Charles Martin earned his B.A. in English from Florida State University and his M.A. in Journalism and Ph.D. in Communication from Regent University. He served one year at Hampton University as an adjunct professor in the English Department and as a doctoral fellow at Regent. In 1999, he left a career in business to pursue his writing. He and his wife, Christy, live a stone's throw from the St. John's River in Jacksonville, Florida, with their three boys: Charlie, John T., and Rives. When he's not writing, Charles fishes with his boys, works in the yard with Christy, coaches t-ball, and kneels by his boys' bed at night. Right now, the boys are praying for two things: a boat "with space for a cooler, three or four people, and five or six rods" because they're not catching any fish off the neighbor's dock, and "daddy's book."
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May 20, 2004
FaithfulReader.com's contributing writer Bethanne Kelly Patrick interviewed Charles Martin, author of THE DEAD DON'T DANCE. In this conversation Martin explains his creation of characters and situations from personal relationships and experiences, his characters' struggle with the road to Redemption (as well as his own), and the difficult journey to get this book published. Martin also briefly discusses his second novel WRAPPED IN RAIN, which is due in 2005.
FaithfulReader.com: What was your inspiration for Dylan and Maggie Stiles?
Charles Martin: I didn't have to look very far to sketch Maggie. One half of her was walking around our house, taking care of our boys, encouraging me, sticking her foot in my back when I needed it, and digging in the garden when time allowed. The other half just grew out of an overactive imagination. The delivery scene in the book evolved out of the birth of our first son, Charlie. He was pretty big and Christy's not, so that took a while to get over-both emotionally and physically. Gratefully, both are fine. Dylan, on the other hand, is partly me and partly what I wish I was --- more honest and transparent. In the midst of angst and great despair, Dylan finds a way to encourage others and not only hope for them, but find hope in them.
FR: When you start writing about Dylan and Maggie and reflecting on their marriage, it seems "perfect." Along the way you flesh out their relationship more and bring out small tensions, like a wife who isn't partial to her husband's jeans, that make this marriage more "real." Did you set out to do this on purpose or did the edges "rough up" later?
CM: Good question, and tough to answer. Truthfully, I have no idea. I didn't intend to paint it as either perfect or rough, just honest --- like my own marriage. I will say that I hoped readers would get a sense of a guy who really loved his wife.
FR: The relationship between Dylan and Amos seems nearly as strong and significant as that between Dylan and Maggie. What were the challenges in writing about male friendship? About an interracial friendship?
CM: Amos (like many of my characters) is a composite of several people I know (friends included) so conversations with him weren't too difficult to conjure up. As for him being male, I'm just writing about two guys that are pals. And as for being an interracial relationship, when I think of Amos I see his brown eyes, bald head, Sheriff's badge, thick biceps, and tender heart. Not his skin color. As I heard the two of them talk in my head, I didn't hear a white man speaking to a black man. I heard two buddies walking through life together.
FR: Amanda's situation is certainly not an ideal one for a pastor's daughter, or anyone's daughter, but she lives it with grace and determination. Tell us about her character.
CM: Whereas Dylan is wrestling with his own demons, Amanda's already buried hers. This challenges Dylan because while his life is bad, hers is too. Arguably worse. Her peace amidst the horror makes it real difficult for him to complain. It's a perspective thing.
FR: On the other hand, Koy walks a completely different path from Amanda --- yet her way is changed by God, too. Why did you choose to include her in the story?
CM: Two answers: First, because real life doesn't just include the Amandas of the world. The Koys live here too. Maybe we have a greater admiration for Amanda when we walk through Koy's life and choices. Secondly, every life is Redeemable, not just the beautiful ones. I wish someone would give Mel Gibson a medal and tell him 'thank you,' because his art has shown us --- maybe as well as anything in contemporary culture --- that the Cross occurred for mankind, not some select group therein.
FR: Bryce Kai MacGregor has to be one of the most colorful characters I've encountered in any novel, Christian or otherwise. Did anything surprise you about this character as you wrote?
CM: Only the degree to which I wish I could be more like him. Incidentally, several readers have commented that they think Mel Gibson would make a good Bryce but I'm just not sure that he likes either Old Milwaukee or John Wayne.
