Sbr Martin's Blog - Posts Tagged "sbr-martin"

As an author, it is a great compliment to be asked to write a guest post on another author's blog. Check out my recent post on author Wodke Hawkinson's blog. And be sure to explore the other guest posts - fresh talent awaits!

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Using the "F" Word in Fiction

Oh, behave! I’m not being nearly as scandalous as the title of this guest post would suggest. The “F” word to which I’m referring is “Fact,” and its use in fiction can be just as challenging, just as brow-raising, as the dirty word you likely thought I meant.

My fiction has been described as “psychological and thoughtful” by Midwest Book Review, my characters as “flawed and believable, yet familiar” by Publishers Weekly. One book review blogger recently wrote: “Martin has created characters so real, so rich in character that you know in your heart that these character(s) must be real.”

And these are just the comments of strangers, of persons who do not personally know me or who know nothing of my past, present, or future. The comments and questions that roll in from those in the know are even more loaded.

“Wow, I never knew you felt that way,” said one friend.

“I’m glad you finally got it all out,” said a distant family relation.

“I have to ask,” posed my publisher, “is this based on your own life?”

To date, I’ve published two titles of contemporary fiction—“in wake of water,” released Nov. 2011; and, “pig,” released June 2012. In addition to the rich character development noted by various sources, both books have in common the fact that they touch on touchy topics, very real and very disturbing possibilities in the human condition.

“In wake of water” centers on a female lead who contemplates suicide following the losses of her immediate family members. Her tendencies are counterbalanced by a male lead who greatly fears death, life, and living. As the story unfolds, small-town secrets are revealed in a thought-provoking tome of sex, deception, ignorance, and guilt.

Honored as a Second Prize Quarterfinalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest, my second novel, “pig” also discusses death and loss, among other ostensible themes. “Pig” is the story of Lily, a troubled woman seated at her husband’s funeral, whose life is recalled in a tensely tense-shifting narrative of domestic abuse, adultery, alcoholism, motherhood, and redemption.

As my fiction focuses on humans (rather than otherworldly creatures such as vampires, werewolves, or cyborgs) and explores very real human scenarios (as opposed to things such as time travel, mind control, and immortality), it instantly raises questions among readers. And, when those readers take a look at my extended bio, the questions keep coming.

My mother passed away in 1999. My sister, my only sibling, died in 2001. My father keeled over in 2003. All one has to do is read the first page of “in wake of water” to see these facts mirrored in my fiction. The question then becomes, “Does it stop there?”

Yes and No. Quite simply, these facts were brought into my fiction because they are compelling. They are the stuff that makes for a good read, the stuff that makes a work not only readable but also relatable.

Indeed, we write what we know, but we also write what we don’t know, what we want to know, and what we can never know. My true story, alone, without fabrication or exaggeration, is not exceptional. What makes it exceptional is the way that my fact is intertwined with the purely fictitious, or supplemented by fact found elsewhere in this world.

Carrying over into “pig,” one then wonders if the next chapter of my reality was laden with abuse, alcoholism, adultery, and other “A” words. Sure. A little here. A little there. But nothing in “pig” is fact in its entirety. Again, it’s the compelling stuff that makes for a good story. A curly hair of truth beneath a fake wig that’s tidy.

I am reminded of the disclaimer that accompanies most works of fiction these days—that little blurb on the copyright page that mentions how any resemblance of the forthcoming story to persons, places, or things, whether of fact or of fiction, is purely unintentional. And as I am reminded of this, I remind my reader of this, too.

Something may sound familiar, but that doesn’t mean it is. Something may sound factual, but that doesn’t mean it is. Something may sound unbelievable, but it may be that very thing which is most true.

Were I to write a work of fiction about an African American President of the United States of America, that would not mean that the novel was about President Obama. Were I to write about a disease that killed people indiscriminate of any identifiable factor or predisposition, that would not mean that the novel was about Cancer. So too when I write about a gal who lost her entire family, or a lady who liked to booze it up, that does not mean these works are about me, though they may seem to imitate my intimate.

My biggest goal in writing is to have my words invoke thoughts and feelings in my reader, and, for that reason, I often write of those things that invoke thought and feeling in my own mind. If it works on me, it’s my hope that it’ll work on my readers.

I don’t think, by the way, that this is something one could escape entirely just by writing in other subgenres of fiction, or by creating more ethereal characters. Who among us has not been ensnarled by the beautiful eyes of a vampire, or haunted by the isolationist tendencies of any other nonhuman? Who hasn’t been perplexed by the twin paradox? These things too invoke in us something that their authors surely intended to stir. They just aren’t subjected to the same level of “fact v. fiction” scrutiny because of their very premises.

The novel I’m currently writing has much to do with murder. I’m hoping that my friends, family, and followers don’t soon question whether I am, in fact, a murderer. But, then again, would this query be any more absurd than the ones asked following my first two novels? Are we not each of us, at one point or another, cast into a spot of murderous inclination, just as we are cast into moments of despair and desperation?

“Pig” and “in wake of water” are available for purchase and lending on Amazon, accessible through my author profile at

Follow my writing on Facebook at and

Rate/review me on goodreads at

Media inquiries and/or general queries can be sent directly to

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I'm a proud Pittsburgher, and have been honored to work with other Pittsburgh talent.

Is Pittsburgh the center of the universe? Read this post and let me know what you think.


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Pig Blooms from Pittsburgh Orchard, Parented by Pittsburgh Artists

Question: What do you get when you combine a Pittsburgh author with a Pittsburgh visual artist, a Pittsburgh photographer, and a self-started Pittsburgh business?

Answer: “Pig.” -

Pittsburgh native and resident Sarah Beth (Rem) Martin, pen name sbr martin, is an author of contemporary psychological fiction. Her second novel, “pig,” was honored as a Second Prize Quarterfinalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards.

Of Martin’s submission, Publishers Weekly wrote: “The ultimate resolution ofthe story makes for quite a surprise… (Martin) is able to build good characters, flawed and believable, yet familiar; so that at the end one is saddened, butalso, in a strange way, enriched.”

Set in Pittsburgh, “pig” is the story of Lily, a woman holding on to too much pain and too many secrets, including a big secret she’s keeping from herself. The entire noveltakes place at her husband’s funeral, where she sits alone on a couch in the corner, desperately clinging to a scrap of paper she refuses to reveal.

The narrative comes from Lily’s memories, as stirred by the familiar faces of funeral home patrons. Physical abuse, graphic sex, and devastating loss arebut a few of the past events reawakened by Lily’s reflections - as are love, mothering, and redemption.

What does it take for a troubled woman to finally let go? How did her husband get in that box? And what is she holding in her hand? Step into Lily’s past toanswer the present questions. But don’t expect to be pleased with everything you learn. Some stories just aren’t meant to have happy endings.

When “pig” exited the 2012 ABNA, it was swiftly picked up by The Artists’ Orchard, LLC, a self-started Pittsburgh house in its toddler years. The Aritsts’ Orchard also published Martin’s first book, “in wake of water” (

Upon reward of pending publication, Martin sought tirelessly to acquire appropriate cover art to electronically cloak her writing. And, lo and behold, the perfect piece was right in her own backyard!

“Catwoman” was selected and acquired from the impressive portfolio of Jenn Wertz (,an accomplished Pittsburgh musician and visual artist best know for being an original member of multi-platinum recording artists Rusted Root, who are also based out of Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh partnership persists!

Author photography for both “pig” and “in wake of water” was generously contribued by PicChick Photography by Lizzy Bittner ( The talented Mrs. Bittner also provided cover photography for Martin’s first novel.

