There are some books which stick in your mind, even years later.
‘Inside The Outside' by Martin Lastrapes is one of those books, and today I talk to Martin about his inspirations for writing literary horror, and why ‘nice' people like us love to write of the darkness.
Martin Lastrapes‘ brilliant debut novel, “Inside the Outside,” won the Grand Prize in the 2012 Paris Book Festival. He also writes short stories, is an English professor, and a podcaster, and is currently working on a vampire series.
In the interview, we discuss:
Martin's writing background. He had a late start after discovering literature at college, and was drawn to the darker side of fiction. He was into comic books earlier in life.
- The inspiration behind the award-winning ‘Inside the Outside,' which is about a girl who’s part of a cannibal cult in rural America. Martin's own reasons for going vegetarian plus serial killers who are seem to be really nice people.
- On ‘literary' vs ‘horror' in terms of genre and why Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis changed Martin's life. About Martin's next Vampire series.
- On self-censorship.
- Being a ‘nice person' and writing horror. How really happy people write dark things.
Transcription of interview with Martin Lastrapes
Joanna: Hi, everyone, I’m thriller author J.F. Penn and today I’m here with Martin Lastrapes. Welcome, Martin!
Martin: Thanks, Joanna.
Joanna: It’s great to have you on the show. So, just as a little introduction, Martin’s brilliant debut novel, “Inside the Outside,” won the Grand Prize in the 2012 Paris Book Festival. He also writes short stories, is an English professor, and a podcaster, and is currently working on a vampire series.
So, Martin, just to get us started, tell us a bit more about you and your writing background.
Martin: Well, it’s funny, I think I’m one of the rare writers who hasn’t been writing since I was a kid. And I completely envy those people who started at a really young age. I’m almost embarrassed to say it, but I don't mind telling you, because we’re on the show: I didn’t really, truly read a novel till I was 18 years old.
And when I was a kid, reading and writing, it always came pretty easily to me, but I think because it came easily, and because I didn’t really have any context for it, I just figured it was easy for everybody, so I never put any thought into it, I never put any investment into it, and it wasn’t until I was 18 years old, I was in my first year in college, it was actually my very first semester, my first English professor, I’d written a paper for her, and she was the first person in my whole life that said, “You’re pretty good at this: you should think about doing this.”
And it felt so good to be good at something, possibly, to have someone say that you should follow this, and that’s kind of all I needed to hear, and then just purely by happenstance, that same semester, in a separate class—it was actually a history class, it wasn’t even an English class—I had to read “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair. And if I was going to try to encourage somebody to love reading, that’s like the last book I would send them to. But for whatever reason, I can’t explain why, I finished that book in three days, I’d never finished a novel before; I totally got it, I totally loved reading; and so in this very short span of time, I found out that I might be an alright writer, and I really loved reading, and so because that happened at that same time, from that time forward, I kind of began my journey.
And then, in terms of being a reader, I feel like I’ve been trying to catch up with everybody ever since, so I read all the time now, but no matter how many books I finish, I feel like I’m 18 years behind everybody else.
Joanna: That’s really interesting. So, you didn’t really have those sort of teenage influences. I guess you write literary horror, I suppose.
Joanna: But I would have thought you would have had this background in comics and stuff like that!
Martin: You know, that’s the one thing that I can say that I did: when I was a kid, I loved comic books. But even comic books, I never thought about it as reading, because I loved the pictures. In fact, I thought I was going to be a comic book artist for pretty much my whole life until I was in high school. And it wasn’t until I figured out, nobody told me, but in my own head, I was, “I don’t think I’m going to make a living at this: I’d better figure something else out.” I was better than the other kid in my class, but if I was going to try to make a career out of it …
But anyway, I loved comic books, and I read the words in them, and I knew that they were stories, but as silly as it sounds, it never occurred to me that there was a writer involved. I just figured there was an artist, drawing pictures, and then some story kind of unfolded. So, even when I was reading comic books, I never thought, “I like stories and I like writing,” I just thought, “I like pictures.”
