SFFWRTCHT: A Chat with Michael J. Martinez, Author of THE DAEDELUS INCIDENT

Michael J. Martinez is a husband, father and writer living the dream in the Garden State. He spent nearly twenty years as a professional writer and journalist, including stints at The Associated Press and ABC News. After telling other people’s stories, he’s happy that he can now tell a few of his own, starting with The Daedalus Incident,  his debut science fiction genre mashup novel from NSB, now Skyhorse. He enjoys beer and homebrewing, cooking and eating, the outdoors and travel. He can be found on Goodreads, Twitter as @MichaelMartinez72 and via his website at michaeljmartinez.net.


SFFWRTCHT: First things first, where’d your interest in speculative fiction come from?

Michael J. Martinez: I’m a card-carrying member of the Star Wars generation, and Trek besides. From there, it was a gateway to Douglas Adams, Arthur C. Clarke, etc. It’s been a life-long thing.

SFFWRTCHT: Heh. We hear that a lot. Who are some of your favorite authors and books that inspire you?

MJM: Clarke was a big inspiration. The Arthurian legends. Tolkien, of course. Piers Anthony. And I can’t forget C.S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian. They are naval literature. Most recently, I was impressed with John Scalzi’s economy in The Human Division. He doesn’t waste words on description.

SFFWRTCHT: When did you decide to become a storyteller and how did you get your start?

MJM: I started as a journalist right out of college, so I suppose I was always a storyteller. Just other people’s stories. I suppose that was a great 15-year character study! The leap was in writing one of my own. I didn’t know I could do it. I doubted it really. So far so good.

SFFWRTCHT: How’d you learn craft? Trial and error? Formal study? Workshops?

MJM: Well, that’s just it. I have no formal training in fiction. Nada. Zip. Lots of trial and lots of error. And an excellent agent in Sara Megibow. She really nurtured the idea along, taught me a lot. Honestly? I’m making it up as I go along, based on journalism and lots of reading.

SFFWRTCHT: Did you start with shorts stories, novels? When was your first pro-sale?

MJM: The Daedalus Incident is my first fiction sale. It’s the first novel I wrote. It’s a lot of firsts! But before that, I had written thousands of newspaper and magazine articles, which wasn’t a bad primer.

SFFWRTCHT: Mars is supposed to be dead. Bizarre quakes are rumbling over the planet, disrupting its trillion-dollar mining operations, driving scientists to worry. When rocks roll and converge to carve tunnels and form a towering structure,  Lt. Jain and her survey team realize their mission is anything but routine. The only clues they have stem from the emissions of a mysterious blue radiation, and a 300-year-old journal that is writing itself. Enter Lt. Thomas Weatherby of His Majesty’s Royal Navy, an honest 18th-century man aboard the HMS Daedalus, a frigate on the high seas. They must track a great and powerful mystic, who has embarked upon a sinister quest to upset the balance of the planets, the consequences of which may reach far beyond the Solar System, threatening the very fabric of space itself. Where’d the idea for the The Daedalus Incident come from?

MJM: Treasure Planet. For serious. Sailing ships in space was such a cool idea. The movie was bad…but that led me to marry the idea to the really swashbuckling adventure of Hornblower and Aubrey. From there, I wanted a counterpoint, something more hard Science Fiction. More Clarke, I suppose. And boom. Dimensions clashing. Alchemy. Extradimensional terrors. Adventure! Excitement! A bit of Lovecraft in there, too. More serious. And no musical numbers. The Daedalus Incident is really an amalgam of everything in SF/F and pop culture that I love.

SFFWRTCHT: Darn. I was looking for the soundtrack CD. Please tell us a bit about Lt. Jain and her world?

MJM: I’m really going to have to do a playlist blog post then. That’ll have to do! Jain is the number two officer at a backwater Martian mining colony in the year 2132. It’s a nowhere post. But then… The colony is beset by earthquakes. Mars-quakes, really. And really odd radiation. And they find a journal written by a Royal Navy officer in 1779 in a Martian cave.