With all its Pittsburgh glory, “pig” was released as a Kindle edition eBook on 11 June 2012, and is available for purchase and lending on amazon at

More information can be found at

A digital review copy and/or press packet is available upon request sent to Interview/comment queries can be sent directly to Martin at

** So… Is Pittsburgh the center of the universe? Hell yeah! Just take a gander at all these stars shining in it. **

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Check of this awesome review of "pig" from the dzsreviews blog -

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Repost (Review by dzsreviews):

I have just had the privilege to read this amazing novel by Pittsburgh author, sbr martin. The book is called pig, and it is a story you will not forget. Martin has created characters so real, so rich in character that you know in your heart that these character must be real. The story centers around Lily and Bender….a tragically flawed couple whose lives have led them on a path filled with alcohol, domestic abuse, abandonment, guilt, drugs, marriage, parenthood….and ultimately to the setting of the novel…a funeral. We find Lily sitting on a couch in a funeral home clutching a piece of paper so tightly in her hands…she is not about to let go nor reveal what is in her hands. The reader joins Lily as she mourns not only death, but as she reflects on her life and how she came to find herself sitting on this couch at her husband’s funeral.

I sat down to read this book for an hour or so, but I soon realized I was not getting up until I had the book finished. At the end of each chapter, I would say…”OK…just one more chapter and then I will do some laundry or wash those dishes that have been in the sink since breakfast.” Yet, one more chapter became one more until I was at the end of the book…which brings me to the end. WOW! What an ending! That is all I am going to say….

Her story is original….really unlike anything I have read before. The characters are so bitterly-real…so flawed and yet understood…redeeming. I have already placed Sarah’s first book in my amazon shopping cart to purchase…..

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Published on June 26, 2012 09:28 • 110 views • Tags: amazon-shopping-cart, bender, fiction, page-turner, pig, pittsburgh, reviews, sbr-martin, wow
Read on to see some of the ways Pittsburgh has influenced yours truly.

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Pittsburgh Poise & Presence: A Peek at the Particulars of “pig”

One Yinzer’s Exploration of the Power of Pittsburgh—Beyond Alliteration

by sbr martin

There’s a song I remember learning in elementary school, the refrain of which went something like this: “Pittsburgh is a jolly old town. … Pittsburgh. … Three rivers meet at the Point downtown. … Pittsburgh.” This tune is still caught in my head some 20 years after I first heard it; and, while the lyrics have not changed, they’ve taken on an additional, very personal meaning.

I was bred, born, and raised in Pittsburgh, where I continue to live and work. Every time I end up at the Point, or hear comment of the Three Rivers meeting, I am reminded of that little ditty from grade school.

But it seems to me that this song has a newfound importance in my life these days. I celebrate Pittsburgh not only as a place of the convergence of three distinct rivers, but also as the place of the convergence of three distinct talents, of which I am one.

My most recent novel, “pig,” features cover art by Jenn Wertz, a Pittsburgh musician/artist best known for being an original member of multi-platinum recording artists Rusted Root, also based out of Pittsburgh. Though Wertz’s cover piece, “Catwoman,” was in her portfolio long before we made any cover art arrangements, the work is so perfectly fitted to my novel. It seems as if the two were created for each other, though neither was predicated upon the existence of the other.

“Pig” was published by The Artists’ Orchard, LLC, a Pittsburgh-based indie microhouse in its toddler years. Behind The Artists’ Orchard is head honcho Sherry Linger Kaier, whose hard work and skill brought “pig” to its current commercial format.

Like the Three Rivers, Wertz, Kaier, and I are the Three Talents, who joined forces to generate something unique and memorable, something that flowed together in a natural, seamless manner.

And the Pittsburgh presence doesn’t stop there!

Author photography for “pig” was provided by PicChick Photography by Lizzy Bittner, a Pittsburgh gal who I’ve known for the majority of my life. Bittner also provided cover and author photography for my first book, “in wake of water.”

Without the talent of these Pittsburgh geniuses, “pig” would not be all that it is. True, the story would be the same, but the phenomenal final product would be fundamentally different. It wouldn’t have such cutting edge art, such meticulous publishing, and such vivid photography. It would not have the legacy of Pittsburgh talent permeating its full body; nor would it stand as a symbol of my integrity as a Pittsburgh artist supporting other Pittsburgh artists.

There’s also a little bit of Pittsburgh in the pages of “pig.” The story itself is set in Pittsburgh, though I so set it mostly out of convenience. I wanted the story to focus on the story—on the unnerving, yet inspiring, fictional account of domestic abuse, sexuality, reflection, and loss that unravels—and not so much on the location that serves as the backdrop. I, therefore, did not want to exhaust effort and page space making up a fictitious city. Pittsburgh was familiar. I didn’t have to think about what the streets looked like, or with what they were paved. It came to me as a matter of instinct. Use of the city name was more easily typed, more fully embraced, than any other city name I could have ever come up with.

Since I selected Pittsburgh as the setting, I tossed the word “yinzer” in there for good measure. Also, I reference a jitney in my tome—which many locals may be shocked to learn is actually a regional term.

And, hey, while we’re at it, let’s not overlook another way Pittsburgh has influenced my work. Allow me to reiterate: I was bred, born, and raised in Pittsburgh, where I continue to live and work. For me, one of the benefits of being raised in Pittsburgh was taking advantage of a few of the outstanding academic institutions the ‘burgh has to offer.

I was awarded the Marjorie A. Tilley Scholarship to The Ellis School, where I received an excellent high school education that would well prepare me for my college studies at the University of Pittsburgh and, later, for my juris doctorate studies at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. From each of these fabulous, globally-recognized schools, I gleaned countless skills, facts, opinions, experiences, and other gifts which indubitably shaped my writing style and contributed to my creativity basin. It should come as no surprise that my Pittsburgh job history could likewise be credited with nurturing my evolution as a wordsmith.

So how’s all that for the presence of Pittsburgh in my writing!

Now if only I could’ve found a way to incorporate the Steelers into my fiction… Oh well, there’s always next time, right?
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Check out my virtual stop at Susan Gottfried's website, "West of Mars":

Susan is a talented writer and editor, who epitomizes the Rock Fiction genre. She's a super cool chick who loves music and has found clever ways to incorporate it into her life. Her "Featured New Book" section asks selected authors to name the one song that makes them think of their book - click below to see what song I selected.

When you're on Susan's site, make sure to explore her books and meet Trevor - you'll be hooked!

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Featured New Book: Pig by sbr martin

What song makes you think of your book?:

“Piggy” by Nine Inch Nails – and it’s not just because of the similarity in title! If “pig” were ever made into a movie, I’d want “Piggy” to be on the soundtrack, as the series of dark, disturbing, and sensual sounds that opened the flick.

“Pig” is about domestic abuse, sexuality, reflection, and loss – and so too seem to be Trent Reznor’s unassuming lyrics.

The book’s main character, Lily, has been called a lot of things in her life – Lilith, Mom, Flower, and Pig, for example. Pig is one of the clever, thoughtful nicknames her husband gave her, and when Reznor bellows “Hey Pig,” it reminds me of the ill-intentioned, mocking way Lily’s husband might greet her, “Yeahhh you.”

“Black and blue and broken bones | You left me here, I’m all alone,” Reznor sings, though these words could very well have come out of Lily’s lips. Yep, Lily’s husband, Bender, liked to hit her sometimes; and, Lily sometimes hurt herself, in drunken accidents and the like. Too many times she wound up black and blue, with broken bones. And, too many times Bender left her there all alone – including the last time he left her, the night of his own unfortunate “accident.”

Lily was an accomplished lady when it came to enjoying the company of men. She settled for her husband, thinking he might be the one to tame her. But, instead, he caged her in a volatile relationship from which Lily could not, or did not want to, escape, and about which she could have borrowed Reznor’s lyrics: “Nothing’s turning out the way I planned… What am I supposed to do? | I lost my shit because of you.”

And as per Reznor’s refrain, “Nothing can stop me now | I don’t care anymore | Nothing can stop me now | I just don’t care” – well, that too has much to do with “pig.” But I ain’t gonna tell you about that. You’ll have to read my book to figure it out.

