Interview: Michael J. Martinez

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Shadowhawk interviews 2013 debut author Michael J. Martinez and talks to him about his recently-released The Daedalus Incident and the upcoming sequel, The Enceladus Crisis.

I read Michael’s The Daedalus Incident earlier this year when Night Shade Books was still an entity. Interweaving science fiction (space opera) and fantasy really well, Michael wrote one of my favourite books of the year, a really memorable story that has stayed with me even now, months after the I read it. In fact, I’d say that the novel is in contention for best debut of the year from among all the other debuts I’ve read in 2013. Its been a great year for debut authors and Michael is at the head of the pack. You can read my review of the novel here.

I recently got a chance to talk with Michael about the book and his future plans, and whatever else he has in store for his readers. Read on to find out!

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Michael J. Martinez

Q&A with Michael J. Martinez

Shadowhawk: Let’s start off with the obvious, tell us a little about yourself and how you got into writing.

Michael: First off, thanks for having me. Founding Fields was one of the first to review my debut novel, The Daedalus Incident, which was great. The fact that you liked it was even better.

Despite Daedalus being my first novel, I’ve been a professional writer for nearly two decades now, with much of that spent in journalism. About six years ago, I moved to the corporate world and found I had the time and mental bandwidth to explore the ideas I’d been storing in my brain for years. The Daedalus Incident was the result.

When not writing, either for work or for this newfound fiction career, I enjoy travel (my wife Kate does a great job of chronicling our adventures on her blog), cooking and homebrewing and generally nesting at home with my wife and my daughter.

Shadowhawk: The release of The Daedalus Incident was inordinately affected by the sale of Night Shade Books as an imprint to both Start Publishing and Skyhorse Publishing. What went through your mind when you heard about the deal at its early stages and what was your response?

Michael: In summary: “Oh, crap.”

There was a lot that went down there, and a lot to worry about for all of us Night Shade authors. Some of my fellow authors had been owed large royalty payments for numerous books, and certainly had more skin in the game than I did. But with the sale announcement in April, and my original release date of May 7, I kind of knew that all of the best laid plans I had for the release were going to be affected. The question was ultimately whether the sale would go through. If it didn’t, then Daedalus and all of the other Night Shade books would become assets for a bankruptcy judge to sell off – and that would’ve delayed things for many months, maybe years.

It was tense, man. No doubt about it. I just wanted the book out on store shelves. And while it took until August 13 for everything to get released – ebook, audiobook and print – it was totally worth it.

Shadowhawk: The novel is finally out in the hands of readers, in all formats, and it is continuing to receive praise from all corners. What has the release process been like for you?

Michael: You know, I’ve been surprised, humbled and very deeply gratified by the response. I knew I had something different on my hands – when’s the last time you read a story in which an 18th century frigate crashed into 22nd century Mars? – but I didn’t know if I could turn that into a book. Apparently, I did a decent job of it. So all of those great responses, whether from bloggers or publications or just folks on Amazon or Goodreads, they’re like writer-fuel. They keep me going.

And the overall process has been great, though a little disjointed in terms of figuring out what’s coming out when and where I can find it. My next book from Skyhorse should release on the same day across all formats, which will make life easier. There should be no business mergers or asset sales to complicate things – I hope!

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Shadowhawk: What can you tell us about The Daedalus Incident, how you got the idea, how you pitched, the writing?

Michael: The idea was born of unemployment back in 2003, inspired by a poster I saw for the movie Treasure Planet. From there, I knew I wanted to do something with sailing ships in space, and sort of fleshed it out from there. My daughter was born in 2004, and the idea got put aside for several years after that. When I finally came back to it, I realized that I might just have the chops to do the writing, so I went to work. Of course, the version I pitched to agents was awful, but Sara Megibow saw something in there worth working on, and did a great job helping me get the thing into shape.

Shadowhawk: What was your biggest challenge and your biggest fear with this novel?

Michael: I had never written a novel before! I never took a fiction class. The concepts of narrative arc, voice, etc. – all new. So the challenge was the learning curve. I mean, I had read plenty of novels, so I had a sense of perhaps what worked and what didn’t, but translating that into my own work was the challenge.

