Marti MacGibbon, human trafficking survivor and recovering addict, is an author, humorous inspirational speaker and standup comic who holds four professional certifications in addiction treatment, including the ACRPS, Advanced Certified Relapse Prevention Specialist. Marti is a member of the National Speakers Association and her articles have appeared in numerous trade publications and magazines. She’s been interviewed in Investors Business Daily and Entrepreneur.
Marti was one of the first women to work as a laborer in the Texas oilfield. She set off explosives for an exploration company for a brief period of time and then learned surveying skills, staking oil wells. She moved on to standup comedy and was scheduled for an appearance on The Tonight Show, but Marti became entangled in the California drug scene and plunged into the underworld and serious drug addiction. After being trafficked to Japanese organized crime and escaping, she suffered from post traumatic stress disorder and was homeless for over a year, but ultimately found true love, recovery and forgiveness. Her darkly humorous and dramatic memoir, “Never Give in to Fear,” tells the story, and the narration brings alive a host of quirky characters and bungling criminals.
“Never Give in to Fear” has received critical praise from Foreword Clarion and San Francisco Book Review. The enhanced edition, “Never Give in to Fear: Laughing All the Way Up from Rock Bottom,” received an editorial recommendation from Kirkus Reviews and an award for Best Revised Edition from Books-and-Authors.net.
Tell us about your book. – Never Give in to Fear: Laughing All the Way Up from Rock Bottom is a memoir, and it’s gritty and raw. It’s fast-paced, funny in many places, sad, scary and disturbing in other places. The book describes what happened to me after I got booked for an appearance on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. I got mixed up with a bad boyfriend and slid into the San Francisco drug scene, then ended up getting sold to Japanese organized crime figures – a victim of human trafficking. After escaping, I spent a year or so homeless on the streets, and during that time I met my ideal mate, the guy I eventually married. It contains suspense, comedy, a cautionary tale, and plenty of hilarious misadventures in the drug world and the world of standup comedy. It’s a very unusual comeback story. Not many women experience the things I have – rape, beatings, desperation, hard-core addiction and homelessness – and survive, let alone live to heal, look back and find laughter. I wrote my book for everyone, because every living person’s journey includes learning to give, and to accept, love and forgiveness.
Tell us a bit about your family. – Our house was filled with laughter and high energy. Even though my folks helped me and my four siblings to develop confidence in ourselves academically and socially, I became a hard-core addict as an adult. During my lowest point, when I was ashamed to call home for over a year, my family never lost hope. The strength I carried with me when I was an addict and homeless was the ability to laugh, something I learned in childhood. And the most amazing thing of all the crazy stuff in my life is that while I was an addict, homeless and hitchhiking, this good-looking, nice guy gave me a lift in his truck. I ended up marrying him. After twenty-five years, he’s still the love of my life.
What is your favorite quality about yourself? – I’m resilient, and my sense of humor is a big part of that. Not only can I look back at the past and laugh, but I can also inspire others as a professional speaker.
What is your least favorite quality about yourself? – I have a tendency to push myself too hard, or take on too many things at once. So I practice a program of daily self-care, to keep things balanced.
What is your favorite quote, by whom, and why? – “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as if nothing is a miracle, the other is as if everything is.” — Albert Einstein said that, and I love it, because whenever I say it, Einstein and I have got something in common. And the quote is uplifting.
What are you most proud of accomplishing so far in your life? – I’ve come a long way — rebounded from hard-core drug addiction, domestic violence, homelessness, and being sold into human trafficking in Japan. I can now let others know that no matter how low your low point, you can create positive transformation by changing the way you think about yourself, the world and other people.
What is your favorite color? — Red. Except at a stoplight, and then it’s green.
What is your favorite food? – That’s a tough one. I love so many foods! Cookies. Guacamole. Blueberries.
What’s your favorite place in the entire world? — Can I have two faves? Sonoma County, California, in the Russian River Valley. That’s where I met my true love, my husband Chris. And Los Angeles! I love L.A.