Read it. Live it. Love it. sbr martin. pig.
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Wondering what genre my writing falls into? Me too!

Read this post to see some of the classification issues a writer faces when listing her work.

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What the Hell Did I Just Write?

Juggling Genres in the Modern Market

I had a little extra cash in my pocket the other day, so I stopped at a used bookstore to search for a few titles I’ve been meaning to read for some time. First on my list was “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig.

Tiny wire basket in hand, I waltzed over to the Psychology section, where I found everything but Zen. So I moved on to Metaphysics, where my crisis was not resolved. I turned to the Self-Help section. No help there! The plot continued to thicken in the Fiction/Literature aisles.As a last resort, I decided to look in the Eastern Studies section. Lo and Behold, there sat a tattered copy of Pirsig’s acclaimed work! I’d found it at last. The hunt was over, and I was relieved.

Still, I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself and shake my head in a gesture caught somewhere between disbelief and defeat. I’ve never read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” but even I knew that it was no more about “Zen” than it was about “Motorcycle Maintenance.”

Obviously, a quick-handed agent of the bibliopole had improperly shelved the book based on a cursory glimpse of the title alone.

Next on my list was “Son of a Witch,” Gregory Maguire’s follow-up to his novel-made-musical, “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.” I scanned the Fiction/Literature section of the store, since, without question, Maguire’s work has already risen to more than pulp status.

Not surprised to not find it there, I eyed the Paperback Fiction section, in case someone didn’t hold Maguire in as high esteem as did I. Greggy-boy wasn’t there; nor was he in the Witchcraft section, where I thought the same quick-handed agent might have mistakenly filed him away.I eventually found “Son of a Witch” in the Mythology/Folklore section, along with the other books in Maguire’s “Wicked” series. Mythology/Folklore? Really?!?

I’d had enough. I was mentally exhausted by the entire ordeal. I ended my search in the physical world, deciding to purchase what books I had in hand and search for the others online. Driving home from the bookstore, I was fuming mad. Was there something wrong with that God-forsaken, over-glorified bookrack? Worse yet, was there something wrong with me? Had they put certain books in the wrong sections, or had I looked in the wrong sections for certain books? Was this laziness or miseducation on what categorizes what?

And this wasn’t the first time I’d contemplated the complexities of classification. I’d thought over them only a couple months earlier—not as a reader of books, but as the writer of my most recent release, “pig.”

"Pig" is the story of Lily, a woman holding on to too much pain and too many secrets, including a big secret she's keeping from herself. The entire novel takes place at her husband's funeral, where she sits alone on a couch in the corner, desperately clinging to a scrap of paper she refuses to reveal.

The narrative comes from Lily's memories, as stirred by the familiar faces of funeral home patrons. Domestic abuse, graphic sex, and devastating loss are but a few of the past events reawakened by Lily's reflections—as are love, mothering, and redemption.

“Pig” taunts its reader with psychological suspense, leaving him turning e-page after e-page to find out how Lily’s husband got in that box, what she’s holding in her hand, and, ultimately, what it takes for a troubled woman to finally let go. Stepping into Lily's past to answer the present questions, the reader is taken on a rollercoaster ride of plot twists and narrative turns where he is shaken, unsettled, and reminded that some stories just aren't meant to have happy endings.

So… what kind of book does this sound like to you? Of course, I hope you’ll say it sounds like a good book, but we both know that’s not what I mean. What I’m asking is: How would you classify this book into an existing genre?

Our friends at the used bookseller would, I assume, have an easy time with this one. Unless they tossed it into the Agriculture section because the title is “pig,” they’d likely place it in the Fiction New Releases portion of the store when it first came out, maybe amidst the Paperback Fiction collection if it had a soft spine.

I’d love for it to be shelved in the Fiction/Literature stacks, as it definitely is Fiction and I can only hope that it is one day regarded as true Literature.

But the mere placement of my book on a physical shelf was not the issue I faced some months ago, and not just because my book is currently available exclusively in digital format. The issue I faced was tossing it alongside other reads on a digital shelf. I wondered: Into which of the dozens of existing genres should I classify my work?

My question was only further confounded by certain facts: (1) any business-minded person knows that cross-categorizing a product increases its exposure, in turn, optimizing sales; and, (2) Amazon gives you the option of listing your book in as many as three different categories.

Three! One would think it would be easier to place a work into three categories than to place it into one. But it’s not.

Amazon’s Literature & Fiction tab seemed to be an obvious choice for my novel, though that one choice burdened me to make other choices. On the site, there are 20 subgenres listed under the Literature & Fiction genre, some of which continue to splinter off into sub-subgenres and the suchlike.

The Mystery, Thriller & Suspense tab may seem unintimidating at first, as it has only four second-tier subgenres. But don’t be fooled—those four spider-web out, out, and out some more.

Between these two top-level genres, there were quite a few subcategories into which I could have placed “pig,” and a couple more above them that would’ve worked too. But there was, and is, no one, two, or three that fit my title to a T.

Psychological Thriller. Suspense. Tales of Intrigue. These are subgenres that also describe the thoughts that raced through my head when listing my book.

There’s a little Romance in “pig,” some Gay & Lesbian themes, perhaps a little Erotica in the right light. The protagonist is a female who suffers and finds salvation in her own way—this is the stuff of Women’s Fiction, no?

The boozing, violence, and crime could cast it as an Urban Life yarn, while the matters of marriage and motherhood could make it a Family Saga. It ain’t what the Greeks would consider a Tragedy, though it’s pretty damn tragic at times—maybe Drama would be a good match?

It’s set in Pittsburgh, PA, and there are references to Las Vegas. I could label it United States, right? I can’t call it British, since the English accent of a main character is faked, which is kinda funny if you think about it. Is this enough to make it a Humor tome?

I’m sure you get my point by now. Even for we who create what is read, the task of genre selection is an arduous one, made even more daunting by the fact that where we place our books determines who sees, reads, and embraces them.

I understand that Amazon’s genre breakdown is designed to make the shopping experience easier for consumers, but the leveling structure is somewhat complex and makes it easiest only for the reader who already has a very clear picture of what she wants to find.

To make matters worse, we must remember that Amazon, albeit the biggest commercial vendor in the universe, is not the only site or system out there that categorizes writers’ works. Shifts and changes in the literary world are creating new genres and subgenres at an alarming pace, resulting in a mass market with no uniform system of classifying the written word.

Not that a uniform system would help all that much anyway, considering the quick hands of the bookstore employee mentioned above, and, considering the fact that I may think my book is an apple while my reader very much considers it an orange.

Ah yes, the readers! How could I market my book to catch the most readers and/or get the most reviews? I don’t want anyone inadvertently being repelled by, or even attracted to, my writing because it was mislabeled along an already blurred line.

If I list this book as Erotica, would conservatives give it a cold shoulder? Would I lose male readers if I tag it Women’s Fiction? Are folks blistering on the Bible Belt gonna run for the hills if I brand it Gay & Lesbian?

This reviewer reads only Romance, and that fellow won’t look at anything but Genre Fiction. Ms. So-and-So likes Dystopia, whatever that is. A famous Harvard professor has a one-palate taste for “Contemporary Fiction,” but isn’t anything that’s written today “contemporary” by definition? Whom, if any, of these reviewers should I query? And what should I put in, or leave out of, my pitch?

Should I even care about any of this jazz?

Well, if I want my book to sell, I’m gonna have to. There’s no other way, really. I have to call it something, even if there was never any something I intended it to be called.

When I sit down to write, I have only one goal: to write a good book. My style of writing is marked by the fusion of traditional, as well as new, genres. Without following any recipe(s), I take a little of this and a little of that to create an unforgettable read. I don’t avoid things like adult content for fear of rejection. I don’t add a character or plot element just to make my work qualify as A, B, or C.

So, as I write with no particular genre in mind, it’s not too big a shock that a particular genre is hard for me to find. Nonetheless, juggling genres has become a personal pet peeve. For very practical reasons, I still find myself second-guessing the genres I eventually selected and asking my self, “What the Hell Did I Just Write?”

Think you can answer that one? Take a gander at “pig” and let me know what you think.

“Pig” is available for purchase on Amazon at

For a daily slice of “pig,” visit

Video Teaser-Clip:

Also by sbr martin: “in wake of water,” available for purchase at and likeable on Facebook at

Check out sbr martin’s Goodreads author profile for blog updates, reviews, giveaways, and other cool stuff—

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Keep an eye on Donna's blog - she'll be reviewing "pig" at a later date.
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Are you down with brutal honesty? I am. I use it in my work - and also in recounts of my personal life. Check out my guest post on Awesome Your Life:

After you're done reading my words, browse Carolyn's site. It's a very loving virtual place, where you can find inspiring information. Also on her site, you can pick up a free chapter of her book, "Awesome Your Life: The Antidote to Suffering Genius," which is a must-read for those of us who dare to dream.

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At one time, my life was a never-ending hallway, where all I could see was a series of closed doors. There probably were some that were open, but I was so far down that I couldn’t see them—and I’d given up on trying.

I was tired of turning knobs that did not yield, tired of trying to find something, only to find out that that something wasn’t there. I’d had enough. I wanted no more. If there was an end to the hallway, it’d have to come to me, ‘cause I sure as hell wasn’t gonna go any farther. I just wanted to stay put, sprawled out on the floor, unmoving, ungrowing, a piece of living dead surrounded by tightly closed doors.

I was 14 years old the first time I heard the familiar cliché that when one door shuts another opens. I overheard my mother use this phrase when discussing with a friend how I had been awarded the coveted Marjorie A. Tilley Scholarship to The Ellis School, a prestigious all-girls academy in Pittsburgh, PA.

Apparently, my scholastic achievement was the opening of a door. The door that had been shut had been shut four years earlier when my father suffered a massive stroke and aneurysm that left him paralyzed along the entirety of his left side. He was unable to work or be a traditional father from that point on.

It was, I assume, to the former of these inabilities that my mother implicitly referred in her conversation. When my father became handicapped, the bacon that came home had no fat. My family’s financial situation changed for the worse. Going to a school like Ellis would have been out of the question considering our newly low income.

But what was pinched off by one thing was ushered in by another. I learned the meaning of that old chestnut and allowed it to give me a sense of optimism about all things, at least for a few years.

Though I heard the phrase many times over the following years, the next time I heard it that stands out in my mind was a week after my sister died, when I received word that I’d been accepted to the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, among other law schools.

The loss of my sister was the closing of one door, and my acceptance to law school was the opening of another? Are you kidding me?

Yes, one door did close. Yes, one door did open. But the one and the other did not balance out. It wasn’t an even exchange, not by any means.

Use of that damn cliché did not make sense here—it was disturbingly incongruous and more than slightly absurd. Nonetheless, people kept throwing it at me. Oh, how I wanted to throw something back at them! But I didn’t. I held steady and smiled, just like I held steady and smiled at all the pleasantries given me two years prior when my mother died, and, two years later when my father died.

Here, what upset me the most, other than the death of my sister, of course, is that this was the second time in my life that I was deemed to have reaped the benefits of an open door while my loved ones met the misfortune of a door that slammed shut. My academic success popped up twice, when my kin were put in grave circumstances, and, in the instance of my sister, put in the grave.

I didn’t want to be the person who got something at someone else’s expense, like I had made a deal with the devil to get whatever I wanted if I lost something I wanted more. No. I did not like this ad hoc arrangement.

Could I, should I, make a new deal with God? Or maybe Allah? Maybe Re? Perhaps Buddha would give me a sweeter deal?

Feeling like I was losing on the winning end of a sordid transaction to which I’d never consented, my essence was being eaten, and it hurt. I didn’t want to feel the pain. And I didn’t have to, for, you see, I had ample distraction.

When my mother died in 1999, when my sister died in 2001, and when my father died in 2003, I was in the ivory tower, or the large-university equivalent thereof. I observed funeral conventions, cried myself to sleep on more than one occasion, and then hit the books hard.

I excelled in college and in law school. A cum laude graduate in both turns, with a BS in Psychology and a JD, I accumulated awards, accomplishments, and many other A’s during my stint on the Pitt campus. I was published and reprinted; invited to speak at a national conference; mistaken for the homecoming queen; accused of plagiarism because my writing so exceeded expected standards, and later vindicated because my portfolio confirmed my exceptional talent.

So I had a good ride. I had a lot to keep me busy. I buried my grief under a pile of books and paper. I didn’t have to think about the losses I had suffered. I didn’t have to feel. All I had to do was do well in school. And I did… until school ended.

When I graduated law school, I didn’t have a job lined up—which is something most graduates as achieved as I should have had. During my job search, I’d interviewed with approximately 36 different law firms and had not received a single offer. Not one.

Thirty-six law firms! That’s 36 rejections. That’s 36 more doors shut before me in my never-ending hallway.

Did 36 doors open as a result of the 36 that closed? I don’t know. But I know that one did. And, when that one swung open, it knocked me on my ass.

All of a sudden I had a job, but not one for which I had applied.

My job was to take care of my maternal grandmother, who had been diagnosed with metastatic small cell lung cancer. It was a terminal case. I felt it my duty to take care of her, and, though it caused me great sorrow to watch her die, I have never regretted tending to her in her final moments.

But, Lord, the pain! The heartache of seeing a vibrant woman decay each day, to see her body dwindle away to nothing but skin and cancer-ridden bones.

By the time the cancer had spread to every part of her body, including her brain, I was dying with her, though I didn’t know it at the time. She was the last member of my immediate family. I was losing her, losing what was left of my lineage, losing myself. I wanted to curl up beside her in bed and wrap myself around her withered body, to merge with her and give her some of my life, or take away some of her death.

Gramma died around 4:15 a.m. on a Friday morning in June. We had set up two beds in the basement, because of the convenient appliances and lavatory already situated there, and we slept toe to head in bed to bed. For no reason, or for a very certain reason, I suddenly awoke at 4:15, a tiresomely wee hour of the morn during which I was usually out cold. I went to check on Gramma. Her body was still warm—her chest artificially heaved one last time, bulging from the operation of the oxygen tank ticking nearby. She was dead, and my dynasty was gone.

What happened next is what I only later realized was my attempt at killing myself. I’d never contemplated suicide, not before this point in my life, not during, and not after. I was too afraid of death.

I am, after all, an academic at heart (and brain). Years of schooling have taught me to analyze everything and break it down. I am predisposed to figuring things out. For every question, there is an answer. And I am programmed to find that answer at all costs.

The greatest curse of the learned mind is the difficulty inherent in resolving faith with intellectual thought patterns. Faith is belief in something without proof, the very thing for which we scholars are always on the hunt. So how, pray tell, is the academically-inclined individual to believe in something she can’t prove when the need for proof is so deeply rooted in her nature?

For me, this dilemma comes acutely into play on matters of the hereafter—the concepts of an afterlife, life after death, heaven and hell, whatever you choose to call it.

Question: What happens after one dies?

Answer: [Unknown]

I need to know that answer. I am programmed to find it. But I can’t. I’ve tried countless times, and the results were nil. So the question remains unanswered, and I am rendered hopeless, crippled by my fear of the unknown.

And, for that reason, I’ve flushed out any thoughts of suicide. I’m immune to them. Suicide would make me confront a question I can’t answer, and it might give me an answer I don’t like, or give me nothing at all.

But just because I’ve never been suicidal, that doesn’t mean I didn’t try to kill myself.

