"I think all writers should know their craft and write beyond life in their immediate area. America isn't the center of the world. I'd like to read more of a worldview or a universal perspective that reaches a greater readership."
This is sage advice from Dr. Martin Luther Patrick, whose storied literary career spans decades. A playwright and a novelist, he has a PhD in Cultural Anthropology.
The Jamaican-born Patrick, who grew up in London, England (he currently resides in the Borough of Hackney), began his literary journey when he was 18. In 1985, he entered London's Channel 4 Television script competition, placing second. Then in 1988, The London Theatre Coop named him "Best New Young Playwright." As well, he's has won other prestigious awards as a playwright.
In 2012, Strategic Books published Patrick's debut novel, JJ's Isolation. Last year, he established Great New Writers Ltd, his own teaching and tutoring company. Its mission is to support aspiring LGBT, Black, Asian and Hispanic writers. As well, the prolific Patrick has completed his second novel, Love Both Ways, which drops this summer.
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with the engaging and rather candid Dr. Patrick.
EVANS: Welcome, Martin! Take us on your fascinating literary journey.
PATRICK: Certainly. At aged 18, I began writing short stories. In 1985, I entered London's Channel 4 Television script competition, and came in second. This encouraged me to continue writing drama. My debut play Where To Now was stage read at the Gay Sweatshop Theatre Company in 1987. In 1988, a full production led to my winning "Best New Young Playwright" from the London Theatre Coop. And in 1990, Give It Up Mum won The Independent Newspaper Second Phase Award.
From 1988-1994, I performed Vignettes, my collection of short stories, at various venues including the prestigious Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, Frankfurt, Paris, Amsterdam and New York City. In 1994, I produced my last play, Romance and Treason, in London and Amsterdam. Due to the demands of teaching and research, I stopped writing plays but continued to write my Vignettes.
I returned to writing and completed JJ's Isolation, my debut novel, which was published in 2012. Last year, I formed Great New Writers Ltd. That same year, I completed my second novel, Love Both Ways, to be published in the Summer 2016, and have just finished my latest novel, Son of a Dish. I have now mapped out the plot for the next novel, Family Matters, which is a story about Black British gay men's social and emotional journeys through work, faith, friendship and love. I am keen to start and complete it in 2017.
EVANS: WHY do you write?
PATRICK: Writing allows me to explore my creativity and fascination with cultural studies and life experiences. Growing up, I felt powerless because I was raised by very strict parents. When they told me what to do, I would often rewrite what I'd prefer to do in my mind. I also used to rewrite and re-stage films and television in my mind to feature my friends and me as heroes, lovers and leaders because as a Black British kid, I was doubly conscious of being Jamaican. Nowhere in films or literature did I see or read about Caribbean characters that were beautiful and heroic.
Furthermore, studying and teaching world cinema gave me a panoramic worldview on the manners and morals of culture and society; and from that diverse combination of storytelling, I felt I had the right to write.
EVANS: Martin, JJ's Isolation is one helluva exhilarating ride, with such rich detail and characterization! The reader is fully invested in the protagonists. Give us an abbreviated "411" of the novel.
PATRICK: Sure. JJ's Isolation is about a sophisticated and sexy Black military intelligence agent who falls in love with the wrong man, and then discovers the love of his life is his fellow Hispanic agent. Set in America and Europe. JJ is one of ten elite assassins for the Anti-Terrorist Union, a UK military unit based in New York.
JJ has become the man he is because his parents were murdered by the Klan, and his first love was killed by the cops. Now aged forty, everything changes when Juan Carlos, his playboy fellow agent, discovers he's going to lose JJ. Carlos realizes the endless line of women he's had is his denial. JJ is the love of his life. Both of them have to battle, kill and outwit the head of the ATU and their enemies to make a life together as a passionate and loving couple.
EVANS: You've stated that JJ's Isolation, and I quote, "had been brewing in me for years while I was teaching, doing my Ph.D and retiring from university teaching life." Do elaborate.
PATRICK: I wanted to write a love story in the crime fiction genre about Black and Hispanic masculinity that broke the rules concerning love, work, poverty, fear and the rites of passage that form African-American and Hispanic sexual identities. My two favorite genres are crime and love stories that explore the pathology of violence and the psychology of erotic desire. Researching the archetypes of myth and philosophy made me realize how underdeveloped our identities as Black and Hispanic men are.
EVANS: Additionally, you've stated that you had to overcome obstacles in writing JJ's Isolation. Exactly what were those stumbling blocks?
PATRICK: Heterosexism, homophobia, and racist ignorance about what Black men are supposed to be. At the highest levels of intellectual thought in universities, I have listened to some of the most stupid trash from men--especially about what constitutes race, masculinity and intellect. At the same time, I have heard some ideas and insights from my former B.A. and M.A. students that have compelled me to question my own ideas about culture and society in a diverse and complex world of identity politics and nationhood. Some literary agents in London told me that no publisher could possibly be interested in a novel about Blacks, gays, secret service executioners, Broadway musicals, Liberation struggles and sexual exploration. I asked myself: hadn't they heard of melodrama, pulp crime fiction, neo noir, or HBO drama such as Oz, Six Feet Under, and The Wire--perhaps even Pedro Almodóvar (the internationally-acclaimed Spanish filmmaker)?
So, when Strategic Books made me the publication offer, I respected their choice because I thought "you've got guts and vision."
EVANS: Are there differences and nuances between American and UK LGBTQ literature?
PATRICK: Black LGBT in Britain is still very marginal, which is one of the reasons I started my GNW Company. I think one of the most distinct differences I've noticed in UK vs. USA Black LGBT work is the class element in British literature in comparison to the materialist focus on American fiction from the USA. The UK is a distinctly class conscious society, whereas the USA is a racially defined nation with distinct traits.
EVANS: Martin, what advice would you give to aspiring authors--particularly those who are LGBTQ?
PATRICK: Read other authors. Then new writers should understand their own voice and expression, based on their cultural experience. After that, write the novel. At the outset, I would strongly recommend new authors map out the novel from beginning, middle to end. I would advise them to think deeply and seriously about the characters they want to explore, and ask as many questions as possible about what the character/s wants, likes, fears and regrets.
Concerning those who are LGBT: they should have an awareness of the political culture that shapes and affects LGBT society. And, they must have marketing & PR skills to introduce their work to global LGBT communities.
Next Up: Dr. Patrick on the iconic Essex Hemphill; the visibility of LGBTQ people in the media; Love Both Ways, his soon-to-be-released novel...and more.
You can connect with Dr. Martin Luther Patrick at: