One of the wonderful things about the internet is that you can connect to people in lots of ways. I met Jonnie Martin when she came across our God’s Whisper Farm Facebook page and contacted me about what we do here. In the midst of our conversation, we discovered we’re both writers, and I was thrilled to learn that she has a new book coming out, a Western, something for my dad for his birthday. 🙂 Enjoy this great interview, and be sure to check out Jonnie’s book.
Wrangle is my first novel, set on a Texas quarter horse ranch in the 1970’s when racing was still done on dirt tracks and winning meant more to a rancher than the value of the cash purse. City-bred Shannon Murphy comes to manage her father’s ranch and is enamored with the tactile world despite its danger. When a tragedy exiles Shannon into the Davis Mountains, she wrestles with the notion of family loyalty and whether she must relinquish self to find love. Wrangle grew out of my fond recollections of a quarter horse ranch once owned by my uncle near Hempstead, Texas. My story is fictional and no family secrets are revealed; however I have told my relatives they should buy a copy of the book – just in case. Wrangle is available in paperback and electronically through Amazon.
2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?
My mother was an inveterate reader; she had a very large library of books as diverse as Madame Bovary and the complete collection of Zane Grey westerns. I was allowed to read anything that I pleased – and everything pleased me very much. By the time that I reached junior high English, I was well-read and a natural for the school’s journalism class. From that moment forward, I have been a writer – first as a journalist, later as a business writer, and more recently as a fiction writer.
3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?
My writing is nearly constant but I would not describe it as a “routine.” I have the ability to discipline myself to a schedule, but while that works just fine for journalistic writing, it does not work well for me if I am to produce good fiction. Creative writing must come from the heart (I highly recommend Robert Olen Butler’s From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction). My secret to constant writing is to always have multiple projects afoot. In 2013, I have been doing the final edit on Wrangle, as well as writing a twice-monthly newspaper column and a weekly blog. In 2014, I will replace Wrangle with the revision of book #2, Copper Summers and early work on book #3. Although it is not a rigid routine, when I am deeply immersed in a novel, I usually write at the pace of a chapter a week.
4. Who are you reading now?
For a while now, I have focused my writing on western subjects and not surprisingly, I have also focused my reading on literary westerns and frankly those are hard to find. In 2012, I found Train Dreams, an unlikely western tale by Denis Johnson who is known for edgy modern works, but no great finds in 2013. But that is OK – I have gone back and captured books I missed in years past. Like The Milagro Beanfield War (John Nichols, 1974); Dancing at the Rascal Fair (Ivan Doig, 1987); and Fencing the Sky (James Galvin’s 1999 sequel to his beautiful work, The Meadow, 1993).
5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?
Periodically I list my favorite books on my website (www.jonniemartin.com); right now it is dedicated to my favorite western books (or those with a similar earthiness). Only three favorites? How impossible, but today it would be: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (more southern than western but a literary masterpiece in form); The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (the painful story of Oklahoma sharecroppers driven west by drought); and Plainsong by Kent Haruf (a poignant story of two aging ranchers on the Colorado Plains).
6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?
That is the struggle for modern writers, isn’t it? I found I had to narrow focus. Writing fiction I tapped into my wellspring of emotions and that led me back to Texas. Living here again I have found it easier to access the western world that forms the nucleus for Wrangle and for books #2 and #3 to follow. I write a column for a local newspaper (primarily interviewing ranchers and farmers and rodeo folks). I changed the name and header for my weekly blog to focus on Texas in particular and the west in general. I primarily read books, magazines, and blogs with a western flavor. Each of these “pieces” of my literary life support and enhance the others. Now as I have begun to market, Wrangle it is easier to identify the writing platforms (such as membership in the Western Writers of America who give the Spur Awards to new and established authors).
7. What is a typical day like for you?
Fortunately, I am retired from business (you, too, will get there, young writers). While I don’t have a typical day, each week consists of time with my family and with my various forms of writing-reading-research. As I mentioned above, I write for a local newspaper, and that means community meetings, interviews, drafting and posting the column. I blog weekly, and that consists of reading, researching, drafting, posting and then re-posting onto social media. I have written some short stories, but I am primarily a novelist. I always have books in the works – it’s like an assembly line (Wrangle is being marketed; Copper Summers revised; book 3 researched). There is rarely a day that I do not write, but the nature of the writing depends on which project needs attention.
8. Describe your dream writing space?
My current writing space is quite adequate – a spare bedroom that is my office; a big map of the State of Texas covering half-a-wall. I am still on the lookout for western art, but photos of family (including 4 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren) decorate my bookcase. If I were to dream – it would be a larger space with big floor-to-ceiling windows and French doors that opened out onto a deck with a view. Perhaps I’d have helpers who would do the cooking and cleaning and run the errands and bring me a tall glass of sangria over ice at 5 p.m. daily. Oh dear, I guess I’ve gone too far, now haven’t I?
9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?
If a writer is honest, we must admit that we despise critiques; how dare anyone attack our perfect work? But then how shall we ever grow without good critical feedback? I was fortunate in my studies (BA in Literature and Creative Writing from Marylhurst University; MFA in Fiction from Queens University of Charlotte). Both schools utilized the workshop model, and I received valuable insight from professors and fellow writers. Fellow Queens alum Steve Eoannou has the greatest knack for recognizing the heart of a novel, and I always listen to him (although I may whine a little). One of my fellow Queenies (James Brown, if I’m remembering correctly) once told me my writing was “too nice.” “Damn it, kill someone,” he advised. I am still working on that one.
10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?
There are two pieces of seemingly opposite and conflicting thoughts that I would like to share. First of all, get all of the education you can about literature and about writing; an undergraduate degree allows you to experiment with all of the forms; an MFA allows you to hone that particular form. And if you write fiction, buy a copy of the “bible” — Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway. Secondly, lay all that education aside as you write; break the rules; experiment; write with abandon. Find something to say that is important; something that you feel deeply; something that tantalizes your mind. It is in revision that you will circle back and clean up the form and utilize all that formal education. There should always be a tension between these polar opposites, and it is not easy to maintain – but necessary.
Jonnie Martin was born in 1939 in Cowtown (Ft. Worth, Texas). As an adult she migrated to other states, chasing career. In 2012 she returned home, settling into the ranch-and-farm community of Hempstead. In those seven decades, she worked as a journalist, raised three sons, ran a business, earned three college degrees, including an MFA in Fiction. She circled back to writing again, as a novelist and blogger, and columnist for the Waller County News Citizen. In the long journey, she re-discovered her roots, drawn back to the land and the people who formed her.