The method of annihilation I chose was one to obliterate all thought and feeling while preserving life. I was killing myself slowly and cruelly, taking my time.

I became a raging alcoholic through and through. Sure, I’d been an occasional drunk for years. College keggers, weekend benders, and 20-something birthdays saw to that. But after the loss of my grandmother, when I was for the first time ever completely alone in a home that once housed five, I became a full-blown alcoholic.

The alcohol was destroying my brain and my body, as well as my social ties and reputation. So too it was destroying my thinking and reason. I put myself in incredibly dangerous situations time after time, and, to this day, I am amazed that I survived.

I drove drunk, and sometimes drank as I drove. I picked up dozens of men in the bars, and had love affairs that lasted less than one night. Casual sex made me feel alive. Men made me feel good. I needed that assurance, so much so that I didn’t even care that the sex was unprotected most of the time.

I wanted to die. I never said it back then, didn’t allow myself to think it either; but hindsight later saw this as the case. I missed my family and wanted to be with them. I refused to abruptly take my life for fear of the unknown. But the slow draining of my soul was bringing me closer and closer to my beclouded goal.

I was at conflict with myself. Part of me wanted to die, and part of me wanted to live. I wanted to believe in the concept of an afterlife, to see myself being one day reunited with my lost loved ones. But my logic could not bring me to this conclusion. My mentality would not permit me to fathom an other-world existence.

I saw life as a finite line, with a distinct starting point and a distinct end. Nothing thrived beyond either point. If I could not bring to mind thoughts that existed before I was born, then, it follows, there could be no thoughts for me to bring to mind after I died. There was no way there could be any thought after death, let alone life after death. Any other argument was moot.

The panic attacks that resulted from this train of thought were intense, overwhelming at times. They took my breath away, but left me with enough breath to still be alive, albeit in a state of not truly living.

Drunk, desperate, and degraded, I was on a downward spiral, a road to nowhere. I was either intoxicated or overcome with anxiety every second of every day. I needed help, but I was too proud to seek it.

I’d kept so much sadness, fear, and longing inside of me for so long. I needed to let it out. I needed to tell someone my story. And the person I chose to tell was myself.

Ever since I was a child, I’d always dreamed of someday being an author. I fantasized about writing a book, having it published, and having other people read my words.

I was constantly tossing different book ideas around in my head, but never followed through with any of them until I decided to stick with the one thing that always stuck with me—the tragic and compelling story of my own life.

Pride, one of my most pronounced character defects, prevented me from writing anything autobiographical. So I decided to fictionalize my experiences. I would use my personal facts as the skeleton for a tome to be fleshed out with exaggerated details, brow-raising side stories, and shocking plot twists.

That tome came to be called “in wake of water.” It was published in Nov. 2011, by The Artists’ Orchard, LLC.

Loosely mirroring the losses I endured, “in wake of water” is a work of fiction which centers on a suicidal female who is driven to die because she operates under the assumption that death will reunite her with her deceased family members.

Countering the female lead’s beliefs are the thoughts and actions of the main male character, Tad, who is apprehensive about all aspects of life and death and who greatly fears the unknown.

Sound familiar? These two characters represent two parts of one psyche: mine.

The female character is my Id, the impulsive me that wants only instant gratification. Tad is my demanding Super-ego, who scrutinizes everything and requires adherence to objective guidelines.

As author, I took on the third role in Sigmund Freud’s infamous model. I became my own Ego, writing to strike a balance between the dissimilar needs of my fictitious tragic heroes. I did this for literary effect, so that I could tell an interesting, well-rounded story. But by the end of writing “in wake of water,” I’d achieved something else as well.

What I worked out in order to create good fiction ended up also creating good non-fiction. My writing had inadvertently been cathartic. I faced thoughts and feelings I’d tried to bury under books, drown in vodka, or find in the bulge beneath some random man’s zipper. I became familiar with myself and slew some inner demons. I achieved a sense of closure and of peace.

Writing, pitching, and publishing also helped me become and stay sober, though my sobriety is largely attributable to the fact that I later had children. So in a very real, tangible way, my writing helped save my life, by front-lining the rescue of my brain cells and liver.

But the intangible ways in which it saved my life are far more profound and long-lasting.

Bringing my inside pain to the outside was like popping a pimple that would otherwise have festered to fatal infection. The ugly sickness seeped out of me and left me clear-complexioned—and clear-minded.

For the first time in years, I was able to open my heart and my eyes, and, when I opened the latter, what I saw was amazing. I saw an open door. Finally! So I stood up, put myself back together, and walked through it.

On the other side there was a field, a surreal expanse of splendor, prospect, and perspective. When I stepped out onto that field, I heard something thunderous sound behind me. The door I’d just used for exit crashed shut and spontaneously combusted. I didn’t have to look back to know that it wasn’t there anymore.

I had once and for all escaped my never-ending hallway and found a place in my own nature, a place where all those fabled doors simply did not exist.

No longer did I need to frame my life in terms of openings and closings, in terms of losing this and gaining that, or in terms of something arising when something else was crushed. I would embrace these things as separate occurrences, each independent of the other, such that I’d find no entitlement tethered to suffering, no panic tethered to joy. And so came my release from the most pronounced shackles of my human condition. I was set free to run about the field and enjoy it.

Now, mind you, the field I’ve found is like any other out there. There are rocks to stumble over and upon, thorns on wild roses, and bramble. I have been hurt and have fallen quite a few times, but I always get back up and move on. There’s so much more out there to explore, discover, and write about. I ain’t gonna let a few bumps and bruises get in my way.

Described as a “psychological and thoughtful novel of suspense” by Midwest Book Review, “in wake of water” is available for purchase in traditional and digital formats on Amazon. To buy, follow the link on my Amazon author profile,, where you will also find a link to my second novel, “pig,” which was released as a Kindle Edition eBook on June 11, 2012.

Follow “in wake of water” on Facebook at

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Published on July 12, 2012 09:49 • 110 views • Tags: alcoholic, awesome, carolyn-elliot, creation, ego, freud, grief, grief-and-loss, id, in-wake-of-water, pittsburgh, sbr-martin, suicide, writing
It's Friday the 13th! Of what are you scared? Check out my guest post on Cynthia Shepp's wordpress, where I compare supernatural villains to more natural ones. It's also part tribute to one of my favorite authors, Anne Rice.

There's a giveaway attached to the post - so read the whole thing and follow the rules for your chance to win!

Please take the time to explore Cynthia's site. Book reviews, author interviews, and editing services to boot - she's a busy gal who knows how to get the job done with tons of style and grace.

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A Friday the 13th Tribute to Mother Rice

How Vampire Fiction Influenced My Writing on Human Nature

I was first ensnared by vampires in 1994 when, like nearly every other lovelorn teenage girl in the world, I ran to the theater to see blonde beauty Brad Pitt star alongside top gun Tom Cruise in Interview with the Vampire. The film was moving—deep and disturbing, yet inviting. It made me want to be a vampire a little bit, and not just so that I could keep company with two of Hollywood’s hottest hunks.

Since I was about 12 years old, I’ve been one of those people who is deathly afraid of death. To this day, I still have severe panic attacks when I attempt to contemplate the unknown. It’s always been an immobilizing fear that’s more than taken my breath away. So the idea of immortality seemed like a good thing to me. To live forever, to never die or face the unknown, if, that is, one actually faces anything after death—this seemed like a ticket I wanted to buy.

I overlooked a vital component of Interview though. I wasn’t able to see the suffering in Pitt’s pale eyes. All I could see was the promise of something more that his character’s eternal life offered. It wasn’t until two years later, when I decided to read the book on which the movie was based, that I caught a glimpse of the immortal’s inner struggle and turmoil.

A friend gave me a copy of Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire,” which I read in less than two days. In no time, I was off to the store to pick up the second installment in Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, followed by the third, the fourth, and the fifth.

