Brian Martin-Onraët – Interview

by Manuela Timofte

"That dream was the trigger of my… insomnia, my loss of sleep. I tried to go to bed earlier, to… compensate. But every day I slept less. I woke up earlier and earlier, after the dream. I tried going to sleep later, with the same result. When I finally got the idea that I would sleep less and less, with no apparent effect, I thought it would be a tremendous opportunity: I was finally going to have time to do everything I wanted. I felt great: no tiredness, no discomfort. I didn’t sleep, but I didn’t seem to need it. And the labs were good. So? I thanked the shrink, paid her, and never saw her again." - Brian Martin-Onraët - Shadows and stairways

M. Since when do you write? What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

I write since the early ’90s. First in Spanish. (I live in Mexico). I wrote a short story called “Piano” around ’92 or ’93. I wanted to know whether I could write a proper story with a beginning, a mainline and an end.

Language and power? Reminds me of the “Voice” of the Bene Gesserit in Dune. 

Language is possibly the most powerful tool the human race has. Either spoken or written. Early experience? In the French education system, “oral” exams are important. Critical to get you in some schools. In the Business school system, there is an oral exam of general culture, worth possibly half the final grade. You’re given a topic, you have 15 minutes to sketch a plan and present to a jury of three. You have to convince them. The power of language. (In the American system, to be on the “debate team” is highly valued.)

I later took classes of speaking in public in College. Then later again on another training when I was a junior executive, given by a consultant who was a theatre major and a business major. Fantastic course.

In my professional field, Market research, I always presented the results verbally to the client. I’ve given conferences in congresses to large audiences. Love it. It’s fun. Language IS power. 

M. Do you consider yourself a compass or a map writer?

I don’t know. (Had to look it up… LOL). I “write” the story in my head first. Beginning, plot, ending, main characters, succession of events. Even dialogues. All in my head. Particularly for short stories. For longer novels, I jot down a vague plan. But mostly I write it all in my head. I’m blessed – or cursed – with a very precise memory, so I don’t forget the details. When the story is “complete” in my head, I sit down to write. I may have the story in my mind for many years, but when I sit down, I never face the “blank” page, since I have it all figured out beforehand.

I once read that Flaubert once said: “My book is finished, I only have to write it!”. (Smile). Of course, I wouldn’t dare comparing myself to Flaubert. I was just interested about his process. 

So is that “compass” or “map”? You tell me…

M. In your workday, how much time do you spend writing?

Extremely irregular. It depends on the story’s “completion” in my mind. I’m now practically retired, but when I was working, I would write at night, after the day’s work. Couple of hours. Now? I write in the morning. Two to four hours in a row. When I write fiction, that is. Writing for my blog can take time in preparation. Putting together the bits and pieces of a particular post. Once the material is ready, I try to write the post in the morning. With a fresh mind.

M. Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

I have. Since I’m fluent in French, English and Spanish, when I started writing in Spanish I used the name “Bruno Martínez”, easier to pronounce than my own name. It’s actually the name I use when I book a table at a restaurant in Mexico where I live. That way I know the person taking the reservation won’t be confused. LOL.

Now, after writing in Spanish for about ten years, I switched to English. Using an English version of my “real” name. Brian Martin-Onraët. My real first name is Brieuc, which is a Breton name. 95% of the planet can’t pronounce it. Brian is a reasonably good universal translation…

But, but… Since Masticadores has honoured me with posting my short stories in Spanish – edited by Scarlet Cabrera – and in English – by Juan – I decided to use only one name: Brian.

M. Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

Good question. (As all yours are). Neither I guess. I wouldn’t know how to be original on purpose. Nor do I know what the reader wants. The stories “come” to me. It may be a title. An ending, or a beginning, or an object, or a character. Then I let the story build up slowly in my head, as I mentioned before. If it’s just a title, I have to find a beginning, characters, a storyline, and an ending. If  I “start” with the end, I have to let the story build backwards. I play it in my head until it’s ready.

Another reference: I only fully understood my process, until I read an interview by Paul McCartney, whom I’d just seen in concert. (A magnificent concert!) He is a fantastic musician who can’t read or write music. And yet he even wrote an Oratorio. The journalist was asking him:

“How do you manage to write such wonderful songs?”

“I don’t know,” Paul said, “I just sit at the piano, there are songs floating in the air everywhere, I just pull one down, play it on the piano, record it. Then someone writes the partition…”

Again, no comparison with Sir Paul’s talent, but I do believe there are stories floating around in the air. And that writers just “pull them down” on paper…

Now, is the result original, or will it satisfy the reader? Only the reader can tell. Eventually.

M. Tell us about your latest project. Are you working on a new one now?

I have a novel in Spanish, about the sad situation of violence in Mexico. Kind of stopped in the middle. A tad depressing… I still write short stories, in English, from time to time, in my blog, when the story comes to my mind.

