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The following article appeared in the June, 1998 issue of Insite Magazine.


The Fantasy Life, by Elizabeth Todd


Local novelist Martha Wells talks about writing and the writer's life, as she has experienced it.



Martha Wells may call the Brazos Valley home but the novels and short stories she writes are way out of this world. Wells is an award-winning author of two science-fiction/fantasy novels (with another due later this month) and several short stories. Her first book, The Element of Fire, was a finalist for the 1993 Compton Crook/Stephen Tall Award and a runner-up for the 1994 Crawford Award. Both The Element of Fire and Wells' second novel, City of Bones, were on recommended reading lists for the genre. Hailing from Fort Worth, Wells attended Texas A&M University and has been here ever since. She published her first novel in 1993 at the age of 26. Her second was completed two years later. The latest novel to bear Wells' name, Death of the Necromancer, is due on shelves this month. Her popularity as an author is such that she even has a web page dedicated to her work: http://www.marthawells.com.

One of the things that sets her apart from other sci-fi/fantasy writers is her attention to accurate detail. Extensive historical research goes into each novel Wells writes. She tries to stay away from the medieval settings that many fantasy writers use, preferring instead to create worlds which seem to exist outside of time as we know it.

While it might seem paradoxical for a fantasy writer to be so concerned with facts, Wells takes her craft seriously and feels responsible to her audience. After years of reading sci-fi/fantasy, Wells can spot insincerity in other authors' works immediately.

"It's obvious to me when fantasy writers are in it for the money," she says. "Some stories have an old feel to them. To me, this is like fraud. Audiences follow the name on the cover of the book and expect a certain quality of writing."

Being an author didn't come easy to Wells. She says she has a hard time reading the first stories she wrote "because they were so terrible." But as she wrote more in college, she could feel her skills improving and with each story, things were coming more easily.

"I think I improved a lot between the first and second books, too," she says. "It really takes time, and you have to keep reading and writing." While some people know they want to be writers, they may not know what they want to write.

Wells was fortunate enough to know both, and it helped her become published. "When you look at writers' magazines and creative writing textbooks, they talk about marketing your work and choosing a genre," Wells says. "I never could see doing a genre that you hadn't read before." The choice was clear to Wells.

"I've liked science fiction and fantasy since I was a kid," Wells says. "My favorite book as a child was The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. "I picked it out of the shelf and had my parents read it to me because it had our name on it."

Wells grew up but did not outgrow her love for science fiction and fantasy. At Texas A&M, she majored in anthropology and began to hone her craft, attending writers' workshops and getting feedback from seasoned writers. She stayed in town after graduation, working in computer systems administration for the university and continuing to write.

For Wells, the realization that she was a writer hit her when she received copies of her first novel in the mail. She remembers carrying one of the books around for several days, letting it sink in. She says she still feels that way when she sees a new book with her name on it. The life of an author is not all rave reviews and book signings, however. It takes time to adjust to having one's work displayed publicly.

"It's a neat experience. But have you ever heard of 'imposter syndrome?'" she asks. "When you think you've only made it to a certain point because nobody's realized that you don't belong there yet?"

Wells need only look at the three books she has authored to know she is no fraud. And if the all the acclaim and praise she has received during her writing career seems strange to her, surely she would agree that some things are indeed stranger than fiction.


Article by Elizabeth Todd © 1998 Insite Magazine

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