Happy Halloween, everyone! Today completes my October series of interviews with horror authors, and I have a special treat for horror fans with an up close ad personal interview with Martin Lastrapes, author of Inside the Outside. Martin has written an outstanding debut novel that the girls over at Biblio Babes rated 10 out of 10. Read Cara's review. Read Kat's review.
Brian: Martin, your debut horror novel Inside the Outside is about a young woman who was born inside a cult of cannibals and escapes into the outside world. I just love the concept. Can you give us a few meaty morsels about the story and about how you decided to write about cannibals?
Martin: Well, the main character is Timber Marlow, a teenage girl who was born and raised in a cult up in the San Bernardino Mountains. Cannibalism is one of the core tenants of the cult’s belief system, so she grows up believing, among other things, that killing and eating people is normal. I liked the idea of writing a story about a sympathetic killer.
Brian: You’ve come up with an original character with Timber Marlow. I mean, by the time she’s 15, she’s already killed three men. Give us some background on how you came up with her character. Did you develop her from the beginning or did her multi-dimensions evolve over the course of writing the book?
Martin: The only thing I knew about Timber Marlow before I set out to write her story was she was a woman. I was fascinated with the idea of creating a female killer, since, historically, there aren’t a lot of female killers in literature. Other than that, she was basically a blank slate who developed organically along with the story itself.
Brian: Who is Timber’s main nemesis and why?
Martin: The primary nemesis that readers will probably connect with her is Daddy Marlow, the leader of the cult. He is a big, brutal man who does quite a few terrible things to Timber. But, more than any one character, I think Timber’s real nemesis is the cult itself and the tension that builds as it becomes clear she needs to get out.
Brian: Which do you create first … the plot or the characters?
Martin: Ideally, the plot comes first. For me, characters are there to serve the story and not the other way around. The best reading experiences I’ve had involve books with great narrative plots, so, naturally, those are the types I’ve books I want to write. That being said, once I’ve worked out the plot, I take great care in developing my characters, making them as real and interesting as possible.
Brian: What kind of research did you do? Did you visit any of the locations you wrote about or do it all from the Internet?
Martin: Most of the research I did was relegated towards the cannibal stuff. I tried to learn as much as I reasonably could about the human anatomy and what happens to a body after it dies. I also did quite a bit of research on sustainable living communities, as the cult in the book exists off the grid. As far as the locations went, I wrote mostly from memory, since I grew up around where the book takes place. I do the majority of my research with books. The Internet is great for little things, but, for the big ideas, books are the way to go.
Brian: How did a man who loves pizza and watches movies over and again get started writing fiction? And were you always drawn to horror thrillers or did you try your hand at other genres?
Martin: I wanted to be a screenwriter and I figured if I learned the fundamentals of prose fiction, I could then apply those lessons to screenwriting. But, as it turned out, I fell in love with fiction writing and never really went back to screenwriting. I’ve always loved horror movies, but I don’t actually read much horror fiction. I did, however, read a whole lot of Stephen King at one point in my life. As for writing, though, I think of myself as more of a literary author with a flair for the quirky and offbeat. So, if you would’ve told me a few years back that my first novel would be a horror story, I’d have thought you were crazy.
Brian: I also wanted to be a screenwriter and took screenwriting classes in college. I found the 120-page structure to be too limiting and felt more freedom writing prose, so I too turned to fiction writing as my main writing format. You studied at Cal State San Bernardino, achieved a Bachelor’s Degree in English and a Master’s Degree in Composition. How did your studies mould your writing? And can you share a technique or two that you learned on how to write compelling fiction?
Martin: Because my B.A. focused on creative writing, it allowed me to just write, write, and write. And, more than that, I also got to workshop most of my writing, which was invaluable to my development. As far as my M.A., the best thing I took from that was how to do good research, which comes in very handy when working on a novel. One of the best, and most simple, lessons I learned about writing compelling fiction is to make sure every scene has some level of tension in it.