It’s funny, though, because there wasn’t a big fear with Daedalus. Other than the usual “My God, it’s going to suck and people will hate me” fears that, I’m told, plague most writers around release time, there wasn’t any kind of nagging fear. It was my first one, and it sold. It’s all gravy after that.

Shadowhawk: Conversely, what was the easiest hurdle to cross?

Michael: You know, I don’t see any of the hurdles as having been particularly easy. Writing a book is a challenging thing to do! But I will say that the research I did – both the historical research and the work I did on Mars exploration and futurist technologies – was a lot of fun, and fed into my creative process really well. Maybe it’s the journalist in me, but the research fed so many ideas into my head. Maybe not easy, but man, it was fruitful.

Shadowhawk: You recently announced that you had been contracted for a second novel in the series, The Enceladus Crisis. What can you tell us about it?

Michael: The Enceladus Crisis is a sequel to The Daedalus Incident. It details the adventures of Shaila Jain and Stephane Durand as they join a 22nd century expedition to Saturn, as well as those of 18th century Royal Navy Captain Thomas Weatherby and alchemist Dr. Andrew Finch as they work to uncover the reasons for French manoeuvrings in the year 1798.

Enceladus covers more ground, for sure. It’s given me a chance to really explore the setting further, as well as some of the history and backstory that I created for Daedalus and never really got to include in that one. There’s more about the 18th century Saturn dwellers, the Xan, and more about the corporate shenanigans of 22nd century space exploration. I get to explore the reasons why these particular universes are linked, and what might come of it.

Plus…Napoleon Bonaparte. After the epilogue of The Daedalus Incident, you knew he was coming.

Shadowhawk: With the sequel, how are you looking to challenge yourself as a writer?

Michael: The Enceladus Crisis is more complex, for one. It simply has more moving parts. In Daedalus, I had two settings and two groups of characters, and I kind of ping-ponged off them until they (minor spoiler alert!) came together at the end. In Enceladus, while the settings are the same, I have more groups of characters off doing things, only some of which will come together neatly, while others will simply have resonance, for want of a better word. So the plotting structure and character arcs are definitely more complex.

But really, the biggest challenge is giving fans of The Daedalus Incident more of what they loved, but also turning their expectations on their heads.

Shadowhawk: A mix of historical fantasy and space opera, these novels are fairly unique. Any plans to improve upon the concept and take things even further?

Michael: I certainly hope The Enceladus Crisis, as well as the third book in the series out late next year, can improve upon what I’ve done before. These settings have a deep history going back thousands of years. Like I said, there are reasons these two universes came together in the first book, and the readers will begin learning a bit of why in the next two.

So I’m going deeper into the settings, and the plots are getting more complex. The characters are growing and changing and evolving – quite nicely, I might add. I’m really happy about the characters here. At the same time, I’m also trying to amp up the ooh-and-ahh factor. How do you top crashing a frigate into Mars? I have a few answers to that one in the next book!

Shadowhawk: As a debut writer, what has been your best experience of the year, aside from the launch of The Daedalus Incident and the deal for The Enceladus Crisis?

Michael: Actually, the family went to Japan to celebrate my wife’s 40th birthday. That was awesome, easily the best experience of the year! But if you mean writing-wise, I would say that it’s simply been the response to the book. People like it, and that’s just amazing and wonderful.

Shadowhawk: You recently attended your first major con, Worldcon in San Antonio. You’ve blogged about it already. How would you sum up your experience?

Michael: Overall, WorldCon was fantastic. I met a lot of great, passionate fans, and my fellow writers were extraordinarily gracious and friendly and welcoming of my entry into the tribe. The volunteers put on a great event, and I got to do a lot of cool things, from signings to panels to parties. (Man, con-goers can get their party ON.) There were things that surprised me about WorldCon in terms of attendance and diversity among attendees, but that may have be colored by my past experiences at other conventions and shows; WorldCon was my very first SF/F convention. There have been some great conversations and ideas about WorldCon over the past month or so, and those can only be for the good. Again, though, I had a fantastic time in San Antonio. I met amazing people. I have actual fans…at least two, maybe more. Good stuff.

Shadowhawk: What advice would you give to new and upcoming writers?

