Martin McCaw writes elegant, direct fiction, peppered with quirky humor. His impressive list of award-winning short stories is now joined by his spellbinding debut novel, The Low Road. Full disclosure: Martin McCaw is my critique partner and an influential writing mentor. I have sometimes referred to him as “The Line Editor from Hell.”
About The Low Road:
The Low Road is, at its heart, a mystery, but the details of protagonist Mark Roundtree’s life are somewhat aligned with yours. How much of The Low Road is autobiographical?
MM: The trajectory of Mark’s life is autobiographical, but each scene is fictitious, and so are the characters. Mark thinks like I did at various stages of my life, and we faced some of the same moral dilemmas.
What are the pluses and minuses of writing a semi-autobiographical novel?
MM: It’s easier to write about what I know in settings that are familiar. My impulse is to write about what really happened; the challenge is to write about what could have happened in a way that feels honest to the reader and to me. I wanted the novel to read like a memoir.
Do you have an agent?
MM: No. For two years I tried unsuccessfully to get an agent.
How did you find your publisher?
MM: I had written an Amazon review for a novel by Robin Stratton, editor and publisher of Big Table Publishing Co. I also wrote her, explaining in more detail what I liked about her novel, On Air. At the time I expected to get an agent for my unfinished novel. When I failed, my path was easy: choose an independent publisher who writes honest novels.
Many of your short stories, some of them international contest winners, were published before The Low Road. How is writing a novel different from writing short stories?
MM: Some of my goals are the same for both venues: be clear, concise, and concrete (specific); do as much as possible at the same time: characterize, reveal setting, show action, move the plot along. In short stories I aim for a goal, with one overriding theme, and there’s not much room for character development. A novel can have several interconnected themes and subplots, and characters can change more often, sometimes subtly. My hardest task was deleting or revising episodes I’d written earlier, as characters moved in unexpected directions. But my overall goal is the same for short stories and novel: honesty. Both the reader and I should feel this is really happening.
Why do you write?
MM: To tell the story I want to tell. Getting it published is secondary.
What theme(s) do you explore in your writing?
MM: Love in all its messy forms, especially love that endures; moral conflicts; our limitless capacity for making bad decisions.
What are some of your best moments as a writer?
MM: In 20ll, after I got a rejection letter from a non-paying literary magazine with a circulation of 200, I decided I’d never get published. Then the editor of Short Story America, a high-paying market, phoned me and said, “You hit it out of the ballpark.”
How did you become interested in writing?
MM: I’ve always loved to read, and I’ve spent a good share of my life from age two onward imagining. I would be the play-by-play announcer for imaginary football games, or I’d shoot down Japanese Zeros and German Messerschmidts in my P-38 fighter plane, or I’d win Wimbledon at age 52. I was always the hero. Writing seemed an obvious outlet. The trouble was, by the time I started writing in earnest, I’d become an anti-hero in real life.
What do you like best/least about writing?
MM: What I like best is to feel yes, I finally got that right. What I like least is that those moments come few and far between.
What other types of work have you done, besides writing?
MM: I grew up on a farm but didn’t like dust, manure and, most of all, work. I dropped out of college to play poker for a living. Later I sold correspondence courses. I returned to college, got an M. A. in psychology, and wound up teaching at a prison, where for the first time in my life I could earn a living by helping people instead of manipulating them.
What do you like to read?
MM: Non-fiction about psychology and history, memoirs, humor (especially satire); fiction that has the ring of truth.
What do readers need to know about you that hasn’t been covered yet?
MM: The statutes of limitation have expired on most of my misdeeds.
Where can people buy your book?
MM: From Amazon, print or Kindle; from local bookstores through Ingram, a wholesale distributor; from my website, http://martinmccaw.com/stories.html
About the future:
What’s up next for you?
MM: I’m doing research for a psychological thriller/mystery that looks impossible to pull off.
Thanks, Martin! You can meet author Martin McCaw in person and purchase an autographed copy of The Low Road at Book & Game, 1st & Main Street, Walla Walla, WA, July 8, 11 AM-3 PM.