Maryann Martinsen is an animal lover and mother of three from Layton, Utah. She’s also one of the most enthusiastic writers we’ve ever met. Last January, Maryann decided that 2016 was “the year,” and she set a goal to finish and publish the book she had been working on for more than a decade.
At Glass Spider Publishing, we are proud and honored to have helped bring this goal to fruition. Maryann’s book Beyond the Savanna is out now in paperback and Kindle e-book.
Beyond the Savanna is an exciting journey of courage, self-discovery, and love. The story is centered around Hannah Blake, who lives in a Kenyan village with her American parents. Hannah discovers early on a spiritual connection with the animal kingdom, and even rescues an orphaned lion cub. Her passion for animal rights leads her into a dangerous encounter with poachers. After her life on the savanna has been ripped apart by the encounter, she flees to America. It is here she must find a way to forgive and the courage to trust in her wild heart again.
Read our interview with Maryann to find out how her beautifully written story came into being.
Hi, Maryann! Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up with five siblings in a home only slightly larger than the Little House on the Prairie. You might say I was really “close” to my brothers and sisters. I was a dreamer as a child but, truly, there were only three things I desperately wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be a wife. I wanted to be a mother. And I wanted to be a writer.
I married a great guy and had three cool kids, but that writer thing just seemed to be elusive. I’d look at a form asking me my profession, and I’d want to say “writer,” but I felt that until I had a novel with my name on it, I was just a wannabe. At one point, I almost ordered a mug with “writer” printed on it, but thought that was presumptuous.
It wasn’t until many years later, while I was working on Beyond the Savanna, that I realized I was, indeed, already a writer and always had been. So what if I didn’t have an officially published novel yet? I had been writing stories my whole life. The next form I filled out, I proudly wrote in the career box: WRITER!
When did you first start writing?
I think I may have daydreamed my first stories while inside the womb. I can remember the specific moment in my childhood when I finally had learned enough writing skills to create a sentence. I remember exactly what it felt like and where I was sitting when I put together my first paragraph. The storyteller inside me was free, and from then on, I never stopped imagining plots and putting them on paper.
The intense desire to be a published author came at a tender young age. I’d walk by the shelves of novels and imagine mine amongst them. This longing to have my stories out there for the public to read relentlessly increased in intensity until I just had to make it happen! I sat down with pen and paper, and, in my very best penmanship, crafted a “gripping tale,” then bound it with staples. I took it to the neighborhood grocery store and set it on the shelf with the “other bestsellers.” I stood back and admired my achievement before eventually having to peel myself away from the magical moment and go home before I got grounded. Whatever happened to my first self-published work, I have no clue, but I like to imagine I made someone smile.
What kinds of books inspired you as a reader and as a writer?
The first novel that I can remember bringing me to tears was Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. As a ten-year-old, it was sometimes painful to immerse myself in Billy Colman’s (also aged ten) life. But I admired his grit and determination. And when even I couldn’t bear turning another page of the story without Old Dan and Little Ann on it, heartbroken Billy found the strength to move on. He was an inspiration.
These kinds of stories—where you follow a character on an intensely personal journey through the joyous highs of life and lows, sometimes so agonizing that you, the reader, even find it hard to keep going—became my favorites and remain so to this day. I do read other genres, but it is important that the characters draw me in emotionally. If I can’t connect, I don’t care, and if I don’t care, why bother reading the story? Especially when there’s a whole world of enthralling books to lose myself in.
These kinds of stories—emotionally entangling character journeys—are also what I love to write.
What’s your favorite place to write?
I decorated a room in my house for this purpose. Surrounded by my favorite colors, things, and inspirations, it was to be the perfect environment—my idea of perfect, anyway—to be creative. But being a north-facing room, it lacked one important thing: sunshine.
More often than not, I found myself carrying my laptop to the kitchen to bask in the light while my characters dictated their stories to me. Now my computer lives on a desk in the kitchen. Besides, it’s my happy room. It shares with me a stunning view of the Wasatch Mountains and the dearest of moments with family and friends. Since I prefer to write late mornings and early afternoons and my kitchen is usually quiet during these times, it works well.
What inspired you to write Beyond the Savanna?
In truth, the basis of Beyond the Savanna began forming in my mind when I was in high school. I can trace my inspiration back to a book and a movie. The book was Mrs. Mike, chronicling the life of Katherine Mary Flannigan, by Benedict Freedman and Nancy Freedman. The movie was Lady Sings the Blues, a film about jazz singer Billie Holiday. Both of these women lived fascinating lives, endured the deepest depths of sorrow and tragedy, and emerged into the light stronger and wiser. Both are also beautiful tales of love. And what’s a story without at least a little romance?
Can you give us, in a few sentences, a basic idea of what your book is about?
Uhhh… no! (Laughs) Okay. If I must. But boiling my book down to just a few basic sentences is, for some reason, one of the hardest things I’m asked to do. It’s easier to have someone who has read it summarize it for me. (I know a lot of authors who feel this way.) But I’ll give it a shot.
Beyond the Savanna is the story of an adventurous, feisty young woman, Hannah, raised by American parents, medical people, in a rural village in Kenya with traditional natives for neighbors and the wild savanna as her backyard. She has a mysterious spiritual connection with animals. You might say she’s a “wildlife whisperer.” Her passion to protect them runs deep, and a reckless confrontation with a poacher leads to an unintentional series of events that results in the ruin of her life.
