Worldbuilding overload is a real thing

I had a colleague come into my office this morning with, as he put it, “a geek question.” Obviously, he’d come to the right place, but I couldn’t actually help. He was looking for a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring, but mine went AWOL years ago. (Note to self: Get new copy of LOTR.)

We got to talking, as colleagues do when deadlines near and we don’t want to deal. He had just finished up The Hobbit and wanted to read the trilogy next, but was bracing himself for it somewhat. You see, J.R.R. Tolkien is absolutely the granddaddy godfather O.G. of epic fantasy writers. There is no doubt. But man, he loved his worldbuilding. A lot.

So much so, he kinda shoved as much of it into his books as possible.

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Not the lesser of two evils

Fair warning here: This post is about politics, not something I normally do. If you’re sick to death of the Dumpster fire that is the 2016 elections, I wholeheartedly encourage you to bail, and hold no ill will. Good? Good. Also, all opinions are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer, publisher, family, mail carrier or bartender. 

I studied politics and government in college. I covered politics at the state level early on in my journalism career, and later on I covered the intersection of business, politics and the judiciary with some regularity, and let me tell you, U.S. politics is unique across the globe. Part of that really is American exceptionalism: Our founding fathers did a pretty good job of setting up a system of government.

But part of that is how the political class, across the ideological spectrum, is forced to reconcile the quest for personal political power with the need to show results and to be judged by the voters regularly. In other words, no matter how much you backstab, betray or belittle, you still need to go home and show your voters that you did something for them, and not just for yourself.

Some politicians take this dichotomy in the spirit which, I think, the founding fathers intended. You go to the state house or Washington and you roll up your sleeves and get to work. You compromise with other representatives and try to craft laws and create new initiatives to improve the lives of your constituents. When you’re up for reelection, you go home and you tell folks what you did, and your opponent in the election gets to poke holes in your record. The voters judge, and you go back or you don’t.

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Inspiration where you least expect it

My day-job office is at Rockefeller Center, which is pretty awesome most of the time. (The Christmas tree is beautiful for about two days, then the throngs of tourists begin to wear on one’s nerves, admittedly.) I remember the first day I arrived, I saw this plaque in the elevator lobby.


Pretty cool, eh? The office itself is pretty unremarkable now, but it’s nifty to think that a critical piece of the Allied war effort played out on the same floor where I drink coffee and talk football with my co-workers. And yes, I revisited this plaque more than once as I was writing MJ-12: Inception.

Sir William Stephenson was a Canadian businessman prior to World War II. As war broke out in Europe, Winston Churchill asked Stephenson to open up the British Security Coordination office in New York. Room 3603 in Rockefeller Center was the place he rented. Officially, he was a passport control officer. Unofficially, he helped coordinate intelligence activities throughout North America.

MJ-12-newcoverPrior to late 1941, part of Stephenson’s job was to try to sway public opinion in the U.S. in favor of aid to Britain. After the U.S. joined the war, his office in Rockefeller Center became a hub of activity, coordinating U.S., British and Canadian covert action against the Axis. He was the one who set up Camp X up in Ontario, where O.S.S. and MI6 officers trained during the war.

Yes, the Camp X training manual was a real thing, and I used it in MJ-12: Inception as a guide to how Variants would be trained at Area 51. In fact, researching Stephenson led me to Camp X, which led to that key piece in the book.

Stephenson was also instrumental in the creation of O.S.S., which would later become the CIA.

After the war, Stephenson went back to being a businessman, and I haven’t found much more about him after that. It was sorely tempting to include him somehow in the MAJESTIC-12 series, but alas, I don’t think he’ll make in there. But it’s nice to know that a piece of history is right here in my office, and helped me discover more of the history that went into my work.


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Writing books for fun and prophecy

prophetThe cool online magazine Inverse has this great column called “Ask a Prophet,” which is an interview with science fiction writers about the genre and their ideas for the future. And, well…heck, I guess I’m a prophet?

Sadly, all I got is Magic 8 Ball that I received almost two decades ago from a now-defunct e-commerce site…back when people called them “e-commerce sites.” And the 8 Ball, as you can see, is less than impressed with my prophetic skills.

Anyway, Lauren Sarner chatted with me for the column, and it turned out to be a pretty nifty interview. We talked about the Daedalus trilogy, comic book movies and diversity in the genre.  Go check it out!


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Practice makes perfect

Sketch by Anna Martinez

Sketch by Anna Martinez

My daughter has always loved art. We joke that the was the first baby in the neighborhood to stop eating crayons and start using them. It’s been a constant throughout all the phases of her life so far, from toddler to elementary school to tween, and we’ve encouraged her explorations. (Those of you who have my books might flip to the author mugshots in the back for her first professional photo credits.)

For her, art is fun and joyful, and since she has skills — objectively speaking, not just being a doting dad here — she already knows she wants to make a go of it somehow as a profession, with the current emphasis being fashion design. But there’s a difference between “fun” art and “professional” art, and that difference is training.

She hates it.

