Welcome to the latest installment of Breaking In, where I interview authors about their experiences breaking in as writers — how they did it, what it felt like to get there, and how it differed from what they were expecting.
Today, I’m happy to have the opportunity to interview acclaimed science fiction writer Michael J. Martinez.
As he notes on his website, Mike is a husband, father and writer living the dream in the Garden State. He spent nearly 20 years as a professional writer and journalist, including stints at the Associated Press and ABCNEWS.com. After telling other people’s stories for the bulk of his career, he’s happy that to be telling a few of his own creation.
Mike is the author of the Daedelus Trilogy of alternate history sailpunk adventures – The Daedelus Incident, The Enceladus Crisis and The Venusian Gambit (published by Night Shade Books), as well as the self-published companion novella The Gravity of the Affair. His short fiction has appeared in a number of prominent anthologies. His latest novel, MJ-12: Inception (Night Shade Books), begins a new series of paranormal spy thrillers.
Everything you thought you knew about MAJESTIC-12 is wrong. The conspiracy of top government officials, operating without oversight and, at times, outside the law…that part is true. But they’re not hiding flying saucers. The truth is much stranger and more profound. The history of the Cold War — and possibly humanity itself — will never be the same.
This new trilogy of paranormal Cold War spy thrillers from Night Shade Books begins in 2016.
MJ-12: Inception (Sept. 6, 2016) — From the ashes of World War II, a Cold War ignites. And from the nuclear fire of Hiroshima, something else has arisen. Normal people around the world have been changed by an unknown phenomenon and now possess extraordinary, super-human abilities. And the government conspiracy known as MAJESTIC-12 is gathering them together—to use them if it can, to destroy them if it cannot.
You can find more information about Mike’s works, and how to find them here.
[SGM] Welcome to the blog, Mike! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?
[MM] It sometimes feels like your writing career is a series of “achievement unlocked” badges in some mobile app game. There’s the request for a partial from an agent, then a full, then an offer of representation. Then a book contract. The book comes out. Then another contract, and those books come out. Ideally, you just go and keep collecting badges!
But really, it hit me the day The Daedalus Incident finally came out in 2013. I was working in Los Angeles that week, and took my daughter to Barnes & Noble in Glendale after work to find the book – and we couldn’t find it. Not on the “New SF/Fantasy” shelf. Not stuck in with the other books. I was bummed, but then my precocious kid was all like, “Dad, just go ask.” Fearing total ignominy, I nonetheless asked. And the girl said, “Oh, it’s up in front of the store on the ‘New Paperbacks’ table.” And so it was, and I was giddy. That’s the moment where it all got real.
What was your path to breaking in? Did you have a strategy? Did it work, or did you end up getting there another way?
You’re assuming I’ve planned all this! Once I got it in my head to write a novel, and then actually wrote it, I just Googled “how to get an agent” and proceeded from there. I cold-queried six agents, and Sara Megibow replied and asked for a partial – which she rejected. But she left the door open a crack to resubmit, and I polished it up and went at it again. We went back and forth a while, but she eventually offered to represent me. She’s awesome, by the way.
After that, I was in her hands. We submitted everywhere we thought Daedalus could land, and we ended up with two offers. I chose Night Shade Books because of their track record with authors, their presence in bookstores and their beautiful covers. I didn’t know at the time that their finances were a bit shaky – they ended up selling to a larger publisher right before I was set to debut – but I like the new publisher just fine. And my debut from a struggling publisher transformed into the Fall 2013 lead title for the new NSB imprint at the new shop.
So yeah, no real strategy. I was slush in 2010, landed Sara in 2011, got the offer in 2012 (on my 40th birthday, no less) and the book hit in 2013. I’ve been able to do a book a year since. It still kind of makes my head spin.
And following up on that, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?
I certainly would’ve spent more time revising my manuscript before sending it out to agents! I’d never written a novel before, and basically after a first draft and a polish, I popped it out the door. Now, my books go through at least one major overhaul and a polish before I send them over to Cory, my editor. If I have time, it can be two full revisions. Just depends.
(That said, The Venusian Gambit was written in 2014, and that was a rough year for me with the death of my mom and the stresses associated with that. I didn’t have the time or bandwidth to really work it over in revision, and had no idea whether the book was any good when I turned it in. And that’s the book that earned me a starred review in Publishers Weekly. Go figure.)
Now that you’ve broken in, is it like or unlike what you expected? How?
I still feel like I’m in the happy-to-be-here phase. I’m writing this at DragonCon (my third year going), and last night I was sitting around the bar, chatting and laughing and drinking with fantastic authors like Cherie Priest, Delilah S. Dawson, Myke Cole, Richard Kadrey and Kevin Hearne. And I’m thinking that life is pretty good, y’know? The community of SF/F authors is generous and welcoming, and I try to do that in turn now that there are folks newer in their careers than I am.
I have fans. Online and IRL. It’s pretty amazing, and they’re absolutely wonderful. I can go into a bookstore and see my books on a shelf, and that shelf space gets a bit bigger each year. I’ve been in anthologies with fantastic authors, doing cool things. I can raise bunches of money for charity just because I wrote novels, which was something I didn’t really expect but is incredibly gratifying and humbling. I’ll do as much charity stuff as I can, because geez, why wouldn’t you?
I knew this going in, but I think the thing to keep in mind is that being an author is a long game. We hear about the debuts going for six figures at auction, and then hitting The New York Times list, and we all want that. But that’s very much the exception, not the rule. Building a readership takes time. V.E. Schwab posted recently that she was an overnight success nine years in the making. Remember, George R.R. Martin published A Game of Thrones in 1996, and it finally hit the NYT list in 2011!
What are you working on now?
MJ-12: Inception is just out now, so I’m doing a lot of stuff for that. Book-wise, the MAJESTIC-12 series is contracted for three books, and I’m writing book two now. I write historical fantasy, so there’s a lot of research that goes into that. I have a short story coming out in an anthology later this fall, one of those really fun little opportunities that you can’t say no to. And I keep getting these great ideas for stories and novels, so chances are I won’t run out of stuff to write any time soon. I hope.
How can people keep up with you online?
Thanks again to Mike for taking the time for the interview. I love it when authors use SF to create alternate and hidden histories, and when they mash those ideas up with spy thrillers, it’s even better – so I’m really looking forward to the MAJESTIC-12 series!
Coming up next on the blog: Hey, remember when I was going to write that thing? And that other thing? Good times. Yeah, it was a hectic summer, so perhaps the best place to start would be a State Of The Me post. Look for that soon!