Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong. Winston Churchill

Martin Roy Hill Interview Published on: 30, Jun 2018

Where were you born and brought up?

I grew up in Redondo Beach, a small community south of Los Angeles. With the exception of military service, I've been a Southern California resident all my life.

How would you describe your childhood while growing up? What is your favorite childhood memory?

Long, lazy summer vacations. Boy, I miss those.

You’ve worked so many jobs — a sailor, soldier, a journalist, and a writer. If you had to pick a favorite, which would it be?

That's hard to say. There are aspects of each I enjoyed very much. I enjoyed the adventure of small boat search and rescue in the U.S. Coast Guard. Being a police reporter for a daily newspaper was very exciting, and being an investigative journalist was fulfilling. But as in all things in life, there were accompanying frustrations, too. After a while, most things become boring, and you move along.

You worked for 20 years as a writer and editor for newspapers and magazines. What was the most challenging part of your job as a journalist?

Trying not to become too cynical about people. People will tell you one thing, and then deny they said it later on. As an investigative journalist, I always recorded my interviews and keep copious notes. I also relied heavily on documents. The Freedom of Information Act is a reporter's best friend.

The work you have done in investigative journalism has won you many awards and appreciation. According to you, what are the qualities one needs to be a successful investigative journalist?

Patience. Too often wannabe investigative reporters rush to publication with only a partly formed story. As in good police work, you need to follow up on each piece of information, confirm it with other sources, and nail it down hard.

You spent 13 years working as a coast-guardsman. What was the best experience you had in that job?

Saving lives. Most of my Coast Guard time was with the reserves. I've taken part in many rescues, but most of those did not involve situations that were immediately life-threatening to the people seeking assistance. Only twice in those 13 years did I take part in rescuing people who, had we not arrived when we did, probably would have perished. Both those rescues involved two people.

You have had a rather exciting life — chasing Russian spy ships and smugglers, jumping out of a plane, covering disasters and air crashes, etc. — almost like that of a book hero. How much influence have these had on your stories and writing?

Let's get something straight — I'm no hero. And all that stuff sounds more exciting in the telling than in the living.

Yet it does influence my writing. The opening piece in my short story collection, DUTY, describes the experience of jumping out of an airplane. That was based on my experience when I went through jump training in the 1970s. Another story in the same book was inspired by what I knew about drug smugglers from my time with the Coast Guard. The climactic scene in my thriller, Empty Places, in which Peter Brandt is nearly swept away by flood waters, is based on my own experience covering floods as a journalist. I was standing on the bank of a rain-swollen river when the bank started crumbling beneath me. If my photographer had noticed and warned me, I probably wouldn't be doing this interview right now.

Who all are a part of your family? How supportive have they been of your career choices?

I've been lucky. When I determined to be a writer in my teens, both my mother and father were very supportive. I dedicated my book DUTY to them. My late father-in-law Robert Wade — a well-known mystery writer himself — helped me with my first two novels. I dedicated Empty Places to Bob.

My wife, Winke, grew up in the publishing industry and she serves as one of my two editors. Our son, Brandon, is working on being a playwright himself. You joined the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve when you were very young — at the age of 19.

Do you think you missed out on anything because of work, which other people your age enjoyed?

Not at all. It not only helped me grow up, it gave me some great experiences you would never get any other way.

Which is the best fan mail you have ever received?

It wasn't a fan letter, but my favorite story is when Brandon send me a text telling me the guy sitting across from him on the bus was reading my novel The Killing Depths. It was the first time I actually realized I had readers.

Your first book, DUTY was awarded the 2012 Best Short Story Anthology/Collection by the San Diego Book Awards Association and your novel, The Butcher's Bill, was named the 2017 Best Suspense/Thriller Novel by the Best Indie Book Awards and received the 2017 Clue Award for best thriller. How does such appreciation make you feel? How does it inspire you to write better?

It's great to get recognition, but sometimes it's hard to believe. When the San Diego Books Awards announced DUTY as the winner at their awards ceremony, it just didn't register in my brain. My wife had to nudge me and say, "They're calling your name!" When I was notified by email of the two awards for The Butcher's Bill, I had to have Winke read them to make sure they said what I thought they said.

The Linus Schag series is a brave and bold thriller series. Apart from writing the genre, do you also enjoy reading it? Which is your favorite book in the genre?

You need to read the genre you write in, so, yes, I read a lot of thrillers. Actually, should say I listen to a lot of thrillers since I listen to audiobooks during my commute. Some of my favorite writers are David Morrell, James Rollins, Bob Mayer, and Jack Higgins. Of course, there are also the late-greats like John D. MacDonald, Alister McLean, and Ian Fleming.

You are a professional member of organizations like Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. What do you learn from them and how do you incorporate it in your writing?

One of most important things professional membership in these organizations gives a writer is credibility, since you need to reach a certain level in your career before you can be granted full membership. It also provides a chance to network with other authors, both in person and virtually over the Internet. It also provides learning opportunities to improve your writing. The San Diego chapter of Sisters in Crime is very active, with talks by established authors or experts in law enforcement every month, and an annual day-long writing conference. I also regularly take part in the ITW's weekly Thriller Roundtable in which authors discuss various topics dealing with the art of writing.

What’s the next project you are working on? What is your inspiration behind it?

My latest book should be out sometime this year. It's a military sci-fi thriller called Polar Melt and, as you might guess from the title, deals with the disappearing Arctic ice cap due to global climate change. A special Coast Guard team links the disappearance of an Arctic research ship's entire crew to a Russian oil platform and the mysterious energy source that lies below it.

Where were you born and brought up?

I grew up in Redondo Beach, a small community south of Los Angeles. With the exception of military service, I've been a Southern California resident all my life.

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