Martyn V. Halm lives in Amsterdam, with his wife Maaike, two children, two cats, and countless imaginary characters vying for attention.
Writing realistic crime fiction is hard work. Martyn is a stickler for verisimilitude in fiction, even if that requires learning new skills. When your protagonist is a seasoned killer, research can take you right up to Nietzsche’s abyss. Luckily, things get easier after the first kill. And, apart from being an accomplished prevaricator, Martyn already possessed several skills that qualified him to write the Amsterdam Assassin Series.
• A former bouncer, Martyn trains in aikido and koryu bujutsu. The combination of street-fighting and martial arts provides him with the experience to write realistic fighting scenes. Plus he knows how to wield a Japanese sword convincingly.
• Martyn is a former motorcycle courier and loves to go for rides on his motorcycles—both to commute in the congested Randstad and for recreation. His personal motorcycles are a tricked-out bedlinered BMW R1100GS, a dented Vespa PX200E motor scooter, and a Moto Guzzi Mille GT with EZS sidecar that he uses to cart the children around. His wife’s Suzuki 650 V-Strom Black Rhino will do in a pinch.
• Martyn shares his protagonist’s fondness for sharp implements and projectile weapons developed before the age of firearms. His expertise with catapults, throwing blades, shuriken, darts, and (cross)bows notwithstanding, he knows how to handle light firearms. And spud guns.
• While he is as fastidious about tea as Bram and as critical about coffee as Katla, Martyn prefers a cappuccino over an espresso, and drinks his Lapsang without sugar.
• Like Bram Merleyn, Martyn studies the game of Go, although he wouldn’t be able to play an entire game with his eyes closed.
• His knowledge of Namikoshi shiatsu is reflected in Bram Merleyn’s mastery of acu-pressure massage.
• While Martyn is nowhere near as handy with lockpicks as Katla, most household locks are unable to resist him for long.
• Although Martyn also shares some of Katla’s lethal and unorthodox skills, he doesn’t feel the need to use them for illegal activities. Crime might pay, but writing about crime provides a steadier income with less risk.
What inspires you to write?
Basically, I write the stories I wanted to read but couldn’t find.
I always enjoyed stories about assassins, but my opinion on assassins differed from the books I read. Since most fictional assassins are antagonists, they are often warped individuals, with freaky childhoods. However, I have come across mercenaries (basically the same field), who are pretty regular people. Sure their view of the world differs from ordinary citizens, but they’re not ‘warped’. This made me want to write about an assassin who has no deep-seated frustration or abused childhood, but who just realised that killing was what she was good at and who had the appropriate world view and lack of conscience to pull it off.
Tell us about your writing process.
I’ve been writing and editing my own work for over twenty years now, but that doesn’t mean I’m not open to new ideas. When I first started writing, I wrote on paper using a typewriter, retyping whole sections to edit out the errors. Needless to say, my current work process differs from the process I had when I started out.
I have a MacBook with Scrivener. I start with scenes that I export to SimpleNote. With the SimpleNote app on my iPad, I can open these files and write them wherever I am. SimpleNote has no advanced features, so you cannot format or change font or even use bold, italic or underline, which allows for distraction free writing. Instead of ‘saving’ my work, I email the notes to myself as backup. When I get back home, I connect the iPad to WiFi and it will upload the updated scenes to their website. Then I open Scrivener on my MacBook and import the updated scenes by synchronizing with SimpleNote.
When I finished my rough draft, I use Scrivener to edit and arrange the scenes, divide them into chapters, and compile an e-book. That e-book is then uploaded to iBooks on my iPad, where I can read it back and highlight/notate anything that I want to edit later. This part is a modern version of the old advice to print out your manuscript and go through it with a red pencil. The main advantage is that you’re not carrying 500 loose A4 pages, but what is also important is that the old method required leafing through the printed manuscript to find the highlights, while the e-reader on my iPad will just make a list of edits.
Once corrected, I make an updated version of the e-book and send it to my beta-readers, who will provide me with feedback. Using the feedback I will correct the manuscript and make an Advanced Reader Copy or ARC, that I sent to reviewers so they can form an opinion and write a review to be published when the book is launched.
I don’t use ‘outlines’. I know more or less the arc of the story and will write scenes, often out of chronological order, sometimes the key scenes first and the intermittent scenes afterward. The scenes will be arranged in the ‘book order’ when I finished the rough draft. Most of the time, after I ordered the scenes and read the entire first draft it becomes apparent if I need more scenes in-between. I have files on characters to remain consistent about stuff like injuries or if they have a tattoo on their left or right shoulder, but not much on characteristics. That’s all in my head.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I listen to my characters talk to each other. They don’t talk to me, I’m not important.
What advice would you give other writers?
If you’re starting out, don’t try to write ‘a book’. Write drafts. A draft is not meant to be read by outsiders, so you can put into the draft whatever you want. If you feel like a long description, go ahead. Five pages of dialogue? Just put it in. Don’t listen to your ‘inner editor’, don’t listen to outsiders who will tell you what rules you have to follow. Forget all that, you have permission to write eight hundred pages of total crap.
When you have enough material for a book, then you put on your editor cap. Make a copy of the original draft and edit the hell out of it. Turn the five pages of rambling dialogue into 1-2 pages of killer interaction. Cut all the unnecessary crutch words like ‘very’ and all ambiguity like ‘kind of’ and ‘sort of’. Hunt down and kill all of your adverbs. Make everything consistent, so that characters keep the same name and particulars throughout the book/series. When you’re finished with that, then it’s time to show your work to outsiders and ask their opinion.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
I tried to get a publisher, but US and UK publishers were hesitant to work with me because I lived abroad. I got a lot of positive responses on my manuscript, but nothing definite. I got a few offers, but the terms and conditions were not favorable to me. Another consideration was guarantees of print. I write a series and if I would end up with the wrong publisher, I could get in a situation where the first book in the series would have a different publisher than the other books. They could stop printing the books without reverting the rights to me, and I’d end up with an incomplete series nobody would want to read.
Self-publishing allows me to keep all the rights, make sure I’m distributed worldwide, follow my own publication schedule instead of publishing just one book per year, and keep my prices low because I don’t have the overhead of a large publishing company.
Although I started self-publishing in August 2012, in just a little over a year there have been incredible changes in the publishing industry and the image of self-publishing, which was equated with vanity publishing, is now a more legitimate possibility for authors. As evidenced by the flux of former trade-published midlist authors self-publishing their backlists.
If you’re a new author, self-publishing your work allows you to try out if you have what it takes to build a following. And you will need a following or social media presence to get trade publishers interested in your work. Just quality writing isn’t enough anymore, you have to prove you can draw mass appeal.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I personally think that ‘content’ publishing, like mass market paperbacks novels, will shift to e-publishing. Print will remain for books that appeal to collectors of hardcover novels, coffee table and art books. There was an item in Publishers Weekly about publishers no longer offering print to everyone. Seems like publishers will test out new authors on the e-book market and Print-On-Demand first before they’ll invest in print runs. That said, going with trade publishers seems to be bringing fewer and fewer advantages to the table.
What do you use?
Professional Editor, Professional Cover Designer, Beta Readers
What genres do you write?
What formats are your books in?