Michael J. Martinez: Five Things I Learned Writing The Enceladus Crisis

Two dimensions collided on the rust-red deserts of Mars—and are destined to become entangled once more in this sequel to the critically acclaimed The Daedalus Incident.

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The cool thing about writing is that it’s an ever-ongoing learning process. To paraphrase a certain pointy-eared son-of-a-bitch, writing really is infinite diversity in infinite combination. Each piece of writing is unique, and can be learned from – even if it’s learning what not to do. (Thankfully, I don’t think that’s the case with The Enceladus Crisis.)

I’ve been a professional journalist and communications writer for 20 years, and while I learned a lot writing my first novel, The Daedalus Incident, I was surprised at how much I learned writing the second in the series, The Enceladus Crisis, which came out just last week.  New books are cool.

So here’s what I learned this time out. A lot of it had to do with the challenges of writing a sequel, such as:

Nothing remains the same.

In a sequel, it might be a bit tempting to get the gang back together and go haring off on a new adventure and just play it like the last one, but with more knowing winks, wittier banter and bigger explosions. That only works in Michael Bay films. The first book didn’t happen in a vacuum. My characters aren’t the same, and neither is the setting. And only Dan Brown gets to recycle plot structures from book to book. I felt I had a better story when I changed it up, threw curve balls, broke up the band, blew it all to hell, swung for the fences. Insert change-related metaphor here.

Recapping is hard and needs to be done creatively.

As much as I wanted to go balls-out and write the story, I knew I’d have to do some recapping of what happened in the first book. That’s hard, man, because done wrong, it could drag the story down in a wave of boring exposition. In The Enceladus Crisis, I introduced the setting, and its changes, in the course of the story. And I dribbled out the exposition as sparingly as I could to keep the story going, while cluing in new readers. Still, there was a point when I had to explain what the “Daedalus incident” really was, in-story. So I used a military briefing as a framework, which helped introduce new characters in the process. I think it worked out well, but really, you have to take every chance you get to spread that stuff around.

Make the world bigger.

You know how your parents used to take you to the same vacation spot every year? And when you were little it was super exciting, but by the time you were 10, you were all like, “God, no, not Aunt Teresa’s lake house. It smells like old-man socks and she pinches my cheeks so hard it’s like pliers. Make it stop.” It’s fun to check in on places from earlier works, just to see how things are going. Some places can be particularly key to revisit over and over again. But there were others I just didn’t visit, because I had new places to go that were key to furthering the plot. It’s a balancing act, of course. You want to give folks a sense that the worlds are bigger than the first and the second books combined, but still, nobody cares if Venusian ur’chak tea serves as a particularly vicious, fast-acting laxative.

Make the stakes higher.

This is a double-edged sword, because strictly speaking, the assumption might be that you have to go from saving the city to saving the nation, to the world, to the solar system, and pretty soon you’re just this guy trying to save the multiverse and wondering why it’s all up to you all the damn time.

But stakes aren’t about “bigger,” per se, but rather “higher,” and that’s doesn’t mean throwing an asteroid at the problem. In The Enceladus Crisis, it meant hitting characters where it hurts most and making them – and the reader – fully invested in the story because, if they fail, it’s a crushing personal loss and/or they die horribly. Stakes have emotional resonance. One man could mean more to your heroine than an entire world, and if she has to save a world to save him, she will. Or maybe she has to destroy the world to save him, which is a tough call. Of course, you’re reading advice from a writer who crashed a sailing ship into Mars in his first book. And yes, I’d like to think I topped that spectacle in the second. But even as I blew more things up, I made sure to raise those personal stakes even more. I started feeling really bad for one character in particular, and that’s when I knew I was onto something.

Vacations are awesome for writing. So is air travel.

Obviously, this isn’t about sequelizing. And you’re probably like, yeah, no kidding, Sherlock. But you should understand that, after so many years of deadline journalism, I take great pride in writing anywhere, any hour and for as little or as long as I have available. Give me an hour, I’ll give you 1,000 words. Give me 15 minutes, and I’ll at least knock out that little knot in the story that was bugging me.

But this past summer, my wife and I took our daughter to her first sleep-away camp, and then took several days to just spend together in the mountains, sans kid. We’re both writers, and our vacation in the sticks became a writing retreat. We’d write in the morning or afternoon, for several uninterrupted hours, then go do other stuff. And I swear, I cleared a good 20 percent of The Enceladus Crisis on that trip.

So whenever you read that advice about writing every day – well, yeah. Do it. Ass-in-chair for as long as you can manage, daily. But if you can set aside some time to write, uninterrupted…take it and run with it and cherish it. The daily is good, but the “writing retreat,” if you will, really does work too.

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Michael Martinez is the author of “The Daedalus Incident,” the first installment in the Daedalus trilogy. A journalist and professional writer by trade, Martinez lives with his wife and daughter in northern New Jersey

Michael J. Martinez: Website | Twitter

The Enceladus Crisis: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound