In April, New York Times bestselling author Charles Martin spoke at Samford as the keynote speaker for the Tom and Marla Corts Distinguished Author Series. Martin, who has authored more than 17 books including The Mountain Between Us and The Dead Don’t Dance, shared his exploration of biblical truths in his book What If It’s True?: A Storyteller’s Journey With Jesus. He examined key moments from the life and ministry of Jesus, as well as from his own journey as a disciple of Christ. Martin, whose son is a Samford undergraduate student, spoke with Holly Gainer, director of university communication, about his career, advice for aspiring authors and what success means to him.
Q: What led you to become a writer?
A: I started writing when I was 15 because I did not have the skills to articulate with my mouth what I was experiencing. I did not have the tools to tell you I am struggling with this—from girls to sports to grades. One night I sat down and wrote a story at the age of 15 and honestly, I can’t tell you why I sat down and wrote the story. I just know that when I was finished it was like taking a deep breath for the first time in my life. I did that through high school, I did that through college, I did that through graduate school and then at the age of 27, I wrote a novel. Until then, I was probably afraid to try to write a novel. It seemed like something other people did. Then one day I realized those authors weren’t always authors, they were like me. I wrote a manuscript and after 86 rejections, my first novel, The Dead Don’t Dance, was finally published.
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring writers, especially for students and recent graduates?
A: I think 90% of success is just showing up day after day, sitting in a chair and writing. Books don’t write themselves. I show up every day to a blank page. No matter how magnificent or horrible I was the day before, the page is always blank. No one is going to write it for me. Somewhere, somehow, you have to decide you are going to do this and see it through.
Q: How does your faith guide you as a father, husband and writer?
A: I really love Jesus and I just want to follow Him and do what He says. I do that not because He makes my life better, but because He is better than life. I want my wife and kids to walk with Him in the same way. The end of Psalm 45 says, “it is my great desire to make your name known to the nations.” I wonder if that could be said of me. I hope the answer is yes, but that is my prayer for myself and my family.
Q: You have written more than 20 books which are published all over the world in more than 40 languages, with The Mountain Between Us made into movie that starred Kate Winslet and Idris Elba. For many, these achievements are the epitome of a successful career. What does success look like to you and what does it mean to you?
I am grateful for all of the things you mentioned, but that is not how I define success. The best way to explain how I view success is to tell you about an experience I had earlier today. This afternoon, I received an email from a mom who has a son in federal prison. He has not been doing well, but he began reading my book What If It’s True? and he and his mom have begun discussing it. His mom wrote to me and said he told her that for the first time in his life, he does not feel like a number. She said he surrendered his life to Christ after reading my book. I would give up every single earthly accolade to receive emails like that. That is success to me.