Fortunately for me, I caught word of Rice’s work around the same time that she was coming out with additional books in the Vampire Chronicles and developing another bloodsucker saga, the New Tales of the Vampires. For the next few years, I spent a lot of time with my nose buried deep in any one of Rice’s books, reading, rereading, referencing, and reviewing. I’d say I was hooked, but that’s definitely an understatement.

In Rice’s volumes, I discovered something I’d never known before. The Vampire Chronicles were the first books I ever read for leisure’s sake, rather than as an academic assignment. Rice’s prose was more vivid, more alive, than anything I’d ever read in the classroom. The storylines were rich with flashbacks and side-stories so elaborate, so fascinating, that my jaw dropped several dozen times (per book).

What stood out to me most were Rice’s characters, the depth with which she explored them and the lengths to which she developed them. By far, they were the most intensely real and unquestionably human characters I’d ever encountered.

Keep in mind, however, that they weren’t actually human characters for the vast majority of pages. They were vampires.

But before they were vampires, yes, they were humans. And that humanness, that abstract idea of humanity, did not, for the most part, die when certain characters crossed over; if anything it was merely chilled to an icy cross between distraction and desperation.

The crux of my own mortal crisis was put before me via these beguiling beings. I saw in them a personification of my own greatest fears, and learned that perhaps I’d feared the wrong things.

By the time I was done with “The Vampire Lestat,” I’d already seen more than enough evidence that immortality wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The promise was not a promise, but a curse. The remaining novels in the series went on to prove just that.

The sadness that some of Rice’s characters bled—oh, the sadness! There is no beauty in an immortal life, nor even any life as life implies an end. Sinking but never reaching bottom, falling but never landing, the vampire is burdened to linger in an unceasing decline as all the world around him changes and decays. The deaths of human allies, the troubles of mankind, and disassociation from nature—war, disease, disaster—to these things the vampire bears eternal witness.

So it was that I learned not so much to fear death as to fear life, to fear all the things that one is tasked to tackle during her time on this planet, whether in a finite or infinite frame. This is not to say that Rice’s work made me afraid to live. Not at all. Indeed, it made me want to live as much as I can before my time comes.

Her references to art and music, to history and culture, to sensation and perception, remind me that this life is a mixed bag. For all the darkness one must face, so too there is light.

And I needed to be reminded of that light, and recall familiar characters to whom I could relate, when my own life’s story began to unfold. Losing my mom, my only sibling, my father, and my grandmother within seven very short years, I felt like Louis, Lestat, and a handful of my other favorite characters. I was alone, neglected, forgotten. Forsaken, perhaps. The immortality I once craved would not remedy this. It’d only make it much, much worse.

Rice’s words helped me grow, from a teen to a woman, from a happy-go-lucky idealist to an open-minded realist, and from a reader to a writer. They allowed me to take a look at the human experience, as enlivened by nonhumans, and ground my perspective as an individual and a creator.

When I began writing novels, I couldn’t help but write according to how I read. It became my goal to see the complex plots, realistic characters, dramatic story-telling, and cross-genre style of Mother Rice’s work reflected in my own fiction.

Note that the stories I write are not Horror, at least not in any traditional sense. There are absolutely no paranormal, other-than-natural elements in my work. I write about people, human beings, some of whom are far more monstrous than any preternatural inhabitant of Rice’s literary world.

Through the Vampire Chronicles, I was able to hone my understanding of what does and does not constitute a real “monster.” Lore and legend, along with pop culture notions, would have us believe that vampires are dirty, rotten beasts of prey. Evil. No good. Mean-spirited, depraved, inclined to do only harm.

This is not the typical Rice vampire. Rice vampires border on being tragic heroes, for whom the reader cannot help but feel empathy and compassion. These characters are troubled creatures. They simply are not monsters.

But some of my human characters are. Dirty, rotten beasts of prey. Evil. No good. Mean-spirited, depraved, inclined to do only harm. Yeah. These words are better suited for my characters than for Rice’s.

Take, for example, Bender, the male antagonist in my most recent release, “pig.” He’s not a very nice guy. He beats his wife, calls her despicable names, and makes her live under his thumb. He drinks too much, shoves chewing tobacco in his mouth every chance he gets, and is generally pissed off because he never found fame.

Let’s look at Louis now—the vampire who was interviewed in the first title of Rice’s series. Louis didn’t too much like the idea of killing humans for blood, so he’d drink from rats when he had the chance. With limited exception, he never wanted to pass his Dark Gift on to others, because he didn’t want another to suffer as he’d done for centuries without end.

Louis could deliver a world of hurt if he wanted to. But he doesn’t want to. Now, Bender, on the other hand, he’s lookin’ to give far more pain than he’s willing to receive. Louis’ immortal existence brought suffering and torture mainly to Louis himself, while it was others who suffered and were tortured during Bender’s mortal stint. So who’s the loathsome swine here?

This post is live online as of Friday, July 13, 2012. That’s right—Friday the 13th. It’s a day we think of Jason Voorhees, the undead, and other things that go “Boo!” But these aren’t the scariest things in this world.

We are.

We, the humans, must endure a human condition not unlike the inescapable humanness and humanity embodied in the plights of the vampires in Rice’s series. Life, loss, death, upheaval, decline, and lots of other scary shit goes on around us, unstoppable forces eroding our very existence as if we stood as timeless pillars on a plane of perpetual fast motion.

We, the humans, have in our genetic code a primal disposition toward the gruesome, an uncanny ability to turn human circumstances into inhumane situations. Abuse, adultery, alcoholism, asshole-ism run rampant on this planet. We are the victims and the aggressors of the most heinous acts imaginable.

A scorned wife cuts off her cheating husband’s penis. A militant extremist storms into a youth camp and opens fire. Shoe bombs on airplanes and child molesters next door. You name it. The world of supernatural fiction suddenly seems so much more appealing. It’s easier to assign such base emotions and actions to something that is not human or living. We don’t want to confront the realities we are capable of, or have already committed, so we look for a scapegoat, something nonhuman to absorb our more prurient human inclinations.

Vlad Tepes had a penchant for impaling his captives on wooden stakes and is rumored to have feasted on their remains. Countess Elizabeth Bathory liked to take nice warm baths in the blood of young virgins. History has noted these blood-lusters, and they were human. But talking about Dracula as a fictitious supernatural character, rather than as none other than Vlad Tepes, heir to the Dracul reign, allows us to think that we humans are better than we really are.

Just as blind faith has been argued as an opiate for the masses, so too can be unyielding interest in the preternatural. We need something to dilute the truth and shade us from the inevitable, the unsavory, and the unknown. Immortality quashes the quandary of an afterlife. Nonhuman monsters allow us to sidestep human accountability, while simultaneously engorging the ever-present imp of our universal perverse.

But what of the fictitious bad guys like my Bender?

Writing him does the same thing that writing a vampire does, by putting real fears into fiction. But it does something else as well—or, rather, doesn’t do something else.

It doesn’t allow the reader to shift focus away from human instinct and incident. It tells the reader that shit happens, and that it happens because of people just like you and just like me. People. A man whose artistic ambitions failed, who is unhappy in his marriage, who looks at sex as a disgraceful and distasteful act is capable of cruel things. And his battered wife is capable of murder.

Have you ever cheated on a significant other? Ever slapped or hit a loved one? Ever wished somebody dead or called them a foul name? If you did these things, how’d you feel afterwards? I’m guessing you probably felt bad. Maybe you felt a little freakish, kinda like a monster.

And if you felt that way, if you did these things or merely contemplated them, guess what: You’re not alone. You’re one of millions upon millions of other likeminded people, though you’ll find only a small fraction willing to admit to these primitive impulses.

