Marian teacher publishes final book of trilogy
BY GINGER BRASHINGER Correspondent May 10, 2013 8:24PM
James Conroyd Martin | Supplied photo
Updated: June 13, 2013 7:01PM
James Conroyd Martin, an award-winning author, counsels his creative writing students at Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights to be patient and persistent if they want to be published.
The tactic worked for Martin.
For 25 years, he wrote a fictionalized biography, sought publishers and ultimately self-published his first novel, “Push Not the River,” the first in a trilogy about a family living in Poland in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Martin said he was an unlikely candidate to write the historical fiction, having no background in Polish history or any Polish ancestry.
In fact, the Chicago resident didn’t want to write novels at all. After teaching at Marian Catholic for two years, he left Illinois in 1975 for Los Angeles to pursue other writing goals.
“I wanted to write, but I had no intention of writing a book,” Martin said. “I loved film.”
Martin intended to become a screenwriter, but in his nine years in Los Angeles, screenwriting did not work out, Martin said.
In an ironic twist, Martin’s opportunity for success came through a genre he had previously shunned.
John Stelnicki, a friend in California, showed Martin a family diary translated from Polish to English. The diary was written by Stelnicki’s ancestor, Anna Berezowska, a countess born in late 18th century Poland. Stelnicki thought that as a writer, Martin would be interested in helping him get it published.
“I was going to read it out of politeness,” Martin said.
Instead, he found himself completely drawn into the young countess’s life.
“It was mesmerizing,” Martin said. “I was entranced by it right away.”
Martin said although he didn’t plan to do anything with the story, it “haunted” him for about a year before he and Stelnicki agreed that Martin would work on “cleaning up” the diary for publication. Instead, as he filled in the history and fleshed out characters, a novel began to take shape.
“We didn’t know how many decades it would take us to get something out there,” Martin said.
He continued working through the 1970s and ’80s, returning to Illinois in 1983 and to the English department at Marian Catholic in 1985.
But it wasn’t until 2001 that Martin self-published his novel after a book deal with a publisher fell through.
“Push Not the River” caught the attention of St. Martin’s Press and was published in both English and Polish by 2003. It quickly became a best seller in Poland, prompting a St. Martin’s editor to suggest Martin write a sequel.
“Against a Crimson Sky” was published in 2007, becoming a second international best seller.
“It took many years for the first (book) deal and one week for the second,” Martin said.
Martin received the Gold Medal in literature from The American Institute of Polish Culture for the two books, an honor not often given to authors not of Polish descent.
In December, Martin self-published the third and final book of the trilogy, “The Warsaw Conspiracy.”
Martin hopes his third novel will be as well received by his “base audience” as the first two. He would like to fulfill a Polish expression, he said: “The end crowns the work.”
“It’s kind of bittersweet sending the characters out into the world,” Martin said. “You get to know and love the characters, but I feel good about it.”
The end of the trilogy is not the end of writing for Martin.
He is working on his fourth novel of historical fiction set in 17th century Poland, “The Boy Who Wanted Wings.” Martin also is hoping to see his novels on film at some point. “Push Not the River” was optioned in 2008 by a Polish entrepreneur, Martin said, but the economic downturn dried up the funding.
“I have a feeling it will happen,” Martin said. “It might have ‘mini series’ written all over it somewhere down the line — maybe in Poland.”
For an autographed copy of his work or to contact Martin, email JMartin@Marianchs.com. For purchases, visit www.Amazon.com.