely has that.

KB: What keeps you coming back to writing ghost stories?

SM: I don't know. I also recently realized that dreams figure in all of my stories. I don't know what that's all about.

KB: So, you've got the Veronica series, and you've started publishing a serial novel, The City Darkens, but only one stand-alone novel. Would you say you prefer the series/serial form? Why does that appeal to you?

SM: Yes, I do like the series form better. In fact, I'm starting to work on a sequel to The City Darkens, as well. I prefer to read books in a series, so I suppose it follows that that's how I think when I'm writing. Broken Ones, my only stand-alone, represents a moment when I broke through some serious writer's block and depression and started writing again after many years, so it's probably just a different kind of work than the rest. Nowadays I write to entertain myself and process things that are bothering me.

KB: When you've committed yourself to writing a series, at some point, is it hard to come up with new material? What are the pros and cons of working within the limitations of Veronica's world (if you would call them limitations)?

SM: So far, so good. I guess my take on it is to not expect to continue past the book I'm on. Then later, if an idea comes to me, fantastic. With the Veronica books, it helps that I'm still fascinated by law in general. In another life I went to law school and worked my way up to becoming a DA. Or maybe a Supreme Court Justice.

KB: The second in the series, The Fire and the Veil, does some exploration of religious subculture (...if one could call one of the world's largest religions subcultural). Louise, the protagonist of Broken Ones, is a professor and cultural anthropologist. Of the three majors you went through, was cultural anthropology among them?

SM: Actually, no. I did study a lot of cultural history, though, which is related.

KB: For those who dig the Veronica Barry novels (paranormal, mystery, etc.) and want to read something like them, what would you recommend?

SM: That's a tough question, because I haven't found a psychic detective series that I personally enjoy. I would recommend the Stephanie Plum mystery series, though, and for paranormal mysteries, Kim Harrison's The Hollows series.

KB: Self-publishing. How's that working for you? Are there any self-published indie writers you'd recommend?

SM: I wish I had a long list. Currently I'm reading Moonlight, Murder and Machinery by John Paul Catton, and it's well written, but I still feel like it needs a beta-reader to catch typos, the occasionally awkward phrase, and dialogue that is too modern for the setting. You should offer him your services, Kathryn! But all in all, it's one of the best indie published books I've come across. Too often people publish books that are not very well written for myriad reasons. I love and hate indie publishing for that reason. On the one hand, it levels the playing field in a very democratic way. I probably would not be published without it, and I've had my own share of typos turn up in works I thought were spotless, so I'm not judging on that level. It's more like there are authors who are publishing the first novel they ever wrote, and they aren't running it by beta readers or writing groups first. You kinda have to do that because when you're new to writing, you don't know what some of the common mistakes are.

I haven't read Joe Konrath or Amanda Hocking (because they don't write genres I read), though, and they must be doing something right because look at how wildly successful they are. There are also a lot of authors earning enough to live on, like Michael R. Hicks. It's more the latter that inspire me, because I really want to get to the point where I'm living off of my writing. At the moment, that's far from the case, but my sales did double this month already. So I'm hopeful!

UPDATE (April 16): The Plane and the Parade is now available on Kindle!

UPDATE (April 17): Also available on Nook!