In Ham Martin’s New Novel, “Talk Radio,” Vivien Takes the Mic

Connecting Residents of a Small Maine Town

Ham Martin

If you told Ham Martin he could have only radio or television, he’d choose radio.

“I’m a big fan of radio,” said the 72-year-old Round Pond resident. He likens his and others’ love of radio to the way that many people enjoy reading a book more than watching the movie version. The radio and the book form stimulate your imagination.

While a student at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, the 1960s, Ham enrolled in a radio class taught by an adjunct college professor who ran the college radio station. Ham admits that, generally, he wasn’t a particularly good student. He excelled in this class, however.

“I wasn’t even trying. I just did well at it because I liked it. It’s typical of my adult life. I’ve always been able to accomplish things because I enjoyed doing them,” he said.

Ham hosted a radio show in Connecticut for about a year and half in the early 1990s. This experience provided fodder for his novel, Talk Radio, which was released in late January.

Talk Radio is set in the mythical small town of Frost Pound, Maine, where lives Vivien Kindler. Vivian is a Massachusetts transplant who, in the beginning of the story, knows no one in the fishing village and spends her time alone at home, in a house by the river given to her by her ex-husband. Upon learning that the local AM radio station’s long term morning talk show host, Fred, has had a stroke, Vivien decides on a whim to apply to be his replacement.

Having no prior radio experience, Vivien learns to control the switches and navigate the influx of phone calls, and she gets a crash course on Frost Pound.

Vivien ditches Fred’s popular “Ripped from the Headlines” format and decides instead it would be more interesting for her callers to share their stories. The novel unfolds mostly through on-air dialogue, as the reader meets the regulars who call in, including a delivery guy who writes poetry, a piano tuner who writes stories, a retired welder who enjoys spending time in his garden, and a mother who grieves the loss of her son.

As Vivien connects with her callers something special begins to happen in little Frost Pound, Maine.

“About Vivien there is just an essential goodness,” said Ham. “No flash. She knows that she is not expert at politics, and she thinks she is not particularly brilliant. She’s always known that she likes people, and as the weeks of being on the air go by, she’s surer all the time that she’s good at getting them to speak frankly–with her and with the listening audience. Eventually, she finds out from the boss that lots of people are enjoying it, too.”

Like Vivien in Talk Radio, the show Ham hosted ran three hours a day, five days a week.

“My experience as a talk show host was similar to Vivien’s—all-consuming, exhausting, and thrilling. Some of Vivien’s callers are modelled on my recollections of some of mine. I hope that I honor them in their new incarnations. I think I was kind with my callers, but my soul was not as sweet as Vivien’s,” he said. “If she was just like Ham, the book would not be getting the response that it is. I have one friend that can’t believe I wrote it. 

Ham is no stranger to the creative arts. He has enjoyed finding different ways to channel his creativity.

“I’ve always been up for a creative challenge. I’ve bounced from one thing to another in life,” he said.

He made a living most of his life as a woodcarver making 18th-century reproductions, other fine furniture, and many hundreds of signs. His signs were relief carvings with images carved into a flat panel of wood, often with gold-leaf lettering. They were functional, yet made to stand on their own as works of art.

Ham is also a painter, specializing in oil paintings of rowing teams. Two of his sons were on rowing teams in both high school and college. While he watched his sons compete, he grew a deep appreciation for the sport and an admiration for the athletes and the scenes of natural beauty they row in.

Talk Radio is the third book that Ham has written, and the first one that has been published.

Anyone who has ever written a book with the dream of publication can tell you that it’s not easy to find a publisher.  Ham and his wife did some research on publishers and decided to travel down to Texas last year to escape the cold and to attend the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference and Bookfair. The conference was scheduled in early March, just as the pandemic hit.

Ham and his wife walked into the expo, which in a typical year would be packed. “It was a ghost town,” he said. But he was able to find a publisher. Now Ham is currently working on another novel.

“I’m gathering stories from this region that can be disguised and adapted for a novel that lovingly reflects the history and ethos of this place that I love,” he said. “I begin to develop main characters and pray for them to materialize on their own, to tell me their story.”

Talk Radio is available on Amazon and can also be ordered through many bookstores.

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Liz Gotthelf

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