By Emily Williams
Shirley Martin, a resident of Vestavia Hills, began writing in the early 1980s. As she enters her 80s, Martin is continuing her career as an author of romance novels and novellas.
Martin was born near Pittsburgh and attended the University of Pittsburgh, majoring in history and minoring in social studies. After graduating in 1956, Martin taught school for one year before becoming a Miami-based Eastern Airlines flight attendant. It was in Florida that Martin met and married her husband, raised three sons and began her career as a writer of romance novels.
“I’ve always been very imaginative,” Martin said. “Sometime in the early ’80s, I took a course in creative writing. I started with essays, poems and short stories. One day, I asked the teacher, ‘What would you think if I tried to write a novel?’ and she said, ‘Sure, go ahead.’ So I did.”
Martin said she has always read romance novels and found that through her writing she was able to find an outlet for her creativity.
“When I was much younger, I knew my mother could do so many creative things like sewing, knitting and so on,” Martin said. “Something about my coordination — I just couldn’t do it.”
While reading a history of her hometown of Pittsburgh, Martin came up with the idea to make western Pennsylvania the setting for her first novel, “Destined to Love,” she said.
“I read about all of the people who were captured by the Indians during the French and Indian War,” Martin said. “So I had the idea that the heroine was captured by the Indians and taken to live in a native American village.”
Martin has used western Pennsylvania as the setting for a number of her novels and novellas.
“I miss Pittsburgh,” Martin said. “I love the people, and I love the weather. When I grew up there, it was the steel industry. When you were going to Pittsburgh, you could smell it as soon as you got there.”
After successfully completing a few history novels, Martin moved on to paranormal and fantasy fiction writing. She said that history novels, due to the amount of research she had to conduct, would take her more than six months to complete.
“With fantasy, you don’t have to do much research,” Martin said. “You can just let your mind run wild.”
Martin now is finishing a fantasy novella. With four more chapters left to be written, Martin said, she has a case of writer’s block.
“When I’m stuck, I’ll write down all of the possible things that could happen to the characters,” she said.
If that method doesn’t cure her block, Martin said she usually takes to the streets for motivation.
“It must be something about fresh air to the brain,” said Martin. “But it’s quite often that I’ll take a walk outside and right away I think, ‘That’s it. This is what I have to do.’”
Martin said her best advice for aspiring writers is to keep a tight schedule.
“Set a certain time every day that you are going to write and, unless an emergency comes up, do it,” she said. “Even if you can’t think of anything, just try to write.”
In order to begin writing, Martin said she selects a specific set of questions that must be answered. Martin said she asks herself, “What do you want the reader to know?”
“One thing I’ve learned — and I believe just about all writers do this — is that you start by making goals, motivation and conflict,” Martin said. “What does your character want? Why does she want it? What’s keeping her from getting it? Once you have answered those questions, you can build around them.”
Martin also said she finds it important to get feedback on her writing. While living in Miami, Martin belonged to a critique group where she was able to give feedback to others and receive suggestions on her own writing.
“I knew a woman when I went to a critique group,” Martin said. “She was trying to write four or five different books at the same time, and she didn’t finish any of them.”
Martin said the woman’s experience taught her to stick to one project at a time but also not to spend too much time on the story if it isn’t working. Her rule is to ditch an idea if it cannot be completed within two years.
Martin’s current goal for her writing is to finish the remaining four chapters of her fantasy novella and then move on to the next idea.
“I’ve grown as a writer, but I also don’t think I could write my earlier novels today,” she said. “Now, I would like to write a fantasy novella once every six months.”
Martin’s works – as well as her most recent novel, “Dream Weaver,” published in 2013 – are available for purchase electronically through Amazon. Printed versions of her books are available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. ”