What’s It All About?

Statistically, you’re reading this because you’re already somewhat a fan of mine. Maybe only a slight one. Maybe a deeply infatuated one (I’d like to believe). Maybe just a semi-curious person who heard my name bandied about somewhere or accidentally typed a random series of letters that just happened to lead to this web address. Regardless, you’re probably not discovering me by just dropping in.

This is the eternal problem all artists face. I can post and make every effort to be a web presence, but people already know where they like to go on the internet, and if I’m not on their list, I’m not going to make it. So let’s just assume you’re here because you’re familiar with my work.

I’m going to suggest maybe you don’t understand it.

I know. It’s about as stupid a thing as an artist can write. It’s pretentious and self-righteous and, jeepers, does it sound obnoxious. But I’ve been published for ten years now, and I’ve done all right. Yet I can’t escape the shadows of certain giants that shall remain nameless. My books are often dismissed as brain candy or fluff or slight amusements, and I’ve mostly sat on the sidelines and accepted it, assuming someone would get it someday.

And some people do.

But for those who don’t, I’m here to spell it out. Yeah, it’s not a great sign for an artist’s ability if he needs to explain his work, but it’s also entirely possible that people are so busy trying to interpret my work through the lens of the work of other authors that they aren’t really looking for what I’m trying to do. Instead, they frame it in terms of others in my field are attempting, and by doing so, I’m inevitably on the losing end of that battle because A) they’re already giants so I can’t compete with them and B) I’m not trying to compete with them in the first place.

It might seem weird to think that, despite the wide range of fantasy and sci fi genres I’ve explored, there’s a linking theme, but there is. And that theme is pretty obvious if you’re looking for it.

Life is weird, confusing, and difficult. We are not in control of our own destiny. We are at the mercy of forces beyond our ken. And the best way to get through this thing called life is to stick together and help each other out.

Seriously. That’s it. That’s what every A. Lee Martinez story up to this point has been about. Whether we’re talking about vampires or space squids, robots or moon monsters, it’s always the same theme, time and time again.

I don’t write satire. Satire is intentionally ridiculing through exaggeration. I’m not ridiculing anything. I’m not commenting on society. I’m not poking fun at culture or other topical issues.

I don’t write farce. Farce is comedy through exaggerated buffoonery, slapstick, etc. I’m not doing that.

I’m not writing parodies. I love the sci fi and fantasy genres. Why would I waste a whole book making fun of them?

No, I’m writing about what it means to live in a weird universe. And, in case you weren’t paying attention, you and me and everyone else kind of do. We might not have to deal with the same level of weirdness as my protagonists, but it’s still all there. The difficulties, the ups and downs, the uncertainty. And through it all, it’s our relationships that tend to keep us going.

That’s what every A. Lee Martinez story is about, thematically.

Let’s break it down, shall we?

In Gil’s All Fright Diner, a couple of combative friends stand against the end of the world. They fight. They wrestle with the expectations of the world around them (both as men and monsters). The vampire overcomes his aversion to ghosts to somehow create a real relationship. And when the end of the world happens, it’s only by working together that these characters (and a few others) save the day. (Spoiler alert.)

In In the Company of Ogres, a loser who can’t die gets assigned to a military unit of losers and misfits. Somehow, this disparate group of individuals comes together to save the day. Also, the big bad isn’t really that bad, and ultimately, the day is saved when he sees these lowly creatures as worthy of respect precisely because of their silly, pointless struggles.

In A Nameless Witch, a cursed witch ends up building a weird family unit around her, falling in love, and through that love (say it with me now) saving the world. It isn’t a story that promises love conquers all, but it does conquer some. And maybe that’s more than enough.

The Automatic Detective: An aimless reformed robot finds purpose through connections to the strange biological creatures that surround him.

Too Many Curses: In a castle full of cursed residents, the only thing they can count on is each other. And Nessy’s heroic quality is her compassion, kindness, and patience to all those troublesome souls around her.