I loved movies, though. Movies, comic books, professional wrestling, I still love and I always give it credit for sort of informing a lot of my storytelling sensibilities, because as silly and campy and weird as it can be, at its core, it uses a lot of storytelling elements that, without realizing it as a kid, I was kind of absorbing. And even now, when I write a book, sometimes I’ll find myself reflecting on a particular wrestling match, or a particular view about the bad guy, and it helps me to tell the stories I want to tell.
Joanna: Oh, that’s really cool! That’s interesting. And what you’re talking about now, wrestling and stuff, that’s a long way from “Inside the Outside.” I just said to you before we started recording, I read it a few years ago, and it’s still one of the books that sticks in my mind.
Martin: That’s really kind of you to say.
Joanna: As original and interesting. So it’s about a girl who’s part of this cannibal cult in America, that’s all one really needs to say about it!
But what was the inspiration behind the book?
Martin: If I really thought about it, there’s maybe two or three different inspirations. I can start with the, the first one, because this is the first kind of seeding that I remember. I’ve been a vegetarian for about, oh goodness, not quite, but really close to 15 years. And so, when I first became a vegetarian, it was when I was still in college, and I took this course, and to this day, I can’t remember the name of the course, so I just think of it as “The Vegetarian Course.” But we learned a lot about agriculture and farming and things of that nature. And the purpose of the class wasn’t to turn out vegetarians, I just remember being really affected by this stuff, by the literature we were reading.
But, specifically, I remember reading about certain types of farms where certain abuses happened to animals where they’re not properly farmed, and I was really affected by it, and for me it was almost like reading a horror novel, and I thought this would be interesting, except I can’t imagine anybody really caring about a novel about farms, just like this! So that was my only care, it feels like there’s something here, because it’s dramatic to me, and it’s kind of scary to me, but I don’t think anybody else would care.
And also about the same time, because I was an English major, I was getting comfortable with the idea of allegory, I think I’d just kind of learned about allegories and again, I chalk that up to being a late bloomer: I’m sure there’s a lot of writers who learned that in grade school or something. But I was learning about allegories, and this idea that you can write one story and it kind of represents something else, and so then I was, “Well, animals, maybe they’re not interesting, but what if they were people? What if I had a people farm, and then all of the stuff that I’m reading about animals, if they happened to people, and that sort of became like the first seedling of an idea.
And then, by the time it evolved into the book you eventually read, it wasn’t a people farm, it became a cult. But that was the first idea I had about people and cannibals and eating each other.
The other primary inspiration, technically it comes from a documentary, but specifically it’s the really famous Mafia hit man—infamous, I should say—The Iceman, Richard Kuklinski.
HBO did a three-part documentary on him, probably about 15, 20 years ago. And he’s this really terrifying guy who, before he went to work for the Mafia, and was killing people for money, he says that he killed probably maybe 100, 200 people, just because he was just not a nice person! And then eventually, I guess, in the North-Eastern portion of the United States, some of the organized crime people caught wind of him. It almost felt like he was this amateur athlete and pros saw what he was doing and they said, “Would you like to kill people for us and we’ll pay you for it?” I’m paraphrasing, but that’s probably what the conversation sounded like. And so he did, he became this Mafia hit man, and he killed maybe another 200 or 300 people before he was eventually caught by the authorities.
While he was in prison, HBO did this documentary on him. I remember watching the documentary, and the third part of the documentary, it’s the Iceman and the psychiatrist, and he’s basically sitting down with an FBI psychiatrist type person who analyzes criminals, and the idea was to get into his brain, and kind of figure out why he was doing the things he was doing. And one of the most fascinating things about the documentary, to me, was for long stretches, when he’s talking, he was kind of charming, he was sort of likeable, and if he wasn’t talking about his crimes, you would almost completely forget that he’d done these awful things, until he would remind you.
