Another interview today, this time with Martin Hill, author of the military thriller, The Killing Depths.
Interview with Martin Roy Hill
Well, I’m a very rare native Californian, born and reared in Southern California and, other than my military service, I've always lived here. I worked as a journalist for twenty years, starting as a police reporter for a daily newspaper, then as an investigative reporter for a magazine, and ending as the editor of a business newspaper. I got tired of journalism and switched careers, becoming a military research analyst in the field of combat medicine. I've been a medic of one sort or another in both the military and in law enforcement reserves, as well as on a disaster response team, so that was a pretty natural transition. I live in San Diego, with my wife, Winke, our son, Brandon, and our two feline masters, Harry and Alex, whom we serve and obey.
How long have you been writing, and how many books have you published to date?
I became interested in writing in high school thanks to an English teacher who encouraged me to read classics and develop my writing skills. That’s when I started studying journalism and fiction writing. Over the years I've continued to write both nonfiction, both as a staffer and as a freelancer, and fiction. I've had nonfiction pieces published by LIFE, Newsweek, Reader’s Digest, Omni, and other magazines. My short fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Plan B Mystery Anthology, San Diego Magazine and others. So far, I have two books published, DUTY: Suspense and Mystery Stories from the Cold War and Beyond, and The Killing Depths.
Can you tell us about your books?
DUTY is a collection of previously published and new short stories which share a common thread dealing with military service. In the title story, an American soldier in the Cold War is ordered to do the unthinkable—start World War III. In another story, “Something Far Away,” a former Coastguardsman has to face the ghosts of his past as he helps smuggle a boatload of marijuana ashore. “The Stragglers” examines the impact wars have had on several generations of soldiers. In “The Use of Innocence,” a Vietnam vet tries to understand why a younger generation of soldiers is so eager to fight another war.
My novel, The Killing Depths, is a military mystery thriller which features NCIS Agent Linus Schag, who also appears in one of the short stories in DUTY. Schag is sent aboard the USS Encinitas, the first American attack sub manned by both men and women, to investigate the apparent suicide of a female sailor. He soon discovers the death was not only murder, but also the work of a serial killer who’s left a trail of dead women on shore. At the same time, the Encinitas is ordered on a covert mission to intercept and destroy a renegade Iranian sub armed with nuclear missiles. As the American crew engages in a life-or-death battle with the Iranian, Schag struggles to find the identity of the serial killer before the murderer’s blood lust destroys the Encinitas itself.
DUTY, by the way, was recently named the 2013 Best Short Story Anthology/Collection by the San Diego Book Awards, and The Killing Depths was a finalist for the 2013 San Diego Book Awards Sisters In Crime Mystery Award.
Why did you decide to write thrillers, military thrillers in particular?
I’m not sure I am just a thriller writer. The story line determines if it will be a thriller. There are stories in DUTY that are suspenseful and have the elements of thrillers, but others are more or less straight mysteries.
Writing military-related stories comes naturally, as I have served in the Coast Guard, Navy and a component of the California National Guard, and I now work for the Navy as an analyst. But sometimes the military aspect is tangential to the plot. The murder mystery I have coming out later this year doesn't involve the military; however, the protagonist is a war-weary war correspondent. The book I’m currently writing on is a sci-fi novella, but it involves American soldiers who make a startling discovery while serving in Iraq.
Can you tell us about your writing process? Where do your ideas originate? Do you have a certain writing routine?
I get my ideas from a variety of sources. From newspapers, from history books, even my friends. The short story “Duty,” for instance, was inspired by a friend’s experience when he was ordered to Vietnam. He was a nuclear demolitions specialist, and he thought the only reason he was being sent to Nam was to take the war to the nuclear brink. Of course, it turned out to be for other reasons.
“Something Far Away” was inspired by a true incident I heard about when I reported to my first duty station in the Coast Guard involving a fellow Coastie with PTSD.
Unfortunately, my writing schedule is inconsistent. I can only write part-time, since I have to work to pay the rent and put food on the table. I try to squeeze in an hour a day, or about 500 words, and more on the weekends, but I don’t always succeed. I recently purchased a Kindle Fire and a Bluetooth keyboard that I keep in my backpack. If I get a few minutes here or there, I can whip them out and write a few words.
How do you research your books?
With my background as a journalist and research analyst, researching my books comes pretty naturally. Researching The Killing Depths was a challenge, though. After all, submariners aren't called the Silent Service for nothing. I read a lot about submarine warfare and technology, studied schematics of Los Angeles-class submarines, and talked to former submariners. I really scored big when the Navy agreed to give me a tour of a Los Angeles-class sub.
I also had to research the psychology of serial killers in order to get into the head of the antagonist. I read several papers on the subject, which eventually made me completely change the backstory I had planned for the serial killer.
You've also worked as a journalist. Was it difficult to transition into writing fiction? What is your greatest challenge as a fiction writer?
I never had to make a transition. I wrote fiction the entire time I was worked as a journalist. I also worked for both newspapers and magazines, and each of those requires a different style of writing. As a result, switching from one form of writing to another isn't that difficult for me.
However, the one thing I really took away from my journalism career is an appreciation for good editing. I've known good editors and really rotten editors. Fortunately, my wife, Winke, is a highly experienced editor and edits everything I write.
I think my greatest challenge as a fiction writer is not giving up. I went a long stretch without writing anything, mostly because we were involved in two wars and the op tempo at my Navy job was very high. But I also think I didn't write because I was disillusioned. I had had some bad experiences with three incompetent literary agencies, and I started feeling hopeless. I had to get away from that before I could start writing again. Fortunately, I discovered indie publishing and I can stay away from lit agencies.
Who has inspired you as an author?
In my personal life, I was inspired by my high school English teacher, as I said earlier. I was also inspired by my late father-in-law, Robert Wade, who wrote twenty or thirty mysteries under the pen names Wade Miller and Whit Masterson, as well as under his own name. If you've ever seen the Orson Wells film noir classic, “Touch of Evil,” that was based on one of Bob’s books.
As far as being influenced by other writers, there are too many to name. I’m a prolific reader of many genres of fiction – mysteries, thrillers, sci-fi – and I learn something most everything I read.
What’s next for you?
My next book, Empty Places, is a murder mystery set in the California desert in the mid-1980s. Peter Brandt, a war correspondent, returns to the desert resort of Palm Springs to attend his ex-wife’s funeral only to learn she’d been brutally murdered and he’s the next target of her killer or killers. In trying to solve his ex-wife’s murder, Brandt uncovers a hornet’s nest of anti-communist rebels, smugglers, pornographers, and child sex slaves. It’s quasi-historical, in that it’s a microcosmic look at what was actually going on in the country during that period. Empty Places should be out before the end of the year.
Links for Martin Hill:
Martin's books are available on Amazon