Behind the Lines: Martyn Burke on ‘Music for Love or War’ (Q&A)

Today, I’m honored to share virtual space with the multi-talented Martyn Burke.

Martyn is the author, most recently, of Music for Love or War (Tyrus Books). His previous novels include Laughing War, The Commissar’s Report, Ivory Joe, Tiara, The Shelling of Beverly Hills, and The Truth about the Night. Also a director/writer of both documentary and dramatic films, Martyn has travelled the world and been inspired by the people, places, and situations he’s encountered. His documentary Under Fire: Journalists in Combat—about the emotional and physical perils facing modern day war correspondents—was short-listed for the Academy Awards in 2012 and won the prestigious Peabody Award in 2013; Martyn is also a recipient of the Auteur Award from the International Press Academy. He is currently adapting a previous novel, The Commissar’s Report, for HBO.

Martyn Burke.

Praise for Music for Love or War:

“As a Hollywood filmmaker and battlefield documentarian, Burke has seen enough of both Tinseltown and war zones to colorfully interweave both… The story flashes back and forth between Afghanistan’s mountainous regions…and pop-culture-obsessed Hollywood’s thronged streets and nightclubs. Burke’s intimate familiarity with both milieus yields a vividly rendered and timely tale that readers will find alternately gripping and amusing.”—Booklist

Music for Love or War is slash-and-burn funny, but also unexpectedly touching and wise. Few writers can take you in one breath from the hills of Afghanistan to the gates of the Playboy Mansion and make you believe every crazy word. Martyn Burke has that special talent.”—New York Times bestselling author Carl Hiaasen

From the publisher:

According to what we’ve been told, the source of all knowledge is somewhere just south of Sunset Boulevard. The problem is that Danny has lost the address.

So begins Martyn Burke’s tragi-comic novel of love and war. Danny, a Canadian sharpshooter, and Hank, in the U.S. Army, have been stationed in Kandahar, but they are in Los Angeles, desperate to find the Hollywood psychic who will reveal the whereabouts of the women they love. Danny is searching for Ariana, the girl he fell in love with in Toronto in the last years of the twentieth century; Hank is searching for Annie Boudreau, known in the tabloids as “Annie of the Boo Two”–twins who were briefly in the gravitational pull of Hugh Hefner.

From Grenadier Pond in west-end Toronto, to Afghanistan, to the Malibu colony in LA, the novel follows these moments in the lives of Danny and Hank, revealed by a masterful storyteller and commentator on American culture. When in the mountains of Kandahar, Danny and Hank torture the members of al Qaeda and the Taliban with the music and a larger-than-life-size cardboard reproduction of Liberace in satin short shorts, high-kicking as if on Broadway.

Music for Love or War High Res Cover Tyrus NEW.jpg

Now, Martyn shares some reflections on cultivating creativity …

John Valeri: What inspired you to write Music for Love or War – and how did your cinematic background influence the storytelling?

Martyn Burke: Like W.C. Fields being asked why he started juggling, I tend to avoid purely rational answers to what is so often a murky subconscious imperative. The closest I can come is an accumulation of moments: Being in Denmark with young Muslim women who had fled from their families to a secret hiding place after being ordered to marry men chosen for them; Being in combat in Afghanistan with mujahedeen fighters who were cheerfully prepared to die; Being at a Hollywood club and watching Hefner rigidly dancing with his five blondes —who knows what was the tipping into the novel?

Filmmaking had very little influence on the storytelling. With me the story makes its own demands as to which way it emerges into the light.

JV: Despite the subject matter, you infuse this work with comedy. In your opinion, what is the role of humor in matters of the heart – and how do you endeavor to achieve a balance between funny and serious?

MB: I grew up with the twin masks of drama, tragedy and comedy, mounted on our living room wall. They became imprinted as two halves of the same whole—and this was later confirmed in tense or perilous situations where the most absurd and unusually inappropriate moments of humor broke out.

JV: Your protagonists are two veterans of the war in Afghanistan. What did you want to say about the realities of that life – and how can the lens of fiction make real-life issues more accessible?

MB: Way too big a topic to go into here. The best I can do is to say that wars reveal a side of ourselves we did not know existed. That space between what is thought to be and what actually is, is where drama (for me at least) begins.

JV: Your story is globetrotting. How important is it to be intimately familiar with the places you write about – and in what ways do you view settings as being their own characters?

MB: When I was a teenager living in Toronto, I hit the road, first in buses and hitchhiking, and I’ve never really stopped. Sometimes, as you point out, the setting becomes a character. Like the Afghan mountain, implacable and forbidding, echoing the voice of Liberace’s music.

JV: Tell us: what does creativity mean to you?

MB: Oxygen.

JV: Is there any advice you’d share with those looking to indulge their own artistic passions who have yet to find an outlet? 

MB: Be crazed until you find it.

JV: Leave us with a teaser: what comes next?

MB: Cuba.


With thanks to Martyn Burke for his generosity of time and thought and to Bethany Carland-Adams, Publicity Manager, Adams Media, for facilitating this interview.




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