Because actually, there was a part of the documentary where he literally says, “People watching this, they’re going to get the wrong idea. They’re going to think that I’m a nice guy, but really I’m the last person you’d ever want to meet.” And I was so struck by that, to have this person who, as I was watching, I genuinely did kind of like him, because I was forgetting that he did these awful things, and I thought, “If I could somehow capture that, I don’t know if I can, but if I could capture that in a story, a killer of some sort who does really bad things unapologetically, but still make the reader like them, I might be on to something.”
And so then, at some point down the road, I merged those two ideas, of having the likeable character who does bad things, and the cannibal story, and eventually I came up with what became “Inside the Outside.”
Joanna: It is brilliant.
So, why did you make the main character a girl?
Martin: Let me think. I was about to say, I’m avoiding the word marketing, because I don’t want to sound like it was a shallow decision! But I was specifically aware, in the initial idea, I thought she was going to be a serial killer, that was my original thought, and so when she was going to be a serial killer, I was thinking, there’s not a lot of iconic female serial killers. And again, I was rolling the dice and hoping, hoping that I was going to nail this character, and if I did, people might really remember her, and so in that case, if I make her a woman, then she would stand out against what’s normally a larger crop of male serial killers.
And again, since you were kind enough to read the book, as you know, she ultimately wasn’t a serial killer; she’s still a killer, but she wasn’t a serial killer, but that was how she became a woman, or a young girl really, a teenager.
Joanna: Yes, a teenager. It’s interesting, because her name is Timber, which is a great name. And I do the same thing, my women are called Morgan and Jamie, both of which names can be masculine or feminine.
So I think that you’ve got the same vibe; you’ve got clearly a girl, but still you’ve got some masculine elements, which I think comes across. I don’t know if you even thought about that.
Martin: No, that’s a great observation. I’ll start taking credit for it now!
Joanna: But it is interesting.
And what do you think about genre in terms of, obviously you’ve won awards, you’re a literary writer, but this is literary horror, it is horror, right?
Martin: Oh, yes, it’s definitely horror. In terms of genre, I think I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I love genre story. Especially when I go to the movies, I love watching horror movies, I love watching sci fi movies, I love supernatural stuff. When it comes to books, ironically, I don’t want to say that I pay less attention to genre, but I kind of do a little bit. When it comes to books, I fall in love with authors and their voices and their prose, but if there’s a really cool genre in there, I’m also happy to read it.
I know that there’s some people out in the publishing landscape, they might thumb their nose a little bit at genre fiction, or they might say, “Well, you know, it’s genre fiction, that’s fine over there, but the serious stuff, the literary stuff, that’s what we’re doing over here, so let’s kind of keep these two areas apart.” And so, for me, I’ve always been of the kind of viewpoint of I want to be the best writer I can in terms of the words on the page. I like endeavoring to be a literary type author. Whether or not I succeed at it, that’s for someone else to decide, but I do endeavor to do that, because a lot of my favorite writers, especially when I was studying English and discovering writers that I’d never heard of, they were these literary writers.
So, so on the one hand, when I was in college, I was studying and learning and analyzing and writing papers about these literary authors, but in terms of my imagination, the stuff that grabbed me was comic books and science fiction and horror movies with Freddy Krueger and Jason, and things of this nature. When it came time for me to actually write stories, I think academically speaking, I have this literary background, but in terms of the stories I love to tell, it kind of came from the world of genre.
And I don’t mind admitting this to you, early on in my college career, when it was starting to become to seem like a possibility that I could be an author, and maybe this was something I could do with myself, I think because the only stories really that I saw in college were, again, these literary short stories, these literary novels, I was thinking to myself, “Well, I like stories about cannibals and vampires and things of this nature, but, I guess if I’m ever going to be taken seriously, I’d better write this literary stuff.”
So a lot of my early writing was me trying to write this serious, literary stuff.
