I’m excited to tell you about a brand new novel by Martin Bannon! You might know him by another name, though I can’t tell you what that is. I’m sworn to secrecy, and can only refer to him as Mr. Bannon. These are the terms of his Witness Protection program.
Martin’s new book is called Senseless Confidential. I had the pleasure of reading an advanced copy, and this book had me laughing out loud. It also got me teary-eyed at times, kept me in suspense, and had me thoroughly entertained throughout.
Martin is here to talk about his book. But, first, this is what I can tell you about the man behind the words: (If you recognize him, please do not shout out his birth name anywhere near the Russian Mafia.)
Bannon, who has lived in places as varied as Puerto Rico, Switzerland, and Utah, majored in Soviet Studies to pursue a career in Intelligence. When he discovered that there was no such thing, he became a writer instead, where he has been living out cover legends ever since.
He is fluent in three languages and can make educated errors in several more. He has traveled to 38 of the US states and 19 foreign countries. He has been a tea guest of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, pursued by Hungarian security forces, and questioned by East German authorities.
He has been adopted by a cat named Rudy, who is sometimes mistaken for a meatloaf.
Here’s a look at Martin’s book:
Nick Prince just wants to go drown his sorrows at the Safari Club and pine for Beth, his lost college love. But before he can do that, his job with the U.S. Census Bureau requires him to face down reluctant respondents in the remote forests of Oregon, who repel him with everything from pit bulls to shotguns.
When a chance encounter in the tiny town of Elwood lands him in the midst of a loopy polygamist clan, it sets off a wild, wacky race to save himself, his job, and his bleeding heart. You won’t know whether to laugh or cry as Nick struggles to sort out the multiple warrants and women that stand between him and his sanity.
Now for a chat with Martin:
This book is written in first person, from the perspective of Census worker Nick Prince. I know you have firsthand knowledge of what this career entails. Were any of the scenes based on real-life experience?
Yeah, most of it was based on real life; only the body parts have been changed to protect the innocent. Of course, I’m not allowed to tell you any of the real stuff without doing hard time.
This explains your required anonymity. Pseudonyms are better than witness protection. I had no idea the laws for Census workers were so strict. Have you ever witnessed a crime you had to ignore because you were on company time?
I see lots of things I’d rather not, and many I shouldn’t. Few rise to the level of “criminal offense,” but many are criminally offensive.
Senseless is a slight departure from your previous suspense-driven novels. You’ve written this book under a pseudonym, so I won’t mention your other books by name. But one thing that stands out for me with all your books is your ability to bring life to your characters. What is your process for character development?
I’m too lazy to do character development, so I let the characters do their own. Kind of like letting little brats run loose at the mall, just to see what mischief they get up to. I start a scene with the bare minimum: a gender, an age, and a relationship to the protagonist. Then I let all hell break loose. Whatever the characters say and do to each other ends up defining them.
It’s the way you get to know people in real life. You might say, “Hey, she’s hot. I’d like to get to know her.” Then, after you’ve asked her out for a coffee, you find she can’t string three words together and you’re bored to tears. Or maybe when you go to place your order and the plain-Jane barista’s eyes meet yours, an unexpected connection is made, and you can’t stop obsessing about her for the rest of the day.
I just put myself in the shoes of each character, have them introduce themselves, and let them react organically. I get to know them as they get to know each other. I never try to force them to be something or someone that doesn’t feel natural.
I approach my writing in a similar way. Most college courses and ‘how-to write’ books teach the opposite, with outlining being a major factor. Do you feel it’s important to teach the more organized, but also more restrictive, outlining method to all new writers? For you, what are the pros and cons to the sort of freeform writing you do?
When I started writing for my first magazine, the executive editor kept telling me my writing was “too academic”; that is, I wrote like it was a college assignment. Times have changed since I went to school; no one writes like Dickens or Thoreau anymore. Today’s readers want natural language, not perfect diction.
The pro of my style is that natural dialogue comes easy. The con is that the story can meander when the characters don’t cooperate with the plot you had in mind. That’s when outlining comes in handy—but not before. Whenever I’ve outlined in advance I’ve hit a brick wall, because the story starts feeling forced and unnatural.
I find most humor-based fiction is written in first person. (My own included.) Was this a factor in your POV choice?
Not really. I didn’t know this was going to be funny when I started. I described it to those who asked as “an absurdist action novel.” I wanted the twists and turns to be so far out of left field that no one would see them coming, but it didn’t occur to me until later that this would end up being funny rather than simply unexpected.
My reason for choosing first-person—specifically, first-person present—narration, was that it is the de facto medium of film noir, and I intended this to be a neo-noir adventure. Interestingly, I have been highly critical of self-published authors in general who default to first –person narration. The reason is two-fold.
First, it’s very hard to do well, and most novices don’t; consequently, their writing feels very self indulgent. They do nothing more than place themselves in the role of the main character and tell the story as if it were a series of diary entries. It’s like getting cornered by that boring coworker at the office Christmas party who won’t stop talking about himself. It becomes a case of TMI.
Second, first-person can be a very claustrophobic point of view. The reader only gets to see, feel, and interpret what the character-narrator does. If she happens to be an introvert who doesn’t get out much or a victim locked in the basement, then the story spends way too much time in her head instead of exploring the world she inhabits. First-person only works well when it’s applied to an extroverted, observant, highly critical character who gets around—someone who can be a tour guide rather than just a tourist in the fictional world.
You raise some important points. First-person is restrictive and not a POV I’d choose often. In fact, I’ve only used it in one book (my sixth), which, like Senseless, is written from the perspective of a character whose job I had done for many years and I completely identified with. Since the book centered around her job experiences, I could only approach it in first person. (The writing simply happened that way.) Was the close connection with your character’s occupation and experiences a factor in your POV choice? Is it a story that would have worked just as well in the more traditional third person?
This story, like the one you reference in your sixth book, had to be in first person. The story is carried not by the experiences of the protagonist, but by his reactions to them. Third person could not have captured his sardonic worldview and snarky observations. The humor often comes from the juxtaposition of what he’s thinking versus what he actually says to the other characters.
What is easiest for you to write – the beginning, middle, or ending?
I love beginnings. It’s like throwing a party where I invite all the most interesting people I know to come let their hair down. Then I just sit back and watch what happens. The middle is more fraught with responsibility, like trying to get them all home safely. And the end is the next morning when you have to clean up all the messes they left—never fun. Yeah, the beginning is definitely the most fun.
What inspires you?
Good writing. I get most excited about being a writer when I’m reading someone else’s success at being one. I want to go out and do the same.
My characters, in particular, are inspired by my love of people-watching. Whenever I have downtime you’ll find me at one of Portland’s many coffeehouses, or just wandering its streets, observing. There are so many interesting people everywhere.
As for my plots, they’re inspired by real life. Sometimes I tell the story in the same way things actually played out, sometimes it’s how they might have played out. I like to mix it up so the reader can’t tell where truth and fiction diverge.
Want to know more about Martin and his writing? The things he’s legally allowed to tell you can be found on his website: http://MartinBannon.com
You can also find him on Twitter, where his 140 character Tweets are monitored by men in black: @Martin_Bannon
Or you can grab your copy from Barnes and Noble
But don’t wait too long. I hear the Census Bureau has hired a team of attorneys to demand Martin’s true identity be revealed. They are talking about burning it all to pieces. Whether they are referring to the books or Martin has not yet been determined.
Thanks for reading.
Tags: author interviews, BestsellerBound Authors, Census Bureau, indie authors, Indie Authors on Kindle, Martin Bannon, New Kindle Releases, new suspense novels, Novels with Humor, Senseless Confidential