How has your upbringing influenced your writing? — My father was an English professor who taught me to love literature. My mom was a voracious reader. They introduced me to the classics and contemporary writers, and took time to discuss books with me. And I grew up in a very funny family, which is one reason why my memoir, Never in to Fear, isn’t a downer. It has a lot of funny moments even though it talks about scary and tragic experiences.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? — I’ve been a voracious reader all my life, but didn’t begin writing till later on. When I was a standup comic, I began to write material, and I rose quickly, getting booked on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. But I never actually appeared on the show, because my life took a downward turn. Then I got strung out and lived through all the experiences in Never Give in to Fear. After turning my life around, I went back to standup and started writing jokes again and working around the country in comedy clubs and colleges. I moved to L.A. and started working at the Comedy Store, Improv and other clubs, and found a couple of coffeehouses where people told stories, not jokes. I started going to those shows and telling stories from my past. People really liked those stories! They would come up to me after a performance and say things like, “Wow! You have really lived,” or “That was hilarious,” and one night a professional writer suggested I put the stories into a book. I enrolled in college as an English major. And during my first semester I did a one-woman show, an eight or ten-week run, in a little theater in L.A., and the L.A. Weekly gave me a rave review. My creative writing professor began encouraging me to write my autobiography. This professor, Dr. Bill Wallis, is a Pulitzer-nominated poet, so I began to take it seriously. But I still didn’t think I could do it. Dr. Wallis suggested I focus on one bit at a time, and then to assemble all the pieces. As I adopted that attitude, it began to seem possible, but I still held back.
When and why did you begin writing? – A longtime friend of mine who is an amazing comedian, actor and writer, began encouraging me to tell my story in a book. And as my professor had done, he advised me to write it in pieces, and then assemble all the pieces later on in the process. My friend told me to write it all down, not to worry about getting it perfect, and it would gradually come together. And that’s what I did. Writing Never Give in to Fear launched me on my journey as author.
How long have you been writing? – I began writing in 2002, in English class, with a narrative essay. I got an A+ and newfound confidence. I began writing Never Give in to Fearin 2004, with a working title, Long Odds, because the odds were against my surviving, let alone finding love, healing, and prosperity after all my past experiences. I took a few years off from writing to go to school and train as an addiction treatment professional, and after completing my training and accepting a position as a program counselor to homeless veterans, I gave all my time and effort to my job and to my clients. But my passion for continuing the work I’d begun on Never Give in to Fear spurred me to finish it.
When did you first know you could be a writer? – I began to realize I had some writing ability when my English professor began encouraging me to write a book. After I began writing my memoir, I sent chapters to friends of mine, professional writers who had already published both fiction and non-fiction works. They gave honest feedback and encouragement, and I began to envision my own finished book. So I recommend that anyone who wants to write a book should go for it!
What inspires you to write and why? – I love to entertain and to create laughter. That kick-starts my energy. Also, as a professional speaker I am able to inspire others.
What genre are you most comfortable writing? – Right now, it’s non-fiction. I’m working on my second memoir, which chronicles another period in my life.
What inspired you to write your first book? – I’ve always loved reading about other people’s experiences in life, especially those who have overcome adversity, inner conflict, or other challenges. I like comeback stories – they motivate me. I write candidly and with a sense of humor about my past and the terrible price of my addiction, but not in a feel-sorry-for-me way, so it could be a kind of funny cautionary tale.
Who or what influenced your writing once you began? — My top goal was to not be boring. I included lots of the stories that I’d told in front of audiences, the real crowd-pleasers that were theater-tested. And I studied films and learned how a story unfolds. I also went to a really good screenwriting conference in L.A. and learned some important things, such as the arc of a story or scene, the development of characters, and the power of true stories. This knowledge helped me to make Never Give in to Fear a gripping read.
Who or what influenced your writing over the years? – My professor, Dr. Wallis, by encouraging me. And reading good books helps a writer. I’m kind of a geek in that I’ve read a lot of classics – I’ve read the Iliad several times. I’ve studied mythology. From time to time I read Anna Karenina or Brothers Karamazov. I love sci-fi and fantasy, too. I read George R. R. Martin’s entire Game of Thrones series in a month or two. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451rocks.
What made you want to be a writer? – It all started with English 101, in 2002, when I did that first narrative essay. I was scared to try it, and I called my father and talked with him about the assignment. We were supposed to write about love in any of its forms. My dad advised me to write as though I were writing a letter to a really good friend. And that’s what I did. That first project earned me an A+ and taught me that I could string words together and communicate with other human beings in print.
What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general? – Well, I’ve never written a novel. My book is a memoir. But I think that the most challenging thing about writing is sitting down to do it. And then, when the words begin to flow, not to judge yourself or hold back, not to allow fears of what people might think hinder you from being yourself and writing in your voice.
Did writing this book teach you anything and what was it? – Writing Never Give in to Fear taught me to embrace my past, learn from it, and whenever possible, look back and laugh. This is the message I want to give my readers.
Do you intend to make writing a career? – I’m still writing books. I also blog on my website, martimacgibbon.com. And from my speeches and standup, I continually come up with more stories for books.
Have you developed a specific writing style? – I’ve found my own rhythm and pace. Readers tell me that when they read my book, it’s as if I’m talking to them. And one reviewer on goodreads.com mentioned that as she read my book, she felt as though a good friend was confessing to her. And here’s an excerpt from a recent editorial review: “Her raw, honest, casual, funny voice permeates every page.” – Kirkus Reviews.
What is your greatest strength as a writer? – I write the way I talk. I’m not trying to impress anybody. People need to hear the truth about addiction, homelessness, and human trafficking, and people also need to know that they can turn their lives around no matter what the situation.
Have you ever had writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it? – Not yet, but sometimes I get anxious about how to begin. When I let go of my ego and stop taking myself too seriously, it goes away.
Can you share a little of your current work with us? – The memoir I’m working on now covers the years leading up to Never Give in to Fear. Back in the 1980s, I was one of the first women to work as a laborer in the Texas oilfield. I was working with industrial strength rednecks and really tough guys. I started out setting off explosives for a seismic exploration company, and then worked as a surveyor, staking oil wells. Our clients were billionaires who flew in to the site in helicopters or private planes. My coworkers were often felons who actually did armed robberies in the company trucks during lunch hour or after work. The atmosphere was like the Wild West.
How did you come up with the title? – It’s from a story in the book. See, I’d been booked to do standup comedy at Terminal Island Federal Penitentiary, and the gig when horribly wrong. I got really scared and left the stage, but turned around and went back up there and got laughs after all. After the show, this convict came up to me. He was huge and very intimidating, the size of an NFL offensive lineman, with a scar on his face. He shook my hand, and looked me straight in the eye and said, “When you go back out there, remember what you learned in here. Never let some jerk change the way you think about yourself. And never give in to fear.” And I have lived by that convict’s advice ever since, and wanted to share it with the world. You never know where the best advice is going to come from.
Can you tell us about your main character? – Since this is a memoir, it’s me, but it’s sort of a dual character — my former, addicted self, and my present, clear-eyed self of today.
How did you develop your plot and characters? — This is a memoir, but I chose to write about quirky, scary, brave and wonderful characters from my past, who in one way or another influenced events in my life. And my husband is one of the characters, a strong and brave character, one of the heroes. The “plot” is my personal story.
Who designed the cover? – I worked with professional designers at AtlasBooks. The cover is an image of the redwood forest, with the text. I chose the redwood image because the redwood forest is sort of a character in the book. A lot of it takes place in the California redwood country north of San Francisco.
Who is your publisher? — Stay Strong Publishing. ( I’m an independent publisher.)
Why did you choose to write this particular book? – Because the humorous stories I told on stage were well received, I figured a book might be well received also. I wrote it for anyone who has ever had regrets, or thinks they messed up so badly that they can never make it right. I wanted to warn people about the danger of drugs, and to celebrate the power of the human spirit. And I wrote it for anyone who would like a little more adrenaline in their reading list, and for people who want to turn their life around, no matter what the circumstances.
What was the hardest part about writing this book? – Managing the emotions that resurfaced as I recreated the portions where I experienced physical and sexual abuse, and homelessness.
Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it? – Writing Never Give in to Fear taught me that I am the sum of all my experiences, both good and bad, and to like who I am today.
How do you promote this book? – I work with professionals who understand promotion, and a publicist, John Weaver, (PageOneLit.com) has helped me with social media. I work with a terrific consultant and mentor, Pam Lontos, (Pam Lontos Consulting) who advises me. I’m always trying new things, and now I’m availing myself of the many opportunities to connect with bloggers through this virtual tour. I reach out to other authors as well. Also, I did a free e-book promotion from Nov. 19, 2012 through Dec. 2, 2012, and the book made the top 100 free bestsellers on Amazon US, at #57. It also held the #1 position in Memoirs of Women for over a week. During that period of time, on Amazon UK, the book made the top 10 in Memoirs of Specific Groups. This second give away runs from Dec. 28, 2012 to Jan. 12, 2013.
