Across 10 previous novels, A. Lee Martinez has made his name with outlandish stories packed with rollicking fantasy concepts. Take his latest, The Last Adventure of Constance Verity, which follows a young woman who’s been saving the universe since she was seven—and she’s tired of it. Connie wants out of the adventuring racket, and to do that, she needs to find the fairy godmother who got her into the messy business in the first place. Unfortunately for Connie (and fortunately for us), the machinations surrounding her destiny go far deeper than any one fairy. Before she can put an end to her adventuring career, Connie has one glorious, grandiose one left in store.
We recently talked with Martinez, the mastermind of this multi-leveled fantasy caper, about his style, Constance Verity’s dogged past, and how fantasy and humor can work together to tackle bigger stories.
While each of your books is wildly different in the ground it covers, and the fantasy elements it incorporates, an A. Lee Martinez novel still feels very uniquely and wholly like an A. Lee Martinez novel. Outside of genre terms, how would you describe your style?
The stories share a common theme about finding our place in the world and relying on each other to get through this craziness called life. There’s also the offhand way the books deal with the strange and supernatural. In all the stories, the weird stuff is just part of life. For some characters, it’s literally there from the start. For others, it’s something they fall into and adjust to fairly quickly. The humor in the narrative and character interactions is probably another defining aspect. I don’t set out to write “funny” books, but my books do usually end up having heavy doses of humor. Most of that humor comes not from jokes, but from the peculiar way the characters see their world or the absurdity of the situations they find themselves in.
If there’s a running theme through your books, though, it’s got to be “Otherworldly horrors and responsibilities suddenly dropped on otherwise normal human.” In that way, The Last Adventure of Constance Verity seems like a natural heir to a Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest or a Chasing the Moon. So … what do you have against normal people?
It’s not a question of what I have against normal people. It’s a question of what we consider normal in the first place. Many of my protagonists are normal while not being normal. Helen is a minotaur. Vom the Hungering is a cosmic monster. Mack Megaton is an indestructible robot. The characters challenge our definition of what makes a character normal. Even the normal people in my stories are either accustomed to the weirdness or grow accustomed to it quickly. I like fantasy and science fiction for the chance to explore strange ideas, and metaphorically, I like the idea of characters who face the unpredictable with a level head and determination.
Maybe my favorite part of Constance Verity is the casual dropping of Connie’s various foes and escapades. Highlights include clone Hitler, Mongolian hordes from space, countless secret societies desiring to blow up New Jersey, Atlantis, vampire Al Capone, and an evil genius hamster. How do you come up with all of these? Vivid dreams? An algorithm?
There’s not a formula, but Connie’s history is littered with adventure tropes. She’s been at it so long that there is virtually no situation you could imagine that she hasn’t come across. Most of the offhand references to her past are reminders that she’s lived a truly fantastic life. The stuff that gets mentioned is the especially strange events because for Connie, fighting gangsters or solving a jewel theft isn’t a very memorable event. It’s only when things get really weird that it usually leaves an impression.
With that in mind, The Last Adventure of Constance Verity is the first of a planned trilogy. Does it follow that we’re going to work our way backward to the first adventure of Constance Verity?
The Last Adventure of Constance Verity is actually the first adventure of Constance Verity. At least, her first book. The next two will take place after this in chronological order. Why give the first book that title? Because I enjoy being deliberately confusing and nobody at my publisher stopped me.
Constance’s ordinary best friend Tia joins a long line of admirable, wise-cracking, sensible sidekicks in fantasy. Is it more fun to write “heroes,” sidekicks, or villains? Or, because everyone here gets zingers, is it just fun to write all of them?
I’ve never found villains especially interesting. There are some great villains in literature, but I often find villains to be less interesting the more time I spend with them. Emperor Mollusk was the closest I’ve written to a protagonist who is an actual supervillain, so there are exceptions. I like writing interesting characters though, and I don’t usually care how they might be designated on that scale. I loved writing Connie and Tia because of how natural and fun their interaction was. I’m less interested in writing character types and more interested in lively, engaging interactions.
Constance Verity has a plot that includes many things, but at its core, it’s about the possible extent of a universal conspiracy to mold one young woman into a hero. It has a Pratchett-esque feel of tweaking conventions like the monomyth, but never in a diminishing way. How do you pull off that kind of reverent irreverence for the genre?
The danger of the Hero’s Journey is that it can reduce your characters to one-dimensional pawns pushed through a plot. I hate that. It’s why I’ve come to actively dislike the Hero’s Journey as a writer’s tool. It’s a useful guideline, but it’s frustrating that so many writers, aspiring and established, think writing a story is as simple as completing a checklist. Connie isn’t meant to be a deconstruction of the monomyth expectation, but she is there to call into question how readily we accept “destiny” as a story justification. The idea is that there’s a variation of destiny at work in Connie’s life, but that rather than being a simple device, it’s a literal conspiratorial machination. The struggle between who Connie chooses to be and who the universe wants her to be is at the thematic center of the novel. I see it as a question we all face without any real answers.
I don’t think there’s any conflict with exploring such topics while writing with humor. Humor isn’t the opposite of drama. Humor doesn’t have to drain thought and remove conflict. Humor at its best is often an exploration of deep ideas with absurd glee. Constance’s world isn’t meant to be silly, though it is undeniably absurd. Does that mean that it’s weightless and that deeper concepts can’t be dissected and discussed? I don’t think so. It’s not a matter of reverence. It’s simply a matter of respecting the ideas while realizing humor doesn’t detract from them.
What other surprises do you have coming for us?
Currently, I’m working on the next two novels of the Constance Verity trilogy. After that, I don’t know. I have some stuff in the works, but I won’t comment on it until it gets further along. In this business, I don’t count anything until it’s done. Sometimes, not even then.
If you happen to be in the market for future project, might I suggest a Constance Verity adult coloring book? That’s merely a suggestion.
I would love that. My ideal would be a coloring book featuring book and movie posters from Connie’s past. Homages to Nancy Drew, Doc Savage, Universal horror movies, space operas, and so on. That would indeed be awesome.