Pulitzer Prize Finalist Lee Martin

by | Jun 9, 2006 | Uncategorized | 1 comment

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a discussion between Pulitzer Prize Finalist Lee Martin and book reviewer Kacey Kowars at the Easton Barnes & Noble.  Martin, Director of the Creative Writing Program at The Ohio State University, read the first two chapters of his acclaimed novel, The Bright Forever which is written from the point of view of many different characters.

The first chapter, in it’s entirety, reads:

Raymond R.
I’m not saying I didn’t do it. I don’t know.

The Bright Forever chronicles the disappearance of a young girl in a southwestern Indiana town during one summer in the 1970’s and how the event effected the townspeople. At several points in the book, characters address the reader directly and challenge (should I say dare!) the reader to put the book down. At the close of the second chapter (which is just over two pages long) Mr Dees states:

If you want to listen, you’ll have to trust me. Or close the book; go back to your lives. I warn you: this is a story as hard to hear as it is for me to tell.

Martin explained his point of view technique, “The characters serve as a kind of Greek Chorus, calling into question the passage of narration that was just read.” Wikipedia explains the concept of the Greek Chorus:

The chorus offered background and summary information to help the audience follow the performance, commented on main themes, and showed how an ideal audience might react to the drama as it was presented. They also represent the general populace of any particular story.

Martin’s resurrection of this timeless technique shocks the reader into feeling the same confusion and disorientation that the local people of Martin’s fictional town experienced during that summer.

Martin also used pop culture references such as the names of songs, movies, cars, and comic strips to evoke the feeling of a rural 1970’s summer. Martin explained, “Although I never mentioned the year, I’m thinking of 1972. My idea was to put readers in the era without hitting them over the head with it.” But beyond the creation of a sense of place and time, Martin used particular references for a stronger purpose. “The song Candyman, which was very popular that summer says something about the character who is fond of it.”

Martin, who grew up in southern Illinois, was asked, “Why southwestern Indiana and not southern Illinois?”

Martin replied, “Ah! That’s a savvy question.” He explained that he based the novel loosely on a true story. “The attorneys told me I had to change the setting. Some people might not want to read about themselves in this book.” At first Martin resisted, but then he decided, “the weather, the landscape, the small towns in southern Indiana were very similar” so he made the change.

When asked if he kept a journal, Martin said:

I have kept a journal at times, but no. I don’t journal. I’m much more interested in doing the writing, in capturing the sense memories. When you grow up in a place and have spent that much time there, the details come back easily.

Listen to an interview with Lee Martin and other authors on the Kacey Kowars Show and read an interview with Martin on The Ohio State University homepage.

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