Meet the Winners – Martin L Shoemaker

When I won Writers of the Future last year, I burned off some of the anticipatory energy leading up to the workshop by interviewing my fellow winners. It was so much fun, I decided to do it again. This week, meet a name already familiar to some of you, Martin L Shoemaker.

Stuart: Howdy Martin, can I call you Martin? Of course I can, that’s your name. Tell everyone who doesn’t know, who you are.

Martin: I am a writer with a lucrative programming hobby. I’m not a full-time writer yet, and I thoroughly enjoy programming; but I would love to someday do programming on the side, rather than writing on the side. I’m not afraid to tell the world that two of my favorite movies are “Hudson Hawk” and “Howard the Duck”. Once you’ve admitted that in public, there’s not much left that can shock people. Speaking of “Hudson Hawk,” I can’t watch that film without singing along to “Swinging on a Star” and “Side by Side”. That ought to surprise somebody! (And terrify them, if they know my singing voice…)

Stuart: Hah! So no forlorn dreams of a singing career then. What got you into writing?

Martin: I have absolutely no idea. I have told stories for as long as I can remember. I had imaginary friends, and my mom tells me I made up stories about them. When I was 5 or 6, my brother got a typewriter and I was fascinated: That machine could put words on paper, and they would be just like A REAL BOOK!!!!!

When I was a teenager, I submitted a few stories, got a few rejections, and got discouraged. Meanwhile, I was learning to program, and I was a natural at it. So I veered in that direction, and I satisfied my storytelling urge through role-playing games, mostly as a gamemaster.

I never REALLY gave up writing, I just gave up believing I could do anything with my writing. I was sure it was a pipe dream, but I kept writing anyway. And one day I had a first chapter that I thought might become a book, and I shared it with my gaming group. Among them is my brother-in-law, Mark “Buck” Buckowing. Mark is one of the most voracious readers I know. He looked at my chapter and said, “Write THE END on it, and send it out. That’s not a chapter, that’s a great story.”

Stuart: Awesome!

Martin: So I was hooked all over again. I started writing a lot more. I started submitting, and not letting rejections slow me down this time. I started studying. And four years later, I have Third Place in Writers of the Future. I have four sales to Analog: two already published, and two coming out in 2015. I have two sales to Galaxy’s Edge and two to the Digital Science Fiction anthology (now defunct). I have one story in “The Gruff Variations: Writing for Charity Volume 1”, and one in “The Glass Parachute” anthology. And the most stunning to me of all: my Analog novella, “Murder on the Aldrin Express” was reprinted in The Year’s Best Science Fiction 31st Annual Edition, and also in audio and eBook in Year’s Top Short SF Novels Vol. 4. All because I stopped letting rejection stop me, and all because my brother-in-law gave me a shove in the right direction. Thanks, Buck!

Oh, and that story he told me to send out? It won 2nd Place in the Baen Memorial Writing Contest. Rich Johnson won 1st, but couldn’t make the trip from Australia, so I attended the awards in his place. I had dinner with Ben Bova, and lunch with BUZZ ALDRIN! Thanks, Rich! And thanks, Buck!

Stuart: I’ve always said, it’s impossible for any writer to over appreciate his or her beta readers. Describe your “writer’s cave” your preferred writing location.

Martin: My most pleasant writing experiences have been in unexpected places where the right confluence of events gave me time to kill and just the right mood. I wrote half a novella in an airport one time when there was a flight delay. I wrote nearly 10,000 words on New Year’s Eve two years ago, half in a gyros shop and half in a Starbucks. I had a party that night but no place to go for most of the day, so I just sat and wrote. So often I crave this sort of writing spot: a restaurant, café, park, or museum where I can escape for a few hours. I’d love to live near a good space museum that I could turn into a regular writing haunt.

Stuart: How long have you been entering Writers of the Future?

Martin: I first entered in 2011 and stumbled in as Finalist. To make a long story short, I entered every quarter from then until my win. In all, I had 1 win, 2 Finalists, 1 Semi-Finalist, and 8 Honorable Mentions. Plus 1 Rejection, but I didn’t let it get me down!

