Friday, February 12, 2016

A Conversation with Thriller Writer Martin Roy Hill

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Martin Roy Hill

We are delighted to welcome author Martin Roy Hill to Omnimystery News today.

Martin's second thriller to feature journalist Peter Brandt, The Last Refuge (February 2016 trade paperback and ebook formats), is published later this month and we recently had a chance to catch up with him to talk more about his books.

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Omnimystery News: Introduce us to Peter Brandt. What is it about him that appeals to you as a writer?

Martin Roy Hill
Photo provided courtesy of
Martin Roy Hill

Martin Roy Hill: The protagonist of The Last Refuge is Peter Brandt, a battle-scarred former war correspondent first seen in my novel Empty Places. They say a writer should write the kind of story he enjoys reading, and I've always enjoyed the type of sardonic first-person narratives of writers like Raymond Chandler and Alistair MacLean. I had that in mind when I created Peter for Empty Places — a sarcastic, world-weary anti-hero who rises to the occasion despite his own wishes. In that respect, both Empty Places and The Last Refuge have a noir quality to them.

OMN: How has Peter changed between the time-frames of the two books?

MRH: It's interesting that you ask that question. I recently wrote a piece for my website's blog called "Violence 101: A Primer for Writers" in which I describe mechanisms of injury and how they have lasting effects on their victims. I wrote it in response to what I call "The Mission: Impossible Syndrome", after the movie series in which main character gets blown up all the time with no lasting injuries. I think you fail in character development if your character has no human response to the terrible things he or she has witnessed or endured over time. I shared the blog with my colleagues in Mystery Writers of America and got a very enthusiastic response.

Empty Places takes place in the late 1980s and Peter has just returned from covering the Reagan administration's proxy wars in Central America where he suffered a severe head injury. Peter suffers from terrible blinding headaches due to the injury as well nightmares and guilt over how the injury occurred. The Last Refuge takes place in 1993, not long after Operation Desert Storm, which Peter also covered as a news service correspondent. His headaches have improved with treatment, but he still has horrible nightmares about the horrors he's witnessed in Central America and Desert Storm, as well as the violence he survives in Empty Places. He's trying hard to make improvements in his life, but it's difficult when he's tortured by bad dreams and guilt.

OMN: How much of your own personal or professional experience have you included in your books?

MRH: Peter Brandt probably has a little more of me in him than any of my other characters. I spent 20 years as a journalist before switching careers and becoming a U.S. Navy analyst in combat casualty care. Like Peter, I started my reporting career as a police reporter for the daily newspaper in Palm Springs, CA, and many of the ghosts he talks about in Empty Places are, in fact, my ghosts — images of the dead and dying that I've seen over the years. Some of the historic events he talks about in both books are events I covered as an investigative journalist. Also, I tend to be a somewhat world-weary, sardonic sort, too.

OMN: How did the books come to be titled?

MRH: All of my book titles are intricately connected to the theme of the book. My book, Duty, is a collection of short stories with the common theme of military service. My military mystery thriller, The Killing Depths, takes place aboard an American submarine and the title refers to both the crushing depths of the ocean and to the dual plot of the book dealing with a submarine chase and a serial killer onboard the submarine itself. My sci-fi novella, Eden, takes place during Operation Iraqi Freedom in an area of Iraq that many researchers believe is the location of the Biblical Garden of Eden.

The theme of Empty Places was how people try to cope with the emptiness in their lives by seeking power of one sort or another, or by seeking oblivion one way or another. The Last Refuge was inspired by the defense industry scandals of the 1980s and early 1990s. The title comes from Samuel Johnson's rebuke of his fellow politicians who hid their greed and corruption behind a veil of patriotic fervor: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

OMN: Tell us a little more about your writing process.

MRH: I am definitely a plotter. I want to be certain I have a story before I write it. I learned to plot using 3x5 inch index cards, writing down plot points and scenes, then shuffling the cards around to organize them into a coherent plot. Today, I use Scrivener's cork board app to do the same thing. I also always do basic character sketches.

However, I like to compare plotting a novel to planning a road trip. You study a map, and decide where you're going to and how you'll get there. But once you start driving, you find yourself making detours to see this sight or that sight. And, yes, I find my characters have minds of their own. In a sequel to The Killing Depths that I'm currently writing, one of the characters was supposed to die one way, but he refused to do so. He ended up dying in a totally different way, and I think it made the book better.

OMN: How do you go about researching the plot points of your stories? Have there been any particularly difficult topics?

MRH: Having been an investigative journalist for many years, research is something that comes naturally to me. The Internet has made it much simpler, particularly since with Google Earth and Maps you can visit a location thousands of miles away without leaving your desk. I've also been fortunate to have a rather eclectic career, including service in three branches of the military reserves, plus service as a law enforcement reservist and a member of a federal disaster response team. I bring those experiences to my books.

Of all my books, The Killing Depths was probably the most difficult book to research. I had to read numerous books about submarine operations and warfare. I talked to former submariners and had a retired submariner read the first draft of the book. I even was able to get the Navy to give me a tour of a Los Angeles-class killer submarine.

OMN: What are some of your outside interests?

MRH: I really don't have any real hobbies as you think of hobbies. I have a strong background in search and rescue operations, having served 13 years active and reserve duty in the U.S. Coast Guard and about six years on a wilderness SAR team. And as I said earlier, I spent six or so years on a federal disaster response team. Today, I am the executive officer of a state military police battalion in a component of the California National Guard. All of that part-time or reserve service, plus my day job with the Navy as well as family commitments don't leave a lot of free time for hobbies. Any free time I get, I spend on my writing.

Yet all that experience definitely seeps into my writing. In the Coast Guard, I was involved in maritime law enforcement, including counter-narcotics smuggling operations along the U.S.-Mexico maritime boundary. I received additional law enforcement training when I was on the local Sheriff's SAR team, and later in the National Guard. All that experience is useful to draw on when writing my mysteries.

OMN: What's next for you?

MRH: I'm working on two new novels. One is a sequel to The Killing Depths featuring NCIS special agent Linus Schag. I'm into the first rewrite of the manuscript on that one. I'm also in the plotting stages of another novel that is a sort of military sci-fi story involving a special unit of the U.S. Coast Guard. As I said, I'm a Coast Guard veteran and have always wanted to write a book centered on the service.

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Martin Roy Hill spent more than 20 years as a staff reporter and editor for newspapers and magazines, before becoming a military analyst specializing in battlefield medical operations for the Navy. A veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy Reserves, and the California National Guard, Martin has also served on a sheriff's wilderness search and rescue team, and on two disaster response teams. He lives in La Jolla, CA.

For more information about the author, please visit his website at MartinRoyHill.com and his author page on Goodreads, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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The Last Refuge by Martin Roy Hill

The Last Refuge by Martin Roy Hill

A Peter Brandt Thriller

Publisher: Martin Roy Hill

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)

Iraq, 1991: Operation Desert Storm. In a terrible friendly fire incident, a U.S. helicopter massacres a small convoy of American MPs. Among the dead: a mysterious American civilian engineer discovered by the soldiers behind enemy lines.

San Diego, CA, 1993: A freelance journalist is hired to write a story about a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the dead engineer's widow against the government and the defense contractor he worked for. The problem: the government insists the lawsuit does not exist, and the contractor claims the engineer did not work for them. Worse, someone is willing to kill to keep it that way.

Peter Brandt, the war-scarred journalist hero of Empty Places, returns in this story of greed, betrayal, and government secrets. Can Peter expose the truth without becoming another victim of the wartime tragedy?

The Last Refuge by Martin Roy Hill

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