Greetings Action Force,
With less than a month until The Last Adventure of Constance Verity hits the streets, I’ve found myself in that strange position every lower mid-list writer ends up at. I have absolutely no idea if anyone is excited for this book or if anyone’s even aware of its existence. It could very well come out and make a splash or disappear with nary a ripple in the public consciousness. Something every writer learns at some point is that most of this is genuinely out of our control. For all the helpful tips about how to market and raise awareness, the internet is still a crapshoot and what works or doesn’t work is mostly a matter of chance. I’m sure you can find someone to disagree, but by my estimation, those are the lucky ones who managed to get noticed and assume it was because they did something right. They might even have, but it doesn’t mean that luck isn’t a huge factor.
I can’t control whether the universe notices or cares about what I write, but I can at least talk about my own feelings on it. And maybe the best way to convince someone Constance Verity is worth buying is to talk about what I’ve written before. Odds are good if you’re here, you’ve probably read one or two of my previous offerings.
Let’s talk about Gil’s All Fright Diner.
My first published novel, Gil’s is still probably what I’m best known for. It’s a quirky buddy comedy rural horror homage adventure, and I was fortunate enough that it was well-received both critically and commercially. Has it really been ten years since its publication? Where does the time go?
Gil’s created the expectations for who I was as a writer, and I still occasionally struggle against those expectations. Because there’s some crude language in the book (mostly from Earl the vampire), some people still think of me as a crude writer, even though most of my novels don’t feature much swearing. And because it has strong comedic elements, I’m forever stuck in the “Fantasy Comedy” category for a lot of folks. And, yes, I write some funny stuff, and every novel I’ve ever written has a lot of humor in it, but I’ve never intended to be a funny writer, which is often surprising, even to those who call themselves my fans.
Gil’s set the template for much of what I do in other ways as well. It’s a genre novel that subverts and tweaks conventions. Many people seem to think of these tweaks as elements of parody or farce. This isn’t true from a technical perspective, nor has it ever been my intent. I love the fantasy genre. I’m not trying to deconstruct or diminish it. I’m simply trying to do something a little different without tearing the whole thing to the ground.
I am not too cool for fantasy. I know that a lot of writers in the genre like to make a big deal about how they’re writing “realistic” fantasy worlds, which often translates into stories where the fantasy elements are deliberately underplayed or pushed to the wayside. But I love the fantastic elements of fantasy. I’m unapologetic in my delight for giant robots, monsters, and rayguns. And Gil’s shows that in full.
The novel is brimming with fantastic elements. Its protagonists are monsters (though not monstrous). Its setting is a small town full of the supernatural, where everyone has become so used to the unnatural that they’ve come to accept it in stride. That typical brand of nonchalance that pops up in my novels tends to convince people that I’m not taking it seriously. But I do take it seriously, and I do care a heck of a lot about the stories, the characters, and the worlds that I create. They aren’t just punchlines.
One of the reasons I rarely consider my stories “funny” is that while the humor adds a lot to the story and is a recognizable part of my style, all the stories could be written in more “straight” form and still work as stories. They might not be as delightful or engaging, but the framework of fantasy adventure still would function.
The problem is how to describe Gil’s (or much of anything I’ve written) without making it sound like silly comedy. I don’t always succeed at this myself. If you tell someone that this is the story of a vampire and a werewolf in the Southwest who find a town crawling with ghosts and magic who team up with a graveyard spirit, a ghost dog, a diner owner, and a sheriff to stop a teenage girl from destroying the world, they’re bound to think it’s a silly story.
Let’s not even bring up the zombie cows.
In the end though, Gil’s also set the common theme of everything I’ve ever written. It’s about two friends who fight and don’t always get along, who struggle with the expectations of being monsters. Duke and Earl struggle to maintain a friendship but it’s something that keeps them going. Loretta is running a diner in the middle of nowhere who struggles nightly against the forces of darkness through sheer stubbornness. Sheriff Marshall Kopp is the thin line between evil and his town who never makes a big deal about it. And everyone in Rockwood deals with life as best they can.
The most defining element to Gil’s will always be the romance between Earl the vampire and Cathy the ghost. It was an unexpected surprise even for me, and yet Earl overcoming his dislike of ghosts and Cathy’s stubborn resolve in the face of oblivion are essential to the story. I’ve loved their relationship for years, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever written. Individually, Earl and Cathy and Duke could never save the world. Together, they can.
And that theme of togetherness, of working together, runs through every novel I’ve ever written.
Gil’s has its flaws. I’ve talked before about the reception of Loretta, and the cheap fat jokes thrown her way. It doesn’t always work, and it can even come across as insulting at times. It’s perhaps the jokiest part of the novel and often the least interesting. Loretta is a great character, and I love her. But the way the narration occasionally treats her doesn’t make me happy these days. Nobody’s perfect, and I don’t seek to expunge those problems or act like they aren’t there. I’ll gladly take the criticism, and I’ll acknowledge the missteps. Since then, I think I’ve avoided such simplistic and easy targets, and I’d like to think Loretta comes out better than worse. Still, it’s something that’s come to bother me about the story. But Loretta is more than a joke. She’s no pushover. She’s rough around the edges, but she’s hard as nails. She’s a woman with a lot to admire about her, even when the narration makes an easy target of her.
Is Gil’s the definitive A. Lee Martinez novel? I hope not. Not because I don’t like it but because I don’t like the idea of there even being a definitive A. Lee Martinez novel. I am not looking for a single magnum opus. I’m looking to create a body of work I can feel proud of, and I think, despite some flaws, Gil’s is a great book to start my publishing career with.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,