Monster is sort of the anti-theme of this list because it’s sort of a tragedy that Monster himself can’t really stop pondering his own problems to form lasting friendships. Even then, it’s his temporary one that ends up helping to … save the world.

Divine Misfortune: Gods learn that even immortality doesn’t free one from the burden of living with and for other people, and the rewards that come with embracing that responsibility.

Chasing the Moon: Basically, Cthulhu learns about people and finds himself identifying with them in a way that changes his whole outlook.

Emperor Mollusk versus the Sinister Brain: Even if you’re the smartest guy in the universe, it doesn’t mean you don’t need some help now and then. And what good is unlimited power without some guiding intent, hopefully benevolent?

Helen & Troy’s Epic Road Quest: Two young people struggle with the barriers that bind them, both personally and culturally, and find strength in each other. And a group of aging orcs discover kinship on the road.

And now, The Last Adventure of Constance Verity. It is, above all, a story about an extraordinary woman wrestling with the same dilemmas we all face. She can save the world, but she still isn’t master of her own fate. There are things she wants she can’t have, and one of those things is a nice, simple day where nothing goes wrong.

Can’t we all relate?

As we draw closer to The Last Adventure of Constance Verity‘s release, I’ll be talking more about it and my books in general. For too long, I’ve expected people to get what I do while mostly being dismissed as a silly writer who writes silly books. This isn’t likely to change many people’s opinions, but if you’re on the fence or if you love my books but could never put your finger on why, I’ll be happy to give you a reason or two.

Yep, we’re doing A. Lee Martinez on A. Lee Martinez. It might be indulgent, but somebody has to do it, right? Might as well be me.

Keelah Se’lai

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,


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  1. Posted June 3, 2016 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    I guess I don’t personally understand the negative feelings toward comedy as a lesser or easier genre (said the guy whose first novel was a comedy). No one can reasonably say the writers of The Simpsons or Gravity Falls or Monty Python or hell, Mark Twain, were lazy or hacky or shallow or “just” comedians. Maybe that perception continues to exist about humor among some, but I would argue it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

    That said, even if you don’t consider your own works to be comedies, I’d say the reason they’re often perceived as such is because they do have elements of comedy in them. Your worlds are strange, even by fantasy standards. Characters often have blase, flippant reactions to the strangeness that surrounds them. Genre conventions are often turned on their heads in amusing ways (e.g. the deadliest monster in the world is a murderous duck). And there are many situations that do provoke laughter, not because they’re comedian-style jokes, but because they’re just so much damn fun. I won’t argue with you on the underlying morality or complexity of your works (I agree, in fact), but people tend to like to pigeonhole stories, and since such a major and noticeable element is the laughter, you get classified, fair or not, as comedic. I think that’s a function of the audience often not noticing large swaths of what the author puts into a work. This is probably especially true of works that make people laugh, because of the often reinforced notion that anything we enjoy reading is fluff and anything that makes us sad or bored is sophisticated.

    Anyway, I’m probably rambling at this point, but I guess I would say there’s nothing worth dismissing about works that make us laugh, and your works, among other things, most assuredly do that.

  2. Posted June 4, 2016 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    great post! i love this almost as much as i love your books.

  3. Blayne Jessup
    Posted June 5, 2016 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Well it’s nice to know why I enjoy your books even if I hadn’t quite been able to pin point it before. I think another thing that helps is that they end (at least for me) with a sense of optimism. Things might not be perfect at the ending, but once the challenge is overcome things are better even if just a little bit. It’s very refreshing given how much doom and gloom is on the market right now. As long as you keep writing I’ll keep reading.

    Another short with Nessie would be appreciated.

  4. Rodney Baker
    Posted June 17, 2016 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    I’ve realized today that you are my favorite author. I was looking through my book collection the other day trying to decide what to reread and when I looked at everything I knew it was going to be one of your books. And it’s all because of your ‘linking theme’.

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