Michael: There is no magic bullet when it comes to writing. The only thing that’s guaranteed to help you get a book written is for you to plant your butt in a chair and write it. So my advice is to write, and write as regularly as possible. Getting that first draft down is the key. You can’t make your novel good until you make it an actual novel in the first plate. I’m a big fan of improvement via revision. So really, just write, even if the words are bad. Fix them later. Just write it.

Shadowhawk: Any music you listen to while writing? Any other background effects you prefer?

Michael: I’m pretty easy, really. I worked as a journalist for 15 years, so I’ve learned to write quickly on matter my surroundings. Mostly, I tend to plant myself in a chair with my laptop and go. I don’t really do music, and I don’t really get picky about the kind of chair or anything. I have a day job that I like and a family I love, so when the free time comes around to get writing, I can’t afford to be particular.

Shadowhawk: What really helps to get you in the writing mood?

Michael: Writing tends to beget writing. In that way, it’s kind of like exercise. You know how hitting the gym after a week off is more daunting than going every day? Same with writing. The more I’m writing, the more I want to write. If I’m busy with other stuff, getting back into the swing of things after a short hiatus is hard. So I just have to keep writing as much as possible. That keeps the ideas flowing quite nicely.

Shadowhawk: Who and/or what has been the biggest influence to your writing?

Michael: The two biggest influences on The Daedalus Incident were my editor, Ross Lockhart, and my agent, Sara Megibow. Both of them basically taught me how to turn a good idea into a good book. That really can’t be understated. They’re awesome. Of course, now that I’m an established author, Sara’s not going to hand-hold me through the next two – and Ross left Night Shade to do his own awesome stuff at Word Horde. Thankfully, I have a couple of folks whose opinions I relish, so at least I have some extra sets of eyes lined up on the next one.

In the broader sense, I tend to go back to the Napoleonic naval authors like C.S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian for inspiration. The classic SF/F writers like Arthur C. Clarke are in the mix as well. All those works have that sort of “common man” thread in them that I like. Average person faces the unknown, that sort of thing. That’s always resonated with me.

Shadowhawk: Have your characters ever challenged you in turn while you were writing them?

Michael: A little, here and there. I tend to do a lot of character development before I get to writing – probably a byproduct of my tabletop RPG days. So it’s not like they jump out and scream at me or anything. It’s mostly subtle stuff, how they react before acting. Very rarely have I written a scene where it just occurs to me that the character would not be doing whatever it is I have them doing.

Shadowhawk: What are you looking forward to the most for the rest of this year and for 2014?

Michael: The rest of this year and the first half of 2014 will be all about the writing. I’m wrapping up Enceladus now, and I have to get the next one done – it’s going to be a marathon. I’m actually wondering if I should NaNoWriMo the third book. Might get an awesome jump on it.

Obviously, I’m looking forward to the launch of The Enceladus Crisis. I’m curious to see whether the success of The Daedalus Incident is a repeatable phenomena. I really hope so! I’m still pondering my convention schedule for 2014, but I’ll try to hit a couple, because interacting with fans really is special.

And after that? I’m simply looking forward to what might come next after the Daedalus series is complete – or, rather, when the books I’m contracted for are written. There’s plenty more to explore in those settings, but there are also other ideas I’ve been playing with as well. It’s really just nice to have options, so I’m looking forward to seeing what else I can do.

Shadowhawk: Anything else you’d like to share with us?

Michael: Since you opened the door, I’m going to bring this up: A number of authors and literary agents are offering manuscript critiques for auction, with the proceeds going to charity:water, which helps fund clean water projects in the developing world. This Crits for Water project is pretty awesome, and I’ll be offering a critique of a SF/F manuscript for bid in early November. So if your readers want to have their work read and critiqued by a published author, they can bid and do some good in the process. Or they can just donate, too, because it’s a very worthy case.

Other than that, I’m just happy to be where I am with this whole writing thing. And thank you to everyone who’s been so supportive of it. It’s been a blast.

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Michael did a guest post for me a while back, on the topic of names, and you can find it here.

Michael J. Martinez on Twitter, and Web.

Shadowhawk is a regular contributor to TFF. A resident of Dubai, Shadowhawk reads, reads and reads. His opinions are always clear and concise. His articles always worth reading.

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