You can step into my fiction to confront those parts of yourself that are human, that you don’t necessarily like. Find a character to relate to—a victim or a perpetrator—and hunker down with human nature. See real life threads mimicked and woven into fictitious elaborations. Embrace what you are, what you were, and what you never want to be. Hide from yourself no longer.

In closing, I feel the need to issue a disclaimer. I love me a good vampire novel! The first half of this post should show just how much I’ve been influenced and affected by the work of the mother of all vampire yarns, the Queen of the Damned herself, Anne Rice. So don’t think for one second that I’m dismissing the subgenre. We need these types of stories to function as a society. Alls I’m sayin’ is that we need my brand too.

Wanna meet my monsters? Find “pig” on Amazon at and on Facebook at

Video Teaser-Clip:

Also by sbr martin: “in wake of water,” available for purchase at and likeable on Facebook at

Check out sbr martin’s Goodreads author profile for blog updates, reviews, giveaways, and other cool stuff—

Read it. Live it. Love it. sbr.

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I made another virtual stop today, at Bryce Beattie's StoryHack. This time, my guest appearance consisted of an interview. Bryce asked some really good questions, and I revealed some pretty interesting personal information. Click below to read or e-exchange.

Bryce's site features a lot of cool stuff for writers and readers alike. He also built and maintains, where writers and bloggers can find each other to plan the very best virtual tours - for free.

Check it out.

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What are three things about yourself that everybody should know?

My email signature reads:

sbr martin
author, journalist, and mother

So I guess these are the three things everybody should know about me. I am an author. I am a journalist. I am a mother. I’m a lot of other things, too, but let’s not get into all that right now. I list these three things in my signature because they are my callings. They are the three things I was meant to be, the three things I am.

What is one thing that almost nobody knows?

Well, I’m a married lady. Everybody knows that. What a lot of people don’t know is that it was I who popped the question.

I proposed to my husband when we were partying like rockstars at Thunder in the Valley, an annual biker rally held in Johnstown, PA. I don’t know many married couples who started out this way, where the lady got down on her knees. I thought it was an interesting occurrence, a twist on the common approach. So I tossed this fact into my fiction.

In “pig,” the main female character proposes to her man, much like I proposed to mine. But the circumstances surrounding their storybook engagement are entirely different than those surrounding mine.

Incorporating a real life event into my work is something I do from time to time. Where fact is stranger than fiction, I use it to my advantage. I take a tiny bit or reality and spin it into an elaborate, exaggerated, fictitious yarn.

What’s the best part about living in Pittsburgh?

My home. Believe it or not, I’ve lived in the same house since I was born. When I went to the University of Pittsburgh for undergrad, I stayed in the dorms for a while, shacked up with a fellow for a year or so, but those places were just rest-stops on my life’s road, a road which always led back to where I’m sitting right now.

Once upon a time, I was the little kid running around this house, breaking all the rules, tearing everything apart. Now I’m the parent here, the one trying to exercise control—raising my voice, making the rules, and cleaning up all the messes. At times, it’s somewhat surreal.

My father had a heart attack in this house—the heart attack that killed him. My mother’s heart failed here as well, when she fell on the basement floor, attacked by sickness inside her body. Congestive heart failure. Our Chihuahua crawled to sit atop her distended belly as we bustled to call the paramedics. Several hours later my Mama was dead.

It was in this home that I took care of my grandmother as she was dying, and it was in this home that I woke up at 4:15 a.m. on a June morning to find her dead. She’d died that exact moment, the moment I woke up.

But it was also in this home that I had oodles of birthday parties and found excessive amounts of presents under the Christmas tree. My mother left me notes and poems on the bathroom mirror, one of which I included in my first novel, “in wake of water.” My father sang me lullabies. My sister and I played on the front porch. And, here, right here, is where I brought my newborn babies home as an adult. I walked through the door with my children the exact same way my parents must’ve walked through the door with me.

This house is alive with what life is. It’s seen loss. It’s seen gain. It has become an accessory to my existence, a brick box that stores all of my memories and holds a future yet untold.

As per Pittsburgh itself, it’s a great city, and it’s all I know. I live close to the heart of the ‘Burgh—20 minutes from this, that, and the other place. I know the streets, the neighborhoods, and the personalities they hold. Living here is familiar and convenient for me. And, hey, we got a stellar football team. Go Steelers!

Do you have any strange writing practices or quirks?

Indeed, I do. I read most of what I write… out loud. I like my writing to have a certain rhythm or meter to it; it has to sound a certain way when recited or I won’t use it.

I’ve been told before that I speak this way, that there’s some type of tempo to my talk. And I try to put that into my work. I imagine myself as the narrator. I am the one telling you the secrets, the one letting you know what’s really going on. My voice reveals what’s between the lines.

Grammar and punctuation are the tools I use to bring my talk to my text. Those commas? That’s where I pause. Those complex sentence structures? That’s where I shift the speed of my conversational machine. I break some conventional rules of syntax here and there—and it’s all for the sake of semantics, my friend. I want my books to be lively and have a spirit that cannot be overlooked. So I try to put as much of myself into each book as I can, in hopes that my readers will read more than mere words.

And, for the record, I just read my response to this question aloud. I think it sounded pretty good.

What are a couple of your favorite novels? (Doesn’t have to be the top two per se)

My favorite book of all time (so far) is “Grendel” by John Gardner. I love the story, but love the writing even more. Another favorite is “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West” by Gregory Maguire. The story is so intense. The plot is so thick. I really enjoyed every aspect of that novel.

These two books, my two favorites, share a common theme. They both reinvent antagonists from other works. “Grendel” is written from the perspective of the beast in the 8th century epic poem, “Beowulf.” And “Wicked” centers on Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz.” Both works look at characters who were dismissed as “bad guys” in the original works in which they appeared. They were characters who didn’t get a lot of attention in the first place—all that was shown was the trouble they caused. But each of these books steps into an already-established literary world and takes a closer look. As you read these masterpieces, you discover that these “bad guys” aren’t really all that bad after all. They have redeeming qualities, extenuating circumstances, and struggles of their own. You get a full picture, a well-rounded perspective.

This is something that I have carried into my own writing. There are some flawed characters in my tomes. But, just as they are flawed, so too they are gifted with some good. I try to make my characters as believable and sincere as possible. To do so, I must tell the whole story. Humans have peaks and pits in their personalities and behaviors. We are heroes and villains alike. I want my readers to see both of these sides in my characters, to feel compassion for the antagonist once in a while, or to feel disgust at the protagonist when she steps out of line. My books don’t have “good guys” and “bad guys.” They have characters that will strike you as surprisingly real.

I see on your many pages around the net that you went to law school. Were you ever a lawyer?

Nope. I realized, at some point in my second year of law school, that I did not want to practice law. But I finished school, mostly to finish something I’d started.

I had the degree, but nothing to do with it. Then life stepped in. My Gramma was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and I spent my time caring for her. After that horrific ordeal, I found a man, got married, and had two precious babies who’ve brought me tremendous joy.

I learned a lot from law school about reading and writing, and it was my experiences as an editor and contributor to Pitt Law’s Journal of Law and Commerce that got me hired for freelance writing gigs. I soon developed a fat portfolio of articles with media outlets such as AOL’s Patch Network and CBS Local Media Pittsburgh.

So I ain’t a lawyer, but the law school thing helped me get where I am. I’m grateful for the time I spent there, not so much for the money though.

Tell everybody a bit about your book, Pig.

“Pig” is a cross-genre novel of contemporary psychological fiction. It’s the story of a woman named Lily who’s lived a life filled with ups and downs. From domestic abuse and alcohol addiction to motherhood and amazing sexual encounters, she’s seen it all and bore both misery and redemption each in her own special way.

