Interview: Martin Hill Ortiz

Q: Detective Shelley Krieg (Never Kill A Friend) is decidedly different, a very tall African-American woman, 6 foot 4. Why this character?

Hill Ortiz: Although I’ve enjoyed flawed characters in many books and television programs, such as Sharp Objects or Breaking Bad, I’ve found that they can become emotionally exhausting. I chose to make a character who was strong: in Shelley Krieg’s case, literally strong. As for African-American, once I decided upon Washington, DC as my setting, I knew the character had to be black. The heart of the DC that I know, was not the politics, which always seemed to be an alien world, it was the people.

Q: How did you approach creating a character that is so different from yourself?

Hill Ortiz: With care. My philosophy is not “write what you know,” it’s “know what you write.” While I was able to use my experience living in inner city Washington, I had to research the stories of very tall women. There is both pride and poignancy. Our society, in general, is intolerant to those who don’t fit into a narrow range of what is normal.

Although we go through different sets of experiences, all humans are cauldrons filled with the same stew of emotions. As Shakespeare said of his minority character, Shylock:

Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?

This beautiful pronouncement aside, sadly, Shylock was a stereotype.

Q: You write under the name Martin Hill and Martin Hill Ortiz. Why is that?

Hill Ortiz: In Puerto Rico, one’s mother’s maiden name is appended to the last name. My mother died recently and honoring her in my writing felt especially important. Finally, I like the sound, similar to “Martin Cruz Smith,” an excellent mystery author. He also inserted a family name into his.

For this novel, the publisher asked me to use Martin Hill due to potential confusion over where it might be filed under Hill or Ortiz.

Q: Hill and Ortiz, you are half-Latino?

Hill Ortiz: Yes. And this is the crux of much of my writing. I am Latino, I am Anglo. I grew up in small towns and inner cities. I am every man. I am no man.

A time back I was asked if I felt Trump was personally insulting me. I responded:

Trump pushes fearing Muslims. That is hating me.
Trump pushes fearing “illegals.” That is hating me.
Trump talks about grabbing women by their pussies. That is hating me.
Trump talks about minorities having too many rights. That is hating me. Trump has appointed those who would put through an anti-gay agenda. That is hating me.
Trump is seeking to end critical health care to millions. That is hating me.
I belong to the human race.

Read the first chapter of Never Kill A Friend.