Will you write others in this same genre? — Yes. I always intended to do a series of memoirs – three of them. I plan to write an inspirational book that focuses on healing and personal transformation. And with a little luck and a lot of determination, I will carry out my plans.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? – This is a memoir, but the message is that hope can always be found, even in the worst of times, and that love and powerful lessons can be found in some unexpected places.
How much of the book is realistic? – It is all realistic, based on my recollections of past events. I wrote what happened.
Have you included a lot of your life experiences, even friends, in the plot? – This is a memoir, so the plot is my personal story. And the book is filled with my life experiences and people I knew or still know.
How important do you think villains are in a story? – Every story needs conflict. Villains provide conflict. In my book, there are plenty of villains to choose from – Japanese organized crime figures, and the woman who sold me to them, for instance.
What are your goals as a writer? – I want to produce a body of work that is solid, thoughtful, sometimes funny, always genuine, and never boring.
Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)? – I love to travel, and I love people, so I take every opportunity to reach readers or listeners. I speak to raise awareness about human trafficking, and about addiction. I also speak on overcoming adversity.
What books have most influenced your life? – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankel, and A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah.
Have you ever considered anyone as a mentor? – My English professor, Dr. William Wallis, mentored me. And my father was the greatest mentor of my life. My mother taught me how to be a strong woman.
Who is your favorite author and why? – I have no favorite because so many authors have written terrific books.
Can we expect any more books from you in the future? – Yes.
Have you started another book yet? — I’m currently working on a new memoir, one that will focus on female empowerment, among other things.
Where do you see yourself in five years? – I see myself loved, happy, productive, and continuing my career as an author and professional speaker.
What are your current writing projects now? — I’m currently working on a new memoir, one that will focus on female empowerment, among other things. And I write a blog on my website, martimacgibbon.com. It’s full of pep talks about positive thinking, visualization and other things you can use to create positive change in life. I only blog about things that I know will work, because I’ve gotten results by doing them.
Are you reading any interesting books at the moment? — I just finished reading The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Now I’m reading The Tipping Point by the same author.
Are there any new authors that have sparked your interest and why? – I recently read a book by Chris Thrall called Eating Smoke. It’s a memoir of his addiction and descent into drug psychosis when he lived in Hong Kong. He sparked my interest because I like addiction memoirs if they’re done with a sense of humor, and Thrall writes with humor.
What are some of the best tools available today for writers, especially those just starting out? — The best tool for a writer starting out is belief in yourself and in what you have to say. And the second best tool is to have fun.
What contributes to making a writer successful? – Please tell me the answer to that one! I think success comes in tiny increments on the way to the big payoff, and that if we are tenacious and enjoy the process, we eventually get to a place we’re happy with.
Do you have any advice for writers? – Believe in yourself, be true to your voice, and whenever possible, laugh.
Do you have any specific last thoughts that you want to say to your readers? – Thank you for reading my book. I deeply appreciate your support and hope you’ll like the next one, too. You are the sum of all your experiences. Be proud of who you are. And whenever possible, laugh.
What do you do to unwind and relax? – I do cardio exercise, like walking or bicycling. And I meditate. I hang out with friends or talk with them on the phone. Oh yeah, and I watch movies.
What dreams have been realized as a result of your writing? – I wrote a book – that was a dream realized. I’ve learned to celebrate each moment. I’ve learned to forgive myself for messing up my life so badly, and to forgive anybody who hurt me.
Do you have any upcoming appearances that you would like to share with us? – I will be a guest speaker at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles on February 17th, 2013, at 1:00 p.m. I will be telling my story as a survivor of human trafficking.
If you could leave your readers with one bit of wisdom, what would you want it to be? – Be kind to yourself, love life, live in the present moment, allow others to love you, and whenever possible, laugh. Never let fear hold you back. And never give in to fear.
When you wish to end your career, stop writing, and look back on your life, what thoughts would you like to have? – I want to be thinking, “Wow! That was so much fun. I’m so glad I lived it.”