I cannot review or rate my own work, so I'll use this space for something readers might be interested in... Reprints of blog interviews.Interview on writing about disability and disabled characters:
Katla Sieltjes is a professional assassin for hire, specializing in hits that can’t be traced. When the novel begins, she is taking out the owner of a shop selling antique Japanese swords, with his own merchandise, when she is interrupted by a blind man, Bram Merleyn, who has come to pick up his order. Katla has a firm policy of not allowing witnesses to her hits to live, but Bram is blind, and totally sexy. She lets him go, but can’t seem to stay away from him. So begins an unlikely but fascinating partnership. How will a cold-blooded killer and a pacifist musician find any common ground?
Read the rest of my review here: http://paradevo.blogspot.sg/2013/01/reprobate-amsterdam-assassin-series.html
Amsterdam-based author Martyn V. Halm is here today to share a little about his writing process.1. I’m impressed with how accurately you portray a blind character. What kind of research did you do? Have you met any blind people in person?
About two decades ago, I dated a blind girl for about six months, and through her I also met some other blind and visually impaired people. Being intimate with a blind person on a day-by-day basis, as well as having frank discussions with her friends, provided me with more than enough background information.
My relationship experiences also helped me with the relationship between Katla and Bram. Like Katla, I didn’t pity my girlfriend, nor did I censor my speech or help her with tasks she could handle herself. Many people with disabilities told me that they became frustrated by people either handling them with kid gloves or treating them like their physical disability also affected their mental capabilities. Katla doesn’t consider Bram ‘disabled’, she knows that he’s extremely capable in different ways. She recognizes his intelligence and strategic skills and manipulates his conscience to enlist him in her homicidal enterprises. In the sense of a character arc, Bram’s journey is much more interesting than Katla’s, because his role runs the whole gamut — witness, target, friend, lover, confidant, partner, and accomplice. And nowhere in the story is he taken for granted, not by Katla, nor by his friends who appreciate him for his skills and intelligence.2. What made you decide to include a blind character in the Amsterdam Assassin series?
Years ago, I wrote part of a novel where an opportunistic street musician pretends to be blind and turns out to be the only witness to a murder, but that story didn’t work. I liked the characters, so I turned the story around to make the assassin the main protagonist and a blind man walking in on her. Most of the story evolved naturally from that situation.
Often, when we’re in love, we’re blind to any negative traits of our new love. Bram’s blindness is a positive trait, not only because it saves his life in the first chapter, but also because he can ‘see’ Katla for who she really is. None of the other characters manage to see beyond the image she projects.
One of the issues I have with most stories, whether they’re about assassins or blind people or martial artists or Amsterdam, is that verisimilitude is rare in fiction. I want to show assassins who are consummate professionals, blind people who have adjusted to their situation and lead full lives, martial artists who train every day to master their own inadequacies, and an Amsterdam beyond what tourists see.3. There are several other secondary characters with disabilities as well. Is there a reason, or did it just happen?
I’d like to say there was a reason, but it did just happen. In most cases, characters reveal themselves to me pretty much the way they end up in the book. And often, just like in real life, there is no ‘reason’ for the disability. The disability does influence their lives, but most of the time it’s secondary. Paul is a tattoo artist with a crippled leg, not a cripple who happens to run a tattoo shop. Deborah is a DEA agent who struggles with alcohol addiction, not an alcoholic who happens to work at the DEA. Until Reprobate was reviewed on paradevo.net, I hadn’t noticed the many disabled characters in my stories. Rather, I viewed their disability as part of who they are, just as other characters are influenced by their appearance or faith or sexual predilections. None of my characters are black or white, and everyone is fallible. I think that makes the Amsterdam Assassin Series attractive to a variety of readers.4. Did you find it challenging to narrate scenes from the point of view of a blind person?
I had a misadventure as a young boy where I lost my sight for a day. From then on, I had the idea that I would one day become permanently blind. I used to train for the eventuality, walking around the house with my eyes closed, stumbling into the walls and the furniture. My mother was worried, especially when I told her the reason. I know the feeling persisted for a long time. I read books about blindness, about a young boy needing to learn how to type and his frustrations in learning the layout of the keyboard. I remember being strangely relieved when I mastered touch typing, as if I had attained a skill that would serve me when ‘I’d become blind’.
Coupled with the experiences I had with blind people, writing from a blind man’s point of view was actually easier than writing from the point of view of a heroin-addicted sniper or a bisexual female sculptor. Easier to research as well.5. Do you have a set number of books planned for the series, or is it open-ended? Are we going to see more of Bram in the future?
When I wrote Reprobate, I had plans for a trilogy, but now that the second novel Peccadillo is published and I’m writing the third novel Rogue, I’m collecting ideas for the fourth novel. So, yes, after Reprobate and Peccadillo (where Bram plays an even larger role), there will be at least two more novels with Katla and Bram. Probably more.