I never felt completely comfortable writing it, but I figured, this is what you do. And the thing that changed everything for me, in fact, you could probably draw a line in the sand when the light bulb went off, and one of the best days in my life, was when I was in college, and there was a literature class and I think the first story we read was “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka. And of course the first line—and it’s translated, so it probably changes from whatever translation—was, “Gregor Samsa awoke one morning after a night of fitful dreams, to find that he was a giant cockroach.” I remember reading that first line, because I was so used to this literary stuff, I was thinking, “Oh, this must be some sort of a grand metaphor that he killed like a cockroach,” and then I kept reading on, and it was, “Oh my god, he’s actually, this is a story about a guy who has turned into a cockroach, and we’re reading it in these classes where I assume that you can’t write this stuff. That’s the sort of stuff that I would want to write, but I didn’t think I was allowed to.”
And so that’s the only permission I needed, was there already, the story that he turned into a cockroach, and I get to write papers and talk about it like I’m pretending to be smart, and so that, for me, gave me permission, and really, in a lot of ways, “Inside the Outside” really kind of spun from that inspiration that you can take a crazy, far-out story, but you can present it in a literary fashion. And again, somebody else can read “Inside the Outside” and not get any literary, voice from it at all, and I’m fine with that, as long as they enjoyed it, or even if they enjoyed it. I don’t know, where do you draw the line on that?
Joanna: What so interesting is, you are now a professor.
So, what are you teaching, as a professor?
Martin: I actually teach English composition. We focus on critical thinking and writing essays and research papers. I tend to think of it—and I probably shouldn’t say this on the record, but whatever—as the boring writing, but the important writing; it’s the very functional, developing a thesis statement and being able to gather your thoughts and do research. So it’s the sort of writing that I’m capable of doing, and I understand how, how to teach it, and teach those sort of writing elements to students. But, you know, when it comes to the writing I’m passionate about, I would much rather be telling stories about vampires and cannibals.
Joanna: And coming back to the vampires, your series that you’re working on next is vampires, right?
Tell us a bit about your next vampire series.
Martin: Yes, I’m really excited about it. It’s a trilogy, and the first book in the trilogy is called “The Vampire, the Hunter and the Girl,” and it’s about a vampire, a hunter and a girl. So, it’s an easy title in that way! I’ll talk about the story in just a second, but at this point, I’ve actually written all three books in the trilogy, so all three books are done, they’re currently in the process of being proofread and beta read, eventually I’ll pass them on to an editor. But the idea was, I wanted all three books done so that when I put the first book out, then in a relatively short period of time, I could put out the second book and then the third book.
Right now, the idea is I want to put all three books out inside of a twelve-month window, but the original idea was that I was just going to write one novel. Because I’m a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and vampires in general, I think I’ve always been fascinated with, but Buffy the Vampire Slayer really captured my imagination, again, in terms of storytelling. Even though it’s a television show, it’s a genre series, kind of a core of sci fi fantasy, kind of camp, and telling these, really brilliant stories, in some cases some allegorical stories, stories with these really clever metaphors, but on the surface, they’re giving you vampires and demons and things of this nature, and I really loved that idea. And so for years and years, even before I wrote “Inside the Outside,” I was always telling myself, “One of these days, I’m going to write a vampire story.” I just didn’t have an idea, but I was like, “If I can ever get that idea, I really want to write a vampire story.”
And, what actually happened, toward the end of me working on “Inside the Outside,” because basically my writing process is, once I write a draft of a novel, I’ll set it aside maybe for a month, a month and a half, maybe two months, that way I can come back to it with fresh eyes, it looks like somebody else’s work, and it’s easier for me to edit and revise. But in the meantime, I don’t want to stop writing, because I don’t want my writing muscles to atrophy, so I was like, “Well, let me just start working on something,” so I started rapping away at a vampire novel. I didn’t have an idea yet, I figured, “This might turn into anything, I just want to write something.”