FR: Bryce has a role as a deus ex machina; while tying ends up neatly is never without controversy in fiction, it's more interesting to ask: how does God use truly imperfect people like Bryce to work for good?
CM: I don't know. When I get to heaven, I intend to ask the Lord just that. But while I'm still here, I'm glad he does because 'imperfect' includes me. Also, and maybe this gives you some insight into how my brain works, if the Lord isn't going to use imperfect people, then who is He going to use?
FR: Is Dylan's the story of Job?
CM: One of the first pictures I ever saw of Dylan was a man standing in the ditch, screaming at God. Maybe that's Job-like but Dylan reminded me more of Jacob, wrestling on the floor. Both probably work, but the point is this --- I think God would rather us wrestle with Him than say nothing at all.
FR: Just as "the dead don't dance," Dylan doesn't dance into the light --- rather, he stumbles towards it. Talk about how his awakening developed as you wrote.
CM: While I wanted to know if Maggie would wake up, I was more concerned with Dylan's awakening. Something about his struggle has eternal implications. I wanted to know what kind of a man he could become, not only in Maggie's presence but, more importantly, in her absence. We find out much more about Rob Crusoe after he wakes on the island with sea foam caked on his face and fiddler crabs tickling his nose. As soon as he opens his eyes, he knows he's shipwrecked, a castaway, and in need of someone such as Friday to help rescue him off this island because, for starters, he's a stranger and he doesn't speak the island language. Dylan is little different. Me too.
FR: Dylan's awakening is *not* the traditional conversion anecdote (i.e., individual has personal experience of Christ and accepts Him then and there). Tell us why you chose to let Dylan take a slower road towards redemption.
CM: I think it mirrors my life. Sure, there was a day when I sat on the steps with my mom and prayed the Sinners prayer --- I think I was six or eight, but my Redemption --- my walk --- has been and is a process. A daily wrestling. And tomorrow --- like today, I'll wake up and start all over --- one more time, one more day. I think the Apostle Paul was much the same way. While he had the Damascus Road experience, he gets my vote as the world's best at daily submission. How else do you account for the fact that five times he suffered forty lashings minus one? Damascus Road or not, it'd take something daily, something tangible, something real as a cucumber to get me through one beating, much less five. Not to mention his own shipwrecks and jail time.
FR: The beauty of your book lies in its characters; will any of them live in another book for you?
CM: Don't know. Would you like for them to?
FR: You write a pretty long afterword and describe your path to publication in great detail. Why did you choose to do this?
CM: I started writing this book in 1996. It took eight years and over 86 rejections to get here. For me not to thank a few folks, and thank them with real sincerity, just seems wrong --- let's call it writer's malpractice. And while I wrote this story, I don't want to take credit for what the Lord did. My book is on the shelf and you're asking me these questions because the Lord, along with some other really kind folks, smiled on me. Most guys I know --- myself at the front of the list --- wrestle with pride and this idea that we've got to get here, or somewhere, on our own. Our identity is linked with self-reliance and stoic independence. All of us want to be the Marlboro man. But I didn't get here on my own. I think that was on my mind.
FR: Along that path to publication came a couple of great blessings for you, one of which was an introduction to Davis Bunn. Do you consider him your mentor?
CM: Without a doubt. Davis has also become a good friend. He doesn't like the credit, but it's worth saying again, I'm a dwarf standing on the shoulders of a man named T. Davis Bunn.
FR: What are you working on now, and when can readers expect to see it?
CM: When I handed my second novel to Christy, she didn't read it for about three weeks. It sat on the bedside table, collected dust, coffee stains and the sight of its yellowing pages started to trouble me. To be honest, I was scratching my head and getting a bit worried. Turns out, she was afraid to read it because she thought I'd never write a book as good as the first. Finally, she relented and pretty soon she was buried in pages and keeping me up nights. When she finished, she wiped away a tear, kissed me, and nodded. She's my toughest critic, so the tear and the kiss meant I did okay. The nod meant I had done something she didn't think I could. WRAPPED IN RAIN releases in March 2005. Whether it's actually better --- you be the judge, but Christy thinks so. Now, I'm working on my third and thankfully, my publisher, WestBow Press, has offered to extend my contract through the next four or five books.
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