In between the novels, I will write some more Katla KillFiles, short stories that examine the contracts Katla fulfilled before she appeared in Reprobate. While the KillFiles give more insight in Katla’s personal history, skills and methods, they do not feature Bram. I’ve been thinking about creating something similar to the Katla KillFiles and call the Bram Outtakes, but Bram’s backstory is already told in increments in the novels. Still, if fans would desire short stories about Bram, I might get tempted. [DG:Yes, please do!]
I think there’s a depth and growth to the characters that allows for more than four or five books and a handful of short stories, but a lot depends on matters beyond my control. Writing novels is time-consuming, and I have to direct part of that effort to promote myself to get myself noticed. What I really need is to get people who enjoy my books to recommend them to other people, through word-of-mouth and reviews on their blogs.6. What made you decide to self-publish, rather than go with a traditional publisher? Did you try to sell the MS to an agent or editor?
In traditional publishing, debut novels often have to prove themselves within six months with almost no support and sketchy distribution, before they are returned to the publisher and destroyed. The books go out of print, while the publisher retains the rights, effectively blocking the availability of the book while sequels might gather interest.
In contrast, self-publishing would allow me full control over the title, the name of the series and, most importantly, the price. Because my overhead is low, I can afford to sell my books for half or a third of the price asked by traditional publishers. Traditional publishers keep the price of e-books artificially high, because there are non-related factors in play. I want people to be able to afford my novels without breaking the bank.
Because the shelf life of an e-book on Amazon is indefinite and I retain the rights and the possibility to publish the novel through a variety of channels all the books in the Amsterdam Assassin Series will remain available for as long as I want them to be.
I did try to get a traditional publishing contract and Reprobate was considered by Tor Books in New York, but after deliberating over my manuscript for eight months Tor decided to pass. I could see the shift in the publishing landscape and decided to publish the books myself. I know that the Amsterdam Assassin Series might drown in a sea of garbage, however I’m convinced that good writing and good storytelling will prevail. And e-books have the advantage that you can download free chapters to see whether you want to download the entire novel – like scanning the first pages of a book in a book store, but more comfortable. Ultimately, if your writing isn’t up to par or your story-telling abilities are lacking, you won’t be downloaded.
[Note: Reprobate was a quarter finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest in 2010]7. Any advice for authors who are thinking of self-publishing?
If you’re self-publishing, you have to realize that you’ll spend a lot of time doing other things than writing: finding retailers, converting your manuscripts to epub and mobi files, making or commissioning covers, promoting yourself endlessly. With 350,000 books published every year, it gets harder and harder to get noticed. Make sure you research self-publishing by participating on boards like, for instance, Kindleboards, so you won’t delude yourself thinking that you’ll just put your story on Amazon or iTunes and watch the money roll in.
On average, the more publications you have, the more exposure you have. Series tend to work very well, if your characters strike a chord with your readers, readers will want to read other books with the same characters. So if you’re able to create characters that are interesting enough to be featured in a series, you’re ahead of the game. Most important thing is to have the stamina to write and publish for years before you become an ‘overnight success’. Don’t get hung up if the first book isn’t selling, don’t follow the herd into throwing money to make book trailers or advertisements, but write more books and interact with your readers.8. Thanks for having such a positive attitude towards devotees, and embracing this (probably unexpected) readership. Anything else you’d like to share with us? Anything to convince a female reader to try out this series?
I love to hear from readers. I’m pleased that my stories are layered enough to appeal to a variety of readers for different aspects. Although I love my novels as a whole, I can understand that some readers prefer the suspenseful parts while others focus on the relationship between Bram and Katla. Most of the feedback I receive shows appreciation for the realism and the attention to detail, whether it’s a description of a location, a killing method or the way a blind person labels his jazz albums, and that’s gratifying. I’m a stickler for verisimilitude and if my research gets noticed I’m glad I put in the effort.
As to convincing readers to try out the series – the stories are suspenseful and set in one of the most charming cities in the world, featuring a strong female lead with an unusual job, trying to conquer adversity both private and professional while deeply involved in a relationship with an enigmatic blind man. If you need more convincing, download a free sample from Amazon or Kobo or iTunes, read the first chapters and see if you don’t get hooked.Thanks very much Martyn for the interview. We really do appreciate the research and the realism in your writing. Some Bram Outtakes would be great! Please do write them. And big thanks to Ruth for letting me post this interview here!This interview was conducted by Devo Girl on June 17th, 2013, and featured on the blog of Ruth Madison: http://www.ruthmadison.com/author-interview-reprobate-by-martyn-v-halm/