And so I started that, that was probably around 2008 ish, something like that. And then once “Inside the Outside” was completely done, and published out in the world, and it was time to start a new project, I picked up this vampire idea, and I started working from there. And I was just going to write one novel, which I did, and but once I’d finished the first draft, it was so much longer than I anticipated it was going to be, that I thought it might not be a bad idea just to split this book up. So then—because it already was naturally in three parts—I broke it up into three parts, went back and revised each part to make it its own novel, and then I at this point, in 2014, hopefully I’m a few months away from putting Book One out.
In terms of what the story’s about, primarily what it is, we have a vampire, we have a vampire hunter, his name is Jesus, I call him Jesus the Mexican Vampire Hunter, we have a vampire, whose name is Adam, then we have a girl, her name is Olivia, and it sort of starts out with a love triangle, so you’ve got the vampire and the vampire hunter and they both love the same girl, who in this case is Olivia, and Olivia, she’s not a malicious person, she’s just found herself, she likes this vampire and this vampire hunter. So you have these two guys who, they’re natural enemies, we’ve got the vampire and the vampire hunter, but they’re also enemies in love, because they’re competing for the same girl. And sort of through conventions of the story, the girl’s life is put in grave danger, and the only way to save her is this vampire and this vampire hunterthey have to team up, if in fact they want to save this girl that they both love. So they have to figure out a way to put their differences aside, to try and rescue, the girl that they love. And, of course, the crux of it is, even if they successfully save her, at the end of the day, she can really only choose one of them.
That story takes place over the course of three books. If it sounds vague at all as a novel, you can imagine I was trying to hold back as many details as I could. But that becomes the story for the trilogy, and I’m terribly excited about it.
Joanna: It sounds great.
And you’ve got a short story, haven’t you, about Jesus the Vampire Hunter.
Martin: Yes, so what I did, I had this idea about a year, a year and a half ago, I’m wearing my publisher hat, because, similar to yourself, I’m an independent publisher, so a lot of what I do is trying to think like an entrepreneur, trying to figure out how best to sort of market myself and how best to make people aware of what I’m doing. So, “Inside the Outside,” after it came out, and as you were kind enough to mention, it’s enjoyed some success and it’s won some awards, but I started to get this anxiety, people seem to be enjoying my book, and they seem to know my name, but my next project’s not done yet. And so there’s this anxiety, right, “They’re going to forget who I am, they’re going to forget that they enjoyed my book: by the time this vampire book comes out, I’m going to have to start from scratch.”
So then I thought, “Well, maybe, as a nice bridge, even though the book’s not done, I do have these first two chapters, and I feel like they’re good enough that I could show them to people.” So I’ve got these two shorts: the first one is called “Adam and Olivia,” so that’s the vampire and, and the girl, respectively, and the second short is “Jesus the Mexican Vampire Hunter,” and essentially those were the first two chapters of the novel, so I figured, “I’ll put these out as shorts, and hopefully people will discover them.” In the very front, I put a note that lets them know these are actually the first two chapters of a forthcoming novel, so then that way, if they like the shorts, they’ll know about the novel. The idea was to kind of bridge them.
Consequently, now that the book is almost done, I’ve revised them enough that they’re not exactly the first two chapters, but either way, if somebody read those two shorts, and they, they’re pretty short, they’re 99 cents on Amazon, I think they’re on Amazon.com, you can read those and get a nice picture, it’s kind of like a nice appetizer to prepare you for what the book is going to sound like.
And in terms of tone, I guess everybody who’s read “Inside the Outside,” by its design, it’s sort of very dark, and, and gritty and kind of moody, and I’m very proud of “Inside the Outside,” and I loved the process of writing it, but once I was done, I felt like I’d spent so many years in this really dark place, that I wanted to write something, I needed to write something light, just to feel better.
