Art Beat – OOE Artist Feature: Mike Martin, Award Winning Mystery Writer, Story Teller and Connection Maker

Tanis Browning-Shelp

From our little corner of the world, Mike Martin writes stories to connect with people from all walks of life. He has published eight mystery novels – his most recent, Fog, Fire and Water was cited by Jack Batten in the Toronto Star as one of the “best new mysteries to thrill you over the holidays” – as well as one book of stories, Christmas in Newfoundland: Memories and Mysteries, released in August of 2019.

Fog, Fire and Water (Sgt. Windflower Mystery #8) by OOE author Mike Martin.

Fog, Fire and Water (Sgt. Windflower Mystery #8) by OOE author Mike Martin.

Martin’s mystery novels are all a part of his Sergeant (Sgt.) Windflower series about an Indigenous RCMP officer—a Cree from Northern Alberta—stationed in the small community of Grand Bank, Newfoundland. Martin brought the setting to the books. “My partner Joan bought her grandfather’s home in Grand Bank several years ago, so we would go every summer to work on restoring it,” he explains. “Then, in the third summer, out of the fog, Windflower started telling me his story. I didn’t make him Indigenous or a Mountie, he came to me that way.”

Martin did not plan to write a series. “But I didn’t know how to stop!” he says. “The story keeps coming and the characters keep talking, so I compartmentalized it.”

Martin writes a book a year. It takes him about three months to complete a first draft and three months to edit it. “I make anywhere from 60-80 revisions. Then the rest of the year is for promotion and book events.”

For Martin, the best part of writing the series has been making connections with the people who read and like the books. “Newfoundlanders like books about Newfoundland; people who have some connection to Newfoundland like the series; and people who want to go to Newfoundland are attracted to it. And more people in the U.S. now know Newfoundland because of the musical Come from Away.”

The series has also carved out its own place within the mystery community. The books are considered Light Mysteries. They have some of the features of a Police Procedural and some of a Cozy Mystery. “The books have no sex, violence, or strong language,” Martin says. “They are for people who want to read more of a story and less about the crime/murder.”

His seventh novel Darkness Before the Dawn won the Blythe Award for Light Mystery of the Year. “You can’t chase awards,” he says. “But, to me, that award was a recognition that my writing has improved. It also felt good to be compared favourably to other authors.”

The series doesn’t shy away from real problems such as opioid addiction, domestic abuse, and sexual harassment. Windflower is a good guy both inside and outside the force. He is also an outsider in a small community. “He has been accepted, but will never really belong,” Martin explains. Windflower still lives in Grand Bank, but he now has a wife, a daughter, and pets. “He continues to grow emotionally as he moves into middle age and wonders what he’ll do next,” Martin says. “It feels like we’re moving nearer the end than the beginning.”

Martin considers it an honour that people take the time to read his books. “Someone once called me to say that they had a friend going through cancer treatment and that the only thing that relaxed him was reading my books,” he says. “People take the series into their lives.”

Martin especially loves connecting with people through writing at Christmas time. He has created an advent calendar of poems and a Twelve Days of Christmas collection of photos and poems. And for the past 15 years, he has written an annual Christmas story for his family and closest friends. “I feel the joy as soon as I start thinking about the stories; I hope people feel the love in them,” he says.

Christmas in Newfoundland: Memories and Mysteries, a collection of annual Christmas stories from the author's childhood.

Christmas in Newfoundland: Memories and Mysteries, a collection of annual Christmas stories from the author’s childhood.

Martin kept and mined these stories for his latest book, Christmas in Newfoundland. Some of them are from his childhood growing up in St. John’s in the 1960s. “The stories bring back peoples’ own memories of the magic of a child’s Christmas,” he says. In The Christmas Surprise, he goes shopping with his mom. “We were on a mission to get our family’s very first record player. It was special because it was just Mom and me.”

With A Grand Bank Christmas set in the 1930s, Martin felt like he was capturing a bit of history. “It was about a time when Joan’s father’s family had very little space in their kitchen, so they hung their Christmas tree upside down to get around it.”

Since one of Martin’s original Christmas stories had included characters from the Sgt. Windflower series, he added a few more Windflower stories to the book. “They are not mysteries, but stories about the characters’ own Christmases on Grand Bank,” he says. “Writing them gave me the opportunity to delve more deeply into the characters’ backstories.”

Martin’s publisher liked the stories, but he also wanted illustrations, so they took the project to Canterbury High School’s Visual Arts teacher Christos Pantieras. “He agreed to work with his class to develop images for the stories,” Martin says. He and the publisher made the final selections and every student received something for their work.

These students were able to capture my stories in images without ever having been to these places,” Martin says. “The cover illustration of the Mug Up Café demonstrates the power of a story to inspire somebody—in this case, another type of artist. The project was a collaboration across both generations and media to tell and share stories, and it was another wonderful way of connecting.”

Martin’s books can be purchased at local bookstores, including Chapters/Indigo and Books on Beechwood, or ordered on Amazon.

Author Tanis Browning-Shelp pens her Maryn O’Brien Young Adult Fiction series, published by Dog-Eared Books, from her home in Old Ottawa East. Contact Tanis at if you have information about artists or art events that you believe would enrich our community members’ lives.

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