interview · Pay It Forward

Author Interview: Martyn V. Halm

Interview:

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I find the idea of your MC being the assassin really original. Was Katla always going to be your main character, or did you have someone else in mind? And if she was, why?

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Well, I have a lot of characters in my head, all clamouring for attention, but Katla was always going to be the protagonist of the Amsterdam Assassin Series. Although Bram, her blind lover, is also a crucial part of the series. I’ve read several books where the assassin was the antagonist, but not many where the assassin is the protagonist. And if the protagonist is an assassin, they are often filled with remorse, unable to get out of the life, fatalistic and nihilistic. Katla is none of that. She really enjoys the autonomy of her work as a corporate troubleshooter arranging ‘fortunate accidents’. And I enjoy helping her find original and creative ways of solving the situations she gets into.
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 This is the first time that I’ve actually found an assassin to be likeable. Katla is quite the independent woman. What is the characteristic you most love about her and why?
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Her world view. Katla, to me, is the ultimate realist. She observes without filtering the world through biases and preconceptions. As she is intimately familiar with the dark side of human nature, she doesn’t shy away from what most people will avoid at all costs. And her fearlessness allows the reader to follow her down paths that most of us wouldn’t go down in real life. Many readers like Katla, which comes as a surprise to me as I aimed for interesting rather than likable. I like her, of course, but I like all my characters, even the most vile and pernicious.
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 I find the character Bram really refreshing. The fact that he’s blind brings a heightened sense of uncertainty to his character and his relationship with Katla. He’s a very capable, intricate character – is he based on a real life person?
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None of my characters are based on real people, although I might give my characters some characteristics from people I know. Or from things I read, for instance: real blind people sometimes have a tendency to rub and push on their eyeballs, most of the time quite forcefully, and especially when they’re agitated.
If you’re visually impaired, rubbing your eyeballs might worsen your affliction, but Bram’s eyes are totally non-functioning anymore, so the habit doesn’t worsen his condition. However, pushing on his eyeballs will seat them deeper into the sockets, and that can result in infections or at least weird ‘hollow’ eyes, so Katla will often comment on  his habit whenever she observes him pushing his eyeballs.
Bram is a cool customer, so he rarely voices his discontent, but his agitation will show in his habit to push his eyeballs, so when Katla corrects him, he tends to get defensive or even aggressive.
I’ve read books or saw movies where a male (serial) killer has a blind girlfriend, i.e. John Woo’s The Killer and Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, but those relationships were hardly equal. Katla and Bram are equals, their respective qualities are in balance, they both bring their share to the table. And they both influence one another, although not to the same degree.
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 Just how much fun was it to write Katla as a character? She does a lot of daring, dangerous and violent things with little remorse. Did you have to do a lot of research to get things exactly how you wanted them, or did you always know precisely what you wanted her to go through?
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I live vicariously through my characters, so it’s great fun to have characters that don’t feel the same hesitation you and I might feel when confronted with the same situations. Which, I think, also makes Katla an interesting protagonist to follow. Since she won’t respond to dangerous situations like ‘normal’ people would, you know her character and personality will face the danger in a way that’s at once unexpected and fascinating.
As to the research necessary to depict violent criminals, I have a checkered past and I know Katla’s world quite well, although I observed mostly from the sidelines without jumping into the fray. Because of my past associations, I have no trouble finding and talking to people who aid me in the verisimilitude of my fiction.
As to the more factual research, like hacking, guns, forensics and law enforcement, I persuaded hackers, gun buffs, forensic specialists and law enforcement personnel to give me the inside view in their worlds. In a way, I employ the same social engineering methods Katla uses when she researches her targets.
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 In terms of word count ‘Reprobate’ is quite a long book. Did you ever consider cutting it down or was that never a possibility?
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At its most bloated, Reprobate was 127,000 words and the reviewers at Publishers Weekly, who read the manuscript when it was a quarterfinalist in the ABNA 2010, still thought it was ‘fast-moving’. When I shopped around for a publisher, I was asked to cut it down to 99K, and I did. However, too much was lost, mainly in the backstory of Deborah and the DEA, which made the characters flat and unappealing. When I couldn’t negotiate for better terms in the publishing contracts I was offered, I returned many deleted scenes to self-publish the version of Reprobate I enjoyed most. So Reprobate is 117, 000 words and some people still consider it a ‘short novel’.
