I met Mike back in the Summer of ’69 — wait, no, that’s not it. I forget when it was. Secret Beard Convention? Beer Heist, 2014? Whatever. Point is, he’s got a new (and damn good) book out, and with that, he’s got some words of advice for you whippersnapper writer upstarts out there.
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I was about 10 years too old for The Magic School Bus when it first came out, but having a kid will bring you full-circle on stuff like that, so I’m now quite familiar with that hapless band of elementary school students hijacked by a demented science teacher who obviously used Satanic magic to force a demon to possess a vehicle and then utterly endanger her charges via horrific tortures designed to “educate” them about science….
Er. No, wait.
The Magic School Bus is cool! Embark on adventures inside a polymorphic bus that sends you into someone’s intestines or to the furthest reaches of the galaxy, and still be back in time for recess! My science retention would’ve gone through the roof that way. As it stands, the only thing I remember about science from grades K-12 is dissecting a rat (gross) and spilling water all over myself and my lab partner as we tried to learn how to use the gear in chemistry class. (“If that were acid, you’d both be in the hospital,” my teacher said as he passed by us. We nearly died of laughter.)
Anyway, if you were gonna point to the single most important lesson from The Magic School Bus, it would be the catchphrase from the teacher, Miss Frizzle: “Take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!”
Words to live by, y’all.
I took a chance five years ago by submitting a novel to agents. It worked. My Daedalus trilogy of Napoleonic Era space opera mash-up shenanigans did pretty well despite nobody really knowing where to stick it on the shelves. (Is it space opera? Steampunk? There’s no steam, but it’s old-timey!) Fans actually sought me out at cons. I got to hang with some pretty amazing people. It was a whole new world. (Cue the song. Yeah, it’s a different cartoon. Whatever.)
So now what? The Known Worlds universe of that trilogy is huge and theoretically infinite. I could’ve done more. Maybe I will later on. But that felt like the safe play. Meanwhile, I’d been doing some short fiction that was scratching my itch to try other things — I did a Pathfinder Web serial, a Cthulhu Mythos story for a Lovecraft anthology and a strange humor story about art, feces and fraud that landed in another anthology. I donated a hard SF story to charity, and have another short coming out in a Vampire: The Masquerade anthology that makes my proto-goth college-self happy…or at least less tragically morose.
And now, this week, I have a new novel out. It’s not space opera, or Napoleonic. It’s not any of the other stuff I just mentioned either. It’s a Cold War spy thriller…with superpowers. And Area 51.
Why? Because just as I read a lot of Lovecraft, and just as I played D&D and Vampire back in the day, I also loved the classic Tom Clancy thrillers, too. Heck, I even applied to CIA once, and got invited to the informational session (whereupon I decided that a newlywed who wanted to have kids would not, in fact, be well served by haring off on such a journey in a post-9/11 world). I write about the stuff that interests me. This interested me.
Is it, strictly speaking, a logical career move? I have no idea and really don’t care a whole heap. I’m fortunate enough to have opportunities to explore, and I jump on the opportunities that appeal to me at the time. I wanted to write something dark and morally gray and nuanced, about real people in the 1940s who are suddenly imbued with strange abilities. I wanted to explore how the government would treat, and ultimately use, these poor souls in an era where paranoia was considered a virtue against the godless Red barbarians at the gates threatening to destroy our way of life. (Yeah, there’s no parallels there. None at all.)
I want to write the stuff that does heart and soul good. And right now, that’s the MAJESTIC-12 series. I think MJ-12: Inception is a nifty book, and there are enough blurbs on the cover to make me think others see it that way as well. But we’ll see. It’s different and I’m taking a chance on it and let’s ride this horse for a while and see what happens.
Of course, I have…three? Four?…ideas right now for stand-alone novels. I’m gonna get to them eventually, current contract and day-job permitting. (And family. Priorities, man.) These novels are all utterly different from both paranormal Cold War spy thrillers and Napoleonic Era space opera. One may involve a chef. (No, really.) But I’m gonna get to them and write them and throw them out there into the void and see if there’s an echo that replies back.
Look, if there’s room on bookstore shelves for my books, which smash together genres like a toddler with building blocks, then there’s room on shelves for whatever you got going. Don’t worry about the ephemeral vicissitudes of “the market,” or fret over what’s trending with agents and publishers right now.
Write the story that screams to get out of you. Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy. Don’t be like Arnold on The Magic School Bus, the kid who always said, “I knew I should’ve stayed home today.”
Nobody liked goddamn Arnold. He should’ve stayed home. Don’t be Arnold.
Bio: Michael J. Martinez writes all kinds of things for a living, from PowerPoints to pastiches, and is only occasionally alliterative. He lives in the greater New York City area with a fantastic wife and wonderful daughter, along with two cats and three chickens. They’re Jersey chickens, which means they have attitude.