The popular romantic-suspense novelist discusses genre, character development, and her workaholic nature.
Kat Martin is the author of more than 60 novels. She has achieved worldwide fame with her books and continues to appear on the New York Times bestseller list. When I interviewed her, I found her to be as intriguing as the stories she so masterfully writes.
You became a writer by accident. Could you talk a bit about that?
I had never thought about becoming a writer until I met my future husband, L.J. Martin, who had written an historical Western novel I loved. I was helping him work on the editing, not his strong suit — grammar, spelling, the basics. The more I dabbled, the more I thought maybe I could write a book. I had always had a lot of stories in my head, and I also read a lot. The next thing I knew, I was writing my own novel. Magnificent Passage was my first book.
You've written several types of romances since your first book was published in 1988. Which category is your favorite and why?
My favorite is contemporary romantic suspense, without question. I love the challenge of coming up with fast-paced, intriguing stories. In my new book, Against the Tide, the characters are in peril from the opening scene, and the problems only get more intense. I love helping them find ways out of their dilemmas. I also like the freedom to use a broader range of language, different from writing historicals.
Is it difficult for you to create characters?
My characters mostly develop out of the plot. I need a certain kind of man/woman to tell the tale. Occasionally, I start with the main characters, as I did with the three brothers in my Brodies of Alaska series. I let the characters develop from the story itself.
Do you find it challenging to keep a series going?
My stories are each so different, I have a lot of latitude. I like writing detectives, ex-military, or just take-charge kind of guys. In Against the Tide, Rafe Brodie owns a charter fishing boat fleet in Alaska. He's sucked into a mystery that becomes deadly, but he's the tough, rugged kind of man who can handle it. With those kinds of characters, I'm pretty wide open when it comes to story. The trick is to find the right woman to help tell the tale.
Do you outline?
I write a synopsis before I start. I used to write a 20- to 24-page short story that was the entire book. I don't have time for that now. I write about five or six pages and use those to keep me focused. If I had more time, I'd do a full synopsis for every book.
How does a typical writing day go for you?
I'm a workaholic. That means every day is a workday for me. Unless I'm at a conference or traveling, I'm working. I do some promo in the mornings, then write all afternoon. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, I go to the gym, then do promo, then writing.
How long does it take you to complete a book?
Six months if I want to have any sort of a life at all. I like to stay a little ahead of my deadline so I can take time off once in a while. This year, we'll be in Europe for about three weeks.
What is the best part about being a writer?
The personal challenge. Being able to work from home, set your own schedule. Meeting interesting people both in and out of the business. It always feels great when a book turns out the way you want it.
Do you think any of your novels will ever be made into films?
I'm constantly hoping for that. I think in terms of scenes, so my books should lend themselves well. Biggest problem is that they are a little too complex. That, and convincing a movie company to make it happen!
What advice would you give to others who want to write for the romance market?
Anyone can do it today. If your goal is to write a book and put it up on the internet and hope someone will read it, just do it. There’s lots of help out there for self-publishing your novel. If your goal is to make a living, then that is something else. Traditional publishers are the best way to get your book in front of a reader. Each one is a little billboard. That said, certainly there are ways to make plenty of money in digital self-publishing. I have no idea how to do it, but some authors do. The best is probably a combination of both.
If you could write any other genre, which would it be and why?
I wouldn't chose anything but what I am writing now — romantic suspense. I've particularly loved writing my three Alaska books because I got to add the setting, which became almost a character in itself. I love what I'm doing now. If I wanted to write something else, I would. After 40 historicals that always included a lot of suspense, I decided to change from historical to contemporary. It was my decision, and I had to fight the publishers in order to make it happen. I still have my first effort in a drawer. I've completely rewritten it. I'm hoping someday to find the courage to put it out on the market.
Barbara Irvin writes a monthly column, Prose as Profession, for the Independent.