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 I really love the covers you have for the entire series. They fit together and visually represent the efficiency of Katla and the artistic style of Bram. Was it difficult to find a cohesive vision for the series or did you always have an idea of how you wanted the covers to look?
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No, my first covers were photographs I took myself of Amsterdam, which were turned into covers by a student of graphic design, but they didn’t resonate with my audience.
I was looking for something better, but the cover artists I approached all had visions that didn’t stroke with mine. They wanted covers that were too similar to current suspense fiction covers, with blood or bullet holes or something dramatic, while the books are about an assassin who prefers to keep an understated ‘low key’ presence and doesn’t like to attract attention to her kills.
I met Farah Evers on the Accentuate Write Forums, she makes covers for most artists published through Twin Trinity Media, so I knew she could deliver quality covers. She’d done covers in a variety of genres, but nothing in suspense fiction yet. Since I was working on the third novel, Rogue, and was about to publish Fundamental Error, I needed six covers to begin with and probably another four or six in the future.
I had certain elements I wanted on my covers, like the crosshairs in the O (every title has at least one O), the push dagger, and the female silhouette (a nonchalant woman representative of Katla, not some sexy bimbo.
Farah’s first concepts were really close to the current covers, so she immediately got my vision and made it even better. So, when Ghosting comes out, all I have to think about is what symbol will end up on the push dagger (like the suppressed pistol on Reprobate and the bomb on Fundamental Error), and Farah will make sure the colour scheme will be different from all previous covers. It’s great collaborating with someone who understands where you want to go.
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 Although Katla is your main character, there are at least half a dozen more characters that are important to the flow and plot of the book. Which of them was your favourite to write and which ones did you desperately want to kill off?
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Apart from Katla, my favourite character to write is Bram. Not just because of the challenge of writing from a blind person’s perspective, but also because Bram is even more complicated than Katla. And where Katla remains more or less the same throughout the series, it’s Bram who goes through a whole character-arc that makes his journey even more interesting than Katla’s. Katla might be the brain of the stories, but Bram is the heart and soul.
I’m never desperate to kill off any character, even if they beg for it. I think my love for them shines through, and makes the reader care about their demise even more.
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 Thinking about the characters that died off in ‘Reprobate’ (I’m not naming names) is there one that you would like to ‘miraculously’ bring back to life, if you could? Why?
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No, they all died because they had to. Not just for the story, but Katla herself wouldn’t be believable if she allowed someone to live who’d be a threat to her safety. And I wouldn’t want to bring any of them back to life, because that might piss off the other characters dying to be featured in the series.
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 It’s not very often that you see a female assassin like Katla, who is so capable of being cold and indifferent to her job, but who has passion and isn’t devoid of all human emotion. Was she always going to be a woman? What has public opinion been about her?
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Public perception of assassins is often skewed by the assassins that are known to us, but assassins that are caught in the limelight are often not the professionals we take them for. More often than not, they’re the runts of the litter.
Katla is the real deal and I’m convinced women make better assassins than men. Most women don’t have the ego and need for validation men have. Also, they are less likely to raise suspicion, because women are not expected to be violent and homicidal. Once a woman has crossed the threshold into the world of violence she can be much deadlier than the male.
As to the public opinion of Katla, I’d have to go what I read in the reviews. Even if people seem to think there’s something fundamentally wrong with her—I heard terms like ‘functioning sociopath’ and ‘not properly socialised as a child’—I still get the sense that most readers like her, although some readers complain that they have trouble sympathising with her or forming an emotional bond with her. Perfectly understandable, but then, I’ve also heard of readers feeling guilty about loving someone so morally ambiguous and ruthless. So far, nobody seems to hate her, though. And I don’t know if I should be pleased about that…
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 Last but not least, what’s your favourite quote/excerpt from ‘Reprobate’ or ‘Fundamental Error’?
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One quote a lot of people seem to like is: Life without risks is like a burrito without Tabasco. Bland, but you’ll still fart.
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Where to Buy Martyn’s Books:

Kobo

Barnes and Noble

iTunes

Nook

Amazon

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How to get in touch with Martyn:

E-mail: katlasieltjes@yahoo.com

Mailing List

Blog

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Goodreads

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