Charles Martin: On Writing About the Most Difficult Topics

New York Times bestselling author Charles Martin discusses what inspired him to write a book about human trafficking and the internal struggle of researching and writing such a difficult topic.
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Charles Martin is the New York Times bestselling author of 15 novels. He and his wife, Christy, live in Jacksonville, Fla. Learn more at CharlesMartinBooks.com.

Charles Martin

Charles Martin

In this post, Martin discusses what inspired him to write a book about human trafficking, the internal struggle of researching and writing such a difficult topic, and much more!

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Proper grammar, punctuation, and mechanics make your writing correct. In order to truly write well, you must also master the art of form and composition. From sentence structure to polishing your prose, this workshop will enhance your writing, no matter what type of writing you do.

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Name: Charles Martin
Literary agent: Christopher Ferebee
Book title: The Letter Keeper
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Release date: June 8, 2021
Genre: General Fiction
Elevator pitch for the book: Combining the heart-wrenching emotion of Nicholas Sparks with the tension of John Grisham, New York Times bestselling author Charles Martin explores the true power of sacrificial love in his latest novel, The Letter Keeper.
Previous titles by the author: Charles Martin is the author of 15 novels and two non-fiction books. Learn more about him at CharlesMartinBooks.com.

The Letter Keeper: A Murphy Shepherd Novel by Charles Martin

The Letter Keeper: A Murphy Shepherd Novel by Charles Martin

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What prompted you to write this book?

A couple of years ago, I was on a book tour. North Georgia. Late afternoon. Stopped at a hotel a couple of hours prior to an evening signing. Checked into my room, then walked out onto the walkway that led to the vending machines and parking lot. In my part of the world, we call this a motel—where the doors face the parking lot. Not too fancy. Bought water from the machine and was walking back to my room when an expensive Jaguar turned into the parking lot. Mind you, there were two cars: my truck and this thing. The guy driving was about my age, very well dressed. He looked like he could have run a hedge fund or bank. Wore a wedding ring. He intercepted me en route to my room and stood in the middle of the walkway blocking my return. My radar was dinging. I just waited. 

Without introduction, he said, “Yeah, I paid for some time with these girls a couple rooms down and they like to have somebody join us. And watch. You interested.” 

We were standing on the second-story walkway. If I put my fist through his face, he would go over the railing and land on top of the Jaguar, probably killing him. Be tough to explain that. 

I shook my head. “No.” 

He walked to the room. A few minutes later, some girls walked in. Young. I don’t know their ages. I called my wife Christy and told her what happened. A mixture of hurt and anger. 45 minutes later, they walked out. 15 minutes later, he followed. Having showered. That night at the signing, I told the story only to learn that the owner of the bookstore ran a ministry that rescued girls and boys from sex trafficking. Incidentally, that motel was a frequent hotspot. They’d been there before. It happens everywhere. Right in front of our eyes. And I’d never seen it before. Somewhere in here, I was reading Matthew 18. Parable of the Shepherd and how he leaves the flock to find the one. It seemed illogical to me. Why would the shepherd leave the 99 to find the one dumb sheep that got itself lost again? The book bubbled up from there.

(Vintage WD: What Is the Writer's Social Responsibility?)

How long did it take to go from idea to publication?

My books are published a year after I submit them. It’s just the way publishing works. So, from motel to shelf was maybe two years. Did it change? Not really. This one came together and stayed together. And of the 16 I’ve written, that occurs about half the time. The other half? It’s like trying to wrestle a greased tiger.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

The more I learned about trafficking, the more I wanted to throw up. People are trafficked for three reasons: labor, sex, and organs. All three are horrific. And I learned much more than I could write. Readers read novels primarily (though not exclusively) for entertainment but what I learned is not entertaining so I had to paint with an impressionistic brush. Flashes and shadows. Enough to turn your stomach once but not twice. I can think of nothing more evil than what I’ve learned. The stories I’ve heard. People (including children as young as 5) are kidnapped (often drugged), locked in a room, and forced to do things with people they have no wish to do. Ever. And yet, they are often forced to do this 10-15 times a day. Seven days a week. If they refuse to comply, they are beaten mercilessly, denied medical care, and then forced back into the room. And while this is being done to them by some sick demented pervert, some other sick demented human being is counting his or her money. Supply and demand. Rape for profit. There were moments in writing this story when I thought to myself, “I am failing to tell this story because I do not possess the words to tell it.” Murphy Shepherd is unlike any character I’ve written. And much of what makes him different is the language he speaks. It’s a language of the heart and he only uses words when he has to.

(5 Tips for Writing About Controversial Topics)

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

My readers’ attachment to one of my characters—a yellow lab named Gunner. And the email promising me bodily harm and dismemberment if I even thought about putting that "sweet dog" through any more hardship.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

That the needs of the one outweigh those of the 99. Meaning? You are worth rescue. Whether you think so or not.

Charles Martin: On Writing About the Most Difficult Topics

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

This question always causes me to half-close one eye. By asking it, I feel like you’re assuming I know what I’m doing. I’ve written 20+ books, published over two million words and the truth is—I’m still figuring this out. Every day I show up to a white page. Books to write themselves. I too have much to learn. If I’ve done anything well in my career, I’ve shown up. Put my seat in the seat. Week after week. Year after year. Decade after decade. I sweat my books more than I write them and I’m a better rewriter than I am a writer. I also know that I remain grateful that I get to do what I get to do. It’s not lost on me. Sometimes I shake my head. This privilege I live. I pray my words are true.  

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