I would say Masticadores is my current project. Since Juan offered to “publish” me, I’ve “exhumed” my old Spanish short stories, which Scarlet edit. (Thank you, Scarlet). And I am now slowly “translating” the Spanish stories to English. Something I had always refused to do. Too much work.  Or the sensation that I was re-writing the story again. Now I use technology. (Shame on me?) I use Word Translate, get a first English draft and rewrite the story in “my” English. Still takes a while, but I would say the translator saves me about 40-60% of the time I would have spent translating from scratch.

Part of this current process also means writing the half dozen stories I’ve had in mind for years and finally put them on paper. Right now, I’m writing “The collector”, a story set in Bogotá, Colombia.

M. What would you say is your hallmark as a writer?

Good question again. Not sure what the answer is. Twofold maybe? One, I write in two-three languages… each language has a different structure, which “bends” the mind in a different way. Some stories I have to write in Spanish, others in English, because one language is the most appropriate for a specific story. Spanish for some stories, English for others.

Two, my personal life experience is not, shall we say… “common”. I’m French, born in India, raised in Africa, and I live in Mexico. I’ve lived or travelled in and to close to 40 countries. I speak close to half a dozen languages… Very different environments which inspire very different stories… That would be my main… “difference” I would say.

M. Do you think that accessing the reader who reads on a tablet, computer or mobile phone, in different spaces, (train, bus, metro) can help you be more read?

Any support that allows people to read is good. Personally, I prefer to read a book on paper. But that’s me. I once wrote a story sending SMS messages to a friend. I sent messages to her every day. Then I saved and exported the SMS to a word file, filled in some gaps, and I had a story. It was fun. And the recipient of the messages was reading the story every day, by bits and pieces on her phone… So yes, tablets, phones, computers, everything is good if it keeps readers interested.

M. Do you think Masticadores’s bet in the search for that digital reader is correct? What’s your opinion about it?

Not sure what Masticadores’ bet is, you tell me. 😉 What I see is that you post a lot of stories, with an international focus, you’re developing Masticadores in many countries in Spanish and English and other languages too I believe. I also see you have a high number of views, and increasing, which is very good. So far, I would say Masticadores is growing and working. And the work of the editors is amazing. (I don’t “know” all of the editors, I forgot to mention Terveen.)

Now, room for opportunity? The next step might be – implying a lot of additional work – to create a tighter bond with your readers. I noticed in a few posts I’ve seen that there seem to be few comments. Maybe some authors might get a lot of comments others none, I don’t know. Blogging, to me, implies creating a community of people who comment. Who exchange ideas. (And thus give feedback). It does take time and work. But I have known some bloggers for a while now, and it’s always a pleasure to exchange with them either on their posts or on mine. You might want to give it a thought…

M. What has your participation as a writer in Masticadores given you?

Meeting extraordinary people: Juan, Scarlet, Terveen, you. I like the passion you all show. That in itself is a great reward.

Masticadores has also provided a new outlet for my “old” Spanish short stories, for which I am very grateful, and my “newer” stories in English. Thank you so much.

An additional benefit I have already mentioned, has been to force me to translate my Spanish stories into English. Once I’m done with that, I might even consider self-publishing, which, as Kipling said, is another story.

My heartfelt thanks to the entire Masticadores team… And to you in particular for this very interesting interview. I am honoured.

Here is the link to my blog, Equinoxio:

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13 comentarios sobre “Brian Martin-Onraët – Interview

  1. «Good question. (As all yours are). Neither I guess. I wouldn’t know how to be original on purpose. Nor do I know what the reader wants. The stories “come” to me. It may be a title. An ending, or a beginning, or an object, or a character. Then I let the story build up slowly in my head, as I mentioned before. If it’s just a title, I have to find a beginning, characters, a storyline, and an ending»
    Un abrazo para ti Brian.
    j re crivello

    Le gusta a 2 personas

    1. Hi Derrick. Fancy meeting you here. But then you seem to be at all the right places.
      I concur. 99% of what I read is on paper. Apart form blogs of course, and a French News magazine which I suscribe to electronically. Read it on my tablet.
      I’ve tried reading a coupla e-books. I find it very hard…
      Cheers my friend. We’re in March. Spring is coming to that magical garden of yours…

      Le gusta a 1 persona

  2. Dear Brieuc, it’s so good to know more about you as a writer and your thoughts on the writing craft. I liked how you said that stories are all around us and we just have to pull one down and give it shape and form. You definitely are a man of the world and that’s something to be proud of. Love your creativity and writing style and voice. To know so many languages is definitely a mark of genius. Thank you for the kind mention. I agree that interacting and communicating through words is so important. Take care and keep that pen to paper and fingers to keyboard. 🙂

    Le gusta a 1 persona

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