Brian: Writing novels takes discipline, and writers often spend long hours by themselves typing at a computer. The process can take several months to even years. How long did it take you to write your first novel? And how do you motivate yourself to write?
Martin: I spent roughly five years writing Inside the Outside. Generally speaking, I’m motivated to write simply because I love books and I love reading, so having the opportunity to contribute my own work to the literary world is just really cool. But, more importantly, I love writing and telling stories. Of course, to actually complete a novel, I think you have to be at least a little crazy, so there’s that as well.
Brian: What is your writing schedule like? Daily or when you can find the time?
Martin: In a perfect world, I would write daily, but it’s so hard to find time every day. If I’m in the middle of writing a chapter, I’ll usually stick with it for a few days in a row until it’s done. I tend to take breaks in between chapters, but I try not to stay away from a project for more than a few days. Even when I’m not working on my new book, I’m usually writing for my blog or working on the screenplay adaptation of Inside the Outside, so, in that sense, I guess I write every day.
Brian: What was the journey you took to getting your first novel published?
Martin: Well, the initial goal was to find a literary agent and go the traditional route. But, after a year or so of searching, I decided I would be better served to redirect my energy in a more productive way. That’s when I decided to publish the book myself. I started my own imprint, Cannibal Press, and went on from there. Being an independent publisher is a lot of work, but it’s very satisfying.
Brian: I also self-published my first novel. After many frustrations with trying to get an agent or publisher to even read my book, I finally decided to form my own publishing company and just get the book out there. In hind-sight, it was the right decision for me and I’ve already sold that novel to traditional publishers three times now. Do you have any advice you like to share for aspiring writers?
Martin: Read every day. Even when you don’t have time to write, you must make time to read. Not only does it help sharpen your craft, but you need to be intimately engaged in the world with which you want to live, so to speak. Beyond that, write what you love. Don’t attempt to pander to what you think the publishing world wants. As long as you write the best book you have in you, I can promise there will be an audience who can’t wait to read it.
Brian: What lessons did you learn from professional wrestling and was that from participating or watching as a spectator?
Martin: My lessons definitely came from being a big, big fan growing up. Professional wrestling taught me about narrative arcs and how to sustain a storyline, building it up and ending it with a satisfying climax and resolution. Of course, I didn’t realize I was learning these lessons at the time. I just knew I was enjoying the show.
Brian: If you were ever famous enough to be on Dancing with the Stars what three dances would you choose to win the trophy?
Martin: Hahaha! You’ve clearly done your research. The Jive, the Paso Doble, and the Tango.
Brian: I happened to take ballroom dancing myself and learned over 22 dances. My favorites are The East Coast Swing, Rumba, and Salsa. Let’s get back to talking horror. Describe your next novel project.
Martin: I’m currently working on a vampire novel. My goal, among other things, is to write novel that will appeal both to fans of the genre, but also to readers who assume they don’t like vampires. While it has elements of horror, it’s a much lighter book than Inside the Outside and I think it will definitely display the more quirky and offbeat side of my imagination. I’m definitely paying tribute too a lot of the classic vampire mythology that fans are familiar with, but I’m also adding my own wrinkles to it. I also have a few tricks up my sleeve that I’m pretty certain nobody has ever tried before. Also, professional wrestling plays an important role in the story.
Brian: Where can people find your books?
Martin: Inside the Outside is available in paperback and eBook on all major online retailers, including Amazon and BarnesandNoble.
Brian: Thanks, Martin. I've enjoyed having you as a guest. For readers looking for a fresh new look at horror, go to your favorite bookseller and purchase a copy of Inside the Outside.
MARTIN LASTRAPES is an award-winning writer who grew up in the Inland Empire. He studied at Cal State San Bernardino, where he earned his Bachelor's Degree in English and a Master's Degree in Composition. Inside the Outside is his first novel. If you want to learn more, you can visit http://www.martinlastrapes.com/. You can also check out Martin’s Facebook and GoodReads pages, as well as follow him on Twitter.