Shadow Dance: A Conversation with Martin Ott – curated by Kristina Marie Darling

Martin Ott is the author of eleven books of fiction and poetry. He won the De Novo and Sandeen prizes (University of Notre Dame Press) for his first two poetry collections. His work has appeared in more than three hundred magazines and twenty anthologies. 

KMD:  Tell us about your latest book, Shadow Dance, which will soon launch from Regal House Publishing. 

Shadow Dance is a novel influenced by my time in the military as an interrogator and my belief that we have chosen to ignore our twenty-year war in Afghanistan and its impact on our society and returning soldiers. The novel’s protagonist West is looking to flee from the past, barely old enough to drink, looking to rediscover himself after several tours in Afghanistan as a POW prison guard.

Shadow Dance explores the life of a young man who joined the Army because of a family tragedy only to experience further PTSD as he encounters advanced interrogation methods, many of which revisit him as flashbacks. After going AWOL, West looks to reunite with Solomon, his childhood best friend, who exists in the dark underworld of a Los Angeles gentleman’s club. 

West soon finds himself caught in the web of the Iranian family running the castle-themed Club Paradise. Big Z Pourali is a former wrestler with a dark side and side businesses that put his dancers, employees, and family in peril. West stays in LA to look after Solomon, but soon falls for the club owner’s daughter Nikki. West must come to terms with the raw underside of a Los Angeles crime family and his own past, all the while hoping to maintain his sanity in the process. 

KMD:  In what ways have your experiences outside of and beyond the literary community enriched your writing? 

MO: So many of my life experiences end up in my work. In Shadow Dance and Interrogator’s Notebook, I lean on my time in the military for inspiration. The opening scene of my science fiction novel Spectrum contains a scene from a dream from a college girlfriend. Two separate jobs – one working for an online psychic company and the other for a multi-level marketing company – inform characters and scenes in my novel manuscripts Future 2.0 and Lifelong. Hybrid representations of friends show up in my fiction. I continually recycle characters and concepts from screenplays I have written. 

KMD:  Can you speak to the importance of literary citizenship? In what ways is your writing powered by community?  

This year, I have been thinking about how few writers make a living from their creative efforts and how this possibility is increasingly challenged by corporate interests. More than ever before, I have reached out to support my writing friends with encouragement, blurbs and reviews, and social media posts.

KMD:  Will you share a writing prompt with us?

MO: Prompt: Identify an enemy or frenemy in your life and concoct a scene that places them as the protagonist and you as their antagonist. Write with empathy even if it casts you in a bad light.

Lesson: To learn how to write characters outside of your comfort zone and to see through others eyes, even if they seem diametrically opposed to your point of view.

KMD:  What are you currently working on? What can readers look forward to? 

MO: I’m at the tail-end of developing a novel Future 2.0 that is part mystery, part apocalyptic coming-of-age story. It explores current topics such as artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, and the eternal conflict between the head and the heart. I have worked through multiple developmental drafts with my agent and we are working together on final edits.