SFFWRTCHT: And tell us now about Lt. Weatherby and the HMS Daedalus please.

MJM: Right. Weatherby. Weatherby is second lieutenant aboard Daedalus. Still green. Not nuanced. But he has to grow up fast. Daedalus begins investigating the murder of a prominent alchemist ’round Mercury. This leads them across the Known Worlds (the solar system) and ultimately to the discovery of a mad scheme to free an ancient terror that would also cause dimensions to collide.

SFFWRTCHT: How long did the novel take to write?

MJM: I sat on the idea for nearly eight years. Changed jobs, had a kid. Started three years ago or so. First draft took about three months. Another three months for a few revisions. And then six more revisions. Another eight months there. But worth it!

SFFWRTCHT: Which came first: world, plot, character?

MJM: Worlds, definitely. Then character, because the characters are archetypical of the settings I’m bringing together. And then the plot, which grew organically out of that surprisingly well.

SFFWRTCHT: You spoke about this but you’ve mashed genres for this. Tell us a bit about the elements you incorporated and why?

MJM: I brought alchemy into the sailings-ships-in-space because I wanted a good “engine” for the setting. Wizardry? Eh. Steampunk? Too late for the Napoleonic era. But alchemy? Perfect. There were a couple notorious alchemists active then. And I gladly stole them as well. That’s the beautiful thing about historical fantasy. You have stuff to plunder. The future setting was a counterpoint, something to ground the other. The trick was to make it work. Thank God for quantum physics, the SF writer’s best friend! With that, lots of things are possible.

SFFWRTCHT: What were some of the challenges to making them work together?

MJM: Who said advanced tech would be indistinguishable from magic? I forget. But I applied that to the mashup. You want a certain amount of veritas. You can establish that in the individual settings, but bringing them together? That’s hard. Each setting has its rules. So you have to make those individual rules somehow mesh. That was the challenge, to really keep the suspension of disbelief going while keeping it all straight and meshing the rules. A reviewer on Amazon said it was like “watching someone juggle knives while riding a unicycle on a tightrope over a flaming pit.” Dude gave me five stars, so it must’ve worked.

SFFWRTCHT: Heh. That’s quite a comparison! What motivated your choices to place various colonies at various places in your Alchemical Solar System?

MJM: A lot of the setting elements in the Known Worlds were taken from Victorian and pulp ideas. Jungles on Venus. A Martian desert with canals. That sort of thing. I tried to lovingly borrow from the best.

SFFWRTCHT: Worldbuilding is an iceberg. What is your favorite bit that we haven’t seen on the page yet?

MJM: There’s a lot that’s not in there. There’s probably less than half the setting in the first book. My favorite? I get more into the Venusians and their beliefs, their mysticism. They hold keys to things they don’t even know. then there’s the ancient history of Alchemy, which I gleefully plundered for backstory. And ancient astronaut theory. Wack, but very fertile fiction ground.

SFFWRTCHT: Are you an outliner or a pantser? Did you follow the surprising ride or have it planned?

MJM: I cannot be a pantser. I tried it once. You know, writing as a journey and all that? I was intensely annoyed at the whole thing. So I outline. In Excel. In extremely detailed ways. I have individual lines for each scene, and individual cells for action, plotting, subplot, character arc, etc.

SFFWRTCHT: Fair enough. Is this the first of a series. How many books are planned? Are they chronological? Are there gaps? 

MJM: I want to do more. I have The Gravity Of The Affair, a novella in the setting, up on http://t.co/bQCoSml9I9 now. I can see writing two or three more after this, with chronological gaps in between, in case I want to fill in more later. It worked for C.S. Forester, after all. And the Napoleonic era was nice and long and full of stuff.  If you look at Napoleon’s career, you can see the inflection points that would be fun to exploit.

SFFWRTCHT: Tell us about your path to publication. How’d you wind up at NSB?