Stuart: Very wise. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Martin: When you can have both, why choose? But I will say, when it comes to Star Wars, I fell asleep halfway through Episode II and slept almost completely through III. When it comes to Star Trek, I have watched the Original Series more times than I can possibly count. I’ve watched the Animated Series at least half a dozen times. I’ve watched Next Gen probably three or four times at least. I’ve watched most of DS9, maybe a third of Voyager, and all of Enterprise. I’m not a huge Star Trek reader, but I’ve read at least 30 titles. And long, long ago, I wrote a couple of pieces of Star Trek fanfic. So I’m far, far, FAR more familiar with Star Trek.

Stuart: If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Martin: Patience and its dark side: Stubbornness. And I DO have it! I pride myself on my patience. Sometimes I even make a game out of it, trying to determine just how long I’ll have to wait for something. I once pulled into a drive-through lane and ordered one thing: a butterscotch shake. I got up to the window and waited. I saw someone bring the shake up to the window, set it down, and walk away. I saw somebody else come up to the window register briefly and then walk away. And so I waited. There was no one else in the drive-through lane behind me, so I waited some more. After a few minutes, my brain shifted into The Patience Game: How long can they go before somebody realizes what’s going on? So I waited some more. And the insidious side of The Patience Game is that the more time I invest in waiting, the more reluctant I am to give up. So I waited. And I waited. And eventually the manager came to the window and asked what I needed. When he learned that I had been in line for FORTY-FIVE MINUTES… Well, there was some shouting that came clear through the glass of the drive-through window.

Stuart: Ha ha! Great one! Tell me, when you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?

Martin: So many choices! Let’s call it a tie: a little plastic triceratops I called Trixie and Major Matt Mason, the astronaut figure. Rumor has it Tom Hanks wants to make a Major Matt Mason movie. If he does, I will be first in line for tickets!

Stuart: Sweet! For those who may not be familier with Major Matt Mason, here’s the here’s the Wikipedia link. When I won Writers of the Future, I had originally written my story for another market. How about you?

Martin: Well, ‘Unrefined” started as another Baen Memorial entry–the PERFECT Baen Memorial story, by my calculations. So it didn’t even place. Now the thing about Baen Memorial stories is they’re excellent Analog stories. This one was the PERFECT Analog story. So naturally, Trevor gave it a pass. So I sent it to WotF, right on the heels of a rejection. And I was absolutely sure that Dave would hate this story. So naturally… Authors, don’t try to predict the markets. They’ll always surprise you.

But the first idea? It centered around a team/quasi-family of asteroid miners who have to deliver a load or default on a contract. Only there’s one problem: I grew up reading Jerry Pournelle’s “Those Pesky Belters and Their Torch Ships”. The nuts-and-bolts are too much for this interview, but basically the essay proves that asteroid belt societies just make no sense. he problem is that the asteroids are so far apart, any ship with enough energy to land on these asteroids has more than enough energy to land on and launch from Earth. Pournelle smashed the concept of Belter civilization. Now that hasn’t stopped people from writing Belter civilization stories, but I can’t believe in them. And if I can’t believe in them, I can’t write them.

But Pournelle also gave us an alternative, one that I was not at all ashamed to adopt. An asteroid is hard to catch, but a planet’s gravity makes it easy to catch. And a massive planet like Jupiter is even easier! Plus Jupiter’s gravity has swept up millions of asteroids over the eons, capturing them as moonlets. And once your spacecraft is in Jupiter orbit, it’s relatively easy to rendezvous with these moonlets, since the difference between your velocity and theirs is low. Pournelle predicted a mining colony or colonies in Jupiter orbit. In “Unrefined”, I called these the Pournelle Settlements, and included a much-abbreviated version of this explanation.

That choice changed my initial concept. Instead of a small mining ship, the focus shifted to a settlement. I added an initial scene of the husband’s death, and the story expanded to explore how the colony could survive physical and economic sabotage and fulfill the dead man’s dream. I like to think it’s about a lot more than that: intrigue, leadership, grief, trust, and love.

Stuart: Well I can’t wait to read in in WotF 31! Good luck Martin, and enjoy Hollywood!

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Martin’s work has appeared in Analog Science Fiction & Fact, Galaxy’s Edge, and elsewhere. More at martinlshoemaker.com.

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