BY DAY HE'S TIM MARTIN, MILD-MANNERED HEATING AND VENTILATION engineer at Humboldt State University. But that's just his day job.
Most other times he's either thinking about his writing or working on it, and last month Timothy Martin joined the ranks of Humboldt County's published writers and celebrated his first book, "There's Nothing Funny About Running: Over 70 Wacky Short Stories on Running."
And there's more. One of Martin's screenplays is inching its way to fruition on HBO in Hollywood.
"They seem to be committed to the script," Martin said. "It looks very promising."
But he's keeping the day job for now, anyway.
Far from being an overnight sensation, Martin's writing career has evolved over several decades. A Humboldt County native born in Scotia, Martin, 51, went from high school to a three-year tour in the U.S. Navy that included service in Vietnam.
"I've been freelancing ever since I got out of the Navy back in 1969," said Martin. He began by writing for an eclectic variety of magazines. "First it was motorcycle magazines, then it was romance magazines. I tried my hand at all of it."
Martin was quick to acknowledge he doesn't know exactly where his interest in writing came from, and laughed it off when asked if he wrote much as a child.
"There's Nothing Funny About Running: Over 70 Wacky Short Stories on Running" by Tim Martin also features the cover art and drawings of local artist Duane Flatmo.
But he did feel the drive to go back to school in his 30s, first attending College of the Redwoods and ultimately earning a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Humboldt State. He had already started his university plant operations job in heating and ventilation, one that he's held for 26 years, and worked through school.
"I just felt like I wanted to go back to school, and then it started being really entertaining, and I really enjoyed it. But before that, no," he said, grimacing and rolling his eyes at the thought of it. (School children and parents, take heart.)
Martin's freelance writing continued along with the development of a new interest running. "I've been a runner for almost 20 years, and I started writing running stories," he said.
"I just kind of fell in love with running and all the nuances and all the funny things that go along with it. My approach to running is it's been really fun. I'm a decent runner, but mostly I just really enjoy the camaraderie and everything attached to running."
Tim Martin participating in the Russian River Run. (photo courtesy of Tim Martin)
He joined Six Rivers Running Club and wrote for the club's newsletter, receiving positive feedback on the stories. They collected over the years, so he started sending them off to running magazines.
One of the first he sent ended up as the cover story in the July 1988 issue of Running Times, the national magazine on the sport. It was a humorous piece about the strong feelings runners have about their race T-shirt collections. "That was a real inspiration to me," Martin said. "I thought, if I could do that one, I'll keep writing stories."
Write he did, for an expanding array of running magazines and a bevy of local publications including the North Coast Journal.
After about 15 years of writing running stories, Martin had accumulated quite a stack and began wondering what he could do with them. He thought they were good and was confident they contained entertainment value, so he carefully crafted query letters to about 50 publishers, including Marathon Publishers in Sacramento, proposing a book of short stories on running. Marathon expressed interest, and now, after over a year, the book is available.
The work is a compilation of, as it says on the cover, "Over 70 Wacky Short Stories on Running," and is a mix of narratives that are funny, insightful or inspirational. Martin explained that most running stories are how-to's, but he thought there was so much more to write about.
"I took the approach of why run instead of how to, why to," he said, adding, "I try to write with a little humor."
The book also features the cover art and drawings of local artist Duane Flatmo in his typical angular, whimsical fashion. Martin asked the publishers if they would be interested in having a local artist do the cover, believing that Flatmo's style would mesh well with the book's subject matter.
"They liked what he did," Martin said. "It turned out really great because his artwork's kind of wacky, like they say my writing is."
Martin said 1000 copies of his book had been sold over the Internet before it even came out and the publishers told him if 5000 copies sell, it's considered a successful book. To ensure it, Martin went to Portland for a book signing late last week and will travel to another one in Chicago at the end of October.
In addition to the running chronicles, Martin was also writing short stories about growing up in Humboldt County. It was all a part of what he calls "having a lot of irons in the fire," which for him tempers the inevitable highs and lows of writing. If one project seems stalled, he can focus on another. "I've always got something to work on to keep me busy," he said.
Finding time for all the projects as well as carving out family time is something Martin sometimes struggles with. He and his wife, Linda, have been married for 12 years and are raising Emily, 8, and Tyler, 4, in McKinleyville.
Martin at the HSU heating and ventilation "day job" he's held for 26 years.
"Linda's been very supportive," said Martin, echoing the book's dedication to her. He described Emily, the artist, who loves to draw book covers for him. And Tyler's avid interest in his 300 toy trucks helps keep him happy when his dad is working on his iMac computer. "They're great kids, a lot of fun," he said.
Additional promising prospects for Martin's expanding writing career are the screen plays he's written three finished and three more in progress. "Two of them are down in Hollywood now," Martin indicated. "It's a very, very tough thing to break into, a very tough field, especially living up here." To break down the geographical barriers between Humboldt and Hollywood, he joined a scriptwriter's group that meets in Southern California. He obtains tapes of their meetings and presentations to hone his scriptwriting skills.
After a couple years' work on a script called "Boomer Jack," Martin began marketing it and attracted the interest of HBO. Over the past eight months, he's done six rewrites on the script, working first with the story editor and now a producer. It's a fictionalized tale based on a true story, describing the adventures of a dog who was the mascot for the Northwestern Pacific Railroad in the days when logs were hauled by rail from Humboldt County to Sausalito.
Another of Martin's scripts, a story based on his two grown sons and the backpacking trips they've experienced together in the Trinity Alps, is also being marketed around Hollywood now.
And a third screen play, set in an Arcata microbrewery, was inspired by Arcata Mayor Bob Ornelas, a fellow runner and friend who Martin describes as "funny, colorful, like out of a John Steinbeck novel." He cited Ornelas' tales of his involvement with a Blue Lake microbrewery as providing the idea for the script.
Martin reflected on his feelings about what's touched him the most about his prolific writings. After a thoughtful several seconds, he said that in writing the short stories about Humboldt County, "You end up writing about people that you know and that are close to you, and you bring back a lot of memories. Some of them aren't so great. I wrote a story about a friend who died when he was 13."
He described the boy as the child of alcoholic parents who pretty much grew up on his own and died from an accidental gunshot wound. Martin's voice softened as he remembered. "I think that story was one of the hardest to write, but it felt good to get it on paper, because you get it out," he said.
He also acknowledged learning from the writing process. "I guess what this has taught me is that you can do anything that you really want to do. There are no limitations. You just have to be willing to work at it."
Martin provides no hint of slowing down his writing. He's trying to publish the compilation of stories about growing up in Humboldt County. And he's almost finished with another running book, a sequel of sorts to his first collection of stories. It even has a title already "Why run if there's nobody chasing you?"
But, he admits, "The big thing is the scripts." He still keeps the day job, but at the sale of the first screenplay, it may be only a matter of time. The book may be picked up off the shelf of Northtown Books in Arcata or off the Internet at Amazon.com (www.amazon.com) or Barnes & Noble (www.bn.com) or from Marathon Publishers, Inc., 1-(888)-586-9099 or (fax) (916)-492-8964.
Photos by Jenna MacFarlane, unless otherwise noted.
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