Many years ago I met Martin Cruz Smith at a party. His wife was sisters with a good friend and work colleague at the time. As the author of Gorky Park, and the popular Arkady Renko series of novels, he had just begun to enjoy some celebrity as an author, but in this family and friend setting he was an open and engaged, supportive gentleman. He was interested in and curious about the people he spoke with and we had a brief dialog. I recall his speaking style reminded me of Dick Cavett.
Martin knew I was on the early path of pursuing a writing career, and he shared some of his thoughts on the creative experience, and some of the work behind the scenes. He spoke about the concept generation of how he developed one of his books. He shared how on one occasion during the seventies, he was alone, traveling through southern New Mexico, when he came upon a dirt road off the main route. On a whim, decided to drive down it and check it out. The road led to an old rusted gate, part of a chained link fence perimeter, with weathered government-issued signs forbidding entry. The place had something of a ghost town feeling. He got out of his care and climbed up onto the fence to get a better view inside, and before he knew it, two military MP’s had arrived out of nowhere in a Jeep. They demanded to know who he was and what his business was. And because he had Latino blood as part of his appearance, their manner was brusque and intimidating.
Martin was finally released from that encounter and left with a feeling a need to know what the heck that place was, and why these military guys were around guarding something that appeared to be de-commissioned and decades old. That encounter generated the unquenchable spark of curiosity that led to him ultimately writing a novel that included this setting. It was this project he was working on at the time we chatted. Martin later came to learn this location was one of the entrances to the detonation testing site for the atomic bomb during World War II—a little over an hour south of Los Alamos, where the Manhattan Project was centered. And from this encounter, Martin’s mind’s eye opened into a world he felt compelled to portray. The result was his novel Stallion Gate. In the years following my meeting Martin, I had read a number of his Arkady Renko books through the years, and enjoyed them. However, when I came across this title and read story description, I came to realize this is the book he was working on when I spoke him. By his asking himself that one question - "What's down that road?" - and by taking the answer to the ultimate destination, he created a process that resulted in a serious literary piece. Martin Cruz Smith driving curiosity from a simple and singular incident was an inspiration for me on the path to developing as a writer.