MJM: I had two offers for The Daedalus Incident, and I chose Night Shade Books because I respected their editorial. Great books, great editing. Of course, NSB had issues on the business side. And that was…interesting…to weather. The Daedalus Incident was delayed, which was tough. But the deal went through, and Skyhorse Publishing has been great so far.

SFFWRTCHT: Yeah, for example, we had to reschedule this interview a few times as things got pushed back.

MJM: Yeah, scheduling was tough. But you know, this entire community of SFF fans and authors has been awesome.

SFFWRTCHT: That’s great. People do support each other in SFF. Which can be awesome.

MJM: And I really need to give a shout-out to SFWA and Mary Robinette Kowal for helping the deal get done. They repped us well, I believe. And to Night Shade and Skyhorse for doing the deal in the first place.

SFFWRTCHT: What other subgenres of Fantasy and SF interest you to dip your oar into someday?

MJM: I would love to try my hand at some straight-up fantasy, though probably still historical. I’d love to also do some near-future stuff, though less grimly dystopian. More nuanced, perhaps. Near-future thriller, maybe.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you have any writing rituals or tools? Scrivener? Word? Something else? Do you write to music or silence?

MJM: I’m the least ritualistic fellow I know when it comes to writing. I grab time where I can. 250 words here, 2500 there. Depends. That’s where the journalism came in handy. There’s no time for rituals in reporting. Write! Write like the wind! I once beat the Wall Street Journal on a scoop…by four minutes. And that was a huge victory. So I can write fast, and pretty much anywhere. Oh, and I use Word. And Excel, of course.

SFFWRTCHT: What about music? Do you like to write to a soundtrack or silence?

MJM: I love music. Holst’s “The Planets”…the “Mars” movement in particular…seriously, read a battle scene in The Daedalus Incident with that on. I have a Daedalus playlist for inspiration. But…I don’t actually write with it on. The music is for pondering. And the commute. I tend to write in silence. Just easier. Less distraction.

SFFWRTCHT: What were some of your inspirations for worldbuilding and characters?

MJM: Again, it goes back to Hornblower. Weatherby is pretty much my stand-in, but he’s a different guy. Hornblower was plagued by self-doubt. Weatherby is growing up in this one, and does so well…if a bit late in spots. I liked Clarke’s 2001 for my future setting. Dave was a normal guy faced with such an enormity. I wanted that in my book. I wanted to see the characters struggle to wrap their heads around it. If you see a Royal Navy frigate from 1779 crash into Mars on 2132…you’re gonna need a moment.

SFFWRTCHT: What’s your favorite battle scene (as the author) in The Daedalus Incident?

MJM: Favorite battle scene in Daedalus? There’s a three-ship battle over Mars that results in a boarding action. With a pirate. So that’s definitely a favorite. It’s a great, big, nasty, mean mess. And it was a blast to write!

SFFWRTCHT: Did any book inspire you to do a crossover of future with an alternate past? Any with crossover that you loved?

MJM: You know, I remember liking Twain’s Connecticut Yankee as a kid. I found it really transporting. But I’ll admit, I’ve not read too many crossovers that stand out in my head.

SFFWRTCHT: What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

MJM: The best? Just write. Write, write, write. Find a way. And then revise repeatedly. The story ain’t gonna write itself. Doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. Plow through. Crank it out. Then revise. And revise again. Revisit, rethink, recraft. But you can’t do any of that until you have a first draft. So write! Worst advice? Let’s just say I’m not a big fan of the “let it flow” school of thought. I do think stories take planning. I can’t pants it. Seems a waste of time to write it, then go back and organize the ideas. But to each their own. Just write. Get the story out. Even if it’s bad. That’s what revisions are for. Heh. No disrespect to pantsers. For serious. I just…can’t…do…it. If it works for you and the story gets out, then awesome!

SFFWRTCHT: What future projects are you working on that we can look forward to?

MJM: Well, I’m working on the sequel to The Daedalus Incident, and I plan on playing in that shiny new sandbox for a while.