So my vampire novel, it does have elements of horror, you will see that, but it’s a much lighter book than “Inside the Outside,”
there’s a lot more comedy than “Inside the Outside”. There’s a lot more funny, sort of joyful: it’s a more joyful book. And again, I say that, not meaning to disparage “Inside the Outside” at all, because I’m very proud of it, but tone-wise, the vampire book is going to be completely different. There will be plenty of tension, and scares and horror and violence, because, my readers like that.
Joanna: That’s what we do!
Martin: But it’s also going to be a lot lighter. In fact, a lot of my influence from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, influenced the inspiration, I think, kind of found its way into the vampire trilogy.
Joanna: That sounds brilliant. And then, coming back to “Inside the Outside,” because when I read that, I think that book really helped me stop self-censoring, and I wondered whether you’d ever struggled with self-censorship and whether there were things when you were writing, and you thought, “Should I write this?
Will people think I’m completely wrong in some way or too dark?” Did you go through those thoughts?
Martin: Absolutely. Without question. Particularly with “inside the Outside,” I absolutely went through struggling with this idea of self-censorship. Because as you said, on the one hand, and I imagine there’s a lot of authors that would probably relate to this, I know that a lot of authors I know reach a point where they’re writing about something, and they’re going to have that thought of, “If I write this, people that read it will know that I think these things,” or if you’re writing about a particular type of music or a particular type of nightclub or something of that nature, and they worry, “I don’t want people to think that I go to these places, I don’t want people to think I do these things, but I want to tell the story, so I’m not going to write that. I don’t want people to know that I know that word, so I’m not going to use that word.”
So I had all those same thoughts, and in terms of “Inside the Outside,” actually, I’ll go back one story before that, to really give an idea of what helps me out a lot. It was, again, when I was in college—I was fortunate that a lot of my epiphanies came along while I was in school—and I was taking a creative writing class, but it was ultimately a memoir class, it was a creative non-fiction class. And so the professor, his name was James Brown, he’s a brilliant writer, a brilliant memoirist, wrote a wonderful memoir called “The Los Angeles Diary,” I’d recommend anybody to read it, at the beginning of the course, he told us to, privately on a piece of paper, write down just three or four notes of things that happened in your life that you would never, ever want anybody to know about. So then we did that. And once we did that, he said, “OK, for this class, I will challenge you to take one of those stories and write about it, then we’ll workshop on it.” In this class, take a story you want nobody to hear about, write it, and then you’re workshopping on it. And so, of course, I was, “I don’t want to do that,” any more than anybody else in the class wanted to do it, but then I thought, “I’m trying to learn to be a writer, I should really challenge myself, so let me go ahead and do it.”
So I wrote this story, I won’t go into too much detail, because it’s a little bit embarrassing. But at the very least, it was a story about the first time that I went to a strip club, to be honest, to take my money, sit by a stage and watch women take their clothes off, and I was 19, it was a very embarrassing story, but I figured, “I’m going to go ahead and write about this.” And then I wrote about it, and I turned it in, and after I turned it in, I was, “Oh my god, what was I thinking?” And then, anyway, I showed up for my day to workshop in class. I remember everybody, every student that showed up to class, looking at them and just thinking, “They know, oh my god. He knows, she knows, oh, this is so embarrassing, why did I do this?” And I think I was literally shaking at my desk, I was, “Why did I do this, this is so stupid, I should have just made up some stupid story about my first day at first grade or something.”
But then the most amazing thing happened, the students, they really loved the story. Nobody made me feel embarrassed, nobody made me feel uncomfortable. They were very complimentary over it. And in fact, there were at least two or three other students in the classroom that thought my experience was so funny, because they were, “The same thing happened to me, I can’t believe it happened to somebody else.”
And that was a really important light bulb moment for me: if you’re willing to be honest and not censor yourself, more likely than not, other people are going to get it, they’re going to enjoy it, and they’re just going to appreciate the honesty.
And so I figured the same thing’s got to be true for fiction, even though I’m writing about stuff that didn’t happen to me: I’ve never been a cannibal, I’ve never been in a cult, but if I write about this as honestly as I can, I think people will respond to that.