Despairing and desperate, Hannah is forced to flee to America. The situation she finds herself in amongst uncaring, calloused people only causes her to feel more hopeless. The prospect of her ever knowing happiness again seems bleak at best. But enter a young college professor—a handsome one, at that. Hannah senses a bond with him that defies explanation, but he’s not only her teacher but a taken man, as well, so anything beyond friendship is a place neither of them feels is appropriate to go.
The title Beyond the Savanna came about because when Hannah leaves behind her beloved home—everything she’s ever cared about, everybody she’s ever known, like the characters in my favorite stories and movies—she’s got to scratch and claw her way out of the heaviness of her existence or let it bury her.
Were there any scenes or sections of the book that were difficult to write?
Oh, yes. The scenes involving aviation were particularly challenging since I have no experience flying a plane. I researched to the point of exhaustion and then interviewed pilots until they could reasonably assure me I got it at least mostly right.
On an emotional level, the scenes involving animals, particularly their suffering, was too real and draining. There were moments I wanted to just rescue these innocent creatures, love them, and give them mercy. But that wasn’t the reality of my story, and it’s certainly not the reality for so many animals on this planet.
In Beyond the Savanna, animal rights and the atrocities of poaching are a common theme. What do you think most people don’t know about the poaching problem in Africa?
I was in a critique group with other writers when one woman innocently inferred that the poaching problem in Africa couldn’t be that bad. Before I even began writing this story—a story that begins in Africa, a place I, admittedly, have never been—I did my research, and that research consumed portions of nearly a year.
What I know about the poaching problem is that it is huge, and not just in Africa. The illicit wildlife trade is valued at between $5-20 billion per year. Besides Africa’s homegrown poachers, militias and terrorist groups financed in part by ivory are poaching elephants, often outside their own countries, and even hiding within national parks. They’re looting communities, enslaving people, and murdering park rangers who interfere.
Some 30,000 African elephants are slaughtered every year, and the pace of killing is not slowing. Most illegal ivory goes to China, where a pair of ivory chopsticks can bring more than a thousand dollars and carved tusks sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Before the 1800s, the rhino population in Africa numbered in the hundreds of thousands. That number is down to 29,500 left on Earth. At current poaching rates, elephants, rhinos, and other African wildlife may be gone within our lifetime.
So, the answer to my writer friend’s question was: Yes, it is that bad, and sadly, worse.
What kind of reader do you think might like to read Beyond the Savanna?
Besides someone who is searching for a well written, captivating story to read? (Yes, I know this is a self-plug, but I’ve been practicing saying it shamelessly!)
You like to immerse yourself in an enthralling character journey.
You prefer to delve into a story with substance.
You must be emotionally drawn in.
You enjoy adventure and traveling to exotic places.
You think other cultures are fascinating.
You care about animals.
You love a good romance.
You admire passionate characters.
You are interested in exploring the nuances of life and relationships.
You find the universe to be a mysterious and intriguing place.
…this is a great book for you. If you’re looking for fantasy, this isn’t your book.
What advice do you have for writers hoping to publish a book?
I believe that before you can be an effective writer, you need to be an avid reader. You wouldn’t expect to be able to compose a symphony if you’d never even listened to one, would you? Even if you have natural writing ability, work to perfect your craft. Honing your skills will give your writing an edge over those who languish in mediocrity. Belong to a critique group. It’s sometimes painful to take criticism, but it’s essential to learning and becoming better. Write what you love to read. If you hate sparkling vampires, don’t try to write a book about them just because it’s what’s selling. Chances are you’ll be bored, and so will your readers.
Though being teachable and able to take criticism are important, don’t make the same mistakes I did early on—that of taking to heart every single piece of advice, every last suggestion, everything I read. It can make you crazy and, believe me, you can end up doing more harm to your story than good. At some point, you have to go with your gut.
When you’re ready to publish, it’s important to have your novel professionally edited, no matter how awesome you think your best friend is—unless your bestie is a professional editor, that is. And if you really want to try traditional publishing, give it a go. But remember that even the likes of J.K. Rowling and Stephen King, amongst a slew of other best-selling authors, were rejected loads of times before somebody decided to crack open their stingy door and let them in.
However, if you know you’ve done everything possible to make your novel the very best it can be and you’re tired of dealing with bored, jaded, cynical agents and editors who don’t give your manuscript more than a perfunctory glance before condemning it to the slush pile, don’t be afraid to open your own doors. Self-publishing used to be stigmatized, but not so much anymore. The array of successful self-published authors keeps growing—just ask Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice.
By the way, thank you Vince Font and everyone at Glass Spider Publishing. It’s been a pleasure!
Can we expect more books from you in the future?
That’s a resounding HECK YEAH! As long as I’m still living and my mind hasn’t crapped out on me, I’ll be writing. Even if no one ever read anything I wrote, I’d still write. I have several novels playing out in my head as we speak, and I can’t wait to get to work. Who knows? Maybe there will even be a sequel to Beyond the Savanna!
Glass Spider Publishing is an Ogden-based micropublisher offering professional editing, design, publication, and marketing services to authors of all experience levels. To find out how we can help you get your story published, contact us today.
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