Lee Martin on Writing from the Heartland in Break the Skin

It’s been over thirty years since I lived in southeastern Illinois, but my heart and the way I view the world will always be connected to the small towns and farms of that area—the place I first called home.

For a while, when I was a young writer, I made the mistake of assuming that no one would be interested in reading about characters from those small towns. Shame on me!

Then I read Rock Springs by Richard Ford, and in that collection I heard a narrative voice that was able to tell the stories of working class people with directness, dignity, and love – to portray their imperfect lives without judgment.

Even though Ford’s stories were set in the American West, I recognized his characters. They were my own Midwestern characters speaking to me.

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I started listening. I paid closer attention to the intricacies of lives lived on the margins. I recalled stories from my childhood, or stories I’d heard my father and others tell. I changed them when it suited my purpose – embellishing, subtracting, altering, inventing – and what I began to feel was a deeper connection to my native land and to the people there who first loved me and taught me to value the reward of hard work, the pattern of the seasons, the beauty found in what others would call the flat nothing of the middle of the country, and where I learned that people didn’t always get what they wanted, but that didn’t stop them from wanting, didn’t stop them from loving, didn’t stop them from hurting, didn’t stop them from feeling joyful when they had the chance.

Such is the case for the characters in my new novel, Break the Skin, a book narrated by two women, Laney and Miss Baby, who are unknowingly connected by the man they both love and the story of a terrible crime, the circumstances of which Laney gradually reveals.

“You could be that person you saw sometimes on the news,” she says, “that person who’d done something unforgivable and could barely face it. Trust me, I wanted to say. It can happen.”

I hope you’ll enjoy this novel of suspense and romance, a tale that comes from the Heartland where people want just as urgently as people anywhere to love and to feel loved in return. Sometimes, as in the case of the characters in Break the Skin, they make mistakes, and cause harm. Often the consequences are irrevocable, something that marks the people involved the rest of their lives.

In the stark and yet exhilaratingly beautiful landscape of southeastern Illinois, desire can often grow beyond the possibility of fulfillment, and, when that happens, those gritty and fragile characters are left with, as Miss Baby says at the end of the novel, “a story of love, no matter how roughed up and ugly and stained.” Such is the story of Laney and Miss Baby, two women who touched my heart. I hope they’ll do the same for you.

Download an excerpt of Lee Martin’s novel Break the Skin.

Visit Lee at LeeMartinAuthor.com, on his blog, on Facebook at the Lee Martin Appreciation Society, and on Twitter @LeeMartinAuthor.

About Kira Walton

Kira Walton

KIRA WALTON has been stalking books all her life as a college English teacher, bookseller, book club consultant, author, and editor.

  • Brenda Rupp

    This sounds like a great read! I would hope it is as engrossing as it appears!

  • Mary Alice Gibbons

    Thank you!

  • Mary Elizabeth Garnes

    I truly enjoyed reading the excerpt of Break the Skin, hoping I would receive a copy of this novel, I don’t wish to appear greedy when there are so many others who deserve awards as well. Because I am disabled and homebound I have been awarded 2 other copies of various novels from your group, which I also enjoyed reading. If I am selected to receive a copy of this novel I would be absolutely thrilled. Thank you so much.

  • rosa maria pacheco

    What a great read!

  • Nancy Barker

    Looking forward to reading this. I relate to the Authors smalltown observation. I live in a small town and work in another. Even though they are seperated bu only 20 miles the same stories but different names happen in the communities. Makes me wonder if I should not be exploring this further.

  • Cindy Ellis

    sounds interesting

  • Le

    can’t wait

  • Amy Kautzsch

    Sounds great!

  • Trisha Maisch

    Hope I get this to share with my book club!

  • Cindi

    I live in Illinois and would enjoy reading this story
    line of love and suspense…
    Many thanks, Cindi

  • Collette

    Looking forward to reading this book.

  • Paula

    This sounds like a great book. Can’t wait to read.

  • tanya

    sounds great would enjoy this book very much

  • denise parrett

    I received this book on a wendesday and had it read by friday. It was a great page turner with plot twists and surprises that keep you wanting more. I think everyone can relate to this story and these characters at some level or another. I highly recommend it for a fast summer read.


    looking forward to read more!

  • Julie

    looks interesting

  • Deborah/TheBookishDame

    This sounds like a good fit for my reviews blog. My readers tend to like something new and quirky. I like to search out the odd book for a twist on the traditional, no surprise book. It would be a pleasure to read this one. I researched Mr. Martin on his website and found him to be the perfect wunderkind of a madcap writer. Just the type of guy I’d love to spend time with!

  • Trish Williams

    I would love to sit down and read this book!

  • Cindy Chavez

    I am an avid reader and would love to read this book. I am from a small Texas town and moved to the city. The cities may be different in size but still have a lot of the same issues. Hope I get to read this book, it sounds really interesting.

  • Shelley Chavious

    I finished this book this morning and and I enjoyed it very much. I felt like I got to know the characters while reading their story and I’m sorry that it’s over. Keep up the good work. I’m looking forward to reading much more.

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