#TuesdayTalk with Martha Brack Martin. Her novel, River Traffic, is on shelves now!
Tell us your about your book.
My novel, River Traffic, is a young adult thriller/mystery that revolves around the Detroit River. The river acts as a border between Canada and the United States, and has a history of trouble and danger — everything from wars to booze smuggling to escaping slaves on the Underground Railroad. Tom LeFave is the main character in River Traffic. He lives with his dad in his family’s old marina, right on the river. His ancestors were rum-runners, and Tom’s a bit of an expert on the history of the area. That comes in handy when a gorgeous rich girl from the States docks at his marina and wants Tom to show her around. Unfortunately, it isn’t long before Tom realizes there’s a lot more happening on the river than history…and if he can’t figure it out in time, he might just be history too!
What was the catalyst for your story?
I was already writing a longer YA with a rum-running backstory, and I decided I wanted to try to write an Orca Soundings. There were two articles in the local paper that caught my eye just as I was trying to figure out my plot. It was kind of serendipity; all the pieces fit together and I knew I had a good story that had just enough factual stuff to make it even more exciting.
What are the challenges of writing for or within a series?
I didn’t find the series aspect a challenge so much as a blessing. My usual writing style is to let the characters lead me, and I just follow along. With the Orca Soundings format, I had to write more “tightly” and know where I was going before I started. That was actually really exciting for me, and I think it improved my writing practice.
What was your favourite book as a child?
I’m a teacher-librarian now, and even as a kid I was a huge reader, so asking me that is like asking me which is my favourite child! <grin> I guess I would say The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart. I loved stories with magic and mysteries (still do), and I wanted desperately to be the protagonist and accidentally make a broomstick fly!
In your opinion, what makes a compelling story?
You have to care about the characters, and the plot has to make you want to keep reading. This is even more true today, with all our immediate gratification, than it was in the past. Readers need to be intrigued or amused or disgusted by the characters if they are going to bother reading past the first few pages, and they must be dying to know “what happens next” or they won’t bother reading more.
Does your book have a niche or specialty market?
There are very few books about Southern Ontario, and virtually none that are appealing to kids. After Boardwalk Empire, there’s also an interest in the rum-runners of the roaring twenties (on both sides of the border). River Traffic is purposely set so that it can appeal to readers on both sides of the border, especially in Michigan and Ontario. It also has a bullying subplot and deals a great deal with law enforcement, both of which are appealing to reluctant readers in my experience. I threw in some teen romance too, just to round things out. <grin> As a teacher and a former consultant for both Secondary English and Teacher Librarians, I know how hard both groups look for books that can actually teach things from the curriculum AND engage readers — especially reluctant readers and students for whom the English language is new. This book should appeal to high school teachers looking for novels that tie in with high school subjects like history, law, and civics, and which also will appeal to struggling readers who struggle with larger books or harder text.
Do you gravitate toward a certain genre or type of writing?
I absolutely LOVE Young Adult fiction, and mysteries and paranormal/fantasy are my favourite genres. I enjoy writing YA the most, probably because I love reading it the most. I DO enjoy the challenge of writing hi-lo (simpler text for reluctant or struggling readers) as well. I’ve had some hi-lo nonfiction books published so it wasn’t a big stretch to do a hi-lo YA novel. I enjoy picture book writing too, mostly because I like the challenge of trying to tell a great story with few words.
What types of conversations do you hope will come out of your book?
I am hoping kids will be excited to learn more about the rum-runners and the history of the river, but mostly I’m hoping they just get excited talking about the book and want to read more!
Tell us a little known or interesting fact about yourself.
I was one of a three-person team chosen to spend one million dollars deciding which books every elementary school in our school board should have, and then purchasing them! I’m also supposedly the only person in Canada who attended both the adult interview part of J.K. Rowling’s visit to Toronto to promote Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, AND the children’s only part, where she read aloud from the book and then signed copies for each guest. (I went as a reporter for the Ontario Library Association for the former, and as a mother of a reader for the latter!)