OK, hate is too strong a word, but as she goes into more advanced art classes, she’s now understanding the hard work, discipline and skill development involved. That’s made art less fun, at least for now, but it’s still necessary. Critical, even. There really is only so far you’ll go on raw talent alone. So now she’s doing a pure skills class in drawing, the result of which  you can see here. She also feels like that little guy after class sometimes, but hey, she’s 12. And that’s a good sketch.

Practice, man. It’s hard. You write and write and write, and sometimes it’s just practice — the story isn’t gonna see the light of day. While it’s not a horrible story, because you have some innate talent (you hope), it’s still not good. I remember my first stabs at fiction, oh so many years ago.  I submitted some work to White Wolf and SJG back in the day — before the dot-com bubble burst, actually — and while the editors there were kind, well…I didn’t have it. It wasn’t good enough.

And so I practiced. Now, I get to practice all kinds of writing because it’s my day job, and there’s a higher correlation between journalism, marketing copy and fiction than you’d think. I’m writing to convince people of something — whether it’s the importance of a news event, the benefits of a particular decision you’d like them to make, or the plausibility of your plot, setting and characters. There’s different aspects to each, but there’s still stuff to be learned no matter what I’m scribbling.

Prior to writing my first novel, I’d already been a writer for nearly twenty years, and still that puppy needed so much work before it hit the shelves. My novels always need more work, even when I think I hit it out of the park. (Actually, I find the more enamored I am of a piece of writing, the more work it needs. Go figure.) Revision is a kind of practice, too; you’re practicing writing that scene or chapter or book several times over before you get it right.

It can be frustrating to write something and know that it might never get published. Heck, my debut was rejected several times over before it went to Night Shade Books, and there were times when I wondered if the whole thing was just gonna be a weird lark. But I stuck with it, and I still write stuff that I’m not sure will ever get out there. It’s good to do that, to try new things, to expand the skill-set and keep plugging.

And let’s hear it for guidance, too. Ross Lockhart turned my first novel around in so many ways. Cory Allyn is a fantastic editor and collaborator. Every editor I’ve worked with in fiction has given me valuable teaching moments and made me better, rather like how my kid’s art teacher is making her a better artist.

I get a little frustrated when writers ignore the benefits of practice and guidance. They’ll rip on editors as folks who try to “commercialize” their fiction or deviate from the vision or whatever. They say revision and discipline is for hacks. They don’t think this stuff applies to them. It does. (There’s a reason the Guy In Your MFA is so popular, because every writer knows that guy.)

So practice. Nobody’s gonna skate on raw talent when it comes to writing, or any kind of art. Practice and revise, seek out guidance and get better. That’s how it’s done.


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Barnes & Noble SF/F blog reviews MJ-12: Inception, plus a shout-out from Kirkus

MJ-12-newcoverI have long held that Paul Weimer is one of the most knowledgeable critics in science fiction and fantasy, and even when he dings my work, it’s always police and constructive and makes me think, “Huh. Yeah. He’s right. Dammit.” These days, Paul’s writing on behalf of Barnes & Noble’s SF/Fantasy Blog, and he had many lovely things to say about MJ-12: Inception. Such as:

Michael J. Martinez’ MJ-12: Inception is a thriller that blends the best elements of Cold War-era spy stories, supernatural fantasy, and splashy pulp comics. … As a setup for a series, it works at an excellent pitch. I can’t wait to see if and how these characters will change the course of history as we know it. Is this a secret history or an alternate one? Only time, and more books, will tell. I look forward to finding out.

There’s a lot more in the actual review, which you can read here. Again, Paul knows his stuff, so when he says he’s looking forward to more, I’m feeling pretty good about what I’ve done so far. Thank you, Paul and B&N!

You may know Paul from his numerous contributions to the late, great SF Signal. But while that fine site is no more, former proprietor John DeNardo continues to write about SF/F for Kirkus Reviews, and he mentioned MJ-12: Inception as part of a roundup of the genre’s breadth and depth. Check it out here.

As for what I’m up to, well…I think we’re just about done with the promotional merry-go-round for MJ-12: Inception. This is the first time I’ve embarked on a new book launch while in the midst of writing the sequel, and it’s been…weird. I’m usually quite excellent about being able to ping-pong back and forth between projects, but between all the travel and the promotional writing, I’ve not been able to devote as much time to MJ-12: Shadows as I’d like.

But from here on out, that’ll change. It’ll also free up this space from constant updates and what not, and I’ll try to be more entertaining and thoughtful with posts, even as I post a bit less. Because MJ-12: Shadows ain’t gonna write itself. I’m not going to go completely dark, because the blog and Twitter entertain me even as they (hopefully?) entertain you. But let it be known, it’s time to hunker down.


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Superpowers, alienation and Deadpool

Oh, yeah. We’re gonna do a think-piece on Deadpool, baby. Grab a chimichanga and buckle up.

I admit, I didn’t see Deadpool in theaters, and only had a passing knowledge of the character to begin with. However, I’ve seen the movie several times on video – twice courtesy of United Airlines, where at least some things are still free besides dry-mouth and turbulence. And since I’m in the midst of writing about superheroes, of a sort, in the MAJESTIC-12 series, I have thoughts.

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