The entire novel takes place at her husband Bender’s funeral, where she sits alone on a couch in the corner, desperately clinging to a scrap of paper she refuses to reveal. It’s that same scrap of paper that holds the truth about what really happened the night her husband suffered his fatal “accident.” And it is through flashbacks invoked by the familiar faces of funeral home patrons that the rest of Lily’s story and secrets unfold—including a very big secret that’ll make your jaw drop.

What should I have asked you about, if only I knew you well enough to ask?

You don’t have to know me well to ask about this. All you’d have to do is read through my answers to the previous questions to see that I’m partial to something that’s nowadays disfavored.

The serial comma—I love it! I’m a strong proponent of its perpetual use.

I employ the serial comma in my fiction, and in my multi-site online presence. I do not, however, use it in my journalism assignments. I’m not allowed to, as the Associated Press Stylebook condemns its usage except where why-so used for clarity in a complex series.

Kinda irks me a little, having to change something that I consider an integral part of my style so that I can conform to an official Style. But I gotta follow the rules sometimes to get that paycheck, right? I don’t think that’s selling out. It’s just making ends meet by doing what’s expected. Rest assured though, when I’m not under somebody else’s thumb, I stick that puppy in there every chance I get!

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Today, my blog tour lands me at the cyber-home of author J. Dane Tyler, where I expounded on my own writing history and process.

Check it out at

Just like me, JDT has some mighty cool initials! But that's just gravy. Take a look at his blog and you'll quickly discover that he's more than just a cool name - he's a name to know.

His site features a "Short Stories" section that'll keep your jaw dropping for hours. And, once you're done exploring his free content, don't be surprised if you find yourself on Amazon purchasing his books, which are only $2.99 a pop (

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Writing as a Reader: My Novel Approach to the Novel

I have been fortunate enough to study under the greats when it comes to literature and the art of writing fiction. Chuck Palahniuk schooled me on plot twists and the intentional consequences of inserting highly technical medical jargon into otherwise smooth text. Anne Rice educated me on the finer points of character depth and development.

The idea that one character can be both a protagonist and an antagonist at the same time was taught to me by John C. Gardner, as well as by Gregory Maguire. From Mr. William Faulkner, I learned how to further broaden a narrative’s “God” perspective. William Shakespeare, Jean Racine, and Nathaniel Hawthorne were but a few of my other instructors, joined by nonfiction scholars such as Sigmund Freud, Bruno Bettelheim, and Howard Zinn.

Needless to say, though I’ll say it anyway, it was not directly under these greats that I studied. Practical considerations such as time and geography aside, I can’t even begin to fathom the tuition cost of a fabled institution that had all these famed artists on staff!

Every writer is first and foremost a reader, and I am no exception. It was through my academic and personal studies that I discovered and dissected my own writing curriculum. By reading the works of others—from the backs of cereal boxes to the most brilliant works of fiction—I learned invaluable lessons that have influenced the ways I live, learn, and write.

That said, I have had no formal, official, or university-approved training in my art. In college, I took only those writing courses required for graduation and the completion of my psychology major.

I am what some would call a self-taught writer/author. But what beauty I now create came from once-upon-a-time rocky soil. Writing was not always my strong point.

When I started high school at The Ellis School in 1992, my first English assignment was to write a critical analysis of Beowulf. After working at my typewriter for hours, I submitted a paper I thought was pretty damn good. My teacher, however, did not agree.

When the paper was handed back a week later, it was returned without a grade. The words “See me” appeared in the front page margin. What I had considered damn good was, in fact, a crude and poorly-written book report that lacked analysis and sentence variety.

Rather than conceding to my inadequacy, I confronted it, determined to equip myself with stronger skills. Though I embraced help from my high school teachers and a faculty tutor, I placed the brunt of the burden on myself. The scholastic guidance I received was but the first step in a long process that lead to my proactive adventure with the English language and my own understanding of the elements of artful and effective writing.

I honed these self-taught skills and put them to use in my undergraduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh, receiving stellar marks in courses requiring essay work.

It was in my junior year that I again met a familiar situation. After working at my laptop for hours, I submitted a psychology paper I thought was pretty damn good. When the paper was handed back a week later, it was returned without a grade. “See me” appeared in the front page margin.

What I considered damn good was, in fact, so damn good that my instructor questioned whether I had actually written it and dismissively accused me of plagiarism, requiring me to defend myself in front of the head of the Psychology Department before penal action was taken.

Armed with samples of my writing submitted to other professors, I met with the department head, who thoroughly reviewed my work before tabling the claim and calling the instructor into her office to begrudgingly apologize to me for her false accusation.

The next scrutiny my work received was of a far more honorable sort. I was given an English Composition Award for a piece I’d written in an undergraduate legal writing course, a remarkable feat as such awards are rarely doled out for professional writing coursework.

After college, I studied law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, where my writing was recognized by publication in the school’s Journal of Law and Commerce and by an invitation to speak at the 54th annual Conference on College Composition and Communication.

Having tackled critical composition and legal analysis, I next moved on to wrestle other forms of writing. Since 2011, I have worked as a freelance reporter, accumulating journalism experience with media outlets such as CBS Local Media Pittsburgh and AOL’s Patch Network. At Patch alone, I wrote approximately 150 articles over the course of ten months.

My debut novel, In Wake of Water, marked my entry into another genre of writing—fiction. Less than four months after its publication, I finished my second novel, Pig, which was honored as a Second Prize Quarterfinalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest.

Of my manuscript, Publishers Weekly wrote: “The ultimate resolution of the story makes for quite a surprise… (Martin) is able to build good characters, flawed and believable, yet familiar; so that at the end one is saddened, but also, in a strange way, enriched.”

A review like that is evidence that I’ve been doing something right. But what?

I’ve been asked about my writing process countless times. My answer is always the same: I write with the intention of writing a good story. To some, this seems like an evasive answer, like I’m purposefully trying to conceal my trade secrets.

Dagnamit, I’m not trying to be cagey! I’m being perfectly candid.

I don’t sketch out a plot. I use no outlines or plans other than those in my head. I just think about what I want to write until I am ready to write it. And, as I write it, more thoughts come to me.

When penning (or, rather, typing) Pig, I started off with a general idea of the story I wanted to tell, the story of a woman reflecting on the loves and losses of her life. My main objective was to have her be a well-rounded person who endured both pits and peaks during her existence. She, as well as the cast of supporting characters, was to be both beautiful and flawed, just as we real people are.

I decided to have her life recounted in a setting where reflection is quite common: at a funeral home. I have experienced the deaths of many family members, and, therefore, understand and appreciate how the faces of funeral home patrons can stir memories, both good and bad.

Along that vein, I formulated the general structure of the imminent novel. I set out to alternate present tense happenings at the funeral home with past tense recollections of the main character’s life.

At the beginning of my writing process, that’s all I had in mind. I didn’t yet have the specifics of the story. I let those come to me, one chapter at a time. I’d sit down, write a chapter, and then think about what should come next.

What else would I want to know about this character or that event? What would shock me? How about a red herring, something that seems important but is nothing more than distraction? Where can I hide a clue to a secret I’ll reveal later? Can I make my characters any more believable? Any more compelling? Why did she do this, he do that, or they do the other thing?

Etc., etc., etc. until completion.

And, speaking of completion, I wrote the end of my novel when I got to the end. I didn’t have the ending in mind at the beginning. The conclusion flowed from me as the chapters before it had done, in a natural, coursing manner. In many ways, I think the resolution was there all along. It was just waiting for me to find it.

Perhaps my approach to the novel is novel, although I doubt I’m the first person to ever write this way. Given my background, or lack thereof, I write the only way I know how—as a reader. It is my greatest hope that my work will affect other readers as strongly as reading others has affected my work.

Read it. Live it. Love it. sbr.

Books by sbr martin:

available for purchase on Amazon at and likeable on Facebook at

In Wake of Water: available for purchase on Amazon at and likeable on Facebook at

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Reblogged on The Writers' Nesst at on July 19.
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