Now, I think what you’re probably talking about almost more specifically may be the violence, because “Inside the Outside” is extremely violent. And one story I can tell you about that is, the very first scene, because it takes place in a cult, they have these ritual sacrifices, there’s only one really detailed, graphic sacrifice scene in the book, but that particular scene, I remember writing it, and thinking, “I want to paint this picture as clearly as I can, and I want to illustrate the kind of horror and violence involved,” and so in many ways I was sort of imagining it and writing it, so my imagination was about five or six seconds ahead of my fingers on the keyboard, and I forget exactly what it was, but I reached a point of violence in the scene where I stopped typing, and I thought, “I can’t write that. Oh, that’s awful. Oof, no, let me, let me not write that.” And then, almost as soon as I had the thought, I thought, “Well, you know what, I just had the thought, and it made me uncomfortable. So if it made me uncomfortable, then maybe I should write it. Because I'm not trying to gross people out just for the pure sake of making them uncomfortable, but if I had an idea that made me feel that, so strong that I had to stop typing, I think I owe it to myself to put this in the book, and offer that to the readers.”
And consequently, readers like yourself who’ve been really kind in terms of how you’ve spoken about the novel, and I’ve heard from plenty of other folks who were completely put off by the violence and they didn’t enjoy it –whatever, I can live with that. But that said, I wouldn’t change it at all, and I would definitely even encourage any writer who might be listening to this, to not censor yourself, and if you do find yourself not willing to write something, but if you’re personally affected by it, you might very well owe it to yourself to keep that in the story. Because it means that you stumbled onto something powerful, and you’d be cheating yourself, and probably the reader for not including it.
Joanna: It’s good to hear, and I had the same thing with “Desecration,” and it all stemmed from a feeling of being very, very uncomfortable with human body parts in an anatomy museum, and I was, “Why do I feel so disturbed by these body parts, why is that when I know they’re not human anymore?” I mean, they are human, but they’re not alive; why do we get so squeamish about dead bodies? And, I mean, in a way, like your ritual, after they’re dead, they’re just meat, why is it so disturbing?
It’s so fascinating to explore those darker things.
But one of the questions I had for you was, I started off writing “Desecration” feeling very disturbed, and as I wrote about it, that feeling went away. And of course the people reading it feel disturbed. But do you think we somehow inoculate ourselves to it by writing it?
Martin: I think so, yes, absolutely. I think you said it much better than I could, because with “Inside the Outside,” by the time I’d gotten to, say, maybe the third or fourth draft, basically when I was almost done, I’d spent so much time with it, and, and basically I was the only one reading it. I don’t know if there was more than two people walking the earth at the time who really had seen any of it. So for all intents and purposes, I was the only person living in this world, I’d been there for so many years, that I would go back to the cult and I’d write these violent scenes, or I’d read them, and they’d have no effect on me. Again, admitted, when I talked about that early draft, and I felt that powerful thing of, “Oh, I can’t write that,” that was completely gone, and I’d become so, as you said, inoculated—that’s a great word, I’m going to start using that today!—that I completely took for granted how dark it was and how violent it was.
I remember the first beta reader that I’d asked to take a look at it, a very nice woman, another wonderful writer; her name is S.K. Murphy, a really wonderful writer. And she was probably disturbed, because I recall her trying to be, I felt like she was trying to be as polite as she could, but trying to figure out, where the hell did this story come from, and why is it so dark and violent? And she was actually the first person that even referenced it as horror. Because I was so removed from the violence, I wasn’t thinking of it as a horror story. I was just thinking of it as this sort of literary story about this girl and, and this cult, completely took it for granted, how violent it was.
So, I think there is something, you literally start writing these stories, maybe initially, it does start with some sort of seedling of being disturbed, or scared, but at some point when we start writing the story, it kind of goes away.
