(This article will be re-posted on the website for the Chaffey College literary journal, The Chaffey Review.)
As a part of The Chaffey Review it is exciting to say that a short-story by Martin Ott called “A Summer Snow” previously published in The Chaffey Review was included in his short-story collection Interrogations (Fomite Press, 2016) published this February.
Martin Ott is a writer born in Fairbanks, Alaska and raised in Michigan. Ott served as an interrogator in U.S. Army military intelligence. He moved to Los Angeles to attend the Masters of Professional Writing Program at USC and, since then, has frequently written about Los Angeles, such as in his novel The Interrogator’s Notebook (currently being pitched by Paradigm as a TV pilot) and poetry books Captive (C&R Press, 2012) and Underdays (Notre Dame University Press, 2015).
Social and political themes are prominent in all Ott’s writing, especially Poets’ Guide to America (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2012), Yankee Broadcast Network (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2014), which Ott coauthored with John F. Buckley, and Interrogations.
Excitingly, Ott was generous enough to answer nine short-interview questions via Email about his influences, writing, and life:
1) When did you start writing? Why did you start, and where were you expecting your writing to go?
I began writing seriously at the University of Michigan, post-Army, and most of what I wrote during that time was underwhelming, including a surreal comic strip I wrote for the Michigan Daily newspaper called “Full Moon Over McDonald’s.” During that time period, however, I completed several books of fiction and poetry. My long apprenticeship had begun.
My writing expectations are straightforward: to get better, to write about meaningful topics, and to engage with readers and writers.
2) How has your life experience as a former U.S. Army interrogator influenced your writing, especially Interrogations? What would you say are the politics of your writings? Is your worldview influenced by the family environment you were raised in or the environment as a U.S. Army interrogator?
My editor Marc Estrin at Fomite Press suggested Interrogations as the title for the short story collection, even though it only has two stories with interrogators as protagonists. The twenty stories span diverse POVs from a young child to an old woman, but all of the stories are thematically held together by shining a spotlight in dark places in troubled people’s lives.
Interrogation has been a topic that has played a major role in many of my books. Much of my writing is inherently political as it focuses on characters who are not normally in the spotlight, and covers themes of conflict, both on micro and macro scales. My family life has been colorful and I constantly draw on it as a wellspring of inspiration.
3) What are you working on now?
I am working on a novel about a prison guard returning home from Afghanistan, an LA-based short story collection, a prose poem collection, and a collaborative poetry collection about superheroes and villains.
I have also recently agreed to publish two new books on C&R Press, Spectrum, a literary sci-fi novel, and Lessons in Camouflage, a book of poetry.
4) What was the primary inspiration behind writing Interrogations? Why?
Every summer I write a story or two in between other projects. Interrogations is the culmination of 10+ years of writing these stories in between other projects, the best of my collected stories to date.
5) What inspires you to keep writing? Why?
I write religiously. Seriously, it is my faith, my connection to the larger world of people and ideas. I write because I love books. They changed my life and my outlook on the world. I’d love to have the same impact on someone else’s. I also write because I am competitive and have decided to channel this instinct to become better at my favorite pursuit.
6) Who are your influences? Writers? Musicians? Filmmakers?
Short answer: George Orwell, David Bowie, Alfred Hitchcock. Long answer: far too many to list. I am continually energized by the writers and artists in my life, including my friends I connect with on social media. To live thoughtfully and to engage with art every day is one of the best things about being alive, and about being a writer.
7) What do you think the purpose of reading is (e.g. empathy, personal therapy, imagination, etc.)?
Entertainment. Education. Inspiration. The answer is different for everyone.
8) If you could focus one issue the world faces and make progress on it, which would you choose? And why?
Peace in all of its forms.
9) If you could give one piece of advice to a young, aspiring writer today, what would it be?
A real writer cannot be discouraged. The pursuit takes confidence. However, to be a good writer you need to be humble enough to learn from mistakes. That means good writers are inherently crazy, in a constant state of flux between emotions. Embrace the messiness. Don’t hide from it.
If you liked the article, then hit the ❤ button below, and, if you cannot get enough of Martin Ott, you can support and learn more about him by following the links below:
You can buy his books from his website here.
You can follow him on Twitter here.
You can read his Writeliving blog here.
You can learn more about the publications Ott has been published in here.