Author serves Georgia-fried humor, with a side of cynicism

BY ELLEN HARRIS | JULY 09, 2009 7:21 AM

His voice isn’t Deep South enough to conjure images of strumming banjos, but author Man Martin’s soothing Georgia twang and natural humor immediately makes the listener feel like an old school chum.

“I promise you that whatever pinnacle of success you imagine for yourself, you will never get there,” Martin said, joking about attempting to make writing a career. “It’s always a damn struggle.”

He will read from his début novel, Days of the Endless Corvette at 7 p.m. to night at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St.

Martin, who claims to be a perpetual student, said Days of the Endless Corvette served as his dissertation while he was working on a Ph.D. in fiction writing at Georgia State University.

“Had I the money and the leisure, I tell ya, I think I would be in school at this moment,” he said.
With enough degrees to fill a Corvette’s trunk — he received his B.F.A. in English and graphic design, a teaching certificate, an M.F.A. in writing, and the afore-mentioned doctorate — Martin laughed about being overly educated.

“It may be a little late in life, but I’m a damn good student,” he said. “I’m a damn fine student. I would be a pleasure in anybody’s classroom.”

Days of the Endless Corvette chronicles the life of Earl, a slightly off-key young man in the small-town South who falls hard for his neighbor, the bookish and oblivious Ellen.

“It’s kind of a tall tale,” he said. “It’s like stories I grew up with as a kid.”

In a way, Martin created the main character after himself.

“I’m the same fix-it man in my house,” he said. “Whenever I would put something back together, my wife would always be concerned about the number of leftover parts I seemed to generate.”

Martin’s Earl is no Paul Bunyon, but his hero has grandiose ambitions equal in stature. Earl believes that if he takes apart — and subsequently rebuilds — the same 1953 Corvette several times, saving excess pieces, he eventually will have enough parts to build an entire car and keep the original behind.

“That’s the moral of the story,” Martin said. “That it’s the sort of thing that’s just barely possible.”

Such a story of hope and possibility is part of his success, specifically in the Southeastern United States.

“Truthfully, my goal was to write a good story,” he said, “To write a story that people would read and enjoy. It’s really that simple. Nothing more important than that.”

A high-school English teacher and debate coach in Atlanta, he launches into discussions of his love of literature with the gusto of a dedicated educator.

“There will be a place for the novel,” Martin said. “There’s no substitute for it.”

Though calling himself a technological “dinosaur,” he argues for the continued existence of the novel against the advent of Amazon’s Kindle.

“When I was a teenager, I read Journey to the Center of the Earth, and the book was made with perfect binding,” he said. “And as I was reading the book, the pages began to fall out. Which was great. Because this book I was reading was that story — bridges were constantly collapsing behind them, and tunnels were caving in, and they were running as fast as they could to an exit they weren’t sure would exist … And that’s what the book was doing to me — I had to read faster and faster, and the thing was collapsing in my hands.”

Martin, whose second novel, Paradise Dogs, is in his agent’s hands awaiting a publisher, lives in Atlanta with his wife, college-age daughters, and a dog.

Though he’s often busy with teaching and coaching, he finds the time to write often.

“I’ve got a novella … Lord help me, I don’t know why anyone would want to have a novella,” Martin said. “And I’ve got another story, but I keep taking breaks, hitting a brick wall, and then gotta start over again. I write a lot. I’m pretty productive.”

And where does all that creativity leave Martin’s family life?

“Well, I neglect my family,” he said jokingly. “You can always get another family, but how many story ideas are you gonna have in your life?”

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