And actually, I wonder, and I’ll ask you about this, if you don’t mind, just to get your thoughts on it: one of my anxieties when that happens to me is, once I get into the second, third, fourth draft, all the surprises are no longer surprising, all the violence has sort of become mundane, because I’ve seen it so many times, so one of my concerns is, what if it’s not violent, or what if it’s not scary? What if I just assume that I’ve gotten used to it, but I give it to the readers, and they’re not anymore disturbed by it. Well, not that I want to disturb readers, but I don’t mind them being disturbed!
But does that happen to you? Like you’re going for something, you want to tap into the reader’s imagination, you want them to feel something, generally disturbed, scared, something, but then there is that concern. I wonder if you feel that as well, what if this isn’t nearly as interesting or disturbing as I thought it was?
Joanna: I know what you mean. I think interesting is a better word, because I think looking for those things that are on the edge of something, that’s what I’m looking for as well, and I do exactly what you say, that inoculation happens, and then everything you read loses its power. I don’t read novels again, I don’t re-read novels, in general. I’ve read “The Stand” by Stephen King a couple of times, but generally I don’t re-read, but of course we have to re-read our own books!
Joanna: That’s interesting. And then a sort of follow-up question with that, because I get asked quite a lot, “What’s a nice girl like you doing with such a dark little mind?” and I mean, you’re a happy guy, you laugh a lot, you look lovely, you don’t look like a psycho.
Martin: Thank you!
Joanna: So do you get that question, and what do you say?
Martin: I actually do, especially when somebody meets me in person, or if I’m doing a speaking engagement or a book signing or something like that nature. I think a lot of folks are generally surprised to find out that I’m the person who wrote this book that potentially had given them nightmares or kept them up at night. And in terms of answering the question, I think to a large degree, I think I don't really know what to tell them.
II have thought about it, though, and the best answer I can come up with, or at least the answer that makes the most sense to me, is I know that, say, for instance, with comedians, some of the most successful comedians in the world, they come from very dark backgrounds, whether it’s they came from an abusive home or their parents were arguing, or they got beat up as a kid, there’s a lot of darkness in their background. And so I think a lot of their comedy comes from compensating for that darkness.
In my end, I’m one of the more fortunate people that I think that I know, I had a terrific childhood, and my parents were great, and Christmas was nice, and a lot of really nice things happened to me growing up, and so I think a lot of people who sort of dip into darkness, it’s almost kind of that opposite thing, and I don’t think it’s only me trying to compensate, like, “Oh my childhood was too happy, let me write something really bad,” but I think if you come from a sort of a dark background, you’re not interested in exploring that darkness, you’d rather explore something lighter and funnier. But I think in my case, because my life is generally happy, and I enjoy talking and laughing with people, that going into, exploring these dark corners in my imagination and in stories is really interesting and appealing to me.
Joanna: Great answer: I’m going to use that one!
Martin: It’s all yours.
Joanna: Because I’m the same: I come from a very happy background, my parents got divorced, but whose didn’t, but other than that, I have this great life, I’m really a happy, happy person, and yet I find myself writing dark things. So that’s great.
Well, it’s been so good to talk to you.
Tell us, where can people find you and your books online?
Martin: They can get more information on me, they can go to my website, martinlastrapes.com. Also, if they’re interested, they can check out my podcast, they can go to the website martinlastrapesshow.com. They can also subscribe to the show on iTunes, they can also listen on Stitcher Radio. From either one of those websites, you can click on the Shop page and you can see, my titles. As far as going and finding my novels, you can find them on Amazon, Barnes & Noble. You can buy the ebook in the iTunes bookstore, if you like. Those are kind of the three main places you can get the book, and there’s of course martinlastrapes.com, you can make it easy on yourself, and then the podcast, the Martin Lastrapes Show podcast hour, which they can find on martinlastrapesshow.com.
Joanna: Brilliant. Thanks so much for your time, Martin.
Martin: Oh, thanks so much